Quick hits

1) I’ve got 3 free two-month subscriptions to Yglesias’ substack.  Let me know if you want one.

2) When the 2nd amendment impedes on the 1st amendment, that’s not great:

Across the country, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense — increasingly it is a soapbox for elevating one’s voice and, just as often, quieting someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside an elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake. In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations around the United States amounted to nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay pride event in a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Men with guns interrupted a Juneteenth festival in Franklin, Tenn., handing out fliers claiming that white people were being replaced. Among the others were rallies in support of gun rights in Delaware and abortion rights in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents happen where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to bear arms in public, a movement bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home. The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and the police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger.

3) I did not realize the typical elite soccer game often has less than 50 minutes of the ball in play.  One possible solution, a 60 minute clock that stops (gasp!) 

4) I’m sure part 2 of this will be great, but I love the aviation only part from James Fallows, “Learning from Disasters: If aviators can do so, why won’t the press? Part 1.”

This post is about aviation. But really it’s about institutional self-correction. I intend it as a Part 1 setup to a Part 2 post coming up, about media and politics…

The connecting theme is how to learn from mistakes — as individuals, as companies and organizations, as a larger culture. Today I’ll discuss what happens what individuals and institutions do learn. Next, what happens when they don’t.

Summary version: Modern aviation is so incredibly safe because aviation has been so thorough and unsparing about facing and learning from its errors…

An under-appreciated miracle of modern society is how safe and reliable developed-country airlines have become. On a statistical basis, being aboard a North American or Western European airliner is about the safest thing you can do with your time, compared even with taking a walk or sitting in a chair1.

A big-picture illustration: Over the past 13-plus years, U.S. airlines have conducted well over ten billion “passenger journeys” — one person making one trip. And in those years, a total of two people, of the ten billion, have died in U.S. airline accidents. For comparison: on average two people in the U.S. die of gunshot wounds every 25 minutes around the clock. And two more die in car crashes every half hour. (Around 45,000 Americans died last year of gunshots, and around 42,000 in car crashes.)

How could the aviation system possibly have managed this? Airplanes weighing close to one million pounds hurtle into the sky, carrying hundreds of passengers who are separated by sheets of aluminum and plastic from air so cold and thin it would kill them quickly on exposure. Passengers gaze out at engines each up to 1/10th as powerful as those that sent Apollo 13 toward the moon. At the end of the journey the pilots bring the plane down on a precise strip of pavement—perhaps 60 seconds after the plane ahead of them in the queue, 60 seconds before the next one. And we take it all for granted—grumbling about the crowds and the hassle and the pretzels and the leg room, but safe.

The origins of this ongoing safety revolution is well chronicled; I spent several chapters on it in my book China Airborne. My point for now involves the aviation world’s relentless, unsparing, de-personalized, and highly systematized insistence on learning from whatever makes the system fail.

—On an informal level, this involves aviation magazines, newsletters, websites, and seminars—90% of which have titles like “What went wrong?” or “Breaking the accident chain.” It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you love flying and being in the air, much of your avocational reading will be articles in the “Anatomy of Disaster” category.2

5) I’ve had a really annoying cough (finally gone) the last couple of weeks.  Inspired my latest dive into the research on cough medicine.  And, as before, the reality is… suck it up, there’s not much you can do, but honey at least works somewhat. 

6) I’m only about half-way through Andor, but really enjoying it and especially liked this take:

It wasn’t until the sixth episode of the shape-shifting and genre-curious new “Star Wars” series “Andor” that I figured out what had been nagging at me. The episode, titled “The Eye,” centers on rebel fighters as they plan to infiltrate an imperial base. At the outset of this risky operation, the group splits into two teams. “Safe travels,” the leader of one team says to the other. Safe travels? I thought. What am I watching? Surely that was the moment to drop a “May the Force be with you.” But neither the Force nor the Jedi had been mentioned during the previous episodes. Indeed, the mystical mumbo-jumbo that saturates much of “Star Wars” is entirely absent from this series. There has been no discussion of the Dark Side or the Sith. Thus far, a single lightsabre has been waved.

I made a quick list of other “Star Wars” staples that the creators of “Andor” have eschewed. There are hardly any cute comic-relief characters speaking in bleeps, grunts, or cringey patois. Despite one quirky, lovable robot, the series is notably short on aliens and droids. All the major characters are human, and none hide their face behind a mask à la Darth Vader. (As if to emphasize this human-centeredness, Andy Serkis, who built his career playing the likes of Gollum and King Kong—as well as the ghoulish Supreme Leader Snoke in the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy—gives a striking performance as a prison-inmate leader, without any apparent aid from a bodysuit or C.G.I.) The plot of “Andor,” mercifully, doesn’t hinge on a love story—the only real romance is low-key and lesbian. And there is a decided lack of interest in paternity, which is as essential to much of “Star Wars” as it is to daytime talk shows. I began to wonder whether “Andor” was prestige TV masquerading as a “Star Wars” story.

7) We should’ve done better by our children during Covid:

Academic progress for American children plunged during the coronavirus pandemic. Now a growing body of research shows who was hurt the most, both confirming worst fears and adding some new ones.

Students who learned from home fared worse than those in classrooms, offering substantial evidence for one side of a hot political debate. High-poverty schools did worse than those filled with middle class and affluent kids, as many worried. And in a more surprising finding, older students, who have the least amount of time to make up losses, are recovering much more slowly from setbacks than younger children.

Most school districts saw declines, but the magnitude varied.
 
Those are the findings from more than a half-dozen studies published in recent months examining the pandemic’s toll on academic achievement. Across-the-board, they find big drops between spring 2019, before the pandemic hit, and spring 2021, one year in.

“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes, leaving devastating learning losses in some districts and leaving many other districts untouched,” said Tom Kane, faculty director for the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

Students made more progress last year, but it was nowhere near enough to make up for the losses already sustained.

“People were hoping, ‘Oh gosh, there’s going to be a lot of natural bounce back that occurs,’ and we did not see it last year,” Kane said. “Maybe it will happen this year, but I’m not sure there’s much evidence underlying that hope.”

The high price of distance learning

One of the fiercest debates during the pandemic’s first year was how quickly schools should reopen and how significant the ramifications would be of keeping them closed. We now have some answers…

A pile of evidence charts setbacks that were more severe the longer students stayed in virtual school. These studies examined the impact of in-person vs. remote education during the 2020-21school year, when policies varied widely. In Texas and Florida, Republican governors ordered schools to operate in person starting in fall 2020. Elsewhere, and often in big cities, resistance and fear of the virus among teachers and parents kept schools virtual for a year or longer.

Different studies rely on different data sets and describe the magnitude of the impact to varying degrees, but they all point in the same direction:

· A study using data from the testing company NWEA found modest academic declines for students who quickly returned to in-person classes in fall 2020. But achievement losses were far higher for those who learned from home, and they were most pronounced for students in high-poverty, mostly remote schools, widening long-standing racial and economic achievement gaps.

Students who were in person full-time during 2020-21 lost an average of 7.7 weeks of learning in math. But those who were in virtual class for more than half the year lost more than double that — an average of 19.8 weeks.

This research was based on NWEA assessments of 2.1 million students in 10,000 districts and analyzed by researchers at NWEA, Harvard and the American Institutes for Research.

8) There’s been a lot of speculation on a Trump 3rd party run if he doesn’t get the nomination.  Chait makes a strong case for otherwise:

But I think this idea misunderstands both Trump and the incentive structure of the Republican Party.

It is true that a world in which Trump has lost a primary to DeSantis is a world in which Trump feels very angry with DeSantis. But DeSantis is not the only person Trump feels angry with. Trump has spent the past several years simmering with anger at Joe Biden. And while a contested primary would make Trump resent DeSantis more than he does now, it’s hardly certain that it would make him hate DeSantis more than he hates Biden.

More important, it would be uncharacteristic for Trump to allow his grudges to get in the way of his clear self-interest. Trump does lash out wildly at anybody who disrespects him, but he also turns on a dime and makes friends with his former enemies. You can see this pattern in the way he lashed out at the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio before reconciling on the basis of mutual interest.

What interests would Trump have in common with DeSantis? For one thing, DeSantis could offer Trump legal protection — either pardons or immunity from additional prosecution. Second, DeSantis already commands a massive fundraising network, and as the Republican nominee, he would hold enormous power over various revenue streams around the party, ranging from its scam PACs to its media outlets. DeSantis would be in a position to make sure Trump is very well compensated in return for an endorsement.

9) If you know what you want to buy, Amazon is great.  If you want to shop and see what’s available (for, I dunno, a step-in dog harness for a GSP) Amazon has turned into a complete joke.  This Washington Post piece shows how (free link so you can check it out). 

10) David Frum on guns in 2017. More relevant than ever, “The Rules of the Gun Debate”

A parable:

A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain.

At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them.

After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers – and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?”

So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants…

The deadliest mass shooting in American history has restarted the long debate whether something can be done to impede these recurring slaughters. That debate is conducted pursuant to rigid rules.

Rule 1. The measures to be debated must bear some relationship to the massacre that triggered the debate. If the killer acquired his weapons illegally, it’s out of bounds to point out how lethally easy it is to buy weapons legally. If the killer lacked a criminal record, it’s out of bounds to talk about the inadequacy of federal background checks. The topic for debate is not, “Why do so many Americans die from gunfire?” but “What one legal change would have prevented this most recent atrocity?”…

Rule 3. The debate must always honor the “responsible gun owners” who buy weapons for reasonable self-defense. Under Rule 1, these responsible persons are presumed to constitute the great majority of gun owners. It’s out of bounds to ask for some proof of this claimed responsibility, some form of training for example. It’s far out of bounds to propose measures that might impinge on owners: the alcohol or drug tests for example that are so often recommended for food stamp recipients or teen drivers.

11) Binyamin Applebaum, “Overconfident Regulators Caused the Ticketmaster Mess”

Before the federal government let Live Nation merge with Ticketmaster in 2010, it obtained some very solemn promises that the company would not use its newly acquired dominance in the business of selling tickets to take advantage of customers.

Ask a Taylor Swift fan how well that has worked out.

Ticketmaster’s website was overwhelmed last week by people seeking tickets for Ms. Swift’s upcoming concert tour. It was inevitable that most people who wanted tickets wouldn’t be able to buy them. There aren’t enough to go around. But crashes, bugs and error messages left many people feeling they never really had a chance.

Monopolies raise prices, but that’s not the only reason Americans should be worried about the rise of corporate concentration. Companies with market power also tend to get lazy. They stop trying to deliver the best possible product. Jonathan Skrmetti, the Republican attorney general of Tennessee, told The Washington Post that Ticketmaster’s customer service problems raised the question of whether “because they have such a dominant market position, they felt like they didn’t have to worry about that.”

That’s an important question, and it raises another one: Why do antitrust regulators keep getting tricked by companies that don’t keep their promises?

The federal government in recent decades has blessed the vast majority of proposed corporate mergers. And even when regulators have concluded that a merger is not in the public interest, they have often sought to address concerns by imposing conditions rather than blocking the deal. In effect, the government has adopted the strategy of asking companies to refrain from taking full advantage of their power.

12) Science! “Turns Out Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes Actually Works: New evidence indicates that an effort to stamp out disease-carrying insects is working. The key? Mosquitoes genetically engineered to kill off their own kind.”

HE Aedes aegypti mosquito is not just a nuisance—it’s a known carrier of dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and Zika viruses. Distinguished by the black and white stripes on its legs, the species is one of the most dangerous to humans.

In the Brazilian city of Indaiatuba, an effort is underway to eliminate these pests before they have a chance to spread illness. The weapon: more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes—but ones genetically engineered to kill their own kind. Made by British biotechnology firm Oxitec, the mosquitoes seem to be working. 

The modified mosquitoes carry a synthetic self-limiting gene that prevents female offspring from surviving. This is important, because only the females bite and transmit disease. In a new study, scientists at the company showed that their engineered insects were able to slash the local population of Aedes aegypti by up to 96 percent over 11 months in the neighborhoods where they were released. 

13) German Lopez on the stark disjunction between American public opinion on marijuana and our actual laws.

14) The story of the hero in the Club Q shooting is just amazing.  It’s like a action movie script, but real life.  And the here was not a good guy with a gun.  It was a good guy with combat experience in Iraq, which is clearly worth a helluva lot more.

15) Encouraging biotechnology, “F.D.A. Approves a Drug That Can Delay Type 1 Diabetes

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first treatment that can delay — possibly for years — the onset of Type 1 diabetes, a disease that often emerges in teenagers.

The new drug, teplizumab, is made by Provention Bio, which will partner with Sanofi to market the drug in the United States under the brand name Tzield. In an investor call on Friday, Provention said the drug would cost $13,850 a vial or $193,900 for the 14-day treatment. The company said teplizumab should be available by the end of the year.

The drug, which the F.D.A. approved on Thursday, does not cure or prevent Type 1 diabetes. Instead, it postpones its onset by an average of two years and, for some lucky patients, much longer — the longest so far is 11 years, said Dr. Kevan Herold of Yale, a principal investigator in trials of the drug.

The only other treatment for the disease — insulin — was discovered 100 years ago and does not affect the course of the disease. It just replaces what is missing.

16) We have vaccines and some excellent treatments now, but the latest editions of the virus have outsmarted all our existing monoclonal antibodies.  

17) Experts on aging on a Biden second term.  He would be really old to be president.

18) I am enjoying the World Cup, but it is such a damn shame that the world’s greatest sporting event is run my literally one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet.

Qatar hosting the soccer World Cup is like Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. It should not have happened, but the very fact that it has only exposes how bad things have become. Once this famous old tournament kicks off in Doha tomorrow, the fact that it did can never be unwound: Qatar will forever have been the host of the 22nd FIFA World Cup, the greatest absurdity in the history of the sport.

Even to recite the details of the backstory feels darkly grim. In 2010, soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, awarded the right to host the world’s most popular and prestigious sporting event to a tiny Middle Eastern autocracy with a population of barely 3 million. Qatar had never even played in a World Cup before, let alone hosted one, and it made a singularly unsuitable venue: In summer, when the tournament has always been held, the temperatures are so hot, soccer cannot safely be played at all. To hold 90-minute matches in the desert at the height of an Arabian summer is self-evidently ludicrous.

This is why, for the first time ever, the tournament is taking place in November and December, which is midway through the European soccer season. This is as preposterous as running the World Series over Christmas week—in Jeddah. They might as well have handed Dubai the rights to the Winter Olympics.

But this idiocy glosses over the true ignominy. Qatar might now be home to about 3 million people, but the proportion of actual Qatari citizens who live there is little more than 10 percent. The rest comprise some very rich expatriates of other nations and a huge army of poor migrants who do most of the work. When Qatar won the tournament, it did not have the infrastructure, weather, or fan base to justify being awarded the World Cup. But it was very, very rich.

The whole saga is rather like Dave Chappelle’s cynical take on Trump. Just as the former president acted as the “honest liar” who revealed something important about American politics in Chappelle’s view, Qatar seems to me to have done something similar for soccer. Until now, the sport’s world governing body was able to at least partially hide its sheer awfulness because everyone had a stake in the charade. If handing the tournament to Russia in 2018 might have looked bad on a democracy and human-rights index, it was at least a big country with a proud soccer history. But Qatar?

Not even FIFA’s disgraced former boss Sepp Blatter now feels able to defend the decision—a “mistake,” he recently admitted. That Qatar was able to beat rival bids from the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Korea to win the right to host the event was so indefensible, so in-your-face ridiculous, that it is impossible not to conclude that the whole system is rigged. Which, in essence, it is.

19) Ethan Mollick on what research says on how to make other people happier:

So, there is no need to belabor the point further. You can make people (including yourself!) happier, and the reason you aren’t doing it is because you are stuck in your own head. So the research suggests a few small things you can do this Thanksgiving (or World Cup) week, to make the world a little bit better:

  • Express gratitude more

  • Give more genuine compliments to people you know

  • Don’t feel awkward about offering to help, even if you can’t solve the problem

  • Reach out to some old contacts and say “hi”

Science says it is okay, and not nearly as awkward as you think.

20) Interesting research on academic credentials:  I think it’s kind of wild that even after the PhD, undergraduate institution still matters.  Most of my professor friends that I have who are way more accomplished than me did not go to an “Ivy Plus” institution as I did (Duke).  Or, maybe I’m just an under-achiever.  

We introduce a model of the admissions process based upon standard agency theory and explore its implications with economics PhD admissions data from 2013-2019. We show that a subjective score that aggregates subjective ratings and recommendation letter features plays a more important role in determining admissions than an objective score based upon graduate record exam (GRE) scores. Subjective evaluations by references who write multiple letters are not only more influential than those of references who write one letter, but they are also more informative. Since multiple-letter references are also more highly ranked economists, this implies that there is a constraint on the supply of high-quality references. Moreover, we find that both the subjective and objective scores are correlated with job placement at a top economics department after the completion of the PhD. These indicators of individual achievement have a smaller effect than an undergraduate degree from an Ivy Plus school (i.e., Ivy League + Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago). In the self-selected pool of applicants, Ivy Plus graduates are twice as likely to be admitted to a top 10 graduate program and are much more likely to obtain an assistant professor position at a top 10 program upon PhD completion. Given that Ivy Plus students must pass a stringent selection process to gain admission to their undergraduate program, we cannot reject the hypothesis that admission committees use information efficiently and fairly. However, this also implies that there may be a return to attending a selective undergraduate program in order to be pooled with highly skilled individuals.

21) I had really been looking forward to seeing Nope.  But, OMG, the pacing and plot… just plain old boring.  One of the few reviews willing to call out the film’s failures.

22) With a Republican majority in the House, we’ll surely be hearing a lot more about Hunter Biden’s laptop next year.  Drum:

It’s still 43 days until the new Congress starts up, but it’s never too early to take a deep dive into some the important issues Republicans will be addressing when January 3rd rolls around. And anyway, there’s only one, so it’s not like you have a ton of homework to do. The subject, of course, is Hunter Biden and his laptop. Here’s a detailed rundown of this sordid affair:

  • Back in the day, Hunter did a lot of drugs and got himself enmeshed in a bunch of sleazy deals. Apparently he routinely promised people that his ties to “Dad” would be a big help to their cause.
  • There is no evidence that Joe Biden knew about Hunter’s dealings or was ever involved in any of them.

Also, come on. Even if you’re a total partisan hack, this doesn’t really sound like Joe’s style, does it?

I guess that wasn’t so hard after all. Just try to keep these bullet points in mind during the 672 days of Fox News hits; strategic leaking to friendly reporters; invocations of “there’s no other explanation for ______” (there always is); New York Times excerpts from the inevitable Peter Schweizer book; 3,000-word thumbsuckers on the Ukrainian judicial system circa 2017; and, of course, chants of “Lock him up” because MAGAnauts are nothing if not predictable.

23) Apparently, many bands now eschew the encore.  Given that the encore is really almost always just completely planned after a short break, I’m good with that.  

24) Can hunter-gatherers teach us lessons for dealing with the modern workplace?

Quick hits (part I)

1) So good from Kat Rosenfield, “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative”

This is a theory I’ve had for some time, but it crystallized in the writing of this piece: In our current era, politics no longer have anything to do with policy. Nor are they about principles, or values, or a vision for the future of the country. They’re about tribalism, and aesthetics, and vibes. They’re about lockstep solidarity with your chosen team, to which you must demonstrate your loyalty through fierce and unwavering conformity. And most of all, they’re about hating the right people…

As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted, “the whole thing makes no sense — except as an exercise in labeling anyone out of step with progressive orthodoxy in any way at all as a right-winger.”

But of course this exercise is increasingly the preferred — and perhaps only — means for sorting people into various political boxes. And on that front, the whole thing makes perfect sense: This with-us-or-against-us ethos is how I, a woman who has voted Democrat straight down the ticket in every election for the past 20 years, found myself suddenly accused of apostasy by the Left at the same time that I began receiving invitations from right-wingers to appear on Gutfeld! 

I said yes to those invitations, too, of course. I even had a good time! 

But this is why conservatives so often mistake me for one of their own: not because I argue for right-wing policies or from a right-wing perspective, but because progressives are often extremely, publicly mad at me for refusing to parrot the latest catechism and for criticizing the progressive dogmas that either violate my principles or make no sense. I look like a friend of the Right only because the Left wants to make me their enemy — and because I can’t bring myself to do the requisite dance, or make the requisite apologies, that might get me back in the Left’s good graces. 

On that front, I am not alone. There’s a loose but growing coalition of lefties out there, artists and writers and academics and professionals, who’ve drawn sympathetic attention from conservatives after being publicly shamed out of the progressive clubhouse (that is, by the type of progressive who thinks there is a clubhouse, which is of course part of the problem). It’s remarkably easy these days to be named an apostate on the left. Maybe you were critical of the looting and rioting that devastated cities in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020. Maybe you were skeptical of this or that viral outrage: Covington Catholic, or Jussie Smollett, or the alleged racial abuse at a BYU volleyball game that neither eyewitness testimony nor video evidence could corroborate. Maybe you were too loud about the continued need for due process in the middle of #MeToo. Maybe you wouldn’t stop asking uncomfortable questions about the proven value of certain divisive brands of diversity training, or transgender surgeries for kids, or — come the pandemic — masking. Maybe you kept defending the right to free speech and creative expression after these things had been deemed “right-wing values” by your fellow liberals.

This is a fraught moment for those of us who aren’t reflexive team players, who struggle with reading the room, who remain committed to certain values on principle even when they’ve become politically inexpedient. The present climate leaves virtually no room for a person to dissent and yet remain in good standing. Attorney Lara Bazelon — whose commitment to due-process protections in Title IX cases puts her not just at odds with her left-wing peers but also, in a shocking turn, on the same side as the Trump administration — described the challenges of heterodoxy on an episode of Glenn Loury’s podcast in October 2022. “I have a tribe and they have a position, and I don’t agree with it,” Bazelon said, looking bewildered. “Why is it so poisonous and toxic and canceling-inducing to be able to say that basic thing?”

Now, of course, we’re not all post-policy– which is why Rosenfield still is a liberal:

The title of this essay is “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative,” and it’s not lost on me that it would be an excellent setup for a tidily dramatic ending in which I suddenly realize that wait, no, the mistake was mine, and finally I see that I’ve been a conservative all along. But despite the occasional flirtation (or lunch) with members of the center-Right, and despite the lucrative career potential of a right-wing pivot, I shan’t be coming out of the closet or putting on a “Team GOP” jersey today. I still believe in liberal principles such as free speech, high social trust, and a government that provides a robust safety net for people in need while leaving the rest of us to live and let live. I support same-sex marriage, universal health care, police and prison reform, and an end to the destructive and foolhardy wars on drugs and terror — and while we’re abolishing things, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the sex-offender registry and capital punishment, too.

2) NHL offside review are just so awful.  I love this list of possible solutions.  This one seems great:

4. Shorten the coach’s time to decide

Offside review has always been broken, but it certainly seems like there’s one element that’s been getting worse over the last year or two: The interminable delays while we wait for the coach to make up his mind.

This is bad, for two reasons. First of all, hockey was way more fun when a goal would be scored and we’d cut to a shot of the other team’s coach looking mad, or yelling at this team, or waving his arms around, or reacting with some form of human emotion instead of just passively staring at a little screen like a bored toddler at the end of a long car ride. But more importantly, it’s giving all these coaches even more time to find those freeze-frame pixel plays that shouldn’t able to overturn a call but somehow still do.

You’d think we could turn to the rulebook for some sort of time limit here, but there actually isn’t one. It just says that the review has to be initiated before the next faceoff. And if the officials are willing to just stand around before dropping the puck, then the coach has all the time in the world to figure things out.

We need a limit, and here’s my suggestion: Five seconds.

That’s it. Five seconds from the moment the goal is scored until the coach has to make up his mind. The referee in the offensive-zone signals goal, and the trailing referee looks over at the coach and holds up five fingers. Count it down. Five seconds, coach, what do you got?

OK, I’m guessing you think that’s too quick. If so, make it 10 seconds or whatever. The point is that we want a quick decision, one that has to come before the video coach has had time to dig through every replay like it’s the Zapruder film. If the coach thinks he saw something in real time, or he trusts his players who say they did, then we’ll review it. But you don’t get to tell the linesman he missed a call when you didn’t see it either.

The beauty here is that we’d still be missing plays that were technically offside. It would probably happen even more often than with our other ideas. But now it’s not the officials’ fault anymore. Now it’s on the coach for not being quick enough. If the broadcast discovers an angle that shows a skate was a half-inch over the line, they won’t be blaming the linesman for not finding it on replay. They’ll blame the coach instead…

And this one such a no-brainer!

2. Limit how long the reviews can take

I hear this one a lot from frustrated fans, and it’s really just an extension of the first suggestion. The idea here is that any review that drags on for too long can’t be conclusive and irrefutable, so we put a time limit on things. Let’s say that from the moment the review begins, we have two minutes before the screens shut off. If you haven’t made your mind up by then, that’s fine. It means that the call on the ice was right, or at least that it was close enough that we can live with it. Let’s get the game going again.

Would it help? Let’s hold that thought, because the next idea is a similar approach

3) Krugman:

So Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security would impose widespread hardship, with some of the worst impacts falling on red-state, noncollege whites — that is, the party’s most loyal base.

Why, then, does the party want to do this? We needn’t take claims that it’s about fiscal responsibility seriously; a fiscally responsible party wouldn’t be seeking to make the Trump tax cuts permanent or oppose giving the I.R.S. the resources it needs to crack down on tax cheats. What we’re seeing, instead, is that despite its populist rhetoric, the G.O.P. is still very much a party of and for the rich.

A more interesting question is why Republicans think they can get away with touching the traditional third rails of fiscal policy. Social Security remains as popular as ever; Republicans themselves campaigned against Obamacare by claiming, misleadingly, that it would cut Medicare. Why imagine that proposals to deny benefits to many Americans by raising the eligibility age won’t provoke a backlash?

At least part of the answer is surely the expectation that the right-wing disinformation machine can obscure what the G.O.P. is up to. The Republican Study Committee has released a 153-page report calling, among other things, for denying full Social Security benefits to Americans under 70; that didn’t stop Sean Hannity from declaring the other day that “not a single Republican has ever said they want to take away your Social Security.”

Finally, how do Republicans imagine they could pass any of this agenda? After all, even if they do win the midterms, they won’t have enough votes to override a Biden veto.

Unfortunately, we know the answer: If Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, they’ll try to achieve their goals not though the normal legislative process but through blackmail. They’ll threaten to provoke a global financial crisis by refusing to raise the debt limit. If Democrats defang that threat, Republicans will try to get what they want by making America ungovernable in other ways.

Will they succeed? Stay tuned.

4) Is Long Covid just myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome?  Maybe sort of?

5) “Integralism” is the old conservatism made new again:

Broadly speaking, there are two different kinds of contemporary American conservatism. The more familiar—traditional conservatism—holds that the founding principles and institutions of the American polity remain sound but have been distorted by waves of progressive activism that have eroded our commitment to individual liberty and limited government. The task is to preserve these fundamentals while restoring their original meaning and function. 

The second kind of conservatism claims that America was flawed from the start. The focus on individual rights comes at the expense of community and the common good, and the claim that government exists to preserve individual liberty creates an inexorable move toward moral anarchy. These tendencies have moved us so far from traditional decency and public order that there is little of worth left to “conserve.” Our current situation represents a revolution against the forces—religion, strong families, local moral communities—that once limited the worst implications of our founding mistakes. The only remedy for this revolution is a counter-revolution. Instead of limited government, we need strong government capable of promoting the common good and defending moral common sense against the threat posed by unelected elites.

This proposed counter-revolution has little to do with conservatism as traditionally understood. It seeks not to limit the flaws in our founding principles but to replace them. Specifically, it is a revolt against liberalism, the political theory rooted in the Enlightenment that inspired the Declaration of Independence. This New Right is unabashedly anti-liberal, at the level of philosophical principle as well as political practice.

There are different kinds of anti-liberalism. Some are secular—for example, fascism, which rests its legitimacy on the culture and spirit of a specific “people” and uses all available means to pursue the interests of this people, as defined by an elite that purports to speak in its name. Other kinds of anti-liberalism appeal to a specific religion, the truth of which is taken for granted. Legitimate government rules in the name of this religion and promotes God’s will on earth.

With these distinctions, we have reached integralism, which is a distinctive form of religious anti-liberalism within Catholicism. It arose many centuries before the emergence of liberalism, as a justification for the integration of Catholicism and political power that began under the Roman emperor Constantine and was completed in 380 by emperor Theodosius I, who embraced Christianity not only as his personal religion but also as the religion of his realm. At the end of the next century, Pope Gelasius I formalized the Catholic understanding in his famous distinction between priestly and royal authority. In matters concerning religious practice and ultimate salvation, Gelasius argued, political authorities are required to submit to the authority of the Church. 

Among other implications, this arrangement precludes religious liberty as now understood. Any political authority that permits individuals and groups to freely choose among religions ipso facto denies the authority of the Church in spiritual matters.

6) This is a real must-read, “US Traffic Safety Is Getting Worse, While Other Countries Improve”

The US underperformance in road safety is especially dramatical: 11.4 Americans per 100,000 died in crashes in 2020, a number that dwarfs countries including Spain (2.9), Israel (3.3) and New Zealand (6.3). And unlike most developed nations, US roadways have grown more deadly during the last two decades (including during the pandemic), especially for those outside of cars. Last year saw the most pedestrians killed in the US in 40 years, and deaths among those biking rose 44% from 2010 to 2020…

In recent months I’ve written a series of CityLab articles exploring why many countries — including FinlandFrance and Japan — boast roadway death rates that are a fraction of the US toll. The closer you look, the clearer it becomes that the US traffic safety crisis is not a reflection of geography or culture. It is the result of policy decisions that elevated fast car travel and automaker profits over roadway safety. Other countries made different choices, and they’ve saved lives as a result…

Uniquely, the US has seen larger SUVs and pickup trucks dominate its domestic car market. While the profitability of this trend has delighted automakers, the weight and height of these vehicles places other road users in greater danger. Research has linked the ascent of SUVs to the surge in US pedestrian deaths. Larger vehicles are gaining popularity in other countries as well, but higher gasoline taxes (as well as weight-based fees adopted by countries like France) have slowed their adoption.

7) Loved this Nature article on the prospect of Far-UVC for cleaning our air of pathogens.  I so want us to invest in this, especially in places like schools:

With GUV light, “you can get very high rates of air disinfection with relatively little air movement”, says Milton. “And with the newest technology, maybe you don’t even have to worry about air movement, because now there are wavelengths that are safer to use and you can use GUV in the whole room.” In crowded spaces such as schools, hospitals and restaurants where diseases can easily spread, GUV can operate unnoticed “even before you know that you’ve got a problem”, Milton says. “That’s really critical in keeping these things under control.” …

Although there are no universally accepted and enforced standards for indoor air quality, targets are typically expressed in terms of how often the amount of air in a room is exchanged per hour. The recommendation for examination rooms in US hospitals, for instance, is six air changes per hour. That’s a struggle for ventilation systems and typically requires a lot of energy, Bahnfleth says. Whereas, an upper-room GUV system can easily reach the equivalent of two or three times those levels of air exchange for disinfection purposes while using much less energy than a ventilation system.“It’s mostly impossible for anything but a hospital or special facility to have six air changes,” says Nardell. “GUV is the only method that gives you this incredibly high number of equivalent air changes, because you can disinfect such a large volume of air at once.”…

8) If you’ve heard of John Lott you know he specializes in justifying conservative causes (mostly guns) with very dubious social science.  Nice takedown in the New Yorker.

For almost thirty years, Lott, who has a doctorate in economics from U.C.L.A., has provided the empirical backbone for the gun-rights movement. Virtually every statistical argument against regulation—made by lobbyists, Republican lawmakers, and National Rifle Association members alike—is based on his research, which reaches two conclusions: guns make Americans safer, and gun restrictions place them in danger. He stands against droves of distinguished academics who have determined that the opposite is true. But, in the scientific debate over firearms, no one has had greater influence.

 

Lott’s first and most famous book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” was published in 1998 by the University of Chicago Press, one of the country’s most prestigious academic publishers. The book has been republished multiple times, and offers one seemingly irrefutable statistic after another. It specifies that when states relaxed laws restricting the concealed carrying of handguns, counties saw a roughly eight-per-cent drop in murders, a five-per-cent reduction in rapes, and a seven-per-cent decrease in aggravated assaults. The text is the basis for arguments blaming “gun-free zones” for mass shootings, and the notion, popularized by the N.R.A., that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. “Overall,” Lott writes, “my conclusion is that criminals as a group tend to behave rationally—when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed.”

Lott’s findings and methods have generated scathing criticism from prominent academics, who have questioned his veracity and exposed flaws in his work. But the critiques have not diminished his stature. Instead, they have fed the conspiracy-oriented mentality of the gun-rights movement. In the eyes of its adherents, and in the messaging of the gun lobby and trade groups, attempts to discredit Lott are really attempts to suppress the truth…

In the second edition of his book, published in 2000, Lott attributed the brandishing claim to this three-month study. That year, in a piece for The Criminologist, Duncan had laid out his concerns. Lott, who was now in a temporary research position at Yale, responded in the same journal, providing some new specifics and an explanation for the confusion. “The survey that I oversaw interviewed 2,424 people from across the United States,” he said. “I had planned on including a discussion of it in my book, but did not do so because an unfortunate computer crash lost my hard disk right before the final draft of the book had to be turned in.”

In September, 2002, James Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern University who has a Ph.D. in quantitative sociology, offered to examine the matter. Lott told Lindgren that the calls for the survey were made by University of Chicago undergraduates, who volunteered for the work and used their own phones. Lott did not have phone records, but the students could confirm whether the survey was conducted in the first place. When Lindgren asked for the students’ names, however, Lott said that he did not remember. Later, he explained that he was “horrible at names.” Lindgren told me, “After all these years, no one has come forward to say they worked on the survey.” Two people, however, claim that they were respondents; one of these, David Gross, is a former N.R.A. board member.

9) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Why Do People Who Don’t Like Politics Hold the Fate of the Country in Their Hands?”

It’s almost Election Day, and once again, the party that wins the midterms will likely be determined by swing voters — a small but critical slice of the electorate that, despite the polarization of U.S. politics, is still open to voting for Democrats or Republicans.

These swing voters have gained a reputation for being the one remaining moderating force in our politics. But more often they are a mercurial mix of unorthodoxy and political uninterest — and they hold disproportionate power to decide the fate of the country, based on the price of gasoline or a reflexive turn against the party in the White House.

What we’re left with in our polarized system is that the only real swing voters are those who either don’t really follow politics (most swing voters) or whose deeply considered political values leave them ambivalent about the two major parties (a few highly educated voters with an outsize media presence).

As Democrats and Republicans continue to diverge, especially over fundamental questions like “Was the 2020 election legitimate?” and “Is America a democracy?” the stakes of winning over these mostly disengaged voters are higher than ever.

This raises a perplexing question: Why do those who pay very little attention to our politics, whose vote choices are largely inscrutable and who are the most likely to default to voting against the party of the current president, hold the most decisive power? The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: Because that’s how our voting system is set up. We can come up with a better system. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen in time for Election Day in November, but in a better system, all votes would matter equally everywhere, instead of just those of swing voters in swing districts.

10) With affirmative action in the news, good time to revisit Yglesias‘ take from earlier this year:

Affirmative action generates more racially balanced classes at elite universities but places the burden of adjustment on the shoulders of Asian Americans and lower-class white people rather than rich white people. Meanwhile, a person like me — a fairly privileged young person whose father’s family happens to come from Cuba — got a boost. I don’t know of any theory of distributive or restorative justice that says this is a reasonable formula for addressing America’s legacy of racial discrimination or present-day inequities. But it’s what’s actually happening.

I think Bill Clinton’s old “mend it, don’t end it” formula made a lot of sense, but in reality, nothing has been mended in the 25 years since he said that. Now the courts are poised to end it, and unfortunately, ending it could have bad consequences too…

Sometimes it does make sense to invest the most resources in training the most elite prospects. But at least at the current margin for American higher education, we would get better returns by giving money to help teach the weaker students. Whether through affirmative action (Bleemer) or Top X%, it is beneficial to be a below-average student at a more-competitive college because the more competitive college will devote more instructional resources to you.

It is obviously in the narrow interests of Harvard to keep fighting for a world in which Harvard gets tons of money and then wins social justice points by having a racially diverse class.

But from the standpoint of social justice, by far the preferable option is to redistribute the money away from the institutions that have so much and give it to the ones who serve a more diverse set of people from more modest backgrounds.

11) Likewise, Pew from earlier this year, “As courts weigh affirmative action, grades and test scores seen as top factors in college admissions”

More than nine-in-ten Americans (93%) say high school grades should be at least a minor factor in admissions decisions, including 61% who say they should be a major factor. Grades are, by far, the criteria the public says should most factor into admissions decisions. This is followed by standardized test scores (39% major factor, 46% minor factor) and community service involvement (19% major, 48% minor), according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 7-13, 2022.

A bar chart showing that Americans see grades and standardized test scores as top factors to be considered in college admissions

A bar chart showing that compared with 2019, fewer Americans now see high school grades and test scores as major factors that should be considered in college admissions decisions

 

12) Max Boot, “Don’t blame ‘both sides.’ The right is driving political violence.”

It should not be controversial to say that America has a major problem with right-wing political violence. The evidence continues to accumulate — yet the GOP continues to deny responsibility for this horrifying trend…

Violence is unacceptable whether from the left or right, period. But we can’t allow GOP leaders to get away with this false moral equivalency. They are evading their responsibility for their extremist rhetoric that all too often motivates extremist actions.

The New America think tank found last year that, since Sept. 11, 2001, far-right terrorists had killed 122 people in the United States, compared with only one killed by far-leftists. A study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies last year found that, since 2015, right-wing extremists had been involved in 267 plots or attacks, compared with 66 for left-wing extremists. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey released in January found that 40 percent of Republicans said violence against the government can be justified, compared with only 23 percent of Democrats.

There is little doubt about what is driving political violence: the ascendance of Trump. The former president and his followers use violent rhetoric of extremes: Trump calls President Biden an “enemy of the state,” attacks the FBI as “monsters,” refers to the “now Communist USA” and even wrote that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a “DEATH WISH” for disagreeing with him. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has expressed support for executing Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.) has tweeted that “the America Last Marxists … are radically and systematically DESTROYING our country.”…

That type of extremist rhetoric used to be confined to fringe organizations such as the John Birch Society. Now it’s the GOP mainstream, with predictable consequences. The U.S. Capitol Police report that threats against members of Congress have risen more than tenfold since Trump’s election in 2016, up to 9,625 last year.

13) Good stuff from Jesse Singal on the state of modern journalism.  Well worth a read, but tough to excerpt.

14) As much as I would love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it was always crazy that the Senate just passed this unanimously with minimal discussion.  It’s not gonna happen. 

15) I still recycle a lot of plastic, but don’t feel bad throwing it away anymore. “On Second Thought, Just Throw Plastic Away: Even Greenpeace now admits the obvious: recycling doesn’t work.”

The Greenpeace report offers a wealth of statistics and an admirably succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.”

16) A pandemic updates from Eric Topol.

New on the Bivalent Booster

Now for the best news of the day, which is on the BA.5 bivalent booster, a reprint from Emory University that shows how well the bivalent held up to BQ.1. and BA.2.75.2, two of the most immune evasive new variants, compared with the original monovalent shot(s) via the live neutralization assay. This is the best data we have yet seen for the bivalent booster, since for the 2 earlier preprints by the Ho and Barouch labs, both did not show a big BA.5 neutralizing antibody response as was hoped. The prior studies used a pseudovirus assay whereas the Emory used live virus, likely a more accurate assessment. The BA.5 neutralization with bivalent was 4-fold the original booster, which is certainly better than 1.3 fold from the Barouch lab report. Importantly, now we have lab evidence that our defense against 2 of the worrisome variants with a growth advantage in the United States (especially BQ.1.1) should be bolstered with the new booster.

17) Definitely wonky, but I loved this so much from Nate Cohn, “Will One Small Shift Fix the Polls in 2022?”

The great polling misfire of the 2020 election wasn’t just about how Trump supporters were less likely to respond to political surveys.

It was also about the failure of pollsters’ usual statistical adjustments to fix the problem.

After all, some demographic groups — like Hispanic voters — invariably respond to surveys at lower rates than others. Usually, pollsters just adjust for it, most often by “weighting” respondents from underrepresented groups to represent their share of the population. In 2020, the problem was that weighting didn’t do the trick. Even if a poll had the right number of Republicans or working-class whites, it still understated Donald J. Trump’s support against Joe Biden.

But this cycle, one weighting technique that didn’t do the job in 2020 might just be a little more powerful this time around.

That technique is called weighting by recalled vote choice. That term is a fancy way to say having the right number of people who say they voted for a candidate, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden, in the last election.

Not every pollster weights on recalled vote. The Times/Siena poll doesn’t. But based on Times/Siena data, weighting on recalled vote seems a lot likelier to shift a poll toward Republicans than two years ago, even if Trump supporters are no more likely to take surveys.

What’s changed? In 2020, Times/Siena respondents showed more voters reporting they voted for Mr. Trump four years earlier than the actual 2016 result. Now, our respondents are likelier to report voting for Mr. Biden than the actual 2020 result. As a consequence, weighting on recalled vote would now shift Times/Siena polls toward the right, since we would need to give additional weight to Mr. Trump’s 2020 supporters to match the 2020 tally.

If that’s a little confusing, here’s a concrete example:

In our final poll of Pennsylvania in 2020, voters who recalled backing Mr. Trump in 2016 outnumbered those who recalled backing Hillary Clinton by four percentage points, even though Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania by less than one point in 2016. If we had adjusted our poll to match the 2016 result, we would have needed to give more weight to Mrs. Clinton’s former supporters, shifting our already-too-Democratic poll result further to the left.

This year, the pattern is reversed: In our recent Pennsylvania poll, voters who said they recalled voting for Mr. Biden outnumbered those who backed Mr. Trump by four points, compared with Mr. Biden’s actual one-point victory. If we had adjusted our poll to match the 2020 results, we would have given more weight to the voters who said they backed Mr. Trump, shifting our results to the right (if you’re curious, John Fetterman would have led by three points in our recent Senate poll of Pennsylvania, 48 percent to 45 percent, rather than by 5.5 points).

Nowadays, many pollsters weight on recalled vote choice. If their underlying data looks similar to ours, the decision to weight on past vote might do a lot to shift those polls to the right compared with the last cycle. This effect of recalled vote weighting might wind up improving the accuracy of the polling averages, even as the underlying data quality remains unchanged…

Nonetheless, I’m not convinced that this is a good practice — at least for us.

The biggest reason: There’s longstanding evidence that voters are less likely to recall voting for the losing candidate, and more likely to recall voting for the winner (this is one of my earliest polling-nerd memories).

The shift in our data is consistent with this pattern: Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, thus he outperformed the final result on recalled 2016 vote in 2020 polling; Mr. Biden won the 2020 election, thus he’s the one now outperforming. This suggests weighting on recalled vote will bias a poll against the party that won the last election, all else being equal.

This isn’t just a theoretical proposition: The partisanship of the people who refuse to tell us whom they supported last time around offers evidence that this is playing out in the Times/Siena poll. In our recent wave of congressional polling, nearly 10 percent of validated 2020 voters didn’t tell us whom they supported last time around. As a group, these voters are registered Republicans by a two-to-one margin, 48 percent to 25 percent. They disapprove of Mr. Biden by an even greater margin, 61 percent to 26 percent. This is certainly consistent with the possibility that an important and disproportionate sliver of Trump 2020 voters would prefer not to recall or divulge their vote.

I would find it hard to embrace something that would have unequivocally made our results even worse in 2020, no matter what our 2022 data showed. This evidence makes it very hard for me to justify weighting on recalled vote — even if I think the results look better that way.

There’s also an important practical challenge: What’s the right target? It’s easy enough to say that it should match the 2020 election, but that’s really not quite so clear. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Trump ought to lead on recalled vote with the likely electorate, if Republicans enjoy the usual midterm turnout advantage. Or maybe it’s the other way around, if Democrats benefit from demographic change or an influx of new registrants. And what about the voters who don’t seem to provide accurate information — like the folks who won’t tell us whom they supported or those who say they voted, even though they don’t have a track record of doing so. It’s messy.

Nonetheless, pollsters have been using recalled vote more and more over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why…

Unfortunately, this methodological debate is hard to resolve. It’s entirely possible that recalled vote will help cancel out a Democratic bias. It just won’t be clear whether that choice yielded a representative sample — whether a hypothetical perfect poll of America would show no bias on recalled vote — or whether it created a new, rightward bias that canceled out other biases.

And even if it is unbiased this time, there will be no way to know whether it will be unbiased in the future. After all, it would have hurt the Times/Siena polls in 2020.

What is fairly clear, though, is many pollsters using recalled vote weighting might show more favorable results for Republicans in 2022 than they did in 2020, even if their underlying data remains just as biased toward Democrats. It tends to reduce the risk of another 2020-like polling error.

Sorry to be so late with this! More tomorrow.  

(Abbreviated and late) Quick hits (part II)

1) Spent all of Saturday being a marching band dad, which put me way behind, but a few things you should try and find some time to read.

1) This Yascha Mounk conversation with Sam Harris is really, really good.  If you are the type of person who finds the same things interesting that I do (and, if not, why are you here?) you should just read it. 

2) Loved this NYT Magazine interview with Bono.  They covered a lot of interesting ground, but I especially enjoyed the parts about contemporary pop music and about songwriting:

It’s more about where your music fits into the culture. Is the pop-culture world still a place where U2 can realistically compete for attention? I know now that with youth culture I am kind of tolerated hanging out at the back of the birthday party but the magic show’s going on down here for the kids. I wished to connect with the pop charts over the last two albums and failed. But the songwriting got really good. “Songs of Experience” is great songwriting even if you don’t like the sound of it. Or “Every Breaking Wave” or “The Troubles” on “Songs of Innocence.” I would have loved to have a pop song on the radio. Probably we’ve run a road on that. So right now I want to write the most unforgiving, obnoxious, defiant, [expletive]-off-to-the-pop-charts rock ’n’ roll song that we’ve ever made. I spoke to about it this week. He’s going, “Is it that call again?” “What call?” “The one about we’re going to write the big [expletive]-off rock song?” And I say, “Yeah, it’s our job!” We can make songs famous now, but I don’t think U2 can make them hits…

Not exactly your highest moment. You’ve never heard us doing those songs. [Expletive] you. “The Boy Falls From the Sky” is an amazing song; so is “Turn Off the Dark.” 

 But why did we end up working on Broadway? The American songbook! If I could impart one thing to you in this exchange it’s that I’m a student, and so is my friend Edge. We’re students of songwriting. We don’t mind if we’re humiliated to find a great song. These  we worked with on our last albums know a lot about songs. You say, “But you’re U2 — you don’t need that.” What’s interesting is that we want that.

3) Paul Waldman, “We’ve been told a lie about rural America”

There’s a story Republicans tell about the politics of rural America, one aimed at both rural people and the rest of us. It goes like this: Those coastal urban elitist Democrats look down their noses at you, but the GOP has got your back. They hate you; we love you. They ignore you; we’re working for you. Whatever you do, don’t even think about voting for a Democrat.

That story pervades our discussion of the rural-urban divide in U.S. politics. But it’s fundamentally false. The reality is complex, but one thing you absolutely cannot say is that Democrats don’t try to help rural America. In fact, they probably work harder at it than Republicans do.

Let’s talk about just one area that has been of particular interest to Democrats, and to rural people themselves: high-speed internet access, a problem that’s addressed by hundreds of millions of dollars in funding that the Biden administration announced this week.

The problem is straightforward: The less dense an area is, the harder it is for private companies to make a profit providing internet service. Laying a mile of fiber-optic cable to reach a hundred apartment buildings is a lot more efficient than laying a mile of cable to reach one family farm.

So you need government to fill the gaps. That’s because the lack of high-speed service makes it harder to start and sustain many kinds of businesses, have schools access the information students need, and allow people many of the basic pleasures of modern life, like rewatching all six seasons of “Peaky Blinders.”

The Biden administration has now rolled out $759 million in new grants and loans for building rural broadband. This money comes from the infrastructure bill, but the other big spending bills President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, also had a wealth of money and programs specifically targeted to rural areas.

While those programs cover a variety of needs, broadband is particularly visible. The administration is using the money to fund rural broadband projects from Alaska to Michigan to Minnesota to Oregon. And of course, when that federal money provided by Democrats over the objection of Republicans comes to red states, Republican officials rush to take credit for it.

This isn’t new or unusual. Every Democratic presidential campaign puts out a plan for rural America. The Biden administration created the Rural Partners Network to coordinate executive branch initiatives affecting rural Americans. Every big spending bill Democrats write makes sure to direct money to address the needs of rural areas…

Liberals sometimes say rural dwellers have been fooled into voting Republican — and therefore against their economic interests — based on social issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. That’s not the argument I’m making here. It’s legitimate to put those issues first if they’re what you care about the most. If you live in rural Kansas and your opposition to abortion is profoundly important to you, it would be unreasonable to expect you to support the pro-abortion-rights party, even if it brought broadband to your town.

But it would be wrong to ignore the extremely hard work Democrats do to improve the lives of rural Americans, even as they won’t win most of their votes. We could argue about the value of different programs or economic policies in such areas, but you can’t say Democrats aren’t trying.

4) Before he became a public intellectual on race and wokism, John McWhorter was just a great linguist.  I loved this column on the oddity of English having the exact same word for singular and plural 2nd person, ie., you.

Fish don’t know they’re wet, and we English speakers don’t know we’re weird. Have you ever thought about how odd it is that English uses the same word for “you” in the singular and the plural?

Possibly not, because to speak English lifelong is to sense this as normal. But try to think of another language where there is only one word for “you.” Imagine if in Spanish one used “usted” to mean both one person and several, or if in French there were no “tu” and “vous” was the only word ever used to mean “you.” As often as not, languages do even more than just distinguish the singular and plural in the second person, marking distinctions of politeness as well. In Hindi there is the informal singular “tū,” the more formal “tum” and then “āp” for addressing elders and others to whom one is meant to show respect.

And in cases where English serves as the foundation for brand-new languages, one of the first things people do is fill in the “you” hole. When the British first arrived in Australia, one of the ways they initially communicated with Indigenous people was through a pidgin English with a limited vocabulary. That pidgin was later used throughout the South Seas area, and ultimately flowered into actual languages. One of them is now the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. In that language, Tok Pisin, no one puts up with this business of using “you” for all numbers of people. Rather, they get even more fine-grained than most others: They address two people as “yutupela” — you two fellows — and three as “yutripela.” …

What happened with English?

It’s something we may never have a complete answer to. Certainly, in the Middle Ages across Europe, a fashion arose in various languages of addressing individuals with the plural pronoun as a mark of respect. The idea was that using a singular form was too direct; the plural form suggested a kind of polite distance, rather like Queen Victoria’s reputed fondness for saying about herself that “we are not amused,” the premise being that to refer to herself in the singular would suggest that she was on the same level as ordinary people.

At first, this usage of “you” was between people of higher status, with the expectation then developing that people lower on the social scale would address their betters as “you” while addressing one another as “thou.” But the “you” fashion spread down the scale, with even middle-class couples alternating between calling each other “thou” and “you” depending on factors of formality, affection and subject matter. In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Benedick, likely wanting to connote intimacy to Beatrice, tells her, “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” But a bit later, when he is addressing a more formal and even menacing matter, he switches to “you”: “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?”

This stage was paralleled in many European countries, but the odd thing about English is that “you” then edged out “thou” completely in the 17th century. Why English took it this far is difficult to know. At a time when “thou” was still a recent memory, Quakers found the “you” takeover elitist, with its overtone of saluting and bowing creating conflict with their egalitarian ideology. I attended a Quaker school for a while in the late 1970s and at least one teacher was still using “thou” in this way — I will never forget him reminding me before an exam, “Be sure to put thy name on thy paper.” However, in the 17th century, Quakers’ insistence on using “thou” even with people of high status felt to many like an insult, and some were even physically assaulted for their refusal to get on the “you” bandwagon.

The Quakers’ beef was with matters of hierarchy, but they were also onto something in the linguistic sense. Normal languages have separate singular and plural second-person pronouns, period.

5) The US Constitution is way too hard to amend and that’s bad for our country.  Jill Lepore with a cool interactive feature on it in the New Yorker. 

6) Eric Levitz, “The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation”

As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Republicans an 81 percent chance of taking the House. Democrats’ prospects for keeping the Senate, meanwhile, are surprisingly favorable: Despite widespread disapproval of Joe Biden and the economy, Democrats are narrowly favored to retain a majority in the upper chamber.

This suggests that the GOP might be paying a penalty for its flirtations with authoritarian rule. But if so, the penalty is small. In polls, voters consistently name inflation as their top concern. And support for Democrats appears to rise and fall with the price of gasoline; when pain at the pump goes up, Democratic vote-share goes down…

The open conspiracy against democratic government in the U.S. troubles voters much less than the cost of living.  When Gallup asked voters to name America’s most important problem in September, only 4 percent mentioned threats to its democracy.

This has inspired an understandable yet ironic genre of commentary: The denunciation of the voting public, in the name of democracy…

There is something to this critique. All news media has a negativity bias. And mainstream outlets have not devoted much attention to the merits of the Biden economy. Two and a half years after the 2008 crash, unemployment remained well above 8 percent; two and a half years after the COVID crash, unemployment is at 3.5 percent. More basically, the press has done a poor job of contextualizing today’s inflation. The cause of contemporary economic dysfunction is not primarily Biden’s economic mismanagement, even if one stipulates, for the sake of argument, that the American Rescue Plan was excessively large. Rather, the cause of our economic difficulties is a prolonged pandemic that killed more than 1 million Americans, disabled many others, forced factory closures, bankrupted many small businesses, and triggered a sudden shift in the structure of consumer demand. We could have been paid for those costs through high unemployment. Instead, we are paying them through elevated prices. One can debate whether the Biden administration struck the right balance between full employment and price stability. But they were dealt a difficult hand, and were likely to preside over economic discontent no matter how they chose to play it. At the same time, cable news has done far more to spotlight the Democrats’ failure to reduce inflation than to inform the public of the GOP’s (heinously unpopular) plans for restoring price stability.

Separately, mainstream news outlets aim to reach the broadest possible audience. And in a country closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, this often compels such outlets to elide the reality that only one of America’s major parties is committed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy.

But none of this means that CNN and the New York Times boast primary responsibility for the electorate’s frustration with the economy or its complacency about the threat to U.S. democracy.

7) No you don’t actually need to read past the headline of “Climate Protester Glues His Head to ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ Painting.”  OMG these people are absolutely moronic!  Could ExxonMobil even come up with a better strategy for undermining climate goals?!

8) And, damn, no better take on skewering these morons than Jeff Maurer.  I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this, “If You’re Not Hot-Gluing Your Scrotum to the Venus de Milo, Then I Don’t Believe You Really Care About Climate Justice”

Let’s not mince words: These protesters are idiots. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that you won’t solve climate change by gluing your face to “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”. For starters: It’s not even Vermeer’s best work. This list ranks it as his eighth-best; “View of Delft” is clearly superior in both composition and theme. And frankly, I’m skeptical that the challenge of finding alternate energy sources will be solved by gluing ourselves to anything less than classical masterpieces. I’m talking ancient works — the pediments of the Parthenon, or Tutankhamun’s burial mask, for example. Only when I open the paper and see some brave climate warrior permanently attached to “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” will I start to believe that solutions might be nigh.

Also: Only an amateur glues his face to something. Once you’ve been around for a while, you know that a more sensitive body part = more justice. That’s why we need to use our brains and get our ball sacks involved. At the risk of being gender-exclusive, nothing generates political capital quite like a glued nutsack — it’s a benefit that stems from the organ’s unique sensitivity. In a pinch, a labia will do, as will a clitoris (despite the obvious logistical challenges), and I applaud women who use these organs to their advantage. But at the end of the day, nothing wins people over quite like gluing your balls to something — it’s how Lincoln passed the 13th Amendment! …

Shame on these milquetoast protesters! Let’s see some fucking commitment, assholes. Are you dodging the Louvre — where the Venus de Milo is kept — just because it’s a high-profile museum with advanced security? Well then I guess we’ll all burn alive because you can’t figure out how to get 8 ounces of Loctite Ultra Gel and a thermos of clam chowder past a security guard! Did these protesters think that solving climate change will be easy? It won’t be. As Max Weber said: “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” Phrased another way: “If you’re not prepared to permanently attach your sack to a classical masterpiece, then you might as well stay home.”

National parks were established when John Muir stapled his dick to a Terracotta soldier. Erin Brockovich brought Pacific Gas & Electric to heel by epoxying both buttcheeks to Nefertiti’s burial mask. Acid rain was solved when an international coalition of leaders came together to rubber cement their taints to The Stele of Hammurabi. The recipe is clear: firm attachment + sensitive body part + classical work of art = environmental progress. That’s what it takes — that’s where solutions are found. We need brave climate warriors who are ready to make that commitment. If these protesters aren’t prepared to stand tall, drop trou, and firmly attach their fuzzy bean bag to a two thousand year-old Greek masterpiece, then I’m afraid I just can’t take them seriously.

9) So fascinating, “How the ‘Black Death’ Left Its Genetic Mark on Future Generations”

Many Europeans carry genetic mutations that protected their ancestors from the bubonic plague, scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

When the Black Death struck Europe in 1348, the bacterial infection killed large swaths of people across the continent, driving the strongest pulse of natural selection yet measured in humans, the new study found.

It turns out that certain genetic variants made people far more likely to survive the plague. But this protection came with a price: People who inherit the plague-resistant mutations run a higher risk of immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

“These are the unfortunate side effects of long-term selection for protection,” said Hendrik Poinar, a geneticist at McMaster University in Canada and an author of the new study…

The idea makes basic evolutionary sense: When a lot of organisms die off, the survivors will pass down mutations that protected them from death. During the Industrial Revolution, for example, peppered moths changed from a light speckled coloring to dark. That shift was driven by the coal smoke that blackened the trees where the moths rested. Dark moths were better able to hide from birds and survived to pass on their genes.

The pessimistic case for the midterms

Not mine, but Yglesias‘, but, that said, I do find it a pretty compelling case.  I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he’s right.  You can read the whole thing, but here’s the highlights:

My big picture expectation is that polls and poll-based forecasts are overestimating Democrats’ odds, so a result that is actually pretty good by the normal standards of midterms is going to play as a crushing disappointment.

According to 538, Republicans have a 72 percent chance of taking the House, while Democrats have a 64 percent chance of holding the Senate. Those forecasts seem D-skewed to me. I will be genuinely shocked if Democrats hold the House. The only precedents for that happening in remotely recent history are the 9/11 election and the 1962 midterms held right after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I’m not saying it’s impossible — we do have those two examples — but it’s difficult to understand why that would happen this fall. By contrast, Republicans picking up a net of one Senate seat would be a completely banal outcome. The fact that polling is giving it only a 1-in-3 chance of happening is, I believe, a consequence of the polling being skewed.

And I think that this continued skewed polling is a problem…

I really do think 538 is the best modeling team in the business, so I don’t want to diverge my predictions from theirs too much.

But I note that while their 2016, 2018, and 2020 Senate forecasts were all pretty good, the GOP did overperform in all three cases. I’m writing this on Monday evening, and right now 538 says that both Marco Rubio and Michael Bennet are heavy favorites to win, but that Bennet is slightly safer than Rubio. But that sounds absurd to me. I really like Val Demings and congratulate her for taking on this race, but it would be wild for an incumbent Republican to lose in a Trump state with a Democrat in the White House. By contrast, while it would be surprising for Bennet to lose, he is up against an opponent who has made meaningful efforts to distinguish himself from the national GOP, which is exactly the kind of situation in which Bennet might conceivably lose.

And the whole 538 forecast is shot through with this kind of “believe it or not” weirdness. They say Mark Kelly is safer than Ron Johnson. That Tim Ryan is more likely to upset JD Vance in Ohio than Don Bolduc is to upset Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire.

I agree, broadly speaking, with the 538 forecast that all of these are unlikely events. But in all these cases, the Democrat-friendly outcomes would be history-defying events that cry out for special explanation, while the GOP-friendly outcomes would be explained pretty easily as “the incumbent president was unpopular because of inflation, so these things happen.”

And this is important not because I think Bennet and Hassan are likely to lose, but because the history-defying outlier forecasts are a giveaway that the polling in general is skewed. Another tell is that according to polling, Democrats’ worst state among the real battlegrounds is Nevada, which happens to be the one battleground state where polling has been reliable in recent cycles…

And John Sides, with a great twitter thread on what to expect by historical standards:

That said, most of these models rely on many years of data that I think may not be as telling for our current era of extreme polarization, but, definitely useful context. 

When it comes to elections, I am a betting man and I will say I’m not exactly doing a lot of betting on Democrats.  It would be nice if democracy as we know it wasn’t potentially at stake. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jennifer Rubin on the GOP and antisemitism:

It’s routine for Republicans “who surely know better,” as the Atlantic’s Peter Wehner aptly described them, to claim that they don’t subscribe to these views or that those reacting to antisemitic statements are simply being “politically correct.” Let’s get real. To subscribe to a party that tolerates antisemitism and is headed by a figure who regularly spouts racist, antisemitic and misogynistic rhetoric is to condone and endorse the same.

Moreover, hatred toward minorities is no sideline for the GOP these days. White grievance, xenophobia, the “great replacement theory” and Confederate idolatry have taken center stage. They are the emotional levers by which Republicans incite their base and draw attention away from their rotten governance. Sure, Republicans might not deliver drinkable water. And yes, they have no plan to solve inflation. But by gosh, they are going to “own the libs” by demonizing minorities and consigning women to motherhood.

2) $40/kg is a lot for a steak, but, pretty cool for a 3D printed, meat-free steak.  This will only get better at economies of scale.  I look forward to our meatless future. 

3) Good stuff in a WP Editorial, “California made prison phone calls free. Others should follow.”

Imagine having to go into debt to stay in touch with a loved one — all while fearing for their safety and well-being. That is the grim reality facing 1 in 3 families of incarcerated people in the United States, thanks to the sky-high costs of phone calls from prison. So it is welcome news that California has moved against this cruel situation. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law to make all phone calls from state prisons free. Now it’s time for other states, and Congress, to act.

This represents a clear market failure. The prison phone industry is a near-duopoly: Two companies control between 74 and 83 percent of the market. That, coupled with the fact that many facilities select which companies to use based on kickbacks rather than service, has permitted rapacious corporations to charge exorbitant rates without consequence. The industry earns more than $1.4 billion annually, largely profiting off low-income, incarcerated people of color.

Allowing inmates to affordably speak to relatives and friends would be a more humane approach — and a more effective one. Studies have shown that frequent and consistent family phone calls reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation after release. In the long run, lowering phone costs could save taxpayers money and improve public safety.

4) I just had my students read this for class this past week and it’s about the best thing I’ve seen for understanding modern presidential primary campaigns.  Definitely worth your time, “Voters need help: How party insiders can make presidential primaries safer, fairer, and more democratic”

More specifically, we argue that:

  • Professional input makes the process more representative. Copious theory and evidence, dating back to the time of America’s Founders, show that nomination by plebiscite (popular vote) can collapse into randomness or minority capture, and it does not dependably aggregate and reflect the preferences of Democrats and Republicans. When many candidates are in the field, professionals help majorities and coalitions to form, and they help prevent minorities and factions from capturing the process.
  • Professional input strengthens quality control. Primary elections place insufficient emphasis on evaluating nominees with an eye toward competence at governing: that is, selecting individuals with traits such as coalition-building skill, connections to varied constituencies, ability to work with others, and IOUs to and from other politicians. Only professionals can fill that gap.
  • Professional input deters renegades. Combined with the party ballot’s accessibility to all comers, the plebiscitary nomination process opens the field to demagogues and charlatans. Party leaders have strong incentives to keep candidates off the party ballot who are dangerous to both the party and democracy.
  • Professional input checks the power of billionaires and media elites. Influence in nominations has shifted dramatically toward actors who bear no responsibility for governing. Billionaires can bankroll themselves or favored candidates, while media elites propel those who break norms and generate conflict. Party professionals tend to favor candidates who are responsible to broad voter constituencies and other members of the governing party.
  • Professional input is widely acceptable to Americans. There is nothing undemocratic or un-American about professional vetting of nominees. To the contrary, even as the nation became more democratic and inclusive since its founding, formal and informal vetting of candidates by parties and professionals remained standard practice until just a decade or so ago. Even today, survey results indicate that most Americans support giving parties and professionals a voice in the process.
  • Restoring professional input is mechanically easy, but politically hard. Methods might include superdelegates, early votes of confidence, ratings or signoffs by party stalwarts, use of influence on debate participation, unbinding convention delegates, routing more campaign money through the party organizations, and many more possibilities. The harder challenge is pushing back against democracy fundamentalism, the idea that more democratization is always good for democracy—something which the Founders knew is not true.

We do not claim that primary elections have no place or serve no purpose. To the contrary: They test candidates’ abilities to excite voters, raise money, and campaign effectively; they provide points of entry for fresh faces, ideas, and constituencies; they force candidates to refine their messages and prove their stamina. What we do claim is that primaries are insufficient. By themselves, they are only half of a functional nominating system.[1] Without professional input, the nominating process is fraught with risks that turn filling the country’s highest office into game of chance. If Democrats don’t think it can happen to them, they are deluding themselves.

5) Perry Bacon Jr on the case for the Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party’s voters (not necessarily its leaders) are what we want America to be. They are diverse on a number of dimensions, unified around laudable goals such as reducing economic and racial inequality, and actively trying to make the United States the best nation it can be.

Because the news media tries to cover both parties equally critically, the story of U.S. politics today is often depicted as an extreme Republican Party facing an almost-as-extreme Democratic Party dominated by over-educated elites who are hostile to the values of average Americans and leave them little choice but to vote Republican. But that’s an attempt to turn a one-sided problem into a two-sided one.

Being a consistent, stalwart Democratic voter today should not be dismissed as being overly partisan or unthinking. It’s common sense.

What unifies Democrats isn’t education or race but policy stances and values. Around 80 percent of Democrats support the Black Lives Matter movementraising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hourstricter gun lawsfree public collegethe right to an abortionhigher taxes on the wealthy to redistribute income, and say that increased attention on America’s history of slavery and racism in recent years is a positive development.

Those are not out-there views. The majority of Americans agree with Democrats on nearly all of those positions.

More important, these are the morally correct stands. We tend to think the issues of our day are more nuanced than the issues of past eras. But being deeply committed to ending slavery was a controversial position in the 1850s, as was being deeply committed to ending racial segregation 100 years later. Today, describing the United States as having racial practices and systems that end up maintaining disparities between White and Black people even if individual people are not being explicitly racist (this is what critical race theory essentially argues) is so controversial that it’s being banned from being taught in public schools in conservative areas. But 50 or 100 years from now, I suspect people studying this period of U.S. history will conclude fairly easily that critical race theory was correct and that the bans on teaching it were just an assertion of White power over Black people.

And it’s not just that Democratic voters are on the right side of a host of issues, in a way that is obvious now and will be even clearer in a few decades. It’s also that the Democratic Party is very representative of the broader nation. The Republican Party is way more White (the GOP is about 85 percent White) than the country is (59 percent). About 60 percent of people who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 are White. About 60 percent of Democrats are Christian, Jewish or part of another major religion tradition, compared with around 70 percent of Americans nationally. About half of Democrats have a four-year college degree, as do about 40 percent adults overall.

6) You will not be surprised to learn I loved this in Persuasion, “Talking About John Fetterman’s Stroke Is Not Ableism”

But no matter how much journalists, activists, and the campaign might disagree, it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the health of a candidate running for one of the highest elected offices in the nation. Being a politician, especially a senator, is hard work. It requires long days negotiating with colleagues, listening to and giving speeches, sitting through hours of committee meetings, and the like. Physical and cognitive stamina are necessary to be effective. It’s valid for voters to ask whether or not Fetterman’s stroke would impact his job performance, and therefore his ability to effectively represent the people of Pennsylvania.


As recently as a few years ago, most people wouldn’t have denied that a stroke’s aftereffects are reasonable to consider when evaluating a Senate candidate. There is even a test case from 2016, when the Chicago Tribune explicitly cited Republican Senator Mark Kirk’s stroke as grounds for endorsing his Democratic challenger:

While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness. His health is a fundamental component of this race — a hotly contested matchup that could return control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. We aren’t physicians; Kirk’s doctor attests to his good cognitive health. But we are voters. And our reluctant judgment is that, due to forces beyond his control, Kirk no longer can perform to the fullest the job of a U.S. senator.

When this was published, there wasn’t any pushback of the sort that is coming now from the people and groups so aggressively defending Fetterman. The lack of outrage is likely because Kirk was a Republican and, more importantly, people recognized the validity of the Tribune’s concern. The unfortunate truth is that strokes can be life-changing events with aftereffects that never fully go away, and so asking questions about Fetterman’s health shouldn’t be out of bounds. The media and the Fetterman campaign should be addressing the issue head-on…

Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about the point at which honest concern veers into genuinely offensive prejudice. Unfortunately, Fetterman’s challenger Mehmet Oz, and some right-wing media figures, are guilty of the latter. Oz’s campaign joked that “if John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson made comments that were even more off-color when discussing the closed captioning that Fetterman used in the NBC interview: “Here you have one of the most famous politicians in the country merging with a computer … where exactly does the software end and John Fetterman’s consciousness begin?” 

It’s a shame that Fetterman’s allies have refused to differentiate between these types of attacks and earnest concern about Fetterman’s health. Though they might not realize it, those who fail to make this distinction are hurting their own cause; their public frustration has brought more attention to the issue of Fetterman’s health than the NBC interview alone ever would have. Likewise, a great number of Pennsylvanians are probably seeing charges of ableism and just rolling their eyes at yet another instance of tone policing from the left.  

7) I love Yglesias‘ distillation of politics here in his weekly Q&A:

Mark: Right wing activists on abortion and other issues are much more disciplined and strategic than left wing activists, whose theory of change is basically 1) throw soup on painting, 2) ???, 3) profit. But the voting bases are basically the opposite, where the GOP primary consistently elects insane people to lose winnable races, while Democratic primaries mostly nominate widely acceptable candidates. How do you explain this contrast?

If you go back to the origins of electoral democracy 200-300 years ago, you see a basic issue that emerges quickly — the median voter is always poorer than the national mean, so there is a potential electoral majority for redistribution.

There is a set of political forces — the right — that wants to resist that redistribution. And there is a contrary set of forces — the left — that wants to encourage it. The left’s strategy is to make this dynamic explicit and transparent — we the people can seize the levers of power and make ourselves better off. And the right’s strategy is to obfuscate — the left will denigrate God, endanger public safety, weaken our national defenses, and so forth. That’s politics boiled down to its essence.

But this in turn gives rise to the characteristic flaws of the left and the right.

On the left, that’s a kind of romanticism about politics that holds that every issue comes down to the masses versus narrow moneyed elites. It denies that the people themselves may just be wrong or short-sighted, so it believes that the answer to every problem is to raise the temperature with more dramatic stunts and “calling out.”

On the right, it’s a fondness for conmen and grifters. Because right-wing politics is organized as a conspiracy to mislead people into not voting to give themselves more money, it creates structures that elevate and reward hucksters and flim-flam artists. GOP politicians and conservative media figures elevated Donald Trump as a political spokesman in the Obama years not despite the fact that he’s a fraud and a liar but because he’s a fraud and a liar. They know it would be toxic to put a professor up there to tell people about the Chamley-Judd theorem and why we should cut capital gains taxes. You need someone who’s going to talk about Mexican rapists and how Obama is secretly Kenyan.

8) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this NatGeo take on plant-based meat:

A single hamburger is by all measures an unsustainable product, requiring 660 gallons of water to produce, including lettuce, tomato, and a bun. And yet we’ve come to expect this subsidized luxury, the result of tens of billions of dollars in annual U.S. reimbursements to the meat and dairy industries over the past decade (versus a fraction of that subsidizing fruits and veggies). None of meat’s true cost—ethical, environmental, or nutritional—really matters to most people, an Arby’s restaurant executive told me in 2019. He also vowed that his company would never sell plant meat, because, as he declared, “people are not going to pay more for something that tastes worse.”…

My biggest shock recently was a chicken breast made with mycelium, the subterranean heart of a mushroom. It looked like a giant breaded guitar pick but flavorwise was so indistinguishable from breaded baked chicken that I wondered, from a practical standpoint, why we still bother raising chickens (or portobellos for that matter). Yet no company is good at making everything. When I tried the same vendor’s steak, made from the same mycelium, it had the texture of an aged fillet but the odor of a subway pole.

I watch the plant-based meat industry like I watch the Chicago Bears—with marvel, skepticism, and frequent disappointment.

But truth be told, much of the world solved its meat addiction millennia ago. Examine cuisines across the world, and you’ll see that cultures have evolved to harvest protein without meat.

I am not simply referring to the original plant meats: tofu, commonly thought to have been invented during the Han dynasty circa 150 B.C., or seitan, thought to have been developed in the area even earlier. In Mexico, corn tortillas and beans marry the essential amino acids to create a complete protein. Across South America, it’s beans and rice. In Ethiopia, it’s lentils and the ancient grain teff. And in India, ground rice and black gram, a relative of the mung bean, ferment together into a batter used to make steamed idli cakes and crisp dosas.

It’s difficult to imagine the human sacrifices that brought our culture this incredible knowledge. How many poisonous things did we eat before we learned that rice was worth cultivating? How many generations were malnourished until a tribe realized that one family—stronger and healthier than the rest—always ate certain plants in combination?

The first amino acid wasn’t discovered until 1806 (from asparagus, by the way). The last wasn’t discovered for another 120 or 130 years. By the time scientists found the 20 amino acids inside a complete protein, cultures had been reverse-engineering them into their diets for thousands of years.

Through this historical lens, I will admit that I begin to see plant meat differently—and for what it really is.

Consider that when we talk of the pea protein inside any popular plant burger, it’s not made from garden-fresh green peas but from an ingredient many Americans ignore in the grocery’s ethnic foods aisle: the split yellow peas cooked into popular Indian dals. Here, the cutting-edge combination of pea protein and rice in a plant-based burger is not particularly novel or unique. Rather, it is what the West does best: We have reconstituted tradition into a logo.

Repackaging these staple proteins as “meat” is more than a hot business trend; it is the colonialization of the global diet. We’re Americanizing and corporatizing the very components behind historical, meatless world cuisines that have successfully and satisfyingly fed countless generations.

9) The Clearer Thinking “World’s Biggest Problems” quiz was so much fun!  I did pretty well, I think.

10) Here’s a fun graph from it:

Deadliest animals 01

11) And a cool video about nuclear winter:

12) Are Republican Senators better at politics than Democrats?  Maybe.  When pro-life interests pushed hard for a legislative push on banning abortion, they basically said, forget it, we have elections to win:

On September 19, Republican senators received a letter from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America warning them in no uncertain terms that they needed to publicly back a proposed national ban on abortion within days — or risk taking a hit on their prized candidate scores.

Few budged. [all bold in original] The pressure campaign angered Republicans, who are still wary of the politics around the bill, authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Within weeks, the same group had sent a follow-up letter toning down their demands and extending their deadline.

In the initial letter to lawmakers, obtained by Semafor, senators were given a deadline of September 30 — the date bolded, underlined, italicized and highlighted for emphasis — to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor.

At the point the letter was sent, Graham’s bill was co-sponsored by only three more senators, according to Congress.gov: Steve Daines, Marco Rubio and Kevin Cramer. That number ticked up to nine after SBA’s warning.

But Graham’s bill proved divisive within the party. Publicly, prominent Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they prefer to leave the issue to the states. Privately, there was frustration with the outside push from anti-abortion groups to back a national ban just as candidates were trying to find their footing in must-win races.

“We should be able to reasonably disagree on the best pro-life legislative strategy at this exact moment,” a Republican staffer familiar with the conversation around the SBA letter told Semafor. “Threatening pro-life senators with a reduced score unless they adopt a policy only previously discussed by SBA and Graham is divisive, and it’s going to make their scorecard look silly. SBA is overplaying their hand, and offices will remember this attempt to strong-arm us.”

The backlash seemed to have had an impact. In a follow-up letter on October 4, after the bill’s support had stalled, SBA made an apparent concession and told members they would “continue to add cosponsorship recognition” up to election day. They also noted they had “received questions” about how the bill would affect member scores, and that while “votes weighed most heavily” in their evaluations, they would also consider “the totality of each member’s pro-life activity.”

13) Nice interview with the always interesting David Hopkins on what a Republican Congress would do:

Graham Vyse: How do you understand the key aspects of the agenda U.S. Republicans will pursue if they win back power in Congress?

David A. Hopkins: Their agenda will have two parts: The first is about legislation and policy; the second, investigations. The Republicans’ legislative ambitions mostly relate to standard conservative policies, as they laid out in their Commitment to America policy platform introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—though there’s more of an emphasis there than there has been in the past on cultural issues. Of course, Republicans won’t be able to achieve any of their legislative ambitions on their own, given President Joe Biden’s ability to veto legislation. But they will be able to use the subpoena power of congressional committees—and the public attention you can get from that power in conducting oversight hearings—to investigate their political opponents, including the Biden administration, Biden’s family, and the technology companies they accuse of discriminating against conservative users.

The last time there was both a Democratic House and a Republican president in the United States, the president was impeached twice. The last time there was a Republican House and a Democratic president, the Republican speaker got run out of town by his own party. So if you’re the presumptive speaker in the next Congress, Kevin McCarthy, one lesson you’re likely to take from recent American history is that there will be tremendous pressure from within your party to attack major Democratic and liberal targets. Now, that might not mean impeaching President Biden, but it certainly might mean investigating his family—or trying to impeach a cabinet official or some other senior member of the administration. Another lesson you’re likely to absorb is that if you don’t satisfy your party’s quests for political retribution, you could easily end up on the firing line yourself..

Vyse: Would you say they’re facing more pressure from their base—and from conservative media—than they would have faced in the past?

Hopkins: Conservative media keeps growing more powerful within the Republican Party in America. It was stronger during Donald Trump’s presidency than it was during George W. Bush’s presidency. The Fox News host Sean Hannity essentially recruited Herschel Walker to run for the Senate in Georgia this year. [Walker, a former American football star and emphatically right-wing politician, is now the Republican nominee.] There’s less and less of a distinction between the Republican Party and the American conservative media universe. The conservative media is now functionally a part of the party in a lot of ways.

Republican members of Congress are going to need to show their base that they’re doing something. Actually passing legislation is going to be really tough, and a lot of what their base is demanding isn’t about passing legislation; it’s about waging a broad symbolic war against the left.

Vyse: Why is that?

Hopkins: Conservative voters have come to understand politics as largely a symbolic, cultural battle. They don’t necessarily want a lot of policy changes; that’s not necessarily what they’re asking for. A lot of what they’re asking for—and what conservative media encourages them to ask for—are gestures of superiority over Democrats and the left.

Similarly, a lot of what people liked about Trump didn’t have to do with his policies, and his lack of many legislative accomplishments in office didn’t reduce his appeal with his base. Much of Trump’s appeal came from his daily combativeness against liberals, the media, celebrities, and anyone who opposed him. That’s what his bond with his supporters was largely based on. [emphasis mine]

This dynamic wouldn’t have held true for a Democratic president. Contemporary Democratic voters have a different set of expectations for their leaders, which are much more centered on legislative accomplishments and policy achievements.

Now, I do think that the average Republican member of Congress has policy goals, even if those goals won’t necessarily get a lot of attention in conservative media. They want to try to cut taxes and regulations and to oppose liberal expansions of the government—and they may have some points of leverage, including around the U.S. debt limit.

14) Drum on the Republicans improvement in the polls:

Democrats seemed to be doing well this summer as their approval level surged following the Dobbs decision. But now Republicans are surging back. This is partly because the out party always does well in midterm elections, but David Brooks thinks there’s more to it:

The Trumpified G.O.P. deserves to be a marginalized and disgraced force in American life. But I’ve been watching the campaign speeches by people like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. G.O.P. candidates are telling a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-olds, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people.

Sure, I guess. But this is the farthest thing imaginable from something new. The details change from election to election, but this narrative began with Richard Nixon and became fully weaponized by Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s. It’s been part of the core Republican message for 50 years, and it’s been their nearly exclusive message for the past 20.

The most discouraging part of this is not that Republicans do it. What do you expect an opposition party to do? The discouraging part is that after 50 years Democrats still have no idea how to fight it.

It’s not that we lose every culture war battle. In fact, we win quite a few. But when Republicans sense weakness, they circle the wagons and beat the class war drums loudly and in unison. That’s what we don’t know how to fight.

Practically all the evidence suggests the United States is fundamentally a strong country right now. Probably the strongest in the world, and with the brightest future. It’s extraordinary to think of just how good a place it could be if only we could figure out a way to overcome the debilitating fear that so many people still have of progress and change.

15) I really enjoyed Katherine Wu on the bivalent boosters, especially about the under-studies randomness of side effect responses. I too have a spouse that is significantly annoyed by my minimal comparative side effects:

“Why don’t you feel anything?” my spouse howled at me from the bedroom, where his sweat was soaking through the sheets. “Sorry,” I yelled back from the kitchen, where I was prepping four days’ worth of meals between work calls after returning from an eight-mile run…

On average, then, mRNA-vaxxed people can probably expect to have an annual experience that’s pretty similar to the one they had with their first COVID booster. As studies have shown, that one was actually better for most people than dose No. 2, the most unpleasant of the injections so far. (The math, of course, becomes tougher for people getting another vaccine, such as the flu shot, at the same time.) There are probably two main reasons why side effects have lessened overall, experts told me. First, the spacing: Most people received the second dose in their Pfizer or Moderna primary series just three or four weeks after the first. That’s an efficient way to get a lot of people “fully vaccinated” in a short period of time, but it means that many of the immune system’s defensive cells and molecules will still be on high alert. The second shot could end up fanning a blaze of inflammation that was never quite put out. In line with that, researchers have found that spacing out the primary-series doses to eight weeks, 12 weeks, or even longer can prune some side effects.

Dose matters a lot too: Vaccines are, in a way, stimulants meant to goad the immune system into reacting; bigger servings should induce bigger jolts. When vaccine makers were tinkering with their recipes in early trials, higher doses—including ones that were deemed too large for further testing—produced more side effects. Each injection in Moderna’s primary series contains more than three times the mRNA packaged into Pfizer’s, and Moderna has, on average, caused more intense side effects. But Moderna’s booster and bivalent doses contain a smaller scoop of the stimulating material: People 12 and older, for instance, get 50 micrograms instead of the 100 micrograms in each primary dose; kids 6 to 11 years old get 25 micrograms instead of 50. (All of Pfizer’s doses stay the same size across primaries and boosters, as long as people stay in the same age group.) People who switch between brands, then, may also notice a difference in symptoms…

The fact that I get fewer side effects than my spouse does not imply that I’m any less protected. A ton of factors—genetics, hormone levels, age, diet, sleep, stress, pain tolerance, and more—could potentially influence how someone experiences a shot. Women tend to have more reactive bodies, as do younger people. But there are exceptions to those trends: I’m one of them. The whole topic is understudied, Locci told me.

16) Vox with a nice feature on the NC Senate race (even if they didn’t talk to me).

DURHAM, North Carolina — Before locals packed inside Beyú Caffè in downtown Durham on a Tuesday evening in October, Rheba Heggs arrived early to save her seat. A retired attorney, she had come to see Democrat Cheri Beasley, who could become the first Black person to represent North Carolina in the US Senate.

A Black woman herself, Heggs visited North Carolina as a girl, decades before she relocated to the state to be closer to her grandchildren, and well before desegregation was complete. In the front row at Beyú Caffè, she was giddy with caffeine, and hopeful about witnessing history.

“I listened to … [Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown] Jackson the last few days. That is something I never expected to see in my lifetime. … This is the result of all the women who have come before, not just Black women, pushing,” Heggs said. “If [Cheri Beasley] wins — when she wins, it means so much. But it also means that the Senate becomes a working institution.”

North Carolina hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than a decade, and most thought this year, with its tough climate for Democrats, would go the same way. But the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr is actually competitive, with FiveThirtyEight’s tracking poll showing Republican Rep. Ted Budd with a less than 2 percentage point lead over Beasley, former chief justice of the state supreme court. Both are now attracting big spending from their parties and outside groups, with the Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC announcing an additional $4 million investment Thursday.

Even with polls close, Beasley has a tougher task ahead than Budd in the closing weeks of the campaign. There’s the recent history of close federal races slipping away from the state’s Democrats and the long history of parties in power struggling during the midterms. She has to thread a needle to assemble a coalition of enthusiastic urban, suburban, and Black voters while mitigating losses in increasingly red rural areas. But Beasley may be close to doing that, and defying history despite initially tepid investment from national Democrats.

That said, the two polls out since this article (though, only two polls) aren’t great.

17) Monkey Cage, “Why resentful rural Americans vote Republican”

As the midterms approach, political observers are once again talking about the widening divide between urban and rural voters. Over the past 25 years, rural areas have increasingly voted Republican while cities have increasingly voted Democratic — a dividing line that has replaced the North/South divide as the nation’s biggest source of political friction. That divide will influence which party takes control of Congress in January.

But why are rural and urban voters so sharply divided? Some scholars and pundits argue that it comes down to who lives where: that the disproportionately White, older, more religious, less affluent and less highly educated voters who live in rural areas are more likely to hold socially conservative views generally championed by Republicans. Meanwhile, urban areas are filled with younger, more racially diverse, more highly educated and more affluent people who hold the more socially liberal views generally championed by Democrats.

While all that matters, our new research shows that place itself also matters. Unlike Republican voters in suburbs and the cities, rural voters care about what we might call “geographic inequity” — the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. Without these beliefs, the urban-rural political divide would not be as vast as it is today…

Political scientist Katherine Cramer defines rural resentment as focused on three things. First concerns redistribution, or the belief that rural areas don’t receive their fair share of government resources and benefits. Second is representation, or the perception that most politicians ignore rural residents. And third, a sense of being culturally overlooked, that rural lifestyles and cultures don’t get the same respect as those of urban and suburban communities…

18) Big thanks to BB for sharing this twitter thread on how hard it is to actually have a playoff series be a reasonably reliable indicator of who the better team is.  And this related post.

19) Remember the missing crabs.  Excellent thread on the interaction between climate and overfishing.

20) Interesting study on just how much YouTube actually sends people down rabbit holes.

Contrary to popular concern, we do not find evidence that YouTube is leading many users down rabbit holes or into (significant) ideological echo chambers via its recommendation algorithm. While we do not find compelling evidence that these rabbit holes exist at scale, this does not mean that some that the experiences of the small number of individuals who encounter extremist content due to algorithmic recommendations are not consequential, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t be worried about the possibility for users to find harmful content online if they go searching for it. However, as we consider ways to make our online information ecosystem safer, it’s critical to understand the various facets of the problem.

While our study was designed to test whether the algorithm leads users down rabbit holes, into echo chambers, or in a particular ideological direction, these outcomes could still emerge from user choice (recall that the recommendations in our study were collected without user choice). So, for example, a well known article by Baskhy et al. shows that Facebook recommended an ideologically diverse array of content but users consistently clicked on ideologically congruent content. In another study of YouTube, Chen et al. found that other platform features—subscriptions and channel features—were the primary path by which users encountered anti-social content.

Furthermore, other platforms, like 4chan, are hotbeds for extremist content. Indeed, if an individual is bound and determined to jump down a rabbit hole online, they can do so fairly easily. What we explore in our work is incidental exposure: that is, users who are perusing content and encounter harmful content by accident, subsequently leading them down a rabbit hole. While recommendation systems may play a small role in this type of incidental exposure, we do not find significant evidence that they drive consumption of harmful content (at least on YouTube). Other studies have found that harmful content is often encountered off-platform via link sharing, driving users to extreme places on YouTube via the internet at large rather than the recommendation algorithm. That’s what makes this problem tricky. If it’s not just the recommendation engine and instead it’s the entire online ecosystem, then how do we fix it?

Our findings are consistent with—and add additional evidence to—a growing body of research showing that YouTube is not consistently pushing harmful or polarizing content to their users but rather that users self-select into viewing the content when offered. Collectively, the research suggests that there is unlikely to be one technological panacea to reducing the consumption of harmful content on YouTube. Instead, we need to be sure we focus both on the amount of harmful content online as well as the (many) paths which users might take to this content. Focusing solely on the role of YouTube’s algorithm in advertently luring people to extremist content may make for great headlines, but our research suggests that this alone is not going to get us at the crux of the problem.

21) Important new research on the insidious impact of Fox:

COVID-19 vaccines have reduced infections and hospitalizations across the globe, yet resistance to vaccination remains strong. This paper investigates the role of cable television news in vaccine hesitancy and associated local vaccination rates in the United States. We find that, in the earlier stages of the vaccine roll-out (starting May 2021), higher local viewership of Fox News Channel has been associated with lower local vaccination rates. We can verify that this association is causal using exogenous geographical variation in the channel lineup. The effect is driven by younger individuals (under 65 years of age), for whom COVID-19 has a low mortality risk. Consistent with changes in beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine as a mechanism, we find that Fox News increased reported vaccine hesitancy in local survey responses. We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect. That, in turn, indicates that more differentiated characteristics, like the networks’ messaging or tendency for controversy, matter and that the effect of Fox News on COVID-19 vaccine uptake is not due to the general consumption of cable news. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.

22) Really cool post from Jeremy Faust on how ER docs think about treating their patients, “Two questions about headaches that ER doctors always ask—and the one they don’t, but should.”

And in general, an ER physicians’ job is sorting out which patients have “dangerous headaches” including subarachnoids, and which ones have bothersome headaches which need symptom control, but no further action. Again, most headaches (even extremely painful ones) are benign. But headaches that are different from anything a patient has previously experienced should be checked out.

Fewer than 1% of patients who come to the ER with a headache have a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If we ordered CT scans or MRIs on everyone with a headache, the system would break down and patients wouldn’t benefit. There aren’t enough scanners and not enough radiologists to interpret them. The system would grind to a halt, causing delays in diagnosing other time-sensitive conditions. Plus, we’d be harming patients by scanning all comers with headaches. Yes, the scans are low risk (though they add hours to an ER visit), but there’s radiation to consider, and the harms stemming from false positives (i.e., findings which look like disease, but are not). False positives often lead to further tests, leading to “medical misadventures.” Occasionally, a rare but significant complication occurs, which is particularly tragic when the procedure that caused it was unnecessary in the first place.

The goal is to only scan perhaps 10% of ER patients with headaches, and yet never miss a single dangerous condition. Doing this is a huge aspect of emergency medicine as a cognitive discipline.

23) Very good post from Yglesias, “Elon Musk’s business ties deserve more scrutiny”

Dozens of different controversies are swirling around Elon Musk at any given time, most of them related to people being angry and/or thrilled by the idea of a rich businessman vocalizing right-of-center political opinions.

What has gotten lost in this discourse is a more boring — but, I think, more significant — concern about his possible takeover of Twitter. This is because Musk, like most global manufacturing executives these days, has extensive business dealings with China. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it means Musk has to watch what he says regarding the PRC, not just in his personal capacity as a business executive but potentially in his institutional role as well. And he’s not alone; Apple TV+, for example, has a rule that none of its content can portray China negatively.

That’s an unfortunate but straightforward consequence of Apple TV+ being so small compared to Apple’s core business of making and selling smartphones: they compromise the content business for the sake of the manufacturing business. The good news for the world is that Apple TV+ is a very small share of western cultural output. They’re doing well with niche content (I love “For All Mankind”), and they won an Oscar for “Coda.” But it’s a small service in the scheme of things.

The problem for the world is that Twitter would be the Apple TV+ of Elon Musk’s enterprises, much smaller and less important than Tesla, so its interests will always be sacrificed to advance Tesla’s interests. And Tesla, like Apple’s hardware business, is deeply enmeshed in China. But Twitter is much more important to global politics and culture than Apple TV+. That’s the whole reason the Musk/Twitter saga has been such a subject of fascination. Twitter is one of a handful of other influential media properties — The New York Times, the three cable networks, AM talk radio stations — that exert a cultural and political influence that far exceeds their modest financial footprints. Apple executives are much less polarizing and controversial than Musk. But pretty much everyone on both the left and right knows they’re a bit squirrelly about China for business reasons. And if they bought the New York Times, that would have dire implications for the integrity of their China coverage.

Musk is mercurial and I won’t pretend to be able to predict what he will do. But I think his business relationships with China and tendency to take pro-PRC positions in his public statements raise some disturbing questions about the future of Twitter that deserve much more scrutiny relative to the concern that he won’t be strict enough in policing hate speech.

24) Our current federal marijuana policy is just stupid.  Marijuana should be legal.  But that does not mean its an unalloyed good and we should take its potential harms to youth seriously.  Leanna Wen:

The dominant narrative about marijuana seems to be that it is harmless. Indeed, 19 states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and young people are increasingly nonchalant about using it. One study shows nearly half of college students said they consumed marijuana. Eight percent reported they used it daily or nearly every day. One in 5 high school students used marijuana in the preceding 30 days.

But there are real dangers associated with the substance, as a 2020 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showsAbundant research demonstrates how exposure to marijuana during childhood impacts later cognitive ability, including memory, attention, motivation and learning. Studies have linked regular cannabis use in adolescents with lower IQs in adulthood and higher propensity to drop out of high school. This association persists in college-age students. One large study followed college students and found frequency of marijuana use to correlate with skipping classes, lower grade-point average and longer time to graduation.

Some studies have also linked frequent cannabis use in youths to increased rates of schizophreniadepression and anxiety. One Lancet article reported that smoking high-potency marijuana every day increased the chance of developing psychosis by nearly five times.

More research is needed on whether the causality could be the other way around — perhaps those predisposed to mental health diagnoses are more likely to seek out marijuana. But as Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist and the director of NIDA, told me, “Based on the data we already have, we can clearly say that marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for children and adolescents.”

25) Talk about overdue! “The US Is Finally Considering Protections Against Salmonella

Last week, responding to pressure from these groups, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it is considering reforms to the way it regulates the processing and sale of raw poultry, the largest single source of salmonella infections. If the changes go through, they will give that agency the power to monitor salmonella contamination in live birds and slaughterhouses, and the power to force producers to recall contaminated meat from the marketplace.

The agency doesn’t have those powers now, even though salmonella causes more serious illnesses than any other foodborne pathogen. It sickens about 1.35 million people in the US each year; about 26,500 of them end up in the hospital, and 420 die. At its mildest, it causes fever and diarrhea that can last up to a week. But because it can migrate to the bloodstream and invade bones, joints, and the nervous system, it often leaves victims with arthritis and circulatory problems.

Today, the USDA can only ask meat producers to voluntarily recall their products, and companies don’t always move as rapidly as the agency would wish. That leaves consumers vulnerable to threats they do not know exist…

It might come as a surprise that the USDA didn’t already have this authority. But that agency (which regulates meat, poultry, and eggs; the US Food and Drug Administration oversees everything else) can force recalls only for contamination with one specific, small group of organisms: E. coli O157:H7 and a few related strains, which make toxins that destroy red blood cells. It got that power during the shocked national reaction to a 1993 outbreak that sickened 732 kids who ate hamburgers from the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. That outbreak killed four and left 178 with kidney and brain damage.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Another thoughtful interview on Ukraine.

2) The NC Senate race hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but, people have finally started interviewing me on the matter.  This one kept in some decent quotes.

One theory for why the race has garnered so little attention from the national press is because “it’s a generic 2022 Senate race,” according to a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, Steven Greene.

He explains that both candidates are strong, drama-free and focusing mostly on national issues like inflation or abortion in their effort to replace Senator Burr, who is retiring at the end of his term…

This is in sharp contrast to races in states like Pennsylvania or Georgia, where big personalities and personal scandals are dominating the headlines.

“This whole time this race has been sort of ignored,” Mr. Greene tells the Sun. “You’ve got these interesting stories in Senate campaigns sucking up the oxygen but the truth is that in this race both Senate candidates are good.”

The Republican nominee, Congressman Ted Budd, has focused his campaign on inflation and criticizing President Biden. The Democratic nominee, a former chief justice of North Carolina’s supreme court, Cheri Beasley, has focused her campaign on protecting abortion rights.

Mr. Greene says “national Democrats realize that when any race could flip the Senate it’s crazy not to invest in a place as competitive as North Carolina.”

3) This is something else, “THE KILLING OF DOM AND BRUNO: My friend Dom Phillips and activist Bruno Pereira were shot dead in the Amazon. I traveled deep into the forest to find out why.”  Gift link so you can read it.

4) Interesting on many levels: “‘Eye of Sauron’: The Dazzling Solar Tower in the Israeli Desert: Looming over a remote village in the Negev, the Ashalim solar plant is, for some, a marvel of green technology. For others, it’s a boondoggle and an eyesore.”

ASHALIM, Israel — You shouldn’t look at i5) t directly, but that’s easier said than done. Drive through the crags and craters of the Negev Desert, and it’s difficult to miss: a piercing light, mounted on an austere gray tower, more than 800 feet high. It’s visible even from space.

This is the great solar tower of Ashalim, one of the tallest structures in Israel and, until recently, the tallest solar power plant in the world.

“It’s like a sun,” said Eli Baliti, a shopkeeper in the nearest village. “A second sun.”

To backers, the tower is an impressive feat of engineering, testament to Israeli solar innovation. To critics, it is an expensive folly, dependent on technology that had become outmoded by the time it was operational.

For Mr. Baliti and the 750 or so other residents of the nearby village, Ashalim, after which the plant is named, the tower is also something far more tangible. It is the ever-present backdrop to their lives, a source of frustration, occasional fondness and even pride, eliciting both ire and awe…

Using energy from the sun, the tower generates enough electricity to power tens of thousands of homes. Completed in 2019, the plant showcases both the promise and the missteps of the Israeli solar industry, and it is a case study in the unpredictable challenges that await any country seeking to pivot from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Idle overnight, the tower starts its day as the nearby roosters start their morning chorus — with the first light of dawn.

At that moment, the sun’s rays hit a sea of more than 50,000 mirrors positioned strategically in the dunes surrounding the tower. The mirrors reflect the light beams upward, concentrating them on a giant water boiler inside the tower’s turret…

The reflected sunlight, which creates the intense glare that dazzles anyone who looks directly at it, heats the water to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into steam. In a process known as solar thermal power, the steam is then piped down to ground level, turning turbines to create electricity.

There are more than 25 similar towers across the world, including in China, Spain and the United States — but only one, in the United Arab Emirates, stands taller.

To its champions, the Ashalim tower is a sophisticated, trailblazing endeavor that displays the prowess of Israeli solar energy experts.

Under a deal sealed in 2014 between the government and the consortium that built the plant, the companies agreed to pay construction costs of about $800 million. In return, the government promised to buy the tower’s electricity at a rate of about 23 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the Israeli electricity authority.

That was considered a fair rate at the time of the tender. But during construction, scientists made unexpected improvements to a simpler form of solar power — photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight to electricity without the need for mirrors or water. And those improvements have allowed solar panels to create power for about one-fifth of the cost of a solar-thermal tower, according to data published by the Israeli government.

In fact, solar panels became so profitable that Mr. Kroizer, the engineer who helped build the Ashalim site, left the solar thermal industry and now runs a company that focuses on panels.

5) You don’t even really want to read this, “What Will Happen to America if Trump Wins Again? Experts Helped Us Game It Out. The scenarios are … grim.”

Phase 3: Political violence and democratic collapse? It’s possible.

Trump did not cause the fissures slowly pulling the country apart. He’s a symptom — but he’s also an accelerant, one whose return to the White House could provoke the final breakdown. “Trump has been able to add to the narrative that if democracy doesn’t deliver what I want, then it must be a flaw in the democracy,” says Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, executive vice president of Freedom House, a nonpartisan democratic advocacy and research group, which has recorded a decade-long decline in political and civil rights in the United States that accelerated during Trump’s term, putting us on par with Romania and Panama.

Ideological, racial and ethnic tensions ramp up.

America is already gripped by an unprecedented level of what political scientists call “pernicious polarization” — stoked and exploited by Trump — and a second Trump term could make it dangerously worse, says Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor at Georgia State University who co-authored a study of the phenomenon for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. No other established democracy since at least 1950 has been so polarized for so long. In nearly half of the dozens of countries McCoy studied, the next step after pernicious polarization was either “electoral autocracy” — where votes are cast but don’t necessarily confer power — or outright “democratic collapse.” “It’s extremely worrisome; we’re in uncharted territory,” McCoy told me. “If Trump does come back, I think it would severely deepen the crisis that we face.”

Racism, including violent racism, is likely to increase. “The most immediate concern of Trump returning to the presidency is it would provide the greatest domestic terrorist threat of our time — violent white supremacist organizations — the ability to rebuild and spread and engage in even more violence and terror,” says Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and author of “How to Be an Antiracist.” At the same time, “I don’t think the people who are opposed to what Trump would try to build would just go lightly into the night. The ideological collision, potentially violent collision, political collision would just be unlike anything we’ve seen since the Reconstruction era.”

Trump would almost certainly return to the issue that first built his following in the GOP and still animates the party: harsh measures to counter illegal immigration. “America will not be known as the place of the Statue of Liberty but rather as the place where there’s a big wall at the border,” says Vanessa Cárdenas, deputy director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. She predicts he’ll find another domestic use for the military: deployment to the border with Mexico. Dehumanizing rhetoric and conspiracy theories about White people losing their status will lead to more mass shootings targeting immigrants, like the one in El Paso in 2019, she adds. “He will just continue to create these really hard moments, terrifying moments, for communities.”

6) Did I maybe not need that colonoscopy I had a few months ago? (Actually, not too bad and I made $450 by being part of two different trials).  Jeremy Faust explains some interesting new findings:

Colonoscopy: common in the United States. Not common elsewhere. The procedure aims at removing suspicious growths before they become cancerous. It’s an expensive test and—many are surprised to learn—not backed up by data from randomized clinical trials.

Still, the general medical consensus, in the US anyway, is that colonoscopy reduces colon cancer rates and saves lives. But we don’t know how well they work here (if at all) because it would be unethical to run a randomized clinical trial in which tests which would otherwise be recommended were denied to people randomly selected to be in a control group.

However, in places where views on colonoscopies are less rosy, such trials are possible; It’s fair to do a study when experts are unsure of whether the thing being studied actually helps (what researchers call “equipoise”).

Three such countries (Poland, Norway, and Sweden) have been running a massive trial on colonoscopy since 2009. Tens of thousands of people ages 55-64 were invited either to have colon cancer screenings or not. Researchers have been following the patients in databases ever since.

Today, researchers unveiled the first set of results from the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results were disappointing, though not indicative of total failure.

The hope had been that colonoscopy would decrease colon cancer mortality rates by 25%; those tested would have a 50% reduction in death (but only half of the people invited to have the tests actually would). Unfortunately, the researchers found that offering colonoscopy led to no decrease in cancer mortality (0.28% versus 0.31%, an insignificant difference that missed the trial’s goals). Ten years out, the risk of death from all causes was 11% in both those invited to have colonoscopy and in the control group. Colonoscopy did lead to an 18% reduction in cancer diagnoses, a finding smaller than anticipated. Surprisingly though, on average, the cancers found were not in earlier stages. An editorial published alongside the report described the overall findings as “discouraging.”…

Currently, US expert guidelines recommend colonoscopy or a stool-based test every 10 years starting at age 45 for average risk persons (or even earlier if a close relative has previously been diagnosed with colon cancer, or if the person has certain medical conditions including inflammatory bowel disease). It might be that some populations should start screening even earlier, say at age 40, while those in groups without such risks (i.e. like those in this latest study) might be able to wait until perhaps age 60. Time will tell.

For those without risks who still want peace of mind but aren’t sure whether colonoscopy is worth the trouble (or risk), other options exist. There’s sigmoidoscopy (which examines a small but important part of the colon near the end of the GI tract). There’s also stool-based testing. In fact, doctors in many nations like the U.K. don’t routinely offer colonoscopy not because they’re convinced it doesn’t work, but because less invasive testing of patients’ stool for signs of cancer are thought to accomplish almost as much as colonoscopy, but with less hassle, risk, and expense.

 
I’m 43 years old. I have no family history of colon cancer. I’m supposed to have a colonoscopy in a couple of years. Will I? I’m not sure. I’ll definitely have some kind of colon cancer screening. Whether it involves a fiberoptic camera (colonoscopy) or a fancy biochemical stool test, remains as-yet determined.

We doctors love screening patients for undiagnosed chronic diseases. It makes us feel like we’re getting ahead of problems. It works less often that we’d like. That said, I don’t think today’s results mean that colonoscopy is a failed paradigm for everyone. But we have work to do. We have to identify the people who need colonoscopy the most—and also work out the optimal timing to maximize the benefits.

More may not be better. But too little could also be a problem.

7) Concerning.  “The Biggest Judicial Races in the Country Are in North Carolina. Democrats Are Losing. Abortion, voting rights, criminal justice, gerrymandering—it’s all on the line in November.”

North Carolina voters will soon decide whether their state constitution will be defined by a slim Democratic majority that has broadened civil rights or by a new conservative majority that will narrowly interpret the rights of voters, criminal defendants, and people seeking abortion care.

Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the election for two seats now held by Democrats. Republicans have formed new groups to funnel money into the race. And national conservative organizations could drop millions on ads in the final days of the election.

A recent poll by WRAL in Raleigh suggests that one race is too close to call, though the Republican candidate, Trey Allen, holds a two-point lead. In the other race, the Republican candidate, Richard Dietz, holds a five-point lead, but nearly a third of voters are still undecided. Another poll by a conservative group claims the GOP candidates have a substantial lead, with fewer undecided voters. Early voting begins next week.

The two Democratic candidates, Justice Sam Ervin IV and Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman, have both reported raising more than $1 million, around twice as much as their Republican opponents. All four candidates, including Republican Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz, are running ads touting their qualifications and independence. They’ve mostly steered clear of discussing hot-button issues. But at a debate last month, Republican candidate Trey Allen, a former clerk to Chief Justice Paul Newby who’s challenging Ervin, did suggest that the current court hadn’t shown enough deference to the legislature.

The Republicans will be backed by millions in outside spending. A former member of Congress recently created a group called “Win the Courts” to help Republican candidates. A GOP campaign donor launched Stop Liberal Judges. And Justice Phil Berger Jr.—whose father is North Carolina Senate president and a defendant in voting rights cases at the high court—funded a political action committee that spent money in the GOP primary.

Conservative groups in D.C. are also pouring money into the race. A billionaire-backed organization called Fair Courts America has pledged to spend $22 million—a record-breaking sum—to help conservative high court candidates around the country. The Judicial Crisis Network, a dark-money group whose leader has lied about spending in high court races, could funnel money into groups that run ads attacking the Democrats.

8) Katherine Wu, “Pregnancy Is a War; Birth Is a Cease-Fire: Fetuses want more than their mother can safely give.”

Evolutionarily speaking, every human is a bit of a preemie. The nine months most babies spend in the womb are enough for them to be born with open eyes, functional ears, and a few useful reflexes—but not the ability to stand, sprint, climb, or grasp onto their parents’ limbs. Compared with other primates, our offspring are wobbly and inept; they’d probably get their butts kicked by infant lemurs, gorillas, and even tiny tarsiers, which all come out more fully formed. Think of it this way: Researchers have estimated that, for a newborn human to be birthed with a brain as well developed as that of a newborn chimp, they would have to gestate for at least an extra seven months—at which point they might run 27 inches from head to toe, and weigh a good 17 or 18 pounds, more than the heftiest bowling ball on the rack…

However you look at it, pregnancy is marked by intergenerational strife, if not an all-out war between an offspring and its parent. Birth, then, in addition to welcoming new life, can bring about an end to the harshest hostilities—and its timing partly reflects the terms of a tightly negotiated truce.

That idea might be tough to square with the common conception of pregnancy as “this joyous, wonderful, great time, with the fetus and the mom working toward the same shared interest,” Jessica Ayers, an evolutionary social psychologist at Boise State University, told me. The goals of child and parent, however, don’t always align, even when one is growing inside the other. Fetuses may maximize their chances of surviving after birth by extracting as many resources from their parent as they can. Their tool for mooching is the placenta—technically, the very first organ that any human produces, Ayers said—which allows a fetus to access its mother’s blood vessels and siphon out nutrients. The human placenta actually entrenches itself so aggressively into the uterine wall that it sometimes leads to severe hemorrhaging at birth, Ayers told me, when the tissue starts to rip away.

9) David French on the Alex Jones verdict

On Wednesday, two extraordinary things happened. First, a Connecticut jury awarded almost $1 billion to the families of eight Sandy Hook victims, imposing a massive legal liability on Alex Jones, a far-right media personality who had claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and that Sandy Hook families were “actors” who were “lying” and “manipulating” the public.

Second, many of the right’s most popular voices were outraged, but not at Jones. They viewed the verdict not just as a direct attack on free speech but as evidence of the power of what they called the “Regime”—the amorphous, elite American establishment—to cancel and persecute the American right.

Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, tweeted to his 1.7 million followers, “This isn’t about calculating real damages from Alex Jones. This is about sending a message: If you upset the Regime, they will destroy you, completely and utterly, forever.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted to her 1.1 million followers, “No matter what you think of Alex Jones all he did was speak words. He was not the one who pulled the trigger. Were his words wrong and did he apologize? Yes. That’s what freedom of speech is. Freedom to speak words. Political persecution must end.”

Kirk and Greene were hardly alone. In the hours after the verdict, person after person after person (all of whom possess immense social-media platforms) rallied to condemn the outcome.

Why? To understand the reflexive defense of Alex Jones, one has to understand the ethos of the new right. It is both aggressively punitive and perpetually aggrieved. It lives to smash its enemies in the mouth and “burn down” the American establishment. At the same time, the new right claims that it’s the real victim—as if its lies and conspiracies shouldn’t carry consequences.

But there’s more to the outrage than mere performance. The Jones verdict is a direct threat to the new right’s fabrication-industrial complex. The Connecticut trial represented one of a series of high-profile legal assaults on right-wing fabrications.

Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic have multiple defamation suits against Fox News, OANN, Newsmax, MyPillow’s Mike Lindell, lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and news anchors Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo. Two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Moss, have sued a popular far-right website called Gateway Pundit for a series of false claims that they committed voter fraud in Fulton County Georgia…

These cases all share characteristics with the Jones case. Far-right figures aggressively pushed blatant, easily disproved falsehoods and inflicted a catastrophic degree of misery on their targets. Consider these claims, from Freeman and Moss’s lawsuit:

At the height of Defendants’ campaign of disinformation, Ms. Freeman, at the recommendation of the FBI, fled her home and did not return for two months. On January 6, 2021, a crowd on foot and in vehicles surrounded Ms. Freeman’s house. Ms. Freeman was forced to shutter her online business when social media became impossible to navigate. Ms. Moss has suffered personal and professional consequences in her ongoing work on Fulton County elections. On at least two occasions, strangers showed up at her grandmother’s home and attempted to push into the house in order to make a “citizens’ arrest.”

I am a longtime First Amendment attorney. I’ve filed lawsuits defending the First Amendment in federal courts from coast to coast. I filed an amicus brief defending the First Amendment in a Supreme Court case this term. I know that defamation claims are subject to abuse, and that plaintiffs should have to clear a high evidentiary hurdle before they’re able to hold another person liable for their words…

Sadly, however, there is a market for misinformation. In a polarized nation, angry voters are willing to believe almost anything about their political opponents. They’re hungry for “news” that reinforces their convictions that their political enemies aren’t just wrong; they’re evil. The fabrication-industrial complex is lucrative.

When the market fails, law and justice can prevail. Defamation litigation can’t reform a grifter’s heart, but it can compensate a grifter’s victims, and successful cases tell the right-wing public that they cannot trust the media outlets that led them astray.

So, in a sense, Charlie Kirk is right. The Jones jury did send a message, but the message wasn’t about destroying dissidents; it was about seeking justice. Even though the final damages won’t be known until they’ve been reviewed by the courts and the case concludes, the message is still clear—grave harms require a serious response.

10) Jonathan Weiler on the completely morally depraved GOP:

The committee released footage yesterday of congressional leaders, led by Nancy Pelosi, responding to the events of January 6 as they were unfolding. As many others have observed, her calm and poise as others were literally hiding from violent mobs, was striking. Pelosi is seen working the phones with everyone she can get a hold of, from the Pentagon and elsewhere, to plead for reinforcements to be sent to the Capitol to repel the violent mob. Among the congressional leaders standing literally by her side while she was doing all this is Steve Scalise. Indeed, one gets the impression, watching this footage, that while Pelosi is trying to problem solve in a crisis, all of those otherwise powerful men standing around her were doing nothing so much as rocking back and forth like fearful children, anxiously waiting for mommy to fix it.

I digress. Scalise, as I said, was standing right there while all of this was happening. And yet, Scalise subsequently did this:

Scalise himself is a lying piece of garbage. But that’s not the thing that makes me so sick. It’s that this brazen lying, emanating from the highest reaches of the GOP, and pervading its ranks at every level, is what happens when a political movement prepares itself to seize power and to reject the very idea that any mechanism for holding it accountable is legitimate. When Steve Scalise stood in front of a microphone on June 9, the first day of the January 6 hearings and said there were “serious questions” about whether Nancy Pelosi tried to delay intervention, he was one of a tiny handful of people in the world who had direct, firsthand knowledge that the opposite was true. He raised those “questions” anyway, both because he’s a pathological liar and because his only priority is to remain in good standing in a world in which such lying is what actually signals that you are a member in good standing.

Humans adapt to their circumstances. We can’t be in crisis mode all the time. When we first confront change we might feel a sense of alarm. But eventually we get used to it. We’ve been watching a slow motion disaster overtake the Republican Party for a long time now. That has made it easier to adjudge these more recent, deeply disturbing developments as part of a longer incremental arc of change, in which this cycle of alarm and adaptation recurs. All of the ways we’ve gotten used to Trump, normalized him as so many have said, in spite of what’s deeply aberrant about him, is a striking example. And we all have our own breaking points, the moments or events that convince us that we’re in new territory. I’ve experienced my own constant swirl of alarm, perspective-taking, reevaluation and recalibration of where exactly we are on the road to authoritarianism. And I don’t know for how long we can limp along the edge of the precipice it feels like we’re on.

But this Scalise incident still feels shocking to me, somehow (I know, I know). He’s the second ranking member of the House GOP. As Joe Scarborough pointed out this morning, Scalise is a victim of political violence, having been nearly fatally shot in 2017. And he was standing right fucking next to Pelosi when she was trying protect everyone in building, including freaking Steve Scalise himself. I just can’t get over that.

And I fear as I never have before for a country in which such behavior is not only normal, but is a prerequisite to remain a leader of one our two major political parties.

11) Good stuff from Nate Cohn, “Who in the World Is Still Answering Pollsters’ Phone Calls?”

There are a lot of good points here, so let’s take it bit by bit.

How do we know where they are? Some pollsters (like us) call voters from a list of telephone numbers on a voter registration file, a big data set containing the names and addresses of every registered voter in most states. The addresses tell us “where they are” with a great deal of precision.

How do we deal with people who have moved? The voter file offers a solution to this problem as well. Once you’ve registered to vote in your new state, pollsters can call your phone number if it’s on the voter file — and call it regardless of whether it’s an in-state or out-of-state area code.

How do you account for the fact that few people answer? Before I respond, I want to dwell on just how few people are answering. In the poll we have in the field right now, only 0.4 percent of dials have yielded a completed interview. If you were employed as one of our interviewers at a call center, you would have to dial numbers for two hours to get a single completed interview.

No, it wasn’t nearly this bad six, four or even two years ago. You can see for yourself that around 1.6 percent of dials yielded a completed interview in our 2018 polling.

The Times has more resources than most organizations, but this is getting pretty close to “death of telephone polling” numbers. You start wondering how much more expensive it would be to try even ridiculous options like old-fashioned door-to-door, face-to-face, in-person interviews.

Call screening is definitely part of the problem, but if you screen your calls almost 100 percent of the time, it might be a little less of one than you might think. About one-fifth of our dials still contact a human. But once we do reach a person, we’ve got a number of challenges. Is this the right human? (We talk only to people named on the file, so that we can use their information.) If it is the right person, will he or she participate? Probably not, unfortunately.

OK, back to the question: What do we do to account for this? The main thing is we make sure that the sample of people we do reach is demographically and politically representative, and if not, we adjust it to match the known characteristics of the population. If we poll a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by two percentage points, and our respondents wind up being registered Democrats by a four-point margin, we give a little less weight to the Democratic respondents.

We make similar adjustments for race; age; education; how often people have voted; where they live; marital status; homeownership; and more. As I explained last month, we believe our polls provide valuable election information. Is all of this enough? After 2020, it’s hard not to wonder whether the people who answer the phone might be more likely to back Democrats than those who don’t answer the phone. We’re conducting some expensive multi-method research this fall to help answer this question, to the extent we can. We’ll tell you more at a later time.

What about cellphones? Finally, an easy one: We call cellphones and landlines! About three-quarters of our calls go to cellphones nowadays — including nearly every call to young people.

12) I don’t remember how or why I came across this research this week.  But, yeah, I do like that it confirms my priors that a lot of anti-immigrant views are flat-out racism, 

Using two survey experiments, I reconsider the role that the racialized physical traits and level of assimilation of salient immigrants play in shaping attitudes toward immigration. In the first experiment, a nationwide sample of 767 White, non-Latino adults was exposed to a story about a family of undocumented immigrants living in the Unites States who were at risk of deportation. Subjects were randomly assigned to view a version of the story in which the immigrants were depicted with light skin and stereotypically Eurocentric features, or dark skin and stereotypically Afrocentric features, and their level of assimilation to mainstream American culture was suggested to be high or low. Similar to previous research, the study’s results show that assimilation has a direct effect on attitudes toward immigration. Yet in contrast to previous studies, the racialized physical traits proved to be a much more important factor in shaping attitudes toward immigration than previously demonstrated. The role of an immigrant’s racialized physical traits was replicated in a second survey experiment of 902 White, non-Latino adults. Overall, the findings shed new light on how media depictions of immigrants are affecting immigration attitudes, as well as the nuanced ways that race continues to shape public opinion in the United States today.

13) I had been vaguely aware of some indigenous people mass graves in Canada scandal.  More recently, I’ve learned this might not be all it seemed. It certainly seems clear that mainstream media was much too credulous:

“The discovery of unmarked graves at a former Residential School in [the province of British Columbia] and the countrywide awakening it set off have been chosen as Canada’s news story of the year by editors in newsrooms across the country,” reported the CBC last December. It was an apt choice—though not necessarily for the reasons described by the author.  

Canada’s unmarked-graves story broke on May 27th, 2021, when the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the existence of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data that indicated regularly spaced subterranean soil disturbances on the grounds of a former Indigenous Residential School that had operated in Kamloops, BC between 1893 and 1978. In addition, the First Nation’s leaders asserted their belief that these soil disturbances corresponded to unmarked graves of Indigenous children who’d died while attending the school.

The story became an immediate sensation in the Canadian media; and remained so for months, even after the GPR expert on whom the First Nation relied, Sarah Beaulieu, carefully noted that the radar survey results didn’t necessarily indicate the presence of graves—let alone graves that had been unmarked, graves of Indigenous people, or graves of children. Contrary to what many Canadians came to believe during that heady period, GPR survey data doesn’t yield X-ray-style images that show bodies or coffins. What it typically shows are disruptions in soil and sediment. Investigators then need to dig up the ground to determine what actually lies underneath…

Canadians were being told that the old orchard in Kamloops where the GPR data had been collected was a crime scene—a site of mass murder, and the final resting place of 215 child homicide victims. As I’ve reasoned elsewhere: If you told Canadians that, say, 215 murdered white children were buried somewhere in Toronto, or Ottawa, or Vancouver, there’d be investigators and police crawling all over the place, looking for remains that could be tested and identified. And so I naturally assumed the same thing soon would be happening in Kamloops.  

Many of the abuses identified at the Kamloops Residential School and others like it date to the early decades of the Cold War. This means that some of the perpetrators of these claimed child homicides—that is, the staff who worked at these schools—could still be alive. Perhaps their crimes might even be studied and solved by inspecting the bones of children buried alongside one another. Surely, no effort would be spared to pull evidence from the ground immediately, so that criminal cases could be prosecuted before the passage of time allowed the killers to escape accountability for their racist bloodbath.

But then the weeks and months passed in 2021. Spring turned to summer, then summer to fall, and fall to winter, and … nothing happened. It’s now been 14 months since the original announcement was made about presumed graves in Kamloops, and no physical evidence has been unearthed. No graves. No corpses. No human remains. In fact, as far as I can tell, there doesn’t even seem to be any systematic effort by police or First Nations leaders to commence such investigations. Eventually, it began to strike the general public that this was a very odd way to treat a mass murder scene, even as pundits and politicians refused to change their early, apocalyptic tone…

Which brings us back to that CBC announcement in December, which informed us that “the discovery of unmarked graves” had been Canada’s biggest news story of 2021. That very statement encoded the polite lie, which most Canadian journalists have been encouraged to repeat in one form or another, that some known number of “unmarked graves” had well and truly been “discovered.” The truth was (and remains) that the number of confirmed graves remains at zero. No one, to my knowledge, has found any human remains—i.e., body parts or tissue from decaying corpses—either at Kamloops or any of the other former Residential Schools, through the use of GPR.

14) This is really good, “The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement” (gift link)

Most students in psychology and psychiatry programs today are too young to have any firsthand memory of the moral panic engendered by the recovered memory movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was a time when therapists proudly advertised their ability to help clients unearth supposedly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse; the accusations that followed shattered families and communities across the country.

The belief that such memories could be repressed and then recovered through special techniques was widespread among mental health professionals for well over a decade. In books and on television, therapists portrayed themselves as the first generation of healers to understand both these mechanisms of repression and how to unlock them without contaminating the story that emerged. The results were dramatic: Patients often recovered abuse memories that began in infancy and lasted for decades. Some came to believe not only that they had repressed memories but also that their minds had fractured into many personalities to manage the pain and betrayal.

With a few decades’ perspective, it’s clear this level of confidence led to disastrous results. In 2005 a Harvard psychology professor, Richard McNally, called the recovered memory movement “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.” …

Unfortunately, many of the mistaken assumptions about memory and trauma remain part of popular culture. Among clinical psychologists, the belief that the unconscious mind can block out memories of trauma is commonplace. Memory researchers and scientists, for the most part, remain highly skeptical. In 2019 a group of seven memory scientists, including Dr. Loftus, concluded that therapists were still using techniques that had the potential for creating false memories and that the practice continued to pose a substantial risk, “potentially leading to false accusations and associated miscarriages of justice,” they wrote. While the so-called memory wars rage on over the issue of repression, clinicians and their professional organizations have largely “feigned forgetfulness” of the recovered memory movement’s excesses, as the author and psychology professor Richard Noll once wrote.

Recently, I spent an afternoon watching various TikTok channels under the hashtags #recoveredmemory and #dissociativeidentitydisorder. The ideas and themes I heard, mostly from young adults, were disturbingly familiar. Belief in memory repression and the idea that the mind can split into dozens of distinct personalities are alive and well. Across social networking sites, I also found a maelstrom of information, opinion and conversation about mental health topics, including Tourette’s syndrome, gender dysphoria, attention deficit disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicide. The internet as we know it didn’t exist during the rise of recovered memory therapy, but it is a powerful cultural force now and may be ground zero for the creation of new symptom pools, new looping effects andnew ways of being.

What takes place on social media will, no doubt, influence what develops during private therapy sessions. Effectively treating this new generation will require an understanding of how culture is once again shaping the symptoms of patients and the certainties of healers. Without that knowledge, mental health professionals will risk engendering new hysterias that they can neither control nor cure.

15) I really liked this from Yglesias, “Europe should look at hard rationing and price controls for natural gas”

Putin is not Hitler and contemporary Russia is not Nazi Germany.

But Europe is in basically a “wartime” situation. Russia invaded Ukraine, and Europe has been a willing participant in a western-led response whose key modes are (a) denying Russia access to crucial imports it needs to sustain its military-industrial complex, and (b) provisioning Ukraine with a quality and quantity of military hardware that it could not possibly afford on its own. Russia is retaliating as best it can by attempting to wreck Europe’s economy.

And Europe ought to respond to this geopolitically induced crisis in a collective, strategic way — with economic consequences rather than a purely economic catastrophe that should be addressed with market tools.

You can’t leave it up to the market

 

Of course, one thing you could do is say, “well this shock is nasty, but the best course of action is just to leave things up to the free market which will make the optimal adjustment.”

In a lot of contexts pure market solutions are underrated, but not in this one. The big issue is that people die if they can’t get their homes warm enough in the wintertime, but also normal people prefer to keep their homes at a temperature that is much, much, much warmer than what is needed for survival. And people put a very high value on that kind of comfort. An affluent person is going to respond to an energy price shock by drawing down savings while continuing to heat his home to 20 degrees, or maybe budge just a bit down to 19.2 And a person who’s seriously pinched by energy costs is going to cut back on non-energy luxuries before turning down the heat. That relatively inelastic demand on the part of the more affluent segments of society means that people with lesser means can find themselves pushed below subsistence heating levels to the point where their health is in serious danger. This is part of a broader set of phenomena where background conditions of inequality make pure market allocations inefficient from a welfare perspective, and it’s why — as far as I can tell — every government is trying to find ways to shield the poorest from the full impact of the gas crunch.

But the other issue is that gas is both a household consumption item and also an input to industry.

If the input costs of industrial production go up, so will the prices. To an extent, those higher prices will be passed on to consumers. But those industrial outputs are also traded globally. So European industrialists will have only a limited ability to pass costs on to consumers who will instead switch to foreign products. Now of course the world as a whole has only limited production capacity, so a newly high-cost European industry won’t totally vanish. But it will shrink considerably if market forces are allowed to play out. That’s going to mean lots of workers losing their jobs and then needing extra support from the welfare state.

To the extent that we think higher prices are a new normal that the whole continent needs to adapt to, that’s fine, and a combination of flexible markets with a generous welfare state is the best option. But to the extent that we think higher prices are a wartime emergency that will fade away as Europe responds with more non-gas energy sources and more LNG terminals, then it’s very inefficient to incur all these costs of layoffs on the back-end through the welfare state. What you ought to do is spend money to keep the factories running and keep people employed.

So you end up with strong cases for subsidizing both industry and the poor…

If you think back to World War II and the limited oil supply situation, the government articulated some clear priorities.

They needed oil to actually prosecute the war — to keep tanks and planes and ships going. They also needed oil for war production, including both direct use in factories but also the whole long supply chain that benefits from trucks and tractors. Last and very much least, they wanted civilians to be able to have an okay quality of life.

Europe is not currently at war with Russia, but they’re not not at war. The West is deploying a kind of blockade on Russia that in the past might have been viewed as an act of war. Russia is not retaliating with force because they fear NATO’s clear conventional military superiority. Meanwhile, it would actually be much cheaper and easier for NATO to deliver a battlefield victory to Ukraine than it is to try to engineer victory through roundabout means. But the U.S. and its allies aren’t doing that because we fear Russia would escalate to nuclear war. These are reasonable fears on both sides. But the lack of an official war tends to obscure the extent to which there is a wartime economic situation, especially in Europe where the physical infrastructure leaves them subject to this Russian gas embargo.

In an actual war, I think it would be a no-brainer that you need to:

  • Use rationing to force every household to keep their homes uncomfortably cold.

  • Use price controls to guarantee that even the poorest can keep their home survivably warm.

  • Ensure that industry can continue to use all the gas it needs.

  • Deploy the government’s fiscal resources to subsidize energy production or conservation, not energy consumption.

The fact that it’s not officially a war is not, I think, super-relevant to the analysis, and it’s still what Europe should be doing. Keeping people alive is more important than keeping factories running, but keeping factories running is more important than keeping people comfortable. There should be a system of explicit rationing and price controls that keeps home energy cheap for everyone but also forces everyone to use way less. Then on the industrial side, energy should continue to be allocated by price (so it flows to the highest-value uses), but the hard constraint on household consumption should keep it relatively abundant.

The goal should be for non-subsidized household energy spending to actually go down rather than up through a mix of price controls and rationing, so that everyone — no matter how poor — can easily afford to stay warm enough, and nobody — no matter how rich — is allowed to get comfortable. Well-being will decline (nobody likes to be chilly at home), but both industrial production and domestic service spending will keep chugging along so the overall economy will survive.

Public spending should go to LNG terminals and reopening nuclear plants and building new wind and solar. But it should also go to broadly-construed conservation. That means insulation and heat pumps, but it also means just keeping people warm. Europeans probably don’t need the government to buy them all hats and sweaters, but there are sleeping bags rated for use at below-freezing temperatures, and subsidizing their purchase is a much better use of limited fiscal capacity that subsidizing gas consumption.

Now I obviously understand why no European elected officials want to say “as a result of our foreign policy choices, we now all need to be cold all winter.” But something bad has to happen as a result of those foreign policy choices. And to make the opposite choice and say Russia can conquer nearby countries by threatening to cut off gas exports would be extremely destabilizing. Putin isn’t going to get the West to break this winter, and as a result of new investments, things will only get better for Europe in winters to come — dependence on Russian gas was a policy choice that is now being reversed. But for the short term, there needs to be some pain. And the least-bad form of pain is a hard rationing scheme.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is interesting, “How to Make, and Keep, Friends in Adulthood.” What I particularly like in reflecting upon this is that a number of people reading this are friends I made in adulthood.  Also, know that I’m probably not spending as much time with you as I’d like (and it’s probably your fault– I’m always up to hang out 🙂 ).  

Is that why you believe that assuming people like you is so important?

According to the “risk regulation theory,” we decide how much to invest in a relationship based on how likely we think we are to get rejected. So one of the big tips I share is that if you try to connect with someone, you are much less likely to be rejected than you think.

And, yes, you should assume people like you. That is based on research into the “liking gap” — the idea that when strangers interact, they’re more liked by the other person than they assume.

There is also something called the “acceptance prophecy.” When people assume that others like them, they become warmer, friendlier and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I never used to be much of a mind-set person until I got into the research. But your mind-set really matters! …

You also believe that it is critical to show and tell your friends how much you like them. Why is that?

Because we tend to like people who we believe like us. I used to go into groups and try to make friends by being smart — that was my thing. But when I read the research, I realized that the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter. The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better. Research shows that just texting a friend can be more meaningful than people tend to think.

I like you!

2) Really good from Jonathan Weiler on gerrymandering

The relevance of gerrymandering to the larger threats facing our democracy isn’t just in the numbers themselves.It’s about the context in which our political battles are playing out. New York and Ohio courts both ruled that their state legislatures engaged in unconstitutional gerrymanders. The former responded by changing its maps. The latter responded by telling the courts to go fuck themselves. Those two responses to court decisions may, all by themselves, result in the flipping of four seats, enough to determine control of the House all by themselves.

And if that’s not bad enough, it’s what that disparate response to court orders reflects that makes Leonhardt’s conclusion dubious. One party is hunting for every conceivable advantage it can, legal or otherwise, not only to seize power in the upcoming election, but to rig the system to make it harder and harder to dislodge them at all. This is where the Orban precedent in Hungary matters – translating initial electoral victories into increasingly insurmountable obstacles to challenging his rule, including by the rigging of parliamentary maps.

So, in the narrow sense, it’s fine to talk about how many seats gerrymandering does or does not impact in a given election. But gerrymandering is, itself, now part of a larger anti-democratic arsenal, which also includes relentless harassment of election workers, more brazen attempts to engage in election fraud and running candidates for high office who will overturn popular election results, to name a few. The premise of the war all of those weapons are being deployed to wage is that we are “a Republic, not a democracy,”1 by which the right means some people’s votes *should* count more than others. All of which is to say that the meaning and threat of gerrymandering itself has changed in recent years. It’s no longer just the usual partisan back and forth of American politics. It’s more insidious, because it’s yet another weapon being deployed evermore brazenly by the GOP, in its effort to ultimately bar Democrats from office, and Democratic voters from representation.

So, when Leonhardt says gerrymandering is not among the bigger problems facing our democracy, he’s right in a narrow sense, but wrong in context.

3) Interesting on exercise, “How Painful Should Your Workout Be?”

The next time around she decided to do things differently. “I wanted to have a more pleasant experience,” she said. “And I thought, how can I learn to like running?”

That question eventually drove her doctoral research on the experiences of beginner runners — how they feel and how that affects their ability to stick with their new habit. And according to her peers in the emerging field of exercise psychology, the answers are far more important to your long-term physical and mental health than the humdrum details of how long, how hard or how often you exercise. After all, no exercise regimen is effective if you don’t stick with it.

But the connection between how a workout routine makes you feel and whether you’re still doing it in six months isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. If it makes you miserable, like Dr. Kennedy’s first experience with running, you’ll likely quit. If it’s too easy, on the other hand, you may find it boring — or, perhaps worse, pointless. The most committed exercisers often crave a certain amount of discomfort.

So if you’re trying to form an exercise habit, how do you figure when to avoid suffering and when to embrace it?

I literally do not like running.  But I do it 4-5 times a week.  I really like how being fit makes me feel overall; I like how I feel after a workout; I enjoy being outside; I love the opportunity to listen to podcasts.  But, I almost never find running for exercise pleasurable.

4) Interesting stuff from Noah Smith, “Thoughts on the origins of wokeness”

The first of these posts is my theory as to why wokeness exploded in the 2010s. The basic idea is that America is a very disrespectful society, and that this lack of respect increasingly clashed with rising diversity and the strides toward racial and gender equality that previous decades had produced. So I think that to a large degree, wokeness was a redistributionary movement aiming for a leveling of social respect.

The second post is my theory of where wokeness comes from, and why it focused on the issues and ideas that it did. The U.S. has a long tradition of semi-Protestant social crusades to uplift the marginalized, dating back at least to the Abolitionist movement. This tradition has never been an outgrowth of European Marxism, as some anti-woke people allege; instead, the animating ideas have come partly from Black thought and partly from Protestantism, and sometimes from both at once. So wokeness should really be seen not as something new, but as something deeply American, which emerges every once in a while.

Anyway, whether you’re a deep believer in wokeness or a dedicated opponent, I urge you to read these posts with an open mind. My goal is not (yet) to judge, but only to understand. I don’t claim to be a scholar or arbiter of these things, but I hope these thoughts can contribute a bit to our general understanding of the forces reshaping our society…

Anyway. I sort of believe in Ian Morris’ principle that “each age gets the thought it needs” — when I see a new ideology develop, my first question is always “Which pressing human problems does this address?” It’s possible to fool yourself this way, and to turn the history of thought into a series of just-so stories. But for years leading up to the so-called “Great Awokening” in 2014-15, I had felt a nagging sense that the country wasn’t quite changing in some of the ways I had hoped and expected it to. In the 2000s and early 2010s, as the country and its elite both became more diverse, I had expected the popular image of what constitutes an “American” to gradually and easily shift away from “a White person, or occasionally a Black person”. It did not. Asian and Hispanic people were rarely represented in popular media, largely ignored by politicians, and generally “othered” with stereotypes and assumptions of foreign-ness. I now see what I should have seen then — the erasure couldn’t go on, and a backlash had to come.

For Black people, the Great Awokening has been more about material concerns, especially police brutality and the persistent income/wealth gap. But there’s also a deep sense in which many Black people feel disrespected, which has to do with history. A lot of Black Americans feel that the history of the bad things this country did to their ancestors is not sufficiently recognized or highlighted in politics and popular culture. And wokeness, with its focus on history, is in part an attempt to fill that lacuna.

And for women, a big part of the Woke Era has been about respect in the workplace. The 90s backlash against sexual harassment made some headway, but many men were still in the habit of talking about sex to their female coworkers in a way that made it clear that they thought of those coworkers as sex objects. And that is a deep and grating lack of respect.

Thus, I think wokeness is in part an attempt to renegotiate the distribution of respect in American society. So many of the things we associate with wokeness — pronoun culture, “canceling” writers who appear to traffic in stereotypes, re-centering American history around Black people, the whole idea of “centering the voices of marginalized groups”, and so on — are explicitly about respect. Wokeness does include social movements with real material aims (e.g. defunding the police), but mostly it’s a cultural movement whose goal is to change the way Americans talk and think about each other.

So when I wrote about redistributing respect, I had the right idea; I just totally missed the dimensions along which the demands for respect would come.

5) John McWhorter on not being a racist:

Since I started writing this newsletter, once about every couple of weeks I have received a missive from someone troubled by a controversy involving race, usually in the workplace.

These readers feel that their opponents in these fusses are unfairly tarring them as racist. Typical disputes they find themselves embroiled in include whether a school program should devote itself centrally to antiracism, whether it is fair to hire people ranking skin color over qualifications, whether reparations for slavery in a local context are appropriate and what they should consist of, and whether a piece of art should be deemed racist.

They seek my confirmation that they are in the right, that they are not racist, and presumably want to take that judgment back to the ring as proof that their position is not anti-Black. Sometimes they are under the impression that it would help if I addressed their colleagues over Zoom.

It has occurred to me that I should provide, in this space, an all-purpose response to this kind of letter I get. For starters, I’d like to offer a guide to my positions on the debates my correspondents seem to find themselves in.

To wit:

I do not support treating the word “Negro,” as opposed to the “N-word,” as a slur. “Negro” was not a slur when it was current, and the case for classifying it as one now because it is archaic is quite thin. Why look for something to be offended by?

I do not support calling something “racist” because outcomes for it differ for the (Black) race. For example, I take issue with the idea that there is something “racist” or “biased” about the questions on the SAT.

I do not condemn white authors writing Black fictional characters who speak Black English so long as it’s a respectful and realistic rendition.

I think the idea that it is cultural appropriation when whites take on Black cultural traits is ahistoric — human groups sharing space have always shared culture — and also pointless, given that Black American culture has always, and will continue to, infuse mainstream America. I also do not think arguments about power relations somehow invalidate my position. I think that it is in vain to decree that culture cannot be borrowed by people in power from those who are not.

I think the idea that only Black people should depict Black people in art and fiction is less antiracist than anti-human, in forbidding the empathy and even admiration that can motivate respectful attempts to create a literary character.

I revile any concept of equity that allows for appointing Black people to positions over more highly qualified non-Black ones.

I know that racism exists both on the personal and structural levels. But I also feel deep disappointment that the tenor of our times seems to encourage some Black people to exaggerate racism’s effects, to enshrine a kind of charismatic defeatism as a substitute for activism. And then there are those who outright fabricate having suffered racist mistreatment. I also worry that these kinds of things desensitize many observers from acknowledging the real racism that exists.

6) This Atlantic cover story from last month really is a must-read, “The secret history of the U.S. government’s family-separation policy”

7) Yglesias is damn right about this, “Funding the tax police is very good: Republicans need to stop coddling criminals”

In April of 2021, I argued that boosting IRS funding would have two major benefits: it would more than pay for itself through increased tax revenue, allowing the government to do useful things without raising tax rates, and it would allow the IRS to invest in customer service, better serving the average taxpayer.

Now that this funding increase has come to pass as part the Inflation Reduction Act, Republicans have made it the focus of their complaints about the law.

And I think it’s worth diving into because on the merits, this is probably their least valid complaint, but by the polling, it’s their politically strongest argument. If you think that spending a few hundred billion subsidizing zero-carbon energy production is a bad idea, then that’s fine. But the government collecting the tax revenue it’s owed is unambiguously good, and the Republican Party’s opposition to it is telling and disturbing.

After all, they wrote a tax reform bill in 2017, and even though their bill cut taxes on net, it did raise a bunch of revenue (most famously from curbing the SALT deduction) to partially offset the cost of the tax cut. The GOP could have increased tax enforcement as another offset, and instead of letting Democrats spend the revenue, they could have used it to make the cuts in the Trump tax bill even bigger.

But they didn’t. Because separate from the party’s overall view on the desirable level of taxation, they’ve developed a peculiar soft spot for tax cheats.

Don’t be like Italy

 

Because taxes are levied on broad macroeconomic categories, it’s possible to predict, in a top-down kind of way, how much taxes should theoretically be coming in. And in every country I’ve seen data for, actual revenue received is less than this top-down analysis predicts.

A lot of that is fairly banal — people getting paid in cash transactions that aren’t recorded or reported — but most of it stems from the complexities of small business taxation.

The good news, as this Tax Foundation report shows, is that the American tax gap is on the lower side. But pay attention to some of the countries at the top of the list:

I think Republican Party elected officials and their non-specialist allies in the conservative movement are underrating how bad it would be for the United States to migrate closer to the top of that list. The countries with huge tax gaps are not dynamic, business-friendly free market societies — they tend to be stuck in a dysfunctional paradigm in which businesses struggle to grow or adopt professionalized management because so much money hinges on their ability to keep two different sets of books. Italy and Greece are dominated by small, closely held businesses with family-centric management that are reaping huge economic gains by cheating on their taxes. Even the best-run of those companies tend not to expand or professionalize because to do so successfully, they’d have to actually pay what they owe.

If you believe that taxes should be low, the goal is to be like Ireland or New Zealand, where taxes are low but compliance is very high. Or you could be like Denmark, where tax compliance is very high and the taxes are high. But you don’t want to be like Italy where everyone is cheating on their taxes. As I wrote in “What’s Not Wrong With Italy,” there’s actually a bunch of good stuff happening in Italian public policy. But it’s swamped by this trap of bad government and small, badly managed companies.

8) David Sims, “Hollywood Learned All the Wrong Lessons From Avatar”

9) This is really good, “What Ted Cruz and Tucker Carlson Don’t Understand About War: On the modern battlefield, brains and adaptability yield far better results than ruthless brutality does.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals aren’t the only people who think that the more ruthless, hypermasculine, and reflexively brutal an army is, the better it performs on the battlefield. That view also has fans in the United States.

Last year, Senator Ted Cruz recirculated a TikTok video that contrasted a Russian military-recruitment ad, which showed a male soldier getting ready to kill people, with an American recruitment video that told the story of a female soldier—the daughter of two mothers—who enlisted partly to challenge stereotypes. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” Cruz tweeted sarcastically. The Texas Republican is not alone in trumpeting a Putinesque ideal. Several months earlier, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson had similarly complained about a supposedly “woke” Pentagon, which he likened to the Wesleyan University anthropology department. By promoting diversity and inclusion, he insisted, military leaders were destroying American armed forces, supposedly the last great bastion of merit in the country. More recently, Carlson has complained that America’s armed forces are becoming “more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore,” just as China’s are “more masculine.”

Arguments like these were much easier to make before Putin unleashed his muscle-bound and decidedly unwoke fighting machine on the ostensibly weak Ukrainians, only to see it perform catastrophically. More than seven months into the war, the Ukrainian army continues to grow in strength, confidence, and operational competence, while the Russian army is flailing. Its recent failures raise many questions about the nature of military power. Before Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine, many analysts described his military as fast and powerful and predicted that it would “shock and awe” the overmatched defenders. The Ukrainian armed forces were widely assumed to be incapable of fighting the mighty Russians out in the open; their only option, the story went, would be to retreat into their cities and wage a form of guerrilla war against the invaders.

The success of the Ukrainian military over the past few months, along with the evolution of the Ukrainian state itself toward a more tolerant, more liberal norm, reveals what makes a better army in the modern world. Brains mean more than brawn, and adaptability means more than mindless aggression. Openness to new ideas and new equipment, along with the ability to learn quickly, is far more important than a simple desire to kill.

From the moment the Russian military crossed the border, the Ukrainians have outfought it, revealing it to be inflexible and intellectually vapid. Indeed when confronted with a Ukrainian military that was everything it was not—smart, adaptable, and willing to learn—the Russian army could only fall back on slow, massed firepower. The Battle of the Donbas, the war’s longest engagement, which started in late April and is still under way, exposed the Russian army at its worst. For months, it directed the bulk of personnel and equipment toward the center of a battle line running approximately from Izyum to Donetsk. Instead of breaking through Ukrainian lines and sending armored forces streaking forward rapidly, as many analysts had predicted, the Russian army opted to make painfully slow, incremental advances, by simply blasting the area directly in front of it. The plan seemed to be to render the area uninhabitable by Ukrainians, which would allow the Russians to advance intermittently into the vacuum. This was heavy-firepower, low-intelligence warfare on a grand scale, which resulted in strategically meaningless advances secured at the cost of unsustainably high Russian casualties. And in recent weeks, the Ukrainians have retaken much of the territory that Russia managed to seize at the start of the battle—and more.

And… that’s it.  

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

On June 22, 75 supporters of the National Conservatism project issued a 10-part statement of principles. The signatories include Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative; Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina and a former president of the Heritage Foundation; Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff to President Trump; Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and the venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The principles include a strong commitment to the infusion of religion into the operation of government: “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition.” Thus the “Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and nonbelievers alike.”

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.

2) Some interesting stuff here and also some personality “science” that I’m not quite convinced is science, “Why do you like the music you like? Science weighs in.”

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.
“Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as “White Knuckles” by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found…

“Valence is a spectrum,” from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” Greenberg says. “We found that rapper Pitbull’s music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth.”

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. “High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it,” he says.

We prefer music from artists whose personalities we identify with. “When people listen to music, they’re being driven by how similar that artist is to themselves,” Greenberg says.

In his 2021 study, participants rated the personality traits of artists using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN). To the respondents, David Bowie displayed high Openness and Neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye displayed high Agreeableness.

“The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music,” Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people’s musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

Once you get past the fantasy that we can wish policing away or “reimagine” public safety in a way that doesn’t involve guys with uniforms and guns, you’re left with the fact that the policing status quo is bad and also hard to change.

Officers should be held accountable for misconduct — not just the most extreme forms of misconduct, but relatively minor kinds as well. Yet we see chiefs reluctant to fire officers, and officers who do get dismissed bouncing from department to department. And this is at least in part because in many cases it is genuinely not easy to fill vacancies. Meanwhile, many if not most departments seem to have a deeply ingrained warrior mentality that emphasizes dominance rather than service. Policing has become so politicized that the overwhelming majority of officers, even in very liberal areas, are right-wing and often seem to have barely disguised disdain for the citizens they nominally serve, and not-at-all disguised disdain for the politicians elected to run their cities. Over the course of 2020-21, we saw a massive national wave of shootings and murder that seems to have been caused at least in part by a de facto police strike, tacitly organized to (successfully) push back on momentum for reform.

That’s bad on its own terms, and it’s also a ticking time bomb for democracy more broadly…

Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.

If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

There’s a good amount of evidence (most recently summed up in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing) that better-educated police officers are better across a variety of dimensions — they use force less and engage in more “problem-oriented” policing. This is sometimes taken as a reason to encourage departments to require college degrees or create financial incentives for getting them. Realistically, though, creating a degree requirement is only going to make personnel shortages worse, and a crude financial incentive is going to lead to people enrolling in low-value programs just to get a raise.

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities. I think it’s safe to assume that PFA cops, like TFA teachers, would have above-average rates of medium-term attrition. But the ones who don’t leave policing would be disproportionately likely to secure promotion. And many of the ones who do leave policing would still work in adjacent fields and would bring practical police experience to bear on careers in law, policy, journalism, and politics. You’d get cultural change inside police departments via the entry of different kinds of people, and also a criminal justice reform community that was operating across less of a conceptual void from the people doing police work…

I have some criticisms of PP trends (the inclination you see in some places to treat illegal gun possession as a non-violent crime unworthy of serious punishment seems like a big mistake to me), but the basic idea that reformers should actually take on criminal justice work and try to do it better is correct. The idea came to prosecutors first because lawyering is more of a high-prestige occupation than policing. But that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

4) Paul Waldman on the awful Trump judge and the broader undermining of the rule of law:

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis as its ongoing legal revolution becomes more and more alarming to a public unhappy about its recent rulings on abortion and gun rights. But there’s another legitimacy crisis brewing, one that can be seen vividly in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s extraordinary rulings in the case involving Donald Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump despite her thin experience, has been almost comically eager to help the former president. Her appointment of a special master to review documents seized in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was greeted with shock and ridicule on substantive grounds and was widely seen as a means of delaying the case as long as possible.

But Cannon’s latest intervention on Trump’s behalf is particularly disturbing. I want to focus on one part of the order she gave Thursday, because it speaks to how we believe courts are supposed to work and how those foundations of the justice system are being warped.

Trump, true to form, has been making fantastical claims about how victimized he has been at the hands of law enforcement. Among other things, he has said the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago to incriminate him.

So special master Raymond J. Dearie — who was suggested by Trump’s attorneys and agreed to by the government — essentially told the Trump team to put up or shut up. He instructed them to clarify whether they’re challenging the government’s inventory of documents collected at Mar-a-Lago. Would they make an official statement alleging documents were planted, or would they accept that the inventory is accurate?

This put them in an awkward position — the same awkward position Trump attorneys have been in before. Their client is the most notorious liar in the history of American politics. But in court, the rules are different than on Fox News or Truth Social.

In case after case after the 2020 election, Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell rolled into court with rumors, speculation and hearsay about widespread election fraud. Again and again, they were shot down by judges telling them it wasn’t enough to say they heard about a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor said he saw a van with a Joe Biden bumper sticker idling behind the board of elections building. Without evidence, they lost.

But Cannon swooped in to save Trump’s lawyers from the embarrassment of contradicting their boss. She overruled Dearie, allowing the lawyers to avoid taking a position on whether the inventory is accurate. Given the chance to draw a bright line marking the integrity of what goes on in court, she did the opposite.

This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a direct assault on the idea that the courts are a venue where fairness prevails precisely because there are strict rules everyone has to follow, rules designed to get to the truth.

Almost two years after Trump left office, the poison he injected into the courts with the appointment of a long list of hack judges is becoming more clear. It’s increasingly difficult to look at important court cases of recent days and believe that whether you like the outcome, the procedures have been fair, the judges have worked to be objective and the integrity of the courts is intact.

Judges such as Cannon undermine a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the court system: the idea of “procedural fairness.” This topic has long been of interest to judges and lawyers, and research has found that people’s perceptions of whether they were treated fairly is often just as important as the outcome in determining their feelings about the process.

5) Really, really liked this from Jesse Singal, “It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions”

One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.

This is now a thoroughly mainstream view in journalism, and it is applied to coverage not just to actual fascists, but to an ever-growing variety of right-wing (or otherwise disfavored) figures…

When a journalist gets dragged on Twitter the way Harkinson did, it gets noticed by other journalists. One of Twitter’s main functions, after all, is to publiclydish out discipline to those deemed to have violated a given group’s norms, whether or not the accusation is valid.

Things have gotten a lot worse in mainstream journalism since Harkinson’s piece. I’m not the first to have ranted and written about the culture of stifling conformity, of jumping down the throats of anyone who argues for nuanced takes on hot-button issues, or who publicly disagrees with sacralized narratives. These tendencies have contributed to botched coverage of national news events over and over and over and over.

But there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here: respect for readers (and listeners). The ideas that readers will scurry off to fascism unless we keep them tightly leashed, that they can’t handle a little bit of uncertainty or nuance or a couple of unanswered questions — it’s all deeply condescending. Certain prescriptions for how journalism should be conducted — such as the idea that we should be awash in headlines like “Racist President Drones Racistly As Racist Group Howls With Racist Glee” — seem motivated by genuine contempt for readers.

When Damon Kiesow argues that an article about Chris Rufo was a terrible act because it included a prominent photo of Rufo as well as a somewhat in-depth interview with him, that’s because he doesn’t respect Times readers. “The path to not amplifying hate is to lead with a portait [sic] of the director of a local anti-hate group and have them describe the issue – and then dig into the details of the people pushing anti-civil rights legislation.” This is an utterly impoverished, impossibly bland concept of journalism in which we slap helmets on readers and then lead them by hand, via velvet ropes and padded walls, to their final, safe destination: On your left you’ll see a local civil rights leader. He is a hero. What a good man! In our next room you’ll meet today’s baddy, an eeeeeeeevil man named Chris Rufo. Do not listen to what he says, for he is a Deceiver.

I can’t write like this because I don’t hate my readers. And most journalists, to be fair, don’t hate their readers either — they want to produce interesting work. But the hysterical, moralizing view of journalism is winning, largely because of the social media shitstorm that engulfs anyone who insists on treating readers as compos mentis adults rather than kids in the under-10 section of a theme park. If you’re skeptical of my argument that views like Kiesow’s stem from contempt for readers, reflect, for a minute, on the claim that launched this whole article: that describing a hardened racist as “dapper” will cause people to be drawn to that racist and to embrace his ideas. The hypothetical seductee in this scenario is, full-stop, an idiot.

Any competent critique of 2022 needs to mention class, and this is indeed partly a class issue. Journalists are increasingly from privileged, liberal backgrounds like mine, and privileged, liberal people tend to have very strong, very set feelings about politics — feelings that only grew more intense during the Trump years. For the most part, journalists in my milieu are cut off, at least as far as close social and familial ties go, from the sorts of people who might be fans of Chris Rufo. That makes it harder to cover Rufo accurately, which is something you should want even if — especially if — you dislike Rufo and his project.

Journalism needs more Josh Harkinsons, is what it comes down to. There are all sorts of structural reasons why it’s harder than ever before to produce long, careful, rigorous works of magazine reporting — that such works are now shouted down and slandered by other journalists is an exceptionally foreboding development for an already teetering industry.

6) This Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows got dunked on all over twitter.  But it’s really good!  Sopranos is #1 and Wired, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld are all top 10.  That’s a good list!

7) Heck, more Jesse Singal on a singularly (okay, it’s not, but couldn’t resist) Vox article.

8) Cathy Young with one of the best pieces I’ve read on Diversity training:

Let’s grant that DeSantis’s Trump-lite culture-warmongering is cynical and noxious, and the “Stop WOKE” law—which should be taken out and shot for its moniker alone—is a very real speech infringement, especially given the broad scope and the vagueness of its prohibitions. (For example, the law prohibits training or teaching that individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions . . . committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” Does this apply only to instructing trainees that such reactions are required, or could any material that inspires employees to feel “psychological distress” or shame over racial inequities fall under suspicion?)

And let’s further grant that Rufo is a political hack who is upfront about his end-justifies-the-means approach to stopping “wokeness.”

But DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.

While Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.

For instance, the “Listen. Understand. Act.” program launched at AT&T in April 2021 describes “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Challenge” which invites the employee to “do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” every day for 21 days. These actions include reading, watching, or listening to material on antiracism, gender issues and/or social justice from an ideologically uniform list that features Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. No alternative or critical point of view is listed—not, say, Kelefa Sanneh’s trenchant 2019 critique of Kendi and DiAngelo for the New Yorker, or the podcast discussions by Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, two black academics critical of the Kendi brand of antiracism.

Other recommended material includes a blog post arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been good for anti-racism because living in the constant shadow of death allows white Americans to understand how black Americans feel all the time; a column that bluntly states, “White people, you are the problem”; a video titled “Not Everyone Is Your Friend,” in which a spoken-word poet warns that old friends who don’t support you on your social justice journey may not really be true friends; and a conversation with the author of a book arguing that the United States owes its economic power to slavery, with no mention of other work challenging his thesis. Participants are also encouraged to become involved in social and racial justice activism and to scrutinize their circle of friends, their reading and film- or TV-viewing habits, and even the artwork in their homes for racial balance…

Moreover, one need not endorse conspiracy theories about “woke” corporations and the left to be troubled by a trend of major employers expecting employees to declare allegiance to a particular political viewpoint. Nor does one need to endorse Trump-style white identity politics to believe that the DiAngelo-style identity politics of many DEI programs are, in fact, very bad. It’s everything from the messages decrying “whiteness” and badgering white employees to confess their “complicity” in racism to the fixation on seeing all interpersonal problems through the lens of identity, privilege, and oppression to the constant sleuthing for “microaggressions” and “harm.” It doesn’t help that for all the talk of “diversity,” many DEI programs are focused on the dynamics of black and white Americans while giving short shrift to other groups. The “Listen. Understand. Act.” materials include more than forty items that focus on the black American experience, but just two focused on Hispanics and one dealing with Asian Americans…

Another alternative DEI program is offered by Brooklyn-based African-American entrepreneur and writer Chloé Simone Valdary under the name “Theory of Enchantment.” (It’s based on the 2011 book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who defines “enchantment” as winning people over by “delighting” them with a product or idea.) On the Theory of Enchantment website, Valdary describes her program, launched four years ago, as “a framework for compassionate antiracism that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development, and interpersonal growth,” based on three principles: “treat people like human beings, not political abstractions”; “criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy”; “root everything you do in love and compassion.” Clients include the online food-delivery company GrubHub and the Hadassah Jewish women’s organization. The company currently has six part-time employees; Valdary told me that at least for now, she’s looking not to expand but to build sustainable systems. She also stresses that she approaches the issue “from an entrepreneurial perspective, not a culture-war perspective.”

Like Manji, Valdary is highly critical of the conventional DEI model, which her site describes as leading to “individuals being unfairly singled out, ostracized, and humiliated” and “animosity developing among coworkers.” But she also believes that the anti-woke crusaders—whether activists or politicians—end up becoming the very things they wage war against, and she thinks HB 7, with its focus on banning “harmful” concepts in workplace training, is a perfect example. “They’re imitating critical race theory, which also wants to ban certain uses of words,” she says. “It’s like, to a T, an imitation of their opponents.”

9) The story that dominated twitter for a day earlier this week, “More Trans Teens Are Choosing ‘Top Surgery’” Can we at least agree that doctors advertising for teenage patients for this on TikTok is bad?

10) Relatedly, semi-recent report on changes on all this in Europe, “The Beginning of the End of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’? Britain is closing the infamous Tavistock Centre. Finland and Sweden have radically revised their treatment guidelines. But American doctors are advertising surgeries to children on TikTok.”

The question is how Americans will react.

In a sign that they may be rethinking the “puberty blockers are safe and reversible” dogma, the Food and Drug Administration, also on Thursday, announced that it was slapping a new warning on puberty blockers. It turns out they may cause brain swelling and vision loss. But for now, the move among American medical associations, health officials and dozens of gender clinics is to double down on the affirmative approach, with the Biden administration recently asserting gender affirmation is “trauma-informed care.”

The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people. Uber-progressive countries like Sweden and Finland have pushed back—firmly and unapologetically—against the affirmative approach of encouraging youth transition advocated by some transgender activists and gender clinicians.

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released new guidelines for treating young people with gender dysphoria earlier this year. The new guidelines state that the risks of these “gender-affirming” medical interventions “currently outweigh the possible benefits, and that the treatments should be offered only in exceptional cases.”

Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care (COHERE) came to a similar conclusion a year earlier, noting: “The first-line intervention for gender variance during childhood and adolescent years is psychosocial support and, as necessary, gender-explorative therapy and treatment for comorbid psychiatric disorders.” And: “In light of available evidence, gender reassignment of minors is an experimental practice.” Gender reassignment medical interventions “must be done with a great deal of caution, and no irreversible treatment should be initiated.”

Both guidelines starkly contrast with those proffered by the Illinois-based World Professional Association of Transgender Health, an advocacy group made up of activists, academics, lawyers, and healthcare providers, which has set the standard when it comes to transgender care in the United States. WPATH will soon issue new standards that lower recommended ages for blockers, hormones and surgeries. (WPATH did not respond to a request for comment.)

WPATH’s position is in keeping with an array of U.S. medical associations and activist groups across the country that insist gender-affirming care is “life-saving.” Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who is herself a transgender woman, recently asserted that there is a medical consensus as to its benefits. Some activists and gender clinicians in the U.S. feel that WPATH doesn’t go far enough, asserting that any child who wants puberty blockers should get them, for instance, or claiming that a teenager who later regrets having her breasts removed can just get new ones.

In Sweden and Finland, this issue has been primarily a question of health and medicine. Here in the U.S. it is a political football.

11) Paul Waldman, “Those GOP ‘tough on crime’ ads? They’re based on a very big lie.”

But the idea that crime rates in America will depend on which party controls Congress is ridiculous on its face. The truth — which in a better world would play some role in campaign debates — is that almost nothing Congress does will have any more than the smallest effect on crime.

As The Post reports, in the past month or so Republicans have made crime the primary focus of their campaigns. Apparently, inflation just didn’t provide the appropriate dose of fear and rage:

During the first three weeks of September, the Republican candidates and allies aired about 53,000 commercials on crime, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spots on network TV. That’s up from the 29,000 crime ads they aired in all of August. Nearly 50 percent of all Republican online ads in battleground states have focused on policing and safety since the start of the month, according to data from Priorities USA, a group focused on electing Democrats.

As Republicans know well — because they’ve run on this issue for decades — crime is both a real problem and a symbolic one. It can affect people’s lives in profound ways. But bringing it up can also activate fear, tribalistic distrust and oftentimes outright bigotry, emotions that override any rational assessment of problems and solutions.

But there is a truth in the general vicinity, which is that Republicans do in fact want to spend more on police than we do now; the essence of their position is that police budgets must always rise. In some states, they’ve even passed laws that would punish cities that cut their police budgets, no matter the reason. There is a real policy difference here: Republicans generally favor whatever sounds “tough” — more cops, longer sentences, less accountability for police misconduct — while Democrats tend to have a broader view of what government could do to reduce crime, while also often supporting more spending on police.

12) Always enjoy reading about research on apples, but so many of the new cultivars are just sweet with now balancing tartness– so frustrating.  Meanwhile, Braeburn is one of the best apples ever (and if you like Jazz, it’s Braeburn crossed with Gala) and you can’t even find it anywhere anymore.  “How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future. Scientists working in research groves, like one in Nova Scotia, are developing your favorite new apple variety.”

13) Jessica Grose on kids’ sports, “‘The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel’”

My daughters love to swim, and we’d exhausted the lessons at our local Y, so I thought I’d try to find them a swim team. They’re only 6 and 9, so what I was looking for was a local rec situation that offered a bit of low-stakes camaraderie and regular exercise. They’re strong swimmers but probably not future Olympians, and besides, I want a life: I have zero interest in shuttling them up and down the Eastern Seaboard every weekend to compete, as the parents whose children are on travel teams seem to do.
The kind of chill athletic experience I wanted for my kids barely seems to exist anymore. There wasn’t anything like the delightfully bumbling soccer league of my youth. All I could find were intense teams that had practices several times a week. The only other regular swimming option for my children is lessons, which are expensive, and you need to sign up on the first day of registration or you’re out of luck.
I thought it might be just a New York City thing — often there are wait lists for all kinds of kid activities because there is so much demand and not enough supply. But it seems to be a cross-country problem: When I tweeted in frustration, lots of folks replied describing similar experiences — including a woman who wryly suggested that one might have to sacrifice a baby goat to get kids into swimming lessons in Portland, Ore.
This saddens me for so many reasons. A big one is that sports were such an important part of my tween and teen years. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I played soccer and field hockey through my senior year of high school. It always felt like a respite from adolescent drama, and it provided structure and solace on even the worst days. Being part of a team taught me a lot of lessons, not least of which that showing up on time and ready to play has tangible benefits, no matter what happens in the game.
But as Linda Flanagan explains in her new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters,” the problem is systemic. At its base, over the past several decades, “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.” There are fewer low-cost options, the time parents are spending on sports has ratcheted up and kids from lower-income families have less access to play. Instead, youth sports are about making adults money and fueling what some economists call the “rug rat race” — middle-class and upper-middle-class competition to get kids into colleges and secure their futures.

That sucks.  Too bad these parents don’t have access to NCFC Youth Rec soccer, where we totally get this right.

14) Did you hear about the “academic” paper last month which was some guy describing his diary of masturbating to pseudo-child porn?  Academics should not be defending this stuff– not all subjects are worthy of study and not all study expands are knowledge– but they do.

15) I saw an ad for Xyzal the other day, which is basically warmed over Zyrtec, but, of course, does not have a generic.  And, how does the efficacy compare?  Zyrtec is actually better.

16) More frustrating culture war battles.  This documentary sounds great and thoughtful.  But, alas, how dare a white woman make a documentary about Muslim men? “Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t”

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

“Stay in your lane” is one of the stupider phrases to emerge from lefty identity politics. It’s the crazy idea that certain topics should only be discussed or portrayed by people with the appropriate characteristics. It’s a smothering approach that would set limits on art based on skin color and background when the only limit to art should be the artist’s imagination.

Michael Powell over at the New York Times penned an important article on a film that has been unfairly attacked because it has the “wrong” views and its director the wrong cultural heritage. Meg Smaker directed Jihad Rehab, a documentary investigating the lives of four men who joined jihadist groups, were imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo Bay, and finally began a move towards a different view of the world during a stay at a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation center. The film was widely praised (read this positive review at The Guardian) until it caught the eye and ire of activists who complained that Ms. Smaker was demonizing Muslims as terrorists and should not, as a white woman, be making such a film at all. Ms. Smaker had film festivals pull her documentary because of the controversy and she is facing career ruin.

For all the details, read Powell’s article, the Guardian’s review, an open letter from filmmakers (who mostly hadn’t seen it) condemning the film, and an open letter from the film’s executive director Abigail Disney, who had originally called the film “freaking brilliant,” but now condemned it because it “has landed like a truckload of hate on people whom I sincerely love and respect.”

For me, one quote jumped out:

“When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic,” wrote Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American documentarian, “my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”

Jude Chehab thinks she should be listened to because she is a Muslim Arab while Meg Smaker, as a white American, has a less valid point of view. This way of thinking stems from what is called “standpoint theory,”1 which argues we need to grant special authority to views expressed by those whose identity makes them more trustworthy narrators. (Smaker spent years living in Yemen, learning Arabic, and studying Muslim cultures.)

It’s darkly funny that this same emphasis on identity and authenticity has also been used to justify attacking the casting of non-white characters in Amazon’s The Rings of Power and a black mermaid in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Ms. Chehab wants only Muslim filmmakers to make films about Muslims and conservative critics want only white people to portray mermaids and elves…

The article has some nuance—Farah Fleurima says that sometimes fat suits can work, as with Christian Bale in the film Vice—but mostly pushes for the idea that actors should closely resemble the people they are portraying.

Who can forget the caramel-hued actress Zoe Saldaña playing the singer Nina Simone in a much-maligned biopic of the proudly dark-coffee-skinned performer?

“Caramel-hued,” “dark-coffee-skinned”? While the right complains about dark-skinned elves and black mermaids, the left thinks that Zoe Saldaña—who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage—isn’t dark enough? Should casting calls include Pantone color swatches to make sure each actor properly fits the role? Of course, we also need to examine your sex life to make sure only straight actors play straight characters, ditto your physical abilities if you want to play wheel-chair bound Stephen Hawking.

This way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, “stay in your lane” thinking will result in filmmakers only making films about themselves and only Barack Obama will be acceptable to portray Barack Obama. We must fight the purity police on all sides who want to resegregate our culture. Meg Smaker has as much right to make a film about four Muslim men (assuming she approaches the subject with care and integrity) as a black filmmaker has to create her own vision of Romeo and Juliet. We are all citizens of this world, hungry students learning from her intertwined cultures.

18) Yglesias is right, “Beating climate change absolutely requires new technology: We have what we need to drastically cut emissions — but we’re going to need much more”

So how much does this cost? Well, not very much. Because the key thing about this scenario is that all my kilowatts of electricity get used. When I’m in surplus, that extra electricity goes “to the grid” where it substitutes for other sources of power, and I earn credits that offset my electricity usage during deficit periods. If I had to throw away my surplus kilowatts instead of selling them to the grid, my per-kilowatt cost would soar.

And if everyone had solar power, that’s the problem we would face. Who would we export the extra electricity to during surplus periods? At a small margin, we have the technology for this: instead of exporting power during the day and importing it at night, I could get a home battery and store daytime excess for use at night. That would raise my per-kilowatt cost, but only modestly since batteries aren’t that expensive. And you can add wind as well as solar to your grid so you have some resiliency against seasonal variations in sunlight.

The problem is that without fossil fuels for resilience, the cost per megawatt of renewables soars because redundancy is expensive.

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

Let’s say you have enough solar panels to cover 100 percent of your electricity needs on an average December day. That means you’re going to have way more panels than you need on an average June day when the sun is shining for a much longer period of time. On a pure engineering basis, that’s fine — there are just some panels that in practice are only generating power for a few days per year in the dead of winter. But the cost per megawatt of those panels is going to be astronomical because a solar panel is almost 100 percent fixed costs.

The same is true of random fluctuations in weather. If you’re like Texas and rely on a mix of gas and wind, then wind is cheap — you add some turbines and that means you burn less gas. If there’s some freak day when there’s very little wind, then you burn an unusually large amount of gas. As long as you’re using almost all the wind power you generate, the cost per megawatt of your turbines is low. But if you try to build enough turbines to keep the lights on during low-wind days, you’re wasting wind on high-wind days. This means your cost per megawatt rises.

Because massively overbuilding renewables would not only cost a lot of money but wastefully consume vast tracts of land, it seems like a better idea would be to use long-term batteries. If you had really big batteries that stored electricity for a long time, you could simply store surplus power in the high season and unleash it in the low season.

In fact, if you are lucky enough to have large hydroelectric dams at your disposal, you can probably use them as a seasonal storage vehicle. You can let the water pile up when renewables are at maximum capacity and then run it through the dam when you need it. Not coincidentally, politicians from the Pacific Northwest — where there’s tons of hydro — tend to be huge climate hawks.

But for the rest of us, it’s Hypothetical Storage Technology to the rescue.

I’m not saying anything here that renewables proponents aren’t aware of. They write articles about seasonal electricity storage all the time. There are plenty of ideas here that could work, ranging from ideas on the technological cutting edge to brute force engineering concepts like using pumps to create extra hydro capacity. Another idea is that maybe you could replace a lot of current fossil fuel use with burning hydrogen, and then you could manufacture hydrogen using renewable electricity while accepting seasonal variation in the level of hydrogen output. It might work!

19) Relatedly, “What Many Progressives Misunderstand About Fighting Climate Change”

But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.

Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.

The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance…

In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.

20) I cannot recall how I came across this, but, among other things, it’s got a nice replication of the Milgram experiment and it’s damn entertaining, Derren Brown’s, “The Heist

21) Special K for the win, “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

22) This is good, “How to Change Minds? A Study Makes the Case for Talking It Out. Researchers found that meaty conversations among several people can align beliefs and brain patterns — so long as the group is free of blowhards.” (Haven’t done a free NYT article in a while, so, here you go)

A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.

The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.

“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”

23) One of the most interesting things about Covid to me is how much it has brought attention to general features of disease that have long been ignored, “It’s Not Just Long COVID: Society has been underestimating the long-term consequences of viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites for ages.”

Despite the initial disbelief and remaining questions, the phenomenon behind long COVID isn’t entirely new. We’ve always lived with post-infection illnesses and underappreciated their consequences. A recent article in Nature Medicine lists 15 infectious agents—many of which are well-known viruses, bacteria, and parasites—that can cause these “post-acute infection syndromes.” Long COVID is unprecedented in terms of its scale—it has affected many millions of people in the U.S. alone—but we should try to understand and study it in the context of other long illnesses, not as something that emerged out of nowhere with no comparison or antecedents.

One of us—Hank Balfour—has spent decades studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can have strikingly similar long-term patterns. EBV, named for two of the researchers who discovered it, is millions of years older than SARS-CoV-2, but its prolonged effects are only just beginning to be well understood. They’re elusive in part because the virus is so common. It infects at least 90 percent of adults, which makes establishing a clear control group and proving that EBV was the cause of a long illness very difficult.

Yet, new research is revealing more and more about the connection between EBV and chronic diseases. New studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is the result of an EBV infection, and we know for sure that EBV is the principal cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono). Most patients recover from mono in a few weeks, but some continue to have mono-like symptoms for years—or get over the initial illness only to suffer recurring bouts of sickness later on. This condition could be called “long mono/EBV” or “chronic mono.” Two prominent symptoms it shares with long COVID are brain fog and fatigue. And just as doctors didn’t believe long-COVID patients at first, chronic mono isn’t a widely accepted diagnosis among health-care professionals. That’s a shame. The similarities between long COVID and long mono/EBV, and the purported interactions between the two viruses during acute COVID or after COVID vaccination, demand further investigation…

Persistent postinfection symptoms are also found in influenza. Long influenza—which most people have never thought about, even though influenza is quite common—and its similarities to long COVID can teach us how both diseases cause brain fog. In the aftermath of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, scientists noticed that the infection can come with complications, including neurological disorders, that last longer than the acute respiratory illness. There is growing evidence that influenza viruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 and reactivated EBV, can trigger neuroinflammation by infecting white blood cells that then breach the blood-brain barrier and release proinflammatory small proteins called cytokines. Studies suggest that microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, can also secrete these pro-inflammatory agents following viral assault and thus may be factors in the brain fog experienced as a delayed effect of both influenza and COVID. Animal studies and human-brain postmortems bolster this theory. Investigators recently found that both SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1 activate neuroinflammation through microglia, and they noted the similarity of what they observed to the “chemo fog” that patients experience following cancer chemotherapy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I do some strength training, but, I suspect not enough for optimal benefit.  I need some study to tell me the minimum 🙂 “People Who Do Strength Training Live Longer — and Better
A consensus is building among experts that both strength training and cardio‌ are important for longevity.”

Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, one of which is that it might help you live longer. But what’s still being determined are the types and duration of exercise that offer the most protection.

In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while doing either aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of dying during the study’s time frame, regularly doing both — one to three hours a week of aerobic exercise and one to two weekly strength training sessions — was associated with an even lower mortality risk.

Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a workout schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the authors of the study.

 

The paper is the latest evidence in a trend showing the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health…

After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15 percent lower mortality risk. Mortality risk was 27 percent lower for those who did three hours a week.

But those who also took part in one to two strength-training sessions per week had an even lower mortality risk — a full 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This was roughly the difference between a nonsmoker and someone with a half-a-pack-a-day habit.

2) This is really good.  More to come on this topic, “Richard Reeves on Why Men are Struggling
Yascha Mounk and Richard Reeves discuss the cultural and economic challenges facing boys and men and how to fix them.”

Mounk: It’s striking just how much of a gender gap there now is in American politics, and not always on the topics where people assume there is one. In broader questions like, “Do you prefer Democrats or Republicans,” and “how do you feel about Donald Trump?” and so on, there’s now a very strong gender divide, which I believe is actually stronger among young people. A few years ago, everyone was debating about Jordan Peterson, which some listeners may have strong feelings about. I always thought that he said some things that were sort of straightforwardly true, along with many things that I disagreed with. But there was a visceral moment of media panic about his rise. And that really was the fault of everybody on the center left, because we were not able to speak in clear and orienting ways to young people who may be trying to look for a path. It would have felt very strange for anybody in my sort of social milieu to say, “I’m going to write a book that tries to appeal not exclusively, but in some ways primarily, to young men who are a little bit lost in life, and tell them: here are some basic rules for how you should go about conceiving of a meaningful life.” If we’re not filling that space, it is unsurprising that somebody with whom I have some robust political disagreements, would end up becoming a star by moving into that empty space.

Reeves: It’s a vacuum. Anybody that doesn’t take seriously the appeal of people like Jordan Peterson, especially to young men, just isn’t paying attention. I treat some of his work in my book and have many criticisms of what he’s done, but I also have a great deal of admiration in some ways for the fact that he does make a lot of these young men feel listened to. He clearly has genuine compassion for them. I don’t like where his ideology goes, and he thinks out loud, so he’s bound to say something stupid or crazy. Every ten sentences are going to contain three horrific ones. But there is this reservoir of unmet questions and a sense of dislocation and disequilibrium which he has been able to exploit as a public intellectual, but which successful populists are also able to exploit. 

We have a Gender Policy Council now in the White House. They just put out a report, and there isn’t a single gender inequality it treats that goes the other way, not a single one. For me, that’s just a huge missed opportunity. Let’s say 90% of the things discussed were still about women, but it also talked a bit about deaths of despair, incarceration, how boys have fallen behind in education—just two or three issues. I think that would have paid massive political dividends. I don’t think that’s quite permissible on the left right now, and so it is leaving this gap, and I really do fear that it could get worse before it gets better. As we approach the midterms, I feel that the Democrats are doubling down in some ways on their current agenda, which I think may have the effect of worsening the gender divide even more than we’ve seen it in recent years.

3) It really seems amazing what psychedelic drugs are capable of when used therapeutically, “Psilocybin Therapy Sharply Reduces Excessive Drinking, Small Study Shows”

4) Really good piece from Jesse Singal on affirmative action in higher ed.  Its supporters need to 1) stop eliding how deeply unpopular it is with the American public, and 2) stop acting as if everyone who opposes it is “racist.”  And 3) come up with actual solutions.

I would question the utility of this framework in this particular setting. Yes, race-based affirmative action (let’s just call it RBAA so I don’t have to keep typing that) is likely to be dealt a crippling blow by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court set to hear a pivotal case on the subject this autumn, and yes, white people who feel racial resentment, and/or who are outright racists, are vehemently opposed to RBAA.

But these aren’t the only people who dislike RBAA. The fact is, it’s an unpopular policy, full stop. The racial group that most favors RBAA is black Americans, and even there, 59% say race should not be a factor in college admissions at allaccording to Pew polling from earlier this year:

Among all other racial groups, the numbers are significantly worse. This is a policy that enjoys no broad support among anyone, and that includes the groups most likely to benefit from it…

So even if RBAA didn’t face constitutional challenges, there’d still be the fact that, rightly or wrongly, people don’t like it. You’d think a column by two scholars very concerned about the potential extinction of this policy would make some reference to its durable unpopularity, and perhaps offer a strategy or two for convincing voters to feel more warmly toward it. They do neither: They present a flattened account in which supporting RBAA is supporting racial justice and opposing it is opposing racial justice. Never mind the fact that opponents of RBAA range from far-right white racists to… the average black voter…

There’s an ingrained breezy entitlement in some liberal intellectual spaces that mucks everything up. If people don’t agree with our preferred racial justice policies, it’s because they’re racist. Okay, whatever, they’re racist — what are you going to do about it? Ummmm, more ethnic studies? Wait, so your argument is that affirmative action is on its deathbed because society is too racist, but you think ethnic studies is part of the answer instead? Or what about if, like, rich universities gave money to poor kids? Okay, but isn’t that already a thing and don’t you worry that — Also: Let them catch up.

I don’t think this represents a very serious effort to address what is, in fact, a very serious problem.

5) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “What’s a “Progressive”, Anyway?

Progressivism makes sense to me as a continuation of the constant project of improving society. Liberalism arose mostly in response to government tyranny, which was a problem from the beginning of human history until…actually, it’s still a problem. It will likely be a problem forever — this is why I consider the negative rights at the core of liberalism to be fundamental. Progressives probably should have extolled those rights as essential instead of trashing them as insufficient. But even so, the creation of a new movement that responded to new problems was a good thing, and progressives got more right than they got wrong.

Bottom line: Gaining a better understanding of progressivism did not cause me to think that progressivism is, itself, a problem. I found progressivism to be completely compatible with liberalism. Authoritarian is not compatible with liberalism; it’s pretty much liberalism’s polar opposite. Same with Marxism; liberals balk at that level of government control, not to mention the monochromatic color scheme. But I see nothing inconsistent about a person calling themselves a “liberal progressive”. In fact, I think that would be a somewhat-accurate descriptor of what I am.

The problem — to the extent that there is a problem — is the absence liberal principles. I think that much intra-left tension these days is between progressives who don’t hold liberal principles and progressives who do. Those who don’t hold liberal principles are fine with things like steamrolling due process in the prosecution of sexual assault claims and the extreme narrowing of the bounds of acceptable speech. Those who do hold liberal principles are bothered by these things and have written many biting Twitter threads saying so. It may be true that the righteous tenor of progressive rhetoric attracts zealots, but as far as I’m concerned, the progressive label is a red herring. To me, the great political divide continues to be between liberals and everyone else, and the specific flavor of a person’s illiberalism doesn’t matter much.

6) Really good essay on how our blood plasma “donations” exploit the poor.  

7) Rod Graham on wokeness and post-materialism:

So what does the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map tell us about wokeness?

Countries composed of people that reject traditional life patterns and value self-expression, countries towards the upper right corner of the map, are more likely to develop ideas and movements that we see as woke. This is because people in those countries care about the quality of life (symbolic aspects) as opposed to the quantities of life (material aspects).

I’ll give three examples:

  1. The emphasis on language. The intolerance that is often levied at woke people is essentially an attempt to protect people from the negative impact of words. In woke nations, movements can arise to abolish words like “midget” because it is seen as a slur. The material benefits to using a different word are little to none, but there are symbolic benefits of restricting the use of that word. The word can be disrespectful or hurtful to the person it is directed at.

  2. The emphasis on diversity. Generally, all groups that have not been traditionally the focus – meaning not white, heterosexual, Christian, and male – are celebrated and platformed. The 1619 Project is about platforming the experiences related to black people in the United States. This emphasis on diversity also extends to nontraditional lifestyles like polyamory or jobs that have been stigmatized like sex work.

  3. The emphasis on thought patterns. Concepts like heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and implicit bias are all about thinking differently. Sure, recognizing that hypermasculine behaviors can be damaging can lead to policy changes. But at its core, the idea is about changing how we think about masculinity. The same goes for ideas like white fragility, where white people are asked to think differently about how they engage in conversations about race…

So why is the West woke?

Well, it is not because of a few critical theorists in academia producing ideas about transphobia or systemic racism. Nor is it because white liberals have taken over our institutions.

Wokeness is likely a result of living in a wealthy, modern country. When people do not need tradition, are not religious, and have their material needs taken care of, they will focus on the quality of their lives. The West has had two generations of people who have lived in a world of relative comfort. We have had no major wars. With the end of the Cold War, we didn’t even have an enemy. Elections have been, for the most part, peaceful. Crime and violence are still a problem but have been steadily declining. Even with downturns and recessions, the standard of living in Western countries has been steadily improving.

In these conditions, people can focus on the quality of life. This is what has caused wokeness, and it is a good thing. Wokeness is an indicator of success.

8) David Brooks on the awfulness of open plan offices.

9) An electric car with a 600 mile range sounds great. “A New Approach to Car Batteries Is About to Transform EVs: Auto companies are designing ways to build a car’s fuel cells into its frame, making electric rides cheaper, roomier, and able to hit ranges of 620 miles.”

If you want to build an EV with better range, slapping in a larger battery to provide that range is not necessarily the solution. You would then have to increase the size of the brakes to make them capable of stopping the heavier car, and because of the bigger brakes you now need bigger wheels, and the weight of all those items would require a stronger structure. This is what car designers call the “weight spiral,” and the problem with batteries is that they require you to lug around dead weight just to power the vehicle.

But what if you could integrate the battery into the structure of the car so that the cells could serve the dual purpose of powering the vehicle and serving as its skeleton? That is exactly what Tesla and Chinese companies such as BYD and CATL are working on. The new structural designs coming out of these companies stand to not only change the way EVs are produced but increase vehicle ranges while decreasing manufacturing costs.

According to Euan McTurk, a consultant battery electrochemist at Plug Life Consulting, since technologies such as cell-to-pack, cell-to-body, and cell-to-chassis battery construction allow batteries to be more efficiently distributed inside the car, they get us much closer to a hypothetical perfect EV battery. “The ultimate battery pack would be one that consists of 100 percent active material. That is, every part of the battery pack stores and releases energy,” he says.

Traditionally, EV batteries have used cell modules that are then interconnected into packs. BYD pioneered cell-to-pack technology, which does away with the intermediate module stage and puts the cells directly into the pack. According to Richie Frost, the founder and CEO of Sprint Power, “standard modules may fit well within one pack but leave large areas of ‘wasted’ space in another pack. By removing the constraints of a module, the number of cells can be maximized within any enclosure.”

10) Humanities degrees are in freefall:

But something different has been happening with the humanities since the 2008 financial crisis. Five years ago, I argued that the humanities were still near long-term norms in their number of majors. But since then, I’ve been watching the numbers from the Department of Education, and every year, things look worse. Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s. Student majors have dropped, rapidly, at a variety of types of institutions. Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities (with one interesting exception) and related social sciences, they have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom…

The most reliable indicators about the humanities in American colleges are reports that all colleges and universities make to the Department of Education. These run back to about 1950. Since then, the humanities have seen three eras. The first ran from 1955 to 1985. As normal schools around the country, set up to educate teachers, transformed into comprehensive universities, men and women alike poured into English and history majors; then, when the economy soured and the growth of higher education slowed in the 1970s, the boom turned to bust, and humanities majors collapsed nationwide. The second phase began around 1985 and ran to 2008. This was a long period of stability; majors in the four largest (and easiest to track over the long term) humanities majors held steady, with modest fluctuations. Since 2008, the crisis of the humanities has resumed, with percentage drops that are beginning to approach those of 40 years ago. Unlike the drops of the ’70s, though, there’s no preexisting bubble to deflate. And there’s no compelling demographic explanation. Five years ago, it was reasonable to look at these numbers and conclude that the long-term story is all about gender. Men majored in humanities fields at the same rate in the 1990s as they had in the 1950s, while women, seeing more options in the workforce, increasingly turned to majors in business fields. But the drops since the financial crisis can be seen among men and women, across racial groups, and in a wide variety of universities.

11) Good free Yglesias piece from a month ago, “We should expect more — and worse — pandemics to come”

People who like to follow Covid news have started paying attention to wastewater monitoring because it’s a great way to get broad-spectrum information in close to real time.

What we ought to be doing is setting more communities up with routine wastewater monitoring and building systems that don’t just check for a particular virus but all unusual DNA. That way you could find a virus you’re not already looking for. We should be investing in ventilation (which everyone says) but also basic testing of commercially available air purifiers. You should be able to find out easily which one is really the best at clearing out viruses, and that should become a basis for commercial competition.

Recent research indicates that far-ultraviolet light can kill viruses and make indoor space as safe as outdoor space. I’d want to run three or four more rigorous studies on that before I put far-UVC lights everywhere, but we should do that research and, if it pans out, put the lights everywhere. And we should be paying people lots of money to design new kinds of masks that are as effective as KN95s but more comfortable, or equally comfortable but more effective, or ideally both. There ought to be huge prizes for inventing masks like that and advanced purchase commitments to get them from manufacturers.

We also ought to have spacesuit-type supersuits lying around so that we can keep basic social infrastructure up and running in the event of a huge catastrophe.

And finally, we need to put the pedal to the metal on the universal coronavirus vaccine project and then work with equal alacrity on universal vaccines for the other families. Part of the power of the family-wide vaccine concept is it will offer protection against pathogens that don’t yet exist, which is far and away the best hope for getting ahead of engineered pathogens.

None of this — ventilation, special light, better PPE, better vaccines — is exactly existing science and technology. But it’s close, visibly within grasp, just as the possibility of simultaneously releasing dozens of separately engineered viruses is visibly within reach. In the race between the two, the bad actors’ advantage is they don’t need to follow the rules and protocols that slow things down. The good actors’ advantage is that developed world governments have at their disposal enormous financial resources. They just need to be persuaded to actually use them.

12) My teenage son and I have taken to watching pro wrestling as father-son bonding many evenings.  Entirely ironically, of course.  (I sometimes joke with him that his enjoyment sometimes seems to be lacking suitable levels of irony).  Anyway, I was interested to learn more about the new start-up AEW.  It really is just way more entertaining.  

13) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf, “What to Teach Young Kids About Gender: Schools should tell children to be themselves. But some districts say too much—and mistake progressive dogma for established fact.”

To better understand what is actually being taught—or what bans are prohibiting—I turned to Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a public-school system in the Chicago suburbs that is is laudably transparent about posting instructional material online. Last year, I reported on its Black Lives Matter at School curriculum. Its educators also post the lessons that they teach, starting in pre-kindergarten, during the district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month. Gender identity is a major focus of the curriculum—which, I should note, is similar to curricula I’ve seen elsewhere from progressive educators.

The District 65 instructional materials reveal a basic problem. Although American society’s approach to matters of gender identity is clearly still in flux, and reasonable people disagree on how best to engage students on the subject, some educators are writing progressive activists’ views into detailed lessons for young children. An alternative approach might promote inclusion in the broadest, plainest possible terms and reassure children: There’s no wrong way to be you. Instead, District 65 and other systems err on the side of saying too much and mistaking dogma for established fact…

Other lessons in the curriculum stray from affirming the dignity of nonbinary and trans people to teaching contested and in some cases contradictory claims about the nature of gender. One kindergarten lesson calls for teachers to read I Am JazzMy Princess Boy; and Jack (Not Jackie)—all books about trans or genderqueer kids. The following day’s lesson introduces “another important flag that has just 3 colors: light blue, pink and white.” The ensuing script reads, “People who identify as TRANSGENDER have their own ways of dressing, playing & acting that might not be what you expect. They might look to you like a boy, but dress and act like a girl.”

But wait: How does a girl dress and act? By day five of the school district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month, the kindergarteners have been taught that there are no such thing as boys’ toys and girls’ toys, or boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes—any boy can wear a dress and any girl can play with toy trucks. But then, when introducing terms such as trans and nonbinary, the curriculum relies on and arguably reaffirms gender stereotypes. For example, kindergarten students are shown a slide meant to represent a boy, a girl, and a nonbinary person. Its symbols are silhouettes of stereotypical male dress, stereotypical female dress, and a mash-up of the two:..

If you tell 5-year-olds that boys can wear dresses and play with dolls just as much as girls, but also that Michael feels like a girl, so from now on he’s going to wear dresses and play with dolls—act like a girl?—you’ve undercut the message that normative gender stereotypes are bogus.

14) I don’t doubt that these are very good ideas for parenting.  I’ve definitely come up short:

This is how to use ancient traditions to raise awesome kids:

  • To Raise Helpful Kids: Don’t shoo them away to the world of self-indulgent child distraction. Make them valued members of the team with communal activities that benefit the family.
  • To Teach Kids Emotional Regulation: Yes, you feel like you need to shout until your soul starts dribbling out your ears but all they’ll learn is that anger is the solution to life’s problems. Change your narrative, model calm behavior, trigger thought with questions, and touch them to let them know they’re loved.

Let’s step away from the ancient traditions and modern science for a second. I’ve read more books on parenting than any childless guy ever. What have I learned? It’s simple:

Almost all good parenting advice is good people advice.

Or, to put it bluntly: There are no grown-ups. None. Nowhere. Ever. We’re all muddling through. Sometimes we’re all selfish, emotional and out of control. It happens. And it’s okay.

If you apply parenting advice to all your relationships, you’ll be better off. Don’t try to control people. Treat them like adults – especially if they’re not acting like one. Bribes and punishments are not as effective as encouraging cooperation and making people feel like part of a team.

Anger usually just makes things worse with people. If they’re angry, you getting angry just escalates things. To stop being angry change the story in your head: they’re usually not evil, they’re just having a bad day. Encourage their thinky brain to take charge again and focus on a warm, positive connection where they feel supported.

When you stop trying to control or win with others you can focus on getting to that thing which is worth more than anything else is the universe…

Yes, printer ink.

Okay, maybe we should focus on the second most valuable thing in the universe: love. It’s not printer ink but it’s still pretty good.

15) I forget why I came across this, but the illusion of explanatory depth is such a great concept:

What is illusion of explanatory depth?

The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) describes our belief that we understand more about the world than we actually do. It is often not until we are asked to actually explain a concept that we come face to face with our limited understanding of it.

Where this bias occurs

And yet, as the alien takes a seat to listen, you realize you can tell him what a house is, but you can’t explain much about them. How are they built? How did we as civilians come to live in houses? How are their prices determined? What are the laws surrounding them? How long have people lived in houses, and what did they live in before? Perhaps you can answer one or two of these specific questions, but surely the alien will have even more questions you can’t answer. To think that housing is such a simple concept, and that you actually know much less than you’d predicted puzzles you greatly. This is because of the illusion of explanatory depth: having to explain your knowledge brings you to the realization that you actually know much less than you thought you did.

16) Unless it’s going to kill me, I am not giving up my aspartame, damnit. “Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance”

Summary

Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are commonly integrated into human diet and presumed to be inert; however, animal studies suggest that they may impact the microbiome and downstream glycemic responses. We causally assessed NNS impacts in humans and their microbiomes in a randomized-controlled trial encompassing 120 healthy adults, administered saccharinsucraloseaspartame, and stevia sachets for 2 weeks in doses lower than the acceptable daily intake, compared with controls receiving sachet-contained vehicle glucose or no supplement. As groups, each administered NNS distinctly altered stool and oral microbiome and plasma metabolome, whereas saccharin and sucralose significantly impaired glycemic responses. Importantly, gnotobiotic mice conventionalized with microbiomes from multiple top and bottom responders of each of the four NNS-supplemented groups featured glycemic responses largely reflecting those noted in respective human donors, which were preempted by distinct microbial signals, as exemplified by sucralose. Collectively, human NNS consumption may induce person-specific, microbiome-dependent glycemic alterations, necessitating future assessment of clinical implications.

17) Good stuff from Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg, “The Greatest Threat to Democracy Is a Feature of Democracy”

Far more than a bundle of laws, norms and institutions, democracy is an open culture of communication that affords people the right to think, speak and act and allows every possible means of persuasion. That makes every democratic society uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of communication. We may not like it, but something like Jan. 6 is always potentially in the offing.

We ought to avoid the naïveté of liberal fantasy, which imagines we can impose reliable guardrails against dangerous or deceptive speech. Indeed, there’s a whole genre of articles and books arguing that social media is destroying democracy. Because of changes to online platforms around a decade ago, wrote Jonathan Haidt recently, “People could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogeneous tribes.”

But this is precisely what an unwieldy democratic culture looks like. Depending on the communications environment, a democracy can foster reliable, respectful norms, or it can devolve into outrageous propaganda, widespread cynicism and vitriolic partisanship.

And when communications devolve into propaganda and partisanship, a democracy can either end with breathtaking speed, as it did in Myanmar last year, when the military overthrew the democratically elected government, or descend more gradually into chaos and authoritarianism, as Russia did under Vladimir Putin.

Nothing forbids voters in a democracy to support an authoritarian or vote itself out of existence (as the ancient Athenian assembly famously did). The history of democracy is full of demagogues exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to turn people against the very system on which their freedom depends. In France, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte leveraged a celebrity name to run for president on a campaign of restoring order in 1848, only to end the Second Republic with a self-coup to become emperor when his term was up…

The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all manner of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.

Quick hits (are back!) part I

1) Ed Yong with easily the best piece on “brain fog” and Covid that I’ve read:

Although SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID, can enter and infect the central nervous system, it doesn’t do so efficiently, persistently, or frequently, Michelle Monje, a neuro-oncologist at Stanford, told me. Instead, she thinks that in most cases the virus harms the brain without directly infecting it. She and her colleagues recently showed that when mice experience mild bouts of COVID, inflammatory chemicals can travel from the lungs to the brain, where they disrupt cells called microglia. Normally, microglia act as groundskeepers, supporting neurons by pruning unnecessary connections and cleaning unwanted debris. When inflamed, their efforts become overenthusiastic and destructive. In their presence, the hippocampus—a region crucial for memory—produces fewer fresh neurons, while many existing neurons lose their insulating coats, so electric signals now course along these cells more slowly. These are the same changes that Monje sees in cancer patients with “chemo fog.” And although she and her team did their COVID experiments in mice, they found high levels of the same inflammatory chemicals in long-haulers with brain fog.

Monje suspects that neuro-inflammation is “probably the most common way” that COVID results in brain fog, but that there are likely many such routes. COVID could possibly trigger autoimmune problems in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system, or reactivate dormant viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, which has been linked to conditions including ME/CFS and multiple sclerosis. By damaging blood vessels and filling them with small clots, COVID also throttles the brain’s blood supply, depriving this most energetically demanding of organs of oxygen and fuel. This oxygen shortfall isn’t stark enough to kill neurons or send people to an ICU, but “the brain isn’t getting what it needs to fire on all cylinders,” Putrino told me. (The severe oxygen deprivation that forces some people with COVID into critical care causes different cognitive problems than what most long-haulers experience.)

2) This has been covered pretty well in places like Wired and the write-up of my twitter friend Jeremy Chrysler, but Jose-Luis Jimenez, Lindsey Marr, and others bring the academic credentials to the question: “What were the historical reasons for the resistance to recognizing airborne transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The question of whether SARS-CoV-2 is mainly transmitted by droplets or aerosols has been highly controversial. We sought to explain this controversy through a historical analysis of transmission research in other diseases. For most of human history, the dominant paradigm was that many diseases were carried by the air, often over long distances and in a phantasmagorical way. This miasmatic paradigm was challenged in the mid to late 19th century with the rise of germ theory, and as diseases such as cholera, puerperal fever, and malaria were found to actually transmit in other ways. Motivated by his views on the importance of contact/droplet infection, and the resistance he encountered from the remaining influence of miasma theory, prominent public health official Charles Chapin in 1910 helped initiate a successful paradigm shift, deeming airborne transmission most unlikely. This new paradigm became dominant. However, the lack of understanding of aerosols led to systematic errors in the interpretation of research evidence on transmission pathways. For the next five decades, airborne transmission was considered of negligible or minor importance for all major respiratory diseases, until a demonstration of airborne transmission of tuberculosis (which had been mistakenly thought to be transmitted by droplets) in 1962. The contact/droplet paradigm remained dominant, and only a few diseases were widely accepted as airborne before COVID-19: those that were clearly transmitted to people not in the same room. The acceleration of interdisciplinary research inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that airborne transmission is a major mode of transmission for this disease, and is likely to be significant for many respiratory infectious diseases.

3) Can you exercise your way out of Covid?

For decades, scientists have observed that people who are fit and physically active seem to have lower rates of several respiratory tract infections. And when people who work out do get sick, they tend to have less severe disease, said David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, who was not involved in the recent Covid-19 review.

“The risk of severe outcomes and mortality from the common cold, influenza, pneumonia — they’re all knocked down quite a bit,” Dr. Nieman said. “I call it the vaccine-like effect.”

The new meta-analysis, which looked at studies between November 2019 and March 2022, found that this effect extends to Covid-19. People from across the globe who worked out regularly had a 36 percent lower risk of hospitalization and a 43 percent lower risk of death from Covid compared with those who were not active. They also had a lower likelihood of getting Covid at all.

People who followed guidelines recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week seemed to get the most benefit. But even those who exercised less than that were more protected against illness than those who did not work out at all.

I recently spent two hours in a car with someone I am 99% sure was infectious with Covid at the time and I did not get it.  All that exercise?

4) Ezra with a terrific interview on the Ukraine War.  So much fascinating analysis:

What did we get wrong about Russian might?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor

I think we first and foremost got this wrong because we didn’t know that Putin would concoct such a terrible plan. And for me, that’s largely a product of the type of political system that Putin built. This is a highly personalized, authoritarian regime. And I’ve studied a lot of autocracies. My lens on Russia is very much through an authoritarian, kind of comparative politics lens. And the Putin regime ahead of this invasion was by far one of the most centralized autocracies that I have seen.

And in that kind of system, good information does not float to the top, right? They’re based on loyalty, and it’s not in anyone’s career interest to tell the boss bad news. So Putin, for one, was operating with terribly flawed assumptions. And so I think that’s number one for me of why we got it wrong. These personalist dictators make mistakes. So first of all, Putin and Russia misunderstood Ukraine entirely. They hold these very derogatory views of Ukrainians.

And I think the Russians have entirely missed what’s been happening in Ukraine since 2014 — that Ukraine has built up a stronger national identity, that they have had this commitment to moving to the West. You know, Putin believed that they could get to Kyiv, decapitate the regime, and that the whole country would fall like a house of cards. So they fundamentally misunderstood Ukraine. We talked about them — along with the United States, the Russians also obviously underestimated and misunderstood Ukraine’s willingness to fight.

So again, for me, I think we got it wrong because we failed to consider the weaknesses that begin to accumulate in these longtime, personalist autocracies. These countries, they’re inclined to make mistakes, these personalist dictators. And over time, these guys, they run their countries into the ground. And so the plan was bad, and the plan was bad because it was the product of Putin’s personal system. And I think we just didn’t factor that in.

We were wrong about all sorts of things on the Russian military front too. And just quickly, I’ll say corruption was a really big issue. I think we failed to see the rot in the Russian military. We didn’t see just how pervasive it was. So yeah, we overestimated Russian capabilities, but I also think a lot of it was just misunderstanding how terribly wrong and disastrous the decisions that these personalist, authoritarian regimes can make.

5) People should get vaccinated.  And boosted.  This chart from Katelyn Jetelina:

6) Leonhardt on Democrats and Hispanic voters:

In Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, he won the Hispanic vote over Mitt Romney by 40 percentage points — 70 percent to 30 percent, according to Catalist, a political research firm. Four years later, Hillary Clinton did even better, beating Donald Trump by 42 percentage points among Hispanic voters.

But then something changed.

The economy became even stronger at the start of Trump’s presidency than it had been during Obama’s. The Democratic Party moved further to the left than it had been under Obama. Trump turned out to have a macho appeal, especially to some Hispanic men. And some Hispanic voters became frustrated with the long Covid shutdowns.

 

Whatever the full explanation, Hispanic voters have moved to the right over the past several years. As a group, they still prefer Democrats, but the margin has narrowed significantly. In 2020, Joe Biden won the group by only 26 percentage points. And in this year’s midterms, the Democratic lead is nearly identical to Biden’s 2020 margin, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll — a sign that the shift was not just a one-election blip…

The problem for Democrats is that winning the Hispanic vote by only 26 points may not be enough for the party to accomplish its main goals.

“Let’s not forget that 2020 levels of Hispanic support were nearly catastrophic for Democrats,” Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, told me. It helped cost the party House seats in California, Florida and Texas and allowed Republicans to win statewide races comfortably in Florida and Texas. It nearly helped Trump win re-election.

Democrats need to do better with Hispanic voters (or reverse some of their recent losses with white voters) to build solid congressional majorities. The party currently controls the Senate by only a single vote, and Republicans are favored to take control of the House in this year’s midterms.

“The whole theory of Democrats really benefiting from demographic change rests on them winning the Hispanic vote by a wide margin,” Nate says. Without a better showing, Democrats probably cannot flip Florida or Texas, even as they face a growing Republican threat in the Midwest because of the continuing drift of white voters away from Democrats.

7) Great stuff from Nate Cohn on “The Emerging Democratic Majority” at 20:

Today we wish a belated and maybe not-so-Happy 20th Birthday to “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” the book that famously argued Democrats would gain an enduring advantage in a multiracial, postindustrial America.

There are countless explanations for the rise of Donald Trump and the growing dysfunction of American political life. This book does not necessarily rank at the top of that list. But when historians look back on this era, the book’s effect on American politics might be worth a mention.

The thesis that Democrats were on the cusp of a lasting advantage in national politics helped shape the hopes, fears and, ultimately, the conduct of the two major parties — especially once the Obama presidency appeared to confirm the book’s prophecy.

It transformed modest Democratic wins into harbingers of perpetual liberal rule. It fueled conservative anxiety about America’s growing racial diversity, even as it encouraged the Republican establishment to reach out to Hispanic voters and pursue immigration reform. The increasingly popular notion that “demographics are destiny” made it easier for the progressive base to argue against moderation and in favor of mobilizing a new coalition of young and nonwhite voters. All of this helped set the stage for the rise of Mr. Trump…

While the book correctly anticipated Democratic strength in postindustrial metropolitan areas, it failed to appreciate the challenge of holding on to blue-collar white voters at the same time.

The authors said the “key” for Democrats would be in “discovering a strategy that retains support among the white working class, but also builds support among college-educated professionals and others.” But the book did not contain a road map to pulling it off. It said, “They can do both.” The optimism was rooted in the assumption that Clinton-Gore had already solved the problem.

The authors dismiss the Bush victory in 2000, arguing that Al Gore failed “largely because of factors that had nothing to do with the appeal of his politics.”

While the book acknowledged that Mr. Bush was assisted by Mr. Gore’s stances on the environment, coal, abortion and gun control in white working-class areas, it didn’t appear to take these cultural issues as a serious problem for Democrats. At the very least, they weren’t considered serious enough to move West Virginia out of the Democratic column.

Instead, the authors advanced the argument that the strong economy in 2000 was actually part of Mr. Gore’s problem, by allowing working-class whites to vote on cultural issues rather than their economic interest. The Clinton sex scandals were also considered a necessary condition for Republican strength; without Bill Clinton dragging them down, Democrats would rebound. Whatever the merits of these arguments, it isn’t especially credible to argue that the 2000 election — held at a time of peace and prosperity — was anything like a worst-case scenario for Democrats.

In retrospect, gun control and environmental issues were harbingers of one of the major themes of postindustrial politics: White working-class voters were slowly repelled by the policy demands of the secular, diverse, postindustrial voters who were supposed to power a new Democratic majority.

 

8) Fascinating stuff (with lots of super-cool figures) here, “Quantifying hierarchy and dynamics in US faculty hiring and retention”

Faculty hiring and retention determine the composition of the US academic workforce and directly shape educational outcomes1, careers2, the development and spread of ideas3 and research priorities4,5. However, hiring and retention are dynamic, reflecting societal and academic priorities, generational turnover and efforts to diversify the professoriate along gender6,7,8, racial9 and socioeconomic10 lines. A comprehensive study of the structure and dynamics of the US professoriate would elucidate the effects of these efforts and the processes that shape scholarship more broadly. Here we analyse the academic employment and doctoral education of tenure-track faculty at all PhD-granting US universities over the decade 2011–2020, quantifying stark inequalities in faculty production, prestige, retention and gender. Our analyses show universal inequalities in which a small minority of universities supply a large majority of faculty across fields, exacerbated by patterns of attrition and reflecting steep hierarchies of prestige. We identify markedly higher attrition rates among faculty trained outside the United States or employed by their doctoral university. Our results indicate that gains in women’s representation over this decade result from demographic turnover and earlier changes made to hiring, and are unlikely to lead to long-term gender parity in most fields. These analyses quantify the dynamics of US faculty hiring and retention, and will support efforts to improve the organization, composition and scholarship of the US academic workforce.

9) Don’t just walk for exercise… walk faster, apparently:

In a new study, which looks at activity tracker data from 78,500 people, walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes a day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and death, compared with walking a similar number of steps but at a slower pace. These results were recently published in two papers in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology

Researchers found that every 2,000 additional steps a day lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease and cancer by about 10 percent, up to about 10,000 steps per day. When it came to developing dementia, 9,800 steps per day was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk, with a risk reduction of 25 percent starting at about 3,800 steps per day. Above 10,000 steps a day, there just weren’t enough participants with that level of activity to determine whether there were additional benefits…

But then the researchers of this study did something new. When they looked at the step rate, per minute, of the highest 30 minutes of activity a day, they found that participants whose average highest pace was a brisk walk (between 80 and 100 steps per minute) had better health outcomes compared with those who walked a similar amount each day but at a slower pace.

Brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 percent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer and a 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those whose average pace was slower.

10) On EMDR:

Trauma shoves a mind into overdrive. The brain tries to block out fragments of disaster: the spray of shattered glass as one car slammed into another, the smell of smoke. People with post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes constrict their lives, avoiding streets or smells or songs that make them think about what they’ve experienced. But memories make themselves known — in nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.

Since PTSD was first included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980, clinicians have identified a handful of therapies that help people cope with traumatic memories. Over the past decade, a seemingly unconventional treatment has wedged its way into mainstream therapy.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, better known as E.M.D.R., might look bizarre to an observer. The practice involves coaxing people to process traumatic memories while simultaneously interacting with images, sounds or sensations that activate both sides of the brain. Patients might flit their eyes back and forth, following a therapist’s finger or stare at bursts of light on alternating sides of a screen. The idea is to anchor the brain in the current moment as a patient recalls the past.

11) Yglesias (free post) with a really good take on racism:

Until the relatively recent past, the United States of America had a de jure racial caste system, and there remain, decades after officially ending that system, significant and obvious racial gaps in material resources and other outcomes. This, Bright argues, creates an inevitable tension: there’s a big gap between the country’s official status as a non-racist society and what everyone can see in practice.

He says this creates a battle between two dueling factions of white people, the Repenters and the Repressers.

  • The Repenters feel very guilty and want to do things to expiate that guilt, “and their form of repentance involves trying to change their interpersonal habits and consumer choices so as to minimize their contribution to the broader social issue, and help the particular black people they interact with. In this way, by doing that sort of self-work, they hope to be able to live in a world that is admittedly unjust while making it that little bit better, and through such efforts be able to honestly maintain a positive self image.”

  • On the other side are the Repressers, who just want to be told that racism ended when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act or Barack Obama was elected president. They acknowledge the country’s history of racism as well as our huge racial disparities in outcomes, but they maintain that this is just an odd coincidence. These are the folks who lost their shit when Obama said “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” because it betrayed the idea that Obama’s mere presence in the White House ended the need to ever discuss such matters.

Of course not everyone is white, and Bright has this rather funny take on how non-white people get sucked into and exploit the white psychodrama:

Of course, the rest of us do not simply sit by and watch the whites duke it out amongst themselves. If nothing else they still have ownership of the stuff and a democratic majority, so most of us are dependent on them for making a living. How then have the PoC intelligensia — people of colour sufficiently engaged in politics to be tapped into the white culture war and the historical narrative underpinning it — responded to the opportunities and challenges presented thereby?

With a dextrous entrepreneurial spirit! Which is to say, by cashing in. In institutions like academia more dominated by the Repenter type there has been the opportunity for mediocre of sharp eyed young PoC intelligentsia to present themselves as bearers of black thinkers’ insight (e.g. Bright 2018). It is considerably harder to pull this off from within academia as an advocate for Represser views. But where there is demand there will be supply. And there is a large audience keen for a black thinker to give voice to an intelligent version of the Represser narrative. Sufficiently talented black thinkers have been happy to oblige (e.g. Loury 2009). Various media organisations and political groups likey provide opportunity for similar pseudo-spokespeople PoC intelligentsia catering to both Repressers and Repenters.

The most-correct move, however, according to Bright, is not to hop on either of these bandwagons but instead to be a Non-Aligned person who focuses on directly addressing the underlying material inequalities:

Hence as long as the material inequalities exist they will keep making racial hierarchy salient whatever the Repressers want, and keep generating reasons for guilt whatever the Repenters want. All of the institutions designed to respond to this culture war — which is essentially all of the epistemic institutions controlled by the white bourgeois, which is to say all of them — are thus fundamentally addressing the wrong questions from the point of view of the Non Aligned person. They are concerned with managing the results of a tension they can never resolve, which the nature of the Repenter and Repressor conflict will not allow them to resolve. They are not arranged to produce information, or set an agenda, that will aid in resolving material in- equality, and in fact will forever be supplied with more culture war flashpoints on which to focus and with which to distract.

This is basically what I think, which is why I’m always trying to remind people that Martin Luther King Jr. was very focused on kitchen-table economic issues and, perhaps even more importantly, that he saw the path forward as forging a political alliance with self-interested low-income white peoplenot cultivating a class of guilt-ridden high-status Repenters.

But I want to emphasize the practical aspects of this and the dilemmas it entails.

Increasing the salience of race is bad

 

In a new paper from Jesper Akesson, Robert Hahn, Robert Metcalfe, and Itzhak Rasooly, the authors share the results of their randomized experiments on race and welfare:

First, 86% of respondents greatly overestimate the share of welfare recipients who are Black, with the average respondent overestimating this by almost a factor of two.

Second, White support for welfare is inversely related to the proportion of welfare recipients who are Black — a causal claim that we establish using treatment assignment as an instrument for beliefs about the racial composition of welfare recipients.

Third, just making White participants think about the racial composition of welfare recipients reduces their support for welfare.

Fourth, providing White respondents with accurate information about the racial composition of welfare recipients (relative to not receiving any information) does not significantly influence their support for welfare

This is new research in the sense that the experiment is novel, but the broad conclusions are recognizable across multiple economic literatures. Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote find, using international comparative data, that “racial animosity in the US makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately black, unappealing to many voters.” And in their excellent book “Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion,” Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam find that among white people, possession of ethnocentric views correlates with hostility to means-tested public assistance programs.

A deep body of scholarship across history, political science, and economics all broadly point toward the conclusion that increasing the salience of race can have harmful results.

12) Jesse Singal, “The University of Washington Is Putting Trans Kids At Risk By Distorting Suicide Research” OMG talk about politicized science.  This stuff is just horrible.  Any half-decent first-year grad student would see the grave methodological flaws.  But, when it fits a popular ideological agenda…

13) Exciting progress on RSV vaccines.  I actually qualified for a trial, but, in the end they wouldn’t let me because I am still technically in the J&J Covid vaccine trial until November (I have a phone call then– that’s it). 

In February 2020, just as a new coronavirus was triggering the global COVID-19 pandemic, structural biologist Jason McLellan and his team published the structure of the key protein it uses to invade human cells1. Immediately, scientists began using that protein’s structure to develop COVID-19 vaccines.

But that wasn’t the first time McLellan, now at the University of Texas at Austin, had solved a structure and spurred on a new wave of vaccines. In 2013, he was focusing on a different killer — respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV2.

RSV causes a respiratory tract infection that affects 64 million people per year worldwide. It hospitalizes 3 million children under 5 years old and approximately 336,000 older adults annually (see ‘Common scourge’). The global health-care costs of RSV-associated infections in young children in 2017 were estimated to be US$5.45 billion3.

Researchers have been trying for decades to develop a vaccine, and have had some particularly devastating failures — including the deaths of two participants in a trial in the 1960s.

Solving the protein structure revived the RSV field. McLellan, then a postdoctoral researcher at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues looked at a protein that the virus uses to fuse with cells and infect them, called the F protein, and found a way to stabilize it in its prefusion form — the shape it adopts when ready to grab on to cells. The structure of the prefusion F protein unveiled the best target for making vaccine-induced antibodies that could prevent the virus from entering human cells.

Now, an effective RSV vaccine is nearly within reach: four candidates and one monoclonal antibody treatment are in late-stage clinical trials.

14) You know I’m a sucker for AI art, “AI Art Is Here and the World Is Already Different How we work — even think — changes when we can instantly command convincing images into existence.”

15) Loved learning that Bill Gates, too, is a wordle addict. 

16) Holy Affective polarization Batman! “A new political divide: Nearly half of college students wouldn’t room with someone who votes differently”

17) Actually, pretty interesting stuff here, “The Sordid Saga of Hunter Biden’s Laptop

Imagine the entirety of your digital existence plotted out before you: your accounts and passwords; your avatars; your contacts; every exchange of written dialogue; the full history of your logged interests, banal and forgettable and closely held; the note where you scrawled once-urgent word fragments that now make zero sense to you; the rabbit holes you fell down or the minor obsession or the thing that connected to the thing that led you to decide to do another thing that became a part of a part of a part of who you are, or a part of who you are to some people, or a part of who you are only to yourself, barely recognizable in the light of day. Your selfies. Your sexts. Your emails. Your calendar. Your to-do list. Your playlists. Your tabs.

Now imagine that you are both the son of a man running for president and a lawyer and lobbyist accustomed to mixing with powerful people and doing business overseas premised on your proximity to those powerful people, and that you are in the throes of a divorce and a midlife catastrophe brought on by the early death of your older brother and that, in your distortion field of grief, on a hell-bent drug-and-alcohol binge, you have been making even more horrible choices, taking up with your brother’s widow and, while in considerable financial debt, hiring prostitutes and zoning out with camgirls and staying awake for days at a time on crack cocaine and generally hurting everyone in your life who is trying to help you with your cruel and idiotic behavior.

And imagine that, in the middle of all of this, you lose control of 217 gigabytes of your personal data: videos in which you have sex; videos in which you smoke crack; bleary-eyed selfies; selfies that document your in-progress dental work; your bank statements; your Venmo transactions; your business emails; your toxic rants at family members; analysis from your psychiatrist; your porn searches; your Social Security number; explicit photos of the many women passing through your bedrooms, photos of your kids, of your father, of life and death, despair and boredom.

Imagine revealing this kaleidoscopic archive of all your different selves to anyone else. Now imagine it’s not just anyone but the same political opposition that has already sought to destroy your father’s candidacy by improperly pressuring a foreign leader to offer up dirt about your (sketchy, for sure) business dealings. Imagine, in a country with toxic and broken politics, how explosive this collection of data might appear to your enemies in the days leading up to a presidential election, and how valuable it might become after their defeat, as they seek to overturn and then undermine the results. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this nebulous cloud of data a “laptop.”

18) Another excellent free Yglesias post, “Russia’s military and economic strategy is failing”

The misunderstood sanctions regime

 

Sanctions are often understood as an effort to deny the sanctioned country export earnings by refusing to buy its products.

And since Russia is such a major energy exporter, there was a lot of skepticism that this was feasible or politically workable. Initial coverage of the sanctions regime often emphasized the fact that Russia had stockpiled large foreign exchange reserves to weather the loss of exports and the fact that the West wasn’t willing to block Russia’s energy exports. Pro-Russian western media often noted that even with sanctions in place Russia’s trade balance was positive, and the official exchange rate of the ruble recovered rapidly from an initial speculative crash.

This all misunderstood the intention of the policy, which was not to block Russian exports but to block Russian imports.

The idea was that the West could keep spending money to give equipment to Ukraine while preventing Russia from spending money on acquiring new equipment for itself, steadily shifting the correlation of forces in Ukraine’s favor. The growing Russian trade surplus was not a failure of the sanctions policy, but the condition of its success. The basic calculation is that the allies collectively have a lot more money than Russia. In terms of pre-war GDP calculated at market exchange rates, Italy had a larger GDP than Russia. So did Canada. And France. And Germany’s GDP is more than twice as big, and Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal combine to be about as big as Russia. So the allies could afford to send a bunch of money to Russia to sit around in a treasury somewhere while Russia loses irreplaceable military equipment.

Now to be fair, it is understandable that people were confused about this because there was a big mania in both the U.S. and Europe at the start of the war to ban imports of Russian oil.

This had very little effect on anything, but oil is a fungible global commodity. I think western officials initially didn’t want to do it because it’s a little bit pointless and a little bit contrary to the main thrust of their strategy. But there was a lot of political enthusiasm for it and, again, it doesn’t have particularly large actual effects, so why not go along with it? But all the attention the oil embargo got made it seem like the allies were trying to deny Russia export earnings, which then made the fact that they kept having high export earnings by selling oil to neutral countries and gas to Europe seem like a big failure.

But the oil saga was a virtue-signaling sideshow. The point of the sanctions was to make Russia’s money useless (which is why a tourist visa ban makes sense), not to prevent Russia from getting money. The hope was that Russian energy exports would keep powering the world economy.

19) Nate Cohn, “Yes, the Polling Warning Signs Are Flashing Again: Democrats are polling well in exactly the places where surveys missed most in 2020.”

That warning sign is flashing again: Democratic Senate candidates are outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016.

Wisconsin is a good example. On paper, the Republican senator Ron Johnson ought to be favored to win re-election. The FiveThirtyEight fundamentals index, for instance, makes him a two-point favorite. Instead, the polls have exceeded the wildest expectations of Democrats. The state’s gold-standard Marquette Law School survey even showed the Democrat Mandela Barnes leading Mr. Johnson by seven percentage points.

But in this case, good for Wisconsin Democrats might be too good to be true. The state was ground zero for survey error in 2020, when pre-election polls proved to be too good to be true for Mr. Biden. In the end, the polls overestimated Mr. Biden by about eight percentage points. Eerily enough, Mr. Barnes is faring better than expected by a similar margin.

The Wisconsin data is just one example of a broader pattern across the battlegrounds: The more the polls overestimated Mr. Biden last time, the better Democrats seem to be doing relative to expectations. And conversely, Democrats are posting less impressive numbers in some of the states where the polls were fairly accurate two years ago, like Georgia.

20) This was a good, but tough, read, “Does My Son Know You? Fatherhood, cancer, and what matters most”

21) “What Makes Your Brain Different From a Neanderthal’s?”

Scientists have discovered a glitch in our DNA that may have helped set the minds of our ancestors apart from those of Neanderthals and other extinct relatives.

The mutation, which arose in the past few hundred thousand years, spurs the development of more neurons in the part of the brain that we use for our most complex forms of thought, according to a new study published in Science on Thursday.

“What we found is one gene that certainly contributes to making us human,” said Wieland Huttner, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and one of the authors of the study.

 

The human brain allows us to do things that other living species cannot, such as using full-blown language and making complicated plans for the future. For decades, scientists have been comparing the anatomy of our brain to that of other mammals to understand how those sophisticated faculties evolved.

22) I have no doubt that SEAL training should be rigorous and weed out all but the most-qualified candidates.  That said, I have significant doubt as to the extreme nature of the current process is actually the way to get the best SEALs. “Navy Orders High-Level Outside Investigation of SEAL Course: The punishing selection course for the Navy’s most elite force has come under new scrutiny after a sailor’s death exposed illicit drug use and other problems.”

23) And this is terrific, “Death in Navy SEAL Training Exposes a Culture of Brutality, Cheating and Drugs: The elite force’s selection course is so punishing that few make it through, and many of those who do resort to illicit tactics.”

The Navy has made hundreds of changes over the years meant to improve safety and increase graduation rates. At the same time, the SEALs who run the course have quietly resisted anything they see as lowering standards. So no matter how much the Navy has tried to make BUD/S easier, it seems to only get harder.

In the 1980s, about 40 percent of candidates graduated. Over the past 25 years, the average has dropped to 26 percent. In 2021, it was just 14 percent, and in Seaman Mullen’s class this year, less than 10 percent.

When Seaman Mullen started BUD/S in January, it was his second attempt. His first try was in August 2021, and he had spent more than a year running, swimming and lifting weights to prepare. He lasted less than a day.

Instructors call the first three weeks of BUD/S the attrition phase, a maw of punishing exercise, frigid water and harassment meant to wash out anyone lacking strength, endurance and mental fortitude — individuals the instructors derisively call “turds.”

That first day, the instructors put candidates through a gantlet of running, crawling, situps and push-ups on the hot sand with no breaks, Seaman Mullen’s mother said. Late in the afternoon, the men were racing in teams, carrying 170-pound inflatable boats over their heads, when Seaman Mullen passed out…

Heatstroke, concussions, fractures, muscle tears and lung issues are common at BUD/S, one Navy medical employee at the SEAL training base in Coronado said, but the injuries are often dealt with internally, which avoids scrutiny from outside the SEALs. Often, the employee said, injured candidates are encouraged to quit the course voluntarily, instead of being pulled out by medical staff, and their injuries are never formally reported to the Navy command that oversees workplace accidents…

In any other job, pushing people to exhaustion while fluid floods their lungs would seem reckless, but it has been happening in Hell Week for so long that the practice has come to seem somewhat normal, according to Mr. Milligan, the historian. He went through Hell Week in 2001 and said a man in his class who had fluid in his lungs was given medication through a nebulizer, a practice Mr. Milligan said was “not uncommon.” A few hours later, while the class was swimming in a human chain in a pool, the man slipped from Mr. Milligan’s grasp, sank to the bottom and died.

24) This seems… not great, “A Dad Took Photos of His Naked Toddler for the Doctor. Google Flagged Him as a Criminal.”

Mark noticed something amiss with his toddler. His son’s penis looked swollen and was hurting him. Mark, a stay-at-home dad in San Francisco, grabbed his Android smartphone and took photos to document the problem so he could track its progression.

It was a Friday night in February 2021. His wife called an advice nurse at their health care provider to schedule an emergency consultation for the next morning, by video because it was a Saturday and there was a pandemic going on. The nurse said to send photos so the doctor could review them in advance.

 

Mark’s wife grabbed her husband’s phone and texted a few high-quality close-ups of their son’s groin area to her iPhone so she could upload them to the health care provider’s messaging system. In one, Mark’s hand was visible, helping to better display the swelling. Mark and his wife gave no thought to the tech giants that made this quick capture and exchange of digital data possible, or what those giants might think of the images.

With help from the photos, the doctor diagnosed the issue and prescribed antibiotics, which quickly cleared it up. But the episode left Mark with a much larger problem, one that would cost him more than a decade of contacts, emails and photos, and make him the target of a police investigation. Mark, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of potential reputational harm, had been caught in an algorithmic net designed to snare people exchanging child sexual abuse material.

Because technology companies routinely capture so much data, they have been pressured to act as sentinels, examining what passes through their servers to detect and prevent criminal behavior. Child advocates say the companies’ cooperation is essential to combat the rampant online spread of sexual abuse imagery. But it can entail peering into private archives, such as digital photo albums — an intrusion users may not expect — that has cast innocent behavior in a sinister light in at least two cases The Times has unearthed…

After setting up a Gmail account in the mid-aughts, Mark, who is in his 40s, came to rely heavily on Google. He synced appointments with his wife on Google Calendar. His Android smartphone camera backed up his photos and videos to the Google cloud. He even had a phone plan with Google Fi.

Two days after taking the photos of his son, Mark’s phone made a blooping notification noise: His account had been disabled because of “harmful content” that was “a severe violation of Google’s policies and might be illegal.” A “learn more” link led to a list of possible reasons, including “child sexual abuse & exploitation.”

Mark was confused at first but then remembered his son’s infection. “Oh, God, Google probably thinks that was child porn,” he thought.

In an unusual twist, Mark had worked as a software engineer on a large technology company’s automated tool for taking down video content flagged by users as problematic. He knew such systems often have a human in the loop to ensure that computers don’t make a mistake, and he assumed his case would be cleared up as soon as it reached that person…

In a statement, Google said, “Child sexual abuse material is abhorrent and we’re committed to preventing the spread of it on our platforms.”

 
A few days after Mark filed the appeal, Google responded that it would not reinstate the account, with no further explanation.

25) We’ll end with a fun one, “His emotional support animal is an alligator. They sleep in the same bed.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) I really wanted to give this one it’s own post, but, too damn busy lately.  Short version: yes, it sucks that politicians lie about each other all the time with impunity.  But, we allow this because it would actually be even worse if we tried to have our court system regularly determining when politicians attacks on each other went too far.  The law in question in NC is clearly unconstitutional for this reason and I don’t get why reporting isn’t just saying so: “A problematic law about political lies threatens to snag NC’s attorney general”

Politicians lie. It’s something voters have even come to expect on the campaign trail, in campaign ads and in office. But what constitutes a lie, and should those lies be punished? Those questions are at the center of a case involving North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and it threatens to throw his office and the 2024 race for governor into chaos.

A grand jury in Wake County decided Monday that the district attorney’s office could pursue charges against Stein and two of his top aides, based on a campaign ad from the 2020 election cycle that called out his opponent, Republican candidate Jim O’Neill. Wake DA Lorrin Freeman said her office will decide as early as next month whether to charge Stein with anything, but Stein did get a victory late Tuesday when the Fourth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction to stop the investigation from moving forward.

The offending advertisement from Stein featured a sexual assault survivor saying that there were more than 1,500 untested rape kits in Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the district attorney. O’Neill said that testing rape kits is the responsibility of Forsyth County’s police departments, not his, then filed a complaint based on a 1931 state law that makes it illegal to knowingly circulate false and “derogatory” reports about candidates.

2) Leanna Wen gets a ton of (mostly unfair) hate, but I think she’s pretty well on-target here, ‘I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.”

It became clear that the goal I’d hoped for — containment of covid-19 — was not reachable. This coronavirus is here to stay.

With this new, indefinite time frame, the benefit-risk calculus of mitigation measures shifted dramatically. I was willing to limit my children’s activities for a year or two but not for their entire childhood.

Given how careful we’d been, it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus. I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning. Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk…

I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, covid in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging. Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

THERE ARE AT least three critical paths to helping teens, and these build on the different types of agency outlined by psychologist Albert Bandura.

First, teach teens to build personal agency. Personal agency refers to the things an individual can do to exert influence over situations. Teens in our research described curating their social media feeds toward well-being by unfollowing or muting accounts that make them feel bad. They also work toward personal agency by setting their own screen time limits or intentionally putting their phones out of reach when they want to focus on studying. Others strategically segment their online audiences to empower more intentional sharing to particular groups.

Building teens’ personal agency means supporting skills and strategies they can deploy when digital stressors come up. This can mean moving beyond rules that simply impose arbitrary screen time limits. Of course, teens often need support developing healthy screen time habits and curbing unregulated binges. An important aim is helping teens recognize moments when tech use adds to or undercuts their well-being or personal goals. This requires focusing more on what a teen is doing during their screen time and to what end. By modeling intentional digital habits (e.g., “I need to turn off my notifications for a bit, I’m feeling so distracted by my phone today”), we can help teens do the same for themselves. In this spirit, Tom Harrison writes about the value of parents being “thick exemplars” who share with children times when we struggle with our own digital experiences, misstep, or puzzle over how to “do the right thing.” …

Collective agency is when people “provide mutual support and work together to secure what they cannot accomplish on their own.” A signature example: the ways teens form pacts to vet photos of each other before tagging and posting. Even amid dismay about a world in which privacy feels forsaken, some teens find ways to protect and respect each other’s privacy and online public image. Collective agency is also at play when teen girls share intel about guys known to leak girls’ nudes so that they can be on alert and avoid them. Yet another example came up in the descriptions of teens who create online study spaces over Discord or Zoom to help each other maintain focus while keeping other digital distractions in check. Because friends are often poised to make digital life more or less stressful, when teens work together to reshape burdensome norms, everyone stands to win.

Parents can validate efforts that support collective agency, like when friends decide to keep phones in an untouched stack during dinners together. Or when they use location-sharing as part of a group effort to keep friends safe during a night out. Such approaches reflect a “digital mentoring” approach to parental mediation, rather than simply limiting tech access or permitting unlimited access. While younger adolescents need more direct oversight, parents can support personal agency through a gradual release toward more age-appropriate independence and privacy as their children get older.

Proxy agency is where adults most often come in. This mode of agency acknowledges that on their own—and even when they collaborate with others—teens only have so much control over their circumstances. Proxy agents are typically those who hold more power and can wield it on others’ behalf to support their agency. Because adults usually create the rules, policies, and relevant laws (not to mention the very technologies teens use!), we are critical proxy agents in a context of digital opportunities and risks.

 

Parents are perhaps the most obvious figures here, as they make day-to-day decisions that grant and limit teens’ digital access. Those who hold gatekeeping roles make decisions about whether to consider digital artifacts in school admissions, scholarship awards, and hiring. Adults may be the recipients of online receipts with evidence of transgressions. Those who work in education are often tasked with handling cases that unfold among students—where a teen is a target of persistent cyberbullying or where a nude a teen shared with one person was circulated around the entire school. Those who work at tech companies, designers especially, have the power—and the responsibility—to raise questions about whether features will hook and pull teens in at the expense of their well-being. Recognizing our roles as proxy agents means acknowledging our complicity in creating conditions that can unintentionally undercut youth agency.

Whatever roles adults are in, it’s past time to consider: How do our decisions support or compromise young people’s agency and well-being? Where, when, and how should we intervene and disrupt existing devices, apps, norms, policies, and laws? How can we design for more agency? And how can we center considerations about differential susceptibility and equity when we do so?

4) Interesting research: “Why Don’t We Sleep Enough? A Field Experiment Among College Students”

This study investigates the mechanisms affecting sleep choice and explores whether commitment devices and monetary incentives can be used to promote healthier sleep habits. To this end, we conducted a field experiment with college students, providing them incentives to sleep and collecting data from wearable activity trackers, surveys, and time-use diaries. Monetary incentives were effective in increasing sleep duration with some evidence of persistence after the incentive was removed. We uncover evidence of demand for commitment. Our results are consistent with partially sophisticated time-inconsistent preferences and overconfidence, and have implications for the effectiveness of information interventions on sleep choice.

5)  A mother is being prosecuted for helping her teen daughter give herself a medical abortion at 30(!!) weeks.  Yes, the vast majority of 30 week abortions are for a good reason (birth defects, mother’s health, etc.), but, given that’s the case, maybe it is the right thing to prosecute the people in cases like this one.

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

Now Trump’s apparent squirreling away of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and his outrage over the Justice Department’s investigation of that conduct, speaks once more to his vision of his own absolute authority—even after he has departed the presidency. It’s a vision that places Trump himself, rather than the Constitution and the rule of law, as the one true source of legitimate political power.

A great deal remains unclear about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago—among other things, why and how the material arrived at the estate in the first place instead of remaining in the custody of the National Archives, where it belonged. Reporting, though, suggests that Trump may have understood those documents—material that, under the Presidential Records Act, belongs to the American people—to be his own, to do whatever he liked with. “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” Trump reportedly told several advisers about the misplaced documents. One “Trump adviser” told The Washington Post that “the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term … are now his personal property.” Another adviser to the former president said to the Post, “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to.”

This childlike logic reflects Trump’s long-running inability to distinguish between the individual president and the institutional presidency, a structure that existed before him and that persists even after he unwillingly departed the White House. In his view, he is the presidency (which … is not what legal scholars typically mean when they talk about the “unitary executive.”) The same logic surfaces in the bizarre arguments made by Trump’s defenders that Trump somehow declassified all the sensitive documents held at Mar-a-Lago before he left office. Under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority over the classification system. But as experts have noted, it makes little sense to imagine a president declassifying information without communicating that decision across the executive branch so that everyone else would know to treat the material in question as no longer classified—unless, that is, you understand presidential power not as an institution of government, but as the projection of a single person’s all-powerful consciousness onto the world.

7) David Brooks on the value of talking to strangers.  Personally, I’m a huge fan, but I’ve become more hesitant to do so when on an airplane because it gets really awkward when you are thinking, but cannot say, “my book is just much more interesting than you.” Or, “you are great to talk to for 20 minutes, but this is a 2 hour flight.”  But, when escape is possible, yeah, I do enjoy it.

One day Nicholas Epley was commuting by train to his office at the University of Chicago. As a behavioral scientist he’s well aware that social connection makes us happier, healthier and more successful and generally contributes to the sweetness of life. Yet he looked around his train car and realized: Nobody is talking to anyone! It was just headphones and newspapers.

Questions popped into his head: What the hell are we all doing here? Why don’t people do the thing that makes them the most happy?

He discovered that one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk to strangers on a train or plane is they don’t think it will be enjoyable. They believe it will be awkward, dull and tiring. In an online survey only 7 percent of people said they would talk to a stranger in a waiting room. Only 24 percent said they would talk to a stranger on a train.

But are these expectations correct? Epley and his team have conducted years of research on this. They ask people to make predictions going into social encounters. Then, afterward, they ask them how it had gone.

They found that most of us are systematically mistaken about how much we will enjoy a social encounter. Commuters expected to have less pleasant rides if they tried to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But their actual experience was precisely the opposite. People randomly assigned to talk with a stranger enjoyed their trips consistently more than those instructed to keep to themselves. Introverts sometimes go into these situations with particularly low expectations, but both introverts and extroverts tended to enjoy conversations more than riding solo.

It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters. Epley and his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when they reach out to express support. Research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

In other research, people underestimated how much they would enjoy longer conversations with new acquaintances. People underestimated how much they’re going to enjoy deeper conversations compared to shallower conversations. They underestimated how much they would like the person. They underestimated how much better their conversation would be if they moved to a more intimate communications media — talking on the phone rather than texting. In settings ranging from public parks to online, people underestimated how positively giving a compliment to another person would make the recipient feel.

We’re an extremely social species, but many of us suffer from what Epley calls undersociality. We see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations that would be fun, educational and rewarding.

8) Pew with a notable chart:

Chart shows economy remains dominant midterm voting issue, but abortion grows in importance

9) Really enjoyed this Noah Smith, “On the wisdom of the historians: Just as in economics, beware untested theories.”

A lot of people are talking about the history profession this week. There was a kerfuffle when James Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, wrote a rambling and somewhat opaque post criticizing what he felt was his profession’s excessive focus on the politics of the present, and singling out the 1619 Project for criticism. A subset of historians predictably flew into a rage at this, and forced Sweet to issue a stumbling apology.

I’m not particularly interested in the “woke vs. anti-woke” politics of this dispute. But I think a big part of the reason people care so much about the goings-on in history academia is that in recent years, history professors have become some of the most important voices that we look to in order to understand our current political and social troubles. Jay Caspian Kang explained it well in a New York Times column today:

Over the past decade or so, history has become the lingua franca of online political conversation. This is a relatively new phenomenon…[T]he shift has something to do with the centrality of Twitter over the past decade (historical documents and photos make for great screenshots) and, more important, the changes in the country itself. Once Donald Trump became president, it was harder to write about “Breaking Bad” and Taylor Swift in such self-serious tones…

Twitter has also allowed historians to assume a place in the public discourse that would’ve only been available to a select few before the advent of social media…As a result, history does seem to have an unusual amount of weight in the public discourse.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we talked a lot about whether economists and their theories were afforded too much credence, but as far as I can tell there has been no similarly critical public discourse about academic history. But there ought to be. Just as economists became a sort of priestly order that we relied upon to tell us how to achieve prosperity and distribute resources in society, historians have become a sort of priestly order that we rely on to tell us about where our politics are headed and how we should think about our sense of nationhood.

This is not a blanket criticism of the history profession (although some people on Twitter are certain to interpret it as such, and react accordingly). I am not saying that history needs to stay out of politics and go back to the ivory tower. Nor am I saying that our current crop of historians have bad takes on modern politics. All I am saying is that we ought to think about historians’ theories with the same empirically grounded skepticism with which we ought to regard the mathematized models of macroeconomics.

10) Good stuff from McWhorter, “Leveling the racism charge at something like a licensing exam is crude — it flies past issues more nuanced and complex”

The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with.

There is a Change.org petition circulating saying just that, based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did. “These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design,” the petition states, adding that an “assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test.” The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers.

But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is. The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work.

So: It’s wrong to use a test to evaluate someone’s qualifications to be a social worker? This begins to sound plausible only if you buy into the fashionable ideology of our moment, in which we’re encouraged to think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing. There have been comparable claims these days with regard to tests for math teachers in Ontario and state bar exams, and, in the past, on behalf of applicants to the New York City Fire Department

This will mean taking a deep breath and asking why it is that in various instances, Black and Latino test-takers disproportionately have trouble with standardized tests. The reason for the deep breath is the implication ever in the air on this subject: that if the test isn’t racist, then the results might suggest that they aren’t as smart as their white peers. That’s an artificially narrowed realm of choices, however. There is more to what shapes how people handle things like standardized tests.

11) I can’t say stories of our criminal justice system like this surprise me.  But they still infuriate me.  This is just not okay.  Seriously, read this twitter thread:

12) I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who don’t have ideas of friendship shaped by toxic masculinity. “Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health”  This Vox piece is all images– I think this one is key:

13) Good stuff from Katherine Wu on the Omicron boosters.

The nation has latched on before to the idea that shots alone can see us through. When vaccines first rolled out, Americans were assured that they’d essentially stamp out transmission, and that the immunized could take off their masks. “I thought we learned our lesson,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University. Apparently we did not. America is still stuck on the notion of what Popescu calls “vaccine absolutism.” And it rests on two very shaky assumptions, perhaps both doomed to fail: that the shots can and should sustainably block infection, and that “people will actually go and get the vaccine,” says Deshira Wallace, a public-health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As fall looms, the U.S. is now poised to expose the fatal paradox in its vaccine-only plan. At a time when the country is more reliant than ever on the power of inoculation, we’re also doing less than ever to set the shots up for success.

14) I’ve long been fascinated by the ongoing technological warfare between car manufacturers and car thieves.  This, from Planet Money was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read on it:

15) Lots and lots of people shared this article with me, “Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury? It’s all fun and games till you strain your Achilles’ tendon, herniate a disc or do a face-plant in the Kitchen.”

16) This is wild… you will metabolize a pill much faster if you take it and lie on your right side than on your left.  Asymmetry, baby! 

17) Another really good post from Noah Smith, “The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis: Did America produce too many frustrated college graduates in the 2000s and 2010s?”

Ben Schmidt has many more interesting data points in his Twitter thread. To me the most striking was that there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together:

When you look at the data, it becomes very apparent why the shift is happening. College kids increasingly want majors that will lead them directly to secure and/or high-paying jobs. That’s why STEM and medical fields — and to a lesser degree, blue-collar job-focused fields like hospitality — have been on the rise.

But looking back at that big bump of humanities majors in the 2000s and early 2010s (the raw numbers are here), and thinking about the social unrest America has experienced over the last 8 years, makes me think about Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction. Basically, the idea here is that America produced a lot of highly educated people with great expectations for their place in American society, but that our economic and social system was unable to accommodate many of these expectations, causing them to turn to leftist politics and other disruptive actions out of frustration and disappointment.

18) I wrote a whole post on this a long time ago, but, short version, this research shows why being a college professor is the best job in the world.

19) Democrats can only hope our current Lieutenant Governor is the Republican’s gubernatorial nominee in 2024:

Third graders who attend public school in North Carolina learn about the solar system and volcanoes in science class. Fourth graders study fossils.

Social studies at the second grade level teaches students about democracy. In fifth grade, students discuss rights that are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

But according to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, kids shouldn’t be learning about any of that…

“In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” he writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017.

Apparently, it’s hard to spell after you or your partner have just gone through labor: The two most-changed names are “Issac” and “Chole,” and the two most-adopted names, as you might expect…

Beyond egregious misspellings, the third most-changed and third most-adopted names show another common pattern: People tend to abandon names that are falling rapidly in the ranks of most popular baby names — such as Aiden — and to adopt names that are on the rise, such as Sebastian.

21) This is something else, “The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment.”  Also, a Fresh Air interview

22) OMG the Mensa people are pathetic, “My Week With America’s Smartest* People”

The truth was, I couldn’t quite articulate why I wouldn’t want to join. I certainly had a nice time at the convention. (“I’ve never seen you do this much reporting,” my fiancé said after I informed him I had to spend yet another day there.) The environment reminded me that I take pleasure in a lot of the same nerdy shit Mensans live for: logic games, trivia, and other sorts of puzzles. It was fun learning Set and later, competing in the Wordle tournament.

But I didn’t quite feel like I had found my people. I have never in my life struggled to find smart friends who get my jokes, and my intelligence (or, per my haters, my lack thereof) isn’t something that makes me feel alienated from my peers. It’s not to say that being brainy isn’t important to me — I’m glad I’m engaged to someone who I think is brilliant and likes to play all the stupid little games that I do — but high IQ is not in the top ten or 20 or 100 qualities I look for in a friend or community. I want to be around part of a group of people who are empathetic and funny and intellectually curious and have weird interests. A lot of people I met fit that bill. And I’m happy for all the Mensans who have found a home in their exclusive club and that their IQ has provided them with a way to understand themselves and their place in the world.

But if my time at the Mensa Annual Gathering taught me anything, it’s that being “smart” and doing well on tests have virtually nothing to do with each other.

22) Gallup, “Americans and the Future of Cigarettes, Marijuana, Alcohol”

Gallup has been asking Americans about their attitudes toward cigarettes and alcohol since the 1930s and 1940s, and, in more recent decades, has added similar questions about marijuana. One purpose of these continuing surveys is to update estimates of these substances’ frequency of use.

 

  • Alcohol is by far the most used of the three. About 45% of Americans have had an alcoholic drink within the past week, while another 23% say they use it occasionally. A third are “total abstainers.”

    Alcohol use has remained relatively constant over the years. The average percentage of Americans who have said they are drinkers since 1939 is 63%, quite close to Gallup’s most recent reading of 67%.

 

  • Some 16% of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, while a total of 48% say they have tried it at some point in their lifetime.

    Marijuana use (based on self-reports) has increased dramatically over the past half-century. Only 4% said they had ever tried marijuana in 1969, when the question was first asked. That’s now 48%. Seven percent of Americans said they currently smoke marijuana in 2013, compared with the 16% measured this summer.

 

 

  • Cigarette smoking incidence has dropped steadily over the decades, from a high of 45% in the mid-1950s.

    Today, a new low of 11% of American adults report being smokers. Roughly three in 10 nonsmokers say they used to smoke.

In sum, American adults are significantly more likely to use alcohol than either marijuana or cigarettes. And while alcohol consumption has remained relatively constant over the decades, cigarette use is now less than a fourth of what it was in the 1950s. Americans’ regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward…

Bottom Line

Americans recognize the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, and smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century and can be expected to continue on this trajectory.

Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union.

The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally. But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use. Why people use alcohol and have continued to use it while recognizing its downsides are complex questions that have engendered a great deal of medical and psychological research over the years. Clearly the social and personal benefits alcohol provides, along with its historical entrenchment in American culture, tend to outweigh consideration of its social and personal costs.

What could change the pattern of alcohol use going forward? Americans are not likely to support any type of ban on alcohol (a 2014 CNN poll showed only 18% of Americans said alcohol should be made illegal in this country), so if alcohol use diminishes in the future, it will most likely result from factors like those that reduced the incidence of smoking. These include an increased emphasis on its personal and social costs, along with, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such steps as increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold, and reducing the hours of sale and general availability of alcohol.

 

I need more poor friends

This was two weeks ago, but in case you didn’t see it, super-important research coming out from Raj Chetty on social mobility.  The fascinating key insight– wealthier friends are a key engine of social mobility for poor Americans.  Nice summary in the Upshot (great graphics, too, you really should check it out, so… gift link)

Over the last four decades, the financial circumstances into which children have been born have increasingly determined where they have ended up as adults. But an expansive new study, based on billions of social media connections, has uncovered a powerful exception to that pattern that helps explain why certain places offer a path out of poverty.

For poor children, living in an area where people have more friendships that cut across class lines significantly increases how much they earn in adulthood, the new research found.

The study, published Monday in Nature, analyzed the Facebook friendships of 72 million people, amounting to 84 percent of U.S. adults aged 25 to 44.

Previously, it was clear that some neighborhoods were much better than others at removing barriers to climbing the income ladder, but it wasn’t clear why. The new analysis — the biggest of its kind — found the degree to which the rich and poor were connected explained why a neighborhood’s children did better later in life, more than any other factor.

The effect was profound. The study found that if poor children grew up in neighborhoods where 70 percent of their friends were wealthy — the typical rate of friendship for higher-income children — it would increase their future incomes by 20 percent, on average.

These cross-class friendships — what the researchers called economic connectedness — had a stronger impact than school quality, family structure, job availability or a community’s racial composition. The people you know, the study suggests, open up opportunities, and the growing class divide in the United States closes them off.

Also, David Brooks spoke with Chetty and has some nice thoughts on it all and the power of friendship, in general:

When I spoke with Chetty last week about the study, I asked him: What is it exactly about these friendships that is so powerful?

He said the data doesn’t enable us to answer that question. But we can easily speculate that some of it must be informational. Kids whose parents have already been to college can tell their poorer friends how to play the college admissions game, where to sign up for the SATs and so on. A lot of it, too, must be connections. Affluent people can connect you to the right people to help you get a plum job or into the best schools.

But there’s got to be more to it than that. Chetty mentioned there’s a dosage effect. Kids who move into these economically diverse neighborhoods at age 2 tend to do better than those who move in at 14. Nobody is thinking about SATs or job openings at 2.

I would point to the transformational power of friendship itself. That’s because your friends are not just by your side; they get inside you. If you want to help people change, help them change their friendships.

We already know from the work by Yale’s Nicholas Christakis and others that behavior change happens in friend networks. If people in your friend network quit smoking, then you’re more likely to quit smoking. If your friend gains weight, you are more likely to gain weight. Heck, if one of your friend’s friends — who lives far away and whom you have never met — gains weight, then you’re more likely to gain weight, too…

Our friends shape what we see as normal. If our friends decide that being 15 pounds heavier is normal and acceptable, then we’ll probably regard being 15 pounds heavier as normal, too.

This is the key point. Your friends strongly influence how you perceive reality. First, they strongly influence how you see yourself. It’s very hard to measure your own worth, your own competence, unless people you admire and respect see you as worthy, see you as competent. Plus, if your friends say, “We’re all smart, talented people,” you’ll begin to see yourself that way, too.

Second, your friends shape how you see the world. A few decades ago, a theorist named James J. Gibson pioneered the theory of “affordances.” The basic idea is that what you see in a situation is shaped by what you are capable of doing in a situation. Dennis Proffitt of the University of Virginia has demonstrated this theory in a bunch of ways: People who are less physically fit perceive hills to be steeper than people who are fit, because they find it harder to walk up them. People carrying heavy backpacks perceive steeper hills than people without them.

The phenomenon works socioeconomically, too. Kids who grew up with college-educated parents walk onto the Princeton campus and see a different campus than kids who have never been around a college at all. Without even thinking about it, more-affluent kids might communicate to their less-affluent friends ways of seeing that make such places look less alien, less imposing, more accessible.

Anyway, it was interesting to think of my own life in reference to all of this.  Honestly, virtually all my friends are college-professors or highly-successful, educated professionals.  I don’t have any friends that are truly economically struggling.  I can think of one friend who’s not a college graduate, but he, unsurprisingly, lives in my middle-class neighborhood, and has a successful flooring business. 

And, realistically, the title of this post aside, I’m unlike to add less-educated, financially struggling friends in the future.  The hope, though, is that, overall, my neighborhood really is quite socio-economically and racially diverse (here’s the demographics for the elementary my kids all attended) and that means that my kids are those wealthier friends that help serve as engines of social mobility.  

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