Quick hits (part I)

1) deBoer on pragmatism (and the lack of it from the far left)

I come from a tradition with radical demands but which also recognizes that we can’t actually get most of those demands yet, that we need to do a lot of organizing and persuading to get there. But so many leftist Democrats now insist that

  1. Their agenda is already popular with Americans

  2. You only need to juice turnout, not to change minds, evidence be damned

  3. If the Democrats only embrace a left-wing agenda, they’ll sweep to power

None of this is persuasive to me, but it’s become holy writ on social media. And here’s an example of where the left being shut out of power becomes a vicious circle. Centrists are correct that left Democrats are often deeply averse to compromise and bargaining, but this is in part because they’ve never had the power with which to make a compromise. What would they bargain with? Shut out of power for so long, leftist Democrats have no practice with having the juice to force a compromise and are so convinced of the fundamental corruption and fecklessness of the overall party that they recoil at the idea of making one. Meanwhile, I’m constantly told that message discipline – not abandoning any of your principles, but highlighting the ones that are most popular – is not only undesirable but actively impossible.

For example. I’m a “let them all in” guy when it comes to immigration. Those are my values, and I do think that someday we’ll have a vastly more open and humane immigration system. But someday is not today. Liberal views on immigration are deeply unpopular in this country right now. If Democrats run hard on mass immigration increases, they will lose more elections and the Republicans will be empowered to make the immigration situation even worse. I don’t have any sort of simplistic schema for when you have to compromise and when you have to fight; it’s complicated. But so many further-left Democrats I encounter presume that there’s never any time when compromise is necessary and who view strategic calls for moderation as inherently bad faith, as the province of the wicked. It’s a terribly unhelpful way to do electoral politics in our stupid system.

2) Love this from Frank Bruni:

Enough about “parental rights.” I want to talk about nonparental rights.

I want to talk about the fact that a public school, identified that way for a reason, doesn’t exist as some bespoke service attending to the material wants and political whims of only those Americans with children in the science lab and on the soccer field. It’s an investment, funded by all taxpayers, in the cultivation of citizens who better appreciate our democracy and can participate in it more knowledgeably and productively.

Each of us has skin in the game. And each of us, even those of us without children, has the right to weigh in on how the game is played.

But you wouldn’t know that from the education conflagrations of the moment — from the howls of protest from parents about what their children are or aren’t exposed to, what their children are and aren’t taught.

You wouldn’t know it from the arguments for Florida’s recently enacted ban on talk of gay and trans people with young schoolchildren. That measure, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” initiative by its opponents, was called the Parental Rights in Education bill by its promoters — as if it were restoring and safeguarding some fundamental prerogative that should never have been challenged, as if parents’ sensitivities and sensibilities hold extra-special sway.

They matter, definitely. But one parent’s sensitivities and sensibilities don’t reliably align with another’s. Or with mine. Or with yours.

And raising the banner of “parental rights,” which is being hoisted high and waved with intensifying passion these days, doesn’t resolve that conflict. Nor does it change the fact that the schools in question exist for all of us, to reflect and inculcate democratic values and ecumenical virtues that have nothing to do with any one parent’s ideology, religion or lack thereof.

If the prevailing sensitivities and sensibilities of most parents at a given moment were the final word, formal racial segregation of educational institutions would have lasted longer than it did. There’d still be prayer in some public schools, and I don’t mean nondenominational.

I’m not equating those issues with current fights over L.G.B.T.Q. content in curriculums. Nor am I pushing specifically for that content, whose prevalence and emphasis remain murky to me, as they do, I’d wager, to most of the Americans who have vociferously entered the fray.

I’m sympathetic to the perspective that there’s a time, place and tone for such discussions. Too much too soon can be a clumsy, politically reckless provocation. So can vaguely worded, spitefully conceived, intentionally divisive laws, like the one in Florida, that encourage parents specifically to file lawsuits if they catch the scent of something they find unsavory in their children’s classrooms.

Parents do and should have authority over much of their children’s lives. No quarrel from me there. I’m in genuine awe of the responsibilities that parents take on, and I feel enormous gratitude toward those who approach those responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

But public education is precisely that, and it’s both inappropriate and dangerous to treat the parents who have children in public schools as the only interested parties or as stakeholders whose desires are categorically more important than everybody else’s. The spreading cry of “parental rights” suggests as much. And the wrongness of that transcends any partisan affiliation.

3) OMG this book banning on the right these days.  Apparently, the picture book “Everywhere babies” is getting banned because some of the parents are same-sex couples.  God forbid kids get the idea that actually happens in the real world. 

4) Pet rental is a thing? Sort of. What the hell? Of course, it all starts with buying a pet from a pet store which, lets be honest, no responsible pet owner does (I’m not talking about pet stores that facilitate adoptions). 

5) Now Florida is trying to do away with tenure for its universities to stop all the liberal indoctrination.  Glad we have state legislators like this on the case ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

He also said it would increase transparency with a provision that would require course syllabuses to be posted online, preventing attempts by professors to “smuggle in ideology and politics.” Sprowls said it would prevent students from signing up for a class on “socialism and communism” when they thought they were signing up for “Western democracy” and classes about “what it means to be an actual American.”

“That’s what this bill is about,” Sprowls said. “Are (students) going to walk into a university system that’s more about indoctrination than it is about getting getting jobs someday and learning skills and the subject matter necessary to get a job? Or is it about some sort of radical political agenda that a particular professor that’s been told they get a lifetime job is going to tell them they have to believe to get an A in their class?”

6) And, as long as we’re on Florida, Chait is on the case when it comes to DeSantis:

7) This is a terrific and, dare I say, heartening interview on the limited and corrupt Russian military:

Could the Russian military say, in its defense, that the military-modernization project was done with a different kind of war in mind than the one in Ukraine? Or do you see the failure being broader than that?

 

8) John Cassidy on McCarthy and McConnell:

It’s eminently clear where Republican candidates are learning the techniques of prostration: from their own leaders. And this abject situation isn’t likely to change. If the events of January 6, 2021, weren’t sufficient to embolden the likes of McCarthy and McConnell for more than a few days, could anything effect such a transformation? Probably not. To be sure, there are some individual elected Republicans, such as Cheney and Mitt Romney, who are still willing to criticize and challenge Trump, but none of them are in positions of authority within the Party.

Taken as a whole, the G.O.P. is still in the same position it has been in for the past five and a half years: beholden to a narcissistic demagogue who has no respect for democracy or the law. In fact, the situation is even worse than it used to be, because the demagogue is now explicitly demanding that Republican candidates sign on to his Big Lie about 2020—a modern version of the “stab-in-the-back” conspiracy theory that helped undermine the Weimar Republic. In one sense, it’s fun to read yet another story confirming the utter spinelessness and cravenness of McConnell, McCarthy, et al. Ultimately, though, the joke is on us.

9) Fascinating deBoer piece about the explosion of claims of multiple personality disorder among teenagers on TikTok and what it says about current pathologies in our culture [emphases in original]

You might very well ask how it could possibly be the case that a notoriously controversial and historically extremely rare disorder would suddenly bloom into epidemic proportions among teenagers with smartphones and a burning need to differentiate themselves. How could that happen? The standard line on these things is that expanding public consciousness about such illnesses reduces stigma and empowers more people to get diagnosed with conditions they already had. But with dissociative identity disorder, I can only ask… really? One of the rarest mental illnesses in the medical literature has had thousands of people walking around undiagnosed, despite the fact that it’s perhaps the single hardest psychiatric condition to hide? It’s one thing to say that there’s tons of, say, autistic people walking around who are undiagnosed because of stigma around the diagnosis. It’s another to say that thousands of people’s conditions have gone unnoticed when they experience the world as a number of distinct and incompatible personalities which they switch between in jarring and disorienting moments.

None of this is healthy. None of it will result in better treatment or results for those who have legitimate psychiatric disorders. Ideas core to the toxic mental health ideology that kids are absorbing on TikTok include

  • That intense childhood trauma is universal or near-universal, despite the fact that it simply isn’t, and thank god

  • That trauma is somehow ennobling, a maker of meaning, a creator of identity, a way to be unique and special, rather than something terrible we should do everything we can to prevent

  • Correspondingly, that to be mentally healthy is undesirable, when it’s a condition we should aspire to secure for everyone

  • That mental illness is an identity, the most important and central element of someone’s self, rather than an unfortunate detail, and that the right way to have a mental illness is to revel in it, celebrate it, fixate on it completely, act as though there’s nothing else interesting or meaningful about you than your mental illness

  • That any critical thinking or questioning of their rhetoric about mental illness is inherently a matter of “stigma” and thus illegitimate, and that the job of doctors and therapists is always to affirm their self-diagnoses, not to act as independent and dispassionate agents

  • That anything they feel is valid, that their emotions are a perfect guide to their reality, and that anything that contradicts their intuitions or their desires is by definition the hand of oppression.

And the core point here is that the people who are being hurt by this are these kids themselves. Sucking up scarce mental health resources with fictitious conditions is irresponsible, yes, and pretending to be sick for clout is untoward. But setting that aside, self-diagnosis is dangerous. Playacting a serious mental illness is harmful to your actual mental health. Fixating on the most broken part of yourself is contrary to best medical practices and to living a fulfilled life. Defining yourself by dysfunction is a great way to stay dysfunctional. And everything about mental illness that seems cool and deep and intense when you’re 18 becomes sad and pathetic and self-destructive and ugly by the time you’re 40. Take it from me. These kids are hurting themselves. I don’t want to ridicule them. I’m not even angry at them. I’m angry at their adult enablers. That includes the vast edifice of woowoo self-help bullshit Instagram self-actualization yoga winemom feel-good consumerist tell-me-I’m-special psychiatric medicine, and a media that loves the prurient thrills of multiple personalities and never saw a vulnerability that it couldn’t exploit.

10) Loved this piece.  I’m glad hockey has evolved to become a sport with much more emphasis on skill.  I would not be the fan I am if it were otherwise, “‘It’s almost like the game has been reinvented’: Players, coaches and GMs on the NHL’s scoring boom”

This is a new age in the NHL, a far cry from the dead puck era that saw a sharp decline in goal scoring from the 1980s. In 1980-81, teams averaged 4.01 goals per game. In the decade, there was never a year below 3.67 goals per game.

By 2003-04, goals per game fell to 2.57 — the lowest in a half-century.

This season, teams are averaging 3.09 goals per game, the highest average since 1995-96, when it was 3.14 per game. The league-wide save percentage of .907 is the lowest since 2006-07 (.905). The average penalty kill is 79 percent, which is frankly unbelievable. The average power play is 21 percent. As Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft notes, “It wasn’t that long ago when if you had a 19, 20 percent power play, you were in the top five in the National Hockey League.”

The Florida Panthers are averaging 4.17 goals per game, the highest by a team since the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 4.41 per game in 1995-96. Eighteen teams (56 percent of the league) are averaging more than three goals per game. And it’s not just the teams with offensive superstars like the Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Blues have shot up to fourth in the NHL in goals per game, at 3.74, thanks to recently scoring four or more goals in 12 consecutive games (62 goals, 5.17 per game). Heck, the Wild, for years considered one of the most committed defensive teams in the NHL with a foundation established by original coach Jacques Lemaire, have six 20-goal scorers, three 30-goal scorers and rank fifth in the NHL with 3.66 goals per game.

“Look how teams are made up now: four lines that can contribute offensively,” says 37-year-old future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who debuted for the Penguins in 2003. “When I started, your third line was grinding, your fourth line was fighting. Now, look at our third line. We have two 20-goal scorers on there. Imagine having to defend (Jordan) Greenway, (Joel) Eriksson Ek and (Marcus) Foligno. Is there a bigger line in the league? Imagine having to defend them. They’re our checking line, but they check by playing in the offensive zone.”

There are 39 point-per-game players this season in the NHL (minimum 60 games) with another four hovering at 0.99. When the Blues scored seven second-period goals Sunday in Nashville and won 8-3, it was the 30th time since March 1 that an NHL team scored at least seven goals in a game. In 2015-16, 29 teams scored that many in a game in the entire season.

Last Saturday and Sunday, 153 goals were scored across the league — the highest-scoring weekend in NHL history.

You see the impact of the scoring increase in every facet of the game. 

11) Florida wants to ban K-12 textbooks for “social-emotional learning”  That’s nuts!  But, alas, everything is “critical race theory” now. 

Administrators in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District were already looking for ways to support students’ mental well-being before the pandemic, driven in part by a string of student deaths, including some suicides. Then covid-19 and remote schooling inflicted fresh emotional damage.

So, this past fall, the district implementeda social-emotional learning (SEL) program — a curriculum geared at helping students manage emotions, develop positive relationships and make good decisions. Schools have worked to develop these skills for decades, and in recent years, formal programming has proliferated coast to coast. In Anoka-Hennepin, elementary schools focused on themes such as respect, empathy, gratitude, kindness, honesty, courage, cooperation, perseverance and responsibility each month. Students learned how to ask for help and spot someone having a bad day.

The complaints began immediately, often from parents already upset about remote schooling and mask mandates. Minnesota’s Child Protection League, a group active on conservative issues, said social-emotional learning is a vehicle for critical race theory, an effort to divide students from their parents, emotional manipulation and “the latest child-indoctrination scheme.”

 

12) And Dana Goldstein in the NYT, “A Look Inside the Textbooks That Florida Rejected”

But many of the textbooks included social-emotional learning content, a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.

The image below, from marketing materials provided by the company Big Ideas Learning — whose elementary textbooks Florida rejected — features one common way teachers are trained to think about social-emotional learning.

 
Image
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.
Credit…Big Ideas Learning
 
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.

The circular diagram names the five core skills students should develop: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship building. This framework was developed by CASEL, an education nonprofit.

Until recently, the idea of building social-emotional skills was a fairly uncontroversial one in American education. Research suggests that students with these skills earn higher test scores.

13) To be fair, Drum is right and stuff like this should not be in math books:

The Florida Department of Education finally released a few examples of “unacceptable” math problems today. Here is one of them:

So the lesson here is that conservatives are racist, as proven by a test that’s of dubious reliability.

Nice work, textbook people. This is insane. I can’t imagine there’s a conservative governor anywhere in the country who wouldn’t be offended by this. If this math book included a similar bar graph showing crime rates by race, do you think that liberal governors might be equally offended?

Also, the IAT is not a valid measure of racial prejudice!

14) Interesting story here, “How a Crime-Fighting Institution Took a Partisan Turn: Crime Stoppers of Houston built its reputation on a successful tip line. Then it decided to take on Democratic judges.”  And, the NYT takes so much heat, but they have revealing, deeply-reported stories like this every single day that would otherwise not see the light of day. It really is an amazing journalistic institution.  

15) Leonhardt (with an assist from Michael Osterholm) on mask mandates:

As Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist, puts it, a mask mandate with as many exceptions as the airline mandate is like a submarine that closes three of its five doors.

On the other hand, research shows that, when used correctly, masks can be a valuable tool for reducing the spread of Covid. How, then, should the country be thinking about masks during the current stage of the pandemic? Today’s newsletter tries to answer that question.

Broad and lenient

The trouble with the transportation mask mandate was that it was both too broad and too lenient.

Its breadth required people to muzzle their faces for long periods of time, and most people don’t enjoy doing so. (If you doubt that, check out the gleeful responses of airline passengers and school children when told they didn’t have to wear masks anymore.)

A central lesson of public health is that people have a limited capacity to change their routine. They’re not machines. For that reason, the best responses to health crises depend on triage, with political leaders prioritizing the most valuable steps that people can take. Whenever politicians impose rules that are obviously ineffective, they undermine the credibility of the effective steps.

The transportation mandate had so many exceptions that many Americans understandably questioned its worth. Travelers took off their masks to eat and drink. Some flight attendants removed their masks to make announcements. Some passengers wore their masks on their chins. The mandate also did not require N95 and KN95 masks, which are more effective against the virus than cloth masks or standard medical masks.

 

These problems — the open doors on the mask-mandate submarine — help explain a pandemic conundrum: Rigorous laboratory tests show that masks reduce Covid transmission, but supporting real-world evidence tends to be much weaker.

The most glaring example in the U.S. is that liberal communities, where masks are a cherished symbol of solidarity, have experienced nearly as much Covid spread as conservative communities, where masks are a hated symbol of oppression. Another example is school mask mandates, which don’t seem to have had much effect. A third example is Hong Kong, where mask wearing is very popular (although often not with N95 or KN95 masks, Osterholm notes); Hong Kong has just endured a horrific Covid wave, among the world’s worst since the pandemic began.

Osterholm, who spent 15 years as Minnesota’s state epidemiologist and has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington, argues that much of the U.S. public health community has exaggerated the value of broad mask mandates. KN95 and N95 masks reduce the virus’s spread, he believes, but mandates like the one on airlines do little good.

“Public health advice has been way off the mark, all along, about mask protection,” he told me. “We have given the public a sense of a level of protection that is just not warranted.”

Osterholm added: “Let’s just be honest.”

Narrow and strict

A more effective approach to mask mandates would probably be both narrower and stricter. It would close the big, obvious loopholes in any remaining mandates — but also limit the number of mandates.

The reality is that masks are less valuable today than they were a year or two ago. Covid vaccines are universally available in the U.S. for adults and teenagers, and the virus is overwhelmingly mild in children. Treatments for vulnerable people are increasingly available.

And consider this: About half of Americans have recently had the Omicron variant of Covid. They currently have little reason to wear a mask, for anybody’s sake.

Together, vaccines and treatments mean that the risks of severe Covid for boosted people — including the vulnerable — seem to be similar to the risks of severe influenza. The U.S., of course, does not mandate mask wearing every winter to reduce flu cases. No country does.

Another relevant factor is that one-way masking reduces Covid transmission. People who want to wear a mask because of an underlying health condition, a fear of long Covid or any other reason can do so. When they do, they deserve respect.

“One-way masking works,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said. When he is treating tuberculosis patients, they are typically maskless, and he wears an N95 mask to protect himself.

Still, if Covid illness begins surging again at some point, there may be situations in which mandates make sense. To be effective, any mandates probably need to be strict, realistic and enforced. Imagine, for example, that a subway system mandated KN95 or N95 masks inside train cars — but not on platforms, which tend to be airy.

Or imagine that the C.D.C. required high-quality masks in the airport and aboard a plane on the runway — but not in flight when people will inevitably eat and when a plane’s air-filtration system is on. “When I travel, I’m always more worried about in-airport exposures than I am the plane,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University epidemiologist, said.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has spent much of the past two years with the worst of all worlds on masks. People have been required to wear them for hours on end, causing frustration and exhaustion and exacerbating political polarization. Yet the rules have included enough exceptions to let Covid spread anyway. The burden of the mandates has been relatively high, while the benefits have been relatively low. It’s the opposite of what a successful public health campaign typically does.

16) The Dead Eyes interview with Tom Hanks was about the perfect podcast episode.  And the 29 before it were well worth the trip. 

Quick hits (part II)

Happy Easter!

1) I watched about 5 minutes of “Old Enough” on Netflix before I got bored. But it’s a great starting off point for Jessica Grose’s latest parenting newsletter:

An aggressively adorable reality show that’s been on for decades in Japan recently hit Netflix. It’s called “Old Enough!” and it depicts Japanese little ones, some as young as 2, taking their first solo journeys (the show’s original title is translated as “My First Errand”). ..

In addition to being utterly charmed by how cute the show is, my response was: This wouldn’t fly in the United States. If there were an American version, parents who allowed their children to appear would probably be framed as irresponsible, or the kids would be shown to need parental support at every turn.

It’s not just Japan. In much of the rest of the world, kids are allowed to do more solo at earlier ages. Dan Kois, who wrote a book about traveling the world with his 9- and 11-year-olds, said, “Our experience in most of the places we lived in the course of that year, children, especially middle-grade children, were given enormous amounts of freedom that were totally incomprehensible” to the average American. In the Netherlands, for instance, Kois said that kids rode their bikes to school by themselves.

Though I knew American parents were more protective than some parents in other countries, I was surprised at the extent of the protectiveness. According to a 2012 analysis of a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mean age at which American adults believed a child could be left at home alone was 13, bathe alone was 7 and a half, bike alone was around 10.

American norms seem also to have become more protective over time…

Experts peg the 1980s and 1990s as when American parenting started becoming more conservative in this way. Lenore Skenazy, the founder of Free-Range Kids and the president of Let Grow, an organization that advocates children having more freedom, said that a shift began, understandably, when child abductions were getting a lot of national media coverage. Etan Patz and Adam Walsh became household names, and rather than thinking of these cases as horrific anomalies, parents began to think of child kidnapping as something more common than it is.

Skenazy said that poorly defined child neglect laws also play a role. Many parents have told me they want to give their kids more freedom, but worry that if they let their 9-year-old go to the park alone, for example, they might wind up getting a call from child protective services. (Skenazy notes that this kind of thing really happens.) Others might make the argument that there’s not much downside to being extra cautious, but research suggests something more complicated — a 2021 paper in the Journal of Family Psychology found that too much parental involvement may lead to worse self-regulation among kindergartners. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that part of the reason American teenagers are so anxious is that their bubble-wrapped childhoods can leave them without a sense of competence.

America is vast, and parents know their kids and their specific neighborhoods best — I’m not about to send my 5-year-old to the bodega by herself quite yet. But I hope watching “Old Enough!” will make more American parents consider the possibility that our cultural norms need a reset, or at least a rethink.

2) To me great art/literature is great because it speaks to the human condition.  Of course, there are culturally unique and specific aspects of the human condition, but what’s awesome is that a book written hundreds or thousands of years ago can still speak to people today or that a novel about being a child soldier in Africa can have a profound impact on a middle-class American.  It’s speaking to our shared humanity that makes great art.  Thus, I really enjoyed this portion of a conversation between Yascha Mounk and Classics professor, Roosevelt Montás:

Then there is this other aspect of it that is very dangerous. You alluded to this condescending notion that people who are from certain cultures, or certain racial or ethnic minorities, somehow don’t have the human apparatus to connect to big fundamental questions that some other student or individual does. My wife is an American white woman, and this culturally responsive approach to teaching easily falls into something like the idea that Dante is appropriate for her, but not for me. You know, “Give Roosevelt Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Junot Diaz, and give Leigh Plato and Aristotle.” There is a reductionist and narrowness and ultimately a condescension to that attitude that pervades education. I think we have done more damage than good by incorporating that type of thinking into our curriculum. I, as a high school student, found Plato to be very affirming. I found that Plato affirmed the deepest aspects of my identity. By Plato I mean Socrates, really—at least the figure that Plato gives us of Socrates. That had nothing to do with my ethnicity and with my language and with my culture; it had something to do more fundamentally with my sense of self, with the possibilities of living in a society. This happens over and over again—I see students are able to connect with, say, Dante, not because Dante is Italian and because it’s rooted in medieval Catholic theology; there’s something else in Dante, a point of connection that makes Dante no closer to an Italian American than to a Dominican American. 

Mounk: One of the things that I find weird about this, as you’re saying, is that the logical implication of “Only Spanish or Latino literature will appeal to somebody from the Dominican Republic,” is that only English people are truly going to get Shakespeare, which is deeply offensive. Though, when it comes to somebody like Socrates, it’s also the weird metaphysics that’s going on. Socrates lived so long ago, in a society that was so different from either the New York of 1985 or the Dominican Republic of 1985. Which of those two societies was closer to Socrates? I have no way to begin to answer that question. So there’s an odd idea, when you think about transhistorical white identity, where suddenly, the kid with roots that are not at all in Greece, living in a highly technologically, economically complex and diverse society in the 21st century, somehow is supposed to be just like Socrates. It’s just such a weird way of thinking about what it is to be human and how our contemporary identities map onto the past. 

Montás: And the sad thing is that it involves a certain kind of reductionism and essentialism that was invented, historically, as a tool of oppression. This notion of whiteness and blackness and this cultural essentialism develops in the service of racial supremacism, exploitation, enslavement, and absolute dehumanization of the other. Today, the logic is adopted so easily into a discourse that poses itself as progressive, anti-racist, and social justice-oriented. I don’t really question the intentions of people who advance this, but I do think that they are making a fundamental mistake and reproducing the categories that are the exact same tools that produce the oppression that they’re fighting.

3) Sometimes you talk to a journalist for half an hour and they use one boring, anodyne quote.  Other times, they make it worth your while.  Love how the quotes here very much capture how I actually speak about politics, “North Carolina primary bids watched by nation”

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Courthouse News that Budd probably didn’t lose any headway by not participating in the debate. 

He is financially formidable and is likely “Trumpy” enough to maintain a substantial Republican following, Greene said. 

The professor describes McCrory as more of an “old-guard, pre-Trump, reagan-era conservative,” while describing Budd as more of an “own-the-libs Republican.” 

“He has a potent national brand,” Greene said of Cawthorn, adding,” He’s aligned with Trump and in many ways, he represents what the Republican Party is all about right now.”

The young representative was recently reprimanded by GOP leadership for making public claims unflattering to the party, including tales of “orgy” invites.

That doesn’t matter either, Greene said. 

“Republican primary voters will be willing to overlook problematic statements,” he said, including Cawthorn’s recent statements siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukrainian leadership in the ongoing invasion.

He says Republican primary voters in the state are energized by Trump-esque rhetoric like that of Cawthorn’s. 

Plus, he said, “any Republican candidate with a pulse” is likely to win the majorly conservative 11th District over the Democratic challengers hoping to keep Cawthorn from gaining reelection in November. 

4) Lots of interesting facts/charts checking out here from Pew, “10 facts about today’s college graduates”

A line graph showing that since 2000, the share of Americans with a bachelor's degree has increased across all races and ethnicities

A chart showing that among household heads with at least a bachelor's degree, those with a college-educated parent are typically wealthier and have greater incomes

5) Edsall, ‘Trump Poses a Test Democracy Is Failing.”  This is all just so damn depressing the number of people who so readily choose power, owning-the-libs, negative partisanship, tax cuts or whatever over, you know… democracy.

Ordinary citizens play a critical role in maintaining democracy. They refuse to re-elect — at least in theory — politicians who abuse their power, break the rules and reject the outcome of elections they lose. How is it, then, that Donald Trump, who has defied these basic presumptions, stands a reasonable chance of winning a second term in 2024?

Milan W. Svolik, a political scientist at Yale, anticipated this question in his 2019 paper “Polarization versus Democracy”: “Voters in democracies have at their disposal an essential instrument of democratic self-defense: elections. They can stop politicians with authoritarian ambitions by simply voting them out of office.”

What might account for their failure to do so?

In sharply polarized electorates, even voters who value democracy will be willing to sacrifice fair democratic competition for the sake of electing politicians who champion their interests. When punishing a leader’s authoritarian tendencies requires voting for a platform, party, or person that his supporters detest, many will find this too high a price to pay.

In other words, exacerbated partisan competition “presents aspiring authoritarians with a structural opportunity: They can undermine democracy and get away with it.”

Svolik and Matthew H. Graham, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, expand on Svolik’s argument and its applicability to the United States. Supporters of democracy, they contend in their 2020 paper “Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States,” can no longer rely on voters to serve as a roadblock against authoritarianism:

We find the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices, and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence.

Graham and Svolik cite survey data demonstrating that “Americans have a solid understanding of what democracy is and what it is not” and can “correctly distinguish real-world undemocratic practices from those that are consistent with democratic principles.”…

Despite this awareness, Graham and Svolik continue,

only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: first, voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and second, voters employ a partisan ‘double standard’ when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms.

The authors have calculated that “only 3.5 percent of voters realistically punish violations of democratic principles in one of the world’s oldest democracies.”

6) The latest Jonathan Haidt everybody is talking about America as a modern-day Babel being ruined by social media (I haven’t actually read it yet, I’ll get around to it in my hardcopy Atlantic).

Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

7) I hate the LA Times paywall that gives you not a single article and diminishes their ability to have a national influence.  But, at least the journalist made a nice twitter thread here:

8) This is kind of cool. “Why Rome?”

Rome rose from obscurity to become a vast, prosperous and durable empire. It first outgrew the other Latin cities mainly due to its location as a nexus and its proximity to the wealthy Etruscans (75% confidence). If this is not the case, Rome does not get hegemony over Latium (70% confidence).

Roman culture then spread primarily through conquest (95% confidence). A key reason that this worked was the Romans’ unusually expansive and inclusive notion of citizenship, which increased its labour force, suppressed rebellious tendencies and gave conquered peoples a stake in the Roman venture (70% confidence). If this is not the case, the Romans don’t expand outside the Italian peninsula (60% confidence).

9) Chait, “Why Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Be the Last Democratic Justice for a Long Time The Court is getting more partisan and much harder to change.”

The important news from Jackson’s confirmation was not that Democrats managed to seat a justice; their possession of a Senate majority and the presidency made that a foregone conclusion. The news was that Democrats would not get another justice confirmed without controlling the Senate.

When McConnell announced in 2016 that he would not permit a hearing for any Supreme Court nominee put forward by Barack Obama, his stated rationale was that it would be improper for the Senate to confirm anybody during an election year. An army of conservative pundits came forward to vouchsafe this rationale. “Only once in U.S. history (in 1888) has the Senate acted before Election Day to confirm a justice who was nominated in the last year of a presidential term by a president of the opposing party,” insisted National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

It was perfectly obvious at the time that McConnell had simply concocted an arbitrary time frame, but conservatives put up a great show in pretending the distinction between election-year nominees and justices nominated other times had real meaning. But McConnell is now dispensing with the pretext and openly refusing to commit to holding hearings for a Democratic Court nominee at all, election year or no. As far as I can tell, the number of conservatives who disagree with him is zero.

The old norms governing Supreme Court nominations generally meant that a well-qualified jurist from within that party’s mainstream would command overwhelming approval from senators in both parties. But that expectation relied on the shared belief that judges were ideologically unpredictable. (Because, indeed, they were.)

In the new world, confirming a Supreme Court justice is just like passing any other part of the president’s agenda: You either have a majority of the votes in Congress or you don’t get it. It will now become routine for Supreme Court seats to stay vacant for years until one party controls the presidency and the Senate.

In practical terms, this will make it nearly impossible for Democrats to take back the Court in the near future. 

10) I was at the Hurricanes 3-0 loss to the Red Wings and they just killed the Red Wings in every metric except, of course, the one that counts. Led me to a bit of dive into the various advanced metrics and I quite like this one that shows plain old scoring chances % as a better metric than high danger chances for percentage.

11) Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias with a fascinating and thoughtful debate on defense spending.

12) And a really interesting interview on the military threats in space:

What are those biggest threats?

Our primary potential adversaries are China and Russia, which have clearly already demonstrated multiple ways that they would hold our space capabilities at risk. We’ve seen this in 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite missile that blew up one of their own satellites. By the way, today we’re still tracking thousands of pieces of debris from that test. That represents a threat to safety and navigation in space. Not a good event. 

And then, most recently, Russia did the same thing on the 15th of November last year, blew up one of their satellites. And now we have hundreds more pieces of debris that we’re tracking because of that. In addition, they continue to develop other capabilities: satellite and navigation signal jamming capabilities; directed energy capabilities from the ground that could be used to dazzle, disrupt, or even damage satellites in low earth orbit, and so on. 

So why are China and Russia doing this? Because they see what space means to modern warfare, and how dependent our terrestrial forces are on space capabilities. And they want to hold them at risk, because they’re actually afraid of the capabilities that our space assets bring to bear.

13) Great guest essay on the nurse convicted of a crime for a medical mistake.

But some are more devastating. RaDonda Vaught, a former Tennessee nurse, is awaiting sentencing for one particularly catastrophic case that took place in 2017. She administered a paralyzing medication to a patient before a scan instead of the sedative she intended to give to quell anxiety. The patient stopped breathing and ultimately died.

Precisely where all the blame for this tragedy lies remains debated. Ms. Vaught’s attorney argued his client made an honest mistake and faulted the mechanized medication dispensing system at the hospital where she worked. The prosecution maintained, however, that she “overlooked many obvious signs that she’d withdrawn the wrong drug” and failed to monitor her patient after the injection.

Criminal prosecutions for medical errors are rare, but Ms. Vaught was convicted in criminal court of two felonies and now faces up to eight years in prison. This outcome has been met with outrage by doctors and nurses across the country. Many worry that her case creates a dangerous precedent, a chilling effect that will discourage health care workers from reporting errors or close calls. Some nurses are even leaving the profession and citing this case as the final straw after years of caring for patients with Covid-19.

14) I don’t get why we can’t just have Ukrainian refugees give their dogs rabies shots at the border, “Ukrainians Face New Hurdle at U.S. Border: No Dogs: Federal health guidelines limit the entry of pets from countries like Ukraine with a high incidence of rabies. For some refugees, the rule has been devastating.”

15) No game-changer, but still a cool technological development, “The F.D.A. authorizes the first Covid-19 breath test.”

16) There had been a lot of hope for Vitamin D and Covid. Evidence is pretty clear, though, there’s just nothing there.  

17) The case for prescribing Paxlovid to low-risk Covid patients.

18) How they managed to build monasteries like this on top of rock formations hundreds of years ago just astounds me.

19) Yeah, we’re not getting to zero Covid.  But science just keeps on making progress, “Sabizabulin Cuts COVID-19 Death; Trial Stopped Early Due to Efficacy”

Positive results were announced from a phase 3 trial evaluating sabizabulin in hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Sabizabulin is an oral cytoskeleton disruptor that blocks microtubule trafficking. The investigational treatment is expected to provide both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, thereby treating both the SARS-CoV-2 infection and the cytokine storm and septic shock that lead to ARDS.

The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04842747) included approximately 210 patients hospitalized with moderate to severe COVID-19 (WHO Ordinal Scale for Clinical Improvement score of at least 4) who were at high risk for ARDS and death.

Patients were randomly assigned 2:1 to receive sabizabulin orally once daily for up to 21 days or placebo. Both treatment arms were allowed to receive standard of care, which included remdesivirdexamethasone, anti-interleukin 6 (IL6) receptor antibodies, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. 

The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients who died by day 60. The key secondary endpoint was the proportion of patients who were alive without respiratory failure at day 15, day 22, and day 29.

An interim analysis showed that treatment with sabizabulin resulted in a clinically and statistically meaningful 55% relative reduction in deaths in the intent to treat population (P =.0029). The mortality rates for the sabizabulin and placebo groups were reported to be 20% and 45%, respectively. As for safety, sabizabulin was well tolerated with no clinically relevant safety concerns compared with placebo. According to the Company, secondary efficacy endpoints are still being analyzed.

20) Two things that are true.  Black Lives Matter is an important and worthy social movement. Black Lives Matter as an organization is basically scamming people. 

21) I’ve never actually been all that much of a fan of Louis C.K., but damn does a sub-headline like this annoy me, “Some comedians are questioning how the Recording Academy saw fit to bestow an award to someone who had admitted to sexual misconduct.”

Presumably because the voters thought he had the best comedy album.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Yglesias:

Because the thing about college is a lot of people like it! Not just because college is fun and has parties and stuff, but because a lot of people learn a lot of interesting things at college. I think I’m pretty decent at learning things on my own. But I took plenty of classes in college that involved close readings of dense texts or detailed technical matters, and I’m very bad at studying that kind of thing independently. Without the formal structure of a technical logic class, I’d never have been able to get through the proof of the diagonal lemma or all the technical aspects of Tarski’s undefinability theorem or Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Some people absolutely could do that. But I couldn’t.

The discipline of formal learning helped a lot with that. And with reading “Anna Karenina.” And with understanding David Lewis’ arguments about causation and possibility.

And even though I generally don’t use this information in my day-to-day work, it actually does come up from time to time. But more to the point, doing the work of struggling through it taught me things about how to learn and how to know what I don’t know.

2) Good social science:

Do policy makers in both parties represent the opinions of the richest Americans, ignoring those of median income? We find that the two political parties primarily represent different interest group sectors, rather than public economic classes. The Republican Party and business interests are aligned across all issue areas and are more often aligned with the opinions of the richest Americans (especially on economic policy). Democrats more often represent middle class opinions and are uniformly aligned with advocacy groups. Support from both parties is associated with policy adoption, but party influence cannot explain the association between affluent opinions and policy outcomes. Rather than an oligarchic political system, these patterns show competition among organized elites that still provides multiple potential paths for unequal public class influence.

3) Free speech debate:

Cancel culture comes from our natural instinct to silence dissent. The desire for compliance and conformity is reflected in most of human history. It’s deeply ingrained in all of us. We did not have to learn to censor others, we had to learn to be tolerant of nonconformity. We had to learn not to burn the heretic.

Cancel culture is a useful term for delineating the social media era expression of the ancient desire for conformity. Pervasive social media means that things that might have previously been ignored––angry letters sent to The New York Times––are now potentially successful efforts to mobilize a sufficient number of people to ruin lives. Early attempts to describe the new phenomena are instructive, including my own short book Freedom From Speech (2014), the documentary Can We Take a Joke? (2015), and Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (2015).

So how would I define cancel culture? Broadly and tentatively, of course. How about: 

“Cancel culture” is a term to refer to a relatively recent (post-2013) uptick in—and success of—ideologically driven efforts to get individuals fired or otherwise cast out of acceptable society for non-conforming speech or actions, including speech that would have once been considered trivial, private, or unrelated to someone’s job. It is tightly related to the rise in social media, which allows for unparalleled collective policing of ideological norms, and the comparative ease of creating online “outrage mobs.” 

Cancel culture is in my view, the progeny of campus “callout culture” that Jonathan Haidt and I explore in our book TheCoddling of the American Mind (2019). Some characteristics of campus callout culture looks similar to cancel culture, including: 1) the conflation of expressions of opinion with physical violence, 2) the use of ad hominem rhetorical tactics which delegitimize the person and soften or ignore the substance of the argument), 3) the elimination of concern for the intent of targeted speech, relying solely on its claimed effect, 4) a high reliance on guilt by association and theories of “moral pollution” (a concept well explained by my colleague Pamela Paresky), and 5) appeals to authority to punish or remove the targeted speaker (also known as moral dependency). None of these criteria are required to be part of cancel culture, but some or all of these characteristics often are. 

Cancel culture often relies on speech that is already unprotected under First Amendment law, including threats of bodily harm and outright harassment. In other cases, cancel culture demands behavior from others that would be unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful. While, for example, you’re absolutely free to advocate for less free speech by, for example, demanding a professor be fired for their expression, if a public university were to act on those demands it would violate the law, plain and simple. 

The forces of conformity are very strong in humans, and we’ve given them superpowers in recent days. It must be opposed. Diversity of opinion, the right to individual conscience, the power of thought experimentation and devil’s advocacy are important for a free and innovative society.

4) https://twitter.com/GarrettPetersen/status/1508499283628101632

Black People Less Likely

5) Tim Noah on taxing the rich:

Manchin gave a much better reason Monday for opposing Biden’s billionaire tax. You can’t be taxed “on things you don’t have,” he said. “You might have it on paper. There are other ways for people to pay their fair share.”

Indeed there are.

You can lay on higher tax brackets for incomes well above $628,300, which is where the top marginal rate of 37 percent kicks in now for married couples filing jointly. Biden proposes raising that top rate to 39.6 percent, which is where it was under Barack Obama, but he doesn’t add any new brackets. There ought to be three or four piled on top, with the marginal tax rate maxing out at perhaps 70 percent, which was the top rate in the 1960s and 1970s. (Before that, the top rate was 90 percent or more.)

You can also tax capital gains the same as wage income, which Biden more or less proposes for people who earn in excess of $1 million. Biden would raise the top capital gains rate from the current 20 percent to 37 percent, which—combined with an existing net investment income tax of 3.8 percent—would lift the effective top tax rate on capital to 40.8 percent. Really, that’s the way it should be for all investors, not just those who earn more than $1 million.

You can also raise the top corporate tax rate above the pitiful 21 percent to which President Donald Trump lowered it from the previous 35 percent. Biden now proposes raising it to 28 percent. A decent case can be made that 28 percent would make the U.S. competitive with comparable industrial democracies—provided our tax code eliminated an accompanying thicket of deductions. That was the original idea, following the example of the 1986 income-tax reform bill, when both parties discussed reforming corporate taxation a decade ago. But of course Trump lowered the top rate to 21 percent without eliminating any deductions, and in proposing an increase to 28 percent Biden isn’t eliminating any deductions either. Absent such housecleaning, the top corporate income tax rate should go back to 35 percent.

You can also tax unrealized capital gains at death, as Biden proposes. As things stand now, when you die and your assets transfer to your heirs, the only capital gains they must pay taxes on when they sell are those accumulated after they received the inheritance.

These reforms are all better ways than Biden’s billionaire tax to raise taxes on the rich. But it’s doubtful Manchin would support them. Indeed, except for the billionaire tax, every proposed Biden tax change cited above was also proposed by Biden last year, and Biden’s fellow Democrats—not just Manchin—shot them down. The Democrats rejected these tax changes, even though the changes didn’t go far enough.

Biden’s own timidity is reflected in his pledge not to raise taxes on anybody earning less than $400,000. The Democrats have been pampering the haute bourgeoisie in this fashion for more than a decade, with the protected class growing ever richer. President Barack Obama pledged not to raise taxes on anybody earning less than $250,000; now the magic number is $400,000. The notion that anybody today earning less than $400,000 (or even $250,000) can’t afford to pay higher taxes is patently absurd. Richard Reeves, a British-American senior fellow at Brookings, says mass denial by the affluent of their economic circumstances is the most baffling phenomenon he’s encountered in his adopted home. “If you’re upper middle class and you’re comfortably making six figures as a household,” he told me, “then when we talk about the need to raise taxes on people who can afford it, we mean you.” But that’s a hard sell even to liberal Democrats.

So where do you end up if you’re a Democratic president? You end up, like Biden, proposing a tax on billionaires that you know will never become law.

6) Kareem FTW:

Some have romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie Girls Trip with Pinkett Smith, praised Smith’s actions: “[F]or me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

Actually, it was the opposite. Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith’s intervention would have been welcome. Or if he’d remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.

This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.

7) Damn do I love Jeff Maurer, “Is There Even the Slightest Chance That We, As a Nation, Are Becoming Somewhat Humorless”

So: “Don’t make fun of the weak” is a good rule. When someone says “you can’t make fun of me,” they’re basically saying “I’m weak.” Which is okay. Another sign of societal progress is moving away from the dumbass machismo that requires never admitting weakness. This stupidity is what causes some dudes to respond to any injury smaller than a whale harpoon to the brain with “I’m fine”. We were all weak once, most of us will be weak again, protecting the weak is something a healthy society does.

But let’s also recognize that weakness is not a good state of being. It’s precarious; it doesn’t feel good. Protecting a weak person is Plan B; Plan A should be for the person to be strong. In the context of comedy, a weak person doesn’t get to be in on the fun; they have to be the Jehovah’s Witness kid forced to sit in the library while the rest of the class celebrates a birthday. By labeling a person “protected”, we’re acknowledging that they — unfortunately — can’t enjoy the feeling of safety that comedy provides…

mpathy protects the weak, but a person with too much empathy (yes, I think a person can have too much empathy) can enable perpetual weakness. And a culture that over-values empathy (yes, I think a culture can over-value empathy2) can cause people to encourageweakness in others so that they can assume the hero protector role.

Let me make this less abstract. In her comedy special Nanette, Hannah Gadsby criticized self-deprecation by gay comics. I can see where she’s coming from: Comedy that stereotyped gay people was common very recently. When I was starting out in the mid-2000s, you’d often see a gay comic doing borderline minstrelry. I completely understand Gadsby’s aversion to comedy that gets a laugh at gay people’s expense.

But she applies her criticism in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. 17 minutes into her act, Gadsby executes an abrupt tonal shift, announcing: “I have to quit comedy.” Here’s her explanation:

“I have been questioning this whole comedy thing. I don’t feel very comfortable in it anymore. … I had built a career out of self-deprecating humor. That’s what I’ve built my career on, and I don’t want to do that anymore. (applause) Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility; it’s humiliation.”

I respectfully disagree with that one thousand percent. Gadsby is ruling out the possibility that healthy self-deprecation could ever come from a gay comic. She’s declaring that gay comics — gay people — can only ever exist “on the margins”. In doing so, she relegates gay people to permanently weak and vulnerable status. I think that’s an inaccurate view of the world and frankly a pretty fucked-up thing to do.

When a comedian self-deprecates, they’re saying “I can take it.” It’s a form of ju-jitsu in which the comic demonstrates strength by admitting weakness; they’re saying “Here are my flaws, but who gives a shit? I’m fine.” The audience laughs because they feel comfortable; they see a person who’s flawed but unafraid. On some primitive level, people get the signal: “We’re all safe here.”

Gadsby seems to believe that no gay person could ever possess that strength. She uses the language of the social justice left (“marginalized communities”) that assumes that certain groups will always be weak and unsafe. While I acknowledge that some people in those groups are sometimes weak and unsafe — and sometimes specifically because of their membership in that group — I can’t over-emphasize how toxic I believe Gadsby’s mindset to be. It’s the polar opposite of empowerment; it’s a plea for empathy that condemns large swaths of humanity to permanent on-the-brink-of-crisis status. Gadsby also indicates that she not only thinks that this state of affairs is true now, but that it will always be true. It’s fatalism in its purest form…

The ability to take a joke is a positive trait. A society that places no limits on what’s “fair game” would be cruel, but a society that declares most things off limits would be treating people like children. When people can’t take a joke…well, that’s a shame. I hope those people get to a place where they can let go of their fear, because I’d like them to join in on the fun. I don’t know if our society is getting more humorless or not, but if the recent behavior of the guy who started his career doing funky fresh raps while wearing a sideways baseball hat is any indication, then we might be headed in the wrong direction.

8) This Chait profile of DeSantis is really good and you should read it, but my favorite part was this summation of Trump:

Many Republicans have tried to discern the source of Trump’s appeal and replicate it. As early as 2016, Ted Cruz was tacking to Trump’s right on abortion and guns, and Marco Rubio briefly tried to match Trump’s schoolyard insults, at one point making fun of the size of his hands. But Trump’s secret sauce with the base turned out to be his unwavering pugilism. Having spent more time than perhaps any other Republican candidate consuming conservative media, Trump had absorbed its message that conservative America is under assault by sinister liberal elites. He built a political style designed for the world depicted on Fox News, in which the Republican Party is always losing because its leaders are too weak to fight back.

Conservatives sum up his appeal with the phrase “But he fights.” As the “but” implies, they often acknowledge Trump’s flaws before praising his overriding instinct to attack their enemies. Even his errors can turn to his benefit. The more Trump draws howls of outrage from liberals and the media, the more he proves his tribal bona fides.

DeSantis has undertaken an almost clinical effort to manufacture and bottle this aspect of Trump’s style. He has repeated the Trumpian narrative that the party’s leaders have failed to take the fight to the enemy. “We cannot, we will not, go back to the days of the failed Republican Establishment of yesteryear,” he promised in 2021. DeSantis’s brand is, like Trump’s, a Republican who never compromises, never apologizes, and always fights — whether the issue is education, the pandemic, or even Trump’s misconduct. At the CPAC conference in his home state in February, he claimed that Democrats “want us to be second-class citizens” and assailed the “corrupt and dishonest legacy media.”

9) Bruni on DeSantis and “Don’t say gay”

DeSantis has deftly portrayed that nomenclature as liberal hysteria and leftist overreach.

But that, too, is unfair. There are reasons aplenty to balk at what Florida has done — to see it as more than a simple caveat affecting only students through the third grade. And I say that as someone who is not pushing instruction on matters gay or trans for students in that age range, who doesn’t care a whit whether a 7-year-old knows the name Harvey Milk, who agrees that parents’ sensibilities and sensitivities must be factored into how schools operate.

Here’s what DeSantis doesn’t cop to: a vagueness in the legislation’s language that suggests its potential application to children well beyond the third grade. Look at the words I’ve boldfaced in this clause of the law: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” What additional prohibitions — what future muzzling — are those phrases opening the door to?

It’s a necessary question, because it’s coupled with this one: What’s motivating the law’s promoters and supporters, who’ve lifted this issue above so many others with more relevance to, and impact on, the quality of Floridians’ everyday lives?

In case you missed it, DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, framed the bill as an important defense against pedophiles’ recruitment of children into homosexual activity. There’s no other way to read this tweet of hers: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” She’s paid to articulate DeSantis’s viewpoints, and she’s peddling perhaps the nastiest, cruelest homophobic stereotype there is.

Under fire for those remarks, she said that she was using her personal Twitter account during her off-work hours. How very reassuring.

10) Okay, I’m going to actually come back to Chait for some stuff on DeSantis:

Acommon assumption of mainstream-media analysis of DeSantis is that he is merely pandering to Trump and his supporters and, as a graduate of Yale and Harvard, is too smart to actually believe what he is saying. This is a failure of imagination. DeSantis developed reactionary suspicions of democracy before Trump ever came along, which positioned him perfectly to straddle the elite-base divide within his party. In fact, DeSantis once wrote a book warning of the dangers of a megalomaniacal president who threatened to destroy the foundations of the republic. That president’s name was Barack Obama.

DeSantis published Dreams From Our Founding Fathers in 2011, when he was running for Congress. It is out of print and has received barely any attention in the media. DeSantis joked recently that the book “was read by about a dozen people.” But it provides deep insight into the worldview that has propelled him to this point.

Published at the height of the tea-party movement, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers made the case that Obama and his agenda were inimical to the Constitution and this country’s founding ideals. It is sprinkled with passages DeSantis would never have written after Trump took office. He notes accurately that the Founders “worried about the emergence of popular leaders who utilized demagoguery to obtain public support in service of their personal ambitions.” He flays Obama for alienating traditional allies, meeting with foreign dictators, and impugning American innocence with statements like “We sometimes make mistakes,” a far more measured assessment than Trump’s “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” He devotes an entire chapter to the importance of the president being personally humble, depicting Obama’s alleged excessive self-confidence as a disqualifying trait.

DeSantis’s obsession with media bias, which has since become a motif of his political style, clearly developed before he ran for office. He laces the book with bitter complaints that the media failed to vet Obama or expose his allegedly radical influences, while extensively citing criticisms of Obama that appeared in the mainstream press, oblivious to the contradiction. DeSantis is an exceedingly unreliable narrator, wrenching heavily abridged quotations out of context to distort their meaning. For example, he plucks the phrase “At a certain point you’ve made enough money” to characterize Obama as a radical socialist who wants to confiscate all income above some level, neglecting to note that Obama’s follow-up was: “But, you know, part of the American way is that you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or you’re providing a good service.”

Still, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers is much more interesting than a typical partisan screed. Its author, who majored in history and spent a year teaching the subject at a tony boarding school, has clearly given a great deal of thought to the book’s thesis: that Obama’s agenda of raising taxes on the rich and spending more money on the non-rich is an attack on the Constitution…

The Constitution, he argues, was designed to “prevent the redistribution of wealth through the political process.” The danger is that, as his fake Franklin quote suggests, people will support programs funded by taxing the rich that benefit themselves. “Popular pressure to redistribute wealth or otherwise undermine the rights of property,” he laments, “will ever be present.” The Constitution’s role, as DeSantis sees it, is to prevent popular majorities from enacting the economic policies they want…

DeSantis treats any further expansion of government as a mortal threat to the Constitution. Sentences like “Obamanomics represents a dramatic departure from the nation’s founding principles” and “Obama’s quest to ‘fundamentally transform the United States of America’ represents the type of political program that the Constitution was designed to prevent” are found in nearly every chapter. The word redistribution and its variants appear more than 150 times.

11) Kareem on Will Smith:

Some have romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie Girls Trip with Pinkett Smith, praised Smith’s actions: “[F]or me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

Actually, it was the opposite. Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith’s intervention would have been welcome. Or if he’d remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.

This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor lest they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.

12) We need to stop convicting people when the only evidence is coerced confessions.

13) Beutler on Democrats and Clarence Thomas:

First, let’s review what we know, suspect, and don’t know about the Thomases’ conduct.

We know:

  • Ginni Thomas communicated with Donald Trump’s last White House Chief or Staff Mark Meadows, GOP members of Congress, other administration officials, and a network of elite right-wing lawyers including many of her husband’s former clerks, about overturning the election and re-installing Trump in power for an illegitimate second term.
  • She claimed to have discussed these matters as well with her “best friend.”
  • Also, “best friend” is her sobriquet for Clarence (which, let’s face it, would be incredibly heartwarming, if they weren’t quite so corrupt).
  • The January 6 committee knows about the Meadows communications, because he handed them over of his own accord, before contemptuously ending his cooperation with the committee.
  • There’s an unexplained gap in the available Thomas/Meadows correspondence between late November and after the insurrection.
  • There’s also an unexplained, eight hour gap in Trump’s insurrection day call log.
  • Filling those gaps will require the committee (and, hello Merrick Garland, DOJ?) to review other White House records and private telecommunications records. 
  • Congressional Republicans and Ginni Thomas have reacted with suspicious alarm at the thought of their phone records becoming public, and have retaliated against the two GOP members of the January 6 committee. Kevin McCarthy even threatened telecommunications companies with revenge if they cooperate with the January 6 committee.
  • Clarence Thomas participated in numerous election and coup-related cases before the Supreme Court, most suspiciously when he voted alone to hear Trump’s farcical legal challenge to the election, and then voted alone a year later to conceal Trump administration records from the January 6 committee.

Yikes. 

Knowing all this, we thus strongly suspect, but can’t assert:

  • Ginni talked to her husband about efforts to overturn the election.
  • He had reason to believe Trump-era White House records would contain evidence of her involvement in (or adjacency to) the coup.
  • He took his vote to give the coup a fighting chance in court in futherance of his wife’s goal of ending constitutional government in the U.S.
  • He took his vote to conceal evidence from the January 6 committee corruptly, to protect his wife, and possibly to cover up other damning evidence.

And if we work to confirm or disprove what we suspect, we’d learn about things we really don’t know, such as:

  • To what extent Ginni Thomas was aware of or involved in non-procedural (that is, violent) efforts to overturn the government.
  • To what extent was her husband also aware that the plot his wife was at least privy to involved organized violence.  
  • How many other cases Thomas has ruled in to advance his wife’s interests.

I want answers; I think I’m entitled to them; I can handle the truth; etc etc. I also want politics to be more normal than it is, and that can’t happen if Democrats allow these revelations to be swept away by the news cycle…

As much as I appreciate any effort to get the party to do something rather than nothing, I’d like these Democrats, straddling the poles of their caucuses, to give a bit more thought to the inherent absurdity of demanding that if a Supreme Court justice was privy or party to a plot to overthrow the republic he must recuse himself from certain cases in the future. That an apparent enemy of constitutional government must follow the basic ethical rules of constitutional government. 

I appreciate that Democrats can’t make Thomas resign, and that if they impeach him, Senate Republicans will once again make themselves party to vast corruption by acquitting him of any wrongdoing. I even agree to some extent with Dan Pfeiffer that—because of this complicity—the ultimate recourse can only be for voters to punish Republicans for conspiring against the United States. 

But there will be no price to pay if voters never learn that something deeply wrong is afoot; that there’s a blood clot in the heart of our system of self-rule. Democrats who say this must fall to voters to remedy also must know that under this leadership team’s approach, that’ll never happen; Democrats can’t make this scandal a high-salience issue with short-lived demands for recusal that fall on deaf ears. 

And the key is, the alternative to what they’ve done isn’t “nothing.” There’s a great deal more they could do. 

  • They could subpoena Ginni Thomas’s testimony before the January 6 committee and/or the Judiciary and oversight committees. 
  • They could ask her under oath whether she discussed her desire or efforts to overturn the election with her husband.
  • They could subpoena records pertinent to previous cases where it appears Clarence Thomas worked as his wife’s agent on the Supreme Court.
  • If she refuses to appear or to answer questions, they could hold her in criminal contempt of Congress.
  • They could censure Thomas. 
  • They could impeach Thomas in the manner of an ultimate censure, foregrounding for voters that, because they are parties to corruption, Republicans will make sure he isn’t removed from office.

If I were a Democratic leader, I think I’d probably balance the competing wings of the party by saying something like, “we need to investigate this matter aggressively, because if what appears to be true is proved, it’s impeachable conduct.” That would subject the Thomases to an aggressive public fact-finding effort, and leave the door open to either another symbolic impeachment, or, alternatively, some kind of party-wide statement that Thomas’s continued service is intolerable—and that those protecting him are unfit for office. 

14) Thanks to RJ for this on Israeli efforts on lab-grown meat.  Plant-based or lab-grown, let’s just get some more high-quality and affordable alternatives out there. 

15) And, hey, how about some pork alternatives while we’re at it.  Because I hate stuff like this, “Supreme Court to Weigh California Law on Humane Treatment of Pigs
Trade groups challenged the law, which requires adequate space for breeding pigs to turn around, saying it unfairly burdens out-of-state farmers.”

16) Pretty cool NYT interactive on the once and future evolution of Covid.  I haven’t done enough “gift links” so, here’s one you should use. 

17) I’ve got pretty much zero interest in baseball these days, yet I found this article on the history and now re-positioning of 2nd base pretty interesting.  

18) The video in here is definitely must-see, “Snow Squall Leads to 50-Car Pileup on Pennsylvania Highway”

19) This seems worth paying attention to.  Especially for me given my daughter’s age, “Does Social Media Make Teens Unhappy? It May Depend on Their Age.
A large study in Britain found two specific windows of adolescence when some teenagers are most sensitive to social media.”

Analyzing survey responses of more than 84,000 people of all ages in Britain, the researchers identified two distinct periods of adolescence when heavy use of social media spurred lower ratings of “life satisfaction”: first around puberty — ages 11 to 13 for girls, and 14 to 15 for boys — and then again for both sexes around age 19.

Like many previous studies, this one found that the relationship between social media and an adolescent’s well-being was fairly weak. Still, it suggested that there were certain periods in development when teenagers may be most sensitive to the technology.

“We actually considered that the links between social media and well-being might be different across different ages — and found that that is indeed the case,” said Amy Orben, an experimental psychologist at Cambridge University, who led the study…

Still, research looking for a direct relationship between social media and well-being has not found much.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of these studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” said Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University who has conducted a meta-analysis of 226 such studies.

What is notable about the new study, said Dr. Hancock, who was not involved in the work, is its scope. It included two surveys in Britain totaling 84,000 people. One of those surveys followed more than 17,000 adolescents ages 10 to 21 over time, showing how their social media consumption and life-satisfaction ratings changed from one year to the next.

“Just in terms of scale, it’s fantastic,” Dr. Hancock said. The rich age-based analysis, he added, is a major improvement over previous studies, which tended to lump all adolescents together. “The adolescent years are not like some constant period of developmental life — they bring rapid changes,” he said.

The study found that during early adolescence, heavy use of social media predicted lower life-satisfaction ratings one year later. For girls, this sensitive period was between ages 11 and 13, whereas for boys it was 14 and 15. Dr. Orben said that this sex difference could simply be because girls tend to hit puberty earlier than boys do.

“We know that adolescent girls go through a lot of development earlier than boys do,” Dr. Orben said. “There are a lot of things that could be potential drivers, whether they’re social, cognitive or biological.”

20) Jamelle Bouie on Ginni Thomas, “Ginni Thomas Is No Outlier”

At this point, there’s very little distance between the fringes of the modern Republican Party and the elites who lead it. Superficial differences of affect and emphasis mask shared views and ways of seeing. In fact, members of the Republican elite are very often the fringe figures in question.

Take Virginia (known as Ginni) Thomas. She is an influential and well-connected conservative political activist who has been a fixture of Washington since the late 1980s. A fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump, she reportedly urged his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to do everything in his power to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election and keep Trump in power. And judging from her text messages to Meadows — which include the hope that the “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators” are awaiting trial before military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay — she is also something of a QAnon believer, one of millions of Americans who embrace the conspiracy theory that Trump is fighting a messianic war against the “deep state.”

Ginni Thomas is also, notably, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And while Justice Thomas is in no way responsible for the actions of his spouse, it does beggar belief to think he is unaware of her views and actions, including her work to keep Trump in office against the will of the electorate.

But that’s something of a separate issue. What matters here is that we have, in Ginni Thomas, a very high-profile Republican activist who holds, and acts on, fringe, conspiratorial beliefs. And she is not alone…

You can play this game with any number of prominent Republicans. Leading figures like Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia regularly give voice to conspiracy theories and other wild accusations. Last month, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, released an 11-point agenda that, among other things, denies the existence of transgender people and calls on the government to treat socialism as a “foreign combatant.”

And those Republicans who don’t openly hold fringe views are more than willing to pander to them, such as Senator Ted Cruz’s enthusiastic embrace of “stop the steal” and Senator Josh Hawley’s QAnon dog whistle that Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is soft on (and sympathetic to) child predators.

For Democrats, and especially for Democratic leadership, the upshot of all of this is that they should give up whatever hope they had that the Republican Party will somehow return to normal, that the fever will break and American politics will snap back to reality. From its base to its leaders, the modern Republican Party is fully in the grip of an authoritarian movement animated by extreme beliefs and fringe conspiracy theories.

Democrats can’t force Republicans onto a different path. But they also can’t act as if they’re above the fray. That appears to have been the plan so far, and if the current political state of the Democratic Party is any indication, it’s not working. The only alternative is to confront the Republican Party as forcefully as possible and show the extent to which that party has descended into conspiracies and corruption.

21) Brownstein, “The Green-Energy Culture Wars in Red States”

The battle over the nation’s energy future has become another front in the escalating cultural and political confrontation between what America has been and what it is becoming.

The states that are most deeply integrated into the existing fossil-fuel economy, either as producers or as consumers, tend also to be the places that are most resistant to, and separated from, the major demographic, cultural, and economic changes remaking 21st-century American life.

These fossil-fuel-reliant states are nearly all among those moving most aggressively to restrict voting, abortion, and LGBTQ rights; to ban books; and to censor what teachers and college professors can say about race, gender, and sexual orientation. The majority of them rank near the bottom among the 50 states in the share of their residents who hold four-year college degrees, are foreign-born, or work in occupations tied to the new digital economy, according to census figures. Industry marketing figures show they tend to rank near the bottom of the 50 states in adoption of electric vehicles and near the top in their reliance on gas-guzzling pickup trucks. Most of them have larger populations of white voters who identify as Christianand rely heavily on blue-collar work in the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: production of energy and other natural resources, manufacturing, and agriculture. Republicans dominate their electoral landscape, both in state and federal offices.

This convergence of fossil-fuel dependence, cultural conservatism, and isolation from the most dynamic modern industries captures how comprehensively the two parties are divided by their exposure to, and attitudes about, the changes reshaping America. It also shows how difficult it will be to establish any consensus for national action to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, despite the mounting evidence that climate change threatens all regions of the country (and the world).

The irony is that the energy transition may represent the best chance for the states most reliant on fossil fuels to benefit from the new sources of economic growth. Although the fossil-fuel-reliant states (with Texas and Ohio as the most conspicuous exceptions) are almost all peripheral today to the digital revolution creating massive wealth, many of them are already leaders in the production of clean energy, especially wind and solar power. Yet their political leaders, in what I’ve called the “brown blockade,” are generally fighting the policies that would accelerate the growth of those emerging industries—such as the tax incentives for clean energy in the sweeping Build Back Better economic plan that has been blocked by opposition from Joe Manchin and every Republican senator.

22) Really good stuff from Eric Topol on BA.2 and boosters:

What About a Second Booster?

There are only 3 studies of the 2nd booster to date, all during the Omicron wave in Israel , where these were initiated back in December 2021 for people age 60+ (previously for immunocompromised) and now are administered broadly to all adults who are past 4 months from their 3rd shot. The first study was small, looking at safety, antibody formation and vaccine effectiveness vs infections in health care workers. While the neutralizing antibody response from the 4th shot was good, the effectiveness vs symptomatic infections was quite low, only 31% for Moderna and 44% for Pfizer. The second study was in a million people age 60+ with either a 4th dose of at least 4 months out from the 3rd dose (1st booster). Follow-up was only 12+ days but a >4-fold protection against severe disease was demonstrated. The most important, 3rd study, was performed at Clalit Health, one of the 4 large healthcare organizations in Israel. It was also among people age 60+ and showed a 78% reduction of death for 4 shots vs 3 shots (post 4 or more months). This is remarkably similar to the Clalit Health report in people age 50+ with their first booster compared both only 2 shots (> 4 months out) for whom there was a 90% reduction of mortality. That study was conducted during Israel’s Delta wave. The absolute reductions in death are small in these studies (Y-axis), but the huge number of people in these age groups points to an important benefit at the population level.

This brings us to this week’s announcement by the FDA that 4th shots (Pfizer and Moderna) will be provided for people age 50+ as an option, which factors in the similarity of the data from these 2 reports. Note less divergence of the curves for Omicron in this side-by-side comparison with Delta, signifying less effect.

Should I get a 2nd booster?

The deficiency in our knowledge base is the lack of follow-up, maximal at only 40 days so far, for enhanced protection vs severe illness, hospitalization and death. Surely that’s worth something, and likely will have some durability for a few months. but It probably will have faster attrition than BA.1 protection from the Israeli data we’ve seen so far on infections. So this should be viewed as a temporizing, bridging measure.

I would recommend the 2nd booster if you are more than 4-6 months from your 3rd shot, you are age 50+, you tolerated the previous shots well, and you are concerned about the BA.2 wave where you live, or that it’s getting legs as you are trying to decide. Or if you are traveling or have plans that would put you at increased risk.

It can certainly be deferred, but the question is when is the right time, and whether an Omicron-specific vaccine will have any advantage over a 2nd booster directed at the original strain. The data from 2 animal models (macaques and mouse models) suggests there may not be advantage of the Omicron-specific vaccine but that may not correlate with its effect in people. From my discussions with FDA, it is not likely the Omicron-specific vaccine will be available before late May or June. So you can factor that uncertain added benefit and timeline into your decision.

It’s also fine to wait if there’s a low level of circulating virus where you live and work. Israel will have more follow-up data soon, and for all age groups, so in the weeks ahead we’ll know more about the magnitude, age range (such as age less than 50) and durability of the benefit.

If you had 3 shots and an Omicron breakthrough infection, there’s little need for getting a 2nd booster at this point. You’ve got some hybrid immunity and you can save an extra shot, if or when there’s ultimately supportive evidence for a later time.

If you haven’t had your 1st booster, you’re long overdue to get it. It was lifesaving vs Delta for people age 50+ and vital for maintaining high level of protection vs severe disease from the Omicron family of variants.

23) Sometimes I just see what movies Netflix thinks I should watch.  Last night I went with “The Imitation Game” the 2014 film about Alan Turing and the Enigma Project.  I found it fascinating and very entertaining.  If anybody has any recommended books about the Enigma and Ultra projects, do let me know.  I definitely want to learn more.  

My soccer coaching super power

Back when I was coaching my oldest son’s soccer team the biggest reason we won the vast majority of our games was that we had better players than the other teams. I’m no tactical genius nor especially good at teaching kids to get better at playing soccer. I like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out where to put kids on the field in the position they can best succeed and that I lack some of the glaring strategic flaws I’ve seen from some other coaches (don’t put your worst players on defense; don’t have you defense play so deep and unconnected from the rest of the team). But, mostly, I’ve had better players.

But, the thing is having better players is not just random chance. I love coaching soccer and just being around the kids and I’d like to think that makes for a pretty fun environment to play soccer. When the more talented players have the option of choosing to play “challenge” soccer or play for my team in Rec, staying with my rec team is not random. The reason the Blasters won so many games is that I had several players who would’ve been good players at the challenge-level, but did not like the environment when they played there and came back to the Blasters. Of course I lost players to challenge over the years who stayed challenge, but the positive, fun environment with my team let me keep more than my fair share of really talented players.

And, now, I’m really seeing the same dynamic play out with my daughter’s soccer team. I got the most delightful email from a parent this past week that included the following, “Also, I wanted to thank you for the cheerful and kind spirit/atmosphere you’ve created in this girls’ team. This is the first time ever [name] never says she doesn’t want to go to practice/games. She got accepted to NCFC challenge level, but did not want to leave this team.” My new best player was on a different team in our division last season and switched to us because her previous team was such a negative environment. Maybe she’ll move to challenge some day, but, for now, she loves being part of the team.

Anyway, yes, of course, there’s still a fair amount of luck involved with the random assignment of players in rec soccer. And sure, knowing how to teach players and deploy them effectively in games matters, but, I think my greatest strength as a coach has been to create a fun, positive environment and that has, wonderfully, also resulted in more winning (which, by the way, is fun).

Quick hits (part II)

1) Freddie deBoer on last week’s dust-up over NYT and cancel culture:

Another week, another opportunity for our media class to freak out when it’s suggested that we are living in an age that’s not friendly to open debate. The absolute madness this anodyne NYT op-ed provoked among the NPR tote bag set should be listed in the DSM. Just an absolute shriek of anger from the privileged, overeducated Brooklynites (in spirit if not in geography) who have put our intellectual culture in such a stranglehold.

I could go through the usual litany, starting with the fact that free speech and the First Amendment are not coterminous, that democratic society requires not just legal protection of the right to express oneself but a culture of open exchange, a shared social understanding that the only way to solve our myriad problems with their irreducible complexity is through an actually-existing free discursive space. I could also point out that liberals and leftists who insist that free speech refers only to freedom from government interference are swallowing libertarian ideology hook, line, and sinker, simply rolling over to the idea that private forces like corporations can’t abridge rights, and all for momentary argumentative convenience. I could do that.

But it would all be for naught. You have to understand this to understand our media class: the number one priority in their entire lives, above and beyond literally any other, is to earn insider status with other people in media. That’s it. That is their lodestar, their true north. They want other people in media to see them as cool and smart and fuckable, and most of all they want to have the right opinions, the opinions that the group doesn’t laugh at. The mirror image of the desperation to be considered cool is the intense, all-consuming fear of being made fun of by cool people in media. Look at the way they write, report, communicate with each other; these people are absolutely terrified that someone’s going to take something they say and hold it up for mockery on Twitter. This seems to me to be pretty much exactly the opposite attitude you should want among writers and journalists, who literally can only perform their function when they are pissing most people off. But that’s the professional culture of media, a culture defined by the fear of being made fun of.

And that’s why, when these debates go down, they never, ever say “well this scenario wasn’t ideal, I agree, but….” They can’t admit exceptions. Demonstrating themselves to be good and upstanding members of the in-crowd to which they relentlessly aspire forces them to deny the very notion of an exception. But I have to believe there are free speech controversies so bad that even they could be forced to admit an exception. So I’m going to tell you about a little controversy over free expression that was not, in any sense, ambiguous.

[And, you should click through and read the whole thing]

2) A public Yglesias post worth your time, “American poverty is too high for all kinds of people
The case for universalism”

Randolph himself in his introduction writes that “the tragedy is that the workings of our economy so often pit the white poor and the black poor against each other at the bottom of society.”

These were not people who were unaware of racial discrimination or indifferent to specifically racial forms of injustice. They were not practicing “colorblind” politics in the sense of modern-day Republicans who insist we can never talk about race or racism or its impact on American history and society. But they not only believed in a politics of universalism; they believed one of the major sins of racism was to pit people against each other who should have been cooperating to solve common problems.

White poverty is a significant issue

White Americans experience poverty at a much lower rate than Black Americans, a legacy of racism over the course of American history. It’s also true that white Americans of all income levels enjoy certain racial privileges. But if you are yourself white and poor, it doesn’t really do you, personally, any good to know that a different set of white people has a lot of money or that white people on average are unlikely to be poor.

As King was at pains to point out, in his time, a large majority of the poor were white. That is less true today since the population as a whole has become less white. But it is still true that since non-Hispanic whites are such a large share of the overall population, they are a plurality of the poor despite the lower poverty rate.

I think it’s a bad political strategy but also bad ethics to sweep low-income white people under the rug. This is a group that voted for Barack Obama twice before flipping to Donald Trump, and they experience lots of very real problems of material deprivation. They deserve on the merits to have their problems taken seriously, and taking those problems seriously is a necessary ingredient to winning a political coalition that will tackle poverty. If activists sincerely can’t get themselves excited about a broad political push against poverty per se and see the moral force in that, then I think that just reflects poorly on them. But I also doubt anyone who says that really means it. Little kids growing up in trailers with parents who don’t earn any money aren’t to blame for structural racism, and everyone knows it.

do suspect that the wealthy donor class genuinely does find King-style rhetoric about class struggle off-putting and prefers to think of things in narrow racial terms. But that is precisely the virtue of going back to the great civil rights leaders’ original texts, because King and Randolph and Bayard Rustin and others all rightly saw that as a dead end.

3) Must-read thread on the Russian army through the ages.

4) Carl Bergstrom and evolutionary models to help us think about the misinformation problem:

An evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, Bergstrom has studied the evolution of cooperation and communication in animals, influenza pandemics, and the best ways to rank scientific journals. But over the past 5 years, he has become more and more interested in how “bullshit” spreads through our information ecosystem. He started fighting it before COVID-19 emerged—through a popular book, a course he gives at UW’s Center for an Informed Public, and, ironically, a vigorous presence on social media—but the pandemic underscored how persuasive and powerful misinformation is, he says.

“Misinformation has reached crisis proportions,” Bergstrom and his UW colleague Jevin West wrote in a 2021 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “It poses a risk to international peace, interferes with democratic decision-making, endangers the well-being of the planet, and threatens public health.” In another PNAS paper, Bergstrom and others issued a call to arms for researchers to study misinformation and learn how to stop it…

In his Ph.D. thesis, he tackled the question of how communication can stay useful when there is so much to be gained from misusing it.

In nature, he concluded the answer is often that lies are costly. Begging for food makes baby birds vulnerable, for example, so they have an incentive to do it only when necessary. “If you’re just a defenseless ball of meat sitting in a nest and can’t go anywhere, yelling at the top of your lungs is amazingly stupid,” Bergstrom says. “If they’re not really hungry, they’ll just shut up.” On social media, such repercussions barely exist, he says: Liars have little incentive to shut up…

BERGSTROM SEES SOCIAL MEDIA, like many other things in life, through an evolutionary lens. The popular platforms exploit humanity’s need for social validation and constant chatter, a product of our evolution, he says. He compares it to our craving for sugar, which was beneficial in an environment where sweetness was rare and signaled nutritious food, but can make us sick in a world where sugar is everywhere. Facebook exploits humans’ thirst for contact, in his view, like a Coca-Cola for the mind, allowing people to connect with others in larger numbers during a single day than they might have over a lifetime in humanity’s past.

And whereas Coca-Cola cannot tweak its formula on a weekly basis, social media platforms can constantly change their algorithms and test out new strategies to keep us engaged. “The social media companies are able to run the largest scale psychological experiments in history by many orders of magnitude, and they’re running them in real time on all of us,” Bergstrom says…

Online networks also undermine traditional rules of thumb about communication. Before the advent of the internet, for example, hearing the same information from multiple people made it more trustworthy. “In the physical world, it would be almost impossible to meet anyone else who thinks the world is flat,” Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Bristol, wrote in an email. “But online, I can connect with the other .000001% of people who hold that belief, and may gather the (false) impression that it is widely shared.”

Social media companies have little incentive to change their practices because they make money selling ads. “The network structures along which we share information have changed radically in the last 20 years, and they’ve changed without any kind of stewardship,” Bergstrom says. “They’ve changed basically just to help some tech startups sell ads.”

5) And Matt Taibbi on the NYT editorial controversy:

When I asked Froomkin if the idea was to keep cycling through Times opinion editors “until you get one who’s appropriately focused in the direction you like,” he replied: “Yes, I would like them replaced with people who stake out bold, defensible, not-brainless positions, while publishing a very wide range of perspectives from others.” He then linked to an essay of his arguing that publishing “wide perspectives” would essentially entail coating any articles with which the “bold” op-ed board disagreed all over with warnings pointing out where they’re wrong, arguing in bad faith, or are “morally abhorrent.” (This incidentally is how the Cotton piece looks online now, a 970-word op-ed preceded by a 300-word Editor’s Note explaining why it sucks and shouldn’t have been published).

This is the same terror of uncontextualized thought that’s spurred everything from the campaigns to place more controls on Joe Rogan to the mountains of flags and warning labels platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pile on all kinds of content now (“Are you sure you want to read this debunked wrongthinker? Click yes/no”) to the bizarre new “fact-checking” movement that takes factually true statements and objects to them at length for “missing context.”

The underlying premise of all these formats is the conviction that the ordinary schlub media consumer will make the wrong decision if the correct message isn’t hammered out everywhere for him or her in all caps by mental superiors. This idea isn’t just insulting but usually incorrect, like thinking Lord Haw Haw broadcasts would make English soldiers bayonet each other rather than laugh or fight harder. Even just on the level of commercial self-preservation, one would think media people would eventually realize there’s a limit to how many times you can tell people they’re too dumb to be trusted with controversial ideas, and still keep any audience. But they never do.

There may be plenty of reasons to roll eyes at the Times piece, but the poll numbers in there speak to this exhaustion, with what Chatterton Williams calls the “consensus enforcers who feverishly insist there’s no problem, and the fact that you disagree is evidence that you should resign your position.” It was crazy enough when jobs were lost over the Harper’s letter. But calling for firings over this? An editorial that drives two miles an hour down the middle of the middle of the middle of the road? If this is anybody’s idea of a taboo, we really have lost it.

6) EJ Dionne, “We say we love kids and families. Our policies prove the opposite.”

Our society claims to love children, admire parents and revere the family. But our public policies send the opposite message.

A June 2021 UNICEF report on where rich countries stand on child care found that the United States ranked 40th.

Yes, you read that right.

Unlike every other well-off democracy, the United States has “never adapted to the needs of families in today’s labor market and economy,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “We’ve never responded to so many women with young children being in the workforce.”

It’s hard to think of work more important to a society’s long-term well-being and prosperity than raising children. Yet the market economy values work outside the home that produces goods, services and profits far more than the work of parenting. While parenting’s value is, well, infinite, it goes largely unmeasured in our gross domestic product…

No one can claim to be “pro-family” without being willing to deal with the stresses the modern economy places on family life. In Europe, effective child-care policies have been championed not only by Social Democrats, in keeping with their long history of egalitarianism, but also by Christian Democrats and other moderately conservative parties concerned with strengthening the family.

7) The case for financial incentives to get more Americans boosted:

The immunity boost of that third shot is something of a game changer: CDC data have shown that booster shots significantly ratchet up protection from Omicron hospitalization, compared with two vaccine doses. In some charts of COVID deaths and hospitalizations, the number of triple-jabbed patients is so low, you have to squint to find them in the graphs. And though it’s not clear how long this extra protection will last, what makes getting boosted now even more of a no-brainer is that the added protection starts to build in just a few days—far quicker than after the first shot—meaning that even this long into the Omicron wave, third shots can help stave off COVID’s worst outcomes, as well as immunologically arm us for whatever variant comes next.

And yet the rate of Americans who have received a booster shot is abysmally low. Although 87 percent of adults have received one vaccine dose, just 52 percent of eligible vaccinated adults are boosted—less than a third of the total adult population. One thing that could help is booster mandates—sticks over carrots. Mandates may be controversial, but they are effective. Even so, at least so far, we’ve seen astonishingly few companies or governments roll out booster mandates. Don’t expect many more: Last week, the Supreme Court batted down an effort by the Biden administration to mandate vaccines for large employers. Some companies, such as Starbucks, have responded by nixing the mandates they had voluntarily implemented.

8) Really, really good piece from David Wallace-Wells about what we can learn about Covid deaths from excess mortality statistics:

There is one data point that might serve as an exceptional interpretative tool, one that blinks bright through all that narrative fog: excess mortality. The idea is simple: You look at the recent past to find an average for how many people die in a given country in a typical year, count the number of people who died during the pandemic years, and subtract one from the other. The basic math yields some striking results, as shown by a recent paper in The Lancet finding that 18.2 million people may have died globally from COVID, three times the official total. As skeptical epidemiologists were quick to point out, the paper employed some strange methodology — modeling excess deaths even for countries that offered actual excess-death data and often distorting what we knew to be true as a result. A remarkable excess-mortality database maintained by The Economist does not have this problem, and, like the Lancet paper, the Economist database estimates global excess mortality; it puts the figure above 20 million.

As a measure of pandemic brutality, excess mortality has its limitations — but probably fewer than the conventional data we’ve used for the last two years. That’s because it isn’t biased by testing levels — in places like the U.S. and the U.K., a much higher percentage of COVID deaths were identified as such than in places like Belarus or Djibouti, making our pandemics appear considerably worse by comparison. By measuring against a baseline of expected death, excess mortality helps account for huge differences in the age structures of different countries, some of which may have many times more mortality risk than others because their populations are much older. And to the extent that the ultimate impact of the pandemic isn’t just a story about COVID-19 but also one about our responses to it — lockdowns and unemployment, suspended medical care and higher rates of alcoholism and automobile accidents — excess mortality accounts for all that, too. In some places, like the U.S., excess-mortality figures are close to the official COVID data — among other things, a tribute to our medical surveillance systems. In other places, the numbers are so different that accounting for them entirely changes the picture of not just the experience of individual nations but the whole world, scrambling everything we think we know about who did best and who did worst, which countries were hit hardest and which managed to evade catastrophe. If you had to pick a single metric by which to measure the ultimate impact of the pandemic, excess mortality is as good as we’re probably going to get…

So what does it say? A year ago, it seemed easy enough to divide pandemic outcomes into three groups — with Europe and the Americas performing far worse than East Asia, which appeared to have outmaneuvered the virus through public-health measures, and much of the Global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa, which looked to have been spared mostly by its relatively young population. Today, a crude count of official deaths, not excess mortality, suggests the same grouping: North America and Europe have almost identical death counts with official per capita totals eight times as high as Asia, as a whole, and 12 times as high as Africa. South America’s death toll is higher still — ten times as high as Asia and 15 times as high as Africa.

The excess-mortality data tells a different story. There is still a clear continent-by-continent pattern, but the gaps between them are much smaller, making the experiences of different parts of the world much less distinct and telling a more universal story about the devastation wrought by this once-in-a-century contagion. According to The EconomistEurope, Latin America, and North America have all registered excess deaths ranging from 270 to 370 per 100,000 inhabitants; excess mortality in Asia is estimated between 130 to 330; in Africa, the range is 79 to 220. These numbers are not identical, but, all things considered, they are remarkably close together. The highest of the low-end estimates is barely three times the lowest; the highest of the high-end estimates is not even twice as high as the lowest.

If you adjust for age, as the Economist database does separately, the differences among continents grow more dramatic — suggesting a reversal of outcomes, rather than a convergence. Outside of Oceania, Europe and North America were among the best in the world at preventing deaths among the old, and they were several times better at protecting their elderly, of whom they had many more, than Africa and South Asia. East Asia performed better, but only slightly: Canada is in line with China, Germany just marginally worse than South Korea, Iceland in the range of Japan. By almost any metric, Oceania remains an outlier: The Economist estimates zero excess deaths among the elderly in New Zealand, for instance, and gives the whole region an excess-mortality range of negative 31 to positive 37 per 100,000 residents, meaning it’s possible fewer people died there than would’ve had we never even heard of SARS-CoV-2.

In the country-by-country data, the divergences grow even bigger. Perhaps most striking, given both self-flagellating American narratives about the pandemic and current events elsewhere on the globe, is that the worst-hit large country in the world was not the U.S., which registered the most official deaths of any country but ranks 47th in per capita excess mortality, or Britain, which ranks 85th, or even India, which ranks 36th. It is Russia, which has lost, The Economist estimates, between 1.2 million and 1.3 million citizens over the course of the pandemic, a mortality rate more than twice as high as the American one.

Russia is not an outlier. While we have heard again and again in the U.S. about the experience of the pandemic in western Europe — sometimes in admiration, sometimes to mock — it has been eastern Europe that, of any region in the world, has the ugliest excess-mortality data. This, then, is where the pandemic hit hardest — in the countries of the old Warsaw Pact and formerly of the Soviet bloc. In fact, of the ten worst-performing countries, only one is outside eastern Europe.

9) More good free Yglesias, “Playing to win against the attacks on LGBTQ progress: Democrats should make smart decisions about when to fight and when to make a tactical retreat.”

One interesting thing about the conservative movement is how effective they’ve been at getting everyone to shut up about the marriage issue now that their position is unpopular. The Supreme Court has gotten a lot more conservative since it handed down a 5-4 decision in favor of marriage equality, but nobody in the U.S. Senate or the conservative legal movement talked about using the Kavanaugh or Barrett nominations to reverse that.

And yet even though marriage equality is very popular, it’s still quite divisive among rank-and-file Republicans. In theory this could be a troublesome wedge issue where safe seat Republicans are constantly talking about rolling it back, and more moderate or vulnerable Republicans need to argue with them. But instead, the movement has largely acted with message discipline and savvy to just stop talking about it.

If Ron DeSantis were running on a platform that explicitly restricted LGBTQ teaching in classrooms and also banned same-sex marriage, he would have a losing position. But he isn’t saying that explicitly. The Supreme Court took the marriage topic out of the legislative arena, and conservatives have mustered the discipline to instead fight on more ambiguous winning terrain. In contrast, Democrats seem to have pretty uniformly lined up behind an explicit and unpopular position and are largely engaging with arguments against it by denying the consequence of their position — often by butchering facts and science about athletic performance in a way that makes the left look silly even to people who aren’t invested in the particulars of the issue.

It is not obvious to me that there is a strong philosophical or conceptual basis for gender-segregated sports leagues, and someday we might come to a consensus that divisions by weight or size or some other factor make more sense for some sports. But that day has not yet arrived, and I don’t think it’s productive for activists to push Democratic candidates or elected officials to walk this plank before voters are convinced that it’s a good idea.

One prominent feminist told me that she hesitates to raise any doubts about the sports questions while trans people are under attack, but I don’t think politics really works that way. If progressives insist on hewing to a high-salience, unpopular position that trans advocacy groups concede they don’t have broadly persuasive arguments for, then school boards are going to end up dominated by bigots like Dennis Baxley and Ileana Garcia who try to craft legislation and policy that harasses and undermines LGBTQ students and teachers.

That would be a really bad outcome, and it’s worth fighting against it in a smart way — by arguing against morally indefensible policies without taking up electorally indefensible positions of our own.

10) This is a really, really cool explanation of how people figured out Pi.

11) It’s a mantra from the public health people on “global vaccine equity” and this idea that we’re just holding back these shots from Africa.  But the shots are there and the problem is much more complicated, “In Africa, a Mix of Shots Drives an Uncertain Covid Vaccination Push
Supplies are more plentiful now but they are unpredictable and often a jumble of brands. Many places can’t meet the W.H.O.’s recommended dosing schedules.”

12) Modern Republican politics– not wanting an electric truck factory in your state to own the libs.

13) Remembering “My Cousin Vinnie” 30 years later.  Marisa Tomei’s courtroom testimony at the end is simply one of my favorite movie scenes ever. 

14) A pretty compelling case that Law Schools have been taken over by excessive wokeness.

15) A really important thread on the Pandora’s box of finding a nurse criminally liable for making a fatal medication error.

16) My daughter scored a goal for the 2nd week in a row yesterday.  She told me she’s just going out there with a goal-scoring mindset now. It really is amazing how mental/psychological sports performance is (also, thinking about that as a Duke basketball fan considering where the team is now– final four bound– as compared to two weeks ago).

Quick hits (part I)

1) NYT discussion on the future of democracy.  This part really stood out to me.  How much is about just plain cowardice:

Homans: Ben, you worked for the Republican Party for decades as an election lawyer. Did the way in which the party metabolized Trump’s response to the 2020 election, and the Jan. 6 attack, surprise you?

Ginsberg: The whole thing, honestly, has shocked me. It’s not so much the elected officials who were giving the fist pumps on Jan. 6, because they were sort of predictable in doing that. It’s the many people within the party whom I know and have known for years who are good, decent, principled people, who are silent. It’s the silence of the Republican Party that is most surprising to me and most upsetting. We’ve described the problem in this conversation, but the much more difficult part is figuring out what to do about it. I think that’s what Sarah and I as Republicans have a particular obligation to do. But I don’t know how you bring the people within the Republican Party who should be speaking out to do exactly what you say, Steve, which is to make clear that this violence and election denial is not acceptable.

Homans: Steven, one clear takeaway from “How Democracies Die” is that the resolution to democratic crisis really has to come from within the party that is incubating the anti-democratic movement. This was what the center-right parties in Germany and Italy failed to do in the 1930s, which delivered Hitler and Mussolini to power. But other European center-right parties in Sweden and Belgium, for instance, succeeded in expelling fascist movements within their ranks in that same period.

Levitsky: But I think the Republicans will not reform themselves until they take a series of electoral defeats, major electoral defeats — and given the level of partisan identity that Lily describes, and given an electoral system that is biased toward the Republicans through no fault of their own, that’s not going to happen.

Also, totally agree with Lewitsky on this point:

Levitsky: Some of that is obviously true. I think what’s needed in the short term to preserve democracy, to get through the worst of this storm, is a much broader coalition than we’ve put together to date. Something on the lines of true fusion tickets that really brings in Republicans — maybe not a lot of the electorate, but enough to assure that the Trumpist party loses. That would mean bringing in a good chunk of that Bush-Cheney network that’s out there — that in private says the same things that I’ve said, but that has thus far been largely unwilling to speak out publicly — and having them in many cases on the same ticket.

And that means something that we have not seen enough of in the last couple of decades, which is real political sacrifice. It means that lifelong Republicans have to work to elect Democrats. And it means the progressives have to set aside a slew of policy issues that they care deeply about so that the ticket is comfortable to right-wing politicians. And we’re nowhere near that, neither in the Bush-Cheney network nor in the Democratic Party. Having talked to a number of Democratic elected politicians, I can tell you that we are nowhere near Democrats being willing to make those kinds of political sacrifice. But that is what is needed.

2) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer:

One of the main Republican lines of attack involves Judge Jackson’s work as a public defender. Both Mitch McConnell and the RNC suggested that her time as a defense attorney indicates sympathy for criminals, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. I find this logic phenomenally dumb; I think the principle that everyone deserves a defense has been basically settled since John Adams/Paul Giamatti defended British redcoats/the guy who played Pius Thickness in Harry Potterway back in 1770/2008.

And yet, I managed to hear the “how dare you defend that person” argument twice in one day. At roughly the same moment that Judge Jackson was being sworn in, Aaron Sibarium was publishing an article on Bari Weiss’ substack recounting numerous instances of defense attorneys getting flak from left-leaning law students. The law students were basically asking the same question as Congressional Republicans: How could you defend that person? And, of course, that question has an answer: You defend that person because if a right exists, then it exists universally, or it doesn’t exist at all. I think that’s easy to understand. But I’m struck by the number of people on the left these days who appear not to understand that, and how they also don’t seem to realize that continually carving out exceptions to liberal principles will almost surely come back to bite them in the ass.

Consider free speech. A common argument among those who feel that American doesn’t have a free speech problem is that the concern over eroding speech norms is mostly just white men who want freedom to be racist. There’s a mountain of evidence suggesting that that’s not true — the very New York Times editorial that ignited the most recent Twitter tribalism dunk-fest contains some of that evidence — but suppose that it was true. Suppose that this entire debate was about straight-up, no-doubt-about-it racism.

Probably the most famous free speech case in American history is the ACLU defense of Nazis’ right to march in Skokie, Illinois. We will surely never have a harder test case of the free speech principle because Nazis are — I’m sure we can all agree — the worst people. It’s actually incredible how near-universal that sentiment is. In a century that saw the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, the KKK, and the 1980s Oakland A’s, the Nazis still emerged as the all-but universally agreed uponworst people in the world. When it comes to undisputed GOATs, it’s basically just Hitler for evil and Michael Phelps for swimming, which I’m sure is a comparison that Michael Phelps loves.

The ACLU understood that if free speech could be curbed for Nazis, it could be curbed for other groups. In fact, they were explicitly trying to push back against tactics that had been used to shut down civil rights protesters in the south. Many backers of the free speech movement were socialists, which makes sense, because being a socialist in Cold War America was about as popular as being a nudist at bible camp. By defending a far-right group, the ACLU defended a principle that also gave left-wing groups freedom to operate…

The right will continue to use tactics being used by the left. This week, Josh Hawley achieved the incredible feat of lowering my opinion of Josh Hawley by accusing Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on child pornographers. The charge was utter bullshit — it was even denounced in the National ReviewBut Hawley’s tactic was a classic Twitter-era move: accuse someone of a charge so toxic that they lose by even addressing it. An unhealthy aspect of our culture is that people thrown around very serious charges — pedophilia, racism, sexism, etc. — the way Jackson Pollack tossed around paint. Judge Jackson will survive because people understand what Hawley’s doing, and also because Hawley is about as popular as a bee sting to the anus. But our habit of lobbing serious charges just to put our enemies on the defensive is not an appealing societal trait, and I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that it doesn’t have a chilling effect on speech.

3) The squat as the ultimate exercise:

What is the single best strength-building exercise many of us could be doing right this minute but almost certainly are not? Consult enough exercise scientists and the latest exercise research, and the answer would likely be a resounding: squats.

“For lower-body strength and flexibility, there is probably no better exercise,” said Bryan Christensen, a professor of biomechanics at North Dakota State University in Fargo, who studies resistance exercise.

The benefits are not confined to the lower body. “It is really a whole body exercise,” said Silvio Rene Lorenzetti, the director of the Performance Sports division of the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen. “It requires core stability and trains the back.”

Some people worry that squats can imperil the knees and hips, but the exercise can actually help protect and improve the workings of these and other joints, said Sasa Duric, an exercise scientist at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait, who has studied squats. The movement “helps maintain the flexibility, stability and function” of hips, knees and ankles, he said.

But perhaps most fundamentally, squats are key to living and aging well. “When we clean the house or plant a vegetable garden, we need to squat,” Dr. Duric said. Ditto for easing into and out of chairs and lowering ourselves to toddler level for face-to-face playtime.

In essence, according to a 2014 scientific overview, squats are “one of the most primal and critical fundamental movements necessary to improve sport performance, to reduce injury risk and to support lifelong physical activity.”

When my timer on my office desktop goes off reminding me to move every 20 minutes, I actually usually do squats.

4) Because we’re not going to fix European soccer with financial rules doesn’t mean we can’t fix European soccer.  Rory Smith:

By now, it is abundantly clear that the way to manage the central problem in European soccer — the lack of competition engendered by financial imbalance — does not lie in a set of fiscal rules. They are too easily circumvented, too lightly enforced and invariably introduced several years too late.

Instead, the solution has to be sporting. The biggest teams will always make the most money — or at least say they make the most money — and will therefore have an advantage when spending is limited to a percentage of income. The more effective way to improve competition, both between clubs and between leagues, is to limit how they can spend it.

A hard salary cap, the sort often seen in North American sports, is clearly not something the clubs are prepared to accept. But there is nothing at all to stop UEFA from instituting policies that demand all teams have a significant proportion of homegrown players, or a certain number of squad members under age 23. There is no reason it cannot cap the number of players any team can send out on loan, or even introduce rules that grant effective free agency to players who have not made a specific number of appearances.

Any and all of those measures would discourage the hoarding of stars by a handful of teams. In turn, they would allow that talent to be spread more evenly around Europe’s various leagues. They would encourage teams to be more judicious in the market, to think more long-term. They would help to level the playing field not by suppressing some, but by lifting others.

5) Great stuff from Leonhardt on the insanity of Republicans at the KBJ hearings:

The debate over Jackson’s nomination has often had little to do with her. It has become an argument over a nominee who does not exist — one who does not respect America, is not truly religious, coddles child abusers and terrorists and has highly developed views about the importance of “woke” education. Yesterday, conservative activists used this portrayal to pressure moderate Democratic senators to vote against Jackson.

Conspiracy theories and unfair accusations have a long history in American politics, of course. But they have often remained on the margins. Today, distortions and falsehoods have moved to the center of politics.

While neither party is entirely innocent, there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats. False claims regularly flow from the leaders of the Republican Party — including its most recent president, several of its likely future presidential candidates and the most influential media figures aligned with the party.

Donald Trump began his political career by claiming that Barack Obama was born in Africa and ended his presidency with false accusations of voter fraud. Prominent Republicans regularly cast doubt on the fact that greenhouse gases are warming the planet and contributing to extreme weather. Disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines has been so widespread that almost 40 percent of Republican adults have not received a shot, sometimes with fatal consequences.

There is no comparable list of false information coming from senior members of the Democratic Party…

But in trying to make Jackson a stand-in for these views, Republican senators are distorting reality. They are creating a caricature of a liberal Democrat that bears little resemblance to Jackson herself.

“One thing that is striking about this hearing,” Lori Ringhand, a legal scholar, told The Times, “is how little effort we are seeing to engage the nominee on her views about actual legal issues.”

6) Good stuff from Chait, “Trump’s Greatest Triumph Is Convincing America Crime Pays The failure to prosecute is a defeat for the rule of law.”

We don’t need to rely on Pomerantz’s say-so to evaluate Trump’s culpability. The public evidence is very extensive. As a practical matter, these crimes turn out to be difficult to prosecute. Trump famously refuses to write things down, scolds his aides and lawyers from taking notes in his presence, and manically destroys documents. Some of the crimes that are documented, like his years of systematic tax fraud proven by the New York Times, occurred too long ago to be charged today.

That said, the correct observation that certain crimes are difficult to charge seems to be transmuting into a sense that stealing is more or less acceptable. Even complaining about the fact that a once and potentially future president of the United States can be a career criminal has become deeply unfashionable.

The modern history of Ukraine shows the deeply corrosive effects of allowing this assumption to exist unchallenged. When a country gives up on the idea that rich people have to follow the law, the entire legitimacy of the state comes into question. Both the supporters and the enemies of Ukrainian sovereignty have understood for more than a decade that its very existence hinged on eliminating, or at least suppressing, the legal impunity enjoyed by its business class.

That belief is why Vice-President Joe Biden, at the tail end of the Obama administration, was pushing Ukraine to fire its ineffective prosecutor and install one who would make rich Ukrainians follow the law. And it is also why Vladimir Putin has so relentlessly used Ukrainian corruption as a pretext to violate his neighbor’s sovereignty.

Trump has spread a similar idea here. He has, of course, promiscuously accused all his antagonists of being crooks. But he has also insinuated his own complicity in their crookedness, bragging that he bought off politicians. The prosecutors who have tried to bring him to heel all look like losers. Mueller is a punchline. The broad cynicism that has set in about the rule of law is a genuine triumph for Trump.

7) This is such a fantastic essay from Ross Douthat (gift link) on the decline of movies as we know them (especially all the great middlebrow movies for adults that barely exist anymore).

My favored theory is that the Oscars are declining because the movies they were made to showcase have been slowly disappearing. The ideal Oscar nominee is a high-middlebrow movie, aspiring to real artistry and sometimes achieving it, that’s made to be watched on the big screen, with famous stars, vivid cinematography and a memorable score. It’s neither a difficult film for the art-house crowd nor a comic-book blockbuster but a film for the largest possible audience of serious adults — the kind of movie that was commonplace in the not-so-distant days when Oscar races regularly threw up conflicts in which every moviegoer had a stake: “Titanic” against “L.A. Confidential,” “Saving Private Ryan” against “Shakespeare in Love,” “Braveheart”against “Sense and Sensibility”against “Apollo 13.”…

Within the larger arc of Hollywood history, though, this is the time to call it: We aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies…

No, what looks finished is The Movies — big-screen entertainment as the central American popular art form, the key engine of American celebrity, the main aspirational space of American actors and storytellers, a pop-culture church with its own icons and scriptures and rites of adult initiation.

This end has been a long time coming — foreshadowed in the spread of television, the invention of the VCR, the rise of cable TV and Hollywood’s constant “It’s the pictures that got small” mythologization of its own disappearing past…

The late 1990s were this cultural order’s years of twilight glow. Computer-generated effects were just maturing, creating intimations of a new age of cinematic wonder. Indie cinema nurtured a new generation of auteurs. Nineteen ninety-nine is a candidate for the best year in movies ever — the year of “Fight Club,” “The Sixth Sense,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Election,” “Three Kings” and “The Insider,” so on down a roster that justifies not just a Top 10 but a Top 50 list in hindsight.

8) And OMG was 1999 an amazing year for movies.  And that also led me to an oral history of one of my personal favorites from 1999, “Office Space.

9) I’m fully intending to write more about the incredibly problematic use of the precautionary principle, but for now, a snipped from Chait regarding a horrible misguided piece from a couple of public health authors:

10) I love reading about how Jon Bon Jovi thinks about his set lists:

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve released 17 albums in my career. That’s a lot of music. … You go, ‘Oh, this one would be nice to pull out again.’ And it’s not an easy task, because the audience wants hear Song X, Y and Z. … You gotta do all the obvious hits. … You’re not gonna not play ‘Livin’ On a Prayer,’ and ‘It’s My Life,’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’

“So it’s just how far into the ‘Bed of Roses,’ and ‘Always,’ and then ‘I’ll Be There for You.’ ‘Oh yeah, that’s three ballads. Gee, I can’t fit three. But they’re all hits!’ Believe me, it’s a good problem to have,” Bon Jovi says, with a laugh.

“But yeah, the hits take up 70%, and that leaves you with 30% for new material and obscure tracks. That’s the kind of breakdown. (So it leaves) you with X amount of slots for your artistic, you know, ‘listen-and-look-at-me’ moments, when it’s just about ‘I don’t care if you don’t wanna hear this song, I wanna play it. I’m allowed one or two of those,” he says, chuckling again.

“Then I have the benefit of changing it on a nightly basis. … If somebody hears ‘Always’ one night and ‘Bed of Roses’ the next night, it’s cool. It’s all acceptable.”

“Truly, it is like a very simple (process),” Bon Jovi adds, “but nonetheless a Rubik’s Cube.”

11) This is cool, “Is Geometry a Language That Only Humans Know? Neuroscientists are exploring whether shapes like squares and rectangles — and our ability to recognize them — are part of what makes our species special.”

The researchers called this the “geometric regularity effect” and they hypothesized — it’s a fragile hypothesis, they admit — that this might provide, as they noted in their paper, a “putative signature of human singularity.” (Experiments are ongoing and open to participants online.)

With the baboons, regularity made no difference, the team found. Twenty-six baboons — including Muse, Dream and Lips — participated in this aspect of the study, which was run by Joël Fagot, a cognitive psychologist at Aix-Marseille University.

The baboons live at a research facility in the South of France, beneath the Montagne Sainte-Victoire (a favorite of Cézanne’s), and they are fond of the testing booths and their 19-inch touch-screen devices. (Dr. Fagot noted that the baboons were free to enter the testing booth of their choice — there were 14 — and that they were “maintained in their social group during testing.”) They mastered the oddity test when training with nongeometric images — picking out an apple, say, among five slices of watermelon. But when presented with regular polygons, their performance collapsed.

Fruit, Flower, Geometry

Symbols used to test whether baboons can pick out a non-matching symbol within a group.

 

By The New York Times | Source: Mathias Sablé-Meyer, Stanislas Dehaene et al.

“The results are striking, and there seems indeed a difference between the perception of shapes by humans and baboons,” Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said in an email. “Whether this difference in perception amounts to human ‘singularity’ would have to await research on our closest primate relatives, the apes,” Dr. de Waal said. “It is also possible, as the authors argue (and reject), that humans live in an environment where right angles matter, whereas baboons do not.”

12) As almost always, great stuff from deBoer: “Sometimes People Legitimately Disagree on Difficult Questions: it’s not in fact true that everyone who disagrees with you is secretly evil”

I choose this tweet merely because it’s an encapsulation of so much of the assumption of bad faith and avoidance of the social justice perspective. (That Adam Costco is one of the most nakedly self-aggrandizing Last Good White Men is merely a bonus.)

Here’s the deal. I am opposed to the “social justice movement,” while being very much in favor of social justice, for a few reasons. The first is that I think the social justice movement is legitimately wrong on a variety of core issues. For example, civil liberties – I think they’re good; the social justice movement thinks they’re a con on the part of bigots. That’s a genuine disagreement. There’s people in the social justice movement who are explicitly, unambiguously opposed to free speech as a principle. And that’s cool. They’re wrong, is all. You can find plenty of books written that define the reasons free speech is good. But that disagreement between me and them is real. It’s not code for “I think trans people are faking.” (I genuinely don’t have the slightest idea what that could mean.) Unlike many in the social justice movement, I believe that civil liberties are essential even while I understand the vital need to fight racism, sexism, and transphobia. I simply believe that those fights have to be balanced with the defense of civil liberties, and in fact think that waging those fights requires a respect for civil liberties. Costco is free to disagree. But he’s not free to tell me what I “really” think. Another disagreement is about the proportionality of social punishment. The social justice movement often seems to think that anyone guilty of even minor expressions of bigotry should be permanently socially outcast. I don’t agree. But that’s all it is. It’s just disagreement. Happens every day.

But here’s something that should perhaps concern even people like Costco: the social justice movement has coopted basic left goals and has completely failed to meet them. The social justice movement hates racism, sexism, homophobia, and assorted social ills, and yet has achieved nothing in fighting them.

Indeed, I criticize the social justice movement not because I oppose challenging our status quo power hierarchy, but precisely because I do want to challenge that hierarchy. The social justice movement absolutely sucks at challenging establishment power! …

This failure, by the way, is perfectly predictable when you observe the fact that the social justice movement actively disdains persuading others (“it’s not my job to educate you”) and relentlessly fixates on ideas that are vastly unpopular (“defund the police”). Those seem like valid, important observations.

13) Yes to this on how to make the NCAA games way better:

The sport shouldn’t get rid of replay, but it should, at the very least, adopt a couple of fixes. No one needs officials quietly whispering “Enhance” to the replay operator eight times to see if the ball nicked the offensive player’s hangnail after the defender knocked it out of his hands and out of bounds.

When I tune into the final minutes of an NCAA Tournament game, I want to see a moment that looks like a dynamic athlete is operating on bullet-time closely followed by a decision that looks like a team never has seen a full-court press before.

I want to see the best plays I’ve ever seen randomly interspersed with the worst plays I’ve ever seen. It’s the beauty of watching college players chase a dream. It’s tremendous television. You never know what can happen on the bracket, but you never know what can happen on the floor in a game, either. On Saturday, North Carolina coughed up a 25-point lead in less than a half and beat a No. 1 seed in overtime anyway. It was the kind of game with enough twists and turns that would be a farce if it was fiction. Instead, it was one of the craziest games I’d seen all year.

I want to see that.

I don’t want to see 12 replays of a block/charge call interspersed with a closeup of the back of two referees hunched over a tiny monitor at center court. I’d rather watch a marathon of the final season of “Lost” on repeat for a week.

This can be fixed.

One, install a permanent replay official with the power to overturn a call. There’s no reason the game needs to be stopped for a replay review of whether a shooter’s foot was on the line. Let a replay official, with no responsibilities on the court, examine it during play. If the call was correct, keep it moving. If a change is necessary, stop play at the next made basket or dead ball and announce it. Then keep it moving.

And most importantly, that “52 seconds” that can go well over on plenty of occasions and definitely did so during the season, has to drop. Let a permanent replay official, whether on-site or in a neutral location like the NBA does, begin the review immediately (maybe even before a review officially begins) and consult with on-court officials after they go to the monitor and work together to make a decision.

But there has to be a clock. No review needs to go longer than a minute or 90 seconds at most, barring a fix to the game clock to correct a missed call. If it’s not 100 percent clear by that brief deadline, let the call stand.

Replay has to be a net to catch egregious misses, not forensic science. The pursuit of getting calls right is a noble one, but when it becomes three minutes spent watching eight zoomed-in shots of four different angles and a couple of fan-shot videos from the crowd to learn that, actually, the ball didn’t graze the center’s leg hair and officials got the call right on the floor, that pursuit becomes a net negative on the sport.

The NCAA Tournament is the most fun event in sports, but replay is turning the most fun part of the game into an atrocious viewing experience.

14) Good stuff from Katelyn Jetelina on the possibilities we face for BA.2. 

15) Unless one of you convinces me otherwise, I’m done with “Severance” on Apple TV.  Mostly, I’ve decided the creative team has some interesting ideas that I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a big payoff at the end, but they have basically no idea how to construct a compelling episode of television.

It might as well be called the Maguffin Corporation, given that whatever their work might be revealed to affect, if indeed it affects anything at all, will be less important than the fact that none of them have any idea what it’s about and less interesting than the pokily building adventure that gets them to wherever this show is meant to end. Clues are dropped that something deeper is going on, but so much time elapses between them that you may have dropped one by the time you gather the next…

And because there is a mystery, if only in the sense that we are given very little information — even the characters, apart from Mark, have been severed from their backstories — one keeps watching, to discover what’s being held back, however many trips down a white corridor to jaunty tropical hold music that entails. You will have to wait a little; the season finale is genuinely exciting and suspenseful, but, really, even as an advocate of slow television, we might have got there in half the time with twice the effect. Rod Serling could have wrapped it up in half an hour.

16) Meanwhile, “The Other Two” is an absolute delight and so well-written.  Way more people should be watching and talking about this show. 

17) This Editorial from the UVA student newspaper calling for Mike Pence not to speak on campus is nuts. It really is “no platform for Republicans.”  

A student organization recently announced its plans to host former vice president Mike Pence this April to speak in Old Cabell Hall. For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.” So-called “perspectives” should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members. [emphasis mine] The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.

Oh, “the lives” threatened by Pence! Anyway, I got my first ever block on twitter as Jamelle Bouie (UVA alum) blocked me for tweeting derisively about this editorial. 

18) Mark Joseph Stern, “The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls”

During Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings this week, GOP senators have, predictably, condemned Roe—but not as much as might be expected. Instead, many senators have turned their attention to a different precedent that’s likely next on their hit list once Roe likely falls this summer: Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision recognizing same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry.

Loathing for Obergefell emerged early on Tuesday, when Republican Sen. John Cornyn launched a frontal assault on the ruling, then sought Jackson’s reaction. He began by criticizing “substantive due process,” which holds that the “liberty” protected by the due process clause protects substantive rights, not just procedural ones. The Supreme Court has used this theory to enforce “unenumerated rights” that it deems fundamental, including the right to marry, raise children, use contraception, and terminate a pregnancy. Along with equal protection, it served as the basis of Obergefell. According to Cornyn, however, this doctrine is “just another form of judicial policymaking” that can be used “to justify basically any result.”…

In case it wasn’t clear what these senators were up to, Cornyn made it explicit on Wednesday afternoon. “The Constitution doesn’t mention the word abortion,” he lectured Jackson, “just like it doesn’t mention the word marriage.” These senators appear confident that the Supreme Court will overrule the constitutional right to an abortionin Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which should come down by JuneThey are so confident, in fact, that they prodded Jackson to say whether she would abide by Dobbs once she joins the court, rather than fight to revive Roe. But on the whole, Republicans were noticeably less engaged over abortion than they were about same-sex marriage…

It’s easy to see why. The GOP, alongside the conservative legal movement, has built up a massive infrastructure to fight the culture wars. After Roe, it will need a new target, and marriage equality is the obvious choice. Republicans never really gave up on the issue, but rather staged a tactical retreat after Obergefell, pressing for sweeping exemptions from civil rights laws to legalize discrimination against same-sex couples. But after Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett replaced the gay-friendly Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this retreat slowed to a crawl, and Republicans sought to regain some ground. They pressed the Supreme Court to roll back protections for same-sex couples (to no avail—yet) and have now launched a campaign to mandate anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools. A GOP legislator in Texas has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to declare that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage remains valid and enforceable.

As the architect of Texas’ vigilante abortion ban has candidly acknowledged, overturning Roe will leave Obergefell hanging by a thread. And the unraveling won’t stop there. A number of major decisions protecting reproductive rights, including access to contraception, will be imperiled if the court repudiates substantive due process. So will Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision legalizing interracial marriage, which—just like Obergefell—relied on both due process and equal protection. Republican Sen. Mike Braun claims to have misspoken when he said that Loving should be overturned on Tuesday. But he was only following his beliefs to their logical conclusion.

19) This is really good, “How Putin badly misjudged the West, as explained by a Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: What is it about Putin’s way of seeing the world, and his understanding of his own mythologies, that made it inevitable that he’d underestimate the Western response?

Timothy Snyder: For me the most revealing text here is the victory declaration, which the Russian press agency accidentally published on Feb. 26. What they say is that the West just basically needed one more push to fall into total disarray.

If you watch Jan. 6 clips over and over again, you can get that impression. The Russians really have been fixated on Jan. 6.

They thought a successful military operation in Ukraine would be that nudge: We’d feel helpless, we’d fall into conflict, it would help [Donald] Trump in the U.S., it would help populists around the world.
 
Sargent: When you say Russia has been making a lot of Jan. 6 — what do they read into it?

Snyder: Number one, they use it to mock us by saying, “These are just peaceful protesters.” Number two, they use it for one of their favorite arguments, which is that democracy is a joke everywhere.

But the deeper point is that Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election on Jan. 6 made the American system look fragile. They think, “One more Trump and the Americans are done.” In invading Ukraine, they think they’re putting huge pressure on the Biden administration. They’re going to make Biden look weak.

That probably was their deep fantasy about the West: Successful military occupation in Ukraine; the Biden administration is totally impotent; we humiliate them; Trump comes back; this is a big strategic victory for us.

20) This is old and funny as hell, “Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies”

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)…

“Charlotte’s Web”

A farmer allows sentimental drawings by a bug to prevail over economic necessity and refuses to value his prize pig, Wilbur, by processing and selling him on the open market. Presumably, the pig still dies eventually, only without profiting his owners. The farmer’s daughter, Fern, learns nothing except how to become an unsuccessful farmer. There is a rat in this movie. I quite liked the rat. He knew how to extract value from his environment. —Two stars.

21) Good free Yglesias post you should read, “Climate politics for the real world: What the Sunrise Movement and its boosters get wrong”

And it’s worth stepping back from the debate about specific tactical decisions and bad tweets to examine that underlying framing. This is the way I think the left sees the climate issue:

  • There is a latent desire among the mass public for sweeping change in general and for sweeping climate-related change in particular.

  • The main impediment to change is an elite cabal of special interests, most of all the fossil fuel companies, who wield power through campaign contributions and buying ads to distort the media agenda.

  • Due to the corrupting influence of fossil fuel money, not only do Republicans take bad stances on climate-related issues but so do Democrats, which means highlighting Joe Manchin’s personal financial relationship to the coal industry is crucial to communicating the legislative dynamics at work.

The upshot of this framework is that we need a broad grassroots movement that can push the political system (including corrupt and wayward moderate Democrats) into taking the drastic action the planet needs and the people demand.

And my view is that this is all wrong…

The vast majority of people believe that climate change is a real problem and would like to see politicians and elected officials do something about it.

But popular commitment is fairly shallow for a number of reasons:

  • Most people are somewhat selfish and somewhat short-sighted, and the worst impacts of climate change occur in the future and afflict other people.

  • Climate is a global problem and solutions require global coordination, which is inherently difficult and involves players who want to free-ride and also those who worry about others free-riding.

  • Humans are often arbitrarily averse to change. If you tell people “instead of X you can have Y,” they have a strong tendency to be suspicious that Y is worse than X.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting interview on Ukraine by Yasha Mounk with a Polish politician:

Sikorski: Ukraine has been attacked from three directions: from Belarus, trying to go for Kiev; from the east, at the city of Kharkiv and beyond; and in the south. Only one city in the south has been captured. And even where the Russians are present, they are really present only on the roads and where they have direct military bearing, because the Ukrainian population has turned out to be uniformly hostile. More than that for a number of days, the Russian offensive is not progressing. They are bogged down on the far outskirts of Kiev. They have not even taken the city of Mariupol or even Kharkiv, which is only 40 kilometers from Russia’s border. And Putin seems to have committed almost all his active professional army to this operation. He’s still bringing up some reinforcements from Chechnya, from Syria, and from some mercenaries. But it looks like he’s stuck. So the option is either to mobilize the population for total war or to negotiate. Negotiations seem to be progressing. And from what Russian officials are telling us, Russia has dramatically scaled down its level of ambition.

Instead of “de-Nazification”—which is absurd, given that Zelensky is a democratically-elected Jewish president of Ukraine—and “demilitarization”, which meant basically taking over Ukraine, they now say that they have nothing against Zelensky staying on. By demilitarization, they just mean a non-aligned status—which of course is also absurd, because Ukraine has been, and is, non-aligned. The fact that a measure of realism is coming into the Russian position would suggest that they realize that they’re not winning.

Mounk: So what would a settlement like that look like? Putin will need to justify a war domestically in some kind of way.

Sikorski: I wouldn’t worry about Putin’s credibility. He has destroyed all the remnants of an independent press. He can push any line he wishes. Whatever happens, he will explain it as his victory. 

I think Zelensky is preparing his country for changing the constitution and dropping the ambition to join NATO, which I think is a purely symbolic concession because NATO was not going to admit Ukraine anytime soon, anyway. The harder bits will be the territorial stuff. I don’t think it’s helpful of you and me to give advice on what’s reasonable, because it’s not our politics and it’s not our country. The third demand is for some cultural rights for Russian language broadcasting and Russian speakers in the southeast, which I understand Ukraine had already passed into legislation a long time ago. So that should be no problem.

Mounk: What would neutrality look like? Because it’s one thing to concede that Ukraine is not going to become a member of NATO. At the same time, Ukraine will obviously need some kind of realistic guarantee that Russia is not just going to restart the war at another point, or going to continue to lop off Ukrainian territory in the way it has over the last seven years. Is there some realistic set of arrangements that can guarantee those things?

Sikorski: Well, what guarantees of security are worth—both Russian and Western guarantees—Ukraine has just learned. 

The spokesman of the Kremlin says that they’ll be happy with Ukraine being like Austria or Sweden. Sweden has an army that can fight. Actually, it’s Swedish-made anti-tank missiles that are hitting Russian armor very effectively. I think that’s something that Ukraine could live with…

Sikorski: Look, Putin invaded Ukraine because he wants Ukraine as part of a new empire, but also because he wanted to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful, Europeanizing democracy. This he has done for an understandable reason: he correctly fears that if Ukraine becomes successful and increasingly integrated with the West, the people of Russia will eventually want the same. So my prediction is that if Ukraine succeeds—I define that by defending its democracy and keeping the great majority of its territory, and getting rid of Russian troops from its soil—then I think eventually Putinism will fail, and we will have some kind of new opening in Russia.

2) Fascinating thread from Michael Lin on pediatric Covid vaccine dosing.  Really seems like we actually were on the right track and then Omicron messed it up.  But, since it did, sure wish they’d revise the dosing for 5-11.

3) Good post from Conor Friedersdorf on what those most concerned about Covid should be doing:

These budgeting and health-policy decisions are of infinitely greater consequence for pandemic response than the behavioral lapses and policy heresies that get individuals COVID-shamed on social media. It is time to unite mask enthusiasts and mask skeptics who agree on funding public health.

2. Better ventilation everywhere. COVID-19 spreads much better indoors than outdoors. So do other communicable diseases, such as influenza. Thus a strong case exists for making our indoor environments more like the outdoors. Better ventilation is highly likely to reduce mortality and sickness on a significant scale far into the future. Yet there’s more scolding of individuals for failing to mask up properly than pressuring the people in charge of buildings, or building codes, to adopt best practices. My colleague Sarah Zhang has written at length about this underrated intervention.

3. Operation Warp Speed for a universal coronavirus vaccine. Scientists are already testing a vaccine that could work across variants, but there’s no telling whether it will succeed. Insufficient effort and resources are being spent on accelerating the testing process, developing alternative candidates, and if all else fails, increasing the speed at which we can tweak existing vaccines and roll them out at scale if a new variant demands it.

4) They sure don’t like to hear it, but David Leonhardt is right, that yes, the “very liberal” are simply more worried about Covid than they should be.  The fact that 48% of “very liberal” see Covid as a “great risk” to children’s health and well-being is pretty telling. Likewise, “More than 60 percent of very liberal Americans believe that mask mandates should continue for the foreseeable future. Most moderates and conservatives see mandates as a temporary strategy that should end this year.”

5) Well this is fascinating, “The controversial quest to make a ‘contagious’ vaccine: A new technology aims to stop wildlife from spreading Ebola, rabies, and other viruses. It could prevent the next pandemic by stopping pathogens from jumping from animals to people.”

Imagine a cure that’s as contagious as the disease it fights—a vaccine that could replicate in a host’s body and spread to others nearby, quickly and easily protecting a whole population from microbial attacks. That’s the goal of several teams around the world who are reviving controversial research to develop self-spreading vaccines.

Their hope is to reduce infectious disease transmission among wild animals, thereby lowering the risk that harmful viruses and bacteria can jump from wildlife to humans as many experts believe happened with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60 percent of all known infectious diseases and 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Scientists cannot predict why, when, or how new zoonotic diseases will emerge. But when they do, these diseases are often deadly and costly to control. What’s more, many researchers predict that climate change, biodiversity loss, and population growth will accelerate their spread.

Vaccines are a key tool for preventing diseases from spreading, but wild animals are difficult to vaccinate because each one must be located, captured, vaccinated, and released. Self-spreading vaccines offer a solution.

Advances in genomic technology and virology, and a better understanding of disease transmission, have accelerated work that began in the 1980s to make genetically engineered viruses that spread from one animal to another, imparting immunity to disease rather than infection.

Researchers are currently developing self-spreading vaccines for Ebola, bovine tuberculosis, and Lassa fever, a viral disease spread by rats that causes upward of 300,000 infections annually in parts of West Africa. The approach could be expanded to target other zoonotic diseases, including rabies, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and the plague.

Advocates for self-spreading vaccines say they could revolutionize public health by disrupting infectious disease spread among animals before a zoonotic spillover could occur—potentially preventing the next pandemic.

But others argue that the viruses used in these vaccines could themselves mutate, jump species, or set off a chain reaction with devastating effects across entire ecosystems.

6) As much as I would personally love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it’s actually quite right that the House take a longer, careful look at this.

The House is set to hit the snooze button on the Senate’s plan to permanently change the nation’s clocks.

“It could be weeks — or it could be months” before House Democratic leaders decide whether to tee up a vote on eliminating the biannual clock changes that have governed daily life in most states for decades, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D.-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees time change policies. While the Sunshine Protection Act, which unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, would nationally shift clocks an hour later to maximize daylight, some doctors have argued that adopting permanent standard time would be a healthier option and better align with humans’ natural rhythms.

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shares the Senate’s goal to end the “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes linked to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to collect more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how time changes might affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

7) Medical mystery in the Post:

Brooke Stroud was flummoxed and upset. How, the Washington clinical psychologist wondered, had her teenage houseguest gotten sick so quickly with the unidentified illness that had struck Stroud’s family of five at the end of 2020?

Stroud, her husband Stephane Carnot, and their daughter Olivia, then 17, had consulted primary care doctors in a fruitless attempt to identify the cause of their headaches, dizziness, vomiting and exhaustion. The pattern of their flu-like illness was perplexing: One or more of them would start to feel better, but within hours their symptoms would always return.

Ultimately it was the suggestion made by an infectious-disease expert more than 1,000 miles away that proved to be spot on, leading to a diagnosis and recovery.

I’m no MD, but I read this and thought, “uummmm, Carbon Monoxide poisoning?”  Yep.  Also, this went on for far longer than needed because the homeowners thought they had a CO detector but did not.  Seriously?!

8) For a photography lover like me who is honestly amazed at what the computer in the Iphone can accomplish photography-wise with a very limited lens and image sensor, I found this fascinating, “Have iPhone cameras become too smart?”

For a large portion of the population, “smartphone” has become synonymous with “camera,” but the truth is that iPhones are no longer cameras in the traditional sense. Instead, they are devices at the vanguard of “computational photography,” a term that describes imagery formed from digital data and processing as much as from optical information. Each picture registered by the lens is altered to bring it closer to a pre-programmed ideal. Gregory Gentert, a friend who is a fine-art photographer in Brooklyn, told me, “I’ve tried to photograph on the iPhone when light gets bluish around the end of the day, but the iPhone will try to correct that sort of thing.” A dusky purple gets edited, and in the process erased, because the hue is evaluated as undesirable, as a flaw instead of a feature. The device “sees the things I’m trying to photograph as a problem to solve,” he added. The image processing also eliminates digital noise, smoothing it into a soft blur, which might be the reason behind the smudginess that McCabe sees in photos of her daughter’s gymnastics. The “fix” ends up creating a distortion more noticeable than whatever perceived mistake was in the original.

Earlier this month, Apple’s iPhone team agreed to provide me information, on background, about the camera’s latest upgrades. A staff member explained that, when a user takes a photograph with the newest iPhones, the camera creates as many as nine frames with different levels of exposure. Then a “Deep Fusion” feature, which has existed in some form since 2019, merges the clearest parts of all those frames together, pixel by pixel, forming a single composite image. This process is an extreme version of high-dynamic range, or H.D.R., a technique that previously required some software savvy. (As a college student, I’d struggle to replicate H.D.R. on my traditional camera’s photos by using Photoshop to overlay various frames and then cut out their desirable parts.) The iPhone camera also analyzes each image semantically, with the help of a graphics-processing unit, which picks out specific elements of a frame—faces, landscapes, skies—and exposes each one differently. On both the 12 Pro and 13 Pro, I’ve found that the image processing makes clouds and contrails stand out with more clarity than the human eye can perceive, creating skies that resemble the supersaturated horizons of an anime film or a video game. Andy Adams, a longtime photo blogger, told me, “H.D.R. is a technique that, like salt, should be applied very judiciously.” Now every photo we take on our iPhones has had the salt applied generously, whether it is needed or not.

9) And here’s a really deep dive into photography on the Iphone 13 Pro.  Some amazing images, too.

10) True, “Josh Hawley’s latest attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson is genuinely nauseating”

On Wednesday evening, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) leveled a false and astonishing charge against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson, Hawley untruthfully claimed, spent the last quarter decade advocating for — and later using her position as a judge to protect — child pornographers.

Hawley’s broad allegation is false. His most substantive claim against Jackson is that as a judge she frequently did not follow the federal sentencing guidelines when sentencing child pornography offenders. But, as Ohio State law professor and sentencing policy expert Douglas Berman writes, “the federal sentencing guidelines for” child pornography offenders “are widely recognized as dysfunctional and unduly severe.”

It’s also a stunningly inflammatory charge, reminiscent of conspiracy theories such as QAnon or Pizzagate, which posit that prominent liberals are part of a vast ring of pedophiles. Similarly incendiary claims have inspired violence in the past, such as when a man with an assault rifle opened fire in a DC pizza restaurant in 2016. The man was apparently motivated by his unfounded belief that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair John Podesta ran a child sexual abuse ring in the basement of this pizzeria…

An honest look at Jackson’s record reveals that, as a law student, she wrote a nuanced analysis of a difficult constitutional question that vexed many judges — and that several judges relied upon in their own opinions. It reveals that, like any sentencing policymaker, Jackson had to draw distinctions among offenders who had all committed grave crimes. And it reveals that, as a judge, her sentencing practices were in line with those of other judges.

ButHawley’s attack on Jackson is not honest.

11) Honestly,  yeah, time for this, “The End of the Endless Final Set: Grand Slams Adopt Same Tiebreaker: The French Open was the last major tennis tournament that allowed an “advantage final set” without a tiebreaker. Once the maker of many classic, marathon matches, the system is no more.”

12) I absolutely think we need to be kind and supportive of children struggling with gender identity issues. That said, this post contains a lot of truth, “Trans exceptionalism and ordinary children”

Trans activists, ‘affirmative’ medical providers, and parents tend to see kids who identify as transgender as exceptional. To these children, none of the normal rules and nothing we know about child development seems to apply. 

But children who identify as transgender are just that: children. They hurt, like other children. They’re trying to figure out themselves and the strange world they live in, like other children. 

They’ll change over time, like other children, in unpredictable ways, like other children. 

And they will grow up, like all children. They will surprise themselves and us.

Children who identify as trans only have one body and one life, like all children. They are—as Ian McEwan put it—“easily torn and not easily mended.”

Children who identify as trans don’t have endocrine conditions or birth defects. They’re not the vanguard of some transhuman future. Rather, they’re made of the same stuff that children have always been made of, with the same needs for care and attention. 

What’s changed are the ideas and expectations that we’ve raised children on and the way we’ve turned them loose in an online world whose terrain no one has mapped. Many of these children have grown up with extended experiences of online disembodiment. They may not be free to run around outside with their friends but they’re free to roam the darkest corners of the Internet. Who knows what strangers and strange ideas they encounter there. 

These children have grown up hearing a very new and confusing set of fairytales about gendered souls that can end up in the ‘wrong bodies.’ Adults who should know better (and on some level do know better) have made them impossible promises. 

Children who identify as trans aren’t sages. They aren’t sacred. They haven’t been endowed with wisdom beyond their years. It’s not fair to treat them as exceptions to the safeguards we place around children, so that when they grow up and change their minds and ask why we let them do this, we say: You wanted it. You asked for it. You were so sure. What else could we have done? 

We need to remember that we are working with children. That children have one childhood, one body, one life, and endless ideas, pressures, pains, and theories about how the world works that they test against the grownups in their lives. 

There’s a way in which everything that touches trans must be exceptional—the children, the stakes, the feelings, the possibility of knowing anything for sure—because if these kids aren’t exceptional, then we threw everything we knew out the window. We didn’t ‘help’ exceptional children but harmed ordinary ones, struggling with ordinary challenges of development, sexual orientation, identity, meaning, and direction.

13) Being a long-haul truck driver also struck me as a nightmarish job.  And now it’s worse than ever, “How Life as a Trucker Devolved Into a Dystopian Nightmare”

Today, long-haul truckers are some of the most closely monitored workers in the world. Cameras and sensors dot their trucks, watching the road, the brakes and even the driver’s eye movements. Once, when his truck’s cabin heater broke, Mr. Knope was forced to sleep in freezing temperatures for several days while traveling across northern Ohio and New York because an automated system made sure his engine was turned off at night. The company told him there was no way to override the system.

Just imagine finishing 10 hours at a desk job, only to return to your apartment to find the heat didn’t work. That’d be quite frustrating. Then imagine your apartment was your office and most nights dinner was a microwaveable burrito or a bag of fast food. And then imagine your desk job required you regularly press a little pedal, you couldn’t stand up, you had essentially no face-to-face contact with co-workers, and if a bathroom didn’t easily present itself you were forced to use a plastic jug — all while a computer or a person at a desk hundreds of miles away monitors your every move…

For decades, truckers have quit at alarming rates, leading to a chronic shortage. The turnover rate was at a staggering 91 percent in 2019, which means that for every 100 people who signed up to drive, 91 walked out the door. Plenty of people have the commercial driver’s licenses needed to operate trucks, said Michael Belzer, a Wayne State University economist who has studied the industry for 30 years. “None of them will work for these wages,” he added. Studies even show that their pay, when adjusted for inflation, has declined markedly since the 1970s.

14) Here’s what I don’t quite get.  How come nobody has passed a law that simply demands transparency in ticket pricing.  If you want to charge me $120 to see Bon Jovi in Raleigh, just tell me that.  Don’t tell me it’s $94 plus fees.  I mean we have a perfect model– airline tickets are full of “fees” but when you shop online, they actually show you the full price.  John Oliver takes on Ticketmaster and fees.

15) How have I never come across this before?  “Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling.”

16) I appreciate SAM recommending the film “About Time” in comments last week.  I quite enjoyed it. I will say, I did find it unusual and surprising in just how little conflict/challenges to the hero there were. But, very charming.  

17) Like it or not, on all sorts of metrics, Asian-Americans out-perform other minorities.  And, many don’t like that so, instead, they play games of how to lie with statistics.  But deBoer is on the case:

There’s been a long-running conversation about the “myth of the model minority,” the idea that Asian Americans somehow represent a symbol of social success. There’s a lot of those complaints out there. Here’s a new piece by Hua Hsu in the New Yorker. Here’s a recent piece in the Times. Here’s NPR. Here’s WaPo. Here’s Time. Here’s National Geographic. Here’s CNBC. Here’s NBC News. Here’s Harvard Business Review. Here’s Forbes. There are multiple books on the subject. I could go on. There’s plenty to critique there, but a lot of this conversation seems to deliberately obscure the origins of the idea.

The model minority construct is the product of referring to large groups in a way we do every day without controversy. Asian Americans have frequently been represented in social science and politics as a “model minority” because on average they have far higher incomes than the national average, perform best on all manner of educational metrics, and commit crimes at dramatically lower levels. If people think of the average Asian American as someone who is law-abiding, did well in school, and earns an enviable salary, they’re not wrong, any more than it would be wrong to say that the average American man’s height is 5’9. Obviously, it’s stupid to assume that any individual Asian you meet has a high income, just like it’s stupid to assume any individual man will be 5’9. But this constant weird troubling of the very notion of demographic metrics isn’t constructive. Of course “the average Asian American” is a construct, as all averages are, and many Asian Americans are not like the average. But I find it tiring, this pretense that people don’t understand what a demographic average is in this context and none other. [emphases mine]

If the complaint is that these statistics are somehow factually incorrect, that’s interesting, but would require a lot of proof. If instead the argument is that we shouldn’t pay attention to such averages because they obscure the diversity of outcomes within each group, I think that’s a valid point of view, but I don’t think the people who complain about the model minority construct are remotely consistent in this. We use averages for social justice purposes all the time – we know Black people face a lot of social inequality thanks to the compilation of averages, to pick an important example. Of course we should never prejudge any individual based on their broad demographic categories. But we need to apply these rules consistently across different contexts, and we don’t.

If you want to discourage projecting averages onto individuals, you should do that with all kinds of people. A lot of these pieces like to stress that some Asian people are poor, some Asian people do badly in school, and some Asian people commit crimes, so therefore referring to averages is illegitimate. This piece, for example, seems premised on the idea that the notion of spread within a sampled population is groundbreaking and undermines the very concept of a median or mean. Other issues aside, it immediately forces me to point out that every other group also has internal diversity too. To pick an obvious group, white people! Many white people are poor. Many white people struggle in school. Many white people commit crimes or are the victims of crime. Many white people lack political or social power. And yet often the same exact people who complain about the myth of the model minority turn around and talk about white people as a unified bloc of wealth and privilege. There are some profoundly wealthy Black people in this country; should we therefore not refer to how low the average Black net worth is? If nothing else, there’s a profound lack of consistency in this regard.

If the idea is that we should pay a lot less attention to demographic identity because these groupings always distort who we are as individuals, I say, yeah! I’m on board. But that attitude usually offends the social justice set. The trouble is that the people who complain about the model minority thing tend to be very enthusiastic practitioners of political philosophies that stress group identity above all other things.

18) My daughter does not score a lot of goals.  And last time she did, it was in a game where I was out of town.  And, I also miss seeing a fair number of goals while trying to figure out substitution patterns.  So, I was so delighted to see Sarah just pop one right over the defense and the goalkeeper’s head, into the back of the net yesterday.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Conor Friedersdorf on with a very solid take on policing that I missed last August:

Other researchers have confirmed that murders of Black victims disproportionately go unsolved. This is precisely the sort of disparity now described in some progressive circles as “structural” or “institutional” racism. By the logic now prevalent on the left, the disproportionate murder of Black people and the disproportionate failure to catch their killers should be a focus of anti-racist activism, and solving those murders should be seen as anti-racist.

Instead, advocates of defunding or abolishing the police buy into a false binary: They regard the police as a fundamentally oppressive force that one can either strengthen, by dedicating more funds to it, or weaken, by starving it of scarce resources that can be spent instead on non-oppressive social goods.

Ghettoside’s great insight is that a community can be over-policed and under-policed at the same time––and that reformers can advocate for an end to over-policing while also championing the proposition that more police resources are required to solve more violent crimes. Defund the war on drugs. Defund stop-and-frisk. But also, fund the homicide bureau and the processing of rape kits and the community-policing initiatives that help people of all classes to feel as safe in their neighborhoods as wealthy Americans do in theirs.

The absence of policing yields not a safe space where marginalized people thrive, but a nasty, brutish place where violent actors either push people around with impunity or are met with violence by someone who forces them to stop. “When people are stripped of legal protection and placed in desperate straits, they are more, not less, likely to turn on each other,” Leovy wrote. “Lawless settings are terrifying; if people can do whatever they want to each other, there are always enough bullies to make it ugly.”

Even with the help of the best PR firms, “defund the police” has little future as a successful slogan or governing program. And I remain a proponent of many other criminal-justice-reform initiatives, like 8 Can’t Wait, with their data-informed emphasis on best practices for local police departments. But at a moment when fear of violent crime is understandably increasing, especially in cities, it might be that the most urgent argument reform advocates can now make is also a political winner: Stop over-policing, but stop under-policing, too. Stop frisking people for furtive movements or arresting people for having a joint, but start funding homicide bureaus adequately and allocating police resources to prioritize the need to solve every murder. Close racial disparities in clearance rates. Black lives matter, so “Solve All Murders.”

2) Brian Beutler:

That’s all the background you need to gauge the sincerity of the GOP’s commitment to Ukrainian autonomy. It’s the context that explains why people who now claim to be unwavering supporters of Ukraine and Zelensky would simultaneously try to sour the American public on the costs of allyship. They don’t particularly care if they weaken the national resolve to punish Putin, because Ukraine has always been a pawn to them; or if not a pawn, then subordinate to the higher calling of Republican partisan advantage.

All of these Republicans are aware of everything Donald Trump has said in recent weeks about Putin and Ukraine, just as they’re aware that he teamed up with Russia to sabotage both Ukraine and the 2016 election, and that he continues to spread poisonous lies about the election in 2020, assaulting democracy at home while we try to defend it abroad. Trump has been banished from mainstream social media, and both Democratic leaders and the national media have frequently engaged in collective, ritual ostriching, as if the best way to limit the damage he might inflict is to act as though it isn’t happening. But everything he says and does filters into the hivemind of the GOP; they know what will come to be party dogma if he runs for the party’s presidential nomination and wins. And through it all, Republican after Republican has made clear that, whether they want him to be the nominee or not, they will support him anyhow, with all that entails.

Bill Barr says, “It’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee.” Mitch McConnell will “absolutely” support the man who heaps abuse on him almost daily.

And let’s not delude ourselves: That will almost certainly entail abandoning Ukraine. The most slavish Trump loyalists the party have already taken to parroting Kremlin propaganda about Zelensky’s ‘thuggishness’ and echoing conspiratorial lies meant to justify the Russian invasion. We know the overwhelming majority of Republicans will go along with it if forced to choose between that and party disarray, because they’ve done it before.

And you know who else knows it? Putin, Zelensky, and the rest of the world’s interested parties. As morally satisfying as it may feel to affect a stance of national unity, the benefits for our global alliances are small and the domestic political costs are high. So long as Republicans are what they are, failing to make issue of their fair-weather commitment to Ukraine cedes the whole terrain of political contestation over the Ukraine question to bad actors, allowing them to persuade the electorate that the only thing wrong with our Ukraine policy is Joe Biden’s stewardship of it. That all the sacrifices Putin’s war entails from us are outgrowths of his failures. 

Biden has taken to calling it “Putin’s price hike” but he hasn’t completed the circle to make it clear that the people blaming him for higher gas prices are actually doing Putin’s dirty work. Or that this should come as no surprise since Trump’s in Putin’s pocket and they support Trump all the way. Putin has put the western way of life in existential danger, Trump is subservient to Putin, and Republicans are subservient to Trump. It does no further harm to America to level with the world about what Republicans are, and it does Ukraine no favors to pretend America’s commitments to its sovereignty are consistent across our two parties. The Democratic commitment is ironclad. The Republican commitment is Potemkin. ..

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Democrats can learn from former North Carolina GOP governor and current Senate candidate Pat McCrory, who said of his opponent, “As Ukrainians bled and died Congressman Budd excused their killer.” (The difference is that McCrory will support Trump who will abandon Ukraine; Democrats should not do that part.) 

3) Even though we know so much more about Covid know, the patterns of surges and disease transmission still remain a mystery to a surprising degree. Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

This is all to say that we are all living in a different pandemic landscape now with new variants armed with novel immune-evasion capacity, a clearer sense of the limitations of vaccines in preventing spread, and a growing understanding of the dynamics of waning immunity. To judge from the recent Omicron experience in Europe, weathering another surge without much disruption or dying may require that vaccination levels and regular boosters among the elderly get pretty close to 100 percent. The U.K. managed Omicron relatively well with only 71 percent of its overall population double-vaccinated but 93 percent of its seniors. More than half of the country as a whole has gotten boosted compared with just 29 percent in the U.S.  This is partly why recent data from the U.K. is a bit more curious than that coming from Hong Kong. There, over the past few weeks, hospitalizations have begun to grow steadily in all regions of the country after a post-Omicron lull. The growth isn’t huge — 21 percent week over week — but it is visible everywhere.

The explanations are not so obvious — a reminder that, more than two years into this pandemic, there are still things about spread dynamics we don’t understand. At first, given low case levels, the rise in hospitalizations was attributed by some analysts to waning booster effects among the elderly many months after that rollout began. But there does not seem to be a clear sign in seroprevalence data that antibodies are declining at the moment. Behavioral changes may be playing some role with the recent lifting of Omicron restrictions, but case growth does not seem to be concentrated in any subgroup. Instead, it appears consistent across all age groups and regions. And while the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 has been growing as a proportion of British cases for a while now, presently accounting for more than half of new cases, it is not creating a major new wave of cases, and there are few clear signs it produces meaningfully different outcomes than the original Omicron, BA.1. A final hypothesis says hospitals are simply picking up more incidental COVID; having resumed normal operations post-Omicron, more people are coming to the hospital for other kinds of procedures, and some percentage of them are popping up as positives. (This would explain the lack of a lag between case growth and hospital growth.) But even isolating those cases, admissions for COVID are ticking up, too, if by a smaller degree.

As a result, many of those looking closely at the British turn are shrugging in confusion, which means it isn’t easy to extract lessons from the U.K. experience for the U.S. future. (Though one lesson the U.K. is apparently taking is that a fourth shot, or second booster, is important.) It is worth keeping in mind that this upturn is still recent and relatively small compared with the heights reached during Omicron (though in the southwestern U.K., more patients are now being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 than at any point in the past year). But for those who’ve assumed the pandemic would steadily peter out, requiring a collective decision to declare “It’s over” — well, these are signs that the future is likely more complicated than that.

4) Lessons from Covid on combatting inflammation:

“Simply stopping inflammation is not enough to return tissue to its normal state,” says Ruslan Medzhitov, a professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. This approach ignores the other side of the inflammation coin: resolution. Resolving inflammation is an active, highly choreographed process for rebuilding tissue and removing the dead bacteria and cells. When that process is disrupted, inflammatory diseases arise…

Now consensus is building that many of the illnesses attributed to inflammation—both chronic and acute—can be traced to a failure in resolution. Often that translates into a failure to clear away dead cells.

“If you knock out receptors in the macrophages of mice that recognize dying cells, for example, they become incapable of eating up these cells, resulting in a lupus-like disease,” with symptoms such as arthritis and skin rash, says Krönke. 

A similar mechanism is at work in older people, says Gilroy. As we age, the body loses a protein that recognizes dying cells; this blocks macrophages’ ability to find and eat debris. Locked in a pro-inflammatory state, these macrophages continue to produce molecules that amplify the inflammatory response early on.

Perhaps COVID-19 has been more severe in older populations “because they’ve lost some of the pro-resolution pathways with age,” suggests Luke O’Neill, an immunologist at Trinity College Dublin. He notes that COVID-19 has also been problematic for people with genetic differences that impact immune function, resulting in overactive inflammatory responses or underactive pro-resolving ones. His group and others have demonstrated that macrophages primed for inflammatory action play a significant role in critical COVID-19 cases, and they are currently testing pro-resolving strategies to combat this effect.

Cancer’s course, too, is affected when inflammation fails to resolve. The soup of toxins, growth factors, and other inflammatory by-products that accompany inflammation spurs cancer’s growth and spread. Many conventional treatments end up exacerbating the problem, according to Dipak Panigrahy, an assistant professor of pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

5) This is cool (text summary below from a New York newsletter) not the actual article:

What if things had been different? What if Hollywood had more parts for Asian actors back in the ’80s and ’90s — roles that someone like Ke Huy Quan, fresh off star-making performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, could step into as he grew up? Well, for one, he might never have become a fight-scene coordinator, tuning kicks for everything from X-Men to Hong Kong action films. He might never have been able to work as an assistant director for Wong Kar-wai. And he might not have had the life experience he needed for a movie like Everything Everywhere All at Once. This month, Quan plays husband to Michelle Yeoh in that multiverse-hopping epic in one of his first acting gigs since the early aughts. In this profile by Bilge Ebiri, Quan shares the story of his wildly eventful life and his glee at returning to acting. “When those opportunities dried up, I spent a long time trying to convince myself that I didn’t like acting anymore,” he told Ebiri. “I was lying to myself.”

6) Good stuff from Ian Milhiser, “The needlessly complicated Supreme Court fight over whether Navy SEALs have to obey orders: Republican judges appear unwilling to acknowledge that they do not command the United States military.”

O’Connor’s and Merryday’s orders are egregiously wrong

Ordinarily, when someone claims that the federal government has burdened their religious beliefs, they may sue the government under a statute known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that the federal government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it does so “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and uses the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

The Biden administration persuasively argues in its brief that preventing the spread of Covid-19 and ensuring military readiness are both compelling interests, and that a vaccine mandate is the least restrictive way of achieving these goals. But it really shouldn’t even need to make this argument, because the Court has repeatedly held that judges should be exceedingly reluctant to question the military’s decisions regarding its personnel.

The Court has held that judges should defer to the military even when such deference limits the constitutional rights of potential service members. Ordinarily, for example, the Court has held that “a party seeking to uphold government action based on sex must establish an ‘exceedingly persuasive justification’ for the classification.” In Rostker v. Goldberg(1981), however, the Court permitted the Selective Service System to discriminate against men by requiring them, and not women, to register for the draft.

In fact, the Court has specifically held that judges should defer to the military when a service member claims that their religious liberties are burdened by an order from a superior. That was the holding of Goldman, which held that a Jewish officer was not exempt from an Air Force regulation prohibiting him from wearing a yarmulke, the traditional Jewish skullcap, while he was indoors.

“Our review of military regulations challenged on First Amendment grounds is far more deferential than constitutional review of similar laws or regulations designed for civilian society,” the Court explained in Goldman, adding that granting an exemption would undermine service members’ “habit of immediate compliance with military procedures and orders” — a habit that “must be virtually reflex with no time for debate or reflection.”

In fairness, Goldman was decided nearly four decades ago, and the Court’s current majority is far more sympathetic to the concerns of religious objectors than the justices who sat in the 1980s. And generally, the Court’s deference to the executive branch on national security might merit some reevaluation. But the Court concluded as recently as 2018 that judges should defer to the president on matters of national security, even when religious liberty is at stake.

That was the holding of Trump v. Hawaii (2018), which upheld former President Donald Trump’s policy preventing people from several predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. “‘Any rule of constitutional law that would inhibit the flexibility’ of the President ‘to respond to changing world conditions,’” the Court explained in Hawaii, “‘should be adopted only with the greatest caution,’ and our inquiry into matters of entry and national security is highly constrained.”

All of which is a long way of saying that O’Connor’s and Merryday’s decisions have no basis in law.

Something needs to be done to prevent rogue judges from issuing lawless orders that bind the entire country

It is likely, for a variety of reasons, that the Supreme Court will not tolerate O’Connor’s and Merryday’s orders…

But O’Connor’s and Merryday’s orders highlight a pervasive problem within the judiciary. It is too easy for litigants to shop around for sympathetic judges who are willing to issue orders that most judges would conclude are lawless. And it takes far too long for the Biden administration to secure an order from a higher court overturning these rogue judges’ decisions.

7) Jamelle Bouie: “The Supreme Court Did the Right Thing. I’m Still Worried.”

State legislatures are, and always have been, creatures of state constitutions, bound by the terms of those constitutions and subject to the judgments of state courts.

This has important implications for the nature of state legislative power. The federal Constitution may give state legislatures the power to allocate electoral votes and regulate congressional elections, but that power is subject to the limits imposed by state constitutions.

Imagine what could happen if that were not the case. Imagine, instead, that state legislatures had plenary power over federal elections, which would allow them to overrule state courts, ignore a governor’s veto and even nullify an act of Congress. State legislatures would, in essence, be sovereign, with unchecked power over the fundamental political rights of those citizens who lived within their borders.

This change would both unravel and turn the clock back on our constitutional order, with states acting more like the quasi-independent entities they were before the Civil War and less like the subordinate units of a national polity.

But that, apparently, is what some Republicans want.

Recently, Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block congressional maps drawn by their state courts. Their argument was based on a revolutionary doctrine that would tee up this fundamental change to the American political system.

The challenges, which failed, stemmed from the effort to gerrymander Democrats out of as much power as possible. In North Carolina, the proposed gerrymander was so egregious that the State Supreme Court ruled that it was in violation of the state’s Constitution. The court drew a new map to rectify the problem. In Pennsylvania, likewise, state courts drew a new congressional map after Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed the heavily gerrymandered map produced by the Republican-led legislature.

The North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling and the Pennsylvania governor’s veto should have been the last word. Both were acting in accordance with their state constitutions, which bind and structure the actions of the state legislatures in question. For Republicans, however, those checks on their power are illegitimate. Their argument, in brief, is that neither state courts nor elected executives have the right to interfere with or challenge the power of state legislatures as it relates to the regulation of federal elections.

Nestled at the heart of the Republican argument is a breathtaking claim about the nature of state legislative power. Called the independent state legislature doctrine, it holds that Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution — which states that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators” — gives state legislatures total power to write rules for congressional elections and direct the appointment of presidential electors, unbound by state constitutions and free from the scrutiny of state courts…

The basic problem with this doctrine is that it’s bunk. “The text of the elections and electors clauses is silent as to the role of state constitutions, but the subsequent history is anything but,” the legal scholar Michael Weingartner writes in a draft article on the theory of independent state legislatures. “Since the founding, state constitutions have both directly regulated federal elections and constrained state legislatures’ exercise of their authority under the clauses.” What’s more, over the past century, “nearly every election-related state constitutional provision was either approved and presented to voters by state legislatures or placed on the ballot and enacted by voters directly.” Even if the federal Constitution is vague on the full scope of state legislative power to regulate elections, both history and practice have fixed the meaning of the relevant clauses in favor of constraint. State constitutions (and state courts) do in fact regulate state legislatures as it relates to election law.

8) Ruy Teixeira, “The Democrats’ Working Class Voter Problem”

Data since the 2020 election confirm a pattern of declining Democratic support among the nonwhite working class. Put another way: education polarization, it’s not just for white voters anymore. As a result, Democratic strength among the multiracial working class continues to weaken.

Share

In a just-released Morning Consult/Politico poll, voters were broken down into three categories: noncollege, Bachelor’s degree only and postgraduate. Biden’s approval rating was just 37 percent among all working class voters, but 55 percent among the BA group and 63 percent among the postgraduates. Other polls show similar splits, with Biden faring far more poorly among working class than college-educated voters.

A recent Data for Progress poll shows this pattern extending to the generic Congressional ballot and a hypothetical rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024. Working class voters favor Republicans for Congress by 9 points while college voters prefer Democrats by 17 points. Unsurprisingly, there is a big education gap between white college and working class voters. But there are also wide gaps between working class and college nonwhite voters: Hispanic working class voters are 11 margin points less supportive of Democrats than their college-educated counterparts while black working class voters’ Democratic support is 31 margin points less than college blacks’.

The pattern is similar for the Biden-Trump rematch. Working class voters prefer Trump in 2024 by 7 points, while the college-educated prefer Biden by 21 points. And Hispanic working voters are 17 margin points less supportive of Biden than college Hispanics while working class blacks are 34 points less supportive of Biden than college-educated blacks. Remarkably, 40 percent of working class Hispanics currently say they would vote for Trump, along with 22 percent of working class blacks. These figures strongly suggest that the Democrats’ working class voter problem can no longer be fenced off as a white voter problem.

More bluntly, this performance among working class voters should be unacceptable for a party of the left. After all, what is the point of a left party that cannot command the loyalty of the working class and therefore plausibly claim to represent its interests? And in raw electoral terms, worsening performance among working class voters makes the Democrats’ quest for political dominance essentially impossible, since the share of working class voters in the country is 70 percent larger than the share of college-educated voters. The best they could hope for is to generate a stalemate by continually increasing their share of the college-educated vote while Republicans do, in fact, more and more become the party of the multiracial working class.

That seems an unpleasant prospect on many levels. Better to fight the good fight for the working class vote. That starts with Democrats’ pressing need to rebrand themselves on cultural issues, where they are decidedly out of step with working class opinion on issues around crime, immigration, race, gender, schools and language policing.

9) I love my kids and I love playing with my kids.  But I also love this, “How Much Do You Really Have to Play With Your Kids?”

To find out what is the “normal” amount that parents play with kids, I got in touch with David Lancy, author of The Anthropology of Childhood. Prof. Lancy has studied childhood on four continents, in areas rich and poor, rural, urban and suburban. It was a great relief when he said that not only is playing with kids not crucial for their development or happiness, other cultures find the idea downright bizarre. To them, adults getting down on the floor to play with the kids would seem as weird as a parent wearing a diaper, or drinking from a baby bottle. Here’s our discussion (edited for length and clarity).

Lenore: As an anthropologist, what do you wish modern-day parents understood?

David: To me the most important thing is to lose the guilt.

Lenore: Guilt about — ?

David: Everything. To recognize the fact that there are a few minimal imperatives in terms of [your child’s] health, their well-being, their diet, and their safety. What has happened is a sort of vicious circle where parents have a great deal of anxiety about their children, and the blogosphere kind of feeds that anxiety, and unwittingly the medical profession and educational system feed it, too. We need to start looking at the downside of all of these “must do” imperatives and see them as anxiety-provoking on the part of both parents and children.

Lenore: That includes the idea that you “must” play with your kids, right? I first heard about you years ago when you wrote a piece in the Boston Globe about how playing with your kids is considered unnatural in many other cultures.

David: Yes. In most cultures, adults do not intervene unless the child is hurt.

When parents feel they must be their kids’ playmates

Lenore: And today?

David: Nowadays I have these next-door neighbors and they spend literally the entire day supervising and playing with their children. They’re pushing them in swings and bouncing them on a trampoline and they have this sort of plastic car that the mother bent over pushing. I can’t help but eavesdrop –

Lenore: Hmm.

David: I suspect they bring an attitude something like, “Play is so important in children’s development!” And maybe the unspoken part is that play is way too important to be left to children.

Lenore: But isn’t is good for parents to play with their kids?

David: On a purely selfish basis, kids are wonderful. They’re a lot of fun to have around and interact with. But again, I would stress the fact that that’s a personal choice. Not every adult gets the same buzz. I suspect there are a lot of parents who spend a lot of time playing with children, guiding them, supervising them, because they feel an obligation. And they feel guilty because they don’t experience what they think should be the positive feedback, so they think there’s something wrong with them. They feel guilty.

10) This is really, really cool and a great use of AI, “This App Can Diagnose Rare Diseases From a Child’s Face: Doctors often struggle to identify rare conditions they may only see once in a lifetime. Face2Gene helps specialists find others with the same condition. “

11) Really liked this on elite goaltending and why one player’s stealthy wrist shot seems to work well against it:

Elite goaltenders are lauded for their reaction times, but in truth most NHL Gs stop high-danger chances by reading subtle cues delivered by the shooter before the puck is on its way.

Once the puck is in the air, there is little to no time to make late adjustments. This is why screens, redirections and pre-shot movement (which forces the G to refocus their eyes on a new point of attack) are so effective.

The more a shooter can disrupt a goalie’s information-gathering efforts, the more likely they are to score.

Aside from the usual tactics, there is another way for shooters to shift the odds in their favour.


James van Riemsdyk is a 32-year-old winger with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Due to his $7M cap hit and to his 2022-23 UFA status, he is unlikely to be on the move this trade deadline.

However, JVR is still worth a look for a contending team.

The left-hander is a premier net-front specialist and can beat goalies in a variety of ways in-tight or at medium range.

During the summer of 2018, I saw the former Maple Leaf’s skills up-close at a series of informal off-season skates.

Two things struck me about JVR’s shot.

First, JVR employs an extremely short follow-through when shooting off the rush.

Instead of using his hands and arm to add power, he contracts his core, pushes down on his stick and allows the interaction between the stick blade and the ice to propel the puck toward goal.

Less body movement = fewer visual cues for the goalie to read.

Second, the sound of JVR’s snap shot is unusually quiet. There’s no loud “snap” into the puck, only a soft “puff” when it finds twine.

How he does it is a bit of a trade secret – I’m still trying to figure it out.

In any case, it’s one fewer piece of information for a goalie looking around a screen and trying to predict when and where the shot will be coming from.

12) This was written about Putin this past November and it’s excellent for understanding the current situation, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business”

13) Helpful from Robinson Meyer as my wife asked me this exact question, ‘America Is the World’s Largest Oil Producer. So Why Is Losing Russia’s Oil Such a Big Deal?”

That means, under the U.S. oil industry as it exists today, there is no way to spin up new oil production in a few weeks or months. But more important, it means that U.S. oil companies have developed the opposite of independence. Since Congress lifted the ban on oil exports in 2015, all American-drilled oil and some of our natural gas have been priced on the international market. Global market forces, not our abundance of domestic fossil fuels, set the price of oil and gasoline in the United States.

This has exposed every fracking company to the volatility of the global oil market. Twice over the past decade, oil prices surged enough that frackers responded by drilling more wells and putting more oil on the global market. Each time, they drilled so much oil that prices crashed again, ruining their investment and driving a wave of consolidation in the industry. By far the worst of these bust cycles happened during the pandemic. Today, the U.S. fracking industry, which used to comprise hundreds of firms, has been whittled down to several dozen companies.

The industry, which has twice betrayed its investors, now has financial PTSD. Fracking companies are so worried about shanking their investors that they have barely drilled new wells as prices have climbed. (Last week, as Russian oil fell off the global market, the number of fracking wells in the U.S. actually went down.) This new “capital discipline” has turned the industry into something of a cartel. Scott Sheffield, the head of Pioneer Natural Resources, the country’s biggest shale company, declared last year that no fracking company would drill a new well even if the price of oil went above $100 a barrel—which it has. “All the shareholders that I’ve talked to said that if anybody goes back to growth, they will punish those companies,” he said.

This means that although America may be “energy independent” on paper, American consumers have won no benefits from this independence, and American officials cannot assert this independence in any meaningful way. Market dynamics, not overzealous regulations, have imprisoned the industry.

14) After Emma Camp’s op-ed on campus intellectual climate earlier this week, FIRE took a lot of (unfair) fire.  Greg Lukianoff with an excellent twitter thread in response. And FIRE’s own defense.

15) Sometimes I just have to link to things that are so stupid I need to respond. “Grades Are at the Center of the Student Mental Health Crisis.”  Yeah, it’s grades, something that we’ve been doing (and gotten way easier on!) for decades that are the problem. 

16) Hopefully some of my fellow Wordle fans will love this analysis as much as I did, “What makes a Wordle word hard?”  Yes, the duplicate letters are a killer. And this is a great analysis, too, “Wordle, 15 Million Tweets Later”

17) Really good post from Katelyn Jetelina on risk and Covid:

Bottom line

Risk calibration is incredibly complicated and hard to do. I find myself lost in this all the time. But, sticking to two themes helps:

  1. When transmission is low, relax. When transmission is high, take precautions. Reasonable measures can prevent infection and, perhaps more importantly, prevent transmission to vulnerable pockets of society. But if you do get infected…

  2. Vaccines do a superb job of keeping us out of the hospital.

We’ve done the best we can in an evolving landscape without clear risk communication. But we, public health practitioners, need to do better. Risk communication can and should to be part of our arsenal of preparedness for the next waves and public health threats beyond.

18) I’m sorry, but this is an example of liberal media bias and academic liberal bias, “Texas isn’t the only state denying essential medical care to trans youths. Here’s what’s going on.”  Essential is a pretty important word here and aside from the obvious animus and culture war politics of Texas’ law, there’s room for reasonable disagreement around “essential medical care” for trans children.  And how do we know it’s “essential” care?  Because of a link to a “viewpoint” article in JAMA.

19) Unsurprisingly, I quite enjoyed this, “The Pandemic Interpreter Why are so many liberals mad at David Leonhardt?”

 

 

What if being famous matters for how much media coverage you get?

OMG just saw so many tweets like this which give credence to just the most fantastically facile of analogies:

I think, presumably we’re all sexist/racist/homophobes for not paying attention to Brittney Griner (which I was aware of, for the the record) like she’s Tom Brady:

The second-best player in every sport is a superstar at a level that 99.999 percent of professional athletes — who are already the elite of the elite of the elite — will never come close to achieving. Joel Embiid finished second in NBA MVP voting last year; in baseball (a sport once actively played in this country), it was Vladimir Guerrero Jr.; and in football, it was Tom Brady.

Tom Brady is literally one of the most famous people in America.  Sorry, but being great at a sport that’s really just not that popular (sorry, go on all you want about sexism, but the WNBA is just not that popular) is not remotely equivalent to being great (for 20 years!) at far and away the most popular sport in America.  Damn do I just really hate insipid analogies.  

On the bright side, it did help me discover YouGov’s famousness rankings.  Tom Brady is the 4th most famous sports figure in America.

Suffice it to say that if Simone Biles or a Williams sister was being held in Russia, it would be a big deal.  Brittany Griner?  Not even ranked.   Anyway, the actual article about Griner and the media coverage is pretty interesting, but damn am I tired of people sharing it on twitter as if it some indictment of America’s racism and sexism.  

[On a methodological note, I think most of these ratings are vastly inflated. YouGov talks about how they are from representative samples, but that’s only representative among people who took the time to provide ratings of famous people and suffice it to say a lot of people without interest in celebrities will never fill out such surveys).  Like, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest 30%+ of Americans do not actually know who Milos Raonic or Grigor Dmitrov are!]

Quick hits (part I)

1) Yglesias with some thoughts on Ukraine.  A couple I really liked:

13. Speaking of allies, note the total uselessness of America’s friends in the Middle East during this crisis. The UAE wouldn’t vote to condemn the invasion in the UN. Saudi Arabia is not opening the oil spigots to stabilize the world economy. Indeed, the Saudis and the Emiratis spent all fall and winter working hand-in-glove with the Russians to drive oil and gas scarcity. From their standpoint, it’s realpolitik, which is fair enough. But make no mistake about the terms of this alliance: the United States of America does favors for these countries, and in exchange, they give money to influential Americans while doing no favors for the American people.

14. Now more than ever! Any pundit worth his salt argues that the right solution to any crisis is to the stuff they’ve supported all along:

— Size and economic strength matter; One Billion Americans!

— Domestic energy production is incredibly valuable. The focus should be on zero-carbon sources first, but trying to strangle domestic fossil fuel output while we’re still relying on it is risky.

— Pushing hard to speed up the pace of electrifying everything is really good.

— The people who’ve been pushing, successfully, to turn off nuclear plants are a menace to the world.

— Investing in useful things is better than spare fiscal capacity. Germany’s long years of low deficits do absolutely nothing to get them out from under the Russian natural gas squeeze. They could and should have been spending the past decade building an alternative.

2) Anne Applebaum on Germany:

The German government has done an about-face and will even send weapons to Ukraine: 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles. More incredibly, this 180-degree turn has the support of an astonishing 78 percent of the German public, who now say they approve of much higher military spending and will gladly pay for it. This is a fundamental change in Germany’s definition of itself, in its understanding of its past: Finally, Germans have understood that the lesson of their history is not that Germany must remain forever pacifist. The lesson is that Germany must defend democracy and fight the modern version of fascism in Europe when it emerges.

3) Dan Drezner on sanctions:

As someone who has researched economic sanctions for more than half my life, let me be blunt: These sentiments worry me. There are a lot of very good reasons to sanction Russia right now, but I am not entirely convinced that those reasons are informing the actual economic statecraft being announced…

The thing is, I don’t think any of these reasons are behind the sanctions being rolled out. The real reason, the one most consistent with all that anger and outrage, is that foreign policy leaders want to punish Russia for what it has done. As the joint statement issued on Saturday stated, “As Russian forces unleash their assault on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, we are resolved to continue imposing costs on Russia that will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and our economies.”

The sanctions that have been announced, including blocking sanctions on Russia’s central bank and knocking key Russian banks off SWIFT, are quite significant. If the priority is imposing costs, they are not the full smash but they’re close. Any time a central bank has to raise its discount rate more than a thousand basis points in one day is a sign that an economy is in distress. These sanctions will segment Russia from the global economy and punish Russian elites. As one senior Biden administration official told Politico’s Nahal Toosi, “We’ll go after their yachts, their luxury apartments, their money, and their ability to send their kids to fancy colleges in the West.”

The thing is, as satisfying as it might feel in the moment, “imposing costs” cannot be an end in itself. Sanctions should be a means to achieving a larger end. Maybe the goal is to nudge Putin’s elite coalition — you know, the guys sitting at the other end of the long table — into forcing him out. Maybe it is to delegitimize Putin in the eyes of a country that remembers the pre-Putin 1990s as a time of humiliation.

If the goal is to compel, then the sanctioners need to be explicit about what Russia can do to get the sanctions lifted. I saw nothing in the joint statement that suggested any demands that could cause these sanctions to be lifted. That lack of clarity undermines coercive bargaining, because the targeted actor believes that sanctions will stay in place no matter what they do.

4) George Packer:

Obama’s successor took the Russian side of the conflict. President Donald Trump was willing to see pro-Russian kleptocrats return to power in Ukraine because they served his corrupt political ends, and because he and his followers despise liberal democracy and admire naked “strength,” especially when it’s exercised to break rules and heads. It was no accident that Trump’s first impeachment had its origins in Ukraine, with his attempt to blackmail President Volodymyr Zelensky to obtain political favors. The two countries are entangled, not just because of the war with Russia but because Ukraine is where the battle for democracy’s survival is most urgent. The fate of democracy here turns out to be connected to its fate there. Putin understands this far better than we do, which explains his dogged efforts to exploit the fractures in American society and further the institutional decay, and his use of Russian-backed corruption in Ukraine to corrupt politics in America. The West’s yearslong underestimation of his intentions and the stakes in Ukraine showed a failure of understanding and a weakening of liberal values.

Now Putin, along with his patron and enabler, Xi Jinping of China, has pushed into American and European faces a truth we didn’t want to see: that our core interests lie in the defense of those values. To be realist in our age is not to define American interests so narrowly that Ukraine becomes disposable but to understand that the world has broken up into democratic and autocratic spheres; that this division shapes everything from supply chains and competition for resources to state corruption and the influence of technology on human minds and societies; that the autocrats have gained the upper hand and know it. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, following its earlier efforts to stifle independence and democracy there, as well as in Georgia and Belarus, is the most dramatic but far from the last point of conflict between the two spheres.

If this conflict is a new cold war, it’s one that the autocracies have been pursuing energetically and the democracies have been loath to accept. Until the past few days, the West seemed unwilling to confront Putin in a way that would hurt enough to make him regret his aggression. 

5) Still bummed that Ikea backed out of plans to build a new one just a few miles from my house.  This is cool, though, “How Ikea tricks you into buying more stuff”

6) My goodness did I just love Stuckey’s when we took family trips when I was a kid.  It’s also a joke between my wife and I that when we got married her parents warned us against stopping at Stuckey’s.  The latest, “Stuckey’s, the once-beloved road trip staple, tries to stage a comeback”

The emporium traces its roots to a Georgia pecan dealer who started a stand to sell nut candies made by his wife. As the country emerged from the Depression, W.S. “Sylvester” Stuckey Sr. began to build stores and soon was outfitting them with gas pumps, lunch counters and gift shops. His newly founded chain, with a signature blue roof, grew along with the country’s new interstate highway system, reaching 368 locations in more than 30 states, with a concentration across the South and Southwest.

For baby boomers, it became a road trip staple, an oasis of souvenirs and sweets, plus clean restrooms. But it was sold a couple of times to conglomerates and began a downward spiral after the oil embargo of the 1970s temporarily put the road trip out of fashion, and fast-food challengers sprouted along the highways.

Now it’s trying to launch a comeback.

7) It would be nice if post-pandemic restaurants took air quality seriously, but, is any of society really stepping up on this? “Restaurants Learned the Wrong Pandemic Lessons”

For a while, we’ve known that some straightforward air-quality improvements are plainly the best way to tamp down on some of the risk. Under typical building codes, restaurants have about the same indoor-air standards as other buildings—with more exhaust hoods in the kitchen to handle the smells and fumes. These codes aren’t designed with viruses in mind, and anyway, HVAC systems are rarely monitored to ensure that they’re working as advertised. At one Guangzhou, China, restaurant, an AC unit slingshotted the virus between diners sitting 15 feet apart.

Joseph Allen, the director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program, told me that in a perfect world, all restaurants would get regular tune-ups to ensure that their HVAC systems are working properly to swap out, dilute, and filter the air. After that, “you want to maximize the amount of outdoor air coming in,” Allen said. Opening some doors and windows helps, but the best play is to have your HVAC setup pump in even more fresh air while a filter (ideally rated MERV-13 or better!) strips away lots of menacing particles.

8) Loved Noah Smith’s interview with Political Scientist/Statistics guru, Andrew Gelman.  Lots of good stuff in here.  

9) Jesse Singal with a nice case study on social science clearly cherry-picking results in the case of transgender advocacy, rather than the most honest representation of the data.

10) As much as I want Jeff Maurer’s take to be true, Trump just seems like some political zombie where we just can’t get a headshot, “Ukraine Might Be Killing Trump’s Re-Election Chances: Historically, being a mouthpiece for America’s enemies doesn’t play well”

Putin’s Russia is now so toxic that if Trump does have improper ties to the regime, the consequences of that reality would be an even more potent poison than they were the first time around. This remains true even if the only thing that’s changed is Putin’s brand being downgraded from “noxious” to “PT Cruiser-esque”. Consider this simple equation that might represent the importance of a possible scandal in voters’ minds:

Republicans have spent the past several months acting as if the right side of that equation has been reduced to zero. And, of course, it’s true that the Steele Dossier does not look very credible, and also that some on the left spent the last few years about as obsessed with Russia as my five year-old nephew is with dinosaurs. But it’s also true that facets of Trump’s possible connections to Russia remain unknown. We never did find out why Paul Manafort left a job working for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine to work for Trump for free, nor do we know why he gave campaign polling data to a Russian spy. Much of the Trump organization remains opaque, which leaves the door open for good, old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes avenues for extortion like money laundering and off-the-books financing. Trump’s backers are right that many suspicions about Trump’s ties to Russia were never proved, but they were never disproved, either.

Republican voters might wonder if it’s not too much to ask for a nominee without all that baggage. It seems like a fair question: Is it really too ambitious to want a candidate who doesn’t have a long record of saying nice things about a man who could accurately be described as America’s nemesis? And who didn’t advocate that man’s point of view at a NATO summit and in the Republican platform? And who didn’t also – by the way – get impeached twice, lose an election, and end America’s 224-year tradition of peacefully transferring presidential power? Isn’t there anybody else? I mean, really: Is Ted Cruz that fucking bad? And the answer to that question may be “yes”, but even primary voters who are willing to laugh off Trump’s coquettish flirtation with the most hated man on Earth might worry that general election voters might not be so kind.

11) I hate large SUV’s, so I loved this in Slate:

Whether you bought a Sierra, like the one in the photo above, or a Yukon, which the tweeter mistakenly thought he was standing next to, or a Ram or a Silverado or a Jeep Gladiator or any other megatruck or monster SUV, you’re making an announcement to the world. It’s not the announcement you think it is, though. It’s not about your wealth or your toughness or your masculinity. No, you’ve announced, very clearly, that you don’t care if you accidentally kill a stranger. You’re saying: “I’m totally cool with someone else dying because of a decision I made.”

I’m not saying you’re a murderer if you own a gigantic truck. I’m saying you’re a manslaughterer. If you do kill a person, it won’t be because you carefully planned it. It’ll happen totally by accident, and you’ll be horrified. The person you kill, if it happens, won’t be some jerk who wronged you. They won’t deserve it at all. Heck, there’s a solid chance it’ll be a toddler.

Does this make you feel bad? It should!

Your giant car, study after study shows, is remarkably dangerous to pedestrians. The heavier a car, the more likely it is to kill a pedestrian if it strikes them. And trucks and SUVs are getting heavier: New pickups weigh 24 percent more than they did in 2000, according to Consumer Reports, and these days big cars regularly exceed 4,000 pounds. Let’s not even talk about the new generation of electric vehicles, like the Hummer EV, which thanks to its immense batteries weighs more than 9,000 pounds. You ever nail someone with one of those, hoo boy! They’ll need to pry ’em off the road with a crowbar.

Your car is also really tall, and that makes it more dangerous, too. A grille that’s more than 50 inches off the ground—as tall as the roof of my Honda Civic—makes it more likely that a pedestrian will be struck in the head by a collision. Big trucks are also more likely to push a pedestrian under the tires, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, something that increases the likelihood of a fatality. Those big, road-handling tires you love so much? They’ll also do a great job handling some middle schooler’s torso.

But I’m a good driver! you say. That’s great! Unfortunately, the very act of driving a huge truck makes you a worse driver—that is, a less safe one. According to Consumer Reports, pickups and the like perform worse than other cars in emergency handling and braking tests. And trucks are less likely to be sold standard with advanced safety features like automatic braking and pedestrian detection.

lus, those tall grilles create enormous blind spots, ones so big that when you’re behind the wheel you might not be able to see a pedestrian, a whole-ass Corvette, or half a kindergarten class. And kids are the most vulnerable to that blind spot: Most victims of “frontover” deaths—in which a pedestrian in a front blind spot is struck and killed in a driveway or parking lot—are between the ages of 12 and 23 months. Eighty percent of those deaths since 1990 involved a truck, van, or SUV, according to the advocacy group KidsAndCars.org. Maybe you think that if you do run over a kid, it at least won’t be yours? It probably will be your kid, though. In 70 percent of those fatal frontovers, it’s a parent or close relative behind the wheel.

12) Wired with the latest on the saga of the startup trying to make McDonald’s ice cream machines work better versus McDonald’s. 

13) I imagine a straight-up intelligence test is not the best for evaluating NFL potential, but I really would be interested in what kind of cognitive tests could best predict future NFL performance– there’s got to be something there.  

14) I’ll be bookmarking this, “How Simple Exercises May Save Your Lower Back: Back pain is common and complicated. But altering your workout to build control and stability can help prevent it.”  I already do some of these, but I should probably do more and definitely do so more consistently.

15) Good analysis of the complexities of Biden’s new Covid plan, “Inside Biden’s big “Test To Treat” plan for COVID. Here’s why it’s complicated.”  But it’s definitely worth getting this working well!

16) This was quite good, “I’m a Parent and a Statistician. There’s a Smarter Way to Think About the Under-5 Vaccine.”

The bigger issue, as I see it, is in general statistical methods that are often relied on to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines and drugs. The standard approach used in almost all clinical trials and endorsed by the F.D.A. requires new drugs to meet an arbitrary statistical threshold, the one people who have taken stats classes may recognize as statistical significance. This is appealing because it serves as a standardized final exam that experimental results all have to pass, unaided by preconceptions on the part of the reviewers or special pleading by the experimenters.

But the whole idea of statistical significance has been losing favor among many statisticians, for two good reasons. For one, this thinking is inherently binary; after the number crunching is complete, results are classified as significant or not significant, suggesting a finality and certitude that are rarely justified, and second, like any standardized test, it’s overly reductive. If relied on too heavily, it becomes a substitute for a more thoughtful, holistic analysis of the data, including important scientific context.

Nearly three years ago, an open letter signed by more than 800 scientists called for an end to the practice, and prominent statisticians, including the head of the American Statistical Association, put it bluntly: “Don’t say ‘statistically significant.’” Too often, they said, this binary labeling of results as worthy or unworthy has become “the antithesis of thoughtfulness,” a shortcut around what should be the hard work of any statistical inquiry.

What we need for the under-5 vaccine trial evaluation, instead of judgments of absolute safety or efficacy, is probable improvement over the next best alternative, considering all the available information. Even the concept of an emergency use authorization challenges the ordinary F.D.A. binary of approval and disapproval. We should take that idea and extend it.

There is a version of statistics that would be more suitable than significance testing for evaluating this trial data: Bayesian statistics. The essential tenets of this approach are that investigators should constantly update our understanding of any scientific claim based on the latest data and that we never need to label such a claim as definitively proved or disproved…

A Bayesian analysis of the vaccine for children under 5 would consider both that Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine has an excellent track record of safety for older children (obviously a 6-month-old is not a 5-year-old, but nor are they an entirely different species) and that we can already make reasonable estimates of how effective a two-dose regimen for little children will be, even against the Omicron variant. And if the newest data shows the vaccine losing effectiveness against this variant at the currently recommended dosages and schedules, statistical techniques that can incorporate this information as quickly as possible should be used to guide any necessary changes to the protocols.

The practice of borrowing information from one experiment to help understand another is not unprecedented. The F.D.A. has acknowledged the value of a Bayesian approach in certain circumstances, including pediatric trials. A 2020 policy document states, “Bayesian inference may be appropriate in settings where it is advantageous to systematically combine multiple sources of evidence, such as extrapolation of adult data to pediatric populations.” And the agency’s guidance for medical device clinical trials — where Bayesian methods have been more accepted for years — includes the endorsement that “Bayesian analysis brings to bear the extra, relevant, prior information, which can help F.D.A. make a decision.” The best way to demonstrate the advantages, when the under-5 vaccine is back up for review, would be for those evaluating it to put on their Bayesian goggles and consider the whole picture.

Referring to the vaccine trials for children under 5, Dr. Gregory Poland, the founder and director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group in Minnesota, said recently, “I don’t like that there isn’t more data.” Neither do I and other parents. But I also don’t like that my children are unvaccinated going into Year 3 of the pandemic. If the vaccines are safe — and we know they work well in other age groups — that’s meaningful to me both as a parent and as a statistician.

What if the president gave a SOTU and it didn’t matter 24 hours later?

My son in 10th grade is currently taking an American government class so I think this was the first year he was aware the State of the Union address is a thing.  He was a little surprised that I was not planning on watching it last night.  I put it on for 5 minutes and then he understood.  Damn, are presidential speeches before an audience so annoying.  Plus, I had a Carolina Hurricanes game and Duke basketball game on at the same time.  But, most importantly, it just didn’t matter.  If you head to WP or NYT homepages right now, you’ll barely even find any evidence there was a state of the union address yesterday.  And any news on the policy fronts (e.g., “reset” on Covid and the fine plan to try and make Paxlovid super-available) are news whether the president talks about them in front of Congress or not.  Also, as I explained to him, it doesn’t matter what I, Steve Greene, think about the SOTU.  It matters what other political actors, especially the media, think about it.  And I got all that from the newspapers today (did you hear that Russia invaded Ukraine) and twitter.  

So, if you enjoy the political theater of the SOTU… enjoy!  More power to you.  But, let’s not pretend its anything more than that.  There’s almost no more likelihood of meaningfully changing any political dynamics than if Joe Biden had just taken the day off yesterday.  And, hey, Duke won big (but damn was that Hurricanes ending unpleasant).

Quick hits (part I)

1) Don’t expect people to agree with everything in here on women’s rights versus transgender rights, but this part strikes me as so true:

Many of the people demanding these institutional shifts were and are not transgender themselves. They are bullies who set themselves up as moral arbiters, using self-righteous hysteria and factually questionable claims to demand censorship, instilling fear that anyone caught engaging in wrongspeak or even wrongthink will be publicly shamed and professionally destroyed. Bullies who insist they need to reshape women’s rights entirely, and then accuse any woman who even wants to discuss this of being hateful, stupid and dangerous. I have seen some people refer to gender-critical feminists as bullies, but I have never seen a gender-critical feminist call for writers to be no-platformed, words to be banned, books to be pulped, or articles to be deleted from the web. Gender activists do all of that as a matter of routine.

Contrary to what these bullies have claimed, gender-critical feminists do not hate trans people. I certainly feel no anger or animosity towards trans people. The only feeling I have towards them is compassion. Not to the point where I’m willing to give up all of women’s sex-based rights, no. But I do know I can only imagine the trauma and pain they have endured in their lives. I also know that so many of the arguments that are happening in their name are not ones that they wish for at all; they are conducted largely by provocateurs who are just burnishing their online brands…

Do they really think that something called gender identity, which I’m guessing most of them had never even heard of until six years ago, is the most important quality to a person, and any woman who doubts this must be shunned from society? Or do they just wish to be on The Right Side of History?

That’s a phrase I’ve heard often over the past few years. An editor said it to a friend of mine when she wanted to look at the effect of puberty blockers on gender dysphoric children (“I know, I know, but we want to be on the right side of history…”), and a US magazine editor said it to me when I asked if I could interview Martina Navratilova about her views on trans athletes: “I know what you’re saying, and I’m on your side, really I am. But you have to wonder what the right side of history is,” he said. It’s a concern that’s entirely based on vanity, because it’s about wanting to look good, to be seen as the good guy, polishing one’s future legacy. It’s also a way of abdicating responsibility for one’s choices: I’m not making this decision because it’s what I think – it’s what the future thinks! …

And then there’s Twitter. When I wanted to write for a magazine about the vilification of JK Rowling, I was told no, because it would cause “too much of a Twitter storm”. A friend wanted to put together a book of collected gender-critical essays, but an editor told her “the Twitter kickback would be too strong, and it wouldn’t get past the sensitivity readers anyway”. It amazes me how much power some people give to Twitter, because as someone who has been the object of several Twitter storms in my time, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Twitter means nothing, unless you give it the power to mean something. People should really stop giving Twitter so much power, because it’s making them bad at their jobs.

2) Happiness and money from an interview with Laurie Santos:

Is there anything surprising to you that people are just not getting about happiness? For my students, it’s often money. My fast read of the evidence is that money only makes you happier if you live below the poverty line and you can’t put food on your table and then you can afford to. Whether getting superrich actually affects different aspects of your well-being? There’s a lot of evidence it doesn’t affect your positive emotion too much. There was a recent paper by Matt Killingsworth5 where he was trying to make the claim that happiness continues as you get to higher incomes. And yeah, he’s right, but if you plot it, it’s like if you change your income from $100,000 to $600,000 your happiness goes up from, like, a 64 out of 100 to a 65. For the amount of work you have to put in to sextuple your income, you could instead just write in a gratitude journal, you could sleep an extra hour. Yeah, the money thing is one that students fight me on. It hits at a lot of the worldview they’ve grown up with.

5Killingsworth, a senior fellow at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who studies human happiness, recently published the paper “Experienced Well-Being Rises With Income, Even Above $75,000 Per Year.”

3) Love this list of 10 breakthrough technologies from MIT Technology Review.  I’m pretty partial to #4 and #10.

4) This is excellent, “When DEI Measures Crush Free Speech: On the farcical censorship of a Chinese artist at George Washington University.” (free PDF here)

At the start of the Winter Olympics earlier this month, a set of posters went up on the George Washington University campus. At first glance, they looked like they could be official advertisements for the Beijing Games. Look closer, though, and you see the snowboarder is perched atop a surveillance camera, the hockey player is body-checking a bloodied Tibetan monk, and the biathlete has their rifle trained on a blindfolded Uyghur man.

The George Washington University Chinese Students and Scholars Association said the posters were “racist,” a “naked attack on the Chinese nation” and called for a “public apology” and “severe punishment” for those responsible.

GW’s interim president, Mark S. Wrighton, who said he was “personally offended by the posters,” directed university staff to take them down and promised to “undertake an effort to determine who is responsible.”

After a flurry of public criticism, including pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Wrighton reversed course, admitting he had erred in having the posters removed and that no university investigation was underway. He had learned, he said, that “the posters were designed by a Chinese-Australian artist” and that “they are a critique of China’s policies.” He continued: “I want to be very clear: I support freedom of speech — even when it offends people.”

Before this minor fiasco is swallowed up by the next news cycle, we should pause to consider what it tells us about the inevitable tensions between free expression and the kinds of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives taking root on college and university campuses. After all, as Wrighton wrote, concerns about the posters at GW arrived through “official university reporting channels that cited bias and racism against the Chinese community.”

Like hundreds of other colleges and universities, George Washington University has a Bias Incident Response Team, or BIRT. Designed to “support students who are targets or witnesses of hate or bias incidents,” GW’s BIRT reporting form includes more than a dozen options under the “nature of the alleged bias” section, ranging from “age” and “disability” to “personal appearance” and “political affiliation” to “national origin” and “race.”

In a remarkable open letter, the George Washington Chinese Cultural Association exploited the logic of DEI to make their case against the posters. The images “offended” many Chinese students, the association said, and violated the university’s commitment to “equality and inclusion.”Moreover, by potentially inciting “Asian hate,” the posters posed a risk to the safety of Chinese students, including “verbal and physical violence.” “We hope everyone at the university can feel safe on campus.”

In their attempt at suppressing critique of China’s human-rights abuses, the Cultural Association drew quite shamelessly on the rhetoric of social justice. “This egregious act,” the Cultural Association wrote, “took place in early February, during Black History Month, a time when black people in the United States are reminded of their tragic experiences through longstanding oppression and exploitation.” “Underrepresented groups,” they continued, “should join together to fight racism and stand together against prejudice.”

Born in China, now residing in Australia, the artist who goes by the pseudonym Badiucao to avoid unwanted attention from the government of China acknowledges that some people regard his Olympics images as “controversial” and “violent.” “I have to remind the people,” he said, “that what happened in China is a thousand times more terrible and violent, and art is merely showing the tip of the iceberg of all this crime and tragedy.” Responding to the charge that his work promotes “anti-China racism,” he underscores that his work critiques “the state, not the people.”

Beijing 2022 poster
COURTESY BADIUCAO

This distinction is often conveniently overlooked by ideologically motivated students who invoke diversity mantras to try to shut down political speech.

5) Interesting and sad case of what sure looks like “suicide by cop” but where the cop sure did not to shoot additional rounds at somebody who was already shot and only brandishing a knife, “The first shots wounded their 16-year-old. His parents wonder: Did police need to fire the second round?”

6) I think there really are complexities to the issue of legal sports gambling, but damn it, just telling me it’s “evil” is so surely not the way to make public policy.  But, that’s what we get here in NC:

We don’t understand the human spirit that says we should surrender in the face of something evil. Sports betting is inevitable, some say. There’s too much money involved. We can’t stop it, so we should just regulate it and get something out of it.

That’s the way some North Carolina leaders are approaching the prospect of legalizing sports gambling. They know thousands of people will be hurt and families will be destroyed, but they seemingly have have lost any manner of courage and given in without a fight.

Decades of research shows that legalizing sports betting in North Carolina will, over time, seriously increase adverse outcomes such as divorce, bankruptcy, child abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction, crime and suicide. The gambling industry’s business model is built upon exploitation of the financially desperate and addicted.

7) Really, really good twitter thread on Joe Rogan and expertise:

8) Just maybe the fact that we’re paying more attention to disease means we can do something about this.  Given the amazing technological advancements against a virus in a short time, imagine what we could do against bacterial foes if we really set our minds to it, “The hidden epidemic: Antibiotic resistance is approaching a crisis point, and the world needs to act.”

Two years ago, the CDC made a disturbing prediction: Without radical change to antibiotic use practices, drug-resistant pathogens,which at that point were estimated to cause 700,000 deaths globally every year,couldkill 10 million people per year by 2050.

A recent report published in TheLancet, however, found that the toll from antibiotic resistance is worsening even faster than expected.

Last month’s Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance (GRAM) project report estimates that, in 2019, about 1.27 million people died directly due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which means cases where the patient wouldn’t have died had their infection been treatable with standard antibiotics. The total rises to 4.95 million deaths once fatalities associatedwith a drug-resistant infection, meaning that a patient died while having an identified antibiotic-resistant infection but it wasn’t clearly the immediate cause of death, are also included.

The report includes data on 23 pathogens and 88 pathogen-drug combinations in 204 countries and territories in 2019, with statistical modeling used to produce estimates for regions missing data.

The new numbers means that AMR is now among the leading causes of death worldwide, exceeding the toll of HIV/AIDS and malaria (864,000 and 643,000 deaths in 2019 respectively, according to the Lancet’s Global Burden of Disease study).HIV research attracts close to $50 billion per year in funding, but as Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy noted in a commentary published along with the Lancet study, “global spending on addressing AMR is probably much lower than that.”

In the last century, antibiotics have revolutionized medicine, massively cutting down mortality from common infectious diseases, while drastically improving the safety of major surgery and recovery rates from trauma. By one estimate, antibiotics have extended average human life expectancy by more than 20 years since their discovery over a century ago.

But the overuse of antibiotics, whether in human patients or in livestock, results in bacteria adapting to the drugs, leading them to become less effective over time. If the pace of resistance isn’t halted — whether through more judicious use of the drugs or through the development of new classes of antibiotics — it will likely lead to soaring deaths from common infections and surgical complications, sending us back to a world where a minor cut could potentially once again be lethal.

We can avoid this fate, but it will require coordinating a global response before it’s too late.

9) Recently came across this deBoer post from last year.  Good stuff, “People of Color Have Agency: the incredible condescension towards people of color in contemporary liberal culture”

This is, on the face of it, anti-white ideology – all of the bad stuff in the world happens as a direct result of white actions, white power. Yet I have always felt that there’s something else going on in these debates. I suspect that placing all of the blame for historical crimes on white people is strangely comforting for white leftists: it advances a vision of the world where only white people matter. It says that the sun rises and sets with white people. It suggests that white people wrote history. It assures white people that, no matter what else is true, they are the masters of the world. That all of this is framed in terms of judgment against the abstraction “white people” is incidental. I think if you could strip people down to their most naked self-interest and ask them, “would you be willing to take all the blame, if it meant you got all the power?,” most would say yes. And of course in this narrative people of color are sad little extras, unable even to commit injustice, manipulated across the chessboard by the omnipotent white masters whose interests they can’t even begin to oppose. All of this to score meaningless political points in debates about inequality and injustice.

The leftist conception of history as a series of crimes committed by white people against the virginal and defenseless brown masses is a perfect example of where radical American politics ostensibly castigates establishment power and the white people who wield it, and yet ultimately comforts those who express them, who are themselves white in dominant majorities. And what I’ve witnessed the last several years is that this condition has been generalized to domestic politics too: in the liberal mind of 2021, white people do, people of color are done to. Were I a person of color, I would find this impossibly insulting…

I find this attitude, which I heard from both Black people and white, to be really ugly. Quite racist, in fact. You really have to marvel at where we’ve come in race relations in this country when “Black people are incapable of following rules” is represented as an antiracist position. While exonerating this particular girl and other Black people from their culpability in breaking rules, this attitude posits an entire race of people who are such dysfunctional victims that they can’t possibly undertake the basic steps necessary not only to survive in 21st century America but to navigate any society, which are rule-bound by their very nature. The short-term rhetorical convenience of excusing individual Black people’s behavior in this way comes wrapped in a terrible curse; if this vision of the world is true, Black liberation must be just about impossible, as the hand of white supremacy is so damaging to Black people that it’s hard to imagine a world in which they are able to rise above the bigotry that will inevitably linger into the future. I would argue that, instead, while Black America faces structural disadvantages that are certainly related to historical and ongoing injustice, the right application of policy could dramatically ameliorate their current problems and leave them better able to flourish. Racial inequality is a choice. We could choose to end it. The question is, should progressives view Black people and other people of color as empowered adults with the capacity to make their own decisions, and thus as responsible for the consequences of those decisions, or as noble, permanent victims?

Worth saying, of course, that the large majority of Black people in this country live their lives every day without breaking such rules – including most Black Smith students. But to recognize this is to give the lie to the proffered defense.

10) I thought this was a pretty compelling take from George Will given that Abery’s murderers were already convicted of murder in state court (it would be quite different otherwise), “Ahmaud Arbery’s racist killers are grotesque, but their ‘hate crimes’ prosecution was a show trial”

If fractious Americans can agree on anything nowadays, it should be that the punishment of thought crimes is the odious essence of totalitarianism. So, consider the constitutionally dubious conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s three murderers for having committed “hate crimes.”

The criminal justice system has now correctly concluded that his murderers were racists whose racism manifested itself in their actions. This conclusion, however, does not justify complacency about deciding that because the killers’ gross acts reflected grotesque thinking, the thinking merits its own punishment.

The killers chased Arbery — a Black jogger in a White neighborhood — and killed him with a shotgun. For this violation of Georgia’s law against murder, a state court sentenced them to life imprisonment. Then this week, they were convicted in a federal court of violating a federal law that punishes those who violate a person’s civil rights “because of” their “race, color,” etc. For this they can again be sentenced to life in prison.

This misuse of judicial proceedings was, Sullum says, possible because of two regrettable Supreme Court conclusions: The killers’ “second, symbolic prosecution did not amount to double jeopardy, because the state and federal crimes, defined by two different ‘sovereigns,’ are not ‘the same offense.’” And prosecutions of hate crimes are deemed consistent with the First Amendment, even if they impose added punishment for speech that, however scabrous, is nevertheless constitutionally protected.

So, the government can conduct trials for the purpose of virtue signaling — to announce, however redundantly, that it condemns particular frames of mind. A bigot’s shabby mental furniture is, however, not a crime. Were it, what other mentalities might government decide to stigmatize by imposing special punishments? Arbery’s killers had expressed their racism in speech (texts, social media posts, remarks) that no jurisdiction can proscribe. But their federal punishment will be imposed precisely because their speech demonstrated their bigotry.

11) I’m sure I’ll have more to say about our newest SC Justice to be in the future, but I think the WP Editorial was pretty spot-on:

Judge Jackson by all accounts possesses the qualities essential in a Supreme Court justice: a devotion to the rule of law; a commitment to judicial independence; an ability and willingness to collaborate with colleagues whose views and philosophies differ from her own. She also appears to be a keen and careful legal thinker. A graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, she was an editor of the law review and went on to clerk for Justice Stephen G. Breyer, whom Mr. Biden has chosen her to replace. She put in eight years as a trial judge before ascending to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2021. And compellingly, she would bring even more diversity to the court as the first public defender on the modern court — an especially proud legacy for a president who has proclaimed his devotion to criminal justice reform.

Senate Republicans should judge her on the basis of her career and character, and refrain from obstructive maneuvering designed to deprive the nominee of a fair hearing. This may seem like a fantasy considering the poisoned state of the Supreme Court confirmation process. Yet the signs so far are somewhat encouraging. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) rhetoric in advance of her nomination had been conciliatory — with the minority leader refusing to criticize the president’s pledge to pick a Black woman for the job. He should urge members of his caucus to consider her on her merits. Indeed, three of these Republicans — Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — have already voted for Judge Jackson once, to confirm her for her current role.

That the Supreme Court could now look a little more like America is worth celebrating, not least for how it might help preserve the public trust in the institution, which has taken a beating in the eyes of the country. The court’s integrity would be further enhanced if senators approached the confirmation process not as a partisan battle but as the constitutional duty it is.

12) I meant to share Eric Levitz’s take on that pre-K study a few weeks back:

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that universal pre-K is undesirable. For one thing, the positive results from specific, intensive pre-K programs suggest that the typical American prekindergarten can be substantially improved. But even if it turns out that such programs cannot be scaled up — either because there isn’t political will for the requisite funding or because of some more fundamental constraint — the typical American pre-K (and/or day-care) program still has clear, proven benefits.

Won’t somebody please think of the parents.

Public pre-K programs may not reliably improve enrollees’ long-term academic performance or social behavior. But they do reliably provide parents with a safe, somewhat stimulating place to put their children while they go earn money. And that’s an important service for parents and children alike.

When Washington, D.C., established free and universal preschool, the labor-force participation rate among women with young children in the city rose by 11.4 percentage points over the course of a decade; during the same period, that rate among all American women with young kids inched up by only two points.

That outcome is typical. In other countries, the implementation of universal child care produced similar increases in female workforce participation. What’s more, as Vox’s Kelsey Piper has noted, household economic stability and parental labor-force participation are heavily associated with positive life outcomes for children, including higher rates of high-school graduation and lower rates of incarceration. Thus, if all universal pre-K did was function as a de facto child-care program, there is reason to think it could ultimately improve disadvantaged children’s life outcomes, even if it proves ineffective at increasing their cognitive ability. Simply by enabling their parents to earn higher incomes, the program could improve children’s well-being in the long run. And in any case, it would serve to enhance mothers’ economic autonomy in the immediate term. Which is pretty important, if we want to live in a society in which low-income women are not coerced into abusive relationships for want of economic resources.

All this said, the mixed evidence for pre-K’s efficacy does suggest that if progressives must prioritize some social-welfare policies over others, then they might be wise to favor a child allowance over pre-K. After all, the former increases parents’ economic security instantly and automatically. Further, given that some kids apparently do better under home care than in the typical pre-K program, it might make sense for a universal pre-K policy to include an alternative cash option, which families could use to compensate a relative for providing pre-K-like services if they wish.

On the other hand, in the immediate term, it doesn’t really matter which social-welfare policies progressives wish to prioritize. If the Democratic-controlled Congress does anything to make life easier for parents in America, it will do so at West Virginia senator Joe Manchin’s command. And Manchin, like much of the U.S. electorate, would rather give parents universal pre-K than unconditional cash assistance, owing to the mistaken belief that the latter would enable idleness or drug abuse.

Pre-K may not be the panacea that some of its boosters make it out to be. But it is nevertheless the only de facto public child-care program that has some bipartisan support within the U.S. That makes the young institution worth nurturing in the hope that it eventually outgrows its present flaws.

13) I am all in on Derek Thompson’s “abundance agenda.”  I really like his take on a new book about energy, “Forget ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle‘: A new book suggests that the best way to save the planet is through abundance.”

I recently spoke with Griffith about his plan to electrify the world, his controversial idea to bribe fossil-fuel companies to go green, and why American gloom and NIMBYism are standing in the way of the abundance agenda. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Derek Thompson: What does “electrify everything” mean, and why is it such a crucial part of the fight against climate change?

Saul Griffith: “Electrify everything” quite literally means electrify everything we do. Electrify our vehicles. Electrify our homes, including the kitchen, the laundry, the basement, the attic, and the garage. Electrify our small businesses and commercial buildings. Electrify our industrial processes.

We then have to produce all of that electricity with zero emissions, which means solar, wind, hydroelectricity, geothermal, but also nuclear. We can use biofuels, too, but biomaterials aren’t realistically going to power more than about 5 to 10 percent of the economy.

The reason to boil down climate action to that simple message is to make it concrete, make it simple, and to cut through the various distractions and smoke screens such as hydrogen and negative emissions. Very simply, the great majority of our emissions will be eliminated by electrifying everything. It also makes concrete the important decisions in a person’s or consumer’s or citizen’s life: what you drive or ride, what powers the place that you live, what powers your appliances.

Thompson: Does electrifying everything require lots of brand-new technology? Or is this something we can do by simply deploying technology we’ve already invented?

Griffith: We have invented all of the things that are necessary. More inventions might make it cheaper or easier, but we do have everything we need already. Electric vehicles are widely now seen as equals to or better than internal-combustion-engine vehicles. Electric heat pumps now beat furnaces on cost and performance in nearly any environment. Electric cooking is cleaner, faster, cheaper, and easier than cooking with gas. Wind and solar are cheaper than natural gas and coal at feeding the grid. Batteries are dropping in cost every day. Rooftop solar can be cheaper than the cheapest grid-based electricity…

Thompson: I’ve come to think that what I call the “abundance agenda” needs both an economic argument—that is, “How do these policies help me?”—and a values argument—that is, “What do these policies say about me?” I wonder if the local energy reforms you’re talking about might appeal to people’s values of local control and community.

Griffith: Electricity literally is the network that connects every home. You are connected to everybody through this thing in your community. And it really might be the opportunity for community renewal that America needs. It might be the thing that binds us back together again. Because it saves us money and has a damn good chance of being bipartisan.

Thompson: I’m concerned that the world is turning away from nuclear power at the very moment we most desperately and obviously need nuclear power to make the clean-energy math work. It’d be one thing if only California was turning away from nuclear with the closure of the Diablo Canyon plant. But so is Germany. So is Japan. Why is this happening around the world, and what is your outlook on nuclear’s future?

Griffith: If you take the six biggest countries by land area—Russia, Canada, the U.S., China, Brazil, Australia—only one of those countries could provide all of its energy with solar and wind using less than 1 percent of its land area. That would be Australia, because it’s giant and has so few people. But if you tried to give everybody in China an American lifestyle, fully electrified with renewables, you’d need 10 percent of the land covered with wind turbines and solar cells. In America, you’d need about 2 percent of the land. My view is that any country that needs more than 1 percent of its land dedicated to renewables has to keep nuclear on the table. People have to realize that they can’t have Western lifestyles without nuclear power in a country as dense as Switzerland.

14) Katelyn Jetelina generally approves of new CDC guidance:

My two cents

As many of you know, I’ve been one of CDC’s biggest critics throughout this pandemic. But… I’m pleasantly surprised with this framework for a few reasons:

Praises

  1. Cases included. The CDC ended up integrating case metrics into their framework and this was 100% the correct call. Before today, rumors suggested that the CDC was only going to use hospitalizations to map behaviors. But this is inherently flawed because once hospitalizations increase, transmission in the community has already been high for about 3-4 weeks. So, I’m glad they decided not to do this.

  2. Hospitalization definition. The CDC is counting hospitalizations “with COVID” and “for COVID19” in their hospital metrics. This is also, absolutely, the right call. First, some jurisdictions just don’t have the capacity to differentiate the two. But, second, because Omicron showed us that there’s actually a third category that isn’t clearly differentiated: “COVID19 exacerbating medical conditions.” For example, if a child has diabetes, COVID19 infection significantly complicates the disease and the child is hospitalized “with COVID” not “for COVID19”. But, this is very different than a child with a broken bone that happens to test positive. So, I’m happy that the CDC is counting everything because everything does impact supply, staff, and hospital capacity.

  3. Layered approach. The CDC did not just map these metrics to masks. They also mapped the metrics to our other tools, like rapid testing (when and how), ventilation of spaces, vaccines, treatment, etc. I was VERY happy to see this. Yes, masks work. But so do all the other tools we have significantly underutilized throughout the pandemic.

  4. Dial up and dial down. Given my proposed framework a few weeks ago, you won’t be surprised to hear how happy I am the CDC provided guidance on how to “ride the waves”. The end of a surge is not the end of a pandemic. We need to be prepared and ready for the next. It may never come. But in the high likelihood that another wave does come, we need clear guidance.

  5. Vaccination rate. This is minor, but I’m glad they didn’t include community-level vaccination rates in their metrics. Vaccinations are already folded into population-level hospitalizations, so they are already accounted for to some degree. Also, I have yet to see any scientific evidence that vaccines reduce Omicron transmission. They did for Delta, but I would want to see this data first before assuming so for Omicron.

  6. Transportation. This guidance is NOT for public transportation, like planes. All of the masking requirements still pertain (at least until mid-March). The CDC said they’re evaluating the situation and will comment in the coming weeks.

15) So does Leana Wen.  I am glad to see more of a focus on hospitalization over just cases:

The CDC finally got masking right. After months of pleading from governors, local officials, educators and health experts, their new recommendations make clear that masks are no longer required in much of the United States — including in most schools.

Previously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s sole determining factor for whether a community needed to implement masking was case counts. This made sense in 2020 and early 2021, when surges in infections invariably led to overwhelmed hospitals and deaths. But vaccines have rendered covid-19 far less severe. In areas with high levels of immunity from vaccination or prior infection, cases can be high, but hospitalizations remain low. The risk to society now correlates with severe infection, not positive tests, so it’s reasonable to shift the threshold for government-imposed restrictions.

The CDC’s new metrics are predominantly based on covid-19 hospitalizations as well as hospital capacity. Because severe illness lags infection by one to two weeks, the CDC also takes into account community infection rates. For example, there is a lower threshold of hospitalizations needed to trigger masking if the overall infection rates are more than 200 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Importantly, the guidelines leave open the possibility that these metrics might need to change in the future should a new variant arise that escapes vaccine immunity. Instead of viewing masking as an on-off switch, the CDC makes the case that mitigation measures are more like a dial. Depending on changing circumstances, restrictions can be turned up or down.
Beyond the rationale for the revision, the CDC deserves recognition for its newfound clarity of messaging. I appreciated the easily understood orange, yellow and green categorizations: When concern for severe illness is very high (orange), everyone should mask; when they are low (green), everyone could unmask; in between (yellow), people can decide whether to mask depending on their medical circumstances and risk tolerance.
16) And just for fun, in case you missed it, “Cross-country skiing-Finn Remi suffers frozen penis in mass start race”
%d bloggers like this: