Quick hits (part I)

1)Must read from David Wallace-Wells, “America Has Decided It Went Overboard on Covid-19” (great thread summary here, too):

Last weekend, The Times published a survey of pandemic recommendations from experts considering the possibility of another outbreak, and it looked to me as though in nearly every case even those taking the more aggressive side of the argument endorsed mitigation measures that were no stronger and often weaker or more caveated than those that had been put in place in 2020. They did so even though the hypothetical disease they were considering was both more transmissible and more deadly than the new coronavirus (and even though it also affected children and adults equally). That is, faced with a disease that would spread more quickly than Covid, kill more of those infected than Covid, with a mortality burden, compared with Covid’s, markedly rebalanced toward the young, they would vote, in general, to do less.

This isn’t a question limited to abstract, virtual-reality-style debates on op-ed pages and social media. In at least 30 states, The Washington Post reported last week, legislatures have already passed laws limiting public health powers in the wake of the pandemic. Most of the states are in Republican control, but not all, and the restrictions legislated so far are quite intrusive: in many cases, extending outright bans against health officials or governors from issuing mask mandates, closing schools or businesses, restricting large gatherings in places like churches, or testing or vaccine protocols. But what is most striking is how little consideration they give to the particular attributes of future outbreaks — treating a future disease that spreads like measles but kills one in five kids it infects the same as one that spreads like swine flu and doesn’t kill anybody. And stopping public health authorities from doing anything about any of them.

Stop and think about that for a second: As the country emerges from three years of death, disruption and suffering, dozens of states have decided not just that future mitigation measures should be carefully targeted and calibrated, or that they should be time-limited, or that they should always integrate trade-offs and cost-benefit calculations from the beginning. They have decided that the best way to prepare for those future diseases is to tie our hands ahead of time.

Is this the lesson the country should be taking from its experience with Covid-19? More than a million Americans died, and several hundred more continue to each day, keeping the country on a path to more than 100,000 Covid-19 deaths annually. Polls continue to show significant public support for mitigation measures like masking, believe it or not. These kinds of surveys are notoriously unreliable and may well significantly overstate such support, but last fall’s elections tell something of the same story: Candidates who were Covid hard-liners weren’t punished for their policies any more than skeptical or hands-off governors. These dynamics may shift again, as the country pulls past exhaustion toward some real pandemic perspective — which many of the installments of Opinion’s Next Pandemic series attempt to provide. But for now, at the level of policy and public discourse, a striking American consensus seems to be hardening: When Covid-19 hit, the country did too much.

2) Really enjoyed Yglesias on the dramatically changed politics of education reform:

This conversation is from just five years ago, but the way we discuss (or don’t discuss) the achievement gap — the fact that Black and Hispanic students score lower on standardized tests than white and Asian students — has completely changed.

That’s in part because the phrase itself has gone out of style. But it’s also because the whole idea of emphasizing kids’ performance on tests of their reading and math skills now seems extremely old-fashioned. A K-12 education controversy in 2023 is overwhelmingly likely to feature conservatives complaining about excessively woke programming versus progressives complaining about conservative censorship. You might hear a debate about the presence of police officers in public schools or about admissions to selective schools. George W. Bush infamously kicked off the education reform era with his gaffe, “rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?” And during his presidency and Barack Obama’s, that question was asked quite frequently. These days, though, Bush’s observation seems relevant once again —we actually don’t ask it much anymore.

In his monologue, Hayes also clearly associates the achievement gap discussion with things progressives dislike (charter schools, school choice, Betsy DeVos).

The thesis of the episode is that school integration is a better, more progressive way to close the achievement gap, and perhaps there’s a world in which the progressive movement unites around this competing vision. Instead, we’ve largely moved on from talking about the issue. This is too bad, because the achievement gap continues to be a noteworthy feature of American society…

School management only matters so much

Here are three propositions about K-12 education:
  1. Many public school systems, especially the ones attended by low-income Black and Hispanic students, are sub-optimally managed.

  2. Changing these sub-optimal K-12 management practices — reforming them —would be a good idea.

  3. Implementing these reforms would mean Black and Hispanic students’ scores would improve to be on par with those of white and Asian students.

Propositions one and two seem extremely sensible; proposition three seems like a wild over-extrapolation of how much K-12 school system management could possibly matter. I think a big tell here is that Asian students do better on average than white ones, and as far as I know, nobody has ever argued that education reform is going to close the white-Asian test score gap. I’m not sure that we know (or need to know) exactly why Asian students — on average — do better, but it’s pretty clear that a large share of the gap is due to factors that arise outside of the school.

By the same token, Black students are more likely to grow up with above-average levels of poverty, below-average levels of wealth and income, above-average rates of single-parent households and other signifiers of family instability, and below-average levels of parental educational attainment. If you described any subset of the population that had those characteristics, you’d expect the kids to perform worse-than-average in school. You can debate how those disparities arise or what else might follow from them, but the broad facts are really pretty clear. And while obviously the quality of the school that you attend and the level of attention that the school gives to you individually is a big deal, all these other things are also a big deal, and it was pretty crazy to act like the school system could single-handedly fix everything.

3) It was so cool to learn that Bing’s GPT search is actually the upgraded GPT 4.0.  I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and it doesn’t actually blow me away compared to ChatGPT, but it is so cool that it can actually search the internet and respond. Ethan Mollick with a guide on how to best use it’s powers. 

4) And here’s Mollick, too, “Using AI to make teaching easier & more impactful”

5) I actually got into a fight with my wife for arguing this, but, here you go, 538: “The Polls Were Historically Accurate In 2022” (it was the media who got it so wrong, not the polls). 

5) Okay, I just had an absurdly long excerpt from Jonathan Haidt and decided it was wrong to have this all in quick hits. It’s own post later today it shall be.  That said, a nice summary of it from Drum fits in quick hits:

Why are teen girls so depressed these days. Jonathan Haidt thinks the answer is smartphones and social media, and I expressed some doubts about that a few weeks ago. Haidt is back today and, among other things, shows us this chart:

You can see one of the reasons for my skepticism here: the starting point for the rise in “self-derogation” is around 2009, not 2012, the year that Haidt has always focused on. This may seem trivial, but it’s not. If a trend started in 2009, it’s all but impossible for the cause to be something that didn’t start until 2012.¹

So what do we make of this? Haidt suggests that a big part of the problem is an increasing feeling of not being in control of your life. In psychology-ese, this is referred to as having an external locus of control:

After trying a few different graphing strategies, and after seeing if there was a good statistical justification for dropping any items, we reached the tentative conclusion that the big story about locus of control is not about liberal girls, it’s about Gen Z as a whole. Everyone—boys and girls, left and right—developed a more external locus of control gradually, beginning in the 1990s. I’ll come back to this finding in future posts as I explore the second strand of the After Babel Substack: the loss of “play-based childhood” which happened in the 1990s when American parents (and British, and Canadian) stopped letting their children out to play and explore, unsupervised.

Haidt thinks this began in the 1990s and then accelerated after 2012 when smartphones became widespread. I’m inclined to believe this, mainly because I’ve long been astonished at the suffocating amount of control that parents apparently have over their kids these days. And the worst part of this, in my view, isn’t even the control per se. It’s the motivation for the control: fear. Modern parents seem to be extraordinarily sensitive to even the tiniest potential danger to their children, and it’s hard to believe that this constant fear doesn’t get picked up by the kids. It’s probably not even conscious.

But either way, it can’t be healthy. If you live in a bubble of fear and control, what happens when you start to move outside of that bubble in your teenage years? My guess is that the answer is increased stress and depression, which is exactly what we see. Smartphones and social media might give this an extra push, but I’ll bet they aren’t the primary source.

6) A.O. Scott gives himself an exit interview as an NYT film critic:

How have the movies changed?

Gather ’round, children. When I first came to this newspaper — when it was still, mostly, a newspaper — the phrases “streaming platform,” “cinematic universe” and “social media” were not part of the general lexicon. Films were still mostly shot and projected on film. You could still rent VHS tapes at the video store, and Netflix would send you DVDs in the mail. The American independent cinema of the previous decade was reaching a new stage of maturity, and international auteur cinema was thriving in the work of Abbas Kiarostami, the Dardenne brothers, Pedro Almodóvar, Olivier Assayas and Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

It was the worst of times! In the fall of 1999, a few months before I was hired, the critic Godfrey Cheshire of The New York Press published a long, agonized, in many ways prescient essay titled “The Death of Film, the Decay of Cinema.” A few years earlier, in The New York Times Magazine, Susan Sontag had proclaimed the end of cinephilia and the “decay” of the art form that sustained it. Jean-Luc Godard, finishing his decade-long video project “Histoire(s) du Cinéma” in 1998, struck a similarly elegiac tone.

And now? I’m tempted to say that the sky is still falling, or falling again, and that it’s the same old sky. The death of cinema is almost as old as cinema itself. In 1935, the German critic Rudolf Arnheim declared that film as an art form had died with the coming of sound, and that what followed the silence was mere commercial propaganda, a bastardized form he prophetically called “television.” After the war, television killed movies all over again, and even when a technological villain wasn’t apparent — the VCR, the internet — things were always bad. Frank O’Hara’s poem “To the Film Industry in Crisis” appeared in 1957. Two decades later Pauline Kael asked “Why Are the Movies So Bad?” The End Times have a way of turning out to have been golden ages all along.

The current apocalypse is that streaming and Covid anxiety are conspiring to kill off moviegoing as we have known it, leaving a handful of I.P.-driven blockbusters and horror movies to keep theaters in business while we mostly sit at home bingeing docuseries, dystopias and the occasional art-film guilt trip. Am I worried? Of course I’m worried. The cultural space in which the movies I care most about have flourished seems to be shrinking. The audience necessary to sustain original and ambitious work is narcotized by algorithms or distracted by doomscrolling. The state of the movies is very bad.

7) There’s been a whole online thing this week about what “woke” means.  Of course, everybody uses it quite differently to the point it is almost useless now. Thomas Chatterton Williams:

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” That’s not bad so far as it goes, and there is a secondary definition that encapsulates the “vulgar” (or common) understanding that the attention is excessive: “disapproving: politically liberal (as in matters of racial and social justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.” But neither adequately conveys the implication that the point of the attention is fundamentally to remake society. Progressives sometimes exploit these ambiguities to accuse the “anti-woke” side of rejecting near-consensus beliefs, such as the need to call out and remedy actual instances of racism.

This messiness is why I have argued for years now that “woke” is not a viable descriptor for anyone who is critical of the many serious excesses of the left yet remains invested in reaching beyond their own echo chamber. The word is more confusing than useful, and we should make good-faith efforts to avoid using it. As I wrote in The Guardian in November 2021: “Fairly or not, ‘woke’ and ‘wokeness’ now overwhelmingly signal that you’re not fundamentally interested in that rhetorical labor, and those who need the most convincing give themselves permission to stop paying attention.” …

But perhaps we can all agree, at bare minimum, to set ourselves the task of limiting our reliance on in-group shorthand, and embracing clear, honest, precise, and original thought and communication. If we want to persuade anyone not already convinced of what we believe, we are going to have to figure out how to say what we really mean.

8) Meanwhile, Freddie deBoer says we all really do know what it means. And he’s not wrong and I do like his definition:

The conceit is that “woke” has even shaggier or vaguer boundaries than “liberal,” “fascist,” “conservative,” or “moderate.” And I just don’t think that’s true.

“Woke” or “wokeness” refers to a school of social and cultural liberalism that has become the dominant discourse in left-of-center spaces in American intellectual life. It reflects trends and fashions that emerged over time from left activist and academic spaces and became mainstream, indeed hegemonic, among American progressives in the 2010s. “Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene – woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.

Woke is defined by several consistent attributes. Woke is

  1. Academic – the terminology of woke politics is an academic terminology, which is unsurprising given its origins in humanities departments of elite universities. Central to woke discourse is the substitution of older and less complicated versions of socially liberal perspectives with more willfully complex academic versions. So civil rights are out, “anti-racism” is in. Community is out, intersectionality is in. Equality is out, equity is in. Homelessness is out, unhousedness is in. Sexism is out, misogyny is in. Advantage is out, privilege is in. Whenever there’s an opportunity to introduce an alternative concept that’s been wrung through academia’s weird machinery, that opportunity is taken. This has the advantage of making political engagement available only to a priestly caste that has enjoyed the benefits of elite university education; like all political movements, the woke political movement is captured by the urge to occupy elevated status within it.

  2. Immaterial – woke politics are overwhelmingly concerned with the linguistic, the symbolic, and the emotional to the detriment of the material, the economic, and the real. Woke politics are famously obsessive about language, developing literal language policies that are endlessly long and exacting. Utterances are mined for potential offense with pitiless focus, such that statements that were entirely anodyne a few years ago become unspeakable today. Being politically pure is seen as a matter of speaking correctly rather than of acting morally. The woke fixation on language and symbol makes sense when you realize that the developers of the ideology are almost entirely people whose profession involves the immaterial and the symbolic – professors, writers, reporters, artists, pundits. They retreat to the linguistic because they feel that words are their only source of power. Consider two recent events: the Academy Awards giving Oscars to many people of color and Michigan repealing its right-to-work law. The latter will have vastly greater positive consequences for actually-existing American people of color than the former, and yet the former has been vastly better publicized. This is a direct consequence of the incentive structure of woke politics.

  3. Structural in analysis, individual in action – the woke perspective is one that tends to see the world’s problems as structural in nature rather than the product of individual actors or actions. Sometimes the problems are misdiagnosed or exaggerated, but the structural focus is beneficial. Curiously, though, the woke approach to solutions to politics is relentlessly individualistic. Rather than calling for true mass movements (which you cannot create without the moderation and compromise the social justice set tends to abhor), woke politics typically treats all political struggle as a matter of the individual mastering themselves and behaving correctly. The fundamental unit of politics is not the masses but the enlightened person, in the social justice mindset, and the enlightened person is one who has attained a state of moral cleanliness, particularly as expressed in language. The structural problems (such as racism) are represented as fundamentally combated with individual moral correctness (such as articulated in White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which argues that racism is combated by white people interrogating their souls rather than with policy). The only real political project is the struggle against the self; the only real political victory is the mastery of one’s thoughts. The distinction between the effective political actor and the morally hygienic thinker is collapsed. You combat homophobia by being gay-affirming. You combat misogyny by respecting women. You combat all social ills by relentlessly fixating on your own position in society and feeling bad about it. Nothing political can escape the gravity of personal psychodrama and no solutions exist but cleansing the self.

  4. Emotionalist – “emotionalist” rather than emotional, meaning not necessarily inappropriately emotional but concerned fundamentally with emotions as the currency of politics. In woke circles, political problems are regularly diagnosed as a matter of the wrong emotions being inspired in someone. Someone feeling “invalid” is no longer an irrelevant matter of personal psychology best left to a therapist but instead a political problem to be solved, and anyone who provoked that feeling is someone who has committed a political crime no matter what the context or pretext. Good political action makes people feel better. To the extent that material victories like feeding the hungry are celebrated, they are celebrated because they inspire good feelings rather than solve corporeal problems. The famous woke antipathy towards the concept of civil liberties and personal freedoms stems from the triumph of emotions; things like rights are no match for the claims of any individual of psychic distress. Economic, legal, and political inequality are all relevant only to the extent that they make people from minority identities sad. The fixation on emotions fits snugly in the assumption of the individual as the basic unit of politics. It also ensures that woke politics assume the possibility of a frictionless universe in which everyone feels good all the time.

9) Meanwhile, UPenn has a tenured law professor who’s just clearly racist and I honestly just don’t know what the right move is in a situation like this.  Amy Wax is awful and academic freedom is good and, I could be wrong, but it seems you either compromise academic freedom or else you leave an absolutely awful person teaching law at Penn.

Amy Wax, a law professor, has said publicly that “on average, Blacks have lower cognitive ability than whites,” that the country is “better off with fewer Asians” as long as they tend to vote for Democrats, and that non-Western people feel a “tremendous amount of resentment and shame.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, where she has tenure, she invited a white nationalist to speak to her class. And a Black law student who had attended UPenn and Yale said that the professor told her she “had only become a double Ivy ‘because of affirmative action,’” according to the administration.

Professor Wax has denied saying anything belittling or racist to students, and her supporters see her as a truth teller about affirmative action, immigration and race. They agree with her argument that she is the target of censorship and “wokeism” because of her conservative views.

All of which poses a conundrum for the University of Pennsylvania: Should it fire Amy Wax?

The university is now moving closer to answering just that question. After long resisting the call of students, the dean of the law school, Theodore W. Ruger, has taken a rare step: He has filed a complaint and requested a faculty hearing to consider imposing a “major sanction” on the professor.

10) Fascinating analysis of sports programming, cable, and streaming. 

11) Hot off the presses social science, “Negativity drives online news consumption”

Online media is important for society in informing and shaping opinions, hence raising the question of what drives online news consumption. Here we analyse the causal effect of negative and emotional words on news consumption using a large online dataset of viral news stories. Specifically, we conducted our analyses using a series of randomized controlled trials (N = 22,743). Our dataset comprises ~105,000 different variations of news stories from Upworthy.com that generated 5.7 million clicks across more than 370 million overall impressions. Although positive words were slightly more prevalent than negative words, we found that negative words in news headlines increased consumption rates (and positive words decreased consumption rates). For a headline of average length, each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%. Our results contribute to a better understanding of why users engage with online media.

12) You know I love Derek Thompson. Well, he’s coming to NC State on March 27. And “The conversation with…” part is me. 

13) Excellent analysis from Nate Cohn, “Why Fox’s Call on Arizona, Which Was Right, Was Still Wrong”

Analytical and research failures are inevitable. No one can perfectly anticipate what will happen on election night, especially in the midst of a pandemic. What matters is whether these failures yield a bad projection, and here the quality of statistical modeling — and especially whether the model properly quantifies uncertainty — becomes an important factor.

Fox’s statistical modeling was highly confident about its Arizona call. On election night, Mr. Mishkin said, “We’re four standard deviations from being wrong” in Arizona. This implied that the Fox model gave Mr. Trump a 1-in-10,000 chance of victory.

It’s hard to evaluate why the model was so confident. What’s clear is that it provided a basis for Fox to call the race, even as there were mounting nonstatistical reasons to begin to doubt the estimates.

By the time of the Arizona call, it was already clear that the AP/NORC survey data — along with virtually all pre-election polling — had overestimated Mr. Biden. In North Carolina, for example, Mr. Trump had already taken the lead after AP/NORC data initially showed Mr. Biden ahead by five points. The same data initially showed Mr. Biden ahead by seven points in Florida, where Mr. Trump was by then the projected winner.

As a result, there was already reason to be cautious about estimates showing great strength for Mr. Biden. But rather than become a source of uncertainty, Mr. Biden’s positive numbers in the AP/NORC data appeared to become a source of confidence — as Mr. Biden’s strength in the early vote appeared to confirm expectations.

One indication that Fox’s modeling was prone to overestimate Mr. Biden was its publicly available probability dials, which displayed the likelihood that Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump would win the key battleground states.

At various points, these estimates gave Mr. Biden at least an 87 percent chance of winning Ohio and at least a 76 percent chance of winning Iowa; Mr. Trump ultimately won both by nearly 10 points.

Maybe most tellingly, Fox gave Mr. Biden a 95 percent chance to win North Carolina — even at a point when it was quite obvious that Mr. Trump would win the state once the Election Day vote had been counted.

Through a Fox News spokesperson, Mr. Mishkin said, “The program that translated the decision desk’s numbers into the probability dials was not working properly at times.” Fox stopped using the probability dials on air, though they remained available online.

But even if the dials were erroneously overconfident or otherwise not exactly to Fox’s liking, they nonetheless erred in almost exactly the same way as the Arizona call. In all four states, including Arizona, the AP/NORC data greatly overestimated Mr. Biden; the early vote count leaned heavily toward Mr. Biden; and the Fox estimates confidently swung toward Mr. Biden.

Whether it was inaccurate AP/NORC data, misunderstanding the “late” mail vote, technical issues or overconfident modeling, there’s not much reason to believe that there was a factual basis for a projection in Arizona. It came very close to being wrong. If it had been, it could have been disastrous.

The public’s confidence in elections would have taken another big hit if Mr. Trump had ultimately taken the lead after a call in Mr. Biden’s favor. It would have fueled the Trump campaign’s argument that he could and would eventually overturn the overall result. After all, he would have already done so in Arizona.

14) More GPT: “10 Ways GPT-4 Is Impressive but Still Flawed”

OpenAI said the new system could score among the top 10 percent or so of students on the Uniform Bar Examination, which qualifies lawyers in 41 states and territories. It can also score a 1,300 (out of 1,600) on the SAT and a five (out of five) on Advanced Placement high school exams in biology, calculus, macroeconomics, psychology, statistics and history, according to the company’s tests.

Previous versions of the technology failed the Uniform Bar Exam and did not score nearly as high on most Advanced Placement tests.

On a recent afternoon, to demonstrate its test skills, Mr. Brockman fed the new bot a paragraphs-long bar exam question about a man who runs a diesel-truck repair business.

The answer was correct but filled with legalese. So Mr. Brockman asked the bot to explain the answer in plain English for a layperson. It did that, too.

15) Emily Oster’s take on teen mental health:

Has independence declined over time?


The argument that the physical independence of children has declined over time comes down to a bit of data and a lot of “look around, it’s obvious.” The authors draw on an academic book that analyzes changes in parenting advice over time and shows that earlier eras more often portray children as independent, going out and playing alone in early childhood, and having more adult responsibilities (like jobs) at the age of 11 or 12. 

You can see this even in something like The Baby-Sitters Club. The seventh graders in these books — published from 1986 to 2000 — are babysitting for young infants, including at night, making dinner, cleaning the house, and so on. The feel of the world is somewhat different than what many of us experience with our children now. 

For more concrete data, the authors draw on a survey in European countries that focused on how much independent mobility kids were given. For metrics like “Can children walk home from school alone?” independent mobility declined over the period 1990 to 2010. And this is Europe! The U.S. tends to be even more cautious.

The authors seemingly worry here about both physical independence and free time. Kids are in school for more hours, and in extracurricular activities and homework for more hours. Their time is more structured and less free. They also comment specifically on the loss of ability to engage in slightly risky activities (climbing a big tree, for example) out of the sight of adults. 

It would be helpful to have even more precise data about this — and perhaps a better sense of when these changes really picked up — but it seems hard to argue with the conclusion that, relative to the 1980s, children have less physical freedom…

What is the link between independence and happiness?

If we acknowledge that independence has gone down, making the link to happiness would require knowing those factors are related.

The evidence here is a lot more indirect.

One argument is that children like to play (this seems obvious, but is also shown in data) and — this part is less obvious — that play often means without adults. There is some review data on this, and the authors point to one study in which kids between the ages of 4 and 6 were asked to classify pictures into play versus not play. The interesting finding is that when they see pictures where a teacher is involved, they are less likely to classify them as play. Play seems to be when it’s just kids. 

Other data presented would be consistent with this, but has multiple interpretations. Adolescent and teen mental health tends to improve in the summer; this is a time of more independence, but there are other changes too. It’s hard to link that directly to independence.

The play evidence is on short-term happiness. When we turn to the longer-term links, the authors move quickly from data to theory. 

The authors link their ideas to theories about locus of control. It has been widely demonstrated that having low levels of internal locus of control — basically, feeling that you do not have a lot of control over your own life — leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety. Feelings of internal locus of control have declined over time. The authors hypothesize that independence at younger ages, with the associated need to problem-solve, could contribute to higher levels of internal locus of control. By extension, the loss of this time may contribute to the decline in these levels. This fits, but requires us to stretch beyond the data in the link between independence and these feelings.

A second theoretical link is with self-determination theory, which suggests that people are happier if they feel like they are living in accordance with their own desires, rather than being driven from the outside. The authors again hypothesize — although this isn’t something we see directly in data — that independence might play a role in increasing these feelings of self-determination. 

A final point relates to our evolutionary background. For most of human history, and still in many societies today, children had more freedom (and more was expected of them in terms of contribution to the larger group). The common setup we have today, with the combination of scaffolding and expectation, is counter to this. So perhaps kids are not adapted to it. (I’d recommend Hunt, Gather, Parent for a different type of perspective on this.) 

The authors make a few other points — looking at correlations between parenting styles and child outcomes, and reflecting on what adults say about their formative life experiences. 

These sections are both the most interesting and — the authors acknowledge this — the most under-evidenced claims. The argument “things were different in paleolithic times” can be both true and also not responsible for an increase in mental health issues. It seems like an area that would be ripe for more research, which would probably have a more significant experimental component. 

The paper spends less time on the “how” of making this work. Our built and social environment isn’t necessarily set up for kids to play outside all day until dark. The answer is probably: baby steps. Could a child walk themselves home from school or the bus stop? Could you work with another neighborhood family to let the kids do some unsupervised play in a way that you were both comfortable with? Summer can be a good opportunity here. The authors of the paper are writing for pediatricians, and arguing that providers should talk to families about what might be possible for them…

The role of risk in childhood

However: I think these issues bear thinking about even if they do not explain this particular trend, or only partially relate. A key point made in the paper is that many parents right now spend a lot of time protecting their children from exploring slightly risky situations — things that would stretch their problem-solving just a bit, or even scare them a little. When I reflect on my childhood, experiences like those did stick with me, but they were also very formative.  

I spent a fair amount of my childhood playing unsupervised in the parking lot of the church down the street. One game, “elimination,” involved trying to catch a tennis ball thrown against the wall, with the loser having to stand on the wall while other people tried to throw the ball to hit them. I do not remember this especially fondly, but I cannot help but wonder whether experiences like that better prepared me for the metaphorical ball-throwing that is part of talking in the public eye. 

The point is not that our children need to play elimination in a parking lot. But I was compelled by this piece to some reflection on scaffolding, and perhaps a greater need to look at where we are comfortable introducing independence to our kids. We have a strong and appropriate parental instinct to protect our children. The point here is that letting them go a little freer is actually part of that protection. 

Yes! So much this.

16) I loved this article on Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour helping out with his kids’ hockey team, “What happens when a top NHL coach takes the helm of a Pee Wee team?”

Brind’Amour may be the most decorated assistant coach for a youth hockey team in the country. And the guy next to him in flip flops and a black Hurricanes jumpsuit, retired Kings and Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, might be a close second.

But on days like this, Williams says, “we’re just dads.”

Brind’Amour, 52, has just returned from the NHL All-Star Game in South Florida. One day, he was offering instruction to superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. A couple of days later, he is teaching hockey fundamentals to a team that includes Brooks, Jagger and Williams’ 11-year-old daughter, Jade…

As Brind’Amour enters the building, he stands by the glass and stares at the empty rink. In the NHL, he’s known for his emotional, motivating speeches. But he isn’t one to give a lot of pep talks to 11-year-olds.

Williams sat next to Brind’Amour in the Hurricanes dressing room as a teammate for six years, then played for him for several more. The retired center says when Brind’Amour speaks to people, you can feel the emotion. He’ll talk to the kids, but the message, the lessons, carry a different tone.

“You teach 11 year olds about discipline, how to play the game, how you win and how you lose, it’s almost like life as well,” Williams says. “To have a good attitude, bad attitude, that’s what coaches look for. There’s so many things you can learn in every sport. Really hockey, it teaches you a lot of things. He’ll tell them to ‘stay with it’ and teaches them how to be good hockey players — and people.”

The bold part is because I had the amazing privileges to coach Jade for one season of rec soccer.  She was so amazingly good despite being new to soccer.  (And I talked to Justin Williams a few times, but just coach to soccer dad, never as a hockey fan).

17) I had never heard of the Mensa Fallacy before, but given my lack of respect for Mensa and my love for selection bias as an explanation for almost everything, I loved this:

Now at ISIR in Vienna in 2022, we get this talk:

High intelligence is associated with mental health problems in a sample of intellectually gifted Europeans
Mr. Jonathan Fries 1 , Dr. Tanja G. Baudson2,3,4 , Dr. Kristof Kovacs 5 , Dr. Jakob Pietschnig1
1 Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna,
2 HS Fresenius Heidelberg University of Applied Sciences, Heidelberg, Germany
3 Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education (IGDORE)
4 MENSA in Deutschland gGmbH, Germany
5 Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

Background: High intelligence is a well-known predictor of favorable health outcomes and longer lifespans. However, recent evidence suggests that the proposed linear relationship between health and cognitive ability might not extend to the upmost end of the intelligence spectrum, indicating that intellectually gifted individuals exhibit high prevalences in an array of specific physical and mental health conditions, so-called overexcitabilities. Presently, only few targeted investigations of this research question have been carried out, and none outside the USA. Here, our objective was to replicate and extend previous accounts to numerous uninvestigated overexcitabilities in a sample of intellectually gifted Europeans.

Methods: We conducted a preregistered survey among members of MENSA, the world’s largest society of individuals scoring in the highest two percent of the intelligence distribution. In all, 615 (307 female) members of the chapters from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom participated. Results: Compared to reference populations, the intellectually gifted sample showed considerably elevated rates of several conditions, such as autism spectrum disorders (risk ratio = 2.25), chronic fatigue syndrome (RR = 5.69), depression (RR = 4.38), generalized anxiety (RR = 3.82), or irritable bowel syndrome (RR = 3.76). Previously reported conditions such as asthma, allergies, or autoimmune diseases were within the general population range…

It’s a textbook example of sampling bias. The samples rely on Mensa samples. For this study to work, Mensans have to be representative of smart people in general, or at least, not be a biased sample for the things examined. But everybody knows Mensans are dorks and this is a club for underachievers. For some amusing quantitative evidence, check out the Reddit subreddit overlap tool. The strongest overlap for being in Mensa is also being in introverted personality subreddits, with a 60x+ rate. Now, low achievement for one’s intelligence can be explained by only a few things: bad work ethic, physical disability, and mental illness. These often go together (genetic fitness factor). Mensans are below average achievers for their intelligence level, and this has a lot to do with their other traits. Obviously, then, studying Mensa people and finding that they have a high rate of various issues compared to a normal population does not tell you that intelligence is associated with these problems, but rather that you have strong sampling bias. 

18) I can’t help but finding it hilarious that this exists as actual research: “Worldwide Temporal Trends in Penile Length: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”


Seventy-five studies published between 1942 and 2021 were evaluated including data from 55,761 men. The pooled mean length estimates were flaccid length: 8.70 cm (95% CI, 8.16–9.23), stretched length: 12.93 cm (95% CI, 12.48–13.39), and erect length: 13.93 cm (95% CI, 13.20–14.65). All measurements showed variation by geographic region. Erect length increased significantly over time (QM=4.49, df=2, p=0.04) in several regions of the world and across all age groups, while no trends were identified in other penile size measurements. After adjusting for geographic region, subject age, and subject population; erect penile length increased 24% over the past 29 years.


The average erect penis length has increased over the past three decades across the world. Given the significant implications, attention to potential causes should be investigated.

19) Someday we’ll know a lot more about our microbiome and all sorts of health conditions, “Chronic fatigue syndrome is a puzzle. Your gut microbiome may have the key.”

Two recent studies funded by the National Institutes of Health point to changes in the microbiome as a possible cause of ME/CFS, and they provide new avenues toward diagnosing and caring for people with the ailment. Certain bacteria in the gut that produce substances involved in metabolism and the immune system were found to be less abundant in patients with ME/CFS than in control groups.

Human digestive systems are home to trillions of microorganisms that help digest food and send signals to other parts of the body. The gut “should be a very rich, diverse, tropical rainforest,” says Suzanne Vernon, research director of the Bateman-Horne Center, a leading center of ME/CFS research. Vernon hypothesizes that viral infections such as COVID-19 can lead to a “disruption” in this gut ecosystem, often felt in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

In most people, the microbiome quickly returns to normal. But for some, “the gut disruption stays,” Vernon says, leading to long-term problems in regulating many body functions…

In the two recent studies published in Cell Host & Microbe, research groups at Columbia University and the Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit institute headquartered in Maine, performed detailed analyses of the microbes in stool samples from patients with ME/CFS and compared them to healthy controls.

The two groups found similar bacteria species were less present in ME/CFS patients compared to control patients. They homed in on bacteria that produce butyrate, a fatty acid involved in regulating metabolism and the immune system. Butyrate plays several roles in directing the body’s response to infections, while also protecting the barrier between the intestine and the circulatory system, regulating genetic changes in cells, and more, says Brent Williams, lead author on the Columbia study. Williams and his colleagues extensively analyzed the role of butyrate in ME/CFS patients’ guts, even identifying a correlation between low levels of bacteria that produce this acid and more severe symptoms.

Parallel findings from the Jackson Laboratory team suggest the bacteria that produce butyrate could be used to diagnose ME/CFS. Previous research has identified microbiome issues in ME/CFS patients, but the new findings help clarify which microbes could be related to the illness. “What the new studies did was to take it a step further, and to really identify the different bacterial species,” says Vicky Whittemore, program director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who was not involved in the new research.

20) In honor of March Madness, this was really good. And I love that the Big East just let football go and refused to have all other sports ruled by it, “How the Big East Rose From the Ashes of Its Doomed, Picked-Over Predecessor: Wednesday marks the beginning of the Big East men’s basketball tournament—and the 10-year anniversary of a bold move that likely saved the conference from extinction”

21) I used to watch baseball a lot but stopped completely because it’s long and boring.  Sounds like the new rules changes will actually help a lot. 

22) The whole Ken White piece on the Stanford free speech debacle (referenced in a post earlier this week) is just terrific. 

Everyone in this story makes me angry.

Judge Duncan is part of a culture of turning the federal judiciary into a conservative grievance LiveJournal. He’s also part of a pathetic culture of conservative victimology and free-speech hucksterism. The American right is trumpeting a purported concern for freedom of speech, based mostly on cries of “cancel culture” and gripes about how other people are using their free speech and association, while campaigning vigorously to use government force to limit speech they don’t like. The Federalist Society is complicit, off the bench and on it.

The right-wing media (check out the links in item 6 on David Lat’s update) is campaigning to make money and clicks off of that conservative victimology. In the process it’s undermining everything that was ever admirable or worthwhile about American conservatism and making it into a cult of crybabies. Meanwhile, it’s torpedoing whatever American consensus we’ve ever had in favor of free speech values, conveying to half of America’s youth that free speech is cynical bullshit and to the other half that it’s a bludgeon to own the libs.

Associate Dean Steinbach and her ilk are campaigning to undermine free speech legal and social norms, striving to make someone’s subjective reaction to speech an unquestionable justification for suppressing it. Academic freedom is under state assault and she’s busily undermining it and telling students they have a right to shut people up.

Stanford, and schools like it, are shitting the bed over controversial speakers. Decide that students can shut down speeches they don’t like, if you want to take that path. If not, protect speakers from disruption and have the students escorted out if they shut down a speech. Don’t half-ass it and then apologize afterwards.

And students. Students think that they should be able to dictate which speakers their peers invite, who can speak, what they can say, and who can listen. They’re not satisfied with the most free-speech-exceptionalist system in the world that lets them respond to speech by assembling, protesting, and reviling people of authority like Judge Duncan. They demand the right not just to speak, but to control the speech of others. That’s straight-up thuggish, an aspiration born of a fascist soul. These are law students. They are training to express themselves for a living. If their view is “we can’t respond to awful speech, we can only stop it from happening,” then they’re going to be terrible lawyers.

Law students also persist in imagining that they invented the world. They believe they discovered that free speech laws and norms protect awful speech and awful people. They believe they discovered the plea “yes, but what you don’t understand is that this speech is really bad.” They believe that they are so self-evidently right, good, trustworthy, and noble that it’s obvious that we should let them decide who talks and who doesn’t. And they are too hubris-swollen — not too stupid, but too drunk with self-righteousness — to see that exceptions to free speech have always been used most harmfully against the powerless, and always will be. They’re too full of themselves to see that “let a crowd decide who is allowed to speak” is a horrific norm to promote with grotesque historic resonance. Some of them will grow out of this.

23) If you think everybody who questions what we are doing with medicalizing adolescent gender transitions is an area for reasonable concern is just a transphobe bigot you probably gave up on me in anger a long time ago. But, if not, you really owe it to yourself to read what happened at the famous gender clinic in Britain. 

But there is also a less generic moral to this story: the importance of the distinction between values and facts in social justice movements, particularly for institutions in the business of producing objective information. Medical science can and should fully embrace the values of trans equality. To that end, it should produce reliable knowledge and safe and effective interventions that help those with gender identity incongruence or distress to flourish. This entails attending to hidden biases and other distortions of knowledge production. Instead trans rights activism demands the endorsement of a set of contestable “facts”: that gender identity is innate and objectively known even by children, while sex is a social construction; that trans identification never arises from psychological distress; that the sudden rise in trans identification, including marked changes in sex and age demographics, is satisfactorily explained by greater trans visibility and acceptance; that regret over medical transition is rare; that blockers are safe and reversible, promote mental health and avert suicide risks. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it package deal, and to question any part of it is to be “anti-trans”.

Examples abound in Time to Think of the permeation of this activist logic within GIDS. A clinician who declared that she didn’t herself have a gender identity was branded transphobic. Natal sex was no longer referred to as a fact observed at birth, but as “assigned”. Or consider events following the publication in 2018 of a controversial book, Transgender Children and Young People: Born in your own body. Its editors proposed that the “‘transgender child’ is a relatively new historical figure, brought into being by a coalition of pressure groups, political activists and knowledge makers”. Following complaints, a copy of the book was removed from the Tavistock library. A clinic director who sent an email letting staff know where the book could be purchased more cheaply ended up with a note on his HR file, and the prospect of disciplinary action, for abusing the Trust’s email policy.


Quick hits (part I)

1) Derek Thompson on lab leak and masks:

Start with the lab-leak hypothesis. Three years ago, many journalists and scientists rushed to condemn a theory that deserved a fair and open trial. But let’s not replace one nutty take (The lab-leak theory is racist) with another (We know for sure that COVID came from a lab). Although the Department of Energy and the FBI say the virus likely emerged from a lab rather than a wet market, four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council have come to the other conclusion: that COVID likely started with natural exposure to an infected animal. By this count, the lab-leak theory is still an underdog, trailing 5–2 among government institutions. Adding to the confusion is the fact that none of the agencies reached their conclusion with much conviction, even with access to untold stacks of top-secret information. As my colleague Dan Engber pointed out, “Only one [assessment], from the FBI, was made with ‘moderate’ confidence; the rest are rated ‘low,’ as in, Hmm, we’re not so sure.” …

The frustrating truth is that we’ll probably never know for sure how the pandemic started. China’s refusal to grant access to global investigators is sketchy, but we don’t know what they’re trying to protect or conceal.

In the absence of certainty, we should proceed as if both theories are true. That means much more federal scrutiny of gain-of-function research in U.S.-backed labs. That also means reconciling ourselves to the probability that COVID will not be the last pandemic of the century—or, perhaps, the decade. After more than 1 million American pandemic deaths, “taking the pandemic seriously” seems to mean civilians posting condemnations of other people’s behavior online rather than the federal government laying out a clear and comprehensive anti-pandemic strategy to ensure, for example, the accelerated manufacture of vaccines and other antivirus therapeutics…

And speaking of civilians continually screaming at one another, let’s talk about masks.

The review by Cochrane, a London-based health-research organization, looked at 78 studies in total, including 18 trials focused solely on mask use. Their stated objective was simple: “to assess the effectiveness of physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of acute respiratory viruses.” In short, do masks work? The authors concluded that they don’t. “There is just no evidence that [masks] make any difference, full stop,” a co-author, Tom Jefferson, said.

Sounds definitive. So I called several sources whom I’ve found to be honest and informed on the issue of masks in the past three years. Jason Abaluck is a Yale professor who ran a massive, multimillion-dollar study on community masking in Bangladesh. Possibly the most comprehensive masking study ever undertaken, it found that community-wide mask wearing provided excellent protection, especially for older Bangladeshis. “The press coverage” of the Cochrane review “has drawn completely the wrong conclusions,” he told me. Jose-Luis Jimenez, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies the transmission of airborne diseases like COVID, is one of the country’s most cited researchers on the nature of aerosols. “I think it’s scientific garbage,” he said of the review.

Abaluck, Jimenez, and other like-minded researchers have an extensive list of grievances with the Cochrane paper. One criticism is that some of the most convincing evidence for masks from laboratory and real-world studies was left out of the review. The best reasons to believe that masks “make a difference” as a product, Jimenez said, are that (1) COVID is an airborne disease that spreads through aerosolized droplets, and (2) lab experiments find that high-quality face masks block more than 90 percent of aerosolized spray. Meanwhile, observational studies during the pandemic did find that masking had a positive effect. For example, a 2020 study comparing the timing of new mask mandates across Germany found that face masks reduced the spread of infection by about half…

“Poor-quality masks, worn poorly, work poorly, and high-quality masks, worn properly, work well,” Jimenez offered as a summation of the evidence. For that reason, I think it is reasonable to say that mask mandates probably reduce COVID in settings where high-quality masks exist and social norms of mask wearing can be maintained.

2) Dan Kois, “The Case for Hanging Out: There’s a growing crisis in our social lives. Could the cure be this simple?”  Yes, yes, yes!!  We make it so overly-complicated and we should all just casually hang out with our friends more often without making a big deal out of it.  Damn that was a good thing about my teenage and college years.

But it was not because I thought her book was interesting that I had reached out to Liming. It was because I passionately believed that her book was right. “I’ve become an accidental witness to a growing crisis,” she writes in Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time. “People struggling to hang out, or else voicing concern and anxiety about how to hang out.” I, too, see a crisis brewing, among not only people my age but among the peers of my teenage children and the college students I teach. Pushed further into isolation by the pandemic, we’re all losing the ability to engage in what I view as the pinnacle of human interaction: sitting around with friends and talking shit. I agree with Liming that no one is down to hang out anymore, and agree with her that it’s a “quiet catastrophe.” …

I can’t be the only one for whom memories of ages 16 to, say, 25 consist mostly of sitting around bedrooms, crappy dorm rooms, and crappier apartments, doing nothing much at all. I had jobs that didn’t pay a lot, so I didn’t have a ton of money to go out to bars or clubs, which is why instead I hung out for hours with groups of friends: telling jokes, venting about life, talking earnestly about politics and sarcastically about art (or vice versa)…

Those years, as Liming writes, were “almost effortlessly social.” But nowadays, though hanging out with friends still happens—around living rooms and fire pits, on scheduled and rescheduled college-friend weekends—it’s an effortful pastime that requires coordination of calendars and a flurry of planning texts. I remember once, when I was in college, wandering over to my friend Ehren’s apartment, letting myself in, and watching whatever he had going on the TV. I knew he was there; I could hear him peeing in the bathroom. When he came out, he exhibited zero surprise to find me on the couch. It’s impossible to imagine doing such a thing now, even with my closest friends.

3) A new study on the artificial sweetener erythritol finds it may contribute to heart issues.  Turns out the study is complete crap, but that did not stop all sorts of breathless headlines.

4) Damn, Cathy Young writes so much good stuff, ‘Ron DeSantis’s Illiberal Education Crusade: Florida’s “anti-woke” power grabs in K-12 and public universities should be opposed—but not by defending progressive illiberalism.”

The “War on Woke” waged by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues with a new bill introduced in the Florida House of Representatives last week, House Bill 999, based on proposals introduced by DeSantis at the end of January. While DeSantis’s office said the proposal would elevate “intellectual freedom,” such language can be seen as Orwellian considering that the bill restricts or bans the teaching of a number of ideas and concepts at public colleges and universities in the Sunshine State.

But Democrats and dissident conservatives attempting to describe and respond to this worrisome trend often resort to badly flawed narratives that distort the overall picture in several ways.

First, these narratives sometimes exaggerate the right-wing depredations they critique—for instance, by equating the rejection of the African American studies AP curriculum with an outright ban on teaching African American history.

Second, they tend to discount the very real problem of left-wing illiberalism and ideological diktat in education, dismissing all complaints about it as either astroturfed right-wing disinformation or misguided centrist panic that plays into the hands of the right. To acknowledge that at least in some cases DeSantis and his imitators are responding to real problems and tapping into valid concerns may complicate the narrative, but it doesn’t mean that the “anti-woke” right is fighting the good fight. It just means that the political fights over these issues often pit the proverbial two wrongs against each other—and that the sane middle desperately needs alternatives…

Florida’s HB 999 is an almost perfect case in point, since it’s practically an anti-woke higher education wish list. There is, perhaps most notably, a ban on “any major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems” at any public college or university. General education core courses at state schools may not “include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” There is a ban on the funding of extracurricular programs and activities that espouse “diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric” or other concepts flagged as problematic by an earlier Florida law and associated with social justice ideology (e.g., that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” or “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex”). The bill also shifts the power to hire professors to school boards of trustees and allows trustees to periodically review faculty members’ tenure.

If all of this looks blatantly unconstitutional, not to mention an unabashed assault on academic freedom, that’s because it is…

So there we have it: It’s the “Flight 93 election,” academia edition. The argument on the right is that things are so bad, only red-state politicians can save the academy, and they must save it by banning “woke” ideas and axing “woke” programs. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Kaminer, who has watched decades of social and institutional censorship campaigns from the left, sees a profound irony in the current “power plays on the right”:

They’re saying, This is so crucial, so important, so essential for the preservation of American culture or American democracy that we cannot afford to give the people who oppose us the rights that we want to enjoy. And that’s what the left has been saying for years: We can’t afford to let them speak because their speech is a form of discrimination, and we can’t afford to let that continue.

One may debate just how bad things have gotten in the academy. (The Knight Foundation, which has done annual surveys on the campus climate for speech since 2016, finds that close to 60 percent of students believe freedom of speech is more important than for a campus to be made “safe” from offensive speech or ideas.) But in any case, the notion that political pressures on the right can “fix” the damage from political pressures on the left is deeply misguided. The most likely result of these interventions in Florida—and similar legislation now being proposed in other states following Florida’s example—will be further polarization and wagon-circling. The left will brush aside critiques of speech suppression by institutional power and cultural diktat, arguing that only censorship by the government matters. The right will defend political interventions as the only way to curb the progressive stewards of culture and academe. This particular culture war may turn into a race to the bottom between the “red” and the “blue”: legally and institutionally coercive crusades to squash “wokeness” on the “red” side, knee-jerk defenses of “woke” institutional and cultural coercion on the “blue” side.

Are there enough people of goodwill to work across partisan divides to defend free expression, promote open debate, and counter the illiberal drift in academic and cultural institutions through speech, advocacy, reform, legal challenges, and other hard work? The survival of an open society may depend on the answer.

5) Great guest post on Noah Smith’s substack about homelessness:

The story of homelessness in America is perfectly captured by the following quote in the Economist:

Few Americans lived on the streets in the early post-war period because housing was cheaper. Back then only one in four tenants spent more than 30% of their income on rent, compared with one in two today. The best evidence suggests that a 10% rise in housing costs in a pricey city prompts an 8% jump in homelessness.

And that’s just it: before modern-day homelessness, there was poverty, there was mental illness, there was nice weather, there was welfare, there were liberal places, and there were drugs. So, something must have changed. And what changed were the rents:

If the primary problem of homelessness is housing, then the primary solution to homelessness is housing. And housing is indeed the solution:

●       Atlanta reduced homelessness by 40% through housing

●       Houston reduced homelessness by 63% through housing

●       Finland reduced homelessness by 75% through housing

●       Tokyo reduced homelessness by 80% through housing

But as important as housing supply is to reducing homelessness, places like Houston also demonstrate the importance of going beyond it.

Houston has always had a significantly lower rate of homelessness than other large cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, because unlike those cities, Houston builds a lot of housing:

But despite its ample housing supply, which, as mentioned, resulted in a lower baseline level of homelessness, Houston has still struggled with this problem. And that is because, while housing supply is vital, it will never ever, ever, ever be enough on its own for families who lack income, the disabled, the elderly, and other highly vulnerable populations.

This is why in 2011 Houston started going beyond supply by implementing the Housing First model, which pairs affordable housing with supportive services for people who are experiencing severe mental illness, drug addiction, and other debilitating issues. And, as a result, something incredible happened – homelessness plummeted:

And while mental health and drug addiction aren’t lead factors in homelessness (the vast majority of homelessness is temporary and the vast majority of homeless people just need housing), some homeless people, particularly the chronically homeless (which, again, is a minority of the homeless population), need both housing and supportive services. But if you just give the chronically homeless supportive services without housing, they will still be homeless. Hence why homelessness is primarily a housing problem.

Critics of Housing First will be quick to point to California’s gargantuan homeless population as a failure of the Housing First model. But California’s homelessness crisis isn’t an indictment of Housing First, it’s an indictment of California’s self-inflicted housing shortage and stratospheric rents, which have overwhelmed the Housing First system.

As the data clearly shows, places with the best track records of reducing homelessness do two things: (1) they build ample housing, thereby preventing many cases of homelessness from occurring in the first place, and (2) have ample subsidized housing, which humanely and effectively addresses the homelessness that does occur.

So in conclusion: places with the highest drug addiction rates, highest severe mental illness rates, highest poverty rates, most generous welfare benefits, and the nicest weather don’t have the most homelessness. Places with the highest housing costs do. So we as a society are left with a choice: If we don’t want to solve homelessness, we can continue to misdiagnose it. If we do want to solve homelessness, we can build an ample supply of housing and subsidized housing. There’s no way around this. The solution is clear. And what happens next is up to us.

6) David French on Scott Adams and cancel culture:

Americans have read story after story (from across the political spectrum) of activists, corporations and colleges targeting individuals for speech that is squarely within the mainstream of either progressive or conservative thought. In other words, dissent — even thoughtful dissent — has become dangerous, in both right- and left-leaning America. Private organizations are acting punitively when the government cannot. This is the essence of cancel culture, the widespread use of private power to punish allegedly offensive speech.

That said, many of us who recoil from the excesses of cancel culture also reject the idea that organizations should have no standards at all. To take an extreme example, if you find out that a colleague is in the Klan, should you defend him from termination? Or should a private corporation remove a grand wizard from its payroll as an act of necessary corporate hygiene?

How can American culture square this circle? How can it defend a culture of free expression while still understanding that private entities can and often should draw lines in accordance with their own values and their own rights to freedom of association?

One of the most useful definitions of toxic cancel culture comes from the Yale University professor Nicholas Christakis. In a thoughtful 2020 Twitter thread that highlighted several examples of improper private censorship, he defined cancel culture as “1) forming a mob, to 2) seek to get someone fired (or disproportionately punished), for 3) statements within Overton window.”

The Overton window is a political term of art that roughly refers to those ideas within the political mainstream. The appeal of Christakis’s formulation was that it concisely captured the precise public fear — that a person can be cast out of polite society for saying something completely conventional, normal and in good faith.

But there’s a problem — the more that America polarizes, the more it contains not one but two Overton windows, the “red” window and the “blue” window. Speech that is squarely mainstream in Red America is completely out of bounds in Blue America, and vice versa.

We could list any number of topics where shifting standards and changing norms breed intolerance at the extremes and confusion in the middle. Millions of Americans thus tread lightly, fearful that even the tentative expression of a dissenting thought could lead to a vicious backlash.

7) This review of the new 1619 Hulu documentary is about the best thing I’ve read genuinely grappling with it’s very real strengths and very real weaknesses.

8) Matt Yglesias had a really nice post pretty much on this topic a while back.  Here Dilan Esper (I have no idea who he is, but he posts a ton of good stuff on twitter) with a good take, “Single Issue Advocacy Is Underrated: The habit of requiring every cause to constantly shout-out its support for coalitional “allies” is a bad one”

Successful single issue campaigns redound throughout history, from national organizations like the United Negro College Fund, which sent smart Black kids, historically excluded from secondary education, to college, to local organizations like BUStop, the anti-busing advocacy organization that took control of Los Angeles school board politics in the late 1970’s and stopped mandatory busing.

However, despite this being a model of successful advocacy, for causes good and bad, most activist organizations stay far away from the single issue model, and even those who pursued narrower focuses in the past have now branched out. Take, for instance, this infamous tweet from last spring:..

So why did they say it? Well, they said it because they were trying to be a good coalition member. The rules of activism require that you periodically shout out all your allies. So there they are in that tweet- not only LGBT groups, but also Blacks, Indians, immigrants, young hipster urbanites (that’s what these groups mean when they say “young people”), the poor, and disabled people. It has nothing to do with the cis heterosexual women who bear the brunt of abortion bans— indeed, it’s almost actively insulting of them. It’s about the coalition.

But, of course, from a standpoint of actually persuading people to support abortion rights, that ACLU tweet is a disaster. It makes it look like the movement is afraid to say that abortion is a women’s rights issue (this has become a common problem among activist groups). It makes the pro-choice position look dishonest. It looks like pro-choicers embrace inaccurate information because they want to keep ideologues happy.

And it’s the type of mistake that the Anti-Saloon League would have never made. Plenty of ASL members were involved in feminist causes and sympathetic to the broader goals of suffragists. But to use a famous phrase from the Black civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, they kept their eyes on the prize. An organization that spreads its activism out over a variety of different causes becomes less effective at advocating important causes. Indeed, it can even become counterproductive, as the ACLU tweet shows.

Why does this happen? Well, one reason may go back to Left-wing theory, which is full of concepts like “united front” and “popular front” where a vanguard of activists will lead a broad coalition to work towards a slate of Marxist policy goals. But I’m not sure the people at modern civil rights organizations are that steeped in Marxist theory. Rather, I think the main thing is that this sort of thing is how you avoid headaches caused by your coalition partners. If an abortion rights group says “we’re going to go back to single issue messaging on abortion and how it is central to women’s rights”, that group is going to face accusations of racism, transphobia, ableism, and all the rest. It’s better to just go along and get along even if it dilutes the message.

I also think there’s a psychological issue at play. There’s a tendency for everyone to want to be an activist about everything. You can see how this plays out in public discourse— the same people who posed as experts on pandemic policy two years ago now declaim with an air of expertise on Ukraine or youth transition. It’s more fun to always be relevant and to have a certain sort of celebrity, and you don’t maintain that status by working only on a single issue; indeed, you may have to work in obscurity when that issue is not in the limelight.

But if you actually care about success, this all should infuriate you. Connecting abortion rights to unrelated, sometimes less popular causes is not good for abortion rights. Nor, I should add, should an immigration activist connect her cause to abortion rights, given there are some Catholics who may strongly support immigrant rights while disagreeing with the Left coalition’s position on abortion. Single issue advocacy allows you to maximize your effectiveness. We should get back to it.

9) George Packer takes on the language of wokeness:

The guide’s purpose is not just to make sure that the Sierra Club avoids obviously derogatory terms, such as welfare queen. It seeks to cleanse language of any trace of privilege, hierarchy, bias, or exclusion. In its zeal, the Sierra Club has clear-cut a whole national park of words. Urbanvibranthardworking, and brown bag all crash to earth for subtle racism. Y’all supplants the patriarchal you guys, and elevate voices replaces empower, which used to be uplifting but is now condescending. The poor is classist; battle and minefield disrespect veterans; depressing appropriates a disability; migrant—no explanation, it just has to go.

Equity-language guides are proliferating among some of the country’s leading institutions, particularly nonprofits. The American Cancer Society has one. So do the American Heart Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, and the University of Washington. The words these guides recommend or reject are sometimes exactly the same, justified in nearly identical language. This is because most of the guides draw on the same sources from activist organizations: A Progressive’s Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and a couple of others. The guides also cite one another. The total number of people behind this project of linguistic purification is relatively small, but their power is potentially immense. The new language might not stick in broad swaths of American society, but it already influences highly educated precincts, spreading from the authorities that establish it and the organizations that adopt it to mainstream publications, such as this one.

Although the guides refer to language “evolving,” these changes are a revolution from above. They haven’t emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people. They are handed down in communiqués written by obscure “experts” who purport to speak for vaguely defined “communities,” remaining unanswerable to a public that’s being morally coerced. A new term wins an argument without having to debate. When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors replaces felon with justice-involved person, it is making an ideological claim—that there is something illegitimate about laws, courts, and prisons. If you accept the change—as, in certain contexts, you’ll surely feel you must—then you also acquiesce in the argument.

10) Edsall on Trump’s “magic trick”

Adam Enders, a political scientist at the University of Louisville who has often written with Uscinski about conspiracy thinking, argued in an email:

Trump identified a fairly large segment of the American population that is not particularly ideological nor particularly attached to the two major parties. Moreover, these individuals are distrusting of the government, animated by an anti-establishment political worldview that holds that politicians are unresponsive to their constituents, corrupt and all too eager to conspire against “the people.”

Enders said he doubts that Trump

sees himself as “trapped” in this strategy — rather, this coalitional expansion represents his primary value to the Republican Party. This is his magic trick. And I suspect Trump’s Republican electoral competitors recognize this to be the case. For example, it is precisely these anti-establishment voters that DeSantis is vying for when he engages in conspiracy-related culture war posturing on issues such as Disney “grooming” children, C.R.T. and the like.

11) Good stuff from Tom Nichols on angry young men:

These attacks are not merely “violence” in some general sense, nor are they similar to other gun crimes classified as “mass shootings” beyond the number of victims. Drug-war shoot-outs and gang vendettas are awful, but they are better-understood problems, in both their origins and possible remedies. The Lost Boys, however, are the perpetrators of out-of-the-blue massacres of innocents. Their actions are not driven by criminal gain, but instead are meant to shock us, to make us grieve, and finally, to force us to acknowledge the miserable existence of the young men behind the triggers.

After each Lost Boy killing, Americans are engulfed in grief and anger, but eventually, we are overtaken by a sense of helplessness. Sometimes, we respond by raging at one another; we fight about gun control or mental-health funding or the role of social media as we try to fix blame and reduce a seemingly inexplicable act to something discrete and solvable. But I wonder now, as I did back in 2015, if all of these debates are focusing on the wrong problems. Yes, the country is awash in guns; yes, depression seems to be on the rise in young people; yes, extremists are using social media to fuse together atomized losers into explosive compounds. But the raw material for all of the violence is mostly a stream of lost young men.

Why is this happening? What are we missing? Guns and anomie and extremism are only facets of the problem. The real malady afflicting these men, one about which I’ve written much in the intervening years since that original article, is the deluge of narcissism in the modern world, especially among failed-to-launch young men whose injured grandiosity leads them to blame others for their own shortcomings and insecurities—and to seek revenge.

The lost boys are mostly young and male, largely middle- or working-class. Frustrated by their own social awkwardness, they are so often described as “loners” that the trope has been around from as early as the 1980s. But these young males, no matter how “quiet,” are filled with an astonishing level of enraged resentment and entitlement about their roles as men, and they seek rationalizations for inflicting violence on a society they think has both ignored and injured them. They become what the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger called “radical losers,” unsuccessful men who feel that they have been denied their dominant role in society and who then channel their blunted male social impulses toward destruction.

And they are, above all, staggeringly narcissistic. Almost all of the recent mass killers, for example, thought they had a special mission in the world. We know this because they felt compelled to tell us so.

12) David Wallace-Wells with a great piece on the lab leak:

This puts us in a strange epistemological limbo for such a mystery: No genuine proof seems to have arrived, one way or the other, three years on, in part because investigations have been largely stonewalled by China. That means that anyone contemplating the origins of the pandemic and its relevance for lab safety is operating to some degree from positions of ambiguity and probability.

But if you had been told, back in 2019, that this would be the state of knowledge in 2023, would it not seem extremely weird to you that there has not been a broad public conversation about the wisdom of potentially dangerous virological research in the meantime? That so much more oxygen had been eaten up by partisan theater than by public debate over the policy implications of such a possibility? And that the most significant set of reforms yet proposed — those issued a month ago by an expert panel from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and now being reviewed by the White House — were put together quietly, with little public attention paid to them beyond those already engaged in lab-safety debates?

The boundaries of mainstream discourse have suggested that we should resolve the matter of pandemic origins before moving on to the implications of the lab-leak hypothesis. But this has proved a paralyzing standard, and not just because so little definitive progress has been made on the central detective work. The question of how the deadliest pandemic in a century began is an undeniably consequential one. But so is the matter of what steps to take given that it remains to so many — including Anthony Fauci — an open question.

And personally, I think that if I were asked what the chances of an accidental outbreak would have to be to justify a loud and public reckoning over lab safety, I would put the number much lower than full proof. In fact, much lower even than “preponderance of evidence” — as low as 5 percent, perhaps, or 1 percent or less. Truthfully, I’m not sure that it would need to be any higher than zero, given that early in 2020, many of those scientists who would become the most stalwart critics of the lab-leak theory privately acknowledged that the origins of the pandemic were very much up for debate and that a laboratory leak was a perfectly plausible — perhaps even the most likely — explanation for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan a few months earlier.

13) Great stuff from Brian Klass, “How many politicians are psychopaths? Dark Triad traits are over-represented in positions of power. Are the halls of Congress and Parliament overrun with psychopaths?”

Whenever I give public lectures about power, I often do a simple experiment. I ask people in the audience to raise their hand if they would willingly switch places—trade careers—with a member of Congress or a member of Parliament.

Without fail, few raise their hands. When I ask why they kept their hands tucked to their sides, many tell me that nobody could pay them enough to become a politician.

You have to be fake. You have to raise money. You’re beholden to lobbyists. Powerful people will constantly be working to destroy your life, poring over every fragment of your past, hoping to take you down. Your personal and family life will never again feature a moment’s peace. (Most of the people who do raise their hands are thinking about the money; political power is directly linked to future wealth).

Those costs of obtaining political power in modern society are real. But there’s a certain kind of person who systematically discounts those risks; who thinks the costs don’t apply to them because they are smart enough to game the system; and, most importantly, who thinks that the power is worth any cost.

In English, we use the phrase “power-hungry” as an insult. But it literally means “someone who wants power.” And people who want power are more likely to get it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that psychopaths really want power—and are very good at getting it. There are, as we’ll soon see, a disproportionate number of psychopaths in politics (and business), destructive figures who have been dubbed “snakes in suits.”

That’s why the dedication of my last book, Corruptiblereads as follows: “To all the nice, non-psychopaths out there who should be in power but aren’t.”

What’s been missing from a lot of these political science accounts of how and why people decide to enter politics is a hidden variable: an individual’s psychological thirst for power. Psychologists have tried to capture this concept, but the various measures are pretty flimsy. They go by various names: nPow (need for power); SDO (social dominance orientation); and so on. They’re certainly better than nothing, but they remain too subjective.

Nonetheless, they’re aiming to capture a crucial variable. Some of us crave power. Others couldn’t be bothered and actively avoid seeking power.

To become powerful, you need to overcome three hurdles.

First, you must seek power. Those who don’t seek power usually don’t become powerful, because (unfortunately) political parties don’t do enough active recruiting, instead waiting for candidates to put themselves forward. This hurdle is the one the blocks most people; there’s a vast pool of wonderful would-be leaders out there who simply bow out because it doesn’t appeal to them, or they don’t think they’d be good at it, or they think they’d lose.

As a result, you’re left with a much smaller pool of people who believe they would be good leaders and would win. We need good people who think this way, because egotists and narcissists certainly do. As a result, undesirable people end up as a higher concentration among the potential pool of politicians. People who are too modest or who have self-doubt but might make excellent leaders don’t usually set their sights on political power.

Second, you must obtain power. This requires a certain set of skills that aren’t neutral. Those who are a bit more manipulative, a bit more strategic, a bit more ruthless, and a bit more power-obsessed are most likely to overcome this hurdle. Douglas Adams was broadly correct when he wrote that “anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

Of course, this process is also reflective of social biases, such that women and ethnic minorities face greater hurdles here. So, the selection process isn’t just reducing the pool by personality traits, but also by demographics based on society’s flaws.

Third, you must maintain power, which is easier said than done, given that other power-hungry people are constantly gunning for your job. As I wrote in Corruptible, nobody has ever heard of Pedro Lascuráin, because although he sought and obtained power, he served as Mexico’s president for just 45 minutes.

A certain kind of person is good at political survival and the brutality of the political arena amplifies undesirable traits, culling those who can’t (or won’t) cut it. Again, this distills the potential pool further, getting rid of too many good, decent people who want to serve, not wield power for its own sake.

Who has an easy time clearing all three hurdles? The answer, unfortunately, is psychopaths…

Similarly, when it comes to politics, a wide array of research has suggested that psychopaths may be better at getting power, but are worse at wielding it. 

14) This is wild, “Did flu come from fish? Genetics points to influenza’s aquatic origin”

15) I feel like critics, like me, of the crazy trans activists who say you are a transphobe who wants kids to die for raising legitimate questions about how we are doing all this with adolescents need to clearly state that this new attack on adult transgender people is just wrong, “New state bills restrict transgender health care — for adults
Until now, most legislation banning gender-affirming care targeted minors. This year, a growing number of bills would also limit access for adults.”

16) Brave new world, “Face Recognition Software Led to His Arrest. It Was Dead Wrong: Alonzo Sawyer’s misidentification by algorithm made him a suspect for a crime police now say was committed by someone else—feeding debate over regulation.”

17) This is a really important point that has been lost in a lot of reporting, “Actually, One Texas Judge Is Not the Final Decision-Maker on Medication Abortion: One district judge’s ruling does not have to affect the entire country.”

18) I love the expected goals metric and hockey and also pay attention to it in soccer.  I had not idea there was an post-shot expected goals metric.  Very cool.  Basically, Mallory Swanson has suddenly become a super-elite soccer player because she’s not just getting shots from good spots, but placing those shots incredibly well.

19) So tired of stories like this.  Democrats need to really make hay out of stories like this come 2024 elections. “To safeguard healthy twin in utero, she had to ‘escape’ Texas for abortion procedure”

20) I’m sympathetic to Ruth Marcus‘ take here, “That student loan case? I’m rooting against both sides.”

The Biden administration’s legal arguments for its student loan forgiveness plan, presented before the Supreme Court during more than three hours of oral arguments on Tuesday, made me doubly queasy.

As a threshold matter, the administration contends that technical rules about who has standing to sue in this case make the loan-forgiveness program effectively unreviewable in court. As I wrote soon after the court agreed to hear the case, that’s troubling, especially when the cost of the plan is somewhere in the neighborhood of half a trillion dollars.

On the merits, the administration rests its legal authority for forgiving student loan debt on a 2003 law that gives the Education Department broad power to change loan rules during times of war or national emergency. That had the air of a workaround — after candidate Joe Biden in 2020 promised student loan relief untethered to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, after Congress balked at legislation that would have granted loan forgiveness, and without going through the ordinary, time-consuming process of writing new regulations.

And yet, as Tuesday’s oral arguments underscored, the positions taken by the states challenging the president’s plan are similarly unsettling. If the student loan case raises the specter of an overreaching president abusing emergency powers, it also evokes fears of an imperial judiciary, straying beyond its constitutionally imposed boundaries at the expense of the other branches.

21) The WP Editorial also reflects this dynamic, though I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion: “Biden overreached on student loans. But the court shouldn’t stop him.”

22) Some interesting social science, “Picture Perfect: The Direct Effect of Manipulated Instagram Photos on Body Image in Adolescent Girls

This study investigates the effect of manipulated Instagram photos on adolescent girls’ body image, and whether social comparison tendency moderates this relation. A between-subject experiment was conducted in which 144 girls (14–18 years old) were randomly exposed to either original or manipulated (retouched and reshaped) Instagram selfies. Results showed that exposure to manipulated Instagram photos directly led to lower body image. Especially, girls with higher social comparison tendencies were negatively affected by exposure to the manipulated photos. Interestingly, the manipulated photos were rated more positively than the original photos. Although the use of filters and effects was detected, reshaping of the bodies was not noticed very well. Girls in both conditions reported to find the pictures realistic. Results of this study implied that the recent societal concern about the effects of manipulated photos in social media might be justified, especially for adolescent girls with a higher social comparison tendency.

23) Political scientist Samuel Abrams on illiberalism among young faculty:

As the academy gets younger it grows more authoritarian, according to a new survey of over 1,400 faculty members conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). The free speech group’s findings portend a dark future for higher education if this course isn’t reversed—and if faculty minds don’t become more open to dissenting viewpoints.

Over the past decade or so, many academic departments embraced ideological views in their teaching and research, promoting social justice–laden scholarship as a way of correcting the wrongs of the past. Unsurprisingly, many departments developed left-of-center academic monocultures, becoming unfriendly to differing opinions. Young faculty entering the profession are only adding to this academic echo chamber…

Shockingly, younger faculty report more acceptance of violence to combat speech. While 97 percent of older faculty say it’s never acceptable for students to use violence to stop a campus speech, only 79 percent of younger faculty agree. That one in five younger professors show any level of acceptance for violence to stop speech should alarm all of us.

Mixing age with ideology reveals even more pronounced support for illiberal attitudes. Among liberal faculty 35 and under, only 23 percent indicated that students shouting down a speaker is never acceptable, compared with 88 percent of conservative faculty. Moderate faculty in this age group were also much more likely than their conservative colleagues to endorse the acceptability of these tactics.

Perhaps most alarming of all, only 64 percent of young and liberal faculty say it’s never acceptable for students to use violence to stop a campus speech.

Illiberalism runs deep among young liberal faculty members, and their views regrettably resemble those of their students rather than their more senior peers. As newer and far less tolerant numbers of professors replace older faculty, colleges and universities may be in a true crisis if the higher education enterprise destroys its core values.

The research also finds that faculty members are self-censoring at higher rates. In 1955, at the end of the second Red Scare after World War II during the age of McCarthy and deep anti-communist fear, 9 percent of social scientists said they toned down their writing for fear of causing controversy. Today, 25 percent say they’re very or extremely likely to self-censor their writing in academic publications.

More than half of faculty—52 percent—say they’re afraid they’ll lose their job or reputation over a misunderstanding of something they said or did, or because someone posted something from their past online. While almost three-quarters of conservative faculty expressed this year, 40 percent of even liberal faculty agree. That’s staggering: two in five professors who are a part of the prevailing orthodoxy on campus are fearful of losing their jobs over a misunderstanding.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great Adam Serwer piece on Fox News:

The Dominion filing drives home a few points. One is that there is a Fox News propaganda feedback loop: The network inflames right-wing conspiracism, but it also bows to it out of partisan commitment and commercial incentive. Another is that despite the long-standing right-wing argument that conservatives distrust mainstream media outlets because they do not tell the truth, Fox News executives and personalities understand that their own network loses traction with its audience when it fails to tell the lies that the audience wishes to hear. There are infinite examples of the mainstream press making errors of omission, fact, or framing. But as the private communications in the Dominion filing show, the mainstream media’s unforgivable sin with this constituency is not lying, but failing to consistently lie the way conservative audiences want them to.

Looking at these internal messages however, the confident, implacable cynicism on the right about how mainstream media outlets work is easier to understand. It is a reflection of how some of their own media institutions function, combined with an assumption that everyone else operates in a similarly amoral way.

Internally, Carlson referred to Sidney Powell, the attorney who was spreading the false fraud allegations, as a “complete nut,” while the Fox News host Sean Hannity said in a deposition that the “whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second.” But Carlson and Hannity also demanded that the Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich be fired after she fact-checked one of Trump’s tweets spreading the false election-fraud claims about Dominion, with one Fox executive fretting that viewers would be “disgusted.” The offending tweet was deleted. In another email, a different Fox executive feared that what he called “conspiratorial reporting” at Newsmax “might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for,” later warning, “Do not ever give viewers a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”

2) A bunch of good tweets I’ve bookmarked in the past few weeks and forgot to share in previous quick hits.  Starting with Joseph Allen’s policy on ChatGPT use by students.

3) This was great from Tim Urban.

4) I get a ton of my podcast listening in during exercise, but when I really need a pick-me-up, yeah… music.

5) This is wild.  You’d never know that the median American has barely any alcohol in a given week.

6) Some really cool new political science research:

7) This is an amazing use of ChatGPT.  Especially impressed with how it captures Sagan’s voice:

8) The worst part about this is that the police are basically Q-Anon believers, “Connecticut Parents Arrested for Letting Kids, Ages 7 and 9, Walk to Dunkin’ Donuts: “I have never felt threatened by a single person in this town until meeting those officers and the social worker.””

This was in Killingly, Connecticut, a suburban town in the northeast part of the state. The Rivers’ lived near an elementary school, library, state police barracks, sidewalks, crosswalks, many Victorian-style homes, and the aforementioned donut shop. The kids gathered $7, and off they went.

A few minutes later, the River parents heard a knock at the door. It was the police.

The first cop to show up “said he didn’t think it was safe for the kids to walk by themselves,” Rivers tells Reason. “We told him that while we did feel it was safe, we agreed to not allow them to walk around town unsupervised.”

“We thought that would have been the end of it,” Rivers added, “until three more officers showed up.”

The first cop sent Rivers’ husband to retrieve the kids, who had only made it about two blocks. Then mom, dad, and the kids faced a barrage of questions.

“They told us that it wasn’t safe for kids to walk down the street, that there are registered sex offenders all over town that could take them, that drug dealers were going to give them drugs, and that it was ‘a different world now,'” says Rivers.

She tried to dispute what the police were saying, and one of them asked if she watched the news.

The police report, which was reviewed by Reason, makes clear that the police were obsessed with the possibility of sex offenders harming the children. Indeed, they pressed the Rivers to search the sex offender registry to learn which of their neighbors were on it.

The officers also claimed that they had received a dozen 911 calls about the kids during the short time they were gone. Rivers thought this was unlikely, as they had only made it past four other homes. But whatever the rationale, the officers proceeded to charge Rivers’ husband with risk of injury to a minor. They charged Rivers separately for the same thing. Then they arrested her husband and took him away.

9) Paul Poast, “The U.S. Has No Good Options for How to Approach China”

10) On subjective age:

Yet we seem to have an awfully rough go of locating ourselves in time. A friend, nearing 60, recently told me that whenever he looks in the mirror, he’s not so much unhappy with his appearance as startled by it—“as if there’s been some sort of error” were his exact words. (High-school reunions can have this same confusing effect. You look around at your lined and thickened classmates, wondering how they could have so violently capitulated to age; then you see photographs of yourself from that same event and realize: Oh.) The gulf between how old we are and how old we believe ourselves to be can often be measured in light-years—or at least a goodly number of old-fashioned Earth ones…

But “How old do you feel?” is an altogether different question from “How old are you in your head?” The most inspired paper I read about subjective age, from 2006, asked this of its 1,470 participants—in a Danish population (Denmark being the kind of place where studies like these would happen)—and what the two authors discovered is that adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age. “We ran this thing, and the data were gorgeous,” says David C. Rubin (75 in real life, 60 in his head), one of the paper’s authors and a psychology and neuroscience professor at Duke University. “It was just all these beautiful, smooth curves.”

This is weird to me!  I’m 51.  I don’t know what it would mean to feel 41 or 35 or whatever. What does 41 “feel like”?  I’m I constantly amazed at how old I am?  Yes, actually, but it doesn’t mean I don’t “feel” 51.

11) I had not heard of the S2 Cognition Test, but was totally fascinated by learning of it and this article.  I’ve always talked about great team sport athletes intuitively understanding what I call “the geometry of the game” and I think that’s exactly what’s being measured here.  

The S2 isn’t an intelligence test like the 50-question Wonderlic exam but rather measures how quickly and accurately athletes process information. It’s like the 40-yard dash for the brain.

”The game will never be too fast for Brock, I’ll say that,” said Brandon Ally, a neuroscientist and cofounder of Nashville-based S2 Cognition. “I don’t think he’ll ever have trouble adjusting.”

Ally and his partner, Scott Wylie, have tested more than 40,000 athletes, from big-league batsmen to pro golfers, and the company has contracts with 14 NFL teams. The group already has been testing players at college all-star games during the current draft cycle and will do more testing at next week’s combine in Indianapolis. By the time the draft begins in April, S2 will have scores for more than 800 prospects.

“The GMs have become so interested in the data that we start testing as soon as these kids declare,” Ally said.

The exam lasts 40 to 45 minutes. It’s performed on a specially designed gaming laptop and response pad that can record reactions in two milliseconds. To put that in perspective, an eye blink lasts 100 to 150 milliseconds.

In one section of the exam, a series of diamonds flash on the screen for 16 milliseconds each. Every diamond is missing a point, and the test taker must determine — using left, right, up or down keys — which part is missing.

In another, the test seeks to find out how many objects an athlete can keep track of at the same time. In another, there are 22 figures on the screen and the athlete must locate a specific one as quickly as possible. The object might be a red triangle embedded in other shapes that are also red.

“We’re talking about things they have to perceive on the screen within 16/1,000th of a second, which is essentially subliminal and which scientific literature says you shouldn’t be able to process,” Ally said. “And I’ll be honest with you, we’re seeing pro baseball players see something way faster than 16 milliseconds, which has never been reported in literature, all the way to some athletes who may take 150 milliseconds. So our eyes may see the same thing. But for some, it takes longer to process than others.” …

The battery of tests they had patients perform then are similar to the ones the athletes take now, only they’re modified to record the differences between brains that are merely healthy and ones that work on another level.

Ally says the results are predictive.

He couldn’t give out Purdy’s exact score because it’s privileged information but said it was in the “mid 90s.” That’s about where Brees, the former Saints quarterback famous for lightning-fast decision-making, scored and where two of the top passers in the league now, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen, also landed. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow took the test while at LSU and agreed to allow S2 to disclose the information.

Of course he did — he scored in the 97th percentile.

“We consider anything above the 80th percentile to be elite,” Ally said…

Top-tier quarterbacks have the highest average scores, followed closely by safeties. That makes sense considering safeties are known as the “quarterback of the defense” and must keep an eye on multiple moving opponents.

“The average human being can keep track of about three and a half objects at a time,” Alley said. “The average safety in the NFL, it’s closer to six.”

The positions with the third-highest scores: linebacker and cornerback.

The traditional thinking about cornerback was that it was all about physical skills — being fast and mimicking the movements of a wide receiver. As it turns out, the ability to make rapid decisions and to control impulses are paramount. One of the S2 tests looks at impulse control. Ally said low scores predict substandard play as well as holding and pass-interference penalties.

“If you’re impulsive, you fall prey to that double move,” Ally said. “You make a step in the wrong direction. And second, they just can’t control that impulse to grab a jersey when (the receiver) gets by them. You saw that call in the Super Bowl? We could argue all day long whether that was (a penalty) or not. But you saw him start to get burned and he just couldn’t control that impulse to grab the jersey. That’s very typical of someone with low impulse control.”

12) This is great from Jerusalem Demsas, “Permission-Slip Culture Is Hurting America”

In louisiana, it takes $1,485 and roughly 2,190 days to become an interior designer. In Washington, it takes $319 and 373 days to become a cosmetologist. The District of Columbia requires $740 to become an auctioneer, and a college degree to watch children for someone else. (Having and watching your own children continues to be an unlicensed affair.) In Kansas, you have to cough up $200 to work as a funeral attendant. And Maine requires $235 and 1,095 days to become a travel guide. Want to move states? That could mean you have to relicense, as if, say, cutting hair is materially different in Massachusetts than it is in New York.

This is absurd, and not just to me. Last week, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced that he would seek to “fully remove 34 different outdated licenses from state government” and eliminate “14 underutilized regulatory boards.” He also said that he would seek to make New Hampshire the next state to adopt universal recognition: “If you have a substantially similar license and are in good standing in another state, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a license on Day One in New Hampshire.” He joins a number of governors in embracing universal recognition but is going one step further by pushing to fully delicense certain professions.

The usual argument in favor of strict and pervasive licensing is that the system helps ensure high standards for consumer welfare. Of course we can all think of several professions where some form of licensing makes sense: doctors and nurses, operators of dangerous machinery, handlers of hazardous materials. But the assumption that barriers to entry, no matter their form, will necessarily increase the quality of services provided is flawed.

The Institute for Justice looked at state licensing requirements for 102 low-income occupations across the country and found that 88 percent of those professions were unlicensed in at least one state, suggesting that the system is fairly arbitrary. It also found that a high licensing burden does not mean a high-risk occupation: “Workers in 71 occupations, including all the barbering and beauty occupations we study, face greater average burdens than entry-level emergency medical technicians.”

Nor does licensing necessarily translate to high standards for health and safety. A report by the Obama White House in 2015 concluded that “most research does not find that licensing improves quality or public health and safety” and that “stricter licensing was associated with quality improvements in only 2 out of the 12 studies reviewed.”

So the benefits of excessive licensing are unsubstantiated, theoretical, or minimal. But the drawbacks? Those are very real for workers and consumers alike…

Occupational licensing springs from a permission-slip mentality that has infected American political institutions of all sorts. Permission slips to braid hair, permission slips to build affordable housing, permission slips to put solar panels on your roof … a country full of adults raising our hands waiting for someone to let us use the bathroom!

Although pro-licensing forces would have you believe that we must choose between permission-slip governance and peril, this is a false choice. The question is not whether a particular industry poses risks but what kind and how they can best be reduced. Our current licensing regime has not rid American society of risk; heavily licensed industries continue to present safety issues. Instead it has exacerbated labor shortages in crucial industries, encouraged artificially high prices, and created unreasonable barriers to employment and mobility.

I don’t need government workers to ensure that a restaurant is aesthetically pleasing by licensing interior designers; I need them to certify that the food is safe by regularly inspecting establishments. I don’t need the government to decide who’s qualified to work as a locksmith; I can ask my neighbors or check Yelp for advice. And although a test may be appropriate to guarantee that someone can operate a forklift, a college degree most certainly isn’t.

13) Good stuff about libel law and the legal case against Fox News:

If so, the messages could amount to powerful body of evidence against Fox, according to First Amendment experts, because they meet a critical and difficult-to-meet standard in such cases.

“You just don’t often get smoking-gun evidence of a news organization saying internally, ‘We know this is patently false, but let’s forge ahead with it,’” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a University of Utah professor who specializes in media law.

Under New York Times v. Sullivan, a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that has guided libel and defamation claims for nearly 60 years, a plaintiff like Dominion must show that a defendant like Fox published false statements with “actual malice” — meaning that it was done “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Based on the messages revealed last week, “I think that Dominion both will and should prevail,” said Laurence Tribe, a former Harvard law professor. “If anything, the landmark this case is likely to establish will help show that New York Times v. Sullivan” is not an impossible legal hurdle to clear, as some critics have claimed.

“While it’s true that the Supreme Court [in Sullivan] has set a high bar for plaintiffs, a high bar doesn’t mean no bar,” said Sonja R. West, a First Amendment scholar at the University of Georgia law school. “What we’re seeing in this case looks an awful lot like the exception that proves the rule. The First Amendment often protects speakers who make innocent or even negligent mistakes, but this does not mean they can knowingly tell lies that damage the reputation of others.”

14) I’ll admit to not reading all of this, but for my fellow ChatGPT lovers, this is the ultimate explanation for how it works. 

15) A nice little essay on three lessons from the Ukraine war

The three lessons of the past year—war is never straightforward; power is not based on weapons; national identity has military value—should come as a relief to supporters of democracy. The great tragedy is that they had to be relearned in the first place.

16) Lots of good stuff in Chait’s newsletter this week.  I liked this part about standardized tests:

17) I also liked this take on the measures taken by the “there’s a scientific consensus on ‘gender-affirming care’ for teens and if you say otherwise you are a transphobe!” crowd:

18) Paul Waldman, “Republican elites fear the monster they created”

On screen, Fox News personalities paint a world of clear heroes and villains, where conservatives are always strong and right and liberals are weak and wrong. But the extraordinary private communications revealed in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox show who they really are. Panicked over Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, those same hosts, and the executives who run the network, cowered in abject terror.

They feared the same monster that keeps House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) up at night, the monster that conservative media and Republican politicians created: base voters who are deluded, angry and vengeful.

McCarthy has sought to appease the beast by granting exclusive access to 44,000 hours of surveillance footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. But with each capitulation, McCarthy and Fox News only make the monster stronger…

These documents make clear not only that Fox News stars and executives think their audience is a bunch of half-wits but also that they live in fear that the audience will turn on them unless they tell viewers exactly what they want to hear regardless of the facts.

Who taught that audience to believe conspiracy theories and to assume that any unwelcome information must be a sinister lie? Fox News, of course.

Now consider Jan. 6. McCarthy knows the facts. The Capitol insurrection wasn’t a false-flag operation by antifa or the FBI. Indeed, McCarthy initially blasted Trump for his role in stirring the rioters and dismissed conspiracy theories. So why has he given exclusive access to surveillance footage to Carlson, the constant purveyor of conspiracy theories?

There’s no mystery. Carlson’s producers will comb through endless pixels to find images with which to mislead viewers: to convince them that the riot wasn’t so bad or that Trump’s supporters weren’t to blame or that the whole thing was a setup…

Like the trembling dissemblers of Fox News, McCarthy must feel that he has no choice: Feed the beast or be eaten by it. Winning the future is an idea they cannot latch on to because they are so frantic to survive one more day.

Republican elites are not powerless. They helped make this mess and could nudge their base back toward reality if they chose. But they’re too afraid to try.

19) It really is ridiculous what a stigma we place on herpes when you consider how damn common it is and how easily it spreads.  It’s one damn tricky virus. 

Brittany, 29, who asked that her last name be withheld in order to discuss her personal health, only thinks about her HSV-2 when she scrolls through a dating app. In the two years since she was diagnosed, she’s only had one outbreak. Still, when she looks at each profile, she wonders how the man would respond to learning about her diagnosis. “I just worry so much that people are going to judge me,” she said. “That no matter how I present it to them, I’ll still face rejection. That weighs heavily on me.”

Some men have told her, flat-out, that they would never date someone with herpes, but what bothers her, too, are the ones who say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” she said. “I wake up every day and I’m fine.”

Scientists have worked on herpes vaccines in fits and starts since the 1970s, said Dr. Harvey Friedman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine who has studied the disease for over 40 years. But past attempts have failed, for reasons researchers are still trying to uncover.

Because herpes has been around for so long, the viruses have evolved alongside us, making them more difficult to eradicate, said Christine Johnston, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine who has studied herpes.

There are new vaccines under development. Dr. Friedman is working with BioNTech on an HSV-2 vaccine candidate that was given to the first human subject in December. But none are in late-stage clinical trials, said Dr. Ina Park, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of S.T.D.s.” “There’s nothing anywhere close to prime time,” she said.

20) My 23-year old son has no desire for a driver’s license.  I thought his brother would get his right when he turned 16 (as I did on my 16th birthday), but he’s 17 and seemingly no rush (though, I think in the next few months).  But, this is really common these days. “Why aren’t teenagers driving anymore?”

When Dawn Johnson was a teenager growing up in Northern Virginia in the 1990s, she remembers counting down the days until she could start driving. The freedom to see her friends whenever she wanted was tantalizing, she says: “I wanted to get out of my house.”

So when her son, Derek, turned 15 nearly 10 months ago, she and her husband thought he might feel the same. “We were like, Derek, don’t you want to do this?” she says. “And he was like, ‘Nah. I’m good.’ And we just — we did not understand it.”

Driving a car was once a widely coveted rite of passage, but a rising number of kids no longer see it that way: 60 percent of American 18-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2021, down from 80 percent in 1983, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. In that same period, the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped from 46 percent to 25 percent. Today’s driving-age teens are navigating a very different world, filled with new complexities and anxieties.

21) Excellent NYT Editorial on what our drug policy should be, “America Has Lost the War on Drugs. Here’s What Needs to Happen Next.”

But there’s still much work for the nation’s leaders to do.

Amend outdated policies. Criminal justice still has a role to play in tackling addiction and overdose. The harm done by drugs extends far beyond the people who use them, and addictive substances — including legal ones like alcohol — have always contributed to crime. There is a better balance to strike, nonetheless, between public health and law enforcement.

One example is the so-called “crack house statute.” This federal law subjects anyone to steep penalties, including decades in prison, if they maintain a building for the purpose of using illicit drugs. It was enacted at the height of the crack epidemic but is currently being used to stymie supervised consumption sites, which are fundamentally different from crack houses.

At supervised consumption programs, people bring their own drugs, including heroin, and use them under the supervision of a staff that has been trained to reverse overdoses, promote safer drug use and in some cases help people access treatment. With several states now considering planning or starting supervised consumption programs, federal officials should make it clear that the people operating them will not face prosecution.

The federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine should finally be eliminated. The “Len Bias Law,” which enables courts to send anyone involved in an overdose death to prison, should also be amended, so that family members or fellow drug users aren’t criminalized for calling 911 in a crisis.

Invest in treatment. There are not enough programs or trained medical professionals to treat substance-use disorders.

As a result, it is too often left to the criminal justice system to decide who gets care. When wait lists for programs run long, people whose treatment is court-ordered jump to the front of the line. The outcomes have not been great. Judges and probation officers tend to have a paltry understanding of addiction medicine, producing treatment that tends to be punitive instead of therapeutic. For example, people placed on parole or probation for drug-related crimes are often incarcerated when they relapse, instead of getting additional care. (Relapses are a common feature of substance-use disorder and a normal part of the recovery process.)

One way to shift this calculus is to create incentives for more doctors and medical professionals to treat addiction. Lifting the special waiver that doctors need to prescribe buprenorphine — as federal lawmakers recently did — will help.

Other policy tweaks are needed as well: Parity laws, which require health insurers to cover addiction and mental health services as extensively as they cover treatments for other medical conditions, should be expanded to include Medicare. There are a lot of people aging into that program with substance-use disorders. Elected officials should also make basic training in addiction treatment a requirement for medical schools that receive state and federal funding.

Address root causes. People cannot heal from, or live stably with, substance-use disorders if they lack proper housing or suffer from untreated trauma or mental illness. For harm reduction — or any honest attempt to address the nation’s drug use and overdose epidemic — to succeed, communities will need to create more housing options. They will also need to provide clear pathways for people struggling with addiction to achieve food security and to have access to basic medical care. Policies that make it easier for people convicted of drug felonies to get benefits from social safety-net programs — including food stamps and supportive housing programs — would help. So would the Medicaid Re-entry Act, a bill that would reactivate Medicaid for inmates before their release.

Build an actual system. In other advanced nations, harm reduction and treatment for addiction are core public health services funded and protected by the national government. In the United States, syringe service programs and would-be supervised consumption sites have largely been left on their own, forced to design vital public health programs from scratch, then operate them in a legal morass, with little guidance or support.

22) I know nothing about Politics in Peru.  But as a political parties scholar, I loved this, “Peru is a Warning
Democracy doesn’t work without strong political parties.”

23) Jared Diamond, “Like Finland, Imagine Everything That Could Go Wrong”

Finland offers a model of preparing politically for any disaster. During World War II, Finns suffered greatly as a result of being cut off from imports. Finns responded after the war by setting up a government commission that meets once a month, imagines everything that could go wrong and each month plans and prepares for one such disaster. (A Finnish friend of mine is on that commission.) Finns are now prepared for chemical shortages, fuel shortages, medical supply shortages, an electric net failure and other eventualities.

One of those Finnish commission meetings several years ago recognized the likelihood of a respiratory disease pandemic. The commission advised the government to buy and store lots of face masks, which were cheap at the time. The result: Finland was ready for Covid, as well as for all of those other disasters.

Similar thinking is useful in our personal lives. In my field work as a biologist in New Guinea’s jungles, almost everything that could go wrong has at some time gone wrong for me. Whenever I’ve had an accident in Los Angeles, my wife has driven me to the hospital emergency room. But I don’t have that option in New Guinea’s jungles. After some close calls, I eventually learned to think constantly about what could next go wrong, and to prepare for it. I’ve found that habit useful even in my daily life in Los Angeles.

Psychiatrists use the term “paranoia” to mean constant exaggerated fear of something going wrong. Many non-Finns, and many of my Los Angeles friends, consider Finns’ and my outlook on life as an absurd vice, verging on paranoia. I consider our outlook as a healthy virtue that I call constructive paranoia. In other words, be ready for lots of bad luck.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good from Juliette Kayem, “Why Memphis Is Different: Because of the sheer prevalence of police brutality in America, public officials have gotten better at managing the shock.”

But as Friday night unfolded, the protests remained peaceful; news reports showed Americans in various cities righteously and nonviolently demanding justice. We have witnessed many peaceful protests in response to police violence before, but there was one noticeable difference this time around: Rollout of the video footage seemed highly choreographed.

By the time protesters were chanting in the streets, the five officers who had beaten Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, had already been charged with second-degree murder. By the time the video footage of the attack was released, the anger and dismay had already been predicted; law-enforcement and political leaders had issued statements preparing the public for some of the worst police violence this nation has seen. The Memphis police chief likened Nichols’s beating to that of Rodney King in 1991. These officials were right: The footage was brutal, at times unbearable, with Nichols appearing not to resist the officers as they repeatedly struck him. All of this reveals the sad fact that, because of the sheer number of times Americans have now confronted videos of police officers killing Black citizens, public officials have gotten better at managing the shock.

2) Good stuff from Chait:

3) Katherine Wu, “I Bought a CO2 Monitor, and It Broke Me”

A few weeks ago, a three-inch square of plastic and metal began, slowly and steadily, to upend my life.

The culprit was my new portable carbon-dioxide monitor, a device that had been sitting in my Amazon cart for months. I’d first eyed the product around the height of the coronavirus pandemic, figuring it could help me identify unventilated public spaces where exhaled breath was left to linger and the risk for virus transmission was high. But I didn’t shell out the $250 until January 2023, when a different set of worries, over the health risks of gas stoves and indoor air pollution, reached a boiling point. It was as good a time as any to get savvy to the air in my home…

The illusion was shattered minutes after I popped the batteries into my new device. At baseline, the levels in my apartment were already dancing around 1,200 parts per million (ppm)—a concentration that, as the device’s user manual informed me, was cutting my brain’s cognitive function by 15 percent. Aghast, I flung open a window, letting in a blast of frigid New England air. Two hours later, as I shivered in my 48-degree-Fahrenheit apartment in a coat, ski pants, and wool socks, typing numbly on my icy keyboard, the Aranet still hadn’t budged below 1,000 ppm, a common safety threshold for many experts. By the evening, I’d given up on trying to hypothermia my way to clean air. But as I tried to sleep in the suffocating trap of noxious gas that I had once called my home, next to the reeking sack of respiring flesh I had once called my spouse, the Aranet let loose an ominous beep: The ppm had climbed back up, this time to above 1,400. My cognitive capacity was now down 50 percent, per the user manual, on account of self-poisoning with stagnant air.

CO2 monitors are not designed to dictate behavior; the information they dole out is not a perfect read on air quality, indoors or out. And although carbon dioxide can pose some health risks at high levels, it’s just one of many pollutants in the air, and by no means the worst. Others, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone, can cause more direct harm. Some CO2-tracking devices, including the Aranet4, don’t account for particulate matter—which means that they can’t tell when air’s been cleaned up by, say, a HEPA filter. “It gives you an indicator; it’s not the whole story,” says Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech.

Still, because CO2 builds up alongside other pollutants, the levels are “a pretty good proxy for how fresh or stale your air is,” and how badly it needs to be turned over, says Paula Olsiewski, a biochemist and an indoor-air-quality expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The Aranet4 isn’t as accurate as, say, the $20,000 research-grade carbon-dioxide sensor in Marr’s lab, but it can get surprisingly close. When Jose-Luis Jimenez, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, first picked one up three years ago, he was shocked that it could hold its own against the machines he used professionally. And in his personal life, “it allows you to find the terrible places and avoid them,” he told me, or to mask up when you can’t.

That rule of thumb starts to break down, though, when the terrible place turns out to be your home—or, at the very least, mine. To be fair, my apartment’s air quality has a lot working against it: two humans and two cats, all of us with an annoying penchant for breathing, crammed into 1,000 square feet; a gas stove with no outside-venting hood; a kitchen window that opens directly above a parking lot. Even so, I was flabbergasted by just how difficult it was to bring down the CO2 levels around me. Over several weeks, the best indoor reading I sustained, after keeping my window open for six hours, abstaining from cooking, and running my range fan nonstop, was in the 800s. I wondered, briefly, if my neighborhood just had terrible outdoor air quality—or if my device was broken. Within minutes of my bringing the meter outside, however, it displayed a chill 480.

I feel her pain. My home is stubbornly over 1000 for much of the time (though, I stopped paying close attention a while ago).  I do permanently leave a window open now, though, to help out.  Ventilation is definitely good for health, but I would appreciate a little more honesty about the fact that there’s a pretty straight-up trade-off with energy costs.

4) As to the AP African-American studies controversy, this seems quite notable to me:

Moreover, College Board officials said Wednesday that they had a time-stamped document showing that the final changes to the curriculum were made in December, before the Florida Department of Education sent its letter informing the College Board that it would not allow the course to be taught.

I feel like we should know more about this before the liberal “The College Board caved” consensus completely takes over.  Also, how about some reporting about how much pilot AP classes typically change and in what ways.

5) Good stuff from Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court, “The Latest Crusade to Place Religion Over the Rest of Civil Society”

And so now, a very different court from the one that ruled 46 years ago is about to do the work itself.

That isn’t an idle prediction but rather the surely foreordained outcome of the new case the justices recently added to their calendar for decision during the current term. The appeal was brought by a conservative Christian litigating group, First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a former postal worker, Gerald Groff, described as a Christian who regards Sunday as a day for “worship and rest.”

Mr. Groff claimed a legal right to avoid the Sunday shifts required during peak season at the post office where he worked. Facing discipline for failing to show up for his assigned shifts, he quit and filed a lawsuit. The lower courts ruled against him, with the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressing no doubt that the disruption and loss of morale Mr. Groff’s absences caused in the small rural post office where he worked exceeded the de minimis threshold that the Supreme Court’s 1977 precedent requires an employer to demonstrate.

The decision to hear his appeal brings the Supreme Court to a juncture both predictable and remarkable. It is predictable because Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have all called for a case that would provide a vehicle for overturning a precedent that is clearly in tension with the current court’s privileging of religious claims above all others, whether in the context of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic or anti-discrimination claims brought by employees of religious organizations.

The court in 1977 worried about the burden on nonreligious workers from accommodations granted to their religious colleagues. To today’s court, as Justice Alito has repeatedly expressed it, the real victims of discrimination are those who take religion seriously.

The moment is remarkable for the bold activism the court is about to display. In the days when the justices professed respect for the doctrine of stare decisis, or adherence to precedent, the general understanding was that decisions that interpreted statutes should be harder to overturn than those that interpreted the Constitution. That may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but the reasoning went like this: Only the Supreme Court can issue a definitive constitutional interpretation, so only the court can revisit a constitutional precedent if the justices later perceive a problem with it. But Congress has the last word on the meaning of a federal law, so the court should stay its hand and let Congress repair an erroneous statutory interpretation.

That Congress has refused for decades to revisit the meaning of “undue hardship” carries no weight with the justices pressing to revisit the issue on their own. That was certainly the view expressed by Justices Gorsuch and Alito two years ago in dissent from the court’s decision not to hear an earlier case challenging the 1977 precedent. “There is no barrier to our review and no one else to blame,” the two wrote in Small v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water. “The only mistake here is of the court’s own making — and it is past time for the court to correct it.”

6) I was pretty shocked and appalled when I stumbled across “Power Slap” on TV. It’s like something straight out of “Idiocracy.

“Take some deep breaths, you’re doing fine.” That’s what the doctor was telling a man named Chris Kennedy, but Kennedy did not look as if he was doing fine. He was flat on his back, with someone cradling his head, and he was just starting to look around. After a moment, he sat up, and perhaps he registered that he was on a large padded stage, beneath lights, with a camera crew hovering.

“You got knocked out,” someone else said.

Kennedy considered this. “Got knocked out doing what?” he asked. “Was I fighting?”

The answer to that question may depend on how you define “fighting.” Moments before, Kennedy had been standing motionless in front of a podium, with both hands behind his back. On the other side of the podium stood his opponent, who wound up and smacked Kennedy in the face. Kennedy collapsed instantly and grotesquely—arms stiff, fingers gnarled. It was the American cable début of not just a show but perhaps a sport. The show is “Power Slap: Road to the Title,” which had its première earlier this month on TBS, a network that also broadcasts baseball and hockey. The sport is known as slap fighting, an activity that may well be, like the blows exchanged by its participants, impossible to defend. In slap fighting, there is no evasion, no trickery, no possibility of a swing and a miss. Just two people taking turns slapping each other in the face.

By any reasonable standard, this is an absurd idea, and quite possibly a bad one. Stefon Diggs, the Buffalo Bills wide receiver, posted clips of the show on his Instagram page, writing, “I NEVER WATCH TV ANYMORE ONLY NETFLIX AND THIS WHAT BE ON TV JESUS CHRIST.” Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler who is now a neuroscientist working to prevent brain trauma in sports, didn’t find it at all funny, and he expressed his outrage on Twitter. “Pure exploitation,” he wrote. “What’s next, ‘Who can survive a stabbing’?”

The show is hosted by Dana White, the president of the U.F.C., the preëminent organization in mixed martial arts. This new program is patterned after “The Ultimate Fighter,” an ongoing reality show that was launched in 2005 and that helped change the public perception of M.M.A.: the sport, sometimes known as cage fighting, was famously dismissed by Senator John McCain as “human cockfighting” but is now a regular part of the ESPN lineup, and the U.F.C. is a major subsidiary of Endeavor, the sports and entertainment conglomerate. In “Power Slap,” as on “The Ultimate Fighter,” the contestants live in a house and compete for the chance to become professional slappers. “The beautiful thing about this thing is you get to slap the shit out of all the fuckin’ people you don’t like,” White apparently says to the contestants. (“Apparently,” because on TBS the slaps are uncensored but the language is not.) He promises them that the show will be “a life-changing experience in a lot of different ways,” and he seems to mean it as a guarantee rather than a dark prophecy.


Slap fighting is outrageous by design. But, in the case of “Power Slap,” some of the outrage has come from a surprising quarter: the world of professional fighting. In the nineties, boxers were aghast at the sight of an M.M.A. fighter knocking his opponent down and then jumping on top of him, raining punches until the referee shoved him off. Now many M.M.A. fans are appalled by the spectacle of two people just standing and swinging. Bloody Elbow, an M.M.A. publication, called slap fighting “gross” and an “alleged sport”; Ariel Helwani, a leading M.M.A. journalist, said, “That’s not sport—shame on Nevada, for sanctioning that.” (“Power Slap,” like the U.F.C., is based in Las Vegas.) Ryan Garcia, one of the most popular boxers in America, put it simply: “Power slap is a horrible idea and needs to be stopped.”

7) This was fascinating… apparently fallopian tubes present the real potential for ovarian cancer and just maybe should be fairly widely removed after menopause:

There is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, so doctors urge women at high genetic risk for the disease to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed once they are done having children, usually around the age of 40.

On Wednesday, a leading research and advocacy organization broadened that recommendation in ways that may surprise many women.

Building on evidence that most of these cancers originate in the fallopian tubes, not the ovaries, the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance is urging even women who do not have mutations — that is, most women — to have their fallopian tubes surgically removed if they are finished having children and are planning a gynecologic operation anyway. 

In such a procedure, surgeons remove the tubes, which lead from the ovaries to the uterus, but leave the ovaries intact. The ovaries produce hormones that are beneficial even later in life, reducing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and sexual dysfunction. Sparing the organs has been linked to lower mortality overall…

Dr. Bill Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, or A.C.S., said, “There is a lot of good data behind what they’re suggesting, showing that for folks who had that surgery, the incidence rates of ovarian cancer are less.”

“If you look at the biology, maybe we should be calling it fallopian tube cancer and think of it differently, because that’s where it starts,” he said.

8) The stuff that HP in particular is doing with printers where you basically don’t even really own your printer is just evil:

The trouble started with a label for a package. My printer was unresponsive. Then I discovered an error message on my computer indicating that my HP OfficeJet Pro had been remotely disabled by the company. When I logged on to HP’s website, I learned why: The credit card I had used to sign up for HP’s Instant Ink cartridge-refill program had expired, and the company had effectively bricked my device in response.

For those not trapped in this devil’s bargain, Instant Ink is a monthly subscription program that purports to monitor one’s printer usage and ink levels and automatically send new cartridges when they run low. The name is misleading, because the monthly fee is not for the ink itself but for the number of pages printed. (The recommended household plan is $5.99 a month for 100 pages). Like others, I signed up in haste during the printer-setup process, only slightly aware of what I was purchasing. Getting ink delivered when I need it sounded convenient enough to me, a man so thoroughly coddled by one-click e-commerce that the frontal lobes of my brain likely resemble cottage cheese. The monthly fee is incurred whether you print or not, and the ink cartridges occupy some liminal ownership space. You possess them, but you are, in essence, renting both them and your machine while you’re enrolled in the program.

I’ve struggled in subsequent conversations with friends and family to adequately convey the level and intensity of entitled fury I felt when I realized all of this. Here was a piece of technology that I had paid more than $200 for, stocked with full ink cartridges. My printer, gently used, was sitting on my desk in perfect working order but rendered useless by Hewlett-Packard, a tech corporation with a $28 billion market cap at the time of writing, because I had failed to make a monthly payment for a service intended to deliver new printer cartridges that I did not yet need. Indignant, and making grotesque, frustrated noises that I now understand to be hereditary Warzel responses to printer problems, I declared to nobody in particular that I was being extorted by my printer.

I am sheepish to air this grievance aloud, lest it be seen as an abuse of my venerable platform. I am an adult of somewhat sound mind and have the ability to read contracts: I did this to myself. But my printer’s shakedown is just one example of how digital subscriptions have permeated physical tech so thoroughly that they are blurring the lines of ownership. Even if I paid for it, can I really say that I own my printer if HP can flip a switch and make it inert?

“What HP is doing is remarkably bad and deeply user hostile,” the writer and activist Cory Doctorow told me recently. Doctorow has written extensively about digital-rights management across printer brands. For him, prosaic printer issues like mine help people understand digital rights and the ways that companies make devices that resist user modification. “The battle for the soul of digital freedom [is] taking place inside your printer,” he argues. It’s not just about the surveillance, or the egregious markups on ink and the efforts to stop third parties from undercutting the inkjet-cartridge market, he said. It’s about the way that consumers are losing control over things they’ve already paid for.

10) Erin Matson may well be one of the best field hockey players ever, but hiring her to coach her recent former team at the age of 22 is just nuts. By now, people should really know that being great at a sport and being great at coaching a sport are very different skill sets.  

11) My wife’s store got mentioned in this, which is pretty cool, “How a Texas Baby-Clothing Company Took Target Down (a Peg)”

The Target Corporation is used to defending itself. That is, it’s used to playing the role of the defendant, often in federal copyright courts, where it faces off against much smaller businesses. In 2021, California company Globalo LLC sued Target for selling a product that infringed on a patent for a curling iron caddy. In 2019, a Georgia woman named Emily Golub, the founder of a meal-kit service called Garnish & Gather, came after the big-box behemoth for copying her name and logo when it launched its Good & Gather line of foodstuffs. Target has even angered fellow major players, such as London fashion house Burberry, which sued the chain in 2018 for allegedly ripping off several of its iconic plaids. But all of those cases were eventually settled out of court. Last month, though, a David took on Target’s Goliath and actually won.

The David in question is Austin’s Adrian Layne, who has been designing and selling baby clothes under the label Cat & Dogma since 2015 (though she began selling hand-sewn garments at artisan fairs as far back as 2008). Her hottest-ticket items were garments illustrated with her “I love you” print. Layne designed it herself, and it was simple and straightforward, with the phrase drawn out in cursive and repeated in such a way as to make the pattern seem almost striped. She sold bibs, blankets, hats, and onesies in the design, both on her website and through other retailers such as Hatched Market and SnapdragonsBaby, which would buy her products wholesale. Up until recently, it was her most profitable design.

12) My teenage son is not enough of a sports fan to realize how atypical my personal fan-dom is.  He was pretty surprised when I explained to him how much less popular ice hockey is than other pro sports. And, naturally, he’s flabbergasted at the ongoing popularity of baseball. (He’s not wrong.) We looked up the Gallup data. Hockey, at 4%, didn’t make this chart.

Line graph. Americans' four most favorite sports to watch: football 37% (in 2018), basketball 11%, baseball 9%, soccer 7%.

13) This is an amazing piece from Jesse Singal. Literally a masterclass on the important issues of p-hacking and the highly-related problem of HARK, “hypothesize after the results are known.”  This could be taught in a graduate social science methods class. “On Scientific Transparency, Researcher Degrees Of Freedom, And That NEJM Study On Youth Gender Medicine.” As for the substance, I bet you can guess what this has to say about some recent research.

This refusal to talk to journalists is an unfortunate decision on the researchers’ part, especially when paired with their glowing quotes about the importance of their findings — quotes that obscure a lot of nuance and missing results. At the end of the day, this team publicly predicted that eight variables would move in a particular direction. Then, when it was time to report their data, they only told us what happened to two of those variables, and the two they did report weren’t even direct hits, given that trans girls didn’t experience reductions in depression and anxiety. If these findings are so impressive, where are all those other variables? …

Did the NEJM article’s authors “inaccurately represent[] certain hypotheses as those hypotheses that guided the design of the study”? Maybe this is too strong a claim, but I’m not sure. The researchers are crystal clear about the variables they are most interested in in the protocol document that supposedly underpins this study — they hypothesize that “Patients treated with cross-sex hormones will exhibit decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression, gender dysphoria, self-injury, trauma symptoms, and suicidality and increase [sic] body esteem and quality of life over time.” Then, in the study that is one of the main reasons they were collecting all this data in the first place — a study that includes the line “The authors vouch for the accuracy and completeness of the data and for the fidelity of the study to the protocol” — their hypothesis is substantially different, and they present their interest in appearance congruence as a hypothesis they had all along, when there’s no evidence that was the case. This change, and the disappearance of all these variables, go almost entirely unexplained.

14) But, come-on, Republicans trying to ban drag brunches?

The drag panic of 2022 has exploded into a frightening and revanchist nationwide movement to menace and ban drag performances, pushed by activists and politicians whose insides are dark and nasty.

Protests targeting drag queens have sprouted up all across America, surging in the latter part of last year, according to analysis from Counting Crowds. In the two months since a deadly attack on a drag show in Colorado Springs, a gay New York City council member’s apartment building was breached by protesters; a Unitarian-Universalist church in Ohio canceled an event due to protests by militia members; armed activists gathered outside a theater in San Antonio; a Massachusetts library story time featuring a drag queen dressed as a princess was interrupted by adult males shouting profanities; and in Cookeville, Tennessee, a group of masked men carrying a Nazi flag threatened attendees of a drag brunch.

And that’s just a random sampling from their recent rolodex of hate.

The drag panic of 2022 has exploded into a frightening and revanchist nationwide movement to menace and ban drag performances, pushed by activists and politicians whose insides are dark and nasty.

Protests targeting drag queens have sprouted up all across America, surging in the latter part of last year, according to analysis from Counting Crowds. In the two months since a deadly attack on a drag show in Colorado Springs, a gay New York City council member’s apartment building was breached by protesters; a Unitarian-Universalist church in Ohio canceled an event due to protests by militia members; armed activists gathered outside a theater in San Antonio; a Massachusetts library story time featuring a drag queen dressed as a princess was interrupted by adult males shouting profanities; and in Cookeville, Tennessee, a group of masked men carrying a Nazi flag threatened attendees of a drag brunch.

And that’s just a random sampling from their recent rolodex of hate.

These actions can’t be dismissed as outlier behavior from a tiny number of Oath Keeper freaks because the attacks on drag have gone from libraries to the legislature, where Republican politicians in states across the country are now poised to criminalize the free expression of the victims of these assaults.

First to the runway is Arkansas, where the state Senate passed SB-43 last week by a 29-6 vote. The bill would ban drag outside of strip-clubs: Any performance “in which one or more performers exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s gender assigned at birth . . . and sings lip-synchs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience of at least 2 persons for entertainment” must take place at an “adult-oriented business,” which the bill defines as an adult arcade, book store, video store, cabaret, theater, massage establishment, escort agency, or nude model studio.

15) Julia Belluz on the new weight loss drugs:

The new drugs are the first to manipulate the hormonal regulatory systems governing energy balance. The drugs simulate the action of our native GLP-1 but with longer-lasting effects, amplifying the fullness signal inside the body. People who struggle to feel sated suddenly don’t, effectively giving “someone the willpower of those lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery,” said Dr. Brierley.

Many people who have taken the medicines for obesity described to me how their experience of hunger had fundamentally changed. Patricia McEwan, who has injected Ozempic for nine months, said she planned to stay on the drug for life because it “shut off the intrusive constant thoughts about food” that had consumed too much of her mental space since childhood. Before Ozempic, Ms. McEwan thought her overeating was driven by her emotions and lack of willpower. After Ozempic, she understood that how she responded to food was the product of her physiology.

16) Brian Klass, “Did humans start writing 10,000+ years earlier than we thought? A London-based furniture conservator and amateur archaeologist may have solved a mystery that has long perplexed experts—and it could revolutionize our understanding of the history of humanity.”

17) Really good article from Alec MacGillis on the promise and peril of community-based anti-violence programs:

In 2020, everything changed. Violence spiked across the country, with homicides rising by 30%, wiping out two decades of progress. Criminologists attributed the rise to a combination of the social disruption caused by the pandemic and the deterioration of police-community relations after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which led to less proactive policing and less cooperation from residents. After the presidential election, Joe Biden’s administration looked for ways to stem the violence without relying solely on traditional law enforcement, which had come under intense scrutiny on the left. In 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, which included funding that many cities are spending on “community violence intervention,” the catchall term for non-police approaches to reducing violent crime. In addition to interrupters, these measures include programs that detach young men from gangs, those which meet with shooting victims in hospitals to deter retaliation and those which offer young men employment and counseling in cognitive-behavioral therapy.

For years, these programs competed with one another for whatever scarce funding was available, passing from one short-lived pilot project to another. Now they are being showered with unprecedented resources: Louisville is getting $24 million; Baltimore will receive $50 million.

The funding has created an opportunity for community violence intervention to become a significant feature of the public safety landscape. But the challenges are still immense. The programs have only a few years to prove that they deserve lasting support after the federal money runs out. Public safety agencies that until recently consisted of a handful of people are having to expand rapidly to oversee millions in spending, building a new civic infrastructure in a matter of months. And the evidence for how well some of the programs work is mixed and sometimes elusive, not least because it’s hard to measure crimes that never happen. “The money creates a problem,” Eddie Woods said. “Everybody’s an intervention specialist now.”

18) Scenes of my firstborn and me at the Krispy Kreme Challenge yesterday (I ate 2 donuts– I save the true challenge for the young and the adventurous. Getting out of bed to run 5 miles at 8am is enough challenge for me).


Quick hits (part I)

1) Some good background on the gas stove issue:

For years, scientists and health advocates have tried to bring attention to a secret source of air pollution sitting in 40 million homes around the United States — whichjump-starts childhood asthma, increases the risk of respiratory problems and emits planet-warming gasses.

It’s the gas stove.

And now, those efforts seem to be gaining traction. On Monday, Richard Trumka Jr., one of the four commissioners of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said in an interview that the U.S. agency was considering a ban on gas stoves — or, at least, standards around the amount of toxic fumes such stoves can spew into Americans’ kitchens.

On Wednesday, the commission’s chair said it would not ban gas stoves, but was researching health risks of gas stoves and possible increases to safety standards.

“I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so,” said Alexander Hoehn-Saric, the chair of the commission, in a statement.

Some cities — including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York — have already moved to ban gas stoves in certain new homes and apartments. Kathy Hochul (D), the governor of New York, has also proposed banning gas hookups, including for gas stoves, in new buildings in the entire state.

All cooking creates some form of air pollution. But gas stoves are burning natural gas, a mix of methane and other chemicals. That means that when a gas stove is on, it releases not only fine pieces of particulate matter that can invade the lungs, but also nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde — all of which have been linked to various health risks.

Scientists have identified nitrogen dioxide, for example, as contributing to childhood onset of asthma and worsening asthma symptoms. According to one study, children living in a household with gas stoves have a 42 percent increased likelihood of already having asthma and a 24 percent increased risk of developing asthma at some point in their lifetime. Last week, scientists from the clean energy think tank RMI estimated in a peer-reviewed study that 12.7 percent of childhood asthmas could be attributed to living in a household with a gas stove. Some scientists have compared the risks of gas stove use to having a smoker in the home.

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the power to regulate indoor air quality, and homes with gas stoves can often have nitrogen dioxide levels far in excess of EPA outdoor guidelines. The European Union, meanwhile, is currently urging lawmakers to establish indoor air quality regulations across the bloc.

Forgot all the stupid culture war politics over this, but one thing I damn sure learned during the pandemic is that we should be taking indoor air quality way more seriously in this country.

2) Any Lowrey on encouraging trends in the economy:

Inequality is easing

A decade ago, President Barack Obama called economic inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” arguing that “the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.” At the time, data showed the middle class shrinking, average wages stagnating, and the wealthy eating up all the gains from economic growth. Rising inequality was paralyzing Washington and fraying the country’s politics. Yet around the time of Obama’s speech, inequality stopped rising. In the past three years, the country has become more equal, at least by some measures…

We bent the cost curve in health care

Fourteen years ago, analysts at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services thought that health spending would be roughly 22 percent of GDP in 2022. The real share was 18.3 percent. Government actuaries spent years overestimating the number of dollars Americans would spend in hospitals and doctor’s offices—a decade-plus ago, they thought we would be spending about $700 billion more on an annual basis than we are today—and the share of the economy devoted to health care. That is because the “cost curve” bent…

But for the past 15 years, health-care spending growth has been subdued, leaving aside the catastrophic early years of the pandemic. As a result, CMS anticipates that health spending as a share of GDP should be stable over the next decade at roughly 20 percent. And the CBO sees Medicare spending rising from 5.8 percent of GDP to just 6.8 percent of GDP 10 years from now—a reasonable amount, given the rising share of older Americans…

We bounced back after the COVID recession

It took 76 months for the economy to recover every single job it shed in the Great Recession. It took 30 months for it to recover every job it lost during the pandemic. And in this most recent recession, the labor market gained back the majority of jobs it lost in less than a year—far faster than after the housing crash.

3) Birthdays and hockey was such a fascinating part of “Outliers.”  Good stuff in the Athletic, “Why a player’s birthday can matter so much for college, NBA success”

This means that if you were a five-star who turned 19 before Jan. 1 of your freshman year, you had a 56.6 percent chance of making the NBA, and if you were a five-star who turned 19 after Jan. 1, you had a 76 percent chance of making it…

The lesson to be learned from this is age should definitely matter in evaluation. NBA teams in the modern era place a lot of value in age and upside, although sometimes, the Eastern Conference assistant GM says, years in college instead of actual age is weighted too much…

“A 21-year-old senior gets perceived as being older than he really is, because a lot of seniors are 23,” he says. “But when there’s a 21-year-old senior like Desmond Bane (June 25 birthday), with some people, there’s a bias because he’s a senior, like, ‘Oh, he’s old. He’s fully developed.’ But 21 is pretty young.”

Across the board, talent evaluators would benefit from paying closer attention to age. At the high school level, they do a pretty good job of identifying the phenoms early. You’ll notice above there are more five-star All-Stars than those who weren’t five-stars, and the other pool is a larger group of players. But a look at the five-stars in the last three high school classes who were draft eligible (2019-2021) shows the age bias still exists.

4) I like this, “Life Is an Accident of Space and Time: Even if life existed on every planet that could support it, living matter in the universe would amount to only a few grains of sand in the Gobi Desert.”

Considering the billions of planets in our galaxy, and the billions of galaxies in the observable universe, few scientists believe that our planet is the only habitat with life. Nonetheless, finding definite evidence of living things elsewhere in the cosmos would have deep emotional and psychological import, as well as philosophical and theological meaning. Such a finding would force us humans to reconsider some of our fundamental beliefs: How do we define “life”? What are the possible varieties of life? Where did we living things come from? Is there some kind of cosmic community?

In fact, recent scientific research suggests that life in the universe is rare. A few years ago, using results from the Kepler satellite to estimate the fraction of stars with possibly habitable planets, I calculated that, even if all potentially habitable planets do in fact harbor life, the fraction of matter in the universe in living form is exceedingly small: about one-billionth of one-billionth. That’s like a few grains of sand on the Gobi Desert. Evidently, we living things are a very special arrangement of atoms and molecules.

Life may be even rarer than that. In the mid-1970s, the Australian physicist Brandon Carter pointed out that our universe seems particularly fine-tuned for the emergence of life. For example, if the nuclear force holding the centers of atoms together were a little weaker, then the complex atoms needed for life could never form. If it were a little stronger, all of the hydrogen in the infant universe would have fused to become helium. Without hydrogen, water (H2O) would not exist, and most biologists believe that water is necessary for life. As another example of fine-tuning: If the observed “dark energy” that fills the cosmos, discovered in 1998, were a little larger than it actually is, the universe would have expanded so rapidly that matter could never have pulled itself together to make stars, the essential nursery for all the complex atoms thought necessary for life. But with a slightly smaller value of dark energy, the universe would have expanded and recollapsed so quickly that stars wouldn’t have had time to form.

Carter’s observation that our universe is finely tuned for the emergence of life has been called the anthropic principle. A profound question raised by the principle is: Why? Why should the universe care whether it contains animate matter? The theological answer to this question is a cosmic form of intelligent design: Our universe was created by an all-powerful and purposeful being, who wanted it to have life. Another explanation, more scientific, is that our universe is but one of a huge number of universes, called the multiverse, which have a wide range of values for the strength of the nuclear force, the amount of dark energy, and many other fundamental parameters. In most of those universes, these values would not lie within the narrow range permitting life to emerge. We live in one of the life-friendly universes because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. Our existence, and our universe itself, is simply an accident, one throw of the cosmic dice.

A similar line of thinking could explain why planet Earth has such favorable conditions for life: liquid water, moderate temperatures (at the moment), plentiful oxygen for higher-level metabolism. The obvious explanation is that there are many planets, even in our own solar system, that do not have liquid water or pleasant temperatures or oxygen atmospheres. Those planets do not harbor life. We are here, to build houses and write novels and ask questions about our own existence, because we live on one of the small fraction of planets that have the right conditions for life. In sum, animate matter is not only rare in our particular universe, but seems to be nonexistent in most possible universes.

5) Good stuff from Cathy Young, “Perils to Free Speech from Woke and Anti-Woke”

One should not, of course, generalize from the Hamline University fiasco. Many professors continue to show Muhammad images in class without incident. Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, told the New York Times that “he regularly shows images of the Prophet Muhammad in class and without Dr. López Prater’s opt-out mechanisms” and that part of his goal is to make students grapple with how images once considered pious can be later redefined as blasphemous and forbidden. But a chilling effect, at least for untenured faculty and especially adjuncts, is quite likely.

There is also the larger chilling effect of a large percentage of American educators—and students—embracing the “social justice” dogma which holds that disagreement equals harm or even violence, at least when it comes to claims of trauma, discrimination, or bigotry made by members of presumptively oppressed groups. Pressures to censor or abridge “harmful” speech are unlikely to remain confined to college campuses. In a 2019 Knight Foundation survey of college students, over 40 percent said that “hate speech” (which, as the Hamline University incident shows, can be very broadly defined) should not be protected by the First Amendment. At the Hamline forum, CAIR’s Hussein said that “if somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.” But if “controversial stuff about Islam”—in this case, a view endorsed by many Muslims themselves—is off-limits at a college that strives to be inclusive, it’s hard to see how a public library that wants all community members to feel welcome would avoid the same pressures. And what happens if and when students trained to believe that assertions based on “trauma” and “lived experience” are off-limits to debate graduate and go on to take jobs in the media, in government, or in other spheres that involve public discourse?

It goes without saying that the fixation on “harm” from contentious speech does no favors to people or communities affected by discrimination and prejudice (as many American Muslims certainly have been). Social justice dogma can stifle discussion and promote groupthink in those communities themselves, designating people with the approved viewpoint as their only legitimate representatives. Amna Khaled, an associate professor of history at Minnesota’s Carleton College, makes this point in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece, writing that she is offended by the Hamline administrators’ stance as a Muslim:

In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view.

Ironically, in the social justice framework, this extreme conservatism passes for a progressive defense of a marginalized group.

However limited in scope, the Hamline University incident does confirm that a problem with speech- and idea-policing on the left exists—whether you want to call it “cancel culture,” “political correctness,” “wokeness,” or any of the other buzzwords applied to this phenomenon. And while there is a large segment of progressive opinion in which all talk of a left-wing “cancel culture” is met with derision and spin, it is also true that, as Bulwark editor Jonathan V. Last pointed out yesterday, the very existence of a New York Times story clearly critical of the school’s actions shows the left policing its own. It’s also worth noting that PEN America, a liberal organization, has condemned the school’s handling of the controversy and defended academic freedom in the strongest terms.

Last is also correct to note that the Times’s effort to “police their own side” stands in contrast to how the mainstream conservative media respond to “cancel culture” on the right—that is, to right-wing moves to police speech and ideas. That such moves are happening is not in question.

Take a recent story by progressive blogger Judd Legum about an Escambia County, Florida schoolteacher named Vicki Baggett who is using the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last April, to go after school library books. Baggett’s latest target: When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball, a kids’ book about the childhood of sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who won three Olympic gold medals in 1960. Rudolph grew up in segregated Tennessee in the 1940s and had to deal with poverty and racism while growing up. At one point, the book has Rudolph, whose mother worked as a maid for a white family, reflecting that it isn’t right that “white folks got all the luxury, and we black folks got the dirty work.”

Baggett says that the book “trashes and puts down those who are not black” and that white students in particular are “white-shamed” by it. Look who’s being a snowflake now.

6) I’m not much of a horror fan guy, but I really, really like Barbarian (on HBO Max).

7) This is good, “The House spectacle highlights a key difference between the parties”

As political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins wrote in their 2016 book, “Asymmetric Politics”: “While the Democratic Party is fundamentally a group coalition, the Republican Party can be most accurately characterized as the vehicle of an ideological movement.” Group coalitions can be managed through transactional politics — so long as some of the groups’ priorities are advanced, they will stick together to deliver for the other groups in the coalition.

Ideological movements are less flexible. There’s pressure for alignment among members — and even when members are mostly aligned, remaining differences may seem all the more significant. (McCarthy’s move rightward hasn’t done much to shore up his position with his opponents.)

Since “Asymmetric Politics” was published, Democrats have grown increasingly ideological, and the ideological emphases of the GOP have changed. Yet it’s still the case that “the Democratic Party — in the electorate, as an organizational network, and in government — is organized around group interests.” The party’s “self-conscious” constituent groups include, for example, indebted college graduates, intellectuals and the expert class, government-employee unions, and the organized civil-rights apparatus (which itself includes many independent interests).

Democrats tend to argue for specific policies, Grossmann and Hopkins observed, on the grounds that they will help a specific group they see as part of their coalition — women, unions, universities. Republicans, meanwhile, are more likely to appeal to “general concepts and principles … frequently emphasizing the need to limit the scope of government or preserve traditional American society.” A coalition that makes ideology its lodestar is stronger in some respects — but as the House GOP fractiousness has shown, weaker in others.

Business might have once been a group interest within the GOP. Corporations are amenable to transactional politics and have historically expected benefits under Republican governance. But in the Trump years, big business and the Republican Party drifted apart, both because of corporate discomfort with populism and the GOP’s discomfort with business’s growing social liberalism. The gap widened after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. The Republican-business rift has left the House GOP even less constrained by interest groups’ needs, and more driven by ideological goals.

8) I actually enjoyed this Washington Post profile of Yglesias, but, it was quite too ready to embrace the leftist critiques of Yglesias which pretty much ignore the fact that virtually all his policy preferences are solidly left of center.

9) I was surprised to learn this about the vaccines in Katelyn Jetelina’s latest (and always excellent) newsletter:

Moderna is doing better

What we know: Even though Moderna and Pfizer are both mRNA vaccines, they have distinct micro-differences. The impact of those differences on immune defenses has been up for debate.

New info: Another study confirmed that Moderna induced a better first defense (protection against infection). In addition (and for the first time) we see that it alsogenerated a larger T-cell response (i.e. secondary defense) than Pfizer. This likely impacts downstream outcomes, like duration and strength of protection against severe disease.

Why does this matter? Given this study and previous ones, there should be a preferential recommendation for those over age 50 to get Moderna over Pfizer. This is particularly important for older adults, as they have weaker immune systems.

Lots of other good stuff in there, too.

10) Good stuff on over-hyping new variants by doling out names like Kraken:

The WHO isn’t alone in objecting. For Stephen Goldstein, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Utah, the new names are not just unnecessary but potentially harmful. “It’s absolutely crazy that we’re having random people on Twitter name variants,” he told me. For Goldstein, dressing up each new subvariant with an ominous monster name overplays the differences between the mutations and feeds into the panic that comes every time the coronavirus shifts form. In this view, distinguishing one Omicron sublineage from another is less like distinguishing a wolf from a cow and more like distinguishing a white-footed mouse from a deer mouse: important to a rodentologist but not really to anyone else. To go as far as naming lineages after terrifying mythical beasts, he said, “seems obviously intended to scare the shit out of people … It’s hard to understand what broader goal there is here other than this very self-serving clout chasing.”

11) Derek Thompson with a nice summary of recent research on whether science is becoming less disruptive:

We should be living in a golden age of creativity in science and technology. We know more about the universe and ourselves than we did in any other period in history, and with easy access to superior research tools, our pace of discovery should be accelerating. But, as I wrote in the first edition of this newsletter, America is running out of new ideas.

“Everywhere we look we find that ideas … are getting harder to find,” a group of researchers from Stanford University and MIT famously concluded in a 2020 paper. Another paper found that “scientific knowledge has been in clear secular decline since the early 1970s,” and yet another concluded that “new ideas no longer fuel economic growth the way they once did.”

In the past year, I’ve traced the decline of scientific breakthroughs and entrepreneurship, warned that some markets can strangle novelty, and investigated the domination of old movies and songs in the film and music industries. This year, a new study titled “Papers and Patents Are Becoming Less Disruptive Over Time” inches us closer to an explanation for why the pace of knowledge has declined. The upshot is that any given paper today is much less likely to become influential than a paper in the same field from several decades ago. “Our study is the first to show that progress is slowing down, not just in one or two places, but across many domains of science and technology,” Michael Park, a co-author and professor at the University of Minnesota, told me.

The researchers relied on a metric called the Consolidation-Disruption Index—or CD Index—which measures the influence of new research. For example, if I write a crummy literature review and no scientist ever mentions my work because it’s so basic, my CD Index will be extremely low. If I publish a paradigm-shifting study and future scientists exclusively cite my work over the research I rendered irrelevant, my CD Index will be very high.

This new paper found that the CD Index of just about every academic domain today is in full-on mayday! mayday! descent. Across broad landscapes of science and technology, the past is eating the present, progress is plunging, and truly disruptive work is hard to come by. Despite an enormous increase in scientists and papers since the middle of the 20th century, the number of highly disruptive studies each year hasn’t increased.

Lots of interesting theories discussed.  From my perch in social science, it’s pretty clear that there’s way too many simply mediocre papers published (guilty!) because that’s what most of us are rewarded for.

12) Good stuff from Gallup on the latest in party and ideological identification. Their charts are hard to cut and paste, so go check it out.  Of note, among Democrats, whites and college grads are way more liberal.

13) I loved learning that NC State is now working on “microbiome engineering.”  So much potential here.

14) America’s obsession with guns just completely sucks, part one million (via Kaiser )

Firearms recently became the number one cause of death for children in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle deaths and those caused by other injuries.

15) Brian Beutler on classified documents and both sidesism:

The other story at least grazes against the public interest. That is, it didn’t become a news story by dint of error and propaganda, and it bears ongoing-if-not-so-breathless scrutiny. But it grew into a major news story, and now a special counsel investigation, via the same failed incentive that gave us EMAILS in 2016: The notion that the newsworthiness of anything should correlate to how angry one party (almost always the Republican Party) pretends to be about it.

Reporters don’t have to read minds to know Republicans are pretending. They know through experience that Republican fixation on information security is entirely situational and unprincipled. They know that Republicans are lying openly about the facts at issue with the classified documents filed in Joe Biden’s vice presidential records. They know that the aim of the sensationalism is to create the perception that the Justice Department is holding Joe Biden and Donald Trump to different standards—or worse, that Biden is the real crook, and Trump the victim of a frame-up—and they know that perception is false.

Not only is it false, it’s fully backward. The voluntary and cooperative conduct of Biden’s personal and White House lawyers throws Trump’s criminal offenses (stealing and hiding state secrets) into stark relief. And in fairness, most mainstream news outlets have made some effort to emphasize this distinction.

But if there’s no apparent intentional wrongdoing here, no effort to conceal or stonewall, and no sense in which the Biden case should affect the disposition of the Trump case, why hyperventilate about it at all? Why reward Republican propaganda by characterizing the effect it has on the public as an “optics problem” for Democrats or Merrick Garland or whoever else. Nothing bad would happen if media outlets refused to succumb to manipulative tactics, and news consumers would be better informed.

Simply treating the Biden records as a smaller and separate story would be a huge improvement, but it wouldn’t actually capture the full state of affairs. It’s not just that there’s no reason to pretend to believe liars when they’re pretending to believe something is scandalous; the very fact that they’re lying, to manipulate the press and mislead the public, is an important story in its own right.

Six years after setting the country on a course to ruin with its EMAILS obsession, we should doubt it’s a story the press will ever choose to tell.

16) Quite randomly came across this research on high school start times:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that U.S. secondary schools begin after 8:30 a.m. to better align with the circadian rhythms of adolescents. Yet due to economic and logistic considerations, the vast majority of high schools begin the school day considerably earlier. We leverage a quasi-natural experiment in which five comprehensive high schools in one of the nation’s largest school systems moved start times forty minutes earlier to better coordinate with earlier-start high schools. Here, disruption effects should exacerbate any harmful consequences. We report on the effect of earlier start times on a broad range of outcomes, including mandatory ACT test scores, absenteeism, on-time progress in high school, and college-going. While we fail to find evidence of harmful effects on test scores, we do see a rise in absenteeism and tardiness rates, as well as higher rates of dropping out of high school. These results suggest that the harmful effects of early start times may not be well captured by considering test scores alone.

17) David Wallace-Wells on electric vehicles:

It is striking that in the same year that Tesla’s stock price dropped by about two-thirds, destroying more than $700 billion in market value, the global market for electric vehicles — which for so long the company seemed almost to embody — actually boomed.

Boom may not even adequately communicate what happened. Around the world, E.V. sales were projected to have grown 60 percent in 2022, according to a BloombergNEF report prepared ahead of the 2022 U.N. climate conference COP27, bringing total sales over 10 million. There are now almost 30 million electric vehicles on the road in total, up from just 10 million at the end of 2020. E.V. market share has also tripled since 2020.

The pandemic years can feel a bit like a vacuum, but there are almost three times as many E.V.s on the world’s roads now as there were when Covid vaccines were first approved, and what looked not that long ago like a climate pipe dream is now undeniably underway: a genuine transition away from fossil-fueled transportation. This week, the Biden administration released a blueprint toward a net zero transportation sector by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal, especially for such a car-intoxicated culture as ours. But it’s also one that, thanks to trends elsewhere in the world, is beginning to seem more and more plausible, at least on the E.V. front.

In Norway, electric vehicles now represent four out of every five new cars sold; the figure was just one in five as recently as 2016. In Germany, more than 55 percent of new cars registered in December were electric or hybrid. In China, where more electric vehicles are sold than everywhere else in the world combined, the rise is perhaps even more dramatic: from 3.5 percent of the market at the beginning of 2020 to 20.3 percent at the beginning of 2022. And growing, of course: Nearly twice as many electric vehicles were sold last year in China as in the year before. The country also exported $3.2 billion worth of E.V.s last November alone, more than double the exports of the previous November. Its largest single manufacturer, BYD, has surpassed Tesla for global market share — so perhaps it should not be so surprising that Tesla’s stock is dimming while the global outlook is so sunny.

This is not just eye-popping growth; it is also dramatically faster than most analysts were projecting just a few years ago. In 2020, the International Energy Agency projected that the global share of electric vehicle sales would not top 10 percent before 2030. It appears we’ve already crossed that bar eight years early, and BloombergNEF now projects that the market share of E.V.s will approach 40 percent by the end of the decade. (The I.E.A. is less bullish but has still roughly doubled its 2030 projection in just two years.) The underlying production capacity is perhaps even more encouraging. In the United States, investments in battery manufacturing reached a record $73 billion last year — three times as much as the previous record, set the year before. Globally, battery manufacturing capacity grew almost 40 percent last year, and is projected to grow fivefold by just 2025. By that year, lithium mining is expected to be triple what it was in 2021.

18) I had my colonoscopy back in the spring, my wife is having her’s next week.  Thus, I was particularly intrigued by this, “Colonoscopies save lives. Why did a trial suggest they might not?”

A media frenzy followed, and headlines were blunt, declaring that colonoscopies might not be effective or prevent deaths at all. But when Dominitz dug deeper, the trial results reflected where and how the study was conducted and the complexity of the questions it was trying to answer. “It is really important to not just read the headline,” says Dominitz, who is also director of the colorectal-cancer screening programme run by the US Department of Veteran Affairs.

A closer look at the European study, on its own and in the context of other studies, shows that colonoscopies do in fact substantially reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer and dying from it. They are still considered by many experts to be one of the best ways to screen for the disease. But for any screening procedure, there are trade-offs both for individuals and at the public-health level. As scientists are working out the details of which tests to recommend, the reaction to the study illustrates how difficult it is to interpret and communicate research on cancer screening.

“It’s really important to look at all the evidence in totality,” says Jennifer Croswell, a public-health researcher at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, who specializes in cancer screening. “This was a complicated trial to sort through.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) This is great and I think most of you will enjoy reading it, “The empty brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer”

The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.

But the IP metaphor is, after all, just another metaphor – a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point – either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge…

The faulty logic of the IP metaphor is easy enough to state. It is based on a faulty syllogism – one with two reasonable premises and a faulty conclusion. Reasonable premise #1: all computers are capable of behaving intelligently. Reasonable premise #2: all computers are information processors. Faulty conclusion: all entities that are capable of behaving intelligently are information processors.

Setting aside the formal language, the idea that humans must be information processors just because computers are information processors is just plain silly, and when, some day, the IP metaphor is finally abandoned, it will almost certainly be seen that way by historians, just as we now view the hydraulic and mechanical metaphors to be silly…

In a classroom exercise I have conducted many times over the years, I begin by recruiting a student to draw a detailed picture of a dollar bill – ‘as detailed as possible’, I say – on the blackboard in front of the room. When the student has finished, I cover the drawing with a sheet of paper, remove a dollar bill from my wallet, tape it to the board, and ask the student to repeat the task. When he or she is done, I remove the cover from the first drawing, and the class comments on the differences.

Because you might never have seen a demonstration like this, or because you might have trouble imagining the outcome, I have asked Jinny Hyun, one of the student interns at the institute where I conduct my research, to make the two drawings. Here is her drawing ‘from memory’ (notice the metaphor):

And here is the drawing she subsequently made with a dollar bill present:

Jinny was as surprised by the outcome as you probably are, but it is typical. As you can see, the drawing made in the absence of the dollar bill is horrible compared with the drawing made from an exemplar, even though Jinny has seen a dollar bill thousands of times.

What is the problem? Don’t we have a ‘representation’ of the dollar bill ‘stored’ in a ‘memory register’ in our brains? Can’t we just ‘retrieve’ it and use it to make our drawing?

Obviously not, and a thousand years of neuroscience will never locate a representation of a dollar bill stored inside the human brain for the simple reason that it is not there to be found.

The idea that memories are stored in individual neurons is preposterous: how and where is the memory stored in the cell?

A wealth of brain studies tells us, in fact, that multiple and sometimes large areas of the brain are often involved in even the most mundane memory tasks. When strong emotions are involved, millions of neurons can become more active. In a 2016 study of survivors of a plane crash by the University of Toronto neuropsychologist Brian Levine and others, recalling the crash increased neural activity in ‘the amygdala, medial temporal lobe, anterior and posterior midline, and visual cortex’ of the passengers.

The idea, advanced by several scientists, that specific memories are somehow stored in individual neurons is preposterous; if anything, that assertion just pushes the problem of memory to an even more challenging level: how and where, after all, is the memory stored in the cell?

So what is occurring when Jinny draws the dollar bill in its absence? If Jinny had never seen a dollar bill before, her first drawing would probably have not resembled the second drawing at all. Having seen dollar bills before, she was changed in some way. Specifically, her brain was changed in a way that allowed her to visualise a dollar bill – that is, to re-experience seeing a dollar bill, at least to some extent.

The difference between the two diagrams reminds us that visualising something (that is, seeing something in its absence) is far less accurate than seeing something in its presence. This is why we’re much better at recognising than recalling. When we re-member something (from the Latin re, ‘again’, and memorari, ‘be mindful of’), we have to try to relive an experience; but when we recognise something, we must merely be conscious of the fact that we have had this perceptual experience before.

2) Very good free post from Yglesias, “Why hasn’t technology disrupted higher education already?”

A decade ago there was tremendous hype around the potential for Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) to replace traditional classroom instruction. Then it turned out that online for-profit colleges were mostly good for running scams on marginal students. The problem with MOOCs for the typical student is the same as with me trying to lift weights on my own: for people who have a second-order desire to get a degree despite a lack of temperamental suitability for school, the in-person instructor is invaluable. We learned that lesson all over again during the pandemic when a lot of districts went remote with bad effects. Motivation and self-discipline are valuable commodities, and an in-person instructor can help provide them.

I do think it’s fair to say that internet video is a step forward from VHS or simple text files on the web, and all of that is a step forward from print as the only medium for conveying information. And the printing press itself was, of course, a huge step forward.

It’s very easy to imagine chatbots improving on Google search as a way to look stuff up, and AI-powered individual coaching could be even more powerful than videos as a way to learn things.

But I do think the history of ed tech has been one where better and better information technology makes it much easier to learn things without really making much progress on the big problems of education, because the motivation/discipline piece of education is so central. In practice, I think the net impact of IT improvements on education has probably been negative. Today’s smartphone is a much more powerful and convenient learning tool than the public library of 30 years ago. But the 1992-vintage public library really did work very well. And today’s smartphone is also a much more powerful tool of distraction than anything that was available in 1992. Educators’ jobs have probably gotten harder rather than easier, not despite but because of the improvements in information technology.

The revolution, if one comes, is likely to be in the value of the learning itself rather than in how it’s done.

3) Greg Sargent “Musk’s ugly attack on Fauci shows how right-wing info warfare work”

All these responses — which also noted that Fauci admirably tried to serve the country during a major crisis and under great pressure — are reasonable. But outrage and shaming also seem fundamentally out of touch with basic realities of how right-wing information warfare really works.

This sort of info-warring, at bottom, is what characterizes Musk’s transformation into the world’s richest right-wing troll. Tons of pixels have been wasted on efforts to pin down Musk’s true beliefs, but whatever they are, we can say right now that he’s consciously exploiting fundamental features of the right-wing information ecosystem. His critics should adapt accordingly.

In his attack, Musk flatly validated a big right-wing obsession: The idea that Fauci was involved in U.S. government funding of controversial early research into covid, and lied to Congress about it. As The Post’s Glenn Kessler demonstrated, this is a highly complex dispute, but there are zero grounds for concluding anything remotely like that happened. Musk’s claim is at best profoundly irresponsible and at worst straight-up disinformation…

It’s understandable that Musk’s critics are trying shaming and outrage, in that this could further drive advertisers away from Twitter. But, paradoxically, it might also help Musk. The DealBook newsletter suggests that he’s trying to boost “conservative engagement” and “help Twitter’s business” by “winning over right-leaning users and conservative politicians.”

If so, the coin of the realm is the Triggering. A massive backlash from liberals and Democrats creates the impression of controversy, which draws news media attention. It also persuades the right-leaning constituencies Musk hopes to engage that he is “drawing blood.”

In much of the right-wing info-ecosystem, liberal outrage is a sign of an attack’s effectiveness. It can be only confirmation that the Libs Were Owned. Shaming is useless in such an environment, and in some ways can backfire.

4) Some cold water on the fusion energy breakthrough, “The Real Fusion Energy Breakthrough Is Still Decades Away”

5) Which, because that’s how my house rolls, led me to a significant argument on just how big a deal the discovery of gravity waves are.  I’m in the– super-cool science, but, not really all that meaningful implications for how we live our lives and understand most of our universe.  Based on this Vox summary of what we can learn, I stand by my take.

6) I’m really not much for swearing, but, damn did I love reading about the linguistic universalities of swear words:

“Holy motherforking shirtballs!” a character exclaimed on “The Good Place,” a television show that took place in a version of the afterlife where swearing is forbidden (as it is in this newspaper, most of the time). In a way, this celestial censorship was realistic.

A study published Tuesday in the journalPsychonomic Bulletin & Reviewfound that curse words in several unrelated languages sound alike. They’re less likely than other words to include the consonant sounds L, R, W or Y. And more family-friendly versions of curses often have these sounds added, just like the R in “shirt” or “fork.” The finding suggests that some underlying rules may link the world’s languages, no matter how different they are.

“In English, some of the worst words seem to have common phonetic properties,” said Ryan McKay, a psychologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. They’re often short and punchy. They also tend to include the sounds P, T or K, “without giving any obvious examples,” Dr. McKay said. These sounds are called stop consonants because they interrupt the airflow when we’re speaking.

Dr. McKay teamed up with his colleague Shiri Lev-Ari to learn whether this familiar pattern went beyond English. They wondered whether it might even represent what’s called sound symbolism.

To look for patterns in swearing, the researchers asked fluent speakers of Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Korean and Russian to list the most vulgar words they could think of. Once they’d compiled a list of each language’s most frequently used epithets, the researchers compared these with neutral words from the same language.

In these languages, they didn’t find the harsh-sounding stop consonants that seem common in English swear words. “Instead, we found patterns that none of us expected,” Dr. Lev-Ari said. The vulgar words were defined by what they lacked: the consonant sounds L, R, W and Y.(In linguistics, these gentle sounds are called approximants.)

Next, the scientists looked for the same phenomenon using speakers of different languages: Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, French, German and Spanish. The subjects listened to pairs of words in a language they didn’t speak, and guessed which word in each pair was offensive. In reality, all the words were invented. For example, the researchers started with the Albanian word “zog,” for “bird,” and created the pair of fake words “yog” and “tsog.” Subjects were more likely to guess that words without approximants, such as “tsog,” were curses.

Finally, the researchers combed through the dictionary for English swear words and their cleaned-up versions, also called minced oaths (“darn,” “frigging” and so on). Once again, the clean versions included more of the sounds L, R, W and Y.

“What this paper finds for the first time is that taboo words across languages, unrelated to each other, may pattern similarly,” said Benjamin Bergen, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the study.

Unlike other cases such as cock-a-doodle-doos or words for “nose,” these words don’t share a meaning, but a function. They’re meant to offend. The results suggest that “not all sounds are equally suitable for profanity,” the authors wrote.

“That’s a new thing,” Dr. Bergen said. “Maybe the things that we want to do with words lead us to expect those words to have particular sounds.”

7) Love deBoer on the “unhoused

Why is unhoused bad? Because, one, we have a word that already conveys everything that we need to understand about the described condition, and two, because “unhoused”’s stated value is that it destigmatizes a condition that we should want to stigmatize. Everyone knows what homelessness is. We all understand the implications of the word. It conveys a whole world of social and cultural and economic information that we have spent a lifetime processing. And unlike a term like “redskin,” it contains no intentional offense; it’s used every day by people who intend no harm, indeed by many people who intend to end harm. Worse, “unhoused” makes the work of progressive politics harder, not easier. As in so many other evolutions in liberal mores, avoiding the word “homeless” is ostensibly a matter of avoiding stigma. But homelessness should be stigmatized. The homeless should not be made to feel attacked or insulted. But the social ramifications of homelessness should be understood in visceral and emotional terms; it’s the only way to generate a solution to the terrible and preventable problem of homelessness. If any particular homeless person were to express a preference not to be referred to by the term, sure, avoid it in that context – but how often are the people pushing “unhoused” in a position where their words could even be heard by the homeless in the first place? …

Few recent developments in American politics make me more depressed than the new conventional liberal wisdom that people with mental illness are all uwu smol bean harmless cute quirky free spirits, this version of “normalization” that insists that anyone who is abnormal must therefore not really have mental illness. It lies at the intersection of so many things I hate about contemporary liberalism. But at least there’s this: at least we understand that, for some people, mental illness is intrinsic. At least we know that, until there’s some major new breakthrough in medicine, some people are bound to be mentally ill. That some people just are schizophrenic and will go on being schizophrenic. There, at least, I can squint really hard and maybe make out why some people think it benefits the mentally ill to treat them as blameless fairies whose condition makes them cute and unthreatening. It’s a ruinous way to think, but I understand it. But homelessness, while terribly entrenched for some people, is not an intrinsic condition for anyone! It’s at least potentially an entirely transitory state. And so if you’re worried about the stigma (stigma! stigma! stigma!) of homelessness, your motivation should be to remove people from that state rather than playing pointless self-aggrandizing liberal language games. It’s all so senseless.

Here’s what I’m willing to guess. I’m willing to guess that very few people are actually invested in saying “unhoused” rather than “homeless.” I’m willing to guess that many or most progressive people would read the argument I’ve laid out here and find a lot to agree with. Sure, there are no doubt apparatchiks at nonprofits who have gotten themselves worked up about this issue and activists who are very animated about this topic. But they have to be a small minority. I’m sure most people would just as soon go on saying “homeless.” Because it’s a term that’s true. It’s a word that conveys the sordid depths of the human experience. Here’s the problem, though: once enough liberals start using a term, others will glom onto it, not out of a conviction that it’s more accurate or more humane but because they’re afraid to step out of line. They’re not actually weighing the pros and cons of changing their terminology as I’m doing here. They’re looking out at their progressive peers, noting that everybody seems to be using a new term, and fear the consequences of not doing so themselves.

8) Learned so much from this discussion about the ongoing protests in Iran:

Mounk: When I see protest movements in dictatorships, I’m always a little bit torn. I wish them the best of luck. I identify with them from a distance, insofar as that’s appropriate. I have the biggest admiration for people who are risking their lives in the street for their ideals. But of course, it’s also tempting to think that it’s not going to work out in the end, and that a lot of people will be arrested and killed without having achieved the goal they are fighting for. 

I must admit that I’ve been struck by how long these protests have now been going on, and how broad the support for them has been among professions like teachers, for example. What is it that has allowed these protests to persist for such a long time? Why is it that the Iranian regime has not used all of the force at its disposal to crush these protests completely? What explains that longevity and that deeper support?

Hakakian: I just want to offer a qualification. I don’t think the regime has prevented itself from using violence. What’s happening is that the protesters have not provided the opportunity in big cities, especially Tehran, for the regime to attack them in the way that it did in 2009. Part of the reason why we don’t see a “Million Man March” is because if everybody takes to the streets, then the regime will bite the bullet, and they’ll bring out the tanks and the big guns and attack them wholesale, as they’ve done before. Smaller protests have guaranteed their endurance. 

Mounk: It’s kind of a tactical innovation to say “we’re going to spread all over, and we’re only ever going to assemble in relatively small numbers, because that makes it harder for the regime to attack us.” That’s interesting, and in some ways, counterintuitive.

Hakakian: Absolutely. I think it’s very uplifting to know that they are learning all the proper lessons. But in places where the regime has been able to deploy violence against large crowds, they have. They’ve done so in Baluchestan. They’ve done so in Kurdistan. When there has been the opportunity for them to actually go into a city knowing that the city itself is against them (and by the way, those are border cities that are far away from the center, and there are fewer cameras and less coverage) then they have been entirely brutal.

And, by the way, we’re setting aside all the abuse and torture and all the other things that they are doing to the 16,000-plus people they’ve arrested. So we’re leaving all those out…


Tell us a little bit about the nature and the shape of Iran’s society today. Help us understand the amazing contrast between a regime that for 50 years has used all of its resources to entrench religion, and a society that has actually secularized to a remarkable extent.

Hakakian: I just want to add one qualification. It’s true that the overwhelming majority of students in higher education are women. But that is not happening because of the regime. It’s happening despite the regime. Women decided that, since they can’t actually enter the job market after they graduate, they should do everything else in order to become the citizens that they’re not allowed to become. You’d be surprised how many people often use those very statistics to say, “You misunderstand the regime there. They’re doing these things!” 

The regime has all the garb, all the disguises of religious leadership. But I oftentimes refer to them as “Tony Sopranos in turbans and robes.” The Sopranos have taken over Iran. It’s really an economic mafia more than anything else. And the way the disguise works is that it makes everybody else, especially the West, think that these are Muslims—“out of respect for their religion, and their tradition, we need to stay out, because we don’t understand who they are, what they do.” So, they’ve managed to keep up a good game, because they look and they dress as they do. 

They do embrace, at least overtly, this mantle of religiosity. But when you peel back the disguise—as fortunately, social media has given people the opportunity to do—you see them going to Europe, for instance, and their wives and daughters are without the hijab. They have failed to live up to the standards that they have set for religiosity, for piety. Social media has revealed this duplicity. 

We should also not discount the fact that when Ayatollah Khomeini gave his first speech, arriving in Tehran in 1979, he was promising equality, he was promising that since they had gotten rid of a bad monarch, who had created all these poor, impoverished classes in the country, he was going to do the reverse; there was going to be economic equality. And people heard all sorts of things, including that the prisons were going to become museums and that sort of thing. What has happened is that now we have a caste of religious oligarchs in Iran, who are there to reap the benefits of being in high positions, while their children and their families live in Canada, North America, and Europe. All of this has deeply undermined the belief that this is the regime that they voted for in 1979. This has generated huge distrust not just in the regime; it has generated disaffection with Islam in general, which explains the proclivities for secularity in Iran today. 

But I think there is a class that remains conservative, that remains observant, that still supports the current movement. And I think that’s because they recognize that if there’s any hope for Islam to survive, they have to make sure that they get past this regime, which they view as just a bad mark on the faith.

9) Just came across this fascinating Atlantic article from three years ago, ‘The Personality Trait That Makes People Feel Comfortable Around You: People with positive “affective presence” are easy to be around and oil the gears of social interactions.”

Some people can walk into a room and instantly put everyone at ease. Others seem to make teeth clench and eyes roll no matter what they do. A small body of psychology research supports the idea that the way a person tends to make others feel is a consistent and measurable part of his personality. Researchers call it “affective presence.”

This concept was first described nearly 10 years ago in a study by Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein. They put business-school students into groups, had them enroll in all the same classes for a semester, and do every group project together. Then the members of each group rated how much every other member made them feel eight different emotions: stressed, bored, angry, sad, calm, relaxed, happy, and enthusiastic. The researchers found that a significant portion of group members’ emotions could be accounted for by the affective presence of their peers.

It seems that “our own way of being has an emotional signature,” says Elfenbein, a business professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

It’s been known for some time that emotions are contagious: If one person feels angry, she may well infect her neighbor with that anger. But affective presence is an effect one has regardless of one’s own feelings—those with positive affective presence make other people feel good, even if they personally are anxious or sad, and the opposite is true for those with negative affective presence.

“To use common, everyday words, some people are just annoying. It doesn’t mean they’re annoyed all the time,” Elfenbein says. “They may be content because they’re always getting their way. Some people bring out great things in others while they’re themselves quite depressed.”

Unsurprisingly, people who consistently make others feel good are more central to their social networks—in Elfenbein’s study, more of their classmates considered them to be friends. They also got more romantic interest from others in a separate speed-dating study

Exactly what people are doing that sets others at ease or puts them off hasn’t yet been studied. It may have to do with body language, or tone of voice, or being a good listener. Madrid suggests that further research might also find that some people have a strong affective presence (whether positive or negative), while others’ affective presence is weaker. But both Madrid and Elfenbein suggest that a big part of affective presence may be how people regulate emotions—those of others and their own.

Throughout the day, one experiences emotional “blips” as Elfenbein puts it—blips of annoyance or excitement or sadness. The question is, “Can you regulate yourself so those blips don’t infect other people?” she asks. “Can you smooth over the noise in your life so other people aren’t affected by it?”

This “smoothing over”—or emotional regulation—could take the form of finding the positive in a bad situation, which can be healthy. But it could also take the form of suppressing one’s own emotions just to keep other people comfortable, which is less so.

Elfenbein notes that positive affective presence isn’t inherently good, either for the person themselves, or for their relationships with others. Psychopaths are notoriously charming, and may well use their positive affective presence for manipulative ends. Neither is negative affective presence necessarily always a bad thing in a leader—think of a football coach yelling at the team at halftime, motivating them to make a comeback. Elfenbein suspects that affective presence is closely related to emotional intelligence. And, she says, “You can use your intelligence to cure cancer, but you can also use it to be a criminal mastermind.”

10) Good stuff on the high quality of this year’s World Cup:

The point is that everyone can do it now. Refined technique — the term of art for the instruments of control and precision — is no longer the secretive preserve of the Dutch academy and the Italian training ground. It is now expected that a player be able to bring a hurtling orb to a complete standstill — to kill it dead — and rifle it to all four corners of the field with laserlike accuracy. The gap between the iconic teams and the middling powers has never been narrower, which is why the group stage of this World Cup was so thrillingly unpredictable and why two of the four semifinalists, Croatia and crowd favorite Morocco, came from outside the traditional elite. This was the globalization of the game at work, greased by enormous pools of cash. It was evident in everything from the quality of the players, each of whom represents an investment in cutting-edge training and nutritional technology, to the ubiquitous haircut of the tournament: high and very tight on the sides, as if every player were a Navy Seal, an assassin.

The players may be less distinctive than they used to be, more like interchangeable parts of the streamlined soccer machine, but they are certainly stronger, faster, better. The teams, too, are less idiosyncratic, less animated by any sense of national style or identity. The greatest tactical advances of the 21st century have come out of Spain (possession play, i.e., “tiki taka,” personified by former Barcelona and current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola) and Germany (the intense press and counter-press, what the Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp calls “heavy metal football”), and every team now deploys some combination of these philosophies. Japan’s first goal against Spain came from a very high press, which ironically enough was designed originally to break tiki taka’s stranglehold on the game. Brazil had the best squad of the tournament, maybe one of the best ever, but essentially played European-style soccer with its Europe-based players. The team added a touch of Brazilian flair, just as Serbia has its grit and Germany its die Mannschaft ethos and the U.S. its chip on the shoulder, but this is all seasoning. It should be noted that nearly half of Japan’s squad plies their trade in Germany.

11) Enjoyed this, even though I disagreed with many, “An Unofficial Ranking of the 10 Most Annoying Kids’ Toys”

12) So, “How Important Is Stretching, Really?” Not very!  Never bothered and not going to start.

13) This is true, “ChatGPT’s Fluent BS Is Compelling Because Everything Is Fluent BS”

All of this makes playing around with ChatGPT incredibly fun, charmingly addictive, and—as someone who writes for a living—really quite worrying. But you soon start to sense a lack of depth beneath ChatGPT’s competent prose. It makes factual errors, conflating events and mixing people up. It relies heavily on tropes and cliché, and it echoes society’s worst stereotypes. Its words are superficially impressive but largely lacking in substance—ChatGPT mostly produces what The Verge has described as “fluent bullshit.”

But that kind of makes sense. ChatGPT was trained on real-world text, and the real world essentially runs on fluent bullshit. Maybe the plausibility of a made-up movie like Oil and Darkness comes not because AI is so good, but because the film industry is so bad at coming up with original ideas. In a way, when you ask an AI to make you a movie, it’s just mimicking the formulaic process by which many Hollywood blockbusters get made: Look around, see what’s been successful, lift elements of it (actors, directors, plot structures) and mash them together into a shape that looks new but actually isn’t. 

It’s the same in publishing, where narrow trends can sweep the industry and dominate for years at a time, lining bookshop shelves with covers that look the same or titles with the same rhythm: A Brief History of Seven KillingsThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleThe Seven Moons of Maali AlmeidaThe Seven Lives of Seven Killers. (ChatGPT made that last one up.)

And it’s not just the creative industries. Fluent bullshit is everywhere: in viral LinkedIn posts and rules for life podcasts, in fundraising decks and academic journals, even in this article itself. Politics and business are full of people who have risen to the top because they’re able to stand in front of a room and ad-lib plausibly at length without saying anything real. Prestigious schools and universities structure education in a way that teaches people one skill: how to very quickly absorb information, confidently regurgitate it in a predetermined format, and then immediately forget it and move on to something else. Those who succeed spill out into government, consultancy, and yes, journalism.

14) Eric Levitz with absolutely the best take on the twitter files, “The ‘Twitter Files’ Is What It Claims to Expose”

15) I find Ron DeSantis‘ rabid anti-vax actions so thoroughly depressing about what they say about the Republican Party and the, supposedly, more sane alternative to Trump:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024, is escalating his campaign to discredit the Covid-19 vaccines, the drug companies that produced them, and the public health officials and government leaders who urged Americans to get them.

Florida under DeSantis has been home base for anti-vaccine, anti-mask, and anti-lockdown policies in the past three years. His administration sought to block cities and universities from imposing mask and vaccine mandates; his surgeon general drew widespread criticism this fall for urging young men not to get vaccinated. This week, DeSantis hosted a 90-minute panel discussion filled with experts questioning the efficacy of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines and touting their potential dangers for some people, while alleging a vague conspiracy exists to hide that information from the public.

Now he is taking this crusade to the next level, asking the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury charged with investigating any wrongdoing related to the promotion and distribution of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

16) Really interesting analysis suggesting the electoral college doesn’t have a Republican bias, so much as a Trump bias (all the more reason to get rid of it!)

But Trump has an ace up his sleeve if an “electability” debate emerges in the GOP primaries: the electoral college.

Trump has proven that he can win 270 electoral votes even when Democrats win the popular vote. If Republicans choose DeSantis or some other Trump alternative, that edge might shrink — or even disappear.

Trump has a three-point electoral college advantage. That makes him electable.

Trump’s electoral college advantage comes through most clearly when we compare the “tipping point” or “pivotal” state to the national popular vote.

In 2016, Wisconsin was the tipping point state: That is, if every state was lined up from Trump’s best to his worst, Wisconsin was the state that got him past the 270 electoral votes and into the White House.

Trump took Wisconsin by one percentage point while losing the national popular vote by two percentage points — adding up to an electoral college advantage of about three points.

In 2020, Trump again had a three point advantage: He lost the popular vote to Joe Biden by 4.5 points while losing Pennsylvania (that year’s pivotal state) by only about one point.

In historical terms, that’s a strong advantage…

In most elections, the electoral college bias doesn’t matter: The results in the key state only slightly differ from the national popular vote margin, and the popular vote winner takes the White House. But Trump’s electoral college edge let him stay competitive even as he lost the popular vote by millions…

When Trump is off the ballot, the GOP loses its electoral college edge

In 2018 and 2022 — two elections where Trump was off the ballot — the Republican Party didn’t do as well in key electoral college states.

In the 2022 House elections, Republicans won the national vote by roughly 1.8 percentage points after adjusting for uncontested seats (that is, simulating what would have happened if every district featured a normal Republican vs. Democrat race). But in Wisconsin — the pivotal state in both 2016 and 2020 — the GOP won the adjusted House vote by 2.8 percentage points (that is, simulating what would have happened if every district featured a normal Republican vs. Democrat race using the procedure described here).

The House vote — even after adjusting for uncontested seats — isn’t perfectly comparable to the presidential vote. But it’s the closest substitute we have. And when Trump was off the ballot in 2022, the House Republicans beat their popular vote margin by about a point in the key swing states.

That’s a steep decline from Trump’s three-point edge…

Put simply, when Trump has been on the ballot, the GOP has had an edge in the most important electoral college states. When he’s gone, that extra boost has disappeared.

17) Paul Waldman, “Republicans have a new version of ‘Lock her up!’”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, no Donald Trump rally was complete without chants of “Lock her up!” shouted with a wild glee. Whenever Hillary Clinton’s name was mentioned, Trump’s supporters indulged in a vivid fantasy, one that saw Clinton arrested, handcuffed and tossed behind bars. It was not enough to defeat her in the election;she had to be punished, in a very personal and physical way.

Versions of that fantasy are becoming more common on the right, not just among the rank and file but from Republican leaders, conservative media figures and right-wing celebrities. Though liberals are not immune to the impulse, conservatives are usually most eager to contemplate deploying the criminal justice system against their foes.

This desire isn’t really about the actual procedures of that system. It’s about the fantasy itself, one that thrums with an undercurrent of violence…

But lately, politics hasn’t offered conservatives much satisfaction. They keep coming up short in elections, and even after four years of the Trump presidency, the things they hate about American politics and American life, particularly the very existence of liberals and liberalism, did not disappear.

It’s frustrating for them — and more frustration is on the way. Having won control of the House, Republicans canmount as many investigations of Hunter Biden as they please, or try to impeach the secretary of homeland security. But none of that will amount to much; it certainly won’t make them feel as though they’ve vanquished the left once and for all.

18) Good stuff from Nick Kristoff on the West and Ukraine:

The fundamental misconception among many congressional Republicans (and some progressives on the left) is that we’re doing Ukraine a favor by sending it weapons. Not so. We are holding Ukraine’s coat as it is sacrificing lives and infrastructure in ways that benefit us, by degrading Russia’s military threat to NATO and Western Europe — and thus to us.

“They’re doing us a favor; they’re fighting our fight,” Wesley Clark, the retired American general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. “The fight in Ukraine is a fight about the future of the international community.”

If the war ends in a way favorable to Russia, he argues, it will be a world less safe for Americans. One lesson the world would absorb would be the paramount importance of possessing nuclear weapons, for Ukraine was invaded after it gave up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s — and Russia’s nuclear warheads today prevent a stronger Western military response.

“If Ukraine falls, there will certainly be a wave of nuclear proliferation,” Clark warned.

For years, military strategists have feared a Russian incursion into Estonia that would challenge NATO and cost lives of American troops. Ukrainians are weakening Russia’s forces so as to reduce that risk.

More broadly, perhaps the single greatest threat to world peace in the coming decade is the risk of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait that escalates into a war between America and China. To reduce that danger, we should help Taiwan build up its deterrent capacity — but perhaps the simplest way to reduce the likelihood of Xi Jinping acting aggressively is to stand united against Russia’s invasion. If the West falters and allows Putin to win in Ukraine, Xi will feel greater confidence that he can win in Taiwan.

Putin has been a destabilizing and brutal bully for many years — from Chechnya to Syria, Georgia to Moldova — partly because the world has been unwilling to stand up to him and partly because he possesses a powerful military force that Ukraine is now dismantling. Aside from energy, Russia’s economy is not substantial.

“Putin and Russia are weak,” Viktor Yushchenko, a former Ukrainian president who challenged Russia and then was mysteriously poisoned and disfigured, told me. “Russia is a poor country, an oil appendage to the world, a gas station.”

The world owes Ukraine for its willingness to finally stand up to Putin. If anything, I’d like to see the Biden administration carefully ratchet up the capabilities of the weaponry it supplies Ukraine, for it may be that the best way to end the war is simply to ensure that Putin finds the cost of it no longer worth paying.

19) Fascinating stuff in Wired, “There’s a New Explanation for ‘Genetic’ Trait Pairs: Your Parents
For years, researchers thought characteristics like weight and education had shared genetic roots. The real answer might lie in how people choose to pair up.”

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING, MORE educated people tend to weigh less. That correlation alone, though, doesn’t really tell you much—you could make a parlor game out of coming up with plausible explanations. Maybe the reason is that more educated people have access to healthier foods. Maybe it’s because people who are bullied about their weight are more likely to leave school. Or maybe the people who can afford college tuition and the people who can afford gym memberships are one and the same.

In 2015, a study in Nature Genetics introduced a surprising new possibility: Perhaps weight and education are so intimately connected because they share some of the same genetic roots. Using enormous collections of genetic data, the study’s authors searched for pairs of traits that were correlated with the same genes. For each pair they calculated a metric called “genetic correlation,” which quantifies just how similar the whole set of genes linked to one trait is to that linked to another trait. A smattering of trait pairs popped out as having significant genetic correlations, among them body mass index (BMI) and years of education—as well as more obvious pairs, like depression and anxiety, or type 2 diabetes and blood glucose levels. (Researchers have since tried to explain the apparent genetic link between weight and education by suggesting that people who are genetically predisposed to be better decision makers, and are presumably successful in the classroom, are more likely to adopt healthy lifestyles.)

Compared to simpler, behavioral explanations, such genetic explanations might sound far-fetched. But the data would seem to offer few other alternatives. Genes, after all, have an unquestionable primacy. If the same genes are associated with both education and BMI, it stands to reason that those traits must have intertwined biological roots. 

Now, a new study in Science shows that this idea is illusory. It suggests that geneticists must also consider what comes before people’s genes: their parents. Even if two traits are statistically associated with the same genes, they might not have any true genetic overlap: That same pattern can also appear if people with those traits tend to mate with each other. (This is called “cross-trait assortative mating.”)

 For example, people with many years of education, who are likely to be of a higher social class, tend to seek out partners who display markers of social standing like a low BMI, and vice versa. Their children will then have genes linked to both high education and low weight. If this happens repeatedly across a population, the two traits will appear to share some of the same genetic causes, because the traits and genes will co-occur so frequently. In reality, they will have been inherited from different sides of the family…

But Howe’s study didn’t explain exactly how parents played a role. There were some promising possibilities. Parents don’t just pass down genes to their kids—they also pass down their socioeconomic status, which has consequences for both schooling and diet. And, of course, parents typically choose whom they reproduce with. Loic Yengo, group leader of the Statistical Genomics Laboratory at the University of Queensland, says that geneticists had realized that cross-trait assortative mating could—in theory—inflate genetic correlations. But no one had yet produced concrete evidence that it did. 

Border and his colleagues found that evidence. Studying cross-trait assortative mating in detail requires knowing how much it actually happens in the real world. It seems reasonable that depressed people might end up with anxious people due to their shared experience of living with a mental illness, or that educated people would tend to marry people who got high scores on IQ tests, but Border needed to put numbers on those trends. The team was able to find the information they needed in the UK Biobank, an enormous dataset that comprises genetic, medical, and demographic data about hundreds of thousands of UK residents. They found that the more often people who had a particular pair of traits tended to couple up, the more those traits seemed to be genetically correlated. It was reasonable to suspect, then, that assortative mating was in fact making some genetic correlations appear stronger than they would otherwise be.

20) Sad but true… people in the American South are, on average, much worse dog owners:

NASHVILLE — As the documentary “Free Puppies” opens, a fluffy dog named Albert is galloping down a beach boardwalk. His companion, a much bigger dog, is leaping with excitement, but Albert is harnessed into a dog wheelchair. He was found on the side of a road in Arkansas, “either thrown out of a car or hit by a car,” a voice-over tells us. “We brought him up on one of those pet carriers that come up with tons of animals from the South.” Albert’s wheelchair bears a miniature Connecticut license plate.

This little dog is one of millions of pets transported from the American South to places in the Northeast and Midwest with fewer adoptable animals — communities where there are well funded animal-welfare agencies, stricter leash laws, a shorter breeding season and weather harsh enough that fewer strays survive.

Widespread animal relocation began in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina, according to Karen Walsh, the senior director of animal relocation at the A.S.P.C.A. “When we saw how many people were willing to step up and help an animal that had lost their home in Katrina, that idea grew,” she says in the film. “Animals started to flow across the country.”

Only a fraction of the needy pets here are cute enough or young enough to be easily placed this way — often based solely on a rescue organization’s website or social media feeds. So “Adopt, don’t shop” has become a national mantra among pet rescue advocates working desperately to reduce the number of animals euthanized in overcrowded shelters or left to starve on their own. Most of those doomed pets live in the South.

21) Fellow ChatGPT lovers will enjoy this, “How to Get the Most Out of ChatGPT”

22) And this still seems like magic to me, “OpenAI Has the Key To Identify ChatGPT’s Writing
They’ll add a secret watermark to the AI’s creations. Will they share the means to see it?”

As Aaronson says, an invisible “conceptual” watermark is what they need to make it “much harder to take a GPT output and pass it off as if it came from a human.” This feature could prevent misinformation, plagiarism, impersonation, cheating, etc., because what most malicious use cases share is that the user has to “conceal[] ChatGPT’s involvement.”

OpenAI already has a “working prototype” that he says “seems to work pretty well:”

“Empirically, a few hundred tokens seem to be enough to get a reasonable signal that yes, this text came from GPT. In principle, you could even take a long text and isolate which parts probably came from GPT and which parts probably didn’t.”

This means a couple of paragraphs are enough to tell if the content came from ChatGPT or not.

(Note that Aaronson doesn’t refer to ChatGPT explicitly but to a generic “GPT”. My guess is that all of OpenAI’s language models will integrate the watermarking scheme, likely including the next iteration of ChatGPT.)

Although the specifics of how the mechanism works are too technical to cover here (if you’re interested, check out Aaronson’s blog. It’s very good!), it’s worth mentioning a few relevant details buried in the jargon:

First, users won’t have the means to see the watermark (DALL-E’s, on the contrary, was visible and easily removable) unless OpenAI shares the key. I doubt anyone will find a direct way to remove it.

However, second, although the watermark it’s hard to bypass with trivial approaches (e.g. remove/insert words or rearrange paragraphs), it’s possible (e.g. Aaronson mentions that paraphrasing ChatGPT’s outputs with another AI would remove the watermark just fine).

Third, only OpenAI knows the key. They can share it with whoever they want so third parties can, too, assess the provenance of a given piece of text.

Finally, what I consider the most critical aspect of this: the watermark won’t work with open-source models because anyone could go into the code and remove the function (the watermark isn’t inside the model, but as a “wrapper” over it).

23) I really enjoyed learning about the physics and engineering of air conditioning in Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.

24) Great stuff from Scott Alexander on ChatGPT and the alignment problem, “Perhaps It Is A Bad Thing That The World’s Leading AI Companies Cannot Control Their AIs”

Probably the reason they released this bot to the general public was to use us as free labor to find adversarial examples – prompts that made their bot behave badly. We found thousands of them, and now they’re busy RLHFing those particular failure modes away.

Some of the RLHF examples will go around and around in circles, making the bot more likely to say helpful/true/inoffensive things at the expense of true/inoffensive/helpful ones. Other examples will be genuinely enlightening, and make it a bit smarter. While OpenAI might never get complete alignment, maybe in a few months or years they’ll approach the usual level of computer security, where Mossad and a few obsessives can break it but everyone else grudgingly uses it as intended.

This strategy might work for ChatGPT3, GPT-4, and their next few products. It might even work for the drone-mounted murderbots, as long as they leave some money to pay off the victims’ families while they’re collecting enough adversarial examples to train the AI out of undesired behavior. But as soon as there’s an AI where even one failure would be disastrous – or an AI that isn’t cooperative enough to commit exactly as many crimes in front of the police station as it would in a dark alley – it falls apart.

People have accused me of being an AI apocalypse cultist. I mostly reject the accusation. But it has a certain poetic fit with my internal experience. I’ve been listening to debates about how these kinds of AIs would act for years. Getting to see them at last, I imagine some Christian who spent their whole life trying to interpret Revelation, watching the beast with seven heads and ten horns rising from the sea. “Oh yeah, there it is, right on cue; I kind of expected it would have scales, and the horns are a bit longer than I thought, but overall it’s a pretty good beast.”

This is how I feel about AIs trained by RLHF. Ten years ago, everyone was saying “We don’t need to start solving alignment now, we can just wait until there are real AIs, and let the companies making them do the hard work.” A lot of very smart people tried to convince everyone that this wouldn’t be enough. Now there’s a real AI, and, indeed, the company involved is using the dumbest possible short-term strategy, with no incentive to pivot until it starts failing.

I’m less pessimistic than some people, because I hope the first few failures will be small – maybe a stray murderbot here or there, not a planet-killer. If I’m right, then a lot will hinge on whether AI companies decide to pivot to the second-dumbest strategy, or wake up and take notice.

Finally, as I keep saying, the people who want less racist AI now, and the people who want to not be killed by murderbots in twenty years, need to get on the same side right away. The problem isn’t that we have so many great AI alignment solutions that we should squabble over who gets to implement theirs first. The problem is that the world’s leading AI companies do not know how to control their AIs. Until we solve this, nobody is getting what they want.

25) Good take from Chait on Sinema going Independent, “Kyrsten Sinema Is Playing Chicken Going independent is a way to force Democrats to back her.”

Sinema’s declaration of independence from the party is a ploy to avoid the primary and keep her job. Democrats could still run a candidate against her in the general election, of course, but they would face an extremely difficult prospect of winning. So her calculation in leaving the party is that she can bluff it into sitting out the campaign altogether, endorsing her as the lesser-evil choice against the Republican nominee.

It may work. If it doesn’t, it is because Sinema has underestimated just how much ill will she has generated across the breadth of the Democratic Party by reconceptualizing her role as the personal concierge of the superrich.

26) And Yglesias from last year on just why Sinema is so awful.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I read this advice about exercising with a cold years ago and it’s worked well for me:

Before you don your workout gear, assess your symptoms carefully. “The most popular advice is to do what’s referred to as the neck check, where if symptoms are above the neck, exercise is probably safe,” said Thomas Weidner, a professor of athletic training and chair emeritus of the school of kinesiology at Ball State University in Indiana. If your only symptoms are nasal congestion and a low-grade headache, for example, a light workout shouldn’t make your cold worse.

In fact, a landmark study that demonstrated this was led by Dr. Weidner in the 1990s. In it, 50 young adults were infected with the common cold virus and randomly split into two groups: one that did 40 minutes of moderate exercise every other day for 10 days, and one that didn’t exercise at all. The researchers found that there was no difference in illness length or severity between the two groups — meaning that working out moderately did not prolong or exacerbate their colds. Other research done by Dr. Weidner has led to similar findings.

If, however, you do have symptoms below the neck, such as a hacking cough, chest discomfort, nausea, diarrhea or body-wide symptoms like fever, muscle aches or fatigue, “then it’s not a good idea to exercise,” Jeffrey Woods, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said via email.

2) Drum on crime and perceptions of crime:

I’ve written a lot about crime over the past month or so. Here’s a summary of the most important bits. First, crime has gone down steadily over the past decade. Property crime continued to go down in 2021 while violent crime remained stable.

In 2022, the largest cities in the US almost all reported lower murder rates and only smallish increases in violent crime. New York City is the sole outlier, and its numbers are iffy.

If there’s nevertheless a genuine fear of rising crime, it should show up in concrete actions taken by consumers. But it doesn’t. Google searches for home security devices have gone steadily down over the past few years.

Perception of rising crime is highly partisan and very recent. It started among Republicans in 2021, after Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Taking all parties together, overall perceptions of crime have been down consistently over the past decade. This changed only in 2022, when news media reports and Republican campaign ads began to insist that crime was out of control this year even though every indicator suggests that property crime is down and violent crime is up only slightly.

The Gallup poll results are easily explained. Fox News cynically began running sensationalized reports on violent crime beginning in 2021, and then almost instantly pulled back after the midterm elections of 2022 were over.

Bottom line:

  • Property crime is down over the past decade and has continued to fall this year.
  • Violent crime is also down over the past decade and is up only slightly this year.
  • Perceptions of crime were consistently modest during this time.
  • Perceptions changed only after Joe Biden took office. This was thanks to deliberate manipulation of crime coverage from Fox News.

3) Patrick Sharkey, “The Crime Spike Is No Mystery: By zooming out and looking at the big picture, the question of what causes violence becomes quite answerable.”

Why are some American neighborhoods so vulnerable to so much violence?

To answer this question requires thinking less in terms of months and years, and more in terms of decades. It requires thinking less about specific neighborhoods and cities where violence is common, and more about larger metropolitan areas where inequality is extreme and the affluent live separated from the poor. And it requires thinking less about individual criminals and victims, and more about bigger social forces, including demographic shifts, changes in urban labor markets, and social policies implemented by states and the federal government. All told, nearly six decades of data on violence in Chicago’s neighborhoods point to an unmistakable conclusion: Producing a sustained reduction in violence may not be possible without addressing extreme, persistent segregation by race, ethnicity, and income…

If this all seems far removed from the people wielding guns in cities like Chicago; Portland, Oregon; and Philadelphia, it is. The forces that have left American neighborhoods vulnerable to rising violence are entirely distinct from the people who live in those neighborhoods.

The young men who are most likely to be the victims or perpetrators of gun violence weren’t alive when the United States began to disinvest in central cities. In the decades during and after the Great Migration of Black Americans out of the rural South, federal dollars built our interstate highway system, insured home mortgages, and subsidized a large-scale movement of white people and other high-income segments of the population out of central cities. You needed money to buy a car in order to move to a house in the suburbs and commute into the city. And in many new housing developments, you needed to be white to be eligible to purchase a home or get a loan. New suburbs and exurbs outside Chicago and St. Louis quickly established zoning codes that would not allow for apartments or other forms of affordable housing to be built, meaning local property taxes would fund services only for relatively well-off residents. As the most advantaged segments of the urban population moved elsewhere, the share of city budgets funded by the federal government dwindled and political influence in state legislatures shifted away from the cities…

Let me be clear: It is important to find out what is driving this latest rise in gun violence, and to develop targeted responses in the neighborhoods where violence is concentrated—I am, in fact, devoting the next several years of my research to this question. But it is equally important to ask why the same neighborhoods have had the highest level of violence.

Analyzing the short-term fluctuations along with the long-term vulnerability allows us to move beyond the simplistic idea that to deal with violence, we must choose between an approach that addresses “root causes” and one that attempts to “stop the bleeding.” The long view tells us that disinvestment in communities, concentrated disadvantage, the disintegration of core community institutions of support, an overreliance on the institutions of punishment, and an unfathomable and unregulated supply of guns have created neighborhoods vulnerable to violence. In those vulnerable neighborhoods, a shorter-term perspective reveals how shifts in the local social order, policy tweaks, shocks such as crack cocaine and an influx of guns, and other micro changes—a new boys’ and girls’ club opens; a tenants’-rights group organizes an effort to mobilize against guns in a housing development; a violence-interruption organization loses funding; an abandoned building is razed—can lead to declines and spikes in violence.

4) It seems preposterous to me that the parents of a suicide victim should sue the university that punished a student before the suicide for wrongful death. 

5) This is cool, “To Ditch Pesticides, Scientists Are Hacking Insects’ Sex Signals: It’s now possible to mass-produce pheromones that keep insects from breeding near crops—protecting cereals and other staples with fewer chemicals.”

Female insects can attract partners in complete darkness without any audible signal, and over hundreds of meters—sometimes over a kilometer—using sex pheromones. Males track the smell of these chemical signals and mate with the females they’re led to, who then lay eggs that hatch into hungry larvae. It’s an incredible chemical power—and one that can be exploited.

“We can apply artificial pheromone compounds into the field, which will be released everywhere in the air and cover the original signal from the real female,” says Hong-Lei Wang, a researcher in the pheromone group at Lund University in Sweden. This blanket cover of the sex scent makes it harder for males to find females and mate, he explains, and so the insect population falls, meaning fewer pests in the area to cause crop damage.

Farmers have been using artificial pheromones this way for decades—but up until now, costs have limited how widely they’re used. Creating artificial pheromones has been pretty expensive, so it’s only made economic sense to use them to protect high-value crops, such as fruits. But now Wang and his colleagues have uncovered a way to affordably and sustainably produce pheromones that attract pests that eat cheaper crops, such as cabbage and beans, opening the door for pheromone-based pest control to be used more widely. 

6) Who knew we had a tree problem? “America’s Billion-Dollar Tree Problem Is Spreading: Grasslands are being overrun by drought-resistant invaders that wreck animal habitats, suck up water supplies, and can cost landowners a fortune.”

FAST-GROWING, DROUGHT-TOLERANT TREES are slowly spreading across grasslands on every continent except Antarctica. Given how desperate we are to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, millions of new saplings sprouting each year might seem like a good thing. But in reality, their spread across vulnerable grasslands and shrublands is upending ecosystems and livelihoods. As these areas transform into woodland, wildlife disappears, water supplies dwindle, and soil health suffers. The risk of catastrophic wildfire also skyrockets.

In a new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers have shown how woodland expansion also takes an economic toll. American ranchers often depend on tree-free rangelands to raise their livestock. Between 1990 and 2019, landowners in the Western US lost out on nearly $5 billion worth of forage—the plants that cattle or sheep eat—because of the growth of new trees. The amount of forage lost over those three decades equates to 332 million tons, or enough hay bales to circle the globe 22 times.

“Grasslands are the most imperiled and least protected terrestrial ecosystem,” says Rheinhardt Scholtz, a global change biologist and affiliate researcher with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also called steppes, pampas, or plains, our planet’s grasslands have dwindled drastically. According to Scholtz, less than 10 percent are still intact, as most have been plowed under for crops or bulldozed for human development. One of the most dire threats facing the grasslands that remain is woody encroachment. “It’s a slow and silent killer,” Scholtz says. 


Historically, tree expansion onto grasslands was checked by regular fires, which relegated woody species to wet or rocky places. But as European settlers suppressed fires and planted thousands of trees to provide windbreaks for their homes and livestock, trees proliferated. When trees invade grasslands, they outcompete native grasses and wildflowers by stealing the lion’s share of sunlight and water. Birds, often used as a bellwether for ecosystem health, are sounding the alarm: North America’s grassland bird populations have declined more than 50 percent since 1970, a 2019 study in Science found. 

According to University of Montana researcher Scott Morford, who led the study on rangeland forage loss, tree cover has increased by 50 percent across the western half of the US over the past 30 years, with tree cover expanding steadily year on year. In total, close to 150,000 km2 of once tree-free grasslands have been converted into woodland. “That means we’ve already lost an area the size of Iowa to trees,” says Morford, who emphasizes that an additional 200,000 km2 of tree-free rangelands—an area larger than the state of Nebraska—are “under immediate threat” because they are close to seed sources.

7) Should you stop washing your hands? No.  Does washing them protect you from respiratory viruses? Also no.

And then we learned we’d had it all backwards. The virus didn’t spread much via surfaces; it spread through the air. We came to understand the danger of indoor spaces, the importance of ventilation, and the difference between a cloth mask and an N95. Meanwhile, we mostly stopped talking about hand-washing. The days when you could hear people humming “Happy Birthday” in public restrooms quickly disappeared. And wiping down packages and ostentatious workplace-disinfection protocols became a matter of lingering hygiene theater.

This whole episode was among the stranger and more disorienting shifts of the pandemic. Sanitization, that great bastion of public health, saved lives; actually, no, it didn’t matter that much for COVID. On one level, this about-face should be seen as a marker of good scientific progress, but it also raises a question about the sorts of acts we briefly thought were our best available defense against the virus. If hand-washing isn’t as important as we thought it was in March 2020, how important is it?

Any public-health expert will be quick to tell you that, please, yes, you should still wash your hands. Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, considers it “commonsense hygiene” for protecting us against a range of viruses spread through close contact and touch, such as gastrointestinal viruses. Also, let’s be honest: It’s gross to use the bathroom and then refuse to wash, whether or not you’re going to give someone COVID.

Even so, the pandemic has piled on evidence that the transmission of the coronavirus via fomites—that is, inanimate contaminated objects or surfaces—plays a much smaller role, and airborne transmission a much larger one, than we once thought. And the same likely goes for other respiratory pathogens, such as influenza and the coronaviruses that cause the common cold, Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer and aerosols expert at Virginia Tech, told me…

The upshot, for Goldman, is that surface transmission of respiratory pathogens is “negligible,” probably accounting for less than .01 percent of all infections. If correct, this would mean that your chance of catching the flu or a cold by touching something in the course of daily life is virtually nonexistent. Goldman acknowledged that there’s a “spectrum of opinion” on the matter. Marr, for one, would not go quite so far: She’s confident that more than half of respiratory-pathogen transmission is airborne, though she said she wouldn’t be surprised if the proportion is much, much higher—the only number she would rule out is 100 percent.

For now, it’s important to avoid binary thinking on the matter, Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University, told me. Fomites, airborne droplets, smaller aerosol particles—all modes of transmission are possible. And the proportional breakdown will not be the same in every setting, Seema Lakdawa, a flu-transmission expert at Emory University, told me. Fomite transmission might be negligible at a grocery store, but that doesn’t mean it’s negligible at a day care, where kids are constantly touching things and sneezing on things and sticking things in their mouths. The corollary to this idea is that certain infection-prevention strategies prove highly effective in one context but not in another: Frequently disinfecting a table in a preschool classroom might make a lot of sense; frequently disinfecting the desk in your own private cubicle, less so.

8) I was so excited to watch “Confess, Fletch.”  I love Fletch and I love Jon Hamm.  But just so poorly written

9) Good stuff from Tom Nichols, “To Putin, Brittney Griner Is a Pawn. To the U.S., She’s a Person.: Russia will regard any prisoner swap as a propaganda win. But the real message we can proclaim is about American values.”

Putin probably sees this trade, if it happens, as a double win for Russia. Moscow gets a shady but loyal arms dealer back on the roster for the price of two wrongly imprisoned Americans, one of whom the Russian media will spin as a spy and the other as an example of a decadent culture. In the Kremlin’s eyes, we recover two worthless people while it gains a top-shelf criminal asset. And they get to remind Russians that America is the kind of place where the president of the United States will go the distance for someone whom most Russians would regard with contempt.

So be it. Russia is at war with the entire international order at this point, and allowing Putin to indulge in some cheap racism and spy hysteria is a small price to pay for the release of unjustly imprisoned Americans. Unlike Russia, we make the effort to care about all Americans, wherever they are. Often, both at home and abroad, we fail in that effort, but we start from the proposition that our citizens are not merely disposable pawns.

In a just world, Bout would rot in a U.S. federal prison. But his sentence is not worth the lives of any Americans we can get released from Russia. And Bout, if he is sent back home, will go back to the life of a man who lives among enemies and bodyguards, a world in which today’s friends are tomorrow’s assassins. If we can bring Griner and Whelan home, maybe Bout’s exile back to Russia will be a fitting and just exchange, after all.

10) Apparently bodybuilders are just dying all the time because of the drugs they regularly subject their bodies to.  It just seems so nuts to me.  I could kind of get it if you were taking these kind of health risks to win the Tour de France or be a multi-million dollar pro athlete.  But to do it for some completely niche sport where the vast majority of the public just thinks you’re some kind of freak?  What the hell, man.

11) Great midterm analysis from Nate Cohn, “Turnout by Republicans Was Great. It’s Just That Many of Them Didn’t Vote for Republicans.”

In state after state, the final turnout data shows that registered Republicans turned out at a higher rate — and in some places a much higher rate — than registered Democrats, including in many of the states where Republicans were dealt some of their most embarrassing losses.

Instead, high-profile Republicans like Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona lost because Republican-leaning voters decided to cast ballots for Democrats, even as they voted for Republican candidates for U.S. House or other down-ballot races in their states.

Georgia is a fine example. While Mr. Walker may blame turnout for his poor showing in November and earlier this week, other Republican candidates seemed to have no problem at all. Gov. Brian Kemp won by nearly eight points over Stacey Abrams; Republican candidates for House won the most votes on the same day.

Yet Senator Raphael Warnock won in Georgia anyway because a large group of voters willing to back other Republicans weren’t willing to back Mr. Walker.

The final turnout figures make it clear that Republicans — including Mr. Walker — benefited from very favorable turnout last month. Unlike in recent years, Republican primary voters were likelier to vote than Democrats (by a modest margin). Meanwhile, the white turnout rate exceeded the Black turnout rate by the widest margin since 2006.

We went back and looked at the respondents to our pre-election Times/Siena survey, and matched them to post-election vote turnout records. We found that the respondents who said they backed Mr. Walker were actually likelier to vote than those who said they backed Mr. Warnock…

It’s fair to say voters in these key states probably preferred Republican control of government, in no small part because more Republicans showed up to vote. They just didn’t find Republican candidates they wanted to support at the top of the ticket.

12) Loved this from Derek Thompson on breakthroughs of the year.  Yes, AI is number one.

Penalty kicks are not actually soccer; let’s make them better

Perhaps the only thing worse is the fact that all of Quidditch is sound and fury signifying nothing until the golden snitch is caught.  And, at least that’s fictional.  I hate penalty kicks with a burning hot passion, and not just as a way to end close games.  

Of course, I forgot I had written about this just a couple weeks ago, but, after two games decided upon today I had to do it again.  Somehow, I had not come across this great article from back in March.  And it’s great, because I came to roughly the same idea independently:

A corner kick has about a two per cent chance of leading to a goal. A penalty kick? 78 per cent. You don’t need a PhD in statistics to spot the problem here.

The officials turned a low-stakes passage of play into a potential title-deciding event, making the attack somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 times more dangerous. They did this based on a VAR call that might as well have been a coin flip. And we all eventually forgot about it because — here’s the bizarre thing about this sport — this happens all the time.

Almost every penalty rewards the attacking team with a vastly higher chance of scoring than they would have otherwise had. Just take a look at where the ball was before the last decade’s worth of Premier League penalties…

It’s hard to say why penalties are tilted toward the left side of the box (something about all the right-footed shooters, maybe?). The more important thing to notice here is how far from goal the ball typically is when the whistle blows. If every penalty had been a shot instead, less than one in a hundred would have been as valuable as the 0.78 xG that shooters enjoy from the penalty spot…

There’s a way to measure that, too.

Possession value models estimate how likely a team is to go on to score from their current situation. Using a simple version by Manchester City’s own AI scientist Laurie Shaw, we can get a feel for an attack’s eventual goal probability based on where the ball was at the time of the penalty.

The story is pretty much the same as before. Out of more than 900 penalties since 2011-12, only a handful of them come anywhere close to a penalty’s 78 per cent chance of scoring. In fact, due to the chance that the attack will turn the ball over before taking a shot, the model’s scale of possible possession values doesn’t even go up that high.

This is back-of-the-napkin math, so we shouldn’t take the median 0.06 possession value as gospel. Our model only knows the location of the ball, not what’s happening on the pitch, and the co-ordinates of the last event before the whistle don’t necessarily tell us where the attack might have received a pass or broken free into space if not for the penalty. If the foul was even semi-intentional, it was probably because the defender felt like the attack had a good chance of scoring.

But even if we guess that the real value of a possession that draws a penalty is more like the 95th percentile on our curve, that’s still just a 19 per cent chance of scoring — one-quarter as much as a free shot from the spot. Unless an attacker is taking an open shot inside the six-yard box at the time of the foul, there’s basically no situation where a penalty kick makes mathematical sense.

No other sport works like this. Hack a three-point shooter in basketball and they’ll get an equivalent number of free throws that they’re slightly more likely to make. Rough up a quarterback in American football and they’ll get 15 yards and a first down. Referees usually try to make victims whole by giving them a reward just a little bit better than the opportunity that the foul denied them. The effect of an average call on win probabilities is slim to none.

Football’s draconian theory of justice is totally different. Maybe the purpose of penalties is to deter bad behaviour, since referees can’t see everything and fans don’t want a whistle every time the ball gets near the box, or maybe it’s retribution, left over from some 19th-century notion of punishment. Whatever the idea is, multiplying an attack’s goal probability many times over in a sport where goals are few and far between is ridiculously heavy-handed. One refereeing decision routinely changes the whole outcome of the game…

There’s a fairer, way more exciting way to do penalties than spot kicks from 12 yards out: the running 35-yard shootout.

The idea comes from the old North American Soccer League, whose enterprising executives hoped to lure fans to watch the likes of Pele and Johan Cruyff by ridding the sport of un-American draws. Any game that ended level went to a 15-minute ‘mini game’ followed by a penalty shootout. By 1977, though, the league decided even that wasn’t dramatic enough. Penalty kicks were dull and lopsided, tilted too far in the shooter’s favour. Why not settle a football match with something that looked like football?

NASL’s solution was to give each shooter the ball 35 yards from goal, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and allow him five seconds to get a shot off. Shooter and goalkeeper would both take off running toward the top of the box, with the shooter hoping to close the distance before a shot at the buzzer. “It made it seem like it was a breakaway — and the five seconds would sort of simulate the defensive pressure you’d feel on that breakaway,” former NASL assistant commissioner Ted Howard told The Athletic. “Truly, it felt like a moment in an actual game.”

This, this, this.  Like a moment in an actual game.  Penalty kicks are not soccer.  Nowhere else in the game does a shooter have time to simply size up the goal.  There’s no reward for vision, avoiding pressure, technical skill beyond just the kick, etc.  It’s absurd. 

In seemingly making the case for penalty kicks, Adam Serwer again gives the game away at just how dumb this is:

Scoring penalties is a distinct skill from the rest of the sport, more of a mental test than an athletic one. Great players are not necessarily great penalty takers. There are middle-aged retired footballers who can kick a penalty better than 20-year-olds who would break their ankles dribbling past them on the pitch. Scoring penalties is about having ice in your veins, about not cracking under the pressure. 

I don’t care if Messi has ice in his veins or not.  I love watching him because that assist he had today was a feat of vision and technical perfection that was a delight to watch.  That’s why we watch soccer. That’s what should be rewarded. 

This NASL shootout may not be perfect, but it’s pretty damn good.  It is absolutely, recognizably soccer. (Just like I don’t have a problem with NHL shootouts as 1v1 breakaways against the goalie are a regular part of hockey).  I like the idea of even adding a defender– now that’s soccer!  Maybe that would be too hard.  But give me soccer, not a solitary player standing at a spot aiming a kick under no opposition or time pressure.

In a spiel this week, Pesca suggested some modified version of college football overtime where teams get a chance to score in small-sided games– maybe 3 on 2?  I would love something like that.  Again, it’s soccer!!

Yeah, I’ll keep watching, but it’s so frustrating because this sport could be so much better.  


Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been trying my best– to my family’s amusement– to pronounce Qatar with a proper Arabic accent.  

2) Drum on the reality of Republican business interests versus the base on immigration policy:

The Republican Party has long been viewed as a happy collaboration of business conservatives and social conservatives whose interests rarely conflict. Business conservatives want low taxes and less regulation while social conservatives want abortion restrictions, gun rights, and so forth. Both sides can usually ignore the other without a problem.

But what happens on the odd occasion when a real conflict breaks out? Immigration is a great test case. Social conservatives want less of it but business conservatives want continued access to lots of cheap, docile labor. Who wins?

Let’s take a look. Mandatory E-Verify works. This is why business conservatives hate it. Building a wall, by contrast, is little more than emotional symbolism, which is why social conservatives love it and business conservatives don’t care one way or the other.

So what did Donald Trump do? Naturally he built a wall and ignored E-Verify. Business conservatives were happy since they knew the wall was little more than a con with no lasting impact. What did the Florida legislature—which was 70% Republican at last count—do when they were given a choice? They voted down mandatory E-Verify. Business conservatives were satisfied yet again and social conservatives were just sort of confused. They’d been suckered one more time.

So the answer to who really controls the Republican Party is: business conservatives. Nearly everyone who’s really thought about it agrees that the most effective single thing we could do to rein in illegal immigration is to pass mandatory E-Verify at the national level and fund it with fines levied on employers. That would piss off business interests, which is probably the best indication that it’s actually effective. It’s also why it’s consistently dead in the water.

3) Annie Lowrey engages with some really good political science in looking at the reasons for and consequences of our closely-divided electorate:

As Lee shows in Insecure Majorities, such close contests and frequent changeovers in power are a cause of partisan strife. In recent decades, “neither party perceives itself as a permanent majority or permanent minority,” she writes. “This shift altered members’ partisan incentives and strategic choices in ways that help drive the sharp and contentious partisanship that is characteristic of contemporary American politics.” These days, both Republican and Democratic leaders have less incentive to cooperate across the aisle. Why give the other side a legislative victory if you are so close to taking back the House or winning the Senate?

The competitiveness of American elections also seems to have made the government less responsive to the wants and needs of voters—not more so, as you might normally expect. “In the current context, you have party control that hinges on small margins of the vote share in a small number of races,” Sides said. “A narrow shift creates a vast difference in terms of how the country is governed. Is that really what the election mandate was? Is that what voters want? I’m not so sure.”

Never losing by a significant margin or for a long period of time seems to have been bad for the parties themselves as well. Being banished to electoral purgatory every now and then encourages political groups to reform and change. It encourages them to think about their long-term value proposition, not just how to gain a few thousand more votes in Wisconsin. It forces them to adapt to the needs of average voters. Our political climate has diminished that constructive pressure for both sides. (Consider how many times Republicans have ignored their own advice about moderating and being friendlier to voters of color, opting instead to run some version of the “southern strategy” over and over.)

Yet for both sides, being out of power for any considerable amount of time feels like an existential threat. And for both sides, holding power for any considerable amount of time feels like an impossibility. Whatever happens this election, the next is likely to undo some of it—giving voters a greater sense of insecurity and urgency, with so much on the line each and every time.

4) I do think there is value in student evaluations of college teaching, but I also hate the consistent biases we find in them.  These studies are disturbing:

Two new studies on gender bias in student evaluations of teaching look at the phenomenon from fresh—and troubling—angles. One study surveyed students at the beginning of the semester and after their first exam and found that female instructors faced more backlash for grades given than did male instructors. The other study examined how ageism relates to gender bias in student ratings, finding that older female instructors were rated lower than younger women. The second study was longitudinal, so students were rating the same women more poorly over time, even as these professors were gaining teaching experience.

Both studies suggest that as women become more “agentic,” demonstrating agency via stereotypically male-associated traits, they are punished for violating gender norms with lower student ratings.

Whitney Buser, associate director of academic programs in economics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and co-author of the first study, told Inside Higher Ed that she and her colleagues “were unsure if we would find any bias at the beginning of the semester, but we did find a bit. We found that bias widened after receiving grades, making this the first study to our knowledge that confirms that gender bias is fueled by feedback. Our evidence seems to indicate that women receive more backlash for grades than male professors.”

Jennifer A. Chatman, Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the second article, said, “Our findings show that women are rated significantly lower as they age from younger to middle age, with their lowest teaching ratings emerging at age 47. Men do not experience this drop in ratings.”

That gender bias impacts student ratings of instruction is hardly news: much research to this effect already exists. Just a few some examples: a 2014 paper found that students in online classes rated a female teaching assistant more highly when they thought she was a man and a male instructor lower when he assumed a female identity; a 2016 paper found that bias against female instructors was so strong that it impacted students’ perceptions of even seemingly objective measures, such as how quickly assignments are graded; and a 2021 metastudy of more than 100 papers on student evaluations found that while bias levels vary across disciplines, students seem to prefer professors with stereotypically masculine traits but penalize women for not conforming to female stereotypes.

5) Alisdair Munro with a nice piece on how to interpret 95% confidence in statistics:

The 95% CI is one of the most misunderstood results in statistics, and one of the main reasons for this is it is usually taught wrong.

The common understanding of a 95% confidence interval is that there is a 95% chance the true result lies within that range. Let me begin by saying this is false.

However, most explanations of why it is false are unintuitive, and sometimes seem like fastidious and irrelevant technicalities. That is a shame, because in my opinion there is an intuitive way of explaining why this is false, and why it is important to understand it is false…

If some of this has made your head hurt, don’t worry. The specific nuts and bolts are not too important as long as you can take away the following important points

  • In the long run under multiple repetitions, 95% of 95% CIs will contain the true effect

  • The subjective probability of a particular 95% CI containing the true result is not automatically 95%, as it is influenced by what you already knew to be true before the experiment

  • A 95% CI is providing a range of results which are most compatible with the data you observed in the experiment, and is an important indicator of uncertainty around the point estimate

6) Somehow, I never came across this really nice political science piece on originalism.  BB pointed it out to me:

The Republican Party has adopted constitutional “originalism” as its touchstone. Existing accounts of this development tell either a teleological story, with legal academics as the progenitors, or deracialized accounts of conservatives arguing first principles. Exploiting untapped archival data, this paper argues otherwise. Empirically, the paper shows that the realigning GOP’s originalism grew directly out of political resistance to Brown v. Board of Education by conservative governing elites, intellectuals, and activists in the 1950s and 1960s. Building on this updated empirical understanding, the theoretical claim is that ideologically charged elite legal academics and attorneys in Departments of Justice serve more of a legitimating rather than an originating role for American constitutional politics upon a long coalition’s electoral success. Finally, by showing the importance of race to constitutional conservatism’s development, this article posits that the received understanding of a “three-corner stool” of social, economic, and foreign policy conservatism needs revision.

7) Really loved this Athletic piece on elite soccer goalkeeping in the World Cup in the little things that make a big difference. 

8) Some good political science here:

Gender gaps have been documented in numerous areas of American politics, but one area that has not yet been fully explored is responsiveness, the link between citizen preferences and public policies. Equal responsiveness to the preferences of citizens is a central aspect of democratic representation. This article extends work on income gaps in responsiveness to gender gaps. Specifically, it considers whether women’s preferences are less likely than men’s preferences to be adopted as policy in the US. It uses data on preferences and policy adoptions from 1981 to 2002 created by Gilens. The main finding is a large gender gap in responsiveness. The gap is similar in size to the one between rich and poor, it is particularly large in policies related to the use of force, and it did not narrow over the two decades studied. These results show that inequalities beyond social class deserve significant attention in the study of democratic responsiveness and that aspects of bias against women in politics remain underexplored.

9) Nice post-mortem on midterm polling and media coverage of it in Vox. 

In the months leading up to the midterms, many pundits and politicians thought that Republicans had momentum enough for big gains at the state and federal levels, enough to count as a “red wave.” But veteran Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg is one of a few voices in Washington who, despite President Joe Biden’s sagging approval ratings and polls that showed Democrats playing defense on inflation, remained optimistic about the party’s prospects and who was ultimately vindicated by a strong performance.

Rosenberg — who has previously advised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is the president of the progressive think tank NDN — says he’s not in the business of predictions. But he thought that the available data consistently pointed to a competitive election, and he became a self-described “info warrior” on Twitter trying to convince the pundit class of that. He believes that, unlike in 2016 and 2020 when polling failed to register Trump’s strength as a candidate, this time around, it was the media analyzing the polls who got it wrong.

“There was a massive media failure this cycle,” he said. “The failure that just took place is more grave than the polling error [in 2020] because there were a lot of really smart people who basically misled tens of millions of people through their political commentary in the final few weeks.”

It’s hard to know whether there was a practical effect of the doom-and-gloom stories about Democrats in the months before the election — whether it suppressed turnout by demoralizing voters or motivated them to show up because they feared what would happen if they didn’t. But even if any negative effect was small, that might have made a big impact.

“My own view is that it probably net cost us. It could have cost us the House,” Rosenberg said.

Here’s what he thinks went wrong…

Polls were misinterpreted

When the polling averages narrowed in the fall, it was partially because partisan polls commissioned by Republican organizations were bringing them down for Democrats. Rosenberg was one of the first to identify the phenomenon, which he described as an “unprecedented campaign by Republicans to flood the polling averages in the final month to create this impression of the red wave.”

If you were looking at polling averages that included Republican polls, “you were looking at a completely different election than we were looking at,” he added.

When Rosenberg stripped out the partisan polling, he foresaw an election in which New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania were leaning Democrat, Nevada was too close to call, and Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin were leaning a little Republican. That’s consistent with what actually transpired.

It’s not clear whether the onslaught of partisan polls represented a deliberate attempt by Republicans to change the narrative of the election and dampen Democratic enthusiasm. But it may have had an outsized effect on the averages this year because of a lack of public independent polling. As Politico pointed out, big players like NBC News didn’t commission any state midterm polls this year, and the New York Times only did so in four individual House races and five states — far fewer than the number they’ve previously commissioned.

The media was also too reliant on issue polling, which can be misleading if you’re just looking at the aggregate numbers across parties, Rosenberg said. Crime and immigration were among voters’ top issues overall because they are high-priority issues for Republicans. But if Democrats were trying to turn out their own voters, they needed to focus on the issues that matter to them.

In general, it’s also hard to parse issue polling. Voters may say that they care a lot about a whole range of issues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any one of them will impact their decision to vote for a particular candidate or to vote at all.

“This reliance on the most important issue among all voters was playing into Republican talking points,” Rosenberg said.

10) I honestly don’t try all that hard with gifts any more, but this is great advice. Definitely resonates with the best gifts I have given and received. “How to become a truly excellent gift giver: A great present should have at least one of these three qualities. Here’s what they are.”

Because creativity thrives with constraints, Cerulo offered the following three-point framework for thinking about gift-giving: “Can I introduce someone to something they might not otherwise know about? Can I get them a nicer version of something than they would buy for themselves? Or can I make them feel seen?” If you can check one of those three boxes, you’ve probably got a good present on your hands.

11) Interesting stuff here, “The Evolution of ADHD: The advantages of wandering attention.”

  • Psychologists have long debated whether ADHD is a deficit or a distinct cognitive style.
  • A recent review of the evidence suggests that ADHD traits might have helped early humans.
  • This evidence should prompt us to consider how we can change our educational systems to benefit, rather than hinder, this cognitive style.

12) I gotta say, it’s just depressing to me how awful so many men in women sports still routinely are.  I mean, we have come so far and in many ways seems so advanced and enlightened.  But it’s just awful to read about how bad things still are in elite women’s soccer. “As women’s soccer undergoes a historic shift toward gender equity, elite girls’ soccer is still largely controlled by men. The results, women say, are toxic for coaches and players alike.”

American women’s ­professional soccer is in the midst of a cultural sea-change, including an influx of female coaches and team owners and a push toward equity and workplace safety. But for female coaches, elite youth soccer remains male-dominated, with a culture that often veers into sexism, discrimination and even harassment, according to interviews with two dozen current and former coaches at clubs that play in the Elites Club National League, the pinnacle of girls’ soccer in the United States…

But men control ECNL soccer at nearly every level, from executives to club owners to boards and oversight organizations, according to interviews and a review by The Post of coaching rosters and public filings from across the 129 girls’ clubs in the league. Nearly 90 percent of coaching directors at ECNL clubs are men, The Post found. At many of the country’s most successful clubs, there is not a single woman in coaching leadership…

The women’s allegations mirror some of the conclusions of an investigation into the sport released last month by former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates, who found that the toxic culture of the National Women’s Soccer League “appears rooted” in the youth soccer system, where many NWSL coaches accused of abuse last year also got their start.

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” Yates wrote.

13) Jerome Adams, the surgeon general under Trump, is a pretty fascinating story.  Definitely not a true Trumpist, but everything about him has been poisoned by the association.  Including his attempt to spread the word on melanoma prevention, which his wife has been suffering from.  

Former surgeon general Jerome Adams and his wife, Lacey, often find themselves talking about what they have named the “Trump Effect.”

It followed them from Washington to their home in the Indianapolis suburbs. They felt it when he was exploring jobs in academia, where he would receive polite rejections from university officials who worried that someone who served in the administration of the former president would be badly received by their left-leaning student bodies. They felt it when corporations decided he was too tainted to employ.

Now, two years after Adams left office as only the 20th surgeon general in U.S. history, the couple feel it as acutely as ever. As Donald Trump announced this month that he will run for president again, they had hoped it all would have faded away by now.

They would rather talk about public health, in a very personal way. This summer, Lacey Adams was diagnosed with a third recurrence of melanoma. Both Adamses have been sharing her experiences on social media and in public appearances, hoping to spread a message about skin-cancer prevention. But the stigma of his association with Trump, even though neither of them is a supporter of his political campaign, remains.

14) Love this. “The Opposite of Schadenfreude Is Freudenfreude. Here’s How to Cultivate It.
The joy we derive from others’ success comes with many benefits.”  I’m sure I need to get better at it, but, for sure I know that the people I most appreciate are those who I can tell generally do take pleasure in my successes. 

Finding pleasure in another person’s good fortune is what social scientists call “freudenfreude,” a term (inspired by the German word for “joy”) that describes the bliss we feel when someone else succeeds, even if it doesn’t directly involve us. Freudenfreude is like social glue, said Catherine Chambliss, a professor of psychology at Ursinus College. It makes relationships “more intimate and enjoyable.”

Erika Weisz, an empathy researcher and postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Harvard University, said the feeling closely resembles positive empathy — the ability to experience someone else’s positive emotions. A small 2021 study examined positive empathy’s role in daily life and found that it propelled kind acts, like helping others.Sharing in someone else’s joy can also foster resilience, improve life satisfaction and help people cooperate during a conflict…

While the benefits of freudenfreude are plentiful, it doesn’t always come easily. In zero-sum situations, your loss might really sting, making freudenfreude feel out of reach. If you were raised in a family that paired winning with self-worth, Dr. Chambliss said, you might misread someone else’s victory as a personal shortcoming. And factors like mental health and overall well-being can also affect your ability to participate in someone else’s joy. Still, indulging in freudenfreude is worthwhile — and there are ways to encourage the feeling.

15) We suck at this.  And, as in the case of most all such things, it is not some complicated demographic or cultural factors– it is policy choices. “The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths: Why other rich nations have surpassed the U.S. in protecting pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

About a thousand people gathered on a bright morning on the National Mall the Saturday before Thanksgiving for what has become an American tradition: mourning a roadway fatality. With the Capitol in the background and the tune of an ice cream truck looping nearby, the crowd had assembled to remember Sarah Debbink Langenkamp, who was biking home from her sons’ elementary school when she was crushed by a semi truck.

Ms. Langenkamp was, improbably, the third foreign service officer at the State Department to die while walking or biking in the Washington area this year. She was killed in August in suburban Bethesda, Md. Another died in July while biking in Foggy Bottom. The third, a retired foreign service officer working on contract, was walking near the agency’s headquarters in August. That is more foreign service officers killed by vehicles at home than have died overseas this year, noted Dan Langenkamp, Ms. Langenkamp’s husband and a foreign service officer himself.

“It’s infuriating to me as a U.S. diplomat,” he told the rally in her honor, “to be a person that goes around the world bragging about our record, trying to get people to think like us — to know that we are such failures on this issue.”

That assessment has become increasingly true. The U.S. has diverged over the past decade from other comparably developed countries, where traffic fatalities have been falling. This American exception became even starker during the pandemic. In 2020, as car travel plummeted around the world, traffic fatalities broadly fell as well. But in the U.S., the opposite happened. Travel declined, and deaths still went up. Preliminary federal data suggests road fatalities rose again in 2021.

Safety advocates and government officials lament that so many deaths are often tolerated in America as an unavoidable cost of mass mobility. But periodically, the illogic of that toll becomes clearer: Americans die in rising numbers even when they drive less. They die in rising numbers even as roads around the world grow safer. American foreign service officers leave war zones, only to die on roads around the nation’s capital.

In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died on American roads, the government estimates. And the recent rise in fatalities has been particularly pronounced among those the government classifies as most vulnerable — cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians.

Much of the familiar explanation for America’s road safety record lies with a transportation system primarily designed to move cars quickly, not to move people safely.

“Motor vehicles are first, highways are first, and everything else is an afterthought,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.


Quick hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The high price of distance learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A parable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Express gratitude more

  • Give more genuine compliments to people you know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penalty kicks are the dumbest rule in all of major sports!

Yes, Gareth Bale deserved a PK yesterday under the rules of soccer and how it is typically called.  But those rules are absolutely ridiculous!  Is there another rule in all of major sports (we’ll leave Quidditch aside) that is more dumb and has more of an impact on the outcome of games?  I hate how everbody is talking about how smart and savvy Bale was to jump in front of Zimmerman at the last moment and earn that PK without questioning at all that such an action should be worth 80% of a goal when goals are so rare.  I wrote a few years ago about just how dumb this all is and it holds up well. 

Good lord soccer drives me crazy.  Such a great game with abysmal organizations in charge and some really, really dumb rules.  Lots of appropriate controversy with the Women’s World Cup about the insane new handball rule.  The new rule say it’s a handball if the defender’s arms are out of the silhouette of the torso, unless preventing a fall.  This is insane!  Short version: defenders are apparently supposed to run at all times with hands behind their back.  Try running in a meaningfully athletic way and see where your arms are.  That’s right– out from your body.  I hate that soccer’s rulemakers see that as something to penalize.

But, even worse, is the gigantically outsized role of the penalty kick in a game with so little scoring.  I’ve long been making family and friends listen to my rant on this.  How nice to discover that a Yahoo sportswriter, Henry Bushnell, has basically the same take and proposed solution.  I love this:

The real problem here isn’t specific to handballs. It’s that when they occur in the area, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

That cross that Kirby hit on Sunday? Had it not been blocked, its expected value was still a tiny fraction of a goal. Because it happened to strike a Scottish arm, its worth multiplied exponentially, to roughly 0.75 goals – or whatever Nikita Parris’ penalty conversion rate is.

That, when you think about it, is completely absurd. It’s mind-bogglingly stupid. Illogical. Backwards.

The incentives are so perverse that players in Kirby’s position, or Sadio Mane’s eight days earlier, will soon come to realize: Aiming for an opponent’s arm is a more effective strategy than trying to pick out a teammate at the back post. Mane probably didn’t do that last Saturday, but he might as well have.

Is this how we want the beautiful game to be played?

A similar incentive already compels forwards to hurl themselves to the ground under minimal contact rather than have an off-balance shot at goal. It’s an awful trend – but, from a player’s perspective, a rational one.

The onus, therefore, isn’t on them to reform their ways. It’s on soccer’s lawmakers to rethink a rule that is only in place because, well, it has been since the 1890s. And because this sport is so senselessly resistant to change.

How the penalty rule should be overhauled

The penalty box is an extremely arbitrary thing. Why, for example, should a foul occurring here be a free kick from this exact position …



View photos

… but a foul occurring here be an unobstructed one, 12 yards out from the center of the goal?


View photos

The 18-yard box itself can remain for goalkeeper handling purposes. But any foul, handball or otherwise, that does not deny a clear goalscoring opportunity should simply be a direct free kick from the spot of the foul.

The only other tweak required would be an expansion of the definition of “denying a clear goalscoring opportunity,” enough to discourage pervasive tactical fouling. This would make punishments proportional to crimes.

Yes!!!  I couldn’t agree more.  In a game where one team scoring 3 goals is a lot, the idea that you give a .75-.8 chance at a goal for any foul in the penalty box, regardless of it’s likelihood of impacting a goal-scoring opportunity is beyond preposterous.  Just because something has been around since 1890 is soooo not a good reason to keep it.

The one thing I think I might add is that I think it’s also worth considering moving the spot of the penalty kick further back.  Penalty kicks are just too easy.  

(Return of) quick hits

1) This is feeling dated (and I meant to give it it’s own post), but Jeff Maurer’s take on Democrats and inflation is literally the best I’ve read:

The thing Democrats did that actually matters — that’s influencing inflation more than a microscopic amount — is the American Rescue Plan. This was the third round of Covid stimulus, passed shortly after Biden took office; it was the $1.9 trillion bill that included $1,400 checks to Americans who make less than $75,000. Hilariously, one of the political benefits of the bill was supposed to be that Democrats could brag about those checks when election season rolled around. And now election season is here, and the checks are featured as prominently in Democratic rhetoric as Song of the South is in Disney’s promotional materials.

But it’s important to remember what the economy looked like when the American Rescue Plan passed. Covid slammed the American economy in a way that’s unprecedented in our lifetime (unless you’re really, really old). 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since the Great Depression; unemployment spiked at about 150% of what it was at the peak of the Great Recession. The term of art economists us for this type of economy is “shitty as all fuck”. Here’s how things looked in context:…

In early 2021, the economy was shrinking, unemployment was high…this is very bad stuff. And, in a way, it’s not too surprising that an attempt to drive down unemployment led to inflation.

Broadly speaking, there’s an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation. It’s a bit like being good at magic and having friends; if one metric is high, then the other will almost certainly be low. That’s is why the Federal Reserve — and to a lesser extent Congress — is constantly trying to strike a balance between unemployment and inflation. When one metric gets too high, the government makes changes to (hopefully) bring that number down. And that often works, but usually at the cost of giving us more of the other thing. This is just more evidence that everything is complex and that simple solutions don’t exist on Planet Earth, which is one of my most firmly held beliefs.

Personally, I fear unemployment more than inflation. Both are very bad; I just think that unemployment is typically worse. Unemployment throws families into crisis; it can lead to crushing debt and/or uprooted lives (I’ve lived this and it blows). Inflation also sucks — it hits everyone in the economy, including those on a tight budget — but in many cases it amounts to an annoyance more than a catastrophe. The exception to this rule would hyperinflation, but nothing the US is experiencing is anything close to hyperinflation. Hyperinflation gets insane; in Hungary after World War II, prices doubled every 15 hours. Run the numbers on that: At that rate, it takes about nine days for a can of soup to cost as much as a brand new Tesla (that’s not a joke!)…

What did we get in exchange for those two percentage points of inflation? Well, as you might expect, we got faster economic growth and lower unemployment. Contrary to stereotypes about European governments throwing money from helicopters while American capitalists cackle at poor people starving in the streets, virtually no European governments passed a stimulus as aggressive as the American Rescue Plan. So, just as it shouldn’t be surprising that we have slightly higher demand-side inflation than our rich-country peers, it also shouldn’t be surprising that we have relatively low unemployment and high economic growth.

2) Good stuff from Ruy Teixeira, “Democrats’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class”

3) Will Saletan, “The Data Have Spoken: Abortion Was a Decisive Issue in the 2022 Midterms”

Like the exit poll, VoteCast found that about 60 percent of the electorate—63 percent, in the VoteCast sample—said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But unlike the exit poll, it directly measured the effect of Dobbs. In the VoteCast survey, pro-choice voters (those who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases) were far more likely than pro-life voters (those who said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases) to say that the overturn of Roe had a “major impact” on which candidates they voted for. The gap was more than 20 points: 55 percent of pro-choicers said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of pro-lifers. When analyzed by party, the gap was more than 30 points: 65 percent of Democrats said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of Republicans…

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Dobbs didn’t just influence which candidates people voted for. It also influenced whether they showed up at the polls at all—and this provided a crucial boost to pro-choice candidates. In the VoteCast survey, pro-choice voters were twice as likely as pro-life voters (48 percent to 23 percent) to say Dobbs had a major impact on their “decision whether to vote” in the election. In partisan terms, the gap was even bigger: 57 percent of Democrats, compared to 23 percent of Republicans, said Dobbs had a major impact on their decision about whether to vote.

4) And Jonathan Weiler, “

It’s only one cut at thinking about the issue, but whatever ambivalence exists in American public opinion broadly about abortion, the anti-abortion extremism that the end of Roe has unleashed is far removed from the mainstream of American public opinion. As an aside, I’ve written before about the difference between operational and symbolic ideology – people’s preferences on specific issues versus their party loyalties, roughly speaking. Consistently, in red, purple and blue states, when given the opportunity to vote directly on policy in ballot measures, majorities favor raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and, clearly now, protecting abortion rights. This has not, so far, translated clearly into greater support for Democratic officeholders among up-for-grabs voters.

5) The leap second’s time has come to an end!  Nice explanation in the NYT:

If the resolution passes [it passed], it would sever the timekeeping of atoms from the timekeeping of the heavens, probably for generations to come. The change would be indiscernible for most of us, in practical terms. (It would take a few thousand years for atomic time to diverge as much as an hour from Earth time.)

But the second is a huge amount of time in the technology of the internet. Cellphone transmissions, power grids and computer networks are synchronized to minuscule fractions of a second. High-frequency traders in financial markets execute orders in thousandths and even billionths of a second. By international law, data packages related to these financial transactions must be time-stamped to that fine level of precision, recorded and made traceable back to Coordinated Universal Time, the universally agreed-upon standard managed by the timekeepers at the B.I.P.M.

Every additional leap second introduces the risk of confusion: that some digital networks won’t implement the change correctly, won’t know precisely what time it is with regard to the other systems, and will fail to synchronize properly. The leap second is a dollop of potential chaos in a soufflé that demands precision.

For that reason, discarding the leap second has wide support from nations across the world, including the United States. The result of the vote is not a foregone conclusion, however. The fate of the leap second has long been the stuff of high diplomatic drama, designated one of just four “hot topics” at the B.I.P.M. Getting Resolution D on the agenda has involved more than two decades of study, negotiation and compromise to resolve the issue.

“It should have happened 20 years ago, and if not for political maneuvering, it probably would have happened 20 years ago,” said Judah Levine, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colo. He is co-chair with Dr. Tavella of the B.I.P.M. committee that discusses hot topics, and he helped draft the resolution.

6) Maybe trees aren’t talking to each other so much after all?

But as the wood-wide web has gained fame, it has also inspired a backlash among scientists. In a recent review of published research, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, found little evidence that shared fungal networks help trees to communicate, swap resources or thrive. Indeed, the trio said, scientists have yet to show that these webs are widespread or ecologically significant in forests.

7) Always good to read Sean Trende’s post-election takes.  Though I think he tries too hard to underplay the role of abortion.

So what does work? There are three parts to the explanation, none of which are mutually exclusive. 

1) The first is simply that candidates do matter. In the past decade, and especially after Trump’s win in 2016, it has become fashionable among pundits (including myself) to wave away candidate issues. This cycle, though, candidate quality seems to have made a comeback. This fits the data nicely: Vance running behind DeWine (who was seen as governing in a more bipartisan manner than perhaps he deserved); Walker running behind Kemp; Masters running behind Lake. In the House there were scores of candidates who lost in swing districts that they probably should have won, and as you list the names you start to see why: Joe Kent, J.R. Majewski, Karoline Leavitt, Vega, and so forth. Even Lauren Boebert came remarkably close to losing.  

That many of these candidates were concentrated in swing seats didn’t help the Republicans’ cause, while better Republican candidates in bluer seats didn’t quite get the push they needed. You can see this in Virginia, where 10th District Republican Hung Cao – an outstanding candidate – lost by just six points in a district Biden won by almost 20 points, while Vega lost by a similar margin in a district Biden won by half that margin…

The other issue is that Republicans may be suffering a representational penalty in rural areas similar to the penalty Democrats have suffered in urban districts. That is to say, the GOP puts up stunning vote percentages in rural America, margins that would not have been deemed possible a decade ago, to say nothing of three decades ago. But this means that a large number of those votes are effectively wasted. As the suburbs become more competitive for Democrats and the cities become somewhat less competitive (but not enough to lose seats) as minority vote percentage moves, Democrats lose the penalty they’ve suffered for running up overwhelming vote shares in urban districts in the past. 

8) And Tom Edsall with a whole bunch of political science takes.

9) Great stuff from Nate Cohn, “Trump’s Drag on Republicans Quantified: A Five-Point Penalty”

Donald J. Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he would run for president in 2024 came at an especially awkward time for Republicans. They were supposed to dominate the midterm elections — but fell well short.

Mr. Trump appears to be a significant reason for that showing, based on an analysis of the results by House district.

His preferred candidates underperformed last week, helping Democrats hold the Senate and helping keep the race for House control close. (Republicans, who had been heavy favorites, are expected to prevail narrowly as mail ballots continue to be counted in California.)

Overall, his preferred primary candidates underperformed other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points…

With the benefit of the final results, we can gauge how well the MAGA candidates fared compared with other Republicans. The five-point penalty measure controls for how the district voted in 2020 and whether the district was an open seat or held by a Democratic or Republican incumbent.

Here’s another way to think about it: Non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020; the MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.

10) Ed Luce on the midterms:

Mounk: When you look at election deniers running in the midterms, a lot of them got elected, right? When they ran in safe districts in deep red states, many of them did win elections. But when they were in purple states, they often lost. It feels like one of the lessons of this election is that Trump has superfans—he always had, and he will for a long time—but that even among traditional Republican voters, there are a lot of people who feel, “This is enough.”

Luce: Independents swung very much in that direction. They were very discriminating between the types of Republican candidates. Tim Michels, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Wisconsin, notoriously said two weeks ago that if he won the governorship of Wisconsin, Republicans would never lose an election there again. And it was very clear what he meant by that: there will be a supermajority in the Wisconsin legislature, and he would change the election rules to such a degree that Democrats would be made into a minority party. But he lost very comprehensively. Meanwhile, Don Bolduc, a former army guy in the mold of Mike Flynn, and very Trumpian—he lost very, very convincingly to Senator Hassan in New Hampshire. Pennsylvania, where Trump invested most of his time in terms of the rallies that he attended, was a wipeout for Trumpian candidates: Dr. Oz for the Senate, Doug Mastriano for the governorship. And it’s looking more likely than not that Kari Lake, the Arizona gubernatorial candidate, will probably lose for similar reasons. 

11) And, of course, always read David Shor’s post-election takes.

What’s your nutshell summary of what happened in this midterm and why?
I want to preface by noting that it’s extremely early. But I’d say that the No. 1 most salient fact about this election is that Republican turnout was very strong relative to Democratic turnout. You can see this in a host of different data sources. Whether you’re looking at administrative data on early voting, or the AP VoteCast exit poll, or ecological regressions off of the county level results, it’s just really clear. It’s hard to get an exact number. But, back of the envelope, it looks like the electorate was about 2 percent more Republican than it was in 2020. Republicans literally outnumbered Democrats, according to the AP’s VoteCast. And yet Democrats still won.

And they won for a few reasons. First, Democrats won independent voters, which may be the first time that a party that controlled the presidency has won independents in a midterm since 2002. Second, they got a lot of self-identified Republicans to vote for them. And third, they did those things especially well in close races. The party’s overall share of the national vote is actually going to look fairly bad. It looks like we got roughly 48 percent of the vote. But that’s because Democratic incumbents in safe seats did much worse than those in close races.

In districts that the Cook Political Report rated as “likely” or “solid” or “safe” for the Democratic incumbent, Democrats’ share of the vote declined by 2.5 percent relative to 2020. In districts that were rated as “toss ups” or “lean Democratic,” however, our party’s vote share went down by only 0.4 percent compared to 2020.

I think that tells us a couple of things. It suggests that Democrats did a good job with resource allocation; we spent in the right races. But it also illustrates the power of message discipline. Democrats in competitive districts aired more ads than Democrats in safe ones. And they also were much more careful about which messages they amplified with those ads and which issues they chose to embrace.

12) Encouraging for cat people, “Your Cat Might Not Be Ignoring You When You Speak: Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but a new study has found that their relationships with their owners may be stronger than we thought.”

A study by French researchers that was published last month in the journal Animal Cognition found that not only do cats react to what scientists call cat-directed speech — a high-pitched voice similar to how we talk to babies — they react to who is doing the talking.

“We found that when cats heard their owners using a high-pitched voice, they reacted more than when they heard their owner speaking normally to another human adult,” said Charlotte de Mouzon, an author of the study and cat behavior expert at the Université Paris Nanterre. “But what was very surprising in our results was that it actually didn’t work when it came from a stranger’s voice.”

Unlike with dogs, cat behavior is difficult to study, which is part of why humans understand them less. Cats are often so stressed by being in a lab that meaningful behavioral observations become impossible. And forget about trying to get a cat to sit still for an M.R.I. scan to study its brain function.

13) This “God chose Rick DeSantis” ad is insane.  You have to see it to believe it.

14) The tide is turning.  NYT with a balanced, well-reasoned dive into puberty blockers and their potential harms.  This does not mean they should never be used, but it’s past time for mainstream media to run stories like this rather than be cowed by the twitter zealots who will yell “you’re literally killing trans kids!” every time a story like this runs.  This is an important story, so gift link it is. 

15) John McWhorter makes a compelling case that we should be more judicious with the use of “racism

“Systemic bigotry.”

“Institutional prejudice.”

Notice how those terms don’t really work? They challenge our mental processing, in part because systems can’t be bigots and institutions can’t be prejudiced.

And so I offer a modest proposal, but an earnest one. How about revising our terms for “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and “institutional racism”?

The problem with these phrases is that systems, structures and institutions cannot be racist any more than they can be happy or sad. They can be made up of individuals who share these traits, or even have procedures that may engender them. But systems, structures and institutions do not themselves have feelings or prejudices.

Yes, of course, we use these terms in a more abstract way: The idea is that the inequities between races that systems can harbor are themselves racist. They are a different form of racism than personal bias.

But we must learn this usage of racism in the same way that we learn we aren’t supposed to say “Tom and me talked”as opposed to “Tom and I talked.” It is a hallmark of the modern enlightened American to understand that systems can “be racist.” But deep down I suspect many cannot help but ask, if only in flashlight-under-the-pillow style: Isn’t bias different from inequality, and why are we using one word to refer to both?

Calling for people to stop saying this or that almost never has any real effect, and overall, linguists like me delight in the changes we hear around us. Plus, things people decry as confusing in language usually are not. Context is key: You probably have no problem with the fact that a rabbit can run “fast,” but that in the idiom “stuck fast” the word suddenly means the opposite.

But the terms “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and “institutional racism” can be seen as different in that they sow a kind of confusion — just as “sanction” meaning both to approve and to penalize does, especially among lawyers, from what I am told. We are to understand a pathway running through, first, racism as bias, then bias causing inequalities and thus leaving in its wake a different rendition of “racism.” But in actuality, using this word enables an attitude that can be less than constructive.

I once had a conversation with a Black woman who lived near a school in a mostly Black, low-income neighborhood whose students were almost all kids of other races from other neighborhoods. The school required a certain test score for admission. The woman referred to the school as “straight-up racist” in that almost no kids from the neighborhood attended it.

But this is a highly stretched usage of the word. The low number of Black kids in that school is something we need to fix. But it is probably safe to say that no one in the school would disagree — the reason for the low numbers is not anyone’s bigotry. Now, the reason is indeed legacies of what bigotry created in the past: poverty and its effects, parents who work too hard to have as much time to help their kids with schoolwork as others do, lack of inherited wealth to allay that problem, and so on.

16) David French, “The Hidden Way That Election Denial Hurt Republicans”

But that’s not the whole story. There’s an additional cost to Republican election denial—if the party doesn’t believe it lost, it won’t change its message or its messengers. Or, as I said on Twitter yesterday, “One of the consequences of election denial was MAGA’s simple refusal to understand the will of the voters.”

To understand the psychology of the GOP, one has to understand the core narrative of Trumpism. Before Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, MAGA says, the GOP was a party of losers. It lost to Obama in 2008, it lost again in 2012, and it would have lost to Clinton in 2016 but for Trump. Establishment conservatives, according to this narrative, hadn’t “conserved” anything. Only Trump could save the republic.

The narrative never made sense. The Republican Party won control of the House and the Senate in the Obama era. It gained hundreds of state House seats. It controlled a majority of state governments. Yes, Trump won in 2016, but by the narrowest of margins. He beat an unpopular Democrat, but with a lower percentage of the popular vote than Mitt Romney’s.

Trump claimed a majority. He claimed a mandate. He had neither…

The 2020 election, however, was a different story entirely. Biden won more electoral votes than Trump won in 2016. He beat Trump by more than 7 million popular votes.

That should have been the Republican wake-up call. Trump lost the White House, Republicans lost the Senate, and even the reliably red Arizona and Georgia turned blue. There it was, the worst electoral performance by either party since Hoover’s decisive loss in 1932.

But no. It’s not a true defeat if the election was stolen. If the election was stolen, the MAGA movement doesn’t have to abandon its triumphalism. If the election was stolen, the MAGA movement doesn’t have to alter its ethos. The answer to stolen elections is electoral reform, not different kinds of candidates. So the Trumpist faction of the Republican Party felt free to cling to Trump, double down on Trump endorsements, and ride the Trump Train once again.

17) Okay, now I’m back on I will take Paxlovid when I finally get Covid, “Paxlovid May Reduce Risk of Long Covid in Eligible Patients, Study Finds”

18) Went to the Duke basketball game last night with my son (fun!) and spent some time trying to explain the new NIL rules in college athletics and thought immediately of this, “New Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells: Female college athletes are making millions thanks to their large social media followings. But some who have fought for equity in women’s sports worry that their brand building is regressive.”

I support college athletes reaping the financial benefits of their NIL.  But, I really don’t love to see female athletes being rewarded for being sex objects rather than great athletes. 

19) Joshua March with a guest post for Noah Smith on the promise of cultivated meat.  I think he undersells just how good Beyond and Impossible can be, but I would love it if this technology could really take off and become cost competitive.  

Why Do Meat Alternatives Even Matter?


Conventional meat has a dirty little secret: it is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, emissions from livestock account for a startling 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (compared to just 3.5% for aviation). And while energy production is rapidly making a transition to renewables, conventional meat consumption is only increasing (as the world’s population gets wealthier, people eat more meat)—and with it, the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Even if all energy production switched to 100% renewable power today the emissions from animal agriculture alone would still push us past the 2 degree celsius warming threshold.

Beef is by far the worst culprit, with cattle responsible for a whopping 65% of all livestock emissions. That’s because beef is the least efficient of all meats in terms of calories in to calories out (as low as 3% according to some recent studies). Beef is also responsible for a staggering amount of methane emissions (a greenhouse gas 30x more potent than CO2) and for a huge amount of land use change as trees are cut down to make way for either pasture land or to grow crops for animal feed—in fact, 80% of all rainforest deforestation is related to the cattle industry in some way. 

This information isn’t news—we’ve known about the impact of beef for decades. But unfortunately trying to reason people into eating less meat just hasn’t been working. If you want proof, look no further than the fact that the percentage of vegans and vegetarians in the US population hasn’t really changed  since the 1970’s (it’s around 5%). The bottom line is that people like eating meat. Even if they philosophically agree that eating less meat is better, when it comes down to it they still reach for that conventional beef burger.

Meat alternatives offer a more effective strategy than reason alone. Instead of arguing for an end to conventional meat consumption, why not figure out a way to make meat without the problems? Any wide-scale decrease in conventional beef consumption we can accomplish is worth it because of the major impact on climate change, and our ability to prevent the most catastrophic outcomes. And that’s even before you consider all the other problems with intensive factory farming. 

20) Sorry for the lack of quick hits last week, by the way.  Was having a super-fun time in Charleston, SC with some of my kids and my sister (and brother-in-law) who live there.

[Bonus points if you can identify the origins of the logo on my older son’s shirt]

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