Quick hits (part II)

1) I meant to share this a while back– it’s so good.  Zeynep shares the insights of Whitney Robinson on meta-epistemology of epidemiology.  Basically goes through how she thinks about thinking about the pandemic, “How to reason when information is incomplete, uncertain and emotionally-fraught”

Principle 1. “Look to previous phenomena to know what questions to ask”

Principle 2. “Observed versus expected.” In other words, “Pay attention to unexpected data that has no natural constituency and to lack of data that are in high demand”…

Principle 3. “Beware of ‘sticky’ priors” 

2) Relatedly, loved this from Ellie Murray.  “I’m an epidemiologist. Here’s what I got wrong about covid.”  We should all do more of this.  For example, I put way too much stock in the potential value of therapeutics.  I have undoubtedly been more skeptical of findings that emphasize the role of children in transmission than those that suggest a small role.  Anyway, if you want to be a good thinker you should definitely be putting your own thinking under a skeptical focus. 

3) I really enjoyed Tim Harford’s The Data Detective.  In the last chapter, he talked about the power of curiousity and combating the “illusion of explanatory depth.”  I really love that idea.  Nice summary here:

If you asked one hundred people on the street if they understand how a refrigerator works, most would respond, yes, they do. But ask them to then produce a detailed, step-by-step explanation of how exactly a refrigerator works and you would likely hear silence or stammering. This powerful but inaccurate feeling of knowing is what Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil in 2002 termed, the illusion of explanatory depth (IOED), stating, “Most people feel they understand the world with far greater detail, coherence, and depth than they really do.”

Rozenblit and Keil initially demonstrated the IOED through multi-phase studies. In a first phase, they asked participants to rate how well they understood artifacts such as a sewing machine, crossbow, or cell phone. In a second phase, they asked participants to write a detailed explanation of how each artifact works, and afterwards asked them re-rate how well they understand each one. Study after study showed that ratings of self-knowledge dropped dramatically from phase one to phase two, after participants were faced with their inability to explain how the artifact in question operates. Of course, the IOED extends well beyond artifacts, to how we think about scientific fields, mental illnesses, economic markets and virtually anything we are capable of (mis)understanding.

At present, the IOED is profoundly pervasive given that we have infinite access to information, but consume information in a largely superficial fashion. A 2014 survey found that approximately six in ten Americans read news headlines and nothing more. Major geopolitical issues from civil wars in the Middle East to the latest climate change research advances are distilled into tweets, viral videos, memes, “explainer” websites, soundbites on comedy news shows, and daily e-newsletters that get inadvertently re-routed to the spam folder. We consume knowledge widely, but not deeply.

Understanding the IOED allows us to combat political extremism. In 2013, Philip Fernbach and colleagues demonstrated that the IOED underlies people’s policy positions on issues like single-payer health care, a national flat tax, and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. As in Rozenbilt and Keil’s studies, Fernbach and colleagues first asked people to rate how well they understood these issues, and then asked them to explain how each issue works and subsequently re-rate their understanding of each issue. In addition, participants rated the extremity of their attitudes on these issues both before and after offering an explanation. Both self-reported understanding of the issue and attitude extremity dropped significantly after explaining the issue—people who strongly supported or opposed an issue became more moderate. What is more, reduced extremity also reduced willingness to donate money to a group advocating for the issue. These studies suggest the IOED is a powerful tool for cooling off heated political disagreements.

The IOED provides us much-needed humility. In any domain of knowledge, often the most ignorant are the most overconfident in their understanding of that domain. Justin Kruger and David Dunning famously showed that the lowest performers on tests of logical reasoning, grammar, and humor are most likely to overestimate their test scores. Only through gaining expertise in a topic do people recognize its complexity and calibrate their confidence accordingly. Having to explain a phenomenon forces us to confront this complexity and realize our ignorance. At a time where political polarization, income inequality, and urban-rural separation have deeply fractured us over social and economic issues, recognizing our only modest understanding of these issues is a first step to bridging these divides. 

I’m totally going to start having my students engage in this exercise of explaining things they think they understand.

4) Good stuff from PRRI on Republicans and the Big Lie.  This chart via main news source is not all the surprising, but still kind of amazing:

5) Good stuff from Zeynep on the Yankees outbreak:

So, yes, it does feel quite unusual for eight vaccinated people to test positive. That is almost certainly a cluster. Here’s what we know: it got detected after a coach, who had some mild symptoms but now no longer has any, tested positive. Then they found seven more people who tested positive, all of whom were completely asymptomatic. Here’s how the testing is done.

Everyone in the Yankees’ traveling party of 50 to 60 people is being tested three times a day using polymerase chain reaction, saliva and rapid tests. Thursday was the first day of no new positive test results since the outbreak began, Cashman said. “Maybe it’s slowing down,” he said.

For one thing, they should sequence these cases so we know if it was a variant or not, but the incident is still not a cause for worry. Here are some of the possibilities:

1-They are all positive because of a common source, likely a highly infectious individual. These people all got a bit of the virus, and the virus was able to replicate just enough to be picked up by PCR tests that are very sensitive and can pick up even very small amounts. They are testing people three times a day with PCR tests! They’ll pick up anything and everything, even the tiniest viral amount. The virus was obviously stopped in its tracks, so almost everyone is without symptoms. That sounds like a great outcome to me. 

A case of vaccine breakthrough is not the same thing as an unvaccinated or non-immune person catching COVID-19. Personally, if I had tested positive while unvaccinated, I’d be worried until it played out. Post-vaccination? For me, testing positive would be but a curiosity unworthy of my anxiety. There’s a reason that vaccine trials and real world data show so few severe cases, let alone hospitalizations or deaths. Post-vaccination, the virus would no no longer be able to surprise my immune system as a novel pathogen, and I’m not that worried whether it replicates just a bit in my nose before getting shut down.

The virus in the Yankees case might even have been a variant with some antibody evading features which gives the virus a bit more time to replicate (the mutations act like a disguise that slow down but don’t eliminate its eventual recognition) before the rest of the immune system shuts it down. None of the variants we have are in “disguises” (antibody evading mutations) that are 100% effective in hiding from the totality of the immune system, and it’s quite likely they never will get there. 

6) Really liked this, “Stop Deriding Liz Cheney: Demanding ideological purity among those who stand up to Trump is not a viable way to protect American democracy.”

Cheney deserves commendation for breaking with Trump and the GOP. The Republican Party’s refusal to accept the results of a free and fair election is an existential threat to our democracy. Defenders of liberal democracy of all political stripes should be applauding her honesty, courage, and refusal to bend the knee. 

But in the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and progressive publications besides, journalists have been attacking Cheney. They say that it’s too little too late, label her a warmonger, or complain that she’s just too conservative. 

These critiques might be fair to level in a different circumstance, but raising them now as a reason not to applaud Cheney for standing up to her party is foolish. For five years, progressives asked for conservatives to come out and condemn Trump. Yet when they do, these same voices condemn conservatives within the Republican Party’s ranks for the sin of remaining conservative. It is ludicrous, if not reckless, to claim that the threat to the republic is imminent, and then rebuff potential allies who don’t come from the same ideological club…

Cheney could have gone along with Trump’s lie and stayed in Republican leadership. By fighting back, she is potentially sacrificing a powerful future in the party. Her quick rise up the party ranks shows that she is savvy enough to have had a clear shot at becoming speaker of the House. She was a State Department official and a viable future candidate for secretary of state or defense. She may have even had a chance at winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and becoming the first female president of the United States. 

Instead, she chose to be cast into the political wilderness. This might have been why she waited so long to come out against Trump. To many of us, January 6 was the climax of Trump’s attacks on democracy. For Cheney, it was a wake-up call. But she finally woke up, and now she is sacrificing a potentially great future. That is worthy of admiration and praise, not scorn.

That is not to say that any progressive should become a Cheney superfan. Nor does it mean that Democrats should start agreeing with her on policy. It only means that they should welcome her efforts to preserve our liberal democracy and admire her courage.

As much as some progressives would like to do away with conservatism, America is going to have a conservative political faction with significant influence over a major party. We cannot afford to apply an ideological purity test, especially one that bans all conservatives, in our efforts to save liberalism in America. One can object to Cheney’s views on foreign policy, or even oppose conservatism altogether, and still see Cheney as a welcome addition to the fight against illiberalism…

Defenders of liberal democracy in America, on both the left and the right, should take the same approach. The main political divide is no longer between conservatives and progressives, but between liberals and illiberals. Demanding ideological purity among our liberal allies is not a viable way to protect American democracy.

7) This. “To prevent next pandemic, scientists say we must regulate air like food and water”

8) This story is totally bonkers and it was also basically a one-day story.  Amazing what we’re willing to just accept from all the corrupt criminals in the Trump administration, “Activists and Ex-Spy Said to Have Plotted to Discredit Trump ‘Enemies’ in Government: The campaign included planned operations against President Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and F.B.I. employees, according to documents and interviews.”

9) Years ago I learned just how bad drug-sniffing dogs are from a paper from one of my students.  They are so bad at it! And yet, our whole criminal justice system treats them as if they are infallible.  Some dogs will basically just indicate, “yes, drugs here” every damn time you ask them.  And the way they test these dogs is some embarrassingly bad I expect many an elementary school student could explain it:

Don’t blame Karma. The police dog simply followed his training when he helped local agencies impound vehicles that sometimes belonged to innocent motorists in Republic, Washington, an old mining town near the Canadian border.

As a drug detection dog, Karma kept his nose down and treated every suspect the same. Public records show that from the time he arrived in Republic in January 2018 until his handler took a leave of absence to campaign for public office in 2020, Karma gave an “alert” indicating the presence of drugs 100 percent of the time during roadside sniffs outside vehicles.

Whether drivers actually possessed illegal narcotics made no difference. The government gained access to every vehicle that Karma ever sniffed. He essentially created automatic probable cause for searches and seizures, undercutting constitutional guarantees of due process.

Similar patterns abound nationwide, suggesting that Karma’s career was not unusual. Lex, a drug detection dog in Illinois, alerted for narcotics 93 percent of the time during roadside sniffs, but was wrong in more than 40 percent of cases. Sella, a drug detection dog in Florida, gave false alerts 53 percent of the time. Bono, a drug detection dog in Virginia, incorrectly indicated the presence of drugs 74 percent of the time…

False alerts, which create problems for people like Farris and Said, sometimes have nothing to do with a dog’s nose. Brain scientist Federico Rossano, who studies animal communication with humans at the University of California, San Diego, says dogs have an innate sense of loyalty that can override their sense of smell.

“The tendency of producing signals even when they detect nothing comes from the desire to please the human handler,” he says.

Essentially, intelligent animals pick up subtle cues from their handlers and respond. Rossano says the communication often occurs by accident without anyone being aware.

Clever Hans, a horse celebrated in the early 1900s for his math ability, provides the most prominent example. The proud owner truly believed that Hans could solve arithmetic problems, but skeptics later proved that the horse merely was responding to facial expressions and body language from his human companion.

A 2011 study from the University of California, Davis, shows how cues can influence drug detection dogs. When human handlers believed that narcotics were hidden in test areas, their canine partners were much more likely to indicate the presence of drugs—even when no drugs actually existed.

Police participants did not like the implications. But rather than using the findings to improve their training techniques, they denounced the study and refused further cooperation.

They preferred a 2014 study from Poland, which eliminated the potential for false positives. Rather than simulating real-world conditions, researchers ensured that every test included measurable quantities of narcotics.

Participating dogs had no opportunity to sniff drug-free vehicles and communicate a lack of odor. The only correct answer was an indication for drugs. Karma could have aced such a test simply by sitting down every time. He would have looked like a prodigy, but a broken dial stuck on “alert” would have achieved the same result.

10) Speaking of bad criminal justice practices… the death penalty really needs to go.  Yes, there are some people who actually “deserve” it, but not at the cost of the fact that we just keep putting innocent people on death row.  And maybe executing some innocent people. “4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon
Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.”

11) Really liked this on diversity “training” at universities:

At a time when trainings are proliferating across institutions of higher learning, people could be forgiven for confusing training with education. But they are vastly different and should be seen as such especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The purpose of education, bell hooks reminds us, is critical thinking. Requiring “courage and imagination,” the “heartbeat of critical thinking is the longing to know — to understand how life works.” With hooks’s words in mind, here are 10 ways to tell training and education apart.

  1. Training makes assumptions; education challenges them.
  2. Training is packaged; education cannot be contained.
  3. Training rewards compliance, education curiosity.
  4. Training is having to say something, education having something to say.
  5. Training tells you what to think; education teaches you how to think.
  6. Training answers questions; education poses them.
  7. Training is generic; education all about context.
  8. Training simplifies the world; education reveals its complexity.
  9. Training promotes conformity, education independence.
  10. Training is performative; education is transformative.

Training has its uses. It can even save lives. (See CPR above.) But training is woefully inadequate when it comes to confronting social problems such as poverty, discrimination and racism. These are long-standing, knotty and complex issues that defy ready-made solutions. Any serious effort to address them must start with education, a process for which there are no shortcuts.

Consider these two hypothetical examples of a college trying to deal with issues of race and diversity. The first is a prototypical training module; the second takes an educational approach.

In many trainings, you likely will be told that your racial identity defines who you are — and that participants will be divided into two main racial affinity groups, white and BIPOC. You will be informed that white people are oblivious to race, while BIPOC people see everything through a racial lens. You will be advised that white folks use “white talk,” which is “task-oriented” and “intellectual,” whereas people of color use “color commentary,” which is “process-oriented” and “emotional.”

It will be explained to you that traits like precision, individualism and objectivity are hallmarks of “white supremacy culture.” “White supremacy” will be defined as an ideology that maintains “white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions.” In order to reveal unconscious biases, you will be made to share the racial stereotypes you hold and then catalog the racial microaggressions you have perpetrated. Finally, you will be encouraged to make a public commitment to transforming your institution into a “fully inclusive antiracist multicultural organization.”

12) OMG, I really do “know” that we just cannot build our way out of traffic.  And I’ve read many studies like this.  But even still, it’s so hard not to just want more lanes. “Asphalt, Gridlock and Common Sense: It’s clear that adding lanes to urban expressways or building new ones doesn’t reduce congestion. Sometimes it makes things worse. So why do we keep doing it?”

Sometimes in government, the best-laid strategies of policymakers and consultants are much less rational than ordinary common sense. Nearly everyone in America believes, correctly, that workers shouldn’t be yoked to their employers for health insurance, even though we can’t seem to change that. Nearly all of us can see that our zoning laws are a hodgepodge of outdated rules that ban mixed uses in neighborhoods badly in need of them. I could make a much longer list.

Other times, however, what seems the most elementary common sense turns out to be wrong. Nothing looks more obvious to most people than the idea that when a highway is choked with traffic, the solution is to expand it or build another road nearby. It looks like plain common sense, but it doesn’t work. A whole slew of examples from recent history is sufficient to prove the point.

There is, to cite one clear case, the Interstate 405 freeway in Los Angeles. In the first decade of the new century, it was such a traffic-clogged mess that people would leave social engagements hours early with the excuse that they needed a head start on the 405. So it was widened in a five-year project ending in 2014 at a cost of $1.8 billion. The benefits? Not very many. Travel times actually increased once the project was finished, although rush hours shortened slightly…

FIASCOES LIKE THESE run into the reality of “induced demand,” the phenomenon that lures more vehicles and more congestion to a highway after it is expanded than were there before. The idea goes back to the 1960s, when the economist Anthony Downs promulgated what he called “the law of peak-hour expressway congestion.” “On urban commuter roads,” Downs argued, “peak-hour congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” Traffic planners, especially those in state highway departments, refused to believe it. They went with what they considered common sense and kept expanding and widening. They made a costly mistake.

What the numbers invariably show is that highways are vulnerable to latent demand — people who haven’t been using them start to fill them up once the capacity is expanded, especially at rush hour. Some are commuters who had been using public transportation; some are drivers who shift their trips to rush hour rather than the middle of the day; and some who hadn’t been making trips at all take to the highway. The combined result, in many cases, is more traffic than existed prior to the expansion.

But it isn’t just drivers suddenly venturing onto the highway. Expanded capacity means more development — new trucking depots and large numbers of employees who commute to work; new housing developments and shopping centers at the exits. All of this contributes to making a situation, if not greatly worse, then demonstrably no better.

13) Pretty fascinating post from Scott Alexander on prescription apps, which is pretty interesting in its own right.  In this case, the apps are for CBT-I (Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia), which I don’t need, but also find very interesting.  

14) I wish we didn’t live in a world where we so valued the lives of Americans over the lives of people in other countries.  Or that we weren’t such a damn tribal species.  But we do and we are, so arguments like this are so fantastically unrealistic that they just annoy me, “As pediatricians, we say please don’t use precious coronavirus vaccines on healthy children.” I mean, in reality, you can say this about the vast majority of resources spent on Americans, period, would have way way way more impact for good if spent in developing nations.  

15) Want to read a super-depressing assessment of the state of the world?  Here’s one from Noah Smith, “The Darkness: Illiberalism is on the march, all over the world.”

16) So, I just came across this from 6 years ago and, immodestly, was pretty happy with my results. “A Quick Puzzle to Test Your Problem Solving”

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, but really who cares?

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

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

But this can still be very harmful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan Matthews

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

Julia Galef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of antiracism is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A contrast: talking about economics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) And here’s the NYT version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the vaccine mandatory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Substance over process

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

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

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

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

Vaccinate America’s kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

14) Why am I so pro-vaccine?

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Bernstein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) The latest on Neanderthals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit…Mount Cotton State School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the standpoint of rhetorical strategy, Valentino continued,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suhay went on:

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

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

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

5) Good Ezra Klein on the problems with bipartisanship:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) Where’s that Novavax vaccine, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When social science perfectly captures your marriage

Wow– this NYT Parenting column from Jessica Grose could not have more perfectly captured my marriage, “Why Women Do the Household Worrying
And how to get men to do more of it.”

I have been writing about the gender gap in housework and child care among heterosexual couples for almost a decade, and while more and more men are stepping up to do their fair share, there’s one thing that remains frustratingly uneven: the mental load, which is a mostly invisible combination of anxiety and planning that is part of parenting.

The way I usually describe it in my own life is: I can’t make my husband start thinking about summer camp in January, or when we’re running out of refills for the soap dispensers (apparently, a common gripe!). In other words, I can’t export my brain to him. In most aspects of domestic work, we are fairly equal — I probably do more housework and he does more child care, but we feel good about our balance. And yet, the mental load is more on me…

Because of the perniciousness of this issue, I was excited to read the work of Allison Daminger, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. She published a paper in the American Sociological Review that breaks down the mental load — “cognitive labor,” in sociological terms — into four parts: anticipate, identify, decide, monitor.

If we’re using the summer camp example, “anticipate” is realizing we need to start thinking about options for the summer before they fill up; “identify” is looking into the types of camps that will suit our family’s needs; “decide” is choosing the camp; and “monitor” is making sure the kids are signed up and their medical forms are sent in.

For this paper, Daminger conducted in-depth discussions with 35 couples, and found that the two parts of the process that are most heavily imbalanced are “anticipate” and “monitor” — women do the vast majority of those steps. “Identify” and “decide” tend to be done by men and women jointly. I talked to Daminger about her study and how parents can try to equalize their cognitive labor; a condensed and edited version of our conversation is below.

Jessica Grose: I loved the way you categorized the mental load into four discrete categories, and I was intrigued that the biggest gender disparity is in “anticipation” and “monitoring.” Can you tell me a little more about that?

A.D.: One of the things that my advisers were a little bit worried about when I started this project was they thought: You’re just going to find that women do more of this. How is that interesting? We know that instinctively.

And that’s why I really wanted to break down not just “women do more,” but what exactly is it that they’re doing more of? And are there aspects of it that are more and less gendered?

But the act of putting the item on the agenda seemed to be overwhelmingly something that women were doing, as well as on the back end, following up once the decisions had been made. And that was true, even in domains of life like household maintenance, where it was pretty clear to both parties that the man was ultimately responsible for clearing the gutters.

Women’s antenna seemed to be constantly up and looking for these things. Whereas men were often very happy to help once their partner had alerted them to the issue and they might’ve gotten to it eventually on their own, but women were consistently getting there first and either doing it themselves or saying: “Hey, this is the thing you need to handle. Are you thinking about it?”

And then the $1 million question is what to do about that…

J.G.: Is it because we have culturally defined good mothering as worrying and doing this sort of mental labor, whereas we don’t define good fathering in quite the same way?

A.D.: I think that’s exactly true. One of the things that I hear often from my respondents is, “She’s anxious, she’s uptight.” And I think part of that is if something goes wrong, like if the kid is not prepared with the materials they need for school that day, the mom is going to be the one who is held to account.

I don’t think that’s necessarily something that is at the top of people’s minds as they’re making decisions, but part of the worry comes from fear of something bad happening. And part of that is: I will be judged as a bad mother. I think notions of good fatherhood are changing. We expect men to help with changing diapers and to do a lot of the physical care work. And yet, we don’t see them as ultimately responsible for the child’s development and happiness in the same way.

Damn did all of this ring so true in my marriage.  And I really am a good husband and father (oh, wait, maybe not).  What’s interesting to me is that, as I’ve often discussed, I really am one of the least anxious people I know,  And my wife, though not anxiety-ridden, would likely consider herself more anxious than average.  So, I’ve just been blaming the unequal distribution of this on our different psychological temperaments, but, honestly, I think that’s hiding the pervasive, gendered approaches to parenting identified here.  Honestly, it probably just makes things worse in our marriage because of my default “what, me worry?” approach to most things.  

Anyway, lots of really good food for thought in here.  I am going to talk to my wife about stepping up and doing more of the monitoring.

Covid and parenting (for the masses)

think I shared the link to my recent research on Covid and parenthood, recently published in Social Science Quarterly.  But, who really reads that :-).  So, Laurel and I wrote up a version of our findings for the masses.  I think it’s pretty good.  It’s mine— (though to be fair, any parts of it that seem to be of much higher quality than my blog writing, you can definitely credit Laurel, who is great at this stuff) you should just read it!  But, here’s some clips anyway, “You’re not imagining it – 3 ways COVID-19 has been extra hard on American parents”

Life has been extra tough for parents in three specific ways, as shown in our analysis of national data on pandemic experiences, the UNC Covid Panel Study Wave 3, published in Social Science Quarterly.

People who are parents are more likely than those who do not have children to report losing their job during the pandemic. Parents are also more likely than those without children to report having experienced a worsening financial situation over the past year.

Parents are also more likely than those without children to report having had COVID-19. Why exactly this is the case is a question better answered by epidemiologists than by social scientists. But it seems plausible that the demands of parenthood are increasing parents’ risk…

Fear was a constant factor this past year, for nearly everyone – but our research shows parents were more fearful and viewed COVID-19 as more of a threat than those without children. This finding is consistent with other research showing that parents, understandably, have a very strong desire to keep their children safe and that the act of caring for a child or children intensifies fears about possible threats.

The survey data used in our research also included questions about mental health. Respondents were asked how often they have been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless; feeling nervous, anxious or on edge; and not being able to stop worrying or control their worrying.

Parents were more likely than those without children to report experiencing these problems. Mothers were the most likely to indicate that they were depressed, anxious and worried – but fathers were also more likely to report these negative feelings than were men without kids…

Surveyed early in the 2020-21 school year, the plurality of parents, 49%, supported online learning, and 37% supported a hybrid option, which inherently increases in-person contact and therefore the potential for disease to spread. Caught between a need to do their jobs to support their families and critical concerns about the health and safety of their children, parents are in many ways in an impossible situation.

While the data in and of itself does not offer solutions to the significant toll of the pandemic on parents, it does show that the problems faced by parents are real. Parents who have been feeling overwhelmed over the past year should know that they are not alone. The challenges of parenting during the pandemic are real and widespread.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been a huge believer in index funds ever since I read John Bogle’s book in grad school and actually started index fund investing way back then.  Safe to say, a big part of my retirement portfolio is in index funds.  But Annie Lowery tells me they may be “worse than Marxism”?

Yet economists, policy makers, and investors are worried that American markets have become inert—the product of a decades-long trend, not a months-long one. For millions of Americans, getting into the market no longer means picking stocks or hiring a portfolio manager to pick them for you. It means pushing money into an index fund, as offered by financial giants such as Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, otherwise known as the Big Three.

With index funds, nobody’s behind the scenes, dumping bad investments and selecting good ones. Nobody’s making a bet on shorting Tesla or going long on Apple. Nobody’s hedging Europe and plowing money into Vietnam. Nobody is doing much of anything at all. These funds are “passively managed,” in investor-speak. They generally buy and sell stocks when those stocks enter or exit indices, such as the S&P 500, and size their holdings according to metrics such as market value. Index funds mirror the market, in other words, rather than trying to pick winners and losers within it…

This financial revolution has been unquestionably good for the people lucky enough to have money to invest: They’ve gotten better returns for lower fees, as index funds shunt billions of dollars away from financial middlemen and toward regular families. Yet it has also moved the country toward a peculiar kind of financial oligarchy, one that might not be good for the economy as a whole.

The problem in American finance right now is not that the public markets are overrun with failsons picking up stock tips on Reddit, investors gambling on art tokens, and rich people flooding cash into Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs. The problem is that the public markets have been cornered by a group of investment managers small enough to fit at a lunch counter, dedicated to quiescence and inertia.

2) As you know, I’m a big vaccine mandate fan.  The case that, maybe, they could backfire:

A possible solution is a vaccine mandate. Omer and other public-health specialists were working on vaccine-requirement frameworks before the pandemic, particularly in connection with outbreaks of measles. In July, 2019, Omer and two of his collaborators—the social scientists Cornelia Betsch, of the University of Erfurt, in Germany, and Julie Leask, of the University of Sydney, both of whom work on medical communication—published an article in Nature urging caution in introducing compulsory vaccination. The authors warned that overly punitive or restrictive vaccine mandates could backfire. For example, when California eliminated nonmedical exemptions from childhood-vaccination requirements, many parents either secured medical exemptions or opted to homeschool their children. Omer told me that he thinks vaccine mandates should be an option in the fight against covid-19, but only following a concerted campaign for voluntary vaccination. “Mandates don’t get you from fifty-per-cent uptake to a hundred,” he said. “But they can be helpful in getting from seventy to ninety.”

Hotez is vaccine developer (he has a covid-19 vaccine currently in clinical trials) and also a longtime activist against vaccine disinformation. Last year, research to which he contributed showed that two groups without much overlap exhibited the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy: Black Americans and conservative Republicans. (Hesitancy among Black Americans has since lowered.) In response to these findings, Hotez became a regular on radio talk shows that would reach people least likely to trust the vaccines. What he discovered, he told me, was that conservative callers assumed that the government would institute a vaccine mandate—they were already in battle with this straw man. Requiring vaccination, Hotez told me, would be, at this stage, “poking the bear.” “Mandates may become necessary, but now I’d say, ‘Don’t push too hard,’ ” he said. “It may be counterproductive.” A mandate, he believes, would affirm the anti-big-government expectations of some of most vocal vaccine resisters, rather than change their minds.

3) The gender gap in public opinion on issues involving guns, military, etc., is interesting and pervasive.  My sometimes co-author Mary-Kate Lizotte (and some others) with some good stuff:

What factors influence an individual’s concern for personal security and safety? Prior research shows that women exhibit higher levels of fear, anxiety, and perceived threat. These differences in threat perceptions have important policy consequences, including the fact that women display lower support for military interventions, lower support for retaliation against terrorist groups, and lower levels of support for using torture. However, previous research has not fully investigated the origins of these differences in concern for safety and security, which we refer to as “personal security dispositions.” We ask if these differences are the result of lived experience, socialization, or both. Specifically, our analysis explores the extent to which personal security dispositions can be traced to parental warnings about safety and avoiding danger. Our findings indicate that both gender identity and parental socialization have an impact on security dispositions. We conclude the article with a discussion of avenues for further research and the policy implications of our findings, in particular with respect to public opinion on issues such as support for the international use of military force.

4) Yglesias on Georgia’s election law:

One thing is that they’ve made it less likely that people will vote absentee in Georgia — they narrowed the window during which ballots can be requested, they largely banned absentee dropboxes, and they made it illegal for local officials to adopt a policy of mailing ballots to all voters. Then they banned mobile voting centers.

The upshot is to funnel more people to normal in-person voting, which likely means longer lines. Yet they put restrictions on giving people food and water in line to encourage them to stick it out and vote. They made it harder to vote legally if you vote at the wrong polling place (perhaps deterred by long lines). And they made it harder to respond to long lines by extending voting hours.

This is all offset by a provision that expands early voting — but does so in a very particular way. Basically, it raises the floor for early voting rather than raising the ceiling. This means, in practice, that early voting should become more available in rural counties while staying the same in the high population Greater Atlanta counties. They are pretty clearly trying to make voting more burdensome and frustrating in metro Atlanta while keeping things the same or maybe even making it easier in the rural parts of the state. It’s an effort to halt the state’s leftward drift by manipulating the electorate rather than adapting to shifting opinion. It will also just make voting more annoying for the typical person, which is bad, albeit not exactly the return of Jim Crow…

After a lot of words, I think the key context on Georgia’s election changes is the ongoing claims by Donald Trump that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen from him.

When he pushed these claims in the winter of 2020-21, the key Republicans with decision-making authority generally stood firmly against him. But a healthy minority of Republican senators backed him; most House Republicans backed him; and the general perception is that downballot GOP elected officials who did the right thing damaged their political fortunes. The Georgia restrictions represent a symbolic and practical healing of the intra-GOP divide, and they do so on Trump’s terms.

Making it harder for people to vote is bad per se, but unlikely to swing the 2024 election.

The risk is simply that in the future, GOP officials will do what Trump wanted and steal elections. The spectacular and alarming events of January 6 ended up creating what I think is an overstated sense in some people’s minds that the country is facing some kind of violent terrorist movement that might try to seize power. A much more plausible threat is just that a bunch of boring state legislators who are insulated from electoral accountability by gerrymandering will, through one means or another, assign their state’s electorate votes to the Republican candidate.

Back to Georgia, the election reform package also includes a great deal of centralization of power, further raising the risk that the GOP-dominated state legislature will try to invalidate the election…

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives and a majority of the state legislatures in the country have badly skewed partisan gerrymanders. We just wrapped up a census last year and redistricting is imminent. Democrats have a once-in-a-decade chance to pass a tough anti-gerrymandering law that sets a partisan fairness standard. If they pass such a law, then if they win future elections 51-49 they will receive narrow governing majorities. If they do not pass such a law, then Republicans will continue to run states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin indefinitely and just laugh off the occasional 55-45 defeat.

Similarly, right now, the geographic skew of the Senate massively overrepresents non-college white voters while underrepresenting Black and Hispanic voters

This means that it is going to be very hard for Democrats to win future Senate majorities. The current 50-50 Senate is based on Democrats having held on to Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio back in 2018 when there was a Republican president, Democratic incumbents in each of those states, and a very favorable national political environment. That majority likely cannot be sustained past the 2022 and 2024 cycles, meaning the chance to enact reforms is slipping away very fast.

These big skews — gerrymandering and the Senate — matter much more than the marginal impact of tinkering with voter ID or absentee ballot rules. And right now, nothing at all other than timidity and paralysis is stopping Democrats from curtailing the filibuster, passing anti-gerrymandering rules, and creating a path for D.C. and U.S. territories to become states. Those would be good, highly effective, pro-democracy reforms with strong public legitimacy that would make it much harder to steal future elections. They deserve much more focus and urgency.

5) “What Bears Can Teach Us About Our Exercise Habits”

Accumulating research suggests that we humans, as a species, are apt to be physically lazy, with a hard-wired inclination to avoid activity. In a telling 2018 neurological study, for example, brain scans indicated that volunteers were far more attracted by images of people in chairs and hammocks than of people in motion.

 

But the extent to which we share this penchant for physical ease with other species and whether these predilections affect how we and they traverse the world has remained unclear.

So, cue grizzlies, particularly those living at the Washington State University Bear Center, the nation’s primary grizzly bear conservation and research center. University biologists affiliated with the center study how the animals live, eat and interact with humans…

Comparing the data, the scientists found that wild grizzlies, like us, seem born to laze. The researchers had expected the wild bears to move at their most efficient speed whenever possible, Mr. Carnahan says. But in reality, their average pace traveling through Yellowstone was a pokey and physiologically inefficient 1.4 miles per hour.

They also almost invariably chose the least-steep route to get anywhere, even when it required extra time. “They did a lot of side-hilling,” Mr. Carnahan says.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the innate urge to avoid exertion plays a greater role in how all creatures, great and small, typically behave and navigate than we might imagine.

6) I always wash my hands after adding bird food to the feeders.  Going to be extra diligent about that now! “Salmonella Outbreak Is Linked to Wild Birds and Feeders, C.D.C. Says”

7) This is pretty damn good from Clearerthinking.org, “How to achieve self-control without “self-control””

8) Another excellent Ezra column, “Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden” in the NYT, well worth reading in full, but here’s the final section:

Biden is a politician, in the truest sense of the word. Biden sees his role, in part, as sensing what the country wants, intuiting what people will and won’t accept, and then working within those boundaries. In America, that’s often treated as a dirty business. We like the aesthetics of conviction, we believe leaders should follow their own counsel, we use “politician” as an epithet.

But Biden’s more traditional understanding of the politician’s job has given him the flexibility to change alongside the country. When the mood was more conservative, when the idea of big government frightened people and the virtues of private enterprise gleamed, Biden reflected those politics, calling for balanced budget amendments and warning of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars.” Then the country changed, and so did he.

A younger generation revived the American left, and Bernie Sanders’s two campaigns proved the potency of its politics. Republicans abandoned any pretense of fiscal conservatism, and Trump raised — but did not follow through on — the fearful possibility of a populist conservatism, one that would combine xenophobia and resentment with popular economic policies. Stagnating wages and a warming world and Hurricane Katrina and a pandemic virus proved that there were scarier words in the English language than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as Ronald Reagan famously put it.

Even when Biden was running as the moderate in the Democratic primary, his agenda had moved well to the left of anything he’d supported before. But then he did something unusual: Rather than swinging to the center in the general election, he went further left. And the same happened after winning the election. He’s moved away from work requirements and complex targeting in policy design. He’s emphasizing the irresponsibility of allowing social and economic problems to fester, as opposed to the irresponsibility of spending money on social and economic problems. His administration is defined by the fear that the government isn’t doing enough, not that it’s doing too much. As the pseudonymous commentator James Medlock wrote on Twitter, “The era of ‘the era of big government is over’ is over.’”

9) Derek Thompson with a good take on the Georgia law.  It really is bad, but Democrats should be more honest about it.

Political hyperbole is neither sin nor modern invention. But suggesting that the Georgia provisions are a steroidal version of poll taxes, literacy tests, whites-only primaries, armed sheriffs patrolling voting lines, and outright domestic terrorism is not helpful. “There’s no doubt about it: This new law does not make it easier to vote,” Bullock said. “But I hear it being billed as Jim Crow 2.0, and it’s really not anywhere near that. This law does not compare to the cataclysms of the white primary or poll taxes.”…

As Delaware’s former senator, Biden would be on firmer ground excoriating Georgia for “Jim Crow 2.0” if he could hold up his home state as a model for voting rights. But Delaware has been a laggard on early voting, and its legislature is still trying to legalize no-excuse absentee voting, which allows any voter to request a mail-in ballot. Georgia, by contrast, permits many weeks of early voting and has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2005. Voting-rights activists may justifiably focus their outrage on a swing state like Georgia that, unlike Delaware, actually determines the balance of power. But “Jim Crow” rhetoric from northeastern politicians and media figures loses some bite when we consider that Georgia’s voting rights have long been more accommodating than those of deep-blue states including not only Delawarebut also Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York

This is what we’ve learned from the Georgia voting-rights fiasco: Corporations are still corporations, the White House’s metaphors are overheated, and the Georgia legislation is far worse. Democrats’ rhetorical embellishments pale in comparison to both the voting-fraud conspiracy theory that inspired Georgia Republicans and the needless provisions of the law itself. Lurking beneath all this confusion and incoherence is a basic partisan difference: GOP activism is about making it harder to vote; Democratic activism is about making it harder to make it harder to vote. If that is the choice before us, I for one know which box I’m prepared to check.

10) Good stuff from Sarah Zhang, “You Probably Have an Asymptomatic Infection Right Now: No, not COVID-19. Many, many viruses can infect humans without making us sick, and how they do that is one of biology’s deepest mysteries.”  I think I’m going to be boring people with anecdotes about human cytomegalovirus in my future.

But for most of human existence, we didn’t know that viruses could infect us asymptomatically. We didn’t know how to look for them, or even that we should. The tools of modern science have slowly made the invisible visible: Antibody surveys that detect past infection, tests that find viral DNA or RNA even in asymptomatic people, and mathematical models all show that viruses are up to much more than making us sick. Scientists now think that for viruses, a wide range of disease severity is the norm rather than the exception.

A virus, after all, does not necessarily wish its host ill. A dead host is a dead end. The viruses best adapted to humans have co-evolved over millions of years to infect but rarely sicken us. Human cytomegalovirus is a prime example, a virus so innocuous that it lives in obscurity despite infecting most of the world’s population. (Odds are that you have it.) Infections with human cytomegalovirus are almost always asymptomatic because it has evolved a suite of tricks to evade the human immune system, which nevertheless tries its best to hunt the virus down. By the time humans reach old age, up to a quarter of our killer T cells are devoted to fighting human cytomegalovirus. Pathogens and immune systems are in constant battle, with one just barely keeping the other in check. In the rare instances when human cytomegalovirus turns deadly—usually in an immunocompromised patient—it’s because this equilibrium did not hold…

T cell responses also weaken with age, which may help explain why COVID-19 is dramatically more deadly for the elderly. Humans have a huge diversity of T cells, some of which are activated each time we encounter a pathogen. But as we age, our supply of unactivated T cells dwindles. Immunosenescence, or the gradual weakening of the immune system over time, is influenced by both age and the system’s previous battles. Human cytomegalovirus—that otherwise innocuous virus that infects much of the world’s population—seems to play a particular role in immunosenescence. So many of our T cells are devoted to suppressing this virus that we may become more vulnerable to new ones.

Unlike human cytomegalovirus, the coronavirus doesn’t seem capable of hiding inside our bodies in the same way for decades. Once it sneaks in, its goal is to replicate as quickly as possible—so that it can find another body before it kills its host, or its host eliminates it.

Now that this coronavirus has found humans, it will have a chance to hone its strategy, probing for more weaknesses in the human immune system. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will become more deadly; the four coronaviruses already circulating among humans cause only common colds, and the virus that causes COVID-19 could one day behave similarly. Variants of the virus are already exhibiting mutations that make them more transmissible and better able to evade existing antibodies. As the virus continues to infect humans over the coming years, decades, and maybe even millenia, it will keep changing—and our immune systems will keep learning new ways to fight back. We’re at the very beginning of our relationship with this coronavirus.

11) I really kind of love how much we don’t know about the world we live in– there’s also so much to learn.  This is fascinating! “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics: Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.”

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science. The new work, they said, could eventually lead to breakthroughs more dramatic than the heralded discovery in 2012 of the Higgs boson, a particle that imbues other particles with mass.

“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., who has been working toward this finding for most of his career.

The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.

“This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky.

12) Gallup’s latest PID:

Bottom Line

It is not unprecedented for Democratic Party affiliation to rise after a Democratic candidate wins the presidential election. It is also not unprecedented to see more people shift to independent political status in a nonelection year, as has occurred. With more of the gain in independent identification coming from the Republican side of the ledger, the GOP is facing its smallest share of Republican identifiers since 2018 and its largest deficit to Democrats on party identification and leaning in nearly nine years.

Republicans did recover from their 2012-2013 deficits to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections and are hoping to duplicate that feat in 2022. Like in 2014, their hopes may rest largely on the popularity level of the incumbent Democratic president.

The GOP’s hopes of regaining control of the House and Senate it lost in the past two federal election cycles may also depend on how well the party appeals to independent voters, the largest bloc in the U.S., something the Republican Party struggled to do during the Trump administration.

13) This.  “Stop Freaking Out: You Probably Already Have Some Type Of Vaccine Passport
Schools, international travel, and military service — people in the US already have to prove they are vaccinated against many diseases.”

14) Sargent on Manchin, “Why filibuster reformers aren’t (quite) ready to give up on Joe Manchin”

So where are 10 Republican votes (the amount needed to overcome a GOP filibuster) going to come from to support even a narrow infrastructure bill?

If and when they don’t materialize, that will be strike one on the Joe Manchin test…

At some point, if Republicans keep failing the Joe Manchin test, he’ll have to admit that nothing will achieve the cooperation that can supposedly be achieved by senators simply rediscovering their inner civic virtue. And he’ll either have to revise his arguments, or reconsider his opposition to filibuster reform. You’d think, anyway.

15) G. Elliot Morris on survey response:

In the 1970s, more than 80% of people called by Gallup’s interviewers answered their phones and completed their interviews. In 1997, surveys run by the Pew Research Centre—another large pollster—had a response rate of 36%. By 2018, it was 6%. It is even lower today—around 2% or 3%, according to Pew. As response rates decrease, the chance that the people answering the phone are systematically different than those who aren’t increases. In recent years, the population of respondents has been more Democratic than the population as a whole, leading to large misses in pre-election surveys. What are pollsters doing about this?

Over the past decade, the survey methodologists at Pew have embarked on a full redesign of the way they conduct public-opinion polls. In 2014, they began surveys over the internet, via a panel of respondents who answer questions repeatedly over time. Their American Trends Panel currently has 13,600 people regularly taking surveys online—some on internet-enabled tablets that Pew sent them. Online surveys have higher response rates than phone polls, and have supplanted random-digit dialling as Pew’s primary mode of collecting public-opinion data in America.

But switching to online polling has not completely solved the differential-response problem. In a recent analysis, Pew has detailed a persistent source of partisan bias in their poll: new recruits. The political composition of people who agreed to join their panel, after receiving a call or postcard soliciting their participation, has grown less Republican each year (see chart). Pew is able to fix much of this bias by adjusting the data to match the political composition of the electorate. This increases the uncertainty of the poll, and is an incomplete fix during an election year; there is still a chance that Republicans answering the phone are different from the ones who aren’t. That is what happened in 2020 when Pew’s panel was weighted by party but still understated support for Donald Trump.

In an attempt to solve the problem and provide a high-quality, less biased estimate of how many Democrats and Republicans live in the country, Pew has begun fielding an annual survey via the postal system that asks people their religious and political attitudes, among other metrics. Crucially, the national survey lets respondents answer either online or by paper in a prepaid envelope. The response rate for the mail survey is 29%, harkening back to the high response rates of the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research, providing this offline response option has made the survey more representative.

Ms Kennedy hopes that using these higher-quality benchmarks to adjust their online polls will make their taking of the pulse of democracy less susceptible to a mass of Republicans refusing to answer their phones. But the methodological fixes do not change the underlying pattern. For some reason, Republicans, especially conservatives, are less likely to feel comfortable telling a pollster how they feel on the issues of the day. Although some biases can be fixed by weighting, Ms Kennedy said, “we really can’t afford to have this get much worse.” The real fix is to convince conservatives that polls are worth taking part in.

16) Watched “The Founder” (the story of Ray Kroc, “founder” of McDonald’s) playing on Netflix this week.  Great job from Michael Keaton and I found the movie very entertaining and was fascinated by the origins of the restaurant and the modern fast-food business.  The movie was really accurate.  

17) Somebody at Gallup had fun with this headline, “Global Warming Attitudes Frozen Since 2016”

18) Yglesias on America’s secularization

Religion is getting more polarized

When I shared that image on Twitter, a lot of secular liberals who don’t like right-wing evangelical politics got excited and dunked on right-wing evangelicals.

But this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Ryan Burge, a religion scholar who makes lots of great charts on Twitter, shows that evangelical or “born again” identity is holding up very well.

The decline in membership instead has two causes. One is that a growing number of people who describe themselves as non-denominational Christians aren’t members of a congregation. The other is that, as documented in Burge’s new book, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. In the 1972 General Social Survey, the “Nones” are 5% of the population, while today they are nearly a quarter of the population.

We’re essentially looking at a more polarized religious landscape, with normie Protestants and Catholics in decline but evangelicals holding their ground in the face of the Rise of the Nones…

The racial polarization of the American electorate steadily increased for decades until bottoming out in 2012. Then somewhat contrary to what you’d guess based on the tenor of the Trump-era takes, the gap between the white and non-white vote shrunk a bit in 2016 and then shrunk more in 2020.

There are a few different reasons for this.

But a political data person I spoke to says that secularization plays a role. He says that in his firm’s data, they see “a substantial effect of no longer identifying with a religion on change in partisanship,” but the impact varies by race. When a white person goes from Christian to non-affiliated, they are more likely to become a Democrat. But when a Black person makes the same switch, the correlation goes in the other direction.

The causation here, of course, is a bit hard to tease out. Michele Margolis’ book suggests that when people leave the GOP, they tend to leave their church, too, since they see right-wing politics as having become constitutive of the religion. Ismail White and Chryl Laird have a recent book which argues that Black Americans with moderate or even conservative views tend to be Democrats out of a sense of partisan loyalty that is inculcated in Black social institutions — with Black churches very high on that list. So secularization of the Black population leads to higher levels of GOP affiliation as Black conservatives (and some Black moderates) drift right in their voting behavior without the socializing influence of the church.

Burge’s data also sees religious disaffiliation moving Hispanics to the right…

Demographics to watch out for

To me, the most interesting thing about this is that the media and political universes seem to have overreacted to the declining political salience of religion by moving to ignoring it entirely. We used to hear a lot about segmenting the white population based on religious affiliation, and now we’ve shifted almost entirely to discussing educational attainment.

But it’s not like the religious influence on politics went away just because secularization forced Republicans to become a less-overtly Jesus-first kind of political coalition.

As I noted above, the secularization trend seems to be prompting a reduction in the racial polarization of the electorate. But it’s also worth saying that since white voters outnumber non-white ones, it’s not like this is a neutral change — falling religious affiliation helps Democrats. It’s also particularly important because the geographical skew of the Senate is a huge deal in contemporary politics, and that skew is driven in part by the great overrepresentation of white voters in the upper house. So a dynamic through which Democrats gain newly unchurched white voters in exchange for losing newly unchurched non-white ones is actually very unfavorable to the GOP.

19) Radley Balko, “The Chauvin trial underscores two very different approaches to policing”

At Derek Chauvin’s trial this week, the jury heard from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city’s former training commander and expert witnesses, all of whom testified that Chauvin’s treatment of George Floyd violated widely accepted use of force standards as well as Minneapolis Police Department policy, which calls for commensurate force and requires respect for the “sanctity of life.” But despite those standards, Chauvin also had a history of kneeling on suspects’ necks for long periods of time, and none of those incidents resulted in discipline. It’s an apt illustration of how, for about the past 10 years, two contradictory philosophies have been at war in American policing.

On one side are the de-escalationists, a product of the criminal justice reform movement. They accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability, as well as training in areas like de-escalation and conflict resolution. De-escalationists believe police serve their communities by apprehending and detaining people who violate the rights and safety of others, but must also do so in a way that protects the rights of the accused.

The other side — let’s call them “no-hesitationists” — asserts that police officers aren’t aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk. They see law enforcement officers as warriors, and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good. These are the self-identified “sheepdogs,” the cops who sport Punisher gear.

No-hesitationists are more prominent in sheriff’s offices and police union leadership, and among rank-and-file officers. They’re more populist and have been successful including their policies in union contracts, honing successful legal arguments for cops accused of excessive force and leveraging political power, both to elect police-friendly judges, prosecutors and lawmakers, and to shame and intimidate politicians deemed insufficiently pro-law enforcement.

The de-escalationists successfully worked their preferred practices into official policy. But the no-hesitationists prevented meaningful enforcement of those policies. One example played out in Los Angeles in 2015. After LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced a new “Preservation of Life” award, for officers who held their fire and peacefully resolved confrontations with potentially dangerous suspects, the police union objected, claiming the award valued the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of police officers.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Eric Topol and Abraham Verghese (who also wrote a helluva novel) with a great interview of Roberto Burioni :

The Future Is Up in the Air

Verghese: What do you see in the future? Looking into your crystal ball, what is the next year going to look like in Italy, the United States, and globally?

Burioni: It’s very difficult to make predictions in general when you talk about something that appeared in the world just 1 year ago. In this case, it’s even more difficult because the virus that appeared 1 year ago is changing. Today we have a virus that is different from the virus we had 6 months ago. We also see some differences in COVID symptoms. Viruses change, which is expected. The measles virus that appeared in the 11th century probably also developed many variants in the beginning, and then one variant, the best one, took over, and now we see only that variant.

Personally, I believe it will depend very much on vaccinations and whether we will be able to vaccinate the majority of people. At that point, we will need to see what happens to vaccinated people. There are two possibilities: The first is that some variant will cause a clinically relevant disease. This is not certain; we’ll have to see. I personally think it is unlikely because it’s not easy for a virus to escape such strong immunity. We don’t see any signs at the moment, but viruses can be unpredictable, so we have to be cautious.

Then we have to see what the current variants lead to in the vaccinated patients. If the majority of them will be almost asymptomatic, and if transmission is reduced, it’s likely that we will live in a world where, once everyone is vaccinated, this would be the fifth coronavirus causing a nondangerous respiratory disease. We’ll have COVID in a very mild form, children will get this very contagious virus as they get other respiratory viruses, and they will develop immunity or they will be vaccinated against it. I hope that this will become a mild respiratory disease, as it already appears to be in vaccinated people.

Topol: We share that optimism for sure. Now here’s a difficult question. The UK B.1.1.7 variant has spread throughout Europe, but the patterns are quite heterogeneous. Italy, the Netherlands, and now Germany and France are showing the signs of marked spread, whereas other countries, such as Denmark and Spain, show few signs of spread, even though this is dominant in all of these European countries. How would you explain this disparity in the pattern?

Burioni: One of the features of this virus, which is uncommon and is not shared by other viruses, is the deep heterogeneity of the infectivity between one person and another. Some patients are not infectious at all whereas others are extremely infectious, and if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, then that particular virus can spread extremely well. Unfortunately, we have learned from experience that when something happens in Europe, no more than 4-8 weeks later, it’s everywhere. The initial virus was in Italy at the beginning of March 2020, and then it spread through all of Europe. This was also the case for the wave that followed during the summer in France and Spain.

Here in Italy, we were seeing the Spanish strain, because many young people from Italy went on vacation in Spain and brought it back here. So this should not be a surprise given the fact that there are patients who are extremely infectious and others who are not infectious at all.

You can see family units where one person got infected and the infection did not spread to other members of the family. On the other hand, you also can see instances where one person was infectious, and that person went to a church or a theater and caused an outbreak. This disparity in infectiousness may be one reason for this difference between one country and another, or between states in the United States…

Right now, two numbers are the most important. The first is the efficacy against severe COVID-19 infection. That’s important because mild infection is not a problem. It’s a discomfort, but I wouldn’t say it is a medical problem. Severe infection is a medical problem, not only for the patient but also for the health system. So these are very important numbers.

The other important issue, which is more complicated, is the vaccine’s effect on transmission. We need to know if any given vaccine is able to stop transmission, because if a vaccine is preventing the disease but is not preventing the transmission, then it only protects the single person who is vaccinated. If another vaccine prevents the disease and also stops the transmission, with that one, we can protect the community.

From my experience as a virologist, I’ve never heard of a vaccine having a 95% effect on preventing disease that doesn’t have a profound effect on transmission. Not a single one that hasn’t been a huge obstacle to transmission. The latest data from Israel are showing that the Rt [rate of transmission] went down to 0.5, even in the presence of this terrible variant, which is almost too good to be true because this means that transmission is affected. Without a relevant animal reservoir, and if transmission is affected by the vaccination, we can get rid of this virus. That is the end of the story.
 

2) Really liked this from Yglesias:

Here’s a headline in The New York Times: “Can Vaccinated People Spread the Virus? We Don’t Know, Scientists Say.”

This sort of thing has been driving me crazy all pandemic. Back months before Pfizer and Moderna submitted their paperwork to the FDA, I asked some virologists and public health people some general questions about vaccines and they were all very clear — clinical trials are designed to test specific endpoints but in general, vaccines that are effective at blocking the development of serious symptoms also provide some “sterilizing immunity” against asymptomatic transmission. That’s a general attribute of human immune systems and disease transmission.

What’s also true is that in general, this usually isn’t perfect, so it’s still generally pro-social for a vaccinated person to behave somewhat cautiously.

Then once the vaccines were in hand, this very clear message — we don’t know exactly how much sterilizing immunity these vaccines provide but it would be bizarre if there wasn’t a significant impact — collapsed into a mush of fake ignorance and “we don’t know.” But again, delve into the text of the article and it’s clear that they actually do know:

“If Dr. Walensky had said most vaccinated people do not carry virus, we would not be having this discussion,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

“What we know is the vaccines are very substantially effective against infection — there’s more and more data on that — but nothing is 100 percent,” he added. “It is an important public health message that needs to be gotten right.”

But I mean of course being vaccinated is not a 100% absolutely positive guarantee that you can’t transmit the virus; we already know that from the fact that the vaccines don’t prevent the development of symptoms in all cases. The vaccines are really good. Even really good vaccines aren’t perfect. We know this. The actual issue here is not a disagreement about vaccine science but a disagreement about social psychology. One group of people seems to think it’s important to try to encourage pro-social caution by discussing the risks that still exist post-vaccination, while another group thinks it’s important to try to encourage the pro-social behavior of getting vaccinated by emphasizing the positive. This is an interesting dispute. But it’s not a dispute about immunology at all, and it requires some other kind of evidence and probably a completely different body of scholarship.

3) Chait on bad conservative defenses of Georgia’s new voting law:

The right-wing defenses of these measures almost universally ignore the main dynamic that inspires them. Voting is not an activity that confers a direct benefit; it is something people do out of civic obligation. Increasing the hassle required to carry it out obviously deters people from doing it. And people with less money, more chaotic or stressful lives, and less education are systematically less equipped to overcome the hassle of acquiring the proper paperwork, finding the correct polling location, and arriving at the polls within the allotted time.

“Voter suppression doesn’t involve long lines, any more than long lines at Disneyland are ride suppression,” argues Shapiro. This is a bizarre comparison. If you’ve ever visited a theme park, you know that long lines actually are ride suppressors. When my kids were young, I took them to Disney World; if the lines were too long when they asked to go on certain rides, sometimes we wouldn’t go.

I don’t think I’m the only person who has made that calculation. And when the reward for your wait is not a roller-coaster ride your kids are begging to take but an “I voted” sticker and the statistically indistinguishable-from-zero chance of casting a deciding vote, then standing in a long line to vote is a fairly imposing deterrent. That’s all the more true when you’re not on holiday and you may be getting home from a long shift or rushing to make it to work or to pick up your kids from day care.

National Review editor Rich Lowry, parroting the official line from Georgia Republicans, insists, “It’s hard to believe that one real voter is going to be kept from voting by the new rules.” Really? Not one? In the 2020 election, nearly half of the 11,000 provisional ballots in Georgia were cast in the wrong precincts. (And that was with unusually high levels of mail voting, which the new law also curtails.) Presumably, at least some of those voters will be deterred by the requirement that, after waiting in line to vote and being told they have visited the wrong precinct, they go to find another precinct and stand in line again.

What makes the pious argument by the likes of Shapiro and Lowry so odd is that conservatives historically support the notion of using restrictive voting laws to winnow the electorate. This view dates back at least to the early 1960s, when William F. Buckley famously quipped, “What is wrong in Mississippi, sir, is not that not enough Negroes are voting but that too many white people are.” …

The Republican Party’s enthusiasm for vote suppression predates Trump, and it has become a core tenet of the party’s post-Trump-presidency identity. Vote suppression is an issue that brings together the Trump-adoring base and the elites who tolerated him as a necessary evil — if they don’t agree that Joe Biden stole the last election, they do agree on passing laws that will make it harder for Democrats to win the next one.

The fight over vote suppression also brings to the fore the party Establishment’s belief that whatever bad odor they acquired during the Trump years should immediately be dispelled. It was intolerable enough that large sectors of respectable corporate opinion shunned them over their support for a racist, authoritarian president. Now they expect to be treated as respectable again, not as a party still teeming with racist, authoritarian elements.

The problem is, this is exactly what they are.

4) Conor Friedersdorf with a fascinating interview, “‘The Narrative Is, “You Can’t Get Ahead”’ In Evanston, Illinois, a Black parent and school-board candidate takes on a curriculum meant to combat racism.”

Ndona Muboyayi wants to improve the education that public-school children, including her son and daughter, receive in Evanston, Illinois, where her mother’s family history goes back five generations.

As a candidate for the school board in District 65, which educates children up until eighth grade, she wants to close the academic-achievement gap separating Black and brown students from white ones, help children who need special education, and address what she sees as a lack of support for students whose first language isn’t English. That agenda would be ultra-progressive in many communities. In Evanston, however, Muboyayi is challenging not the right, but the left…

Muboyayi, 44, a member of the NAACP Evanston/North Shore Branch and the Congolese Community of Chicago, shares their concerns about the curriculum and is now among its most outspoken critics. She attributes her willingness to talk openly to the fact that she is self-employed. A business consultant and translator, Muboyayi attended public schools in Evanston as a child and then moved away. When she returned with children of her own in 2018, she anticipated that they would receive the empowering, racially inclusive education she remembered. Instead she was confronted with a curriculum she deems disempowering, divisive, and ill-suited to helping students of color succeed in school…

Ndona Muboyayi: I grew up in the Fifth Ward, a predominantly Black neighborhood. My mom is African-American and very Afrocentric. We had Black dolls. We had books about Africa. We had all of this imagery that was positive reinforcement for who we were. We did have white friends. But to be honest, our life didn’t revolve around white people. We had a kind of cushion of Black comfort, so to speak, where we were allowed to be children and whatever prejudices that might have existed, we weren’t aware of them.

So I had a very good childhood. One teacher, who was not white, thought in first grade that I needed to be in special education, because I was active and talked a lot. In third grade, my teacher couldn’t pronounce my name. But those are the only issues I remember. Evanston to me was almost a utopia. Which is why I told my children, while we were living outside Toronto, “When we move back to the States, let’s move to Evanston.” I gave my children and my husband, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this idea that it would be a place of both Black unity and people working together across color lines. But when we got here in 2018, within the first year, my children were being taught about white supremacy and white privilege and that all white people were rich and racist. My son and daughter came home like, What is this?

Friedersdorf: What was the problem with those lessons, beyond your children not liking them?

Mboyayi: My children have always been so proud of who they are. Then all of a sudden they started to question themselves because of what they were taught after arriving here. My son has wanted to be a lawyer since he was 11. Then one day he came home and told me, “But Mommy, there are these systems put in place that prevent Black people from accomplishing anything.” That’s what they’re teaching Black kids: that all of this time for the past 400 years, this is what [white people have] done to you and your people. The narrative is, “You can’t get ahead.”

Of course I want my children to know about slavery and Jim Crow. But I want it to be balanced out with the rest of the truth. They’re not taught about Black people who accomplished things in spite of white supremacy; or about the Black people today who got ahead, built things, achieved things; and those who had opportunities that their ancestors fought for.

5) Hey, I’m no psychiatrist, but the guy who just killed the Capitol police officer seems like an absolutely classic case of paranoid schizophrenia.  Bizarre to me that this article about his complete mental collapse and break with reality would make no mention of that possibility and be just as likely to pin it on drug problems.  

6) I don’t have a problem at all with Nate Cohn doing an analysis and summarizing literature that Georgia’s new laws, actually, probably won’t have that dramatic an effect on turnout.  But G. Elliott Morris has a great rejoinder to taking this approach without proper contextualization, “Electoral math obscures the bigger story on voting rights: Attempts to restrict the franchise are normatively bad, regardless of their effects. Coverage should reflect that.”

This is a fair representation of the orthodoxy in political science, as far as I can tell. I have written similar pieces on the subject over the past couple of years, and covered the Stanford study Cohn refers to. He also posits some theories as to why a decrease in the convenience of voting might not decrease turnout, on average. They are worth reading.

In my view, Cohn’s factual discussion is all fine and unobjectionable on empirical grounds, except for one caveat. The study of absentee voters in Texas has actually caused a bit of grumbling among political scientists. The study worked by comparing absentee voting among treatment and a control groups — voters on either side of the 65-year age cutoff for eligibility in Texas. But, as Charlotte Hill, a PhD candidate in voting and elections at Berkeley points out, the control group is already made up of high-propensity voters. This creates a ceiling on the turnout effect you’d find among those voters, compared to the residual effects of increasing turnout that you might find with lower propensity voters. Charlotte goes into a few other examples of contrary evidence that doesn’t get mentioned in the piece here.

Aside from this, there are two broader issues that I want to raise. First, I think it is improper (or at least very messy) to project these conclusions onto the voting restrictions in Georgia. And second, I think the context, in this case, matters more than the factual debate over voting mechanisms. Republicans, after losing an election in Georgia due in large part to the mobilization of black voters, are now passing voting restrictions that could plausibly have a disproportionate impact on their ability to vote in the future. The fact that a discussion of this context is missing from Cohn’s piece is a rather error of journalism.

7) I know my wife would laugh out loud at the idea that I really try to have intellectual humility, but I do.  Not quite sure why I had this tab open on the matter from 2019, but it’s good:

Humility is a relative newcomer to social and personality psychology, at least as a trait or behavior to be studied on its own. It arrived as part of the effort, beginning in the 1990s, to build a “positive” psychology: a more complete understanding of sustaining qualities such as pride, forgiveness, grit and contentment. More recently, humility has found a foothold in the most widely used measure of personality traits, the five- factor questionnaire. The wallflower is attracting some attention, and so far appears to be absorbing it well.

In one series of experiments, Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso of Pepperdine University scored volunteers on a measure of what she called intellectual humility — an awareness of how incomplete and fallible their views on political and social issues were. This kind of humility was not related to I.Q. measures or political affiliation, she found; it was strongly linked to curiosity, reflection and open-mindedness.

In another, ongoing study, Dr. Krumrei Mancuso had 587 American adults complete questionnaires intended to measure levels of intellectual humility. The participants rated how much they agreed with various statements, including “I feel small when others disagree with me on topics that are close to my heart,” and “For the most part, others have more to learn from me than I have to learn from them.” [Okay– sorry, for me to say yes to this one would just be false modesty.  But, part of me knowing a helluva lot is actually recognizing how much I don’t know– but, yeah, definitely more than your average bear] Those who scored highly on humility — not that they’d boast about it — also scored lower on measures of political and ideological polarization, whether conservative or liberal.

Other research has found that people who score high for humility are less aggressive and less judgmental toward members of other religious groups than are less-humble people, even and especially after being challenged about their own religious views.

“These kinds of findings may account for the fact that people high in intellectual humility are not easily manipulated with regard to their views,” Dr. Krumrei Mancuso said. The findings, she added, may also “help us understand how humility can be associated with holding convictions.”

In the new review paper, Dr. Van Tongeren and his colleagues proposed several explanations for why humility, intellectual or otherwise, is such a valuable facet of personality. A humble disposition can be critical to sustaining a committed relationship. It may also nourish mental health more broadly, providing a psychological resource to shake off grudges, suffer fools patiently and forgive oneself.

8) I remember the good old days when I thought monoclonal antibodies were going to be our ticket out of this well before vaccines (though, I still think there’s a non trivial chance that Molnupiravir/EIDD 2801 ultimately proves amazing).  But, damn, even though the monoclonal antibodies do work, if not game-changer level, turns out we’re doing a horrible job at getting them to the patients who most stand to benefit.    

On Monday, one of my patients called me to say she had tested positive for the coronavirus. The patient, who has sickle cell anemia and has had a bone-marrow transplant, lives several hours away from the hospital where I work in New York City. Because she is at extreme risk for complications from Covid-19, I began trying to secure the best medicine for preventing severe disease: monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibodies are made in the laboratory and are designed to mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off invaders like viruses. Different monoclonal antibodies are used to treat numerous illnesses. They have been found effective in treating people at a high risk of complications from Covid-19, and last fall the Food and Drug Administration approved their emergency use to treat the disease. But right now it’s too hard for patients to obtain this treatment.

After calls to several hospitals near my patient’s home, I found one that could administer monoclonal antibodies. She went to the hospital and remained in the emergency room for more than 24 hours, untreated because the doctors did not feel her condition warranted the medication. While she waited, she developed a sickle cell pain crisis that was doubtlessly provoked by her panic over the test result and the uncertainty about whether she would receive the treatment I recommended. By Tuesday night, she had a fever and a cough, and her treatment finally began.

As a clinical hematologist caring for people with compromised immune systems, I have watched in horror as Covid-19 has ravaged my patients. I have lost three colleagues and more than 20 patients to the disease. I contracted Covid-19 last March, before any useful treatment had been identified. Despite progress in vaccinations, the coronavirus remains a persistent and even growing problem in New York City, where about 4,000 new cases of Covid-19 are being identified every day, and thousands of people remain hospitalized.
 
9) Happy Easter!

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting take on the Ever Given from David Graham:

When a big jet airplane crashes, it almost always makes headlines around the world, and for good reason: Fatal passenger accidents are extremely rare. Right now, though, the eyes of the world are on the Ever Given, the massive container ship still stubbornly lodged between the banks of the Suez Canal.

The Ever Given’s predicament is both highly unusual and typical: Seldom does a ship get stuck in the Suez (though it does happen every few years), and seldom does a maritime disaster attract such attention. But even though the world is incredibly dependent on ships like Ever Given—a reality that pandemic-related disruptions have suddenly made visible—major maritime incidents are surprisingly common. According to the insurer Allianz, 41 large ships were lost in 2019, and 46 in 2018. Over the past decade, about 100 big vessels have been lost annually.

Why does this keep happening? Every maritime accident, like every plane crash, has its own unique failures. But one key to the improvement in aviation safety was the advent of a radical new approach to safety and training, known as cockpit resource management or crew resource management. Airplane failures still occur, but they rarely become fatal catastrophes. The shipping industry has tried to learn from aviation’s success, dubbing its equivalent “bridge resource management,” but the implementation and modernization of the approach have largely failed.

2) One of the most incredibly shameful moral failures of our government over the past twenty years is how we have abandoned so many of the native Iraqis and Afghans who have literally put their life on the line for the U.S.  George Packer on this ongoing failure.  

3) Thanks to BB for sharing this with me, “After crime plummeted in 2020, Baltimore will stop drug, sex prosecutions”

Something happened in Baltimore last year. The coronavirus pandemic hit, and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced that the city would no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, trespassing and other minor charges, to keep people out of jail and limit the spread of the deadly virus.

And then crime went down in Baltimore. A lot. While violent crime and homicides skyrocketed in most other big American cities last year, violent crime in Baltimore dropped 20 percent from last March to this month, property crime decreased 36 percent, and there were 13 fewer homicides compared with the previous year. This happened while 39 percent fewer people entered the city’s criminal justice system in the one-year period, and 20 percent fewer people landed in jail after Mosby’s office dismissed more than 1,400 pending cases and tossed out more than 1,400 warrants for nonviolent crimes.

So on Friday, Mosby made her temporary steps permanent. She announced Baltimore City will continue to decline prosecution of all drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic and misdemeanor cases, and will partner with a local behavioral health service to aggressively reach out to drug users, sex workers and people in psychiatric crisis to direct them into treatment rather than the back of a patrol car.

“A year ago, we underwent an experiment in Baltimore,” Mosby said in an interview, describing steps she took after consulting with public health and state officials to reduce the public’s exposure to the coronavirus, including not prosecuting nonviolent offenses. “What we learned in that year, and it’s so incredibly exciting, is there’s no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses. These low-level offenses were being, and have been, discriminately enforced against Black and Brown people.

“The era of ‘tough on crime’ prosecutors is over in Baltimore,” Mosby said. “We have to rebuild the community’s trust in the criminal justice system and that’s what we will do, so we can focus on violent crime.” In a city that still struggles with a high homicide rate and gun violence, even with the decline in crime,she said the policy shift will enable more prosecutors to be assigned to homicides and other major cases instead of misdemeanor court.

This is damn good stuff and so encouraging to see that it appears to be working.  Of course, the article is full of quotes from the haters for whom insist on maximally punitive criminal justice policy while blithely ignoring how poorly that is working for our country.

4) Speaking of crime, I love reading Yglesias on the subject because he absolutely refuses to simply fall for the dogmas of either side.  Here he is on the genuinely concerning rise in homicide:

And to understand that argument, you need to see that no matter what you make of the Atlanta mass murders, there was a large increase in the overall number of murders in the United States last year, and that rise in murders calls for a political and policy response.

The 2020 murder surge

Murder data in the United States, unfortunately, reports with a lag, so while it was clear last year that killings were going up in most big cities, we didn’t have a definitive read on the national picture — most people don’t live in big cities. And it’s going to take all the way until September 2021 to get the government’s final official count of how many people were murdered in 2020. But last week, we did get the official preliminary numbers, and it’s a lot of murders.

We’re back up to levels last seen midway through the 1990s crime drop…

This is bad both because it’s sad when innocent people die, and also because high levels of murder cause a lot of secondary problems. For example, we have made some tentative progress in recent years in getting jurisdictions to adopt less exclusionary zoning rules. People aren’t going to want to do that if they think that a more economically diverse neighborhood means a significant increase in the chances that their kid will be killed by a stray bullet.

Children who are proximate to murders are traumatized and do worse in school. If you’re a business owner, the need to take defensive measures against crime raises your cost structure. It’s harder to invest in publicly provided club goods like parks and libraries when there are safety concerns.

And of course, the burden of these crimes does not fall equally…

The good news for people who don’t feel comfortable making definitive pronouncements based on ambiguous data is that there clearly has been a huge surge in people getting shot and killed.

If you accept the racists’ view that the only way to express concern about the rising tide of murder is to embrace racism, then this leaves you with a problem. But I think it is in fact not racist to express concern about a rising surge of murders. Now as I have been saying since last summer, the real problem was deciding that police play no role in reducing crime, which led a lot of progressives who think racism is bad (I agree!) to express that view last summer by indulging the idea that we should defund or abolish police departments.

The current state of the art on this debate in this takesverse is that people do backward-looking analysis and ask why did murder go up so much in 2020? Was it the pandemic? Was it the protests?

And if you think it was the protests, you can parse that in two ways. One, the pro-cop way, is to say that city officials were so critical of police departments that they became unable to use their best crime-fighting techniques. Another more cop-skeptical take is that police departments staged a de facto strike — throwing a fit at the slightest hint of accountability.

I’m a solutions guy. We can certainly hope that the waning of the pandemic leads to less murder in 2021. And I can think of some reasons to believe that it will. Idle young men are tinder for violence, and having tons of stuff closed and nobody in school for months and months at a time seems like bad news. Get teenagers back in school; get more people working; give people more stuff to do for fun; and you may well see less crime. On the flip side, though, crime tends to be somewhat “sticky.” Violence begets more violence as people seek vengeance for past wrongs. Overwhelmed police departments can’t solve cases, and impunity sets in.

Conversely, if you’re a “Blame BLM” guy, then what is the solution here? Next time we see a video of an unarmed man being strangled to death, don’t mention anything? George Floyd wasn’t killing anyone. And the officers who killed him weren’t making split-second life or death judgment calls under duress.

Whatever you think caused the rise in crime — and to whatever extent you think the Asian subset of the increased crime victimization is due to Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric — the overall problem is crying out for solutions…

As I’ve now written many times, the evidence is genuinely very strong that if you have more police officers just patrolling around in high-crime areas, that reduces crime. To be clear about something — that doesn’t mean arresting more people. And it doesn’t mean stop-and-frisking them. It means literally just be present so people don’t commit crimes.

But I am tired of repeating myself on that point. What I would really like is for progressives to decide that not only is it not racist to want a reduction in the murder rate, it doesn’t even have to mean embracing the idea of increasing police patrol volumes.

Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey’s book “Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence” was really prophetic.

He argues that the fall in urban violence was closely linked to the rise of more intensive policing. He also argues (in retrospect, correctly) that there would be a backlash to over-policing that could potentially generate a rise in crime. His call is to recognize that the basic helpful thing cops can do — monitor the situation and stop crime before it starts — can be done other ways. Better streetlights reduce crimeCCTV cameras reduce crime, especially when they are actively monitored.

5) I really enjoyed Frederick de Boer’s Cult of Smart, but don’t think I ever wrote about it.  Just came across this nice summary/interview:

You call this book “a prayer for the untalented.” What does that mean?

When both conservatives and liberals discuss a just society, they tend to use language like “everyone should get what they deserve” or “everyone should be able to maximize their own potential.” That they should not be held back by outside factors that we consider illegitimate, like how rich their parents are. My position in the book is, why do we stop there? 

In other words, if your natural talent is something that you have incomplete control over, then that’s no more of a natural or just reason to restrict someone from living the good life than anything else. I want us to peel back that onion one more level and look at those who just lack natural talent in things that happen to be marketable in today’s economy and ask, “Why should they suffer?”

You wrote that the conservative point of view is focused on grit. Something like, “grit will get you through hardship and toward success.” And you wrote that the liberal point of view is focused on opportunity and equity. 

In the book, you say sometimes it just doesn’t matter. Some kids just don’t have what it takes to succeed at school. Why do you think people can’t accept that? What makes it so controversial? 

Conservatives tend to really be invested in this notion of the self-made man. They want to believe that what they have, they have because they’ve earned it. In order to preserve that belief, you have to minimize the influence of factors that are out of your control. 

Liberals want to preserve a sort of naive vision of human equality. Of course, I believe in human equality, but I believe in equality of dignity, equality of rights, and political equality. But I don’t believe that everyone is equally good at all things. And it’s important to say that part of what people are trying to preserve is an economy where what is valued at what time is a somewhat arbitrary distinction.

There was a time in human affairs when just being a big strong guy made you someone who was able to secure more for yourself and other people. If you were someone who was able to be a really effective laborer, if you were someone who was able to haul a lot of wood, if you were someone who was able to be physically imposing on a battlefield — those talents were things that were highly sought after and resulted in a high level of compensation. Now, a person like that is just as likely to be unemployed as he is to be someone who is doing well in the economy. And in fact, the jobs that really depend upon your physical attributes are ones that — with the exception of professional athletics — tend to be low-paying. 

We can’t underestimate the fact that liberals tend to talk a really good game about the injustices of the economy, but a lot of the liberals who do that talking are people who have succeeded in this economy. And so to a degree that they don’t like to admit, they have a vested interest in preserving the economy as it stands.

Some kids just aren’t good at school. They need a better path.

You recount a story in the book of a student that you spent hours and hours working with, who tried as hard as he could, and he just couldn’t learn in school. Can you talk a little bit about that student and how it informed your perspective here?

He was a student in a special program for kids with severe emotional disturbances. And you would never have known it, but by the time I got there, the staff there and the teachers there had done a really wonderful job with him and his behavioral problems that got him sent to juvenile detention were almost nonexistent at that point. He had made tremendous improvement, but his improvements were not showing up in his grades. 

The behavioral stuff helped with his ability now to attend a class, not to attempt to hurt himself, not to throw his desk around, that sort of thing. That’s not the game in terms of what school was meant to inculcate in people. You need to have academic skills. And this was a kid who just struggled so hard, particularly in math, and his teachers worked so hard with him, and I worked hard with him as a paraprofessional. But he just could not do long division. If there was a remainder, he just could not function. 

And it occurred to me watching this kid that there’s a certain degree of cruelty to what we were attempting to do, because it didn’t seem to matter. He certainly was working very hard at it. And, it struck me that a system that really cared about a kid like him is one that knows what to do with kids who can’t do long division with remainders. It’s a system that has a more expansive vision of what success looks like. That has pathways for people who aren’t ever going to be good at math or science, and that could see something other than failure in him.

One thing you touch on is the concept of inherited intelligence, which is controversial because it’s sometimes conflated with race science. You take great pains to reject race science in all forms while also saying inherited intelligence exists.

I understand why everybody is so touchy about this. The education research people would prefer to say “baseline ability” rather than “inherited ability.” I don’t care about the language that you use. We are all good at some things and not good at other things. And it just so happens that school is one of the things that we are all good at or not good at. 

In other words, no one has any problem with me saying that I lack natural ability in sprinting. It doesn’t matter if I had decided in middle school that I wanted to be a world-class sprinter. It wouldn’t have mattered. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how good the coaching that I had, no matter how expensive the equipment I used, I would never become a world-class sprinter.

No one pretends everybody has the same athletic gifts. And in fields like music, there is also a sense that it’s common for some people to have natural talent that others do not. But it’s only with school that we become incredibly sensitive to the perception that we’re saying that some people lack natural ability. 

I didn’t quite realize the way it had become dogma in some liberal quarters that there’s no innate/inherited differences in intelligence.  That is, of course, transparently ridiculous.  But de Boer’s point is that we need to stop pretending like this is true in our public policies.

6) And while I’m on de Boer, loved his take on journalism and the Substack controversy:

Displacement – Displacement is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person redirects a negative emotion from its original source to a less threatening recipient. A classic example of the defense is displaced aggression. If a person is angry but cannot direct their anger toward the source without consequences, they might “take out” their anger on a person or thing that poses less of a risk.

Media Twitter does not hate Substack because it’s pretending to be a platform when it’s a publisher; they don’t hate it because it’s filled with anti-woke white guys; they don’t hate it because of harassment or any such thing. I don’t think they really hate it at all. Substack is a small and ultimately not-very-relevant outpost in a vastly larger industry; they may not like it but it’s not important enough for them to hate it. What do they hate? They hate where their industry is and they hate where they are within their industry. But that’s a big problem that they don’t feel like they can solve. If you feel you can’t get mad at the industry that’s impoverishing you, it’s much easier to get mad at the people who you feel are unjustly succeeding in that industry. Trying to cancel Glenn Greenwald (again) because he criticizes the media harshly? Trying to tarnish Substack’s reputation so that cool, paid-up writer types leave it and the bad types like me get kicked off? That they can maybe do. Confronting their industry’s future with open eyes? Too scary, especially for people who were raised to see success as their birthright and have suddenly found that their degrees and their witheringly dry one-liners do not help them when the rent comes due.

Things are bad, folks:

You think the writers complaining in that piece I linked to at the top wanted to be here, at this place in their career, after all those years of hustling? You think decades into their media career, the writers who decamped to Substack said to themselves “you know, I’d really like to be in my 40s and having to hope that enough people will pitch in $5 a month so I can pay my mortgage”? No. But the industry didn’t give them what they felt they deserved either. So they displace and project. They can hate Jesse Singal, but Jesse Singal isn’t where this burning anger is coming from. Neither am I. They’re so angry because they bought into a notoriously savage industry at the nadir of its labor conditions and were surprised to find that they’re drifting into middle age without anything resembling financial security. I feel for them as I feel for all people living economically precarious lives, but getting rid of Substack or any of its writers will not do anything to fix their industry or their jobs. They wanted more and they got less and it hurts. This isn’t what they dreamed. That’s what this is really about.

7) Three big cheers to SSQ for getting me published so damn fast.  And credit to Laurel for a great title, “A Recipe for Madness: Parenthood in the Era of Covid‐19”

Abstract

Objectives

This article seeks to understand the economic, mental health, and political impacts on American parents in the era of Covid‐19.

Methods

We draw on survey data from a diverse national sample collected in September 2020 and employ multivariate analysis to explore how Covid‐19 has uniquely affected the attitudes and life experiences of American parents.

Results

We find that Covid‐19 has been unusually burdensome for parents as they are more likely to have experienced negative physical and mental health outcomes and suffer more negative financial impacts. Despite the challenges parents face, they also remain cautious about in‐person school and vaccinations. Although mothers have been the focus of much news coverage, we find that both mothers and fathers have been similarly and negatively impacted by Covid‐19.

Conclusion

American parents are suffering at distinctively high levels during this pandemic. In order to recover, policymakers will need to target outreach and support tailored to the needs and issues facing parents.

8) If you follow political polling at all, you definitely need to read Nate Silver’s latest, “The Death Of Polling Is Greatly Exaggerated.”  Quite noteworthy, I think, is the conclusion that live-interviewer phone polling is simply no longer the gold standard and that the most effective polls seem to rely on a mix of modes.  

9) Missed this from Clark Neily late last year, but it’s damn good.  You should read it.  “Why Are People So Mad at Police?”

Police represent the front line of our criminal justice system. If, as I have argued here before, that system is fundamentally rotten and in certain respects morally indefensible, then people will naturally direct their ire towards those most responsible for dragging people into it. Human beings come hardwired with various cognitive biases and moral intuitions. Among the most powerful of those is the tendency to condemn those who violate certain taboos, including particularly the rule against harming other people without sufficient justification. If a strong case can be made that police officers regularly transgress fundamental moral precepts—while disclaiming any responsibility for doing so—then continued loss of confidence and corresponding anger towards them becomes much easier to understand…

So, is it reasonable to perceive that police too often violate the moral precept against harming other people without sufficient justification? Unfortunately, the answer is plainly yes. And that’s not all. Besides inflicting unjustifiable harm, police are widely perceived as being frequently deceitful and unwilling to take responsibility for their misdeeds—more taboos that have been universally condemned throughout recorded history. Members and supporters of law enforcement who wish to restore public confidence in and esteem for police should stop dismissing these perceptions out of hand and instead consider whether they might have some basis in fact.

1. Harming others without sufficient justification and/or using disproportionate force.

There is a raging debate about how often police violate people’s legal rights by using excessive force. Some people claim it happens relatively infrequently and represents only a tiny fraction of interactions between police and the public. Others, myself included, argue that police employ force—including lethal force—far more often than they should, and that it makes little sense to try to calculate the number of times police use excessive force as a percentage of total encounters. Among other things, when the law enforcement community doesn’t even keep careful track of how many people they shoot, how on earth could we ever feel confident of either the numerator or the denominator with respect to all uses of force during police encounters?

But we needn’t resolve that debate here because there are two other deeply problematic features of modern policing about which the only debate is philosophical, not empirical. These are, first, the use of police to enforce morally unjustifiable laws; and second, the use of police to inflict harm on people that is vastly disproportionate to the magnitude of the wrong (if any) they have done. Both categories of behavior are morally condemnable and American police spend a considerable amount of time doing each.

a. Harming others by enforcing morally unjustifiable laws

Consider a law that allows children who are deemed to be feeble-minded or mentally defective to be sterilized so they can never reproduce. Even if the Supreme Court upheld that law (which it did in the notorious 1927 case Buck v. Bell), it would still be immoral to help enforce it—whether by tearing children away from their grief-stricken parents, transporting them to state-operated sterilization facilities, defending the policy in court, or by actually performing those procedures oneself. The same is true of a law that purported to authorize the ownership of human beings and required police and other citizens to assist in the capture and return of those who escaped from bondage: It would be immoral to enforce that law even if the courts held that it was constitutionally permissible—as they routinely did before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing chattel slavery in America.

Defenders of our current criminal justice system rarely if ever ask whether any laws on the books today are morally indefensible. Instead, they seem to embrace the idea that: (a) that which is deemed to be legal must also be moral; and (b) people are absolved of any duty to consider the morality of their behavior the moment they put on a uniform or pick up a badge. Both propositions are false, and people who embrace them—whether explicitly, as a matter of conscious choice, or tacitly, by simply not bothering to consider the morality of their official acts—should not be surprised to find themselves condemned by people who disagree.

10) Well, we’ll continue with a criminal justice heavy quick hits (we’ll consider this BB’s punishment for suggesting that #3 might not be up my alley).  This was a terrific interview on Fresh Air.  After listening to it, I probably mentioned it in class a good 3-4 times the next day.  “Out Of Prison But Still Trapped: Examining The ‘Afterlife’ Of Incarceration”

11) Loved Will Wilkinson on DC Statehood:

This voter-suppression frenzy is going on while Congress debates HR1, the big Democratic voting rights and electoral reform bill. At the same time, the Senate is throwing down over the future of the filibuster. But that’s not all! The contentious prospect of DC statehood — and two new Democratic senators — is in the air. These are all obviously related. I think it’s fair to say that the future of American democracy hangs in the balance.

This whole package is profoundly important becausethepolitical/legal/procedural status quo lends an enormous advantage to the Republican Party. This substantial, systemic pro-GOP bias makes it possible for a shrinking minority of mainly older, white, Christian, suburban and rural voters to politically dominate the vastly larger multicultural urban majority. But even when the Democratic Party manages to mobilize its immense numerical advantage to achieve control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the filibuster combined with entrenched knock-on effects of Republican over-representation in the Senate and Electoral College — such as the GOP’s secure, partisan stranglehold on the Supreme Court — make it exceedingly difficult for Democrats to pass legislation, even when it has overwhelming public support.

Democrats have a very tenuous window of opportunity to patch our fractured democracy. The stakes are so high because, if they fail, it’s not obvious that they’ll get another crack at it. Lee Drutman, a political scientist at New America, puts it in bracing terms:

First, we need to understand the urgency of the problem. By international standards, the current Republican Party is an illiberal anti-democratic nativist global outlier, with positions more extreme than France’s National Rally, and in line with the Germany’s AfD, Hungary’s Fidesz, Turkey’s AKP and Poland’s PiS, according to the widely respected V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute.

This is not a new problem. The GOP has been sliding into authoritarianism over two decades, using increasingly demonizing rhetoric against its opponents. But it got worse under Trump’s leadership, and the failure of center-right factions to push back. We are running out of time. What happens in a hyper-polarized party system when a major party turns against the entire system of legitimate elections? Historically, democracy dies...

The success of authoritarian parties depends on unrelenting dishonesty and hyperbolic propaganda to delegitimize their political rivals, discredit reliable sources of information, and deceive their own followers. The main strategic advantage of consistent contempt for truth is that it allows authoritarian parties to bootstrap its supporters’ ordinary, initial partisan trust into a state of crippled judgment and epistemic dependency. This not only ensures that their supporters will not accept the truth about the party but will regard it as confirmation that those telling the truth are the real authoritarian purveyors of unrelentingly dishonest, hyperbolic propaganda. The more successful authoritarians are in cultivating this sort of contemptuous distrust in their followers, the more futile it will seem to try to get through to them. Eventually a bunch of honest people tire of banging their heads against the wall and stop trying to get through, which only makes it easier for authoritarians to recruit off now less-contested margins…

Of course, the Founding Fathers never intended for Congress to grant statehood to one underpopulated Dakota, much less two. Republicans saddled us with double Dakotas to offset the mass disenfranchisement of Republican voters by conniving Democratic Southern slavers and corrupt urban Democratic political machines. Let’s come back to the balancing role that the admission of new states has historically played in the de facto, unwritten constitution. First, I think it’s worth conceding that the crazy partisan imbalance of DC’s population does make Rounds’ second claim — that DC statehood is really about adding Democrats to the Senate — pretty plausible. Indeed, that’s the best reason to make DC a state.

Republicans aren’t wrong that Democrats want to create a new Democratic-majority state. But they are wrong that it is a raw partisan “power grab.” Last night, Windsor Mann, one of my Twitter DM buddies, asked me a couple of questions that helped clarify this point for me.

“Would you still be for DC statehood if 90% of DC residents were hardcore Trumpists?” Windsor slides into my DMs to inquire.

“Yes,” I over-hastily reply. “Citizens should have legislative representation, period.”

Now, I’m adamant that everyone should be represented — and more or less equally. But that doesn’t actually imply a “Yes,” to Windsor’s question, as his follow-up made me see.

“Say the residents aren’t Trumpists,” he clarifies, “but, for whatever reason, the two Senate seats would go to Republicans. In other words, are you for enfranchisement if it means giving power to people who will disenfranchise others?”

I saw my mistake right away. I do not actually support new Republican-majority states. I’m very much against them! But that’s because I’m a democrat, not because I’m a Democrat. This info-packed table from Daily Kos elections vividly illustrates one of the most serious problems besetting American democracy: an indefensible surfeit of Republican senators!

(Credit: Daily Kos Elections)

In our current 50/50 Senate, Democrats represent states containing 56.5 percent of the population while Republicans Represent states containing 43.5 percent of the population. That’s a difference in the neighborhood of 42 million people! (For scale: the population of Canada is about 37 million.) Senate Democrats have represented more than half of the population for all but two of the last 30 years but have had a majority in the Senate less than half of that time…

South Dakota is a kludge. DC statehood is a kludge, too. But it would be a good idea, just like double Dakota was a good idea. If Rounds is glad that his state exists, he should honor the precedent of its creation and acknowledge that the partisan balancing function of new states is a part of our de facto, only partially writtenconstitutional system. Constitutions don’t survive because they define a perpetually stable equilibrium. That’s impossible. Politics under conditions of unceasing and unpredictable technological, economic, cultural, and demographic change sooner or later start to devolve into a fucking mess. It’s a political principle of entropy. Constitutions survive because we fight the entropy and shore up the system. They survive because citizens notice when the system they’re embedded in starts to spin out of equilibrium and manage to creatively deploy the resources that the law does provide to set the system back into a stable groove.

Given the current relationship between population density and party vote share, the only way to move toward stable, balanced partisan representation is to admit Democratic states. This is obviously good for Democrats. But it’s not a “partisan power grab.” Partially rectifying the massively unequal representation of Democratic-majority states in the Senate is only incidentally partisan. Defending this indefensible inequality is unprincipled, partisan power hoarding. After all, the principle that parties shouldn’t split the Senate 50/50 when one of them represents 41,549,808 more people than the other is pretty hard to dispute in democratic terms.

Of course, that’s not going to stop Republicans from disputing it. Once you’ve come to feel entitled to unpopular sovereignty, democracy seems awfully unfair.

12) I like to joke that when it comes to the newest White House Deputy Press Secretary that “I taught him everything he knows.”  In fairness, I did actually teach him Campaigns & Elections and American Political Parties:

The White House is beefing up its press staff by adding campaign veteran Andrew Bates as a deputy press secretary. He’s scheduled to start Monday.

Bates spent the past few months handling media relations for President Biden’s Cabinet nominees as they went through the Senate confirmation process and, before that, worked for two years on the Biden campaign, joining before it officially launched.

“Andrew Bates is one of the smartest, most committed and most strategic media professionals in the business,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “He brings invaluable experience to the job.”

Bates will join a media team that includes Karine Jean-Pierre, who is principal deputy press secretary, and Chris Meagher, also a deputy press secretary.

During the campaign, Bates earned a reputation as a forceful and competent spokesman who handled questions about some of the most sensitive issues, including the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter
 
Bates graduated from North Carolina State University, taking time off to work for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He landed a job in the White House — his office was in the Old Executive Office Building — as a press assistant and researcher.

 

13) I’m still really missing my daily dose of Pesca, but, on the bright side it has led me to expand my podcast horizons and Steven Johnson’s “American Innovations” podcasts are just absurdly entertaining and enlightening.  

14) OMG, my only Covid reference was my own research!  What’s going on here?! 

Quick hits (part II)

Short– sorry.  

1) Leonhardt on partisan biases (both parties!) in perceptions of Covid

More than one-third of Republican voters, for example, said that people without Covid symptoms could not spread the virus. Similar shares said that Covid was killing fewer people than either the seasonal flu or vehicle crashes. All of those beliefs are wrong, and badly so. Asymptomatic spread is a major source of transmission, and Covid has killed about 15 times more Americans than either the flu or vehicle crashes do in a typical year.

Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to exaggerate the severity of Covid. When asked how often Covid patients had to be hospitalized, a very large share of Democratic voters said that at least 20 percent did. The actual hospitalization rate is about 1 percent…

Democrats are also more likely to exaggerate Covid’s toll on young people and to believe that children account for a meaningful share of deaths. In reality, Americans under 18 account for only 0.04 percent of Covid deaths.

It’s true that some of these misperceptions reflect the fact that most people are not epidemiologists and that estimating medical statistics is difficult. Still, the errors do have a connection to real-world behavior, Rothwell told me.

Republicans’ underestimation of Covid risks helps explain their resistance to wearing a mask — even though doing so could save their own life or that of a family member. And Democrats’ overestimation of risks explains why so many have accepted school closures — despite the damage being done to children, in lost learning, lost social connections and, in the case of poorer children, missed meals.

The states with the highest share of closed schools are all blue states: California, Oregon, Maryland, New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada, Massachusetts and New Jersey. “I think in many ways it’s based on the fact that these voters are misinformed about the risks to young people and they’re misinformed about the risks generally,” Rothwell said.

2) Michael Grunwald, “The GOP’s Political Nightmare: Running Against a Recovery”

3) This is interesting, “How Media Coverage of Congress Limits Policymaking”

Matt Grossmann: How media coverage of Congress limits policymaking, this week on The Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. Advocates and legislators often want to generate media attention for their preferred legislation, but that doesn’t mean the media coverage helps pass bills in Congress. Instead, congressional media coverage may turn off the public, with stories of conflict-ridden sausage making, and disrupt internal consensus-building. This week, I talked to Mary Layton Atkinson, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, about her Chicago book, Combative Politics: The Media and Public Perceptions of Lawmaking. She finds that media coverage focuses on legislation with partisan conflict, and emphasizes process over policy substance. That tells voters that Congress is dysfunctional and full of extremists. I also talked to John Lovett of Wake Forest University, about his new Michigan book, The Politics of Herding Cats: When Congressional Leaders Fail. He finds that media coverage leads to more intervention by backbench legislators, creating a spiral of increasing salience that makes it harder for leadership to pass bills. Both books are multifaceted. Atkinson finds that congressional reporting is overwhelmingly about process and that negatively affects public views.

4) Okay, maybe this sounds esoteric, but it’s really important.  Jesse Singal has written measured, fair, articles about transgender people that don’t necessarily support their ideology (he has written about the fact that a good number of transgender people actually de-transition, but he is fair and nuanced, and in no meaningful way “anti-trans”) and he has been mercilessly slandered, “The Campaign of Lies Against Journalist Jesse Singal—And Why It Matters”

On the issue of gender, a particularly interesting case study centres on Jesse Singal, a mild-mannered and amiable (I’ve met him) New York-based journalistbook author, and podcaster whom Quillette readers may remember from his 2019 appearance on our own show. As early as 2016, well before the culture war over trans rights reached its crescendo, Singal authored a ground-breaking New York magazine exposé on the cynical takedown of eminent Toronto psychologist Dr. Kenneth Zucker (who was subsequently paid more than half a million dollars by his former employer, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, as part of a legal settlement relating to its part in that smear campaign). Two years later, Singal wrote an impeccably researched cover story for the Atlantic titled “When Children Say They’re Trans”—one of the most widely discussed features in the magazine’s recent history. In these articles, and on social media, Singal has dealt with the issue of gender dysphoria with care and sensitivity, documenting the challenges faced by those experiencing the condition. And while he is the furthest thing from an actual transphobe, he acknowledges the plain fact that some children who present as trans later “desist” to an identity that accords with their biological sex.

As anyone who follows this issue closely can guess, Singal’s measured approach doesn’t always sit well with progressive activist and journalistic subcultures, wherein the approved view is that any child’s expression of trans identity must summarily be “affirmed” by parents, educators, and therapists. Within these circles, Singal himself has written, “desistance isn’t viewed as a phenomenon we’ve yet to fully understand and quantify but rather as a myth to be dispelled. Those who raise the subject of desistance are often believed to have nefarious motives—the liberal outlet ThinkProgress, for example, referred to desistance research as ‘the pernicious junk science stalking trans kids’… But the evidence that desistance occurs is overwhelming.”

We know from experienced psychotherapists in this area that children can present as trans for all sorts of reasons, sometimes related to trauma, sexual anxieties, or comorbid mental-health conditions. In some cases, the dysphoria is permanent, but in other cases, it isn’t (which is why the analogy with sexual orientation is misleading). Certainly, the idea that desistance is some kind of transphobic “myth” has now itself been shown to be a myth: In late 2020, British jurists upheld desister Keira Bell’s claim that the country’s Gender Identity Development Service had improperly rushed her through a medical reassignment process, at age 16, without proper safeguards. At the age of 23, Bell now is recovering from the after-effects of these treatments—including a needless double mastectomy—and confronts a lifetime of possible medical complications.

As we wrote in a recent Quillette editorial about Bell, it won’t just be doctors and politicians whose actions will be judged in relation to the excesses surrounding the transition of young people, but also those many journalists who’ve chosen to prioritize political fashion over journalistic integrity. Singal stands out as one of the few honourable exceptions. Indeed, Bell’s case is exactly the sort of tragedy that he’s consistently warned about over the past five years. To a certain kind of ideologue, such prescience is unforgiveable.

Atlantic and New York skew editorially toward the progressive camp. And every word of Singal’s articles in these publications was combed over rigorously by fact checkers. Yet from reading the social-media abuse directed at Singal, one might think these were self-published transphobic rants. A blistering attack on Singal published by an author who self-describes as an “agendered asexual radical feminist transwoman in a poly relationship,” for instance, went on for an astounding 12,000-plus words, accusing Singal of everything from being “harmful to trans kids” to peddling “bigoted nonsense.” Google Singal’s name and you will find dozens of screeds of this nature.

So desperate has this campaign of character assassination become that some critics now casually throw in flat-out lies about his personal behaviour…

As anyone who follows this issue closely can guess, Singal’s measured approach doesn’t always sit well with progressive activist and journalistic subcultures, wherein the approved view is that any child’s expression of trans identity must summarily be “affirmed” by parents, educators, and therapists. Within these circles, Singal himself has written, “desistance isn’t viewed as a phenomenon we’ve yet to fully understand and quantify but rather as a myth to be dispelled. Those who raise the subject of desistance are often believed to have nefarious motives—the liberal outlet ThinkProgress, for example, referred to desistance research as ‘the pernicious junk science stalking trans kids’… But the evidence that desistance occurs is overwhelming.”

We know from experienced psychotherapists in this area that children can present as trans for all sorts of reasons, sometimes related to trauma, sexual anxieties, or comorbid mental-health conditions. In some cases, the dysphoria is permanent, but in other cases, it isn’t (which is why the analogy with sexual orientation is misleading). Certainly, the idea that desistance is some kind of transphobic “myth” has now itself been shown to be a myth: In late 2020, British jurists upheld desister Keira Bell’s claim that the country’s Gender Identity Development Service had improperly rushed her through a medical reassignment process, at age 16, without proper safeguards. At the age of 23, Bell now is recovering from the after-effects of these treatments—including a needless double mastectomy—and confronts a lifetime of possible medical complications.

As we wrote in a recent Quillette editorial about Bell, it won’t just be doctors and politicians whose actions will be judged in relation to the excesses surrounding the transition of young people, but also those many journalists who’ve chosen to prioritize political fashion over journalistic integrity. Singal stands out as one of the few honourable exceptions. Indeed, Bell’s case is exactly the sort of tragedy that he’s consistently warned about over the past five years. To a certain kind of ideologue, such prescience is unforgiveable.

Atlantic and New York skew editorially toward the progressive camp. And every word of Singal’s articles in these publications was combed over rigorously by fact checkers. Yet from reading the social-media abuse directed at Singal, one might think these were self-published transphobic rants. A blistering attack on Singal published by an author who self-describes as an “agendered asexual radical feminist transwoman in a poly relationship,” for instance, went on for an astounding 12,000-plus words, accusing Singal of everything from being “harmful to trans kids” to peddling “bigoted nonsense.” Google Singal’s name and you will find dozens of screeds of this nature.

So desperate has this campaign of character assassination become that some critics now casually throw in flat-out lies about his personal behaviour.

5) I really don’t know much about the history of modern Turkey.  But this book review/extensive summary from Scott Alexander on the history and rise of Erdowan was really fascinating.  (I hope JDW reads this and gives me his take).  

6) More of this, please, “Breaking news: Utah becomes eighth state to prohibit cages for egg-laying hens.”  Can we please just pay a modest amount more for our animal-based food and not treat the animals horribly?

7) Given my well-established penchant for endocannabinoids, no wonder I like running (and am so happy to be able to do it again five months after tearing my Achilles).  “Getting to the Bottom of the Runner’s High: For years we’ve been crediting endorphins, but it’s really about the endocannabinoids.”

8) Paul Waldman, “The pressure to reform the filibuster is already working”

Democrats in the Senate are having more serious discussion about reform of the filibuster than they’ve had in a long time. And guess what: It’s working.

First, it’s clearly having a persuasive effect on many in their own party, who are newly expressing an openness to reforming the filibuster or just getting rid of it. Once you have to really confront it, it becomes almost impossible to defend.

There are two other vivid new ways in which the pressure for reform is working: Some Republicans are expressing a real desire for bipartisanship, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is squealing like a stuck pig.

Let’s consider the bipartisanship first. Politico reports that senators from both parties are coming together to see what they might accomplish:

Its meeting this week comes as the House prepares to pass immigration bills that will further reinforce the Senate’s gridlock on that issue without some bipartisan framework to break the impasse.
“It’s something the group of 20 of us, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, will discuss tomorrow and decide whether we take this up. Or whether instead we focus on the minimum wage,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in an interview. “But there are places we can come together.”

While we don’t know whether this will produce anything, it’s happening precisely because of the threat that Democrats might eliminate the filibuster and start passing the bills their party ran on.

As long as that threat is alive, the incentives for a moderate Republican push them toward working with Democrats. If you were one of them and you knew that 60 votes would be required on anything, and because of that the majority’s agenda was dead in the water, why bother negotiating? You wouldn’t care what legislation they passed in the House.

If, on the other hand, a Senate that runs by majority rule is a real possibility, you’d want to get in on the action. If bills are going to pass with 50 votes, you can work on them with Democrats and shape them to your liking, giving those Democrats the couple of extra votes they’ll need to have a margin of comfort.

In the meantime, by working with Democrats you might convince them not to get rid of the filibuster, by helping them get a victory or two that reduces the pressure to get rid of it entirely.

But there’s one person who is terrified that bipartisanship might break out: Mitch McConnell. Which is why he issued an over-the-top warning to Democrats on Tuesday, essentially threatening to burn the Senate down if they reform the filibuster:

9) This was cool, “17 Reasons to Let the Economic Optimism Begin” Here’s the first two:

1. The ketchup might be ready to flow

In 1987, the economist Robert Solow said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” Companies were making great use of rapid improvements in computing power, but the overall economy wasn’t really becoming more productive.

This analysis was right until it was wrong. Starting around the mid-1990s, technological innovations in supply chain management and factory production enabled companies to squeeze more economic output out of every hour of work and dollar of capital spending. This was an important reason for the economic boom of the late 1990s.

 

In the beginning, it may even lower productivity! In the 1980s, companies that tried out new computing technology often needed to employ new armies of programmers as well as others to maintain old, redundant systems.

But once such hurdles are cleared, the innovation can spread with dizzying speed.

It’s like the old ditty: “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle. First none will come and then a lot’ll.”

Or, in a more formal sense, the economists Erik Brynjolfsson, Daniel Rock and Chad Syverson call this the “productivity J-curve,” in which an important new general-purpose technology — they use artificial intelligence as a contemporary example — initially depresses apparent productivity, but over time unleashes much stronger growth in economic potential. It looks as if companies have been putting in a lot of work for no return, but once those returns start to flow, they come faster than once seemed imaginable.

There are several areas where innovation seems to be at just such a point, and not just artificial intelligence.

2. 2020s battery technology looks kind of like 1990s microprocessors

Remember Moore’s Law? It was the idea that the number of transistors that could be put on an integrated circuit would double every two years as manufacturing technology improved. That is the reason you may well be wearing a watch with more computer processing power than the devices that sent people into outer space in the 1960s.

Battery technology isn’t improving at quite that pace, but it’s not far behind it. The price of lithium-ion battery packs has fallen 89 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 2010, according to BloombergNEF, and is poised for further declines. There have been similar advances in solar cells, raising the prospect of more widespread inexpensive clean energy.

10) Good stuff from Zeynep on vaccinating the world:

Perhaps we can and we should argue that the many billions of people in the world are worth vaccinating simply because they are fellow human-beings whose lives are as worthy as anyone else’s—including ours. Casting them as threats may seem like a short-term nudge, but I doubt it’s very convincing to people who do not see them as worthy. Worse, it can potentially  further the vision of a segregated world where we protect ourselves from the dangerous masses out there. A lot of such periods in history have come with casting immigration and other people over there as dangerous disease vectors

Maybe we don’t need to cast billions of people as if they were vague threats to us, or exaggerate the risk of vaccine failure because of them

How about simply this: we should vaccinate the world because every human being deserves being protected against a disease for which we have safe and efficacious vaccines. 

Maybe the hippie dippy argument is just fine. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Perry Bacon Jr.  Why do Republicans want to talk about “woke” issues and cancel culture all the time?  Because that unites Republicans and divides Democrats. 

First and perhaps most important, focusing on cancel culture and woke people is a fairly easy strategy for the GOP to execute, because in many ways it’s just a repackaging of the party’s long-standing backlash approach. [emphases in original] For decades, Republicans have used somewhat vague terms (“dog whistles”) to tap into and foment resentment against traditionally marginalized groups like Black Americans who are pushing for more rights and freedoms. This resentment is then used to woo voters (mostly white) wary of cultural, demographic and racial change. 

In many ways, casting people on the left as too woke and eager to cancel their critics is just the present-day equivalent of attacks from the right against “outside agitators” (civil rights activists in 1960s), the “politically correct” (liberal college students in the 1980s and ’90s) and “activist judges” (liberal judges in the 2000s). Liberals pushing for, say, calling people by the pronoun they prefer or reparations for Black Americans serve as the present-day analogies to aggressive school integration programs and affirmative action. These are ideas that are easy for the GOP to run against, because they offer few direct benefits (the overwhelming majority of Americans aren’t transgender and/or Black) but some costs to the (white) majority of Americans. In many ways, we are just watching an old GOP strategy with new language and different issues…

Second, this strategy unifies the GOP while dividing the Democrats, a very useful function in a two-party system in which the parties are in a zero-sum competition. As we wrote about this week, many ideas that are newly ascendant on the left, such as reducing funding for police, divide Democrats (more on that in a bit) but unify Republicans. Moreover, many of these ideas are opposed by a majority of the public. 

2) Harm reduction is such a great principle of public health that is even more broadly applicable (basically, avoid binaries and reduce costs).  And on the public health issue of Covid, this is the approach we need.  German Lopez:

For too long, America has approached public health issues with puritanical, black-and-white approaches. Whether it’s an abstinence-only approach for teen sex and HIV/AIDS, or refusing to provide clean needles and overdose antidotes to people who use drugs, the country has a tendency to prefer the perfect but unrealistic over the better and pragmatic. The US repeated those mistakes again with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Much of the discussion about the coronavirus and how to mitigate it has been framed in absolutist terms. The initial phase of the pandemic was marked by harsh lockdowns, including relatively safe spaces like parks and beaches. People created Instagram accounts to shame those who didn’t perfectly follow the precautions. Schools have remained closed partly because parents and teachers are worried about any risk of Covid-19, suggesting that any risk whatsoever is too much.

But over the course of the pandemic, an alternative has started to take hold: harm reduction. The approach, initially popularized by activists working on drug use and HIV/AIDS, focuses on minimizing risk, even under less-than-ideal circumstances, such as telling people to have safe sex rather than abstain entirely, or be monogamous to avoid HIV. In theory, it’s not the best approach for preventing HIV, but it’s better, while letting people live their lives closer to what they want.

Over the past year, people have started to take approaches that enable them to do the things they love — even if that means minimizing risk rather than eliminating it entirely. Now, more people are dining out and going to parks, mitigating the risks involved with social distancing and masks. Federal officials have pushed to reopen K-12 schools, talking about reducing risk rather than completely eliminating it.

3) Krugman on Europe’s vaccination flaws:

Europe’s vaccination debacle will almost surely end up causing thousands of unnecessary deaths. And the thing is, the continent’s policy bungles don’t look like isolated instances, a few bad decisions made by a few bad leaders. Instead, the failures seem to reflect fundamental flaws in the continent’s institutions and attitudes — including the same bureaucratic and intellectual rigidity that made the euro crisis a decade ago far worse than it should have been.

The details of the European failure are complex. But the common thread seems to be that European officials were not just risk averse, but averse to the wrong risks. They seemed deeply worried about the possibility that they might end up paying drug companies too much, or discover that they had laid out money for vaccines that either proved ineffective or turned out to have dangerous side effects.

So they minimized these risks by delaying the procurement process, haggling over prices and refusing to grant liability waivers. They seemed far less worried about the risk that many Europeans might get sick or die because the vaccine rollout was too slow.

4) Cancel culture really is a thing.  The same people, though, who would surely forgive an African-American youth who committed a violent crime when 17 and repented don’t seem to have much forgiveness for people who make stupid and racist tweets at 17.  That’s wrong, but if you are clearly not that person any more (seriously, raise your hand if you didn’t engage in some form of seriously regrettable behavior at 17), why punish now?  Yes, the Teen Vogue editor.  

5) I was having faculty book club yesterday with a professor who teaches Organic Chemistry and it got me wondering how necessary this gatekeeper class really is for medical school.  Came across this fascinating account from 2013:

But the rules have many, many exceptions, which students find maddening. The same molecule will behave differently in acid or base, in dark or sunlight, in heat or cold, or if you sprinkle magic orgo dust on it and turn around three times. You can’t memorize all the possible answers — you have to rely on intuition, generalizing from specific examples. This skill, far more than the details of every reaction, may actually be useful for medicine.

“It seems a lot like diagnosis,” said Logan McCarty, Harvard’s director of physical sciences education, who taught the second semester. “That cognitive skill — inductive generalization from specific cases to something you’ve never seen before — that’s something you learn in orgo.”…

This is one thing that orgo is testing: whether you have the time and desire to do the work. “Sometimes, if a student has really good math skills, they can slide through physics, but you can’t do that in orgo,” Mr. McCarty told me, adding, “You can’t slide through medical school, either.”

6) The other day, I made the practical case for being practical on voting rights issues and pushing a policy you were sure you could get Manchin and Sinema on.  Brian Beutler makes the case, though, for going full bore for HR1.  

If anything, deferring to all of Manchin’s objections (or imagined objections) at the outset of the process would screw up the balance of leverage that makes it possible to imagine a 50-vote Democratic majority governing in the first place. 

Offer him a bill that he has no objection to at the outset and he’ll run off in search of Republican votes that will never materialize and actually derail the process. Confront him with one that contains a bunch of meritorious but non-essential progressive wishlist items in it (un-Manchin-ables, if you will), and he can make a stink about how the bill is unacceptable. Then Democrats can trade him those provisions for a promise to embrace whatever filibuster reforms are necessary to allow the remainder to pass. 

Once we reach that point, then I think going back and looking at the provisions Rick deems essential is instructive. A bill that: 1) revived the Voting Rights Act with an updated preclearance requirement; 2) made automatic (or near-automatic) voter registration the law of the land; 3) required a paper-ballot trail for all federal elections; and 4) eliminated partisan gerrymandering would be a historic accomplishment. Include statehood provisions for DC and the territories, it would be the biggest expansion of the franchise since LBJ. 

At the same time, we’d have to watch Manchin dash measures to enfranchise former prisoners, reform the campaign-finance system, and impose disclosure requirements on federal officers. It’d be no fun. But that doesn’t mean we should assume these are the pounds of flesh Manchin would demand and sheer them off for him. Let him name his price, and if part of that price is unacceptable, well, Democrats just reintroduced earmarks; maybe Manchin will be more amenable to negotiation than we realize. 

7) Chapel Hill students are going back to school, but I hate this 4 days a week so a fifth can be for “cleaning.”  Give me a break.  And if 4 days is pedagogically superior for at-risk students, why are we saving it for a pandemic?

Chapel Hill-Carrboro students will begin a hybrid Plan B schedule of both in-person and virtual classes Monday, with elementary students shifting to four days a week of Plan A in-person classes after spring break.

The new schedule, which the board approved unanimously Thursday, will continue to set aside Wednesdays for remote learning, giving staff time to clean the schools and teachers time to plan and work more closely with small groups and at-risk students.

8) Leonhardt on how UK’s policy of delaying the 2nd dose seems to be working great.  (That really was predictable).  

9) Damn do I love Noah Smith’s (mostly free) substack.  You should totally subscribe.  Great post on climate change:

Basically, the general principle here is that if we sacrifice much of our economy to decarbonize — as the degrowth movement would have us do — it will provide a negative example to the rest of the world. It will demonstrate that decarbonization = poverty. Asian countries just won’t do it.

BUT, if we find ways to decarbonize while growing our economy, that will do three positive things. First, it will show developing nations that decarbonization is the route to riches, which will make them accelerate their own efforts out of self-interest. Second, it will create technologies that developing countries can use to decarbonize cheaply. And third, it will discover, through policy experiments, which strategies are most effective.

Sivaram mentions research and technology transfer, as well as the beneficial effect of creating detailed decarbonization plans. Those are all important and good things. He also calls for actually investing directly in other countries’ green infrastructure, which I think is a great idea (if they’ll let us do it, which China might not).

Those are all great ideas, but I would like to add one more: Learning curves

In other words, the more solar you install, the more the cost of solar really does go down. That almost certainly goes for batteries too.

So the more the U.S. pays to adopt these technologies, at huge scale and very quickly, the more the cost goes down. And that means the more other countries will be able to decarbonize cheaply. With solar/storage cheaper than coal/gas/oil, developing nations in Asia and elsewhere will want to use these green technologies simply because doing so will speed up their growth

The best way to scale these technologies up quickly will be to directly speed-up large-scale adoption. That means massive government investment in solar and storage. Carbon taxes will be much less effective, since their effect is diffused through all sectors of the economy rather than focused on the key areas, and since carbon taxes are partially a degrowth policy in addition to an adoption incentive. Similarly, policies to intentionally limit economic growth will be actively counterproductive.

Green growth — intentional rapid mass adoption of renewables — is America’s best shot at saving the planet from catastrophic climate change, because it’s our best shot at actually getting China and other countries to decarbonize. It’s also fair, because it minimizes the sacrifices that developing countries will have to make. And it’s likely to be far more politically acceptable to the American people than high carbon taxes or degrowth policies.

When it comes to climate change, we really do have to think globally and act locally.

10) Somehow, I’ve never heard the term “myside bias” but I quite like this:

In recent years, an upsurge of polarization has been a salient feature of political discourse in America. A small but growing body of research has examined the potential relevance of intellectual humility (IH) to political polarization. In the present investigation, we extend this work to political myside bias, testing the hypothesis that IH is associated with less bias in two community samples (N1 = 498; N2 = 477). In line with our expectations, measures of IH were negatively correlated with political myside bias across paradigms, political topics, and samples. These relations were robust to controlling for humility. We also examined ideological asymmetries in the relations between IH and political myside bias, finding that IH-bias relations were statistically equivalent in members of the political left and right. Notwithstanding important limitations and caveats, these data establish IH as one of a small handful psychological features known to predict less political myside bias.

11) The case for Breyer retiring right now (something happens to one Democratic Senator and we’re screwed).

12) Been a long time since I’ve been too NC’s Outer Banks, but loves this NYT photo essay on the eroding beaches.  

13) Did I mention Perry Bacon has been doing very good work: “The Ideas That Are Reshaping The Democratic Party And America”

Here are 10 views, based on polls and public discourse, that are increasingly influential on the left. This is an informal list, but I think it captures some real sentiments on the left and ideas that people on the right are criticizing when they invoke the term “woke”: 

  1. The United States has often not lived up to the ideals of its founders or the notion that it is an “exceptional” nation that should be a model for other countries. Because the U.S. has disempowered its Native and Black populations and women throughout its history, America has never been a true or full democracy.
  2. White people, particularly white men, are especially advantaged in American society (“white privilege”).
  3. People of color in America suffer from not only individualized and overt acts of racism (someone uses a racial slur, for example) but a broader “systemic” and “institutional” racism.
  4. Capitalism as currently practiced in America is deeply flawed, giving way too much money and power to the wealthy. America’s economy should not be set up in a way that allows people to accumulate billions of dollars in wealth.
  5. Women suffer from systemic sexism.
  6. People should be able to identify as whatever gender they prefer or not to identify by gender at all.
  7. The existence of a disparity — for example, Black, Latino or women being underrepresented in a given profession or industry — is evidence of discrimination, even if no overt acts of discrimination are visible.
  8. Black Americans deserve reparations to make up for slavery and post-slavery racial discrimination.
  9. Law enforcement agencies, from local police departments to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are designed to defend America’s status quo as much as any public safety mission. When they treat people of color or the poor badly, they are working as they are designed. So these agencies must be defunded, abolished, disbanded or at least dramatically changed if the goal is to improve their treatment of people of color and the poor.
  10. Trump’s political rise was not an aberration or a surprise. Politicians in both parties, particularly Republicans, have long used racialized language to demean people of color — Trump was just more direct and crude about it. And his messages resonated with a lot of Americans, particularly white people and conservatives, because lots of Americans have negative views about people of color, Black people in particular.

These views are now expressed regularly by left-leaning people and Democrats — particularly those who use Twitter, are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and are under age 40. Books such as Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste” have become bestsellers because they appeal to people with these views and are likely pushing those who read them even further in this direction. 

Perhaps most important, these views are powerfully shaping public discourse and policy.

14) Totally need to share this with my dog-obsessed daughter, “The Family Dog Is in Sync With Your Kids”

Family dogs match their movements to those of the children they live with, according to a poignant new study of young people and their pets. In the study, pet dogs moved when their accompanying children did and remained still when they stopped, a physical synchrony that often signals emotional bonding. The family canines also tended to stay close by and to orient themselves in the same directions as the kids, a further indication of social engagement and attentiveness that could have implications for the emotional development of both dogs and youngsters, as well as for the safety of the interactions between them.

The results add to the growing evidence that how people and other creatures move depends to a surprising extent on who they are with, and that social connections can be shaped and strengthened by shared activity. The findings also raise practical questions about how children and dogs can best learn to read each other’s body language, and how family pets might help to encourage children to move more or best serve as a source of emotional support.

15) Planet Money on what we can learn about legal marijuana:

It’s been almost a decade since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. That’s given economists and other researchers enough time to study the effects of the policy. Here are some of the most interesting findings:

Legalization didn’t seem to substantially affect crime rates — Proponents of legalizing weed claimed it would reduce violent crimes. Opponents said it would increase violent crimes. A study by the CATO Institute finds, “Overall, violent crime has neither soared nor plummeted in the wake of marijuana legalization.”

Legalization seems to have little or no effect on traffic accidents and fatalities — Opponents of marijuana legalization argued it would wreak havoc on the road. A few studies have found that’s not the case. Economists Benjamin Hansen, Keaton S. Miller & Caroline Weber, for instance, found evidence suggesting it had no effect on trends in traffic fatalities in both Colorado and Washington.

Legalization has created jobs. Lots of jobs — A new report by Leafly and Whitney Economics finds the marijuana industry is booming. In 2020 alone, they calculate, it created 77,000 jobs. Across the country, there are about 321,000 jobs in the legal marijuana industry. That’s more than the mining industry.

Legalization is good for state budgets — Tax revenue from legal recreational marijuana has surpassed everyone’s expectations. Colorado usually collects more than $20 million a month. In 2020, the state collected a total of $387 million. The California government collects more than $50 million a month. You can find similar stories in other states that have legalized.

Umm, yeah, so let’s just legalize it everywhere.

16) Geoffrey Skelley on the changing meaning of presidential approval:

It’s early yet, but President Biden’s initial approval marks aren’t all that impressive, either. Or at least that’s true when compared to past presidents’ ratings in the first few months of their presidency, often referred to as the “honeymoon” period. (According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 53 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance,2 whereas at this point in the presidency, most new presidents’ approval ratings have usually been closer to 60 percent.)

So if the new normal is presidential approval ratings that don’t change all that much, is it time to abandon them?

Not so fast. On the one hand, we do need to recalibrate our expectations of presidential approval ratings. They’re just not going to move that much in our hyper-polarized political climate. But that doesn’t mean approval ratings aren’t a useful window into how the public broadly views a president’s performance. Or that they can’t still signal a change in political fortunes. And once we move past the presidency, approval ratings of other American leaders, such as governors, see wider ranges of support largely because partisanship isn’t quite as baked in at the state level.

First, the presidency. Nowadays, it’s just harder to have a glowing approval rating. That’s in large part thanks to the rise of negative partisanship, which compels most members of the opposing party to disapprove of a new president right from the start. Consider Gallup’s presidential approval polling conducted the month after the last five inaugurations of new presidents. When Gallup surveyed Americans in February 1993 after Bill Clinton became president, they found that 74 percent of Democrats approved of Clinton’s job performance, compared to 24 percent of Republicans. Now, that 50-point partisan gap in Clinton’s approval rating was nothing to sneeze at, but as the table below shows, it has only grown, with both Trump and Biden facing an 80-plus point gap along party lines in their early approval polls…

But the important takeaway here is not that shifts in presidential approval can’t still happen. They can. We just need to adjust our expectations of how big these swings will be. Observers might have once looked for swings of 10 or more percentage points to gauge how the public responded to an especially big event — like Ronald Reagan’s double-digit decline after the Iran-Contra affair became public — but that just isn’t a useful barometer anymore. 

17) Super-loved this auditory essay on the changing nature of pop music.  I had no idea a “pop drop” was a thing.

18) LG may think I write too much about the woke, but, damnit, don’t come after books:

There’s nothing new about the denunciation of ideas and authors in the name of morality. It’s a power that has always been used by those seeking to assert cultural dominance.

Two thousand years before the advent of mass print publishing, Socrates was sentenced to drink poison for having polluted the minds of the YA community of Athens. From the mid-16th century until 1966, the Catholic Church maintained its Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of prohibited books. Over the past century, the establishment used anti-obscenity laws to ban Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Norman Mailer couldn’t depict soldiers cursing in his World War II novel The Naked and the Dead because it would be “obscene.” The likes of Native Son and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest were stricken from school curricula for their political subversiveness and perceived vulgarity. Meanwhile, all totalitarian states suppress transgressive writing, sometimes trying to do so across borders, as when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1989.

When I was growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, the social conservatives of the Moral Majority patrolled the virtue of the American reading public. They were especially exercised by the subject of witchcraft and sorcery, and found a nemesis in Harry Potter. Some organized public burnings of J.K. Rowling’s books. Such right-wing censoriousness hasn’t disappeared: Conservative attacks on literature are still common with respect to books for young people that present LGBTQ characters and themes in a positive light.

What is new, though, is the trend of policing books for social goodness from within the left-leaning literary community—the very people whom we entrust to steer the course of our artistic and intellectual culture.

Those currently burning Rowling’s books aren’t the religious right but members of the progressive left, angered by her comments about gender and trans issues. Numerous articles have asked if it still is permissible in good conscience to enjoy not only Harry Potter, but Rowling’s latest adult detective thriller, Troubled Blood. Reviewers have scoured the text for signs of her alleged transphobia, many noticing that one character, as a Los Angeles Times reviewer pointed out, is “a male serial killer known to have worn a dress.”

“Is that enough to say the author is transphobic?” the reviewer asked, citing various elements in the novel. “Perhaps.” A better question is this: Is it the role of a book reviewer to parse texts for insight into an author’s morality? It’s not far from looking for satanic messages in rock ‘n’ roll. And even if heavy-metal songs were rooting for the devil, should people have been prevented from hearing them?

This new literary moralism isn’t only scrutinizing contemporary writing for evidence of sin; it’s looking to the past as well. #DisruptTexts, a group dedicated to helping teachers “challenge the traditional canon,” talks of “problematic depictions” in Shakespeare, and complains of The Great Gatsby being defined by the white male gaze. If applied fully, that objection would wipe out innumerable works of literature—including many containing moral messages that progressives would endorse.

Does the canon of classics suffer from a lack of diversity? Absolutely. But canons expand with each generation. We don’t simply let old works drop off the back end. And a canon includes books not because they are virtuous, but because they are in complex conversation with one another, or are mighty in their own terms. Writers who broke the canonical color barrier—from W.E.B. Du Bois to Toni Morrison—didn’t do so by tearing up what came before, but by asserting that they too had a place in that long conversation.

19) Why are we always so bad at this (okay, I know, but still), “Were the Airline Bailouts Really Needed? Once again, we have socialized an industry’s losses and privatized its profits.”

20) Derek Lowe on what’s going on with the AZ vaccine.  

21) Really enjoyed “Judas and the Black Messiah.”  Interesting article on how hard it was to get this movie made and what that says about Hollywood (among other things, race aside, still hard to make moderate-budget intelligent dramas for adults that don’t involve superheroes, explosions, etc.).  

22) Little-appreciated fact that gasoline engines keep on getting ever more efficient, but almost always those efficiency gains have gone to horsepower rather than fuel efficiency (guilty myself as I moved from a 118hp Corolla to a 170hp Jetta five years ago).  Drum has this in chart form:

(Also, I loved learning that Drum used to drive a 1980 Mazda RX-7.  I spent a year with an ’81 model– so much fun).  

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