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]

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Shorten the coach’s time to decide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this one such a no-brainer!

2. Limit how long the reviews can take

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

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

3) Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will they succeed? Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16) A pandemic updates from Eric Topol.

New on the Bivalent Booster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry to be so late with this! More tomorrow.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jeff Maurer is so good on this, “What if the Standard Left-Wing Position on Trans Issues Was to Support Evidence-Based Care But Skip All the Cultish Bullshit?”

There’s sex, and then there’s gender. Sex involves biological attributes — chromosomes, hormone levels, that kind of stuff. There are anomalies in sex such as Klinefelter syndrome (chromosomes are XXY) and androgen insensitivity syndrome (the body makes testosterone but doesn’t respond to it) that make sex not completely binary. Therefore, sex is basically meaningless and can be ignored. Gender is all that matters. Gender refers to socially-constructed gender roles — playing with dolls if you’re a girl, playing with trucks if you’re a boy, that type of thing. A person chooses their gender identity, so when a person identifies with a gender, they ARE that gender, end of story.

I feel that that’s a fair summation of left-wing canon on this issue. I also feel that it’s the argument Stewart makes on his show. He spends a great deal of time on the non-binary nature of sex, and of course he’s right that sex is not completely binary. There are people who don’t fall neatly into either the “male” or “female” category. I’d also agree that people should be free to live out whatever gender expression they want.

Those parts of the argument aren’t the problem. The problem is middle part, the idea sex is a meaningless concept and gender is all that matters. Stewart doesn’t explicitly say this, but it’s definitely in there; the other parts of his argument don’t make sense without it. And that’s the concept that I think is causing all the trouble; that’s the bit of cultish nonsense that I think is ruining an otherwise winning argument.

I’m not Mr. Science; the closest I could come would be to try to be Mr. Social Science, and I know that hard science folks look at social scientists the way Green Berets look at a kid in a pillow fort playing Army Man. But through my education and associations, I’m science-adjacent enough to know that the science crowd is not running around saying: “Man? Woman? WHAT DO THESE WORDS EVEN MEAN? I can’t begin to imagine what people think they’re talking about when they use these words! This has been settled for centuries: Human identity exists on a circular spectrum that is at once totally meaningless but at the same time absolutely critical. There is no dissent about this! Am I even saying these words right? ‘Mfan?’ ‘Wo…mryan?’ I can’t get my head around these antiquated lay-person terms!”

You have to think people are awfully fucking stupid to even attempt this argument. To delude yourself into imagining that you can dismiss a basic biological concept with a bunch of pseudo-intellectual hand-waving is equal parts arrogant and obtuse. You’ll have just as much luck convincing people that slugs are the master race or that gravity is a Soros-backed conspiracy as you will that there’s absolutely no biological underpinning to the concept of “male” and “female”.

You also have to be neck deep in cultish group-think to pretend to believe such obvious bullshit. And please remember: I lived in this world, I worked in this world, I heard “gender is a social construct!” more times than I can count, I don’t think I’m misrepresenting what some people claim to believe. And of course I respect people’s extremely stupid beliefs; I grew up with people who swore that Noah’s Ark was real, I understand that you have to let people think whatever backwards claptrap they hold dear. Respecting a person’s right to believe the dumbest shit you could possibly imagine is a core American principle. So, I completely support anyone’s rightto believe that “male” and “female” are nonsense concepts invented by advertising executives in the ‘50s. I just don’t believe that myself, and I don’t think that many people ever will.

The tragedy, of course, is that there’s a real issue here. Transgender people lack legal protections, and maybe even more importantly: They lack dignity and acceptance. We’re treating an aspect of the human experience as a defect, and that’s society’s problem to fix. Making it easier for trans people to live healthier, happier lives is a pressing and important project.

But I often feel that the left has chosen to fight this battle on the only terrain on which it can possibly be lost. Instead of focusing on dignity and personal liberty, we go to the mat to defend trans women’s right to compete in women’s sports, which happens to be one of the few aspects of life where biological sex really does matter. We push pseudo-scientific bullshit like the idea that uncommon genetic variations render the entire concept of sex meaningless. Observant people have noticed that the new orthodoxy blatantly contradicts other things the left believes, like the Obergefelldecision and that gender roles should be deemphasized. And — crucially, from a “the goal is to improve people’s lives” standpoint — nobody is buying this crap: Here’s how the left is faring on the hot-button trans women in sports issue:

Source: Ipsos/NPR.

What if the left simply ditched the cultish aspects of our argument? What if we stopped demanding that a people declare that sex is a meaningless concept in order to maintain their lefty cred on trans issues? What if we stopped pretending that there are no physical differences between men and women and that the only reason anyone could possibly object to trans athletes in high-level women’s sports is deep-seated bigotry? What if, instead, the argument was something like this:

There are men, and there are women. Most people fall neatly into one category or the other. But not ALL people do, and in those cases, the simple solution is for the person to choose which category they belong to (or if they belong to neither category). Some people — including minors — will pursue various forms of treatment to be the person they want to be, and we should support the choice they make consistent with evidence-based standards of medicine that we apply in all areas. There are a few uncommon circumstances in which things like bone density and hormone levels will need be taken into account, but for the most part, people should be free to live how they want to live without fear or judgment.

2) Great stuff on Ukraine, Russia, and nukes from Timothy Snyder:

But how do we get there?  The war could end in a number of ways.  Here I would like to suggest just one plausible scenario that could emerge in the next few weeks and months.  Of course there are others.  It is important, though, to start directing our thoughts towards some of the more probable variants.  The scenario that I will propose here is that a Russian conventional defeat in Ukraine is merging imperceptibly into a Russian power struggle, which in turn will require a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. This is, historically speaking, a very familiar chain of events.

Before I lay this out, we will first have to clear away the nuclear static.  Speaking of nuclear war in a broad, general way, we imagine that the Russo-Ukrainian War is all about us.  We feel like the victims.  We talk about our fears and anxieties.  We write click-bait headlines about the end of the world.  But this war is almost certainly not going to end with an exchange of nuclear weapons.  States with nuclear weapons have been fighting and losing wars since 1945, without using them.  Nuclear powers lose humiliating wars in places like Vietnam and Afghanistan and do not use nuclear weapons.

To be sure, there is a certain temptation to concede mentally to nuclear blackmail.  Once the subject of nuclear war is raised, it seems overwhelmingly important, and we become depressed and obsessed.  That is just where Putin is trying to lead us with his vague allusions to nuclear weapons.  Once we take his cue, we imagine threats that Russia is not actually making.  We start talking about a Ukrainian surrender, just to relieve the psychological pressure we feel. 

This, though, is doing Putin’s work for him, bailing him out of a disaster of his own creation.  He is losing the conventional war that he started.  His hope is that references to nuclear weapons will deter the democracies from delivering weapons to Ukraine, and buy him enough time to get Russian reserves to the battlefield to slow the Ukrainian offensive.  He’s probably wrong that this would work; but the rhetorical escalation is one of the few plays that he has left. 

As I’ll explain in a moment, giving in to nuclear blackmail won’t end the conventional war in Ukraine.  It would, however, make future nuclear war much more likely.  Making concessions to a nuclear blackmailer teachers him that this sort of threat will get him what he wants, which guarantees further crisis scenarios down the line.  It teaches other dictators, future potential blackmailers, that all they need is a nuclear weapon and some bluster to get what they want, which means more nuclear confrontations.  It tends to convince everyone that the only way to defend themselves is to build nuclear weapons, which means global nuclear proliferation…

So let us take a harder look at Putin’s position.  The Russian armed forces are not “backed against a wall” in Ukraine: they are safe if they retreat back to Russia.  The “wall” metaphor is also not really helpful in seeing where Putin stands.  It is more like the furniture has been moved around him, and he will have to get his bearings again.

What he has done in Ukraine has changed his position in Moscow, and for the worse.  It does not follow from that, though, they he “must” win the war in Ukraine, whatever that means (“can” comes logically before “must”).  Holding on to power in Moscow is what matters, and that does not necessarily mean exposing himself to further risk in Ukraine.  Once (and if) Putin understands that the war is lost, he will adjust his thinking about his position at home.

Through the summer, that position was simpler.  Until very recently, probably until he made the speech announcing mobilization in September, he could simply have declared victory on mass media, and most Russians would have been content.  Now, however, he has brought his senseless war to the point where even the Russian information space is beginning to crack.  Russians are anxious about the war now, thanks to mobilization (as opinion polls show).  And now their television propagandists are admitting that Russian troops are retreating.  So unlike the first half-year of the war, Putin cannot just claim that all is well and be done with it.  He has to do something else. 

The earth has moved under Putin’s feet.  His political career has been based on using controlled media to transform foreign policy into soothing spectacle.  In other words: regime survival has depended upon two premises: what happens on television is more important than what happens in reality; and what happens abroad is more important than what happens at home.  It seems to me that these premises no longer hold.  With mobilization, the distinction between at home and abroad has been broken; with lost battles, the distinction between television and reality has been weakened.  Reality is starting to matter more than television, and Russia will start to matter more than Ukraine.

3) Voter ID laws are really, really popular.  Seems to me the winning play for Democrats is probably just to accept that and try and make the laws as fair as possible (i.e., reduce the burdens of getting an ID as low as you can);

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the midterm elections less than a month away, large majorities of Americans favor three measures meant to make voting easier: early voting (78% in favor), automatic voter registration (65%) and sending absentee ballots to all eligible voters (60%).

Majorities of Americans also oppose two measures that could make voting harder: removing inactive voters from voter lists (60%) and limiting the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots (59%). One restrictive policy that most Americans (79%) are on board with, however, is requiring photo identification to vote.

Also, automatic voter registration is also quite popular.  And it has the benefit of also being very good policy.  Democrats should get on this wherever they can.

4) Jennifer Rubin, “The Jan. 6 committee has provided proof of Trump’s willful deceit”

5a) Washington Post, “Florida offers warning for Democrats about Hispanic voters”

5b) NYT, “The ‘Sleeping Giant’ That May Decide the Midterms”

The choices made by Latino voters on Nov. 8 will be crucial to the outcome in a disproportionate share of Senate battleground states, like Arizona (31.5 percent of the population), Nevada (28.9), Florida (25.8), Colorado (21.7), Georgia (9.6) and North Carolina (9.5).

According to most analysts, there is no question that a majority of Hispanic voters will continue to support Democratic candidates. The question going into the coming elections is how large that margin will be…

Across a wide range of studies and exit poll data analyses, there is general agreement that President Donald Trump significantly improved his 2016 margin among Hispanic voters in 2020. But there is less agreement on how large his gain was, on the demographics of his new supporters and on whether the movement was related to Trump himself, Trump-era Covid payments or to a secular trend…

In their July 2022 paper “Reversion to the Mean, or Their Version of the Dream? An Analysis of Latino Voting in 2020,” Bernard L. FragaYamil R. Velez and Emily A. West, political scientists at Emory, Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh, write that there is

an increasing alignment between issue positions and vote choice among Latinos. Moreover, we observe significant pro-Trump shifts among working-class Latinos and modest evidence of a pro-Trump shift among newly engaged U.S.-born Latino children of immigrants and Catholic Latinos. The results point to a more durable Republican shift than currently assumed.

That is, the more Hispanic voters subordinate traditional party and ethnic solidarity in favor of voting based onconservative or moderate policy preferences, the more likely they are to defect to the Republican Party.

The authors caution, however, that nothing is fixed in stone:

On the one hand, there is evidence that working-class Latino voters became more supportive of Trump in 2020, mirroring increases in educational polarization among the mass public. If similar processes are at play for Latinos — and if such polarization is not Trump-specific — then this could mean a durable change in partisan loyalties.

On the other hand, they continue:

Historical voting patterns among Latinos reveal natural ebbs and flows. Using exit poll data from 1984-2020, political scientist Alan Abramowitz finds that the pro-Democratic margin among Latinos ranges from +9 in 2004 to +51 in 1996, with an average margin of +35 points. Instead of reflecting a durable shift, 2020 could be a “reversion to the mean,” with 2016 serving as a recent high-water mark for the Democrats.

In an email responding to my inquiry about future trends, Fraga wrote:

My sense is that most of the Latinos who shifted to the Republican Party in 2020 have not returned to the Democratic Party. Many of these new Republican converts were ideologically conservative pre-2020, so Republicans didn’t have to shift their policy message very much to win them over.

6) Damn if there’s one thing I hate about security theater is the absolutely inane, asinine, absurd, plastic bag policy.  I was so pleased the NC State Fair gave up on this absurdity after a single year.  Several of my family members are going to a marching band competition tomorrow that is requiring this.  Seriously?!  I’m surprised there’s not more good takedowns of this online because it is so stupid, but here’s a pretty good one on how unfair it is to women.  “Security Theater Doesn’t Help Anyone Other than Makers of Clear Bags”

7) I’m not even a particularly big fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, but, damn, this interview was just entertaining and charming.  

8) John McWhorter on the Duke-BYU volleyball incident that didn’t actually seem to happen:

It’s time for a few words on what we might learn from a Black volleyball player’s claims about what happened at a match she participated in at Brigham Young University this past August. I have refrained from commenting on this for a spell, in case there were further revelations. As there have been none yet, I shall proceed.

Rachel Richardson, a Black member of Duke’s volleyball team playing in a match at Brigham Young University, claimed that she and other Black teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match,” such that they had to face a crowd amid which slurs “grew into threats.”

But a sporting match such as this one is attended by thousands and is well recorded, both professionally and also by anyone in attendance with a cellphone. To date, no one has offered evidence that corroborates Richardson’s claims of racist verbal abuse, either independently or as part of an investigation by B.Y.U. There is nothing comparable in the security footage or in the television feed the school took of the match. No one at the match representing either school has described hearing such a thing happening. No witnesses have been reported as coming forward.

To be clear: It is possible that some racist spectator shouted a racial slur at Richardson at some point during the match. But it seems apparent that no rising tide of slurs and threats occurred during that match — that would be clear in the recordings. And Richardson’s having possibly exaggerated what happened casts into doubt whether there were any slurs at all, given that people leveling such words tend to do so with the intention of being heard by others, and no one present has come forward and explicitly said they heard it. Richardson and her representatives have presented no explanation as to why recordings via modern technology do not reveal what she claimed.

We cannot know why Richardson made this claim. Maybe she misheard common volleyball chants, as some have suggested. Or perhaps there were members of the crowd who did in fact resort to racist slurs that others either did not hear or are not willing to corroborate. But it’s hard not to sense that all of this is discomfitingly ambiguous — the likelihood that Richardson’s basic claim of being continuously heckled with racist slurs from the stands seems rather infinitesimal.

But this is why the B.Y.U. story is important. The message from this story is not just that interpretations of events will differ, or that in some fashion racism persists in America even if the details on this case are murky. We must also engage with the unfortunate possibility that the B.Y.U. story may be a demonstration of a pattern, one that we must be aware of to have an honest debate about racism in America today.

I have long noticed, in attending to episodes of this kind in our times, that claims of especially stark and unfiltered racist abuse, of the kind that sound like something from another time, often do not turn out to have been true. Accounts of this kind, I have realized, should be received warily. Not with utter resistance, but with a grain of salt.

9) Thomas Friedman with an interesting new column on the US’s new policy trying to limit advanced Chinese microchip technology:

Today, though, I want to focus on the struggle with China, which is less visible and involves no shooting, because it is being fought mostly with transistors that toggle between digital 1s and 0s. But it will have as big, if not bigger, an impact on the global balance of power as the outcome of the combat between Russia and Ukraine. And it has little to do with Taiwan.

It is a struggle over semiconductors — the foundational technology of the information age. The alliance that designs and makes the smartest chips in the world will also have the smartest precision weapons, the smartest factories and the smartest quantum computing tools to break virtually any form of encryption. Today, the U.S. and its partners lead, but China is determined to catch up — and we are now determined to prevent that. Game on.

Last week, the Biden administration issued a new set of export regulations that in effect said to China: “We think you are three technology generations behind us in logic and memory chips and equipment, and we are going to ensure that you never catch up.” Or, as the national security adviser Jake Sullivan put it more diplomatically: “Given the foundational nature of certain technologies, such as advanced logic and memory chips, we must maintain as large of a lead as possible” — forever.

“The U.S. has essentially declared war on China’s ability to advance the country’s use of high-performance computing for economic and security gains,” Paul Triolo, a China and tech expert at Albright Stonebridge, a consulting firm, told The Financial Times. Or as the Chinese Embassy in Washington framed it, the U.S. is going for “sci-tech hegemony.”…

This last rule is huge, because the most advanced semiconductors are made by what I call “a complex adaptive coalition” of companies from America to Europe to Asia. Think of it this way: AMD, Qualcomm, Intel, Apple and Nvidia excel at the design of chips that have billions of transistors packed together ever more tightly to produce the processing power they are seeking. Synopsys and Cadence create sophisticated computer-aided design tools and software on which chip makers actually draw up their newest ideas. Applied Materials creates and modifies the materials to forge the billions of transistors and connecting wires in the chip. ASML, a Dutch company, provides the lithography tools in partnership with, among others, Zeiss SMT, a German company specializing in optical lenses, which draws the stencils on the silicon wafers from those designs, using both deep and extreme ultraviolet light — a very short wavelength that can print tiny, tiny designs on a microchip. Intel, Lam Research, KLA and firms from Korea to Japan to Taiwan also play key roles in this coalition.

The point is this: The more we push the boundaries of physics and materials science to cram more transistors onto a chip to get more processing power to continue to advance artificial intelligence, the less likely it is that any one company, or country, can excel at all the parts of the design and manufacturing process. You need the whole coalition. The reason Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, known as TSMC, is considered the premier chip manufacturer in the world is that every member of this coalition trusts TSMC with its most intimate trade secrets, which it then melds and leverages for the benefit of the whole.

Because China is not trusted by the coalition partners not to steal their intellectual property, Beijing is left trying to replicate the world’s all-star manufacturing chip stack on its own with old technologies. It managed to pilfer a certain amount of chip technology, including 28 nanometer technology from TSMC back in 2017.

Until recently, China’s premier chip maker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Company, had been thought to be stuck at mostly this chip level, although it claims to have produced some chips at the 14 nm and even 7 nm scale by jury-rigging some older-generation Deep UV lithography from ASML. U.S. experts told me, though, that China can’t mass produce these chips with precision without ASML’s latest technology — which is now banned from the country.

10) Spencer Bokat-Lindell on the really tough geo-politics of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia:

The exchange of oil for security guarantees became the basis of the U.S.-Saudi alliance even as it broadened along other dimensions later in the 20th century. Both countries developed an interest in constraining the ambitions of Iran after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and in opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year. Since the 1990s, the United States has been the world’s largest arms exporter, and Saudi Arabia is its single largest customer.

This arrangement has always required a high tolerance for certain critical differences. Saudi Arabia is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, and a fundamentalist theocratic one at that, with very few civil liberties to speak of. And until just a few years ago, the United States and Saudi Arabia disagreed on Israel’s right to exist in what was, during Roosevelt’s presidency, British-controlled Palestine.

“This was always a high-risk business, and for a while the rewards seemed commensurate,” Joan Didion wrote in 2003 of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. “We got the oil for helping the Saudis, we got the moral credit for helping the Israelis, and, for helping both, we enjoyed the continuing business that accrued to an American defense industry significantly based on arming all sides.”…

If Saudi Arabia seems more like a frenemy than an ally these days, the Bloomberg Opinion columnist David Fickling argues it’s because the kingdom recognizes just how vital it is to America’s global superpower status. If the United States withdrew its military presence in the region, as some Democrats have suggested, Fickling believes China would most likely step in to protect Saudi oil shipments from piracy. The United States would lose much of the military and economic leverage it has over China, which would leave East Asian countries more vulnerable to Chinese influence and eliminate an important deterrent to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“The U.S. doesn’t want China deploying the energy weapon to obtain hegemony in East Asia via a Pax Sinica,” Fickling writes. “In the circumstances, stationing a few thousand troops in the Gulf to head off those scenarios is a small price for Washington to pay.”

11) Loved this interview with Ken Jennings who is really doing a terrific job as the primary host of Jeopardy!  

12) Bivalent boosters now approved for 5-11.  I’ve read in a couple places that Moderna is half the adult dose, but, nothing on Pfizer (though, the fact that it is a different vial means it’s also surely a smaller dose).  That means I will wait for my 11 year and 10.75 month old daughter to turn 12 and get the full adult bivalent dose.  Hopefully she stays Covid free till then.  

13) The economics of making childcare work are just really, really tough!  For now, it means a big shortage of workers:

There are 100,000 fewer child-care workers than there were before the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even as private-sector employment fully rebounded over the summer from the job losses caused by Covid-19, the child care sector shrank and was 9.7 percent smaller last month than it was in February 2020, federal data shows.

Program directors point to a few explanations for the shortage: competition from other sectors, as well as regulations — including license requirements, vaccine and masking rules — that could dim the enthusiasm of some job candidates.

The typical American child-care worker earns about $13 per hour, and many earn just above minimum wage. Last year, 29 percent were so poor that they experienced food insecurity, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Oregon.

Positions stocking shelves at Target, ringing up groceries at Trader Joe’s, and packing and loading boxes at Amazon warehouses now often pay more than jobs in child-care programs in many parts of the country. Working at a nail salon or managing pharmacy benefits over the phone can also lead to higher earnings.

A recession could lessen the crunch for child-care staff, if competing employers slowed hiring or cut pay. But even before the pandemic, 98 percent of occupations paid more than child care, and the sector, which was already dealing with widespread shortages and high staff turnover, was not robust enough to meet many families’ needs.

Now, signing up on an online job board as a child-care worker yields dozens of queries from interested employers in potentially higher-paying jobs in other fields — airport security, food services, hotels.

“Child care has been completely left behind as a competitive employer,” said Elliot Haspel, an early-childhood education expert at Capita, a family policy group.

The mathematics of child care are not easy to solve, in part because programs run on such tight margins. In Maryland, center directors like Ms. Reyes earn an average of $41,000 a year. And Ms. Reyes cannot simply raise tuition in order to pay herself or her workers more; child care is already a leading household expense and a service that is unaffordable for 60 percent of the families who need it, according to the Treasury Department.

Nor are there efficiencies to be found from new technologies. “You can’t cut costs — there is no automation, there’s no remote,” said Christina Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association. “What do you do? Not give a kid a snack? Not have an adult in the room?”

Many child care professionals find that the numbers just don’t add up.

14) This is pretty cool– just how bad Americans are at estimating population proportions of groups (really bad!) There’s a nice summary chart that’s too big for me to paste.  

When people’s average perceptions of group sizes are compared to actual population estimates, an intriguing pattern emerges: Americans tend to vastly overestimate the size of minority groups. This holds for sexual minorities, including the proportion of gays and lesbians (estimate: 30%, true: 3%), bisexuals (estimate: 29%, true: 4%), and people who are transgender (estimate: 21%, true: 0.6%). 

It also applies to religious minorities, such as Muslim Americans (estimate: 27%, true: 1%) and Jewish Americans (estimate: 30%, true: 2%). And we find the same sorts of overestimates for racial and ethnic minorities, such as Native Americans (estimate: 27%, true: 1%), Asian Americans (estimate: 29%, true: 6%), and Black Americans (estimate: 41%, true: 12%)…

A parallel pattern emerges when we look at estimates of majority groups: People tend to underestimate rather than overestimate their size relative to their actual share of the adult population. For instance, we find that people underestimate the proportion of American adults who are Christian (estimate: 58%, true: 70%) and the proportion who have at least a high school degree (estimate: 65%, true: 89%). 

The most accurate estimates involved groups whose real proportion fell right around 50%, including the percentage of American adults who are married (estimate: 55%, true: 51%) and have at least one child (estimate: 58%, true: 57%).

Misperceptions of the size of minority groups have been identified in prior surveys, which observers have often attributed to social causes: fear of out-groupslack of personal exposure, or portrayals in the media. Yet consistent with prior research, we find that the tendency to misestimate the size of demographic groups is actually one instance of a broader tendency to overestimate small proportions and underestimate large ones, regardless of the topic. 

15) Ian Milhiser with a great summary of the many and complex issues involved in a Supreme Court case about California trying to require humanely-raised pork:

In 2018, California’s voters enacted Proposition 12, a ballot initiative that imposes strict animal welfare requirements on much of the meat sold in California. Among other things, Prop 12 forbids the sale of any pork in California unless the farm that produced that pork provided its breeding sows with at least “24 square feet of usable floor space per pig.”

The overwhelming majority of pork produced in the United States is produced outside of California. So this law primarily impacts pork farmers in the other 49 states.

The pork industry’s lawyers speak of Prop 12 in almost apocalyptic terms, claiming that it will “increase farmers’ production costs by over $13 per pig, a 9.2% cost increase.” They also claim that it is “impracticable” for pork farmers to know in advance which cuts of pork will ultimately be sold in California — so the farmers will have no choice but to raise all of their pigs in compliance with Prop 12.

But this claim — essentially an argument that California’s law could raise the price of bacon by nearly 10 percent in all 50 states — has never been tested. And at least some large pork producers have put out statements that seem to contradict the pork industry’s alarming economic claims. For this reason, the easiest way for the Court to resolve the Pork Producers case would be to simply send it back down to a trial court and require the pork industry to actually prove that their economic predictions are reliable before the case proceeds.

Should the pork producers do so, however — or should the Court decide to bypass this trial and rule immediately on the constitutional questions presented by the case — then the justices’ decision could transform each state’s relationship with the other 49 states. The justices spent Tuesday morning struggling with the question of just how much one state’s law may impact the economy of other states. And they received few good answers to this question.

16) Pretty curious how health reporter Gretchen Reynolds ended up at the Post after the NYT (moves almost always happen the other way), but, anyway, this is pretty interesting, “Have you exercised your body fat lately? Everyone has fat cells. But the more exercise you do, the more likely you are to have healthy and small fat cells.”

Is your body fat fit?

It could be, if you start or continue exercising, according to rousing new science, which shows that being physically active alters fat at a molecular level in ways that improve the fat’s health. The findings have broad implications for the state of our metabolisms, muscles and even how well our bodies deal with the approaching holiday season of cheery gluttony.

Many of us may not realize that body fat can be metabolically healthy — or the reverse — no matter what someone’s weight or shape.

“Healthy fat is not about the amount of fat” someone carries, said Jeffrey Horowitz, a professor at the University of Michigan, who studies exercise and metabolism. It is about how well that fat functions, he said. “A person who has healthier fat is much better off than someone with the same body fat percentage whose fat is unhealthy.”

What principally differentiates healthy from dysfunctional fat, Horowitz continued, is the size of the fat cells. “The more small fat cells, the better,” he said.

And notably, you don’t have to lose weight or fat to make the body fat you already have metabolically healthier.

Why fat cell size matters

Large fat cells, he said, are already filled with fat. They cannot store much more and tend to leak some of their overstuffed contents into the bloodstream as fatty acids. From there, the fatty acids slosh toward and lodge in other organs, such as the heart, muscles or liver. Fatty, well-marbled livers, muscles or hearts are undesirable (unless, perhaps, you raise steers).

Small fat cells, on the other hand, can expand, essentiallyslurping fat from your blood. You want fat to stay inside fat cells, Horowitz said.

Healthy fat cells also contain reams of active mitochondria, the power centers of any cell. Mitochondria convert oxygen and food into cellular energy. In general, the more mitochondria, the healthier and more resilient any cell will be, including fat cells.

Finally, healthy fat tissue teems with blood vessels, to ferry oxygen and nutrients to fat cells, along with battalions of other cells, most related to immunity, that help fight inflammation. Without sufficient blood supply and immune protection, fat tissue often becomes inflamed and scarred and releases substances into the bloodstream that initiate similar, unhealthy inflammation elsewhere in our bodies, even in people who are not overweight.

17) I hate the idea of sentencing drug suppliers to first-degree murder type sentences because someone overdosed.  I mean, maybe if you knowing say, hey, there’s no opioids in here, but it’s pure fentanyl.  But, if you tell someone, here’s some fentanyl and they overdose on fentanyl, that’s on them.  “Eric Kay sentenced to 22 years for role in death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs”

18) The universe may actually be a hologram??  Cosmology is weird.  

For the last century the biggest bar fight in science has been between Albert Einstein and himself.

On one side is the Einstein who in 1915 conceived general relativity, which describes gravity as the warping of space-time by matter and energy. That theory predicted that space-time could bend, expand, rip, quiver like a bowl of Jell-O and disappear into those bottomless pits of nothingness known as black holes.

On the other side is the Einstein who, starting in 1905, laid the foundation for quantum mechanics, the nonintuitive rules that inject randomness into the world — rules that Einstein never accepted. According to quantum mechanics, a subatomic particle like an electron can be anywhere and everywhere at once, and a cat can be both alive and dead until it is observed. God doesn’t play dice, Einstein often complained.

Gravity rules outer space, shaping galaxies and indeed the whole universe, whereas quantum mechanics rules inner space, the arena of atoms and elementary particles. The two realms long seemed to have nothing to do with each other; this left scientists ill-equipped to understand what happens in an extreme situation like a black hole or the beginning of the universe.

But a blizzard of research in the last decade on the inner lives of black holes has revealed unexpected connections between the two views of the cosmos. The implications are mind-bending, including the possibility that our three-dimensional universe — and we ourselves — may be holograms, like the ghostly anti-counterfeiting images that appear on some credit cards and drivers licenses. In this version of the cosmos, there is no difference between here and there, cause and effect, inside and outside or perhaps even then and now; household cats can be conjured in empty space. We can all be Dr. Strange.

19) Some day we really will figure out how to defeat most cancers. “After Giving Up on Cancer Vaccines, Doctors Start to Find Hope: Encouraging data from preliminary studies are making some doctors feel optimistic about developing immunizations against pancreatic, colon and breast cancers.”

It seems like an almost impossible dream — a cancer vaccine that would protect healthy people at high risk of cancer. Any incipient malignant cells would be obliterated by the immune system. It would be no different from the way vaccines protect against infectious diseases.

However, unlike vaccines for infectious diseases, the promise of cancer vaccines has only dangled in front of researchers, despite their arduous efforts. Now, though, many hope that some success may be nearing in the quest to immunize people against cancer.

The first vaccine involves people with a frightening chance of developing pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult cancers to treat once it is underway. Other vaccine studies involve people at high risk of colon and breast cancer.

Of course, such research is in its early days, and the vaccine efforts might fail. But animal data are encouraging, as are some preliminary studies in human patients, and researchers are brimming with newfound optimism.

“There is no reason why cancer vaccines would not work if given at the earliest stage,” said Sachet A. Shukla, who directs a cancer vaccine program at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Cancer vaccines,” he added, “are an idea whose time has come.” (Dr. Shukla owns stock in companies developing cancer vaccines.)

That view is a far cry from where the field was a decade ago, when researchers had all but given up. Studies that would have seemed like a pipe dream are now underway.

“People would have said this is insane,” said Dr. Susan Domchek, the principal investigator of a breast cancer vaccine study at the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, she and others foresee a time when anyone with a precancerous condition or a genetic predisposition to cancer could be vaccinated and protected.

20) Remember the dog killing in Brooklyn? Freddie deBoer has thoughts, “The Existence of Random Dog-Killings Would Seem to Imply the Need for Some Sort of Constabulary Force”

As the Times story runs, “one of the disrupters, a woman calling herself Sky, said, ‘Crime is an abstract term that means nothing in a lot of ways,’ according to Common Sense.” Perhaps! Perhaps crime is abstract. A dog, though, is entirely corporeal. And I’m sorry to say that so is a stick.

Sad that I need to write this, but here are some things you can believe, without believing that a man who beat a dog to death should go entirely uncorrected:

  1. That we badly need criminal justice reform.

  2. That we are a vastly over-incarcerated nation.

  3. That existing police departments exhibit endemic racism, corruption, unequal enforcement, and impunity from consequences.

  4. That those who are mentally ill deserve special dispensation within the criminal justice system, as their condition complicates questions of culpability.

  5. That ordinary citizens should be careful about when and why they contact the police, and should do so understanding the potential for violence and racism that so often stem from police interactions with people of color.

You can believe all of that, and still also believe that the man who beat a woman’s dog to death for no reason should be arrested and treated appropriately by the criminal justice system. “Treated appropriately” doesn’t mean we lock him up and throw away the key. In fact, if psychiatrists thought it was appropriate, treating that man appropriately might very well involve only compulsory psychiatric care, with no formal legal punishment. (Compulsory psychiatric treatment has a bad reputation, particularly among the activist left, but has saved untold thousands of lives.) But you would need to have some sort of formal system in place through which that psychiatric evaluation would be adjudicated, and you’d need to ensure that the accused was compliant in that treatment. Criminal justice has to be formalized, not only for the good of victims of crime but also for the accused. Without formal systems, there can be no standards, and without standards, there is no possibility of the punishment fitting the crime and of equity in consequences. And what we have here, where you still have the police and the prisons but also have a bunch of guilt-ridden white liberals who think they should never play ball with those systems, seems like a worst-of-both-worlds scenario – no real dent made in mass incarceration, but a lack of immediate personal justice for those who need it, as well as community confusion.

21) I just got over “medium cold” that kept me under the weather for the better part of two weeks.  Good stuff here on “medium Covid”

Recently, I’ve begun to think that our worries might be better placed. As the pandemic drags on, data have emerged to clarify the dangers posed by COVID across the weeks, months, and years that follow an infection. Taken together, their implications are surprising. Some people’s lives are devastated by long COVID; they’re trapped with perplexing symptoms that seem to persist indefinitely. For the majority of vaccinated people, however, the worst complications will not surface in the early phase of disease, when you’re first feeling feverish and stuffy, nor can the gravest risks be said to be “long term.” Rather, they emerge during the middle phase of post-infection, a stretch that lasts for about 12 weeks after you get sick. This period of time is so menacing, in fact, that it really ought to have its own, familiar name: medium COVID.

Just how much of a threat is medium COVID? The answer has been obscured, to some extent, by sloppy definitions. A lot of studies blend different, dire outcomes into a single giant bucket called “long COVID.” Illnesses arising in as few as four weeks, along with those that show up many months later, have been considered one and the same. The CDC, for instance, suggested in a study out last spring that one in five adults who gets the virus will go on to suffer any of 26 medical complications, starting at least one month after infection, and extending up to one year. All of these are called “post-COVID conditions, or long COVID.” A series of influential analyses looking at U.S. veterans described an onslaught of new heartkidney, and brain diseases (even among the vaccinated) across a similarly broad time span. The studies’ authors refer to these, grouped together, as “long COVID and its myriad complications.”

But the risks described above might well be most significant in just the first few weeks post-infection, and fade away as time goes on. When scientists analyzed Sweden’s national health registry, for example, they found that the chance of developing pulmonary embolism—an often deadly clot in the lungs—was a startling 32 times higher in the first month after testing positive for the virus; after that, it quickly diminished. The clots were only two times more common at 60 days after infection, and the effect was indistinguishable from baseline after three to four months. A post-infection risk of heart attack and stroke was also evident, and declined just as expeditiously. In July, U.K. epidemiologists corroborated the Swedish findings, showing that a heightened rate of cardiovascular disease among COVID patients could be detected up to 12 weeks after they got sick. Then the hazard went away.

22) Honestly, something doesn’t add up about this story that these dogs were owned for years and were never violent, “Dogs that fatally mauled Tennessee toddlers, injured mom were never violent, friend says.”  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  I’m sure most pit bulls are totally sweet dogs (as most dogs are).  But when they do get violent they are bred to have jaws to absolutely destroy flesh.  That’s not good.  Plenty of sweet dogs lack the physical potential to maul you as if they were a crocodile. 

23) 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Great stuff in the New Yorker on how many times we’ll get Covid:

Gordon believes that one day, sars-CoV-2 will infect us far less frequently than it does now. She pointed to a paper published in Nature Medicine that examined how often people were infected by other coronaviruses. (Virtually everyone has antibodies against the four other coronaviruses that afflict humans, and they generally cause only mild cold symptoms.) The researchers followed ten healthy individuals for decades and found that, although reinfections can occur as soon as six months after a prior infection, the median time to reinfection was around three years. “And that’s for any infection, not symptomatic infection,” Gordon said. “My best guess would be—and this is just a guess—that symptomatic covid infections will eventually occur every five years or so.” We could achieve this equilibrium within five years, and possibly sooner, she said. But that would still mean that many of us could get covid ten times or more in our lifetimes…

Recently, I called Florian Krammer, the Mount Sinai virologist, and outlined a pessimistic scenario: a future in which covid reinfections are common, dangerous, and inevitable. “When you say it like that, it sounds very bad,” Krammer admitted. “But I actually don’t see it that way.” There’s nothing special about the coronavirus, he argued. Yes, sars-CoV-2 caused a global pandemic, but he thinks that was primarily because of its novelty. We perceive the virus as unique because we’re so focussed on it—it’s one of the most closely studied pathogens in human history—but it obeys the same general rules as other viruses.

Viruses have always caused a variety of immediate and lasting health problems. It’s just that “most people haven’t been paying attention,” Krammer said. Long before this pandemic, for example, viral infections were linked to diabetes, cancer, heart problems, and autoimmune conditions. Five years ago, in her book on the 1918 influenza pandemic, the journalist Laura Spinney wrote about people who suffered prolonged weakness, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, and mood changes. “We were leaden-footed for weeks,” one woman recalled. “It also was very difficult to remember any simple thing, even for five minutes.” A train driver was “never . . . quite the same” after his illness, blacking out while driving and causing an accident. In parts of Africa, post-viral syndromes were so widespread among farmers that they’re thought to have triggered a famine. Recent research suggests that even non-pandemic influenza may be associated with protracted symptoms: according to researchers at Oxford, nearly a third of people who contract the flu virus today report symptoms that resemble long covid, and could be suffering what might be called “long flu.”

Doesn’t this mean that we should worry about a higher baseline of illness going forward—that the risks of coronavirus reinfections will be layered atop a pre-pandemic level of disease? “Not necessarily,” Krammer told me. “In fact, I think we’re going to get back to more or less the same state we were in before the pandemic.” Krammer argued that respiratory viruses often compete with one another; one kind of infection could make others less likely, at least in the short term. (During the 2020-21 influenza season, flu cases fell so steeply that the C.D.C. was unable to calculate the virus’s burden.) After an infection, the cells in your respiratory tract remain in an antiviral state for some time, making it harder for other viruses to take up residence. It’s also likely that, during and after an illness, people change their behavior. They stay home from work, skip dinner with friends, forgo concerts and conferences. “In the long run, sars-CoV-2 will be just another respiratory virus,” Krammer predicted.

Al-Aly was less sanguine. He sees little reason that covid risks will necessarily drop to the level of influenza, and, in any case, we’re not there yet. “We have to balance the need for normalcy with the need to protect the health of the people,” he said. Still, he agreed with Krammer and the other experts on one thing: the added burden of a third, fourth, or fifth infection will probably be lower than the first or second. Each new infection may come with diminishing marginal pains. “There will come a point where reinfection will not add more risk,” Al-Aly said. “Whether that is the sixth or seventh or nth infection, we don’t know yet.”  

2) I still stand by my take that even with the sexting scandal, Cal Cunningham would not have won the NC Senate race in 2000 (I just don’t really think there was any reason to think he would outperform Biden, who lost to Trump by a little over a point).  That said, this article makes the strongest case I’ve seen that Cunningham would’ve actually won. 

3) Oh, man, I so loved this Athletic article on why the Hurricanes goalkeepers have been so good.  I think a key takeaway has to be that, on some level current performance vs expected goals models are attributing some success to the goalkeeper that is more properly attributed to team defense.  I was also intrigued by the idea that shots preceded by a pass are especially effective:

For Carolina, they were a strong team at closing in on the shooter. It isn’t exactly an industry secret that the Hurricanes are an active team defensively and very aggressive without the puck. The ability of their defenders to move quickly to take away space from their opposition is likely what makes them such a strong defensive team in general.

There was a very stark difference between the Hurricanes and the Jets/Sens at preventing the opposition from getting good shots away. Among non-perimeter, non-rebound, non-deflected shots, 37 percent of shots on goal against Carolina were contested and without a setup pass, compared to 30 percent against the Jets/Sens. In addition, just 18 percent of shots on goal against Carolina were uncontested and were preceded by a pass, compared to 23 percent against the Jets/Sens.

Basically, the Hurricanes found a way to both shut down passes, but also to get into good positions while their opponents were shooting. They simply didn’t give up many grade-A chances because of how aggressive they were.

4) Just generally amusing to me… AOC tweeting about the controversy over lack of pickleball courts in Chapel Hill, NC.  Also, apparently pickleball opponents like to complain about the noise.

5) This was one of those news stories about a subject I knew little and learned so much.  “A Distracted Russia Is Losing Its Grip on Its Old Soviet Sphere: Russia’s domination of Central Asia and the Caucasus region is unraveling as the Kremlin focuses on the war in Ukraine — and border violence is flaring.”  I’d still like to know more about why these former Soviet republics seem so inclined towards violence with each other.

6) I hope to say more about Biden’s marijuana actions in another post, for now, this Washington Post article was about the only one I read which explained the difficulty of changing the schedule through executive action.  Pass a law!

The review of marijuana’s classification, to be led by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland, could address a long-standing question over whether possession of marijuana — deemed legal in several states — should ultimately be decriminalized at the federal level…

Schedule I substances, which currently include marijuana, are those that have been deemed to be potentially extremely harmful and have no medicinal benefit. In his statement, Biden noted that marijuana has a higher classification than fentanyl and methamphetamine, which have spawned a deadly overdose and addiction epidemic nationally.

Rescheduling marijuana, however, would require the input of multiple agencies. First, HHS would need to make a finding that there’s a potential medical benefit to cannabis, Freedman said, and conclude that there is enough research to make such a finding.

That recommendation would then go to the Drug Enforcement Administration for review, and the DEA would need to come back with its own finding on how marijuana should be scheduled. From there, the attorney general would review and decide whether to initiate a rulemaking process to reschedule marijuana.

The process can typically take several years, Freedman said, but depending on how much pressure Biden applies to the agencies to expedite the review, the administration could complete the review within two years. But even reclassifying marijuana as a schedule 2 substance — meaning it could have some medicinal benefits but is still harmful — would not do much to change the on-the-ground reality, Freedman said.

7) Love this from Jonathan Weiler on Herschel Walker:

Meanwhile, Walker’s GOP allies are rallying to his defense, variously arguing that the reporting is a liberal hit job; that Walker has changed and deserves forgiveness; that he doesn’t owe anyone an apology, because paying for one abortion is nothing compared to enabling abortions, as Walker’s opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock does; that because Walker is a man of Christ he will be the most consequential member of the United States Senate (Newt Gingrich said that). And so on.

What does this all mean? On the one hand, this is all what you’d expect. We’re a month out from election day, and the Walker/Warnock race could well decide control of the Senate. Of course, his GOP backers are going to go to the mat for him. That’s politics. Further, many GOP Members of Congress are, as I’ve said before, internet trolls with committee assignments. Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Ted Cruz and lots more may speak in complete sentences (questionable in Gohmert’s case). But their utterances, as well as those of other GOP aspirants to high office, amount to little more than gleeful nihilism and utter contempt for the very idea of a shared factual reality or of any aspiration to generate policies that might improve the lives of ordinary people.

So, yes, one way to understand Walker is as nothing special. If he wins, he’ll just be one more contemptible officeholder, who will use his vote to further afflict the afflicted and comfort the already comfortable, consistent with the right-wing project that Walker’s allies in Congress have long been agitating for.

On the other hand, Herschel Walker is a particularly deficient human being. He may well be suffering from some form of brain damage because of the many years of hits to the head he took while playing football. People around him regard him as a pathological liar. He cannot answer a question coherently. Indeed, he can barely speak like an adult. He appears to know literally nothing about what government does, what we mean when we talk about climate change, what happened on 9/11 or any matter of public significance. His sentences amount to a garbled pastiche of right-wing talking points about media elites, liberals, Washington and politicians. The depth of his limitations brings into especially sharp relief the perversity and cruelty of the GOP project and its mocking contempt for the idea that the elected stewards of the public good should give a single solitary shit about serving it.

In sum, he’s a sick joke who has a good chance of winning a seat in the United States Senate.

Walker himself is pathetic. What he represents is sickening.

8) And this is really, really good from Jesse Singal, “If You Believe In Structural Racism, You Believe In Pipeline Problems”

For the purposes of simplicity, let’s boil things down to the black-white dyad and imagine that all job applicants are one race or the other, though most of what I’m saying here applies to relatively advantaged versus relatively disadvantaged groups more broadly. 

As of 2019, despite the fact that the country is getting increasingly diverse, there were still about five or six times more white Americans than black ones. The numbers get fuzzy because not everyone is just one race — let’s just call it a 5-to-1 ratio for the sake of our exercise.

Under these conditions, if white and black people apply to the same jobs in the same numbers, employers can expect about five job applications from white people for every application from a black person. But of course, white and black people don’t apply for the same jobs in the same numbers. If you are economically marginalized, there are a million reasons you are unlikely to apply for a job at The New York Times, just like how if you are economically advantaged, there are a million reasons you are not likely to apply for a job at Foot Locker (especially a full-time job, as an adult). In the U.S., race and class are forever intertwined — white households have about 10 times the wealth of black ones — so we should expect that actual ratio of white-to-black applicants for jobs at rather elite institutions to be much higher than 5-to-1. What’s a reasonable estimate here? Ten to one? Higher?

Of those applicants, how many will be truly competitive, in the sense that they will be able to demonstrate to a hiring manager that they can do work at the level required of the Times or, well, Insert Elite Institution Here? This is where people get uncomfortable, because it’s assumed that any claim about one racial group “beating” another in terms of the number of qualified candidates comes down to a belief in that group’s “supremacy.”

But that isn’t how it works at all! It’s genuinely insane to make this leap. In fact, we should be looking askance at people who believe in structural racism but don’t think it leads to proportional black-white discrepancies in how many well-qualified job applicants are produced.

Here’s one angle that I think helps make this point: Surely many people’s life outcomes are determined, in part, by their grandparents. I know that’s true for me. On both sides, my grandparents worked very hard to provide material security, education, and so on to my parents, who in turn passed on those advantages to me, which helped lead to my ability to do cool stuff like work at New York Magazine, write a book, and — most importantly, of course — build up this newsletter to where it is now. I’ve been exceptionally lucky. People could argue forever over how much of a given person’s success is the result of luck versus hard work (I find it silly to pin success on hard work given how many billions of people work hard without getting very far, but your mileage may vary), but the point is you’d have to be pretty nuts to deny that the role of grandparents and their opportunities, wealth, and so on, doesn’t make a pretty big difference for many people.

If you’re old enough to read this, your grandparents entered the workforce and/or started raising kids at a time when racism of all sorts influenced the United States much more profoundly than it does today. Racism obviously, obviously, obviously affected whose grandparents got what — we really can set aside the question of its present role. My grandparents, despite being poor and working class and having to do a great deal of scrapping, had significant advantages by dint of being seen as white rather than black. It’s just undeniable, and it’s part of why I get to live a comfortable life, and it’s part of why some black people don’t get to.

Because my family had money, I could build up a résumé by doing unpaid internships after college. Those unpaid internships led directly to an entry-level job at the Center for American Progress (it paid a grand total of $33,000 per year, if I’m remembering right, but I had no student debt and was happy to live in a gross group house, so whatever!). That, in turn, led directly to a(n also low-paying) job at Washington Monthly, which led directly to a contractor position at The Boston Globe (still no real money), and then grad school and New York Magazine (my first genuinely adult salary, at age 30) and now here (meaning the bar where I started this post, drinking and working on my own schedule, and the apartment where I finished it). 

I’m not trying to pretend there’s no “merit” involved here. But it gets extremely fuzzy, doesn’t it? Surely there are millions of people in the U.S. who had as much latent potential as I did to become a writer or podcaster but who couldn’t get a crucial early job because they lacked connections, or couldn’t take a job they got because early career pay in media is so low. And so they ended up elsewhere, likely somewhere that didn’t take full advantage of their skills or passions.

Race-wise, I’m no essentialist. And I don’t like when people throw around the term “structural racism” loosey-goosey, as a way of implying race is an important causal driver of some outcome without actually making that argument. Race, like any other term, can be invoked sloppily, including in a manner reminiscent of responding to the question “Why did that happen?” with “Uh, a ghost did it!”

But whatever you think of the precise way race continues to shape things today, and how much it can be fully separated from class, race has obviously shaped the transmission of wealth and opportunity across generations. Again, we’re talking just two generations ago. There is no wild conspiracy theorizing going on here. It’s just not credible to deny this. So the tl;dr version of all this can be boiled down to: “I am successful in part because my grandparents were able to accumulate wealth on an uneven playing field, and millions of other white people can say the same thing.” This is not a knock on the grandparents in question, who really did work hard. But, again, everyone knows that a lot of people work hard. People travel tens of thousands of miles, on foot, just for a chance at a slightly better backbreaking job. “Well, they worked hard!” is a cop-out that doesn’t really explain who gets what.

You’re telling me that this stuff doesn’t matter and that it can’t help explain things like the racial wealth gap?

And, alas, something went wrong with my Onetab this week (a normally great extension that keeps track of all the stuff I want to read later of save for quick hits) so I lost a ton of potential quick hits.  Sorry.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) You know this one is going to be right in my sweet spot, “A New Approach to Spotting Tumors: Look for Their Microbes: New research is revealing that cancer is rife with bacteria and fungi — a rich ecosystem that scientists call the tumor microbiome.”

Look up an image of a tumor on Google, and you’ll probably end up with a brightly colored cluster of cancer cells on a drab background of healthy tissue. But for Lian Narunsky Haziza, a cancer biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the picture looks very different. A tumor may also contain millions of microbes, representing dozens of species.

“I think this is an ecosystem,” she said. “It means the cancer cells are not alone.”

Scientists have long known that our bodies are home to microbes, but have tended to treat tumors as if they were sterile. In recent years, however, researchers have laid that notion to rest, demonstrating that tumors are rife with microbes.

In 2020, several research teams showed that tumors are home to various blends of bacteria. And on Thursday, two studies published in the journal Cell found that tumors are also home to many species of fungi.

This so-called tumor microbiome is proving so distinctive in each type of cancer that some scientists hope to find early signs of hidden tumors by measuring the microbial DNA they shed into the blood. And some research hints that microbes may make tumors more aggressive or resistant to treatments. If that proves to be the case, it may be possible to fight cancer by attacking a tumor’s microbiome along with the tumor itself.

2) Good stuff from David French, “Why Dictators Underestimate Liberal Democracies”

Corruption plus sullen compliance is not a formula for ultimate military success. That does not, however, mean that authoritarian militaries are always weak. The Kaiser’s Imperial German Army and Hitler’s Wehrmacht were mighty instruments of war. The Red Army at its peak was one of the most formidable fighting machines in the history of armed conflict.

Yet, in their confrontations with liberal democracies, their militaries and systems failed in part because authoritarianism draws down and diminishes their nations’ underlying cultural strength. They leech off their civilizations.

Modern critics of liberalism thus get the reality exactly backwards. They argue that liberalism diminishes virtue, that liberty leeches away the underlying strength of great civilizations. In reality, liberal democracy, better than any other system of government designed by the mind of man, enhances and maximizes its people’s potential, including their will and capacity to wage necessary war.  

In a short piece, I have to deal with generalities. Liberal democracies can struggle with corruption. They have to fight to preserve the rule of law. There are even times, of course, when Western militaries lose—and when they lose, it’s often because their own people have decided, through free and open debate, that the war they’re waging is not necessary to fight. Thus U.S. soldiers left Vietnam when no enemy force could push us off the battlefield. We left Afghanistan when the Taliban could never hope to throw us off the land by force.

But few wars are more necessary than the war in Ukraine, and while Ukraine is an emerging liberal society, we’re watching the power of a people who aspire to be free, and we’re seeing the raw power of a small fraction of the weaponry produced by the United States, the arsenal of democracy still.

Ukraine’s battlefield success—and the courage of elected leaders accountable to their population—should serve as an inspiration. There are those in the West—especially on the right—who have looked to Vladimir Putin as the future. They say he is a guardian of Christian civilization, the strong man who shames and confronts the soft. Deceived, they share Russian military propaganda, believing it to reveal something profound and true.

But it is a lie. We must remember that it is a lie. Our liberal culture—our pluralism—isn’t just a means of keeping a diverse people together. It’s an end. Our liberty doesn’t mean that we’re free; it also keeps us strong, and our strength helps keep us free.

3) I don’t know what the answer to this is, but, 4%?? “Few Americans get new covid booster shot ahead of projected winter surge”

Federal officials have spent the past year urging Americans to get booster shots to bolster their protection against the coronavirus, which wanes over time. In early September, they rushed out the first new shots — reformulated to target the still-dominant omicron variants — to give people time to get inoculated before a likely cold weather surge, when respiratory infections increase as people head indoors, and recommended that all Americans 12 and older receive a third and fourth dose of vaccine.

But the campaigns have lagged badly. Only about 105 million U.S. adults — roughly 40 percent — have received the third shot of vaccine initially offered a year ago, according to federal data, a far lower rate than countries like the United Kingdom, where more than 70 percent of adults have gotten a third dose. That figure is also well behind the 200 million U.S. adults who completed their primary series of shots.

Early data showsthat just over 11 million Americans — or about 4 percent of those eligible — have received the new bivalent booster shots. A third of adults say they eventually plan to get those shots, according to KFF polling.

For public health leaders, the low booster rate is startling in a nation that financed the shots’ development, offers them free and touts them as the best way to protect against a virus that has already claimed more than 1 million lives in this country.

The lagging booster rate is also blamed as a major contributor to the high covid mortality rate last winter and the continuing deaths of more than 400 Americans on average per day linked to the virus, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker. An analysis by the Commonwealth Fund,an independent research group, forecasts that more than 75,000 lives might be needlessly lost if the fall booster campaign comes up short.

4) Really thoughtful piece about adolescent gender transition from Reuters.  A couple thoughts… 1) honestly, the case of kids who are sure they are the wrong gender from an early age strikes me as totally different. 2) Damn do I hate the “sex assigned at birth” formulation.  In an otherwise evenhanded piece, the adoption of that language really sticks out.

5) Speaking of which, I don’t love all of this, but some good stuff in here from Heather Heying:

There is an eight-year-old girl who likes to play in streams and look under rocks for squirmy critters. She not only knows how to throw a ball but enjoys doing it. She loves math and logic, and has no interest in dolls or dresses. She will grow up to be a woman. Because that’s what girls do.

There is another eight-year-old girl who likes to give tea parties for her stuffed animals. She likes to dance all the dances, often with other girls who like to do the same thing. She loves to read, and has no interest in trucks or trails. She will also grow up to be a woman. Because, again, that’s what girls do.

One of these girls may want to be an astronaut. The other, a chef. Or a mother. Or a lawyer. An actress. A racecar driver. Are all of these desires equally likely among girls? They are not. Girls are likely to want some things more than others. But guess what: the girls who aren’t girly are still girls. You can tell, in part, by the fact that they grow up to be women. Because that’s what girls do.

Sex isn’t assigned at birth. Sex is observed at birth…

The determination of what sex a baby is is usually based on an easy observation at birth, but this isn’t always the case. Intersex people exist, as do people with yet more subtle ambiguities in their phenotypes. The conclusion being imposed on us, far less by trans people than by Trans Rights Activists (TRAs), is that any exceptions to normal function, any fuzziness at categorical borders, proves that we’ve got it all wrong, and that reality is a social construct. It’s not, though. While laws are indeed social constructs, and lawmakers can clearly be captured by ideology, ideological capture does not change the underlying reality. Sex is observed at birth, by looking at primary sex characteristics, or sex can be observed before birth, by looking at primary sex characteristics in utero, or by looking at a karyotype.

6) Systemic racism is bad.  Also, you should not be able to kill a dog and violently threaten people and face no consequences because systemic racism exist.  It’s not that complicated!  Pretty fascinating story here (free link)

7) To be clear, people insisting on paper ballot counting instead of machines are basically crackpots.  Very good stuff here from NPR:

Hand-counting ballots is a voting “solution” that, to those without familiarity with elections, may sound nice. The problem is that counting tactic has actually been found to be significantly less accurate, more expensive and more time-consuming than using tabulation equipment.

“Computers — which ballot scanners rely on — are very good at tedious, repetitive tasks. Humans are bad at them,” wrote Charles Stewart III, who directs the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, in the Washington Post. “Counting votes is tedious and repetitive.”

Stewart coauthored a study in 2018 that found ballot scanners to be more accurate than hand counts. The study focused on two statewide races with recounts in Wisconsin, where some localities do count ballots by hand and others count ballots using machines:

In Wisconsin’s 2011 Supreme Court election recount, the hand-counted paper ballots differed from the recount by 0.28 percent while the difference for scanned paper ballots was 0.15 percent. In its 2016 recount of the presidential election, hand-counted paper ballots were off by 0.18 percent while scanned ballots were off by 0.13 percent.

In short, in both races, the ballots that were counted using scanners were closer to the recounted totals. A separate study from the early 2000s focused on New Hampshire and found the same thing.

“All the data shows it is less accurate to do a hand count,” says Simon. “What you’re really asking beleaguered and tired election judges to do at the end of a very long day is to not just do one hand count; if there are 30 contests on a ballot, you’re asking them to do 30 individual and separate hand counts. And people are people. They get tired, they make mistakes. “

Moving back toward hand-counting ballots would also significantly increase costs for local election offices that are perennially under-resourced, says Jennifer Morrell, an elections consultant and former local voting administrator.

8) You know how much I’d love to see more investment in this, “How to fight Covid with light: Some wavelengths of light in a range called far-UVC kill microbes in experiments and appear to be harmless to people. Could they be used to make indoor spaces safer against the coronavirus?”

Recent experiments using mice and human participants suggest that 222nm, far-UVC, is much safer, which is partly why Eadie and colleagues were keen to use it in their study. A clinical trial currently underway in Canada will also use far-UVC lamps set at 207 to 222 nm to find out whether they reduce the transmission of infections including influenza and Covid-19 in long-term care facilities for elderly people. Researchers are to install the lights in communal areas such as corridors and dining rooms, but in some locations they will install placebo lights that look exactly the same but don’t emit far-UVC. The objective is to find out whether residents living in settings with the far-UVC lamps experience a reduction in Covid-19, flu and various respiratory illnesses, or not.

It’s important to continue studying far-UVC in order to ensure that it really is safe to shine directly onto people of various ages over long periods, says Amanda Weaver, an environmental epidemiologist and PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. She praises the experiment by Eadie and colleagues but suggests that some settings may wish to take advantage of the other benefits that come from cleaning the air with ventilation systems that use HEPA filters; these also remove allergens and pollutants such as dust along with viruses and bacteria.

“Filters are more cost-effective and you can sort of get at these other, long-term, constant, chronic exposures,” she says. Still, the possibility that the lamps could zap airborne pathogens is “amazing,” she adds, and in places where infection control is particularly important, such as hospitals, far-UVC could come into its own…

Morawska raises the possibility that far-UVC, when shone directly between people indoors, might even reduce short-range airborne transmission — in other words, inactivate the virus so quickly that an airborne particle loaded with virus could become safe in the short time that it takes to travel, say, a meter or so from an infected person who is speaking or coughing to an uninfected individual nearby.

“It’s possibly one of the only technologies, other than a mask, that could stop that,” says Eadie. Supplementing the preventive actions and changes in behavior that keep people safer —since these have become politicized and divisive during the pandemic — could be very powerful, says Weaver.

Eadie, however, argues that we need more studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the lamps before we start using far-UVC devices for infection control. He and his colleagues hope to investigate that in the next phase of their research — by modeling the possible impact of far-UVC on disease transmission.

“I think we need some more real-world studies,” he says, “before we were to say, ‘Yes, let’s go ahead and let’s start using these lamps.’”

9) This is great from Kevin Williamson, “The Laziest Politics: This is what happens when demonization replaces persuasion.”

Our politics is upside-down in several different ways, but one of the most important of them is that politicians and activists seem to have forgotten how to ask for votes and how to engage in old-fashioned democratic persuasion. Instead of saying, “What can I do to earn your support?” our contemporary politicians insist that we are morally obligated to support them no matter what. After hearing the stories about Herschel Walker, purportedly a pro-life Republican, paying for an abortion for one of his many extramarital attachments, Dana Loesch gave the definitive Republican answer of 2022: “I don’t care if Hershel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles—I want control of the Senate.” 

Never mind that such a figure as Dana Loesch will never have control of the Senate: She will be at most an instrument of someone else’s control. Nobody on the right seems able to stop and ask: “Why? Why do we want a party whose leading lights are such figures as Donald Trump and Herschel Walker to control the Senate? Why would we want such figures as Lindsey Graham or Josh Hawley to control anything?”

Maybe there is a case for that. But I spend a lot of time around politicians, especially Republican politicians, taking copious notes on their emissions, and I have not heard a case for Republicans worth repeating in years—only a case against Democrats. 

Democrats, for their part, are in essentially the same rhetorical position. 

Political demonization may reflect a kind of moral failing, but it reflects much more clearly an intellectual failing—and a political failing, too. Every time a Republican muckety-muck tries to produce an actual agenda, it either sinks like a lead Titanic (Kevin McCarthy) or it ends up being the political equivalent of urinating on an electric fence (Rick Scott). Mitch McConnell, shrewd carnivore that he is, has tried to dissuade Republicans from producing any kind of legislative to-do list at all, and his argument for that—Why give the Democrats something to run against?—gives away the game: McConnell knows that Republicans are, at this curious political moment, entirely incapable of producing a positive agenda that is anything other than a net loss for them politically. If Republicans talk about fiscal rectitude, Americans will laugh at them; if Republicans talk about foreign policy, they’ll end up in a bellum omnium contra omnes with all those check-writing military contractors in Virginia and the Kremlin stooges in Ohio going berserk on one another. Abortion? Give Blake Masters a time machine and he can have a heated argument…

Republicans can’t accommodate a politics of reality because doing so would mean asking Herschel Walker to explain to the people of Georgia what he would actually try to do in a Senate in which he might very well be a member of the minority party and would be at best a member of a party with a slight majority that cannot simply legislate by fiat as though Democrats did not exist. In the real world, a Republican who wants to get something done in the Senate has to figure out how to work with Alex Padilla or Tammy Duckworth if not Chuck Schumer or Patrick Leahy. And Herschel Walker will be bringing out a new translation of Beowulf before he explains how he’s going to do that. So, instead, we get, “Stop the communists!” as though that were an answer, or an agenda, or really even the beginning of an answer or an agenda.   

Of course, the politics of demonization provide a double benefit for Republicans: It allows them to demand power without really explaining what they mean to do with it—and, at least as important, it gives them an excuse not to account for the many ways in which they already have wasted and abused the power with which they have been entrusted. 

At some point, that gambit will play itself out—if only because, in spite of the best efforts of our politicians, the sky is not falling, and the inconsiderate world keeps refusing to end.

10) The report on the NWSL is just really disheartening.  That even today you can have a coach of a professional women’s team act in completely inappropriate ways sexually and get away with it and continue to get new coaching jobs is just… ugh.  NYT ,”6 Takeaways From the Report on Abuse in Women’s Soccer.

11) It was funny to see this “Against Algebra” literally the same day my 16-year old son and I were discussing how algebra is just so fundamental to all higher math.  (He’s totally digging calculus, which I think is awesome– that is both calculus, and his enjoyment thereof).  I don’t doubt that we could do way better with high school math education, but eschewing algebra is not it (though, don’t get me started on the completely worthlessness of all that sine, cosine crap!)

12) Without reading the study first, I’d almost surely have to answer this question with, yes.  “Would having more female officers improve policing?”

Put simply, on average women seem to be more effective police officers, by our measures…

Our findings suggest that female officers are less likely than male officers to investigate citizens aggressively — and that when they do, they are more likely to be justified in doing so. Studies find that negative contact with the police can reduce the likelihood of voting or being civically involved more generally. Having more female officers could increase trust in government in overpoliced communities, since women’s policing style, on average, tends to be more deliberate and less confrontational.

13) This is really good, “Whatever Happened to the Starter Home? The economics of the housing market, and the local rules that shape it, have squeezed out entry-level homes.”

For a long time, that suburban model worked, although only for white families at first. But the economics and the politics shifted as the land within a reasonable driving distance of downtown filled in.

Land grew more expensive. But communities didn’t respond by allowing housing on smaller pieces of it. They broadly did the opposite, ratcheting up rules that ensured builders couldn’t construct smaller, more affordable homes. They required pricier materials and minimum home sizes. They wanted architectural flourishes, not flat facades.

“Local communities in the last 30 to 40 years have gotten really good at this — way better than they used to be,” Joseph Gyourko, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, said of rules that restrict development that neighbors don’t like.

This mix of good intentions (energy efficiency, tree preservation) and exclusionary ones (aesthetic mandates, minimum lot sizes) has pushed up the cost of building on top of the rising cost of land. Cities have also shifted more of the burden for funding public infrastructure like parks and sewer systems off taxpayers and onto homebuilders.

The result today is that a builder who can put up only one home on an expensive piece of land will construct a large, expensive one.

 
Another result is that more affordable homes built decades ago are less likely to stay that way. A small house now sitting on land worth $500,000 will make sense mostly as a tear-down. A family earning $150,000 a year will compete with a family earning $60,000 when there are so few entry-level homes to buy.

“They still have the starter home,” said Ed Pinto, director of the A.E.I. Housing Center, pointing to pricey Santa Clara County, Calif. “They still have the 1954 1,200-square-foot rambler.”

It now sells for $1.4 million…

The simplest way to put entry-level housing on increasingly expensive land is to build a lot of it — to put two, three, four or more units on lots that for decades have been reserved for one home.

The outcome would look more like housing built a century ago, with more duplexes, more rowhouses, more homeowners adding their own rental units.

“We need to shift our culture away from this dependency on single-family detached housing, and thinking it’s the only solution,” said Daniel Parolek, an architect and author of a book on “missing middle” housing.

That time my girls soccer team played against a boy

If you know me, you know that my favorite thing in the world is coaching Rec soccer.  I had an amazing run with my oldest son’s team (the beloved Blasters) till he was 18 and I am now having the best time with my 11-year old daughter’s team, the Thornados (we were the Tornados and the league took the name away from us when we took a season off for Covid and reassigned us the Thorns– this is our unofficial compromise).  So far this season we are 6-0 and have not given up a single goal.  

Anyway, had a really interesting experience yesterday as there was clearly a boy on the other team.  Presumably, he’s a they/non-binary/transgender, but honestly just seemed to be a typical 11-year old male.  Anyway, the girls were all taken aback at first, I think because they were worried about the impact on the game, but than I reminded them that we typically dominate all our opponents and one player wasn’t going to make a difference.  They(?) turned out to be a decent defender, but nothing special and, from what I can tell, the girls really paid pretty much no attention once the game was underway.  

And, yeah, this transgender stuff and athletics can be complicated and I get so sick of the radical gender ideology types defending Lia Thomas at all costs and trying to pretend there’s no biological advantages to being born male and going through male puberty.  But, if there’s ever a place a kid should just be able to play with the gender they are more comfortable it’s 11/12 year old Rec soccer.  The league does not even keep official track of our game scores and standings– the stakes couldn’t be lower– have fun!  Anyway, so I’m glad this kid had a chance to play on a girls team and ultimately have it be no big deal if that’s what made the kid happy.  Were this competitive high school or club soccer, I might well argue otherwise.  It’s almost as if… context matters.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

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

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

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is how Americans will react.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

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

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

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

For me, one quote jumped out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spot the logical fallacy– sex and sports edition

Hmmm, apparently my media consumption has pushed me into center-left culture warrior mode as I get back into blogging.  But, my goodness that has to be literally one of the worst piece I’ve ever read in the Atlantic.  It should be taught in philosophy or critical thinking classes for “spot the logical fallacy” (and, no, I won’t point out many because any reader with good critical thinking skills will catch them). “Separating Sports by Sex Doesn’t Make Sense”

This quote has led to a lot of attention on twitter (Yglesias’ take):

Like, hello, boys are, on average, inherently bigger, faster, and stronger and what complete sophistry and intellectual dishonesty to pretend that all the science on this isn’t “on average.” This is a terrific thread on this fact.  Basically, elite women’s sports simply would not exist (and HS sports teams would only have a few extraordinary females) if we didn’t have sex division.  

Rather than admitting this, much of the author’s contentions are shaped by this:

Sari van Anders, the research chair in social neuroendocrinology at Queen’s University, in Ontario, told me by email. She said that this complexity means it doesn’t make sense to separate sports by sex in order to protect women athletes from getting hurt. 

I don’t want a separate girls soccer and basketball team at my local high school so that girls don’t get hurt.  I want separate teams so that girls can play HS basketball and soccer.  Girls and women’s sports are great and I’m a fan, but to pretend that males don’t (on average!) have huge biological advantages in most sports, or that the science isn’t settled on this, is just pure anti-science.  I also can’t let this line go:

And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential. 

This tweet is the appropriate response (though, I wouldn’t blame “journalists”)

Anyway, I’m actually entirely open to fair-minded discussion of how we think about the role of sex in sports– and youth sports in particular.  There’s surely room for improvement.  For one, we should let girls play football and wrestle, etc., if they are good enough and not worry about them “getting hurt.”  But any discussion that starts from a gender-ideology, anti-science premise that there’s no meaningful biological sex differences in athletics and that all such sex differences are just socially constructed is not a discussion that gets us to actual improvements.  

Quick hits (Part I)

1) I hate public (reply all) congratulatory emails.  Yes, congratulate somebody on a job well done, but do we all have to see it (thank goodness I discovered Gmail’s “mute” feature).  Anyway, loved this from deBoer, “Congratulations, Like Condolences, Should Be Private” (emphases in original)

I hate to borrow overused internet lingo, but nothing to me is as cringe as watching people in media tweet overwrought congratulations at each other over professional news. It’s nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff, and yet it’s like 12% of all tweets. “Big, big congrats to @SnarkDad420 on taking over as Vice Managing Copy Editor at Dipshit.com!” And the responses, if anything, are worse. “Thanks so much, @GhostOfTomChoad! Buy me a beer at Do or Dive, haha!” Kill me. Strike me dead. Flay my bones.

Here’s my little bit of advice for all of you: send neither public congratulations nor public condolences. Text, email, or (gasp) say it in person. If you don’t know the person well enough to contact them privately, you don’t know them well enough to congratulate or console them. Right? Answer this for me: if you don’t commend them or send them condolences after an event, will they notice? Will it hurt them? If yes, it matters enough to say in private, where it will always mean more. If no, then you don’t have anything to say at all. What are you accomplishing by sending congratulations to a stranger? And why should anyone not think that you’re doing it for self-interested reasons of social position and patronage?

2) I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… the coming political fights over medical abortions are going to be huge.  The Post, “Most abortions are done at home. Antiabortion groups are taking aim.”

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrictthe predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — viadrugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with newlegislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs…

National Right to Life, meanwhile, released a “model law,” a week before the overturn of Roe v. Wade that seeks to outlaw a coalition of nonprofit groups that assist women with self-managed abortions. Last month, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina became the first to introduce the legislation.

The efforts illustrate how the antiabortion battlefront now reaches beyond traditional bills seeking criminal penalties for doctors who provide surgical abortions in hospitals or clinics, instead targeting organizations that assist women with mail-order abortion prescriptions and safety protocols for self-managed abortions.

3) A “good enough” life sounds plenty good to me.

In 1953, the british pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott began writing about the idea of “good-enough” parenting—a term he coined, and one he’s still famous for today. According to Winnicott, after infancy, babies do not need tirelessly responsive or self-sacrificing parents. In fact, he wrote, it is developmentally key for parents to lessen their “active adaptation” to their children’s needs over time. In doing so, they teach their kids to “account for failure” and “tolerate the results of frustration”—both necessary skills at a very young age, as anyone who’s watched a baby learn to crawl knows.

In his recent book The Good-Enough Life, the scholar and writing lecturer Avram Alpert radically broadens Winnicott’s idea of good-enoughness, transforming it into a sweeping ideology. Alpert sees good-enoughness as a necessary alternative to “greatness thinking,” or the twin beliefs that everybody has the right to embark on “personal quests for greatness” and that the great few can uplift the mediocre many. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capital is an example of greatness thinking; so is its latter-day analogue, trickle-down economics. So are many forms of ambition: wanting to win the National Book Award, to start a revolution that turns your divided and unequal country into a Marxist utopia, or to make a sex tape that catapults you to global fame.

Alpert does not ask his readers to abandon their goals completely, but he does ask us to acknowledge the unlikelihood of becoming the next Kim Kardashian or creating a workers’ paradise. He also argues that clinging too tightly to such dreams, at the expense of smaller or partial ones, sets us up for both practical and moral failure: To him, it’s selfish, especially on the political level, to strive exclusively for changes so large that they may be unattainable. Rather than aim for greatness, then, Alpert asks us to accept that frustration and limitation are inescapable—and sometimes beneficial or beautiful—parts of human life…

Many of alpert’s ideas about good-enough selves and good-enough relationships ask only that his readers be more patient and less selfish. Greatness thinking, he argues, teaches us to defend our own ideas, time, and convenience above all else; it suggests that anyone who wishes to excel must hoard their time and energy, ignoring all the little tasks, negotiations, and compromises that make up so much of daily life. (The writer Vladimir Nabokov, supposedly, didn’t even lick his own stamps.) On an interpersonal level, greatness thinking suggests that discord and friction are, like licking your own stamps and running your own errands, needless time sucks—or, worse, signs that a relationship is on the rocks. A great friendship, according to this line of thought, is one of unbroken companionship and total harmony, a lifelong version of Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana at their most intertwined. But even on Broad City, a show utterly devoted to the joys of friendship, Abbi and Ilana are at odds, if only briefly, on nearly every episode. Alpert would say that this is as it should be. Disagreement and compromise are crucial parts of friendship. They teach us openness, acceptance, and resilience. If we let them, they make us more whole.

4) Jamelle Bouie is right, “The Idea That Letting Trump Walk Will Heal America Is Ridiculous”

The main argument against prosecuting Donald Trump — or investigating him with an eye toward criminal prosecution — is that it will worsen an already volatile fracture in American society between Republicans and Democrats. If, before an indictment, we could contain the forces of political chaos and social dissolution, the argument goes, then in the aftermath of such a move, we would be at their mercy. American democracy might not survive the stress.

All of this might sound persuasive to a certain, risk-averse cast of mind. But it rests on two assumptions that can’t support the weight that’s been put on them.

The first is the idea that American politics has, with Trump’s departure from the White House, returned to a kind of normalcy. Under this view, a prosecution would be an extreme and irrevocable blow to social peace. But the absence of open conflict is not the same as peace. Voters may have put a relic of the 1990s into the Oval Office, but the status quo of American politics is far from where it was before Trump.

The most important of our new realities is the fact that much of the Republican Party has turned itself against electoral democracy. The Republican nominee for governor in Arizona — Kari Lake — is a 2020 presidential election denier. So, too, are the Republican nominees in Arizona for secretary of state, state attorney general and U.S. Senate. In Pennsylvania, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose the pro-insurrection Doug Mastriano to lead their party’s ticket in November. Overall, Republican voters have nominated election deniers in dozens of races across six swing states, including candidates for top offices in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin…

All of this is to say that we are already in a place where a substantial portion of the country (although much less than half) has aligned itself against the basic principles of American democracy in favor of Trump. And these 2020 deniers aren’t sitting still, either; as these election results show, they are actively working to undermine democracy for the next time Trump is on the ballot.

This fact, alone, makes a mockery of the idea that the ultimate remedy for Trump is to beat him at the ballot box a second time, as if the same supporters who rejected the last election will change course in the face of another defeat. It also makes clear the other weight-bearing problem with the argument against holding Trump accountable, which is that it treats inaction as an apolitical and stability-enhancing move — something that preserves the status quo as opposed to action, which upends it.

5) My daughter wants a pet snake.  Not happening.  But she’d approve of this, “How Facebook Is Saving Snakes: Snake-identification groups on social media are turning serpent haters into appreciators”

What force could drive such a dramatic shift in perspective? Baker credits, of all things, a Facebook group, one whose mission it is to educate members about snakes. Although the social media giant has a bad reputation for doing everything wrong in public health and politics, it turns out to be a powerful tool for saving snake lives. It’s not just Facebook. Wildlife enthusiasts are co-opting various social media platforms to build communities that promote accurate snake information and slay viral myths. Through these efforts they are converting even the most committed snake haters into ardent snake appreciators whose newfound regard for these misunderstood creatures often spreads to family, friends and neighbors. One by one, the snakes are living to slither another day…

Whereas other social media ID groups encompass huge areas, from entire continents to the entire planet, Pyle went local, focusing on the snakes he’s most familiar with. That way, he reasoned, “I can actually help if someone has a snake in their backyard.” He hoped his regional approach would serve as a template for other local efforts.

Today Pyle’s group has more than 176,000 members eagerly exchanging information about the region’s venomous rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and coral snakes, as well as its nonvenomous rat snakes and water snakes, among other harmless species. “This group has been the first time in my life that I think I’m making a real difference,” he says. Other regional groups that have formed include a statewide Texas ID and Central Texas Snake ID, which has more than 43,000 members and is run by a snake-relocation service near San Antonio. Facebook features dozens of other groups, too, mostly in the southern and southwestern states where most snakes live, covering regions as niche as Southside Atlanta.

The premise of the groups is simple. A member uploads an image of a snake they want identified, and within minutes an expert administrator responds. One unbreakable rule of the pages is that users have to keep their guesses to themselves. Only IDs made with certainty are allowed. For Pyle, this rule is so crucial that he once muted his own daughter for guessing. It can be a matter of safety, especially if someone says a snake is nonvenomous when it isn’t.

6) Derek Thompson, “There Is No National Teacher Shortage: The narrative doesn’t match the numbers.”

For several weeks, I watched this Great American Teacher Shortage narrative bloom across the media landscape. Because of my reporting for my abundance-agenda series, I was predisposed to believe it was real. The U.S. is rife with shortages, including of infant formula and monkeypox vaccines. But I was also skeptical, because so many public-education controversies—see: the debates over remote schooling, the proper way to teach American history, and controversial laws regarding how teachers can discuss sex ed—are plastered with ideology.

When I spoke with education researchers and writers to figure out what was really going on, a more complex narrative emerged. In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began…

American teachers and American schools absolutely do have real problems that deserve our attention.

Teacher vacancies exist, and they are concentrated in specific states, districts, and positions. Many rural areas and the Deep South are experiencing shortages. Some high-poverty districts have struggled for decades to hire enough teachers. High teacher turnover is especially a problem in child care and special education. A recent study in Louisiana found that one-third of the state’s child-care centers lose more than half of their teachers every year. A 2022 government survey found that the vacancy rate for special-ed teachers is more than four times higher than that for physical-education instructors.

Exhausted, underpaid, and stressed out, America’s teachers seem to be in a state of psychological and financial crisis. By some estimates, public-school teachers are the most “burned out” workers in America. The pandemic made things worse; some surveys show a big increase in the share of teachers who say they want to quit. Indeed, managing an elementary-school classroom via Zoom five days a week sounds to me like one of the lower rings of hell.

So, if the question is whether some districts are struggling to hire enough teachers, or whether some specific occupations have shortages, or even whether many teachers are feeling crummy about their work, the answer is clearly yes. These things are all happening. But most of these things have been happening for a long time.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

7) Jonathan Weiler with an excellent post on the value and limits of the “polarization” frame:

This Tweet, from Jeff Jarvis, a professor in CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, has been making the rounds, as you can see.

Some thoughts….

Obviously, I’ve had some professional and, therefore, personal investment in the significance of the polarization frame. The books I’ve co-written on the subject document how the nature of America’s political divisions has changed over time, and argue that the changing nature of those divisions is highly consequential. One key facet of the argument is that a politics primarily anchored in deep-seated psychological and personality differences is a recipe for sustained, irreconcilable conflict. These deep-seated differences aren’t politically consequential in and of themselves, at least not according to our understanding. They become consequential when they map onto partisan conflict. That is, when people with basically different worldviews start sorting themselves out into two distinct partisan political camps, those different worldviews become the basic fault line of our politics. Once that happens, the stage is set for especially acrimonious and potentially violent politics. Others have built on that framework to argue such conditions have made the emergence of a Trump-like figure more likely, which reinforces and deepens the dangers of the politics we tried to map.

At a time of deepening polarization in the United States, the fallout in The Village points to troubling consequences on the cul-de-sac level: Not even old friends are immune to the forces pitting us against each other.

Polls reveal perceptions of major events — the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, the protests ignited by the death of George Floyd — vary widely along partisan lines. Less explored is the impact in our own backyards, the strains on bonds that are supposed to trump politics.

This is the kind of frame Jarvis is talking about. Much of the American right is becoming increasingly extreme, violent and enamored of political leaders who aren’t even making a pretense anymore of respecting such bedrocks of democracy as election outcomes that they don’t like. In the Graham story, it’s hard to fathom what context or insight readers gain from what feels almost like a polarization disclaimer. One of our two major parties is traveling far down the road of authoritarianism and is inspiring, all over the country, the kind of atmosphere that led to Graham’s resignation. Polarization, in the basic sense of describing a phenomenon in which two objects increasingly gravitate toward poles, is not what is at play here. Instead, one object, the Republican Party, is becoming increasingly and dangerously extreme in a way that simply does not characterize the other party.

I can’t believe I am about to do this, but here’s Bill Kristol (!!!!)1, explaining the differences in a Tweet this weekend:

8) This is cool, The Athletic with a way to think about elite soccer players through 18 different playing style categories. 

9) I know I shouldn’t waste quick hits on stuff I don’t like, but sometimes it amazes me what the NYT Op-Ed page lets get through.  Most of the commentators properly ripped this to shreds.  “Maternal Instinct Is a Myth That Men Created”  I mean, of course there’s some reality to that claim, so why completely undermine yourself by arguing with strawman after strawman.  

10) This is very fun from Randall Munroe (with good visuals, so gift link), “Shark or Orca: Which Should You Fear More?”

11) Nice NCSU news release, “Study of Ancient Skulls Sheds Light on Human Interbreeding With Neandertals

Research has established that there are traces of Neandertal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Now an exploratory study that assessed the facial structure of prehistoric skulls is offering new insights, and supports the hypothesis that much of this interbreeding took place in the Near East – the region ranging from North Africa to Iraq.

“Ancient DNA caused a revolution in how we think about human evolution,” says Steven Churchill, co-author of the study and a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “We often think of evolution as branches on a tree, and researchers have spent a lot of time trying to trace back the path that led to us, Homo sapiens. But we’re now beginning to understand that it isn’t a tree – it’s more like a series of streams that converge and diverge at multiple points.”

“Our work here gives us a deeper understanding of where those streams came together,” says Ann Ross, corresponding author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University.

“The picture is really complicated,” Churchill says. “We know there was interbreeding. Modern Asian populations seem to have more Neandertal DNA than modern European populations, which is weird – because Neandertals lived in what is now Europe. That has suggested that Neandertals interbred with what are now modern humans as our prehistoric ancestors left Africa, but before spreading to Asia. Our goal with this study was to see what additional light we could shed on this by assessing the facial structure of prehistoric humans and Neandertals.”

“By evaluating facial morphology, we can trace how populations moved and interacted over time,” Ross explains. “And the evidence shows us that the Near East was an important crossroads, both geographically and in the context of human evolution.”

For this study, the researchers collected data on craniofacial morphology from the published literature. This ultimately resulted in a data set including 13 Neandertals, 233 prehistoric Homo sapiens, and 83 modern humans.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Terrific essay on Bruce Willis‘ cognitive decline and his acting career.  I had almost forgotten what a delightful charmer he was in “Moonlighting” and how that got completely lost in action here Bruce Willis.

2) Brian Beutler:

If Democrats accept that there’s immense political power in the backlash to the Dobbs decision, they can begin thinking through how to harness it effectively and with a sense of urgency. Here I’ll return to an idea that had its first test run in Big Tent eight months ago, right after the Dobbs oral arguments made clear that the Supreme Court would abolish the right to abortion.

If you’re a regular reader, you know it by heart already. Democrats should make voters a simple promise: Give us two more Senate seats and the House and we’ll codify the right to abortion in January 2023. 

By now I think it’s fair to say both that the idea has taken on a life of its own (which is great!) and that the party’s leaders and top strategists have been pretty listless about making this straightforward promise the engine of the national midterm campaign (not as great…)…

The hope has to be that the Kansas results awaken more Democrats to the power of this formulation so that the stakes of the election are lost on nobody. The theory is that the clearer the promise, the more cleanly Democrats can reduce the election, in every state and district in the country, to the same basic question Kansas voters just answered overwhelmingly. 

And here I’d add one lonely note of caution: As tempting as it might be, Democrats should avoid extending the same formulation to the whole gamut of achievable progressive objectives. With two more senators and the House, Democrats could and should be willing to reach further than fulfilling one promise, particularly when that promise is simply to restore a status quo that had prevailed with the consent of the public for 50 years. But that doesn’t mean they should commit to those things ex ante, in the same contractual terms they apply to codifying Roe

Two more senators and the House for Roe makes the election a grand referendum on a single, critical question. Two more senators and the House for Roe and a higher minimum wage and universal background checks and an assault weapons ban and democracy reform and so on reminds voters that national elections are about many things, some of which make them feel cross pressured, and that perhaps their support for abortion access doesn’t outweigh their gun-rights absolutism. 

That doesn’t mean Democrats should abandon those issues, or codify Roe and call it a day. Their allies should expect them to govern and make the country a better, fairer place along many dimensions, irrespective of their defining campaign rhetoric. But ask yourself: If the Kansas referendum asked voters to decide not just whether abortion should remain protected by the state’s constitution, but also whether the state should simultaneously restrict gun access, ban gerrymandering, and increase the minimum wage to $12 or $15, would it have succeeded by a nearly 20 point margin? Or would it have gone down to demoralizing defeat? …

The bigger risk, though, isn’t that the party overpromises, but that it underreaches. 

Survey a few thousand voters across the country, present them with an abstract list of priorities, and ask them to rank them highest to lowest, you may find that the national hivemind thinks “inflation” is a higher priority than “abortion access”—whatever that means. 

Unfortunately, what it means to the hivemind of party strategists, is that Democrats should make “inflation” rather than abortion access the thematic center of their campaigns. Kansas is a proof point for how foolish that way of thinking is. Try to imagine any serious anti-inflation policy question on the ballot in Kansas’s midterm primary passing 60-40, with more votes than Joe Biden won in the state two years ago. Can you do it? Does the very idea strike you as obviously stupid? It should! Because it is. It’s this:

Democrats should instead endeavor to reduce themselves as completely as possible to the people who will restore access to abortion in every state. If they try to reduce themselves to “inflation fighters” instead, Republicans will happily remind voters that inflation spiked under Democratic rule, and they will lose. 

By the same token, the Democratic edge on the abortion issue stems from the fact that Republicans have created a simple dichotomy between bans and no bans. There will come a time when elected Democrats will have to navigate thorny questions about whether, when, and how to restrict the right to abortion. But those questions only become salient against a backdrop where abortion is a national right. Some Democrats will feel compelled to say they support certain restrictions; others like their allies in Kansas, will couch their support for abortion access in libertarian or anti-government terms. 

That’s all basically fine, so long as the party’s promise is to revive abortion access everywhere in the country that Republicans have eliminated it. The Dobbs decision was wrong and bad and so Democrats will neutralize it, restoring the prior balance where some states (and national-level Republicans) vie to curtail access knowing they can’t eliminate it outright. 

 

 

 

3) Joseph Allen on what schools should look like this year:

That leaves one hard question: What to do about a child who has Covid? The first part is obvious. Kids with symptoms should stay home. But the trickier part, of course, is determining when they can return.

People can remain infectious past five days, and some for 10 days and even beyond. The C.D.C.’s recommendation is to isolate for five days, and then mask for five more. That’s smart. It relies on masks because they work.

Ideally, we would have kids “test to return,” as a colleague and I recommended last year, where kids must have two negative rapid tests before returning to school. But I think the strict science here is running up against the reality of the moment — that the longer kids who test positive are required to be out of school, and the longer parents miss work, the stronger the incentive for parents not to test their children if they show symptoms.

Next best is the current C.D.C. “5 and 5” approach, where students who test positive must stay home for the first five days and then return to school masked for the next five. But that still means that the default is for kids who test positive to miss up to a week of school. If masks work on day five, they also work on day three, right? So it’s reasonable to have kids stay home while they have symptoms, return once their symptoms have passed and wear a mask until 10 days after symptoms began.

Most school districts dropped their mask mandates by the end of the 2021-22 school year. This is a good policy choice that should continue into the fall because the value of mandates drops over time, as people become less likely to comply. Still, anyone who wants to should be allowed to wear an N95 mask. One-way masking works, and those arguing that N95s work only if everyone is wearing one have brought their messaging dangerously close to that of anti-maskers…

Masks should be a go-to, quick implementation strategy if something changes in a dire way. For example, a variant that disproportionately affects kids, or that has severe immune escape and resets us back to March 2020, God forbid.

It’s also time to end the practices that were put in place early in the emergency response phase of the pandemic that have remained for no apparent reason other than inertia. No more barring parents from entering school buildings, making kids have “no talking” lunches or eating lunch in the classroom instead of the cafeteria, limiting extracurricular activities or canceling field trips. Certainly, these policies do not contribute to risk reduction at this point.

4) Interesting piece on English soccer teams that bounce between the Premier League and the Championship.  I was really intrigued to read about a striker who is a goal-scoring machine in the Championship, but hardly at all in the Premier League.

5) Really enjoyed this Yascha Mounk interview with Sarah Longwell about 2024:

Yascha Mounk: You’ve been speaking with many focus groups over the last weeks and months about Donald Trump and the January 6th Committee hearings. Do you think that the hearings are having an impact on how Americans view him? And more broadly, how do most Americans now feel about Donald Trump?

Sarah Longwell: It’s not that they’re breaking through so much as they’re seeping in. Changing minds is really hard, but giving people a little psychic permission to move on is something that can be done. I’ve done nine focus groups since the hearings began, all with Trump 2020 voters. And the most stunning thing that has happened is that in four of the groups, zero of the respondents wanted to see Trump run again in 2024. About 15% of the nine groups wanted to see him run again. 

That’s only significant because prior to the hearings, we had done dozens and dozens of focus groups with Trump voters since January 6th, and half or more of the group always wanted him to run again. It rarely fell below half of the group. But people are very worried that Donald Trump can’t win in 2024. They have real doubts about his electability, and this is where I think the hearings have really made a difference. Joe Biden was nominated and elected by the Democrats, not necessarily because he was everybody’s top choice, but because he was the one everybody thought other people would vote for and that he could win and beat Donald Trump. These Republicans are starting to doubt that Trump is the person who can win in 2024. They still like him, to be clear. But they think he might have too much baggage: “We really need to win in 2024 and I think there are better people.” 

One thing that sort of happened at the same time as the January 6th Committee was the Ron DeSantis boomlet. His name comes up all the time in the focus groups. They think Trump is great: “He did great things for the country. He was a great president. But I think maybe we need some new blood. We got a lot of stars. I really like Ron DeSantis. I like Kristi Noem, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz…” They have a bunch of people that they’re interested in that are fresh. But they’re all from the America First wing of the party. Nobody wants Mike Pence or Nikki Haley. 

The thing that I keep trying to impress upon people is that even if Trump wanes in the imaginations of people, they have decided that they love his particular combative style of politics. They crave it. They want it, which is why there’s no going back to the old guard. There’s a reason that all of the candidates in 2022 look like little mini-Trumps, running around talking about the election being stolen and critical race theory and a lot of vague gesturing at QAnon candidates—they’re gonna go “RINO hunting,” posing with guns. Trump has unleashed a force that has changed what the Republican Party looks like, and what the voters want out of their elected officials…

Longwell: I haven’t even heard her name, and I’m following who the good moderates are that could potentially be part of a future generation of moderate Democrats. I think it’s partly the Democratic-aligned media: the fact that Democratic moderates are a little less likely to go seeking the spotlight in part because they’re not out there fighting the big progressive fights that get you a lot of on Twitter, and Twitter’s where the media lives. There’s this constant false frame about who’s getting all the love in these races. 

When Trump was President, he built this Trump Cinematic Universe in which there were lots of little Avenger mini-Trumps who now are stars: Mike Pompeo, Tucker Carlson, Ron DeSantis. But there’s not a big group of Democrats who are out there trying to help Joe Biden advance his agenda. A couple months back, the big narrative was how bad Democrats’ messaging was, and I was one of the people really pounding on that, because I was listening to my focus group participants saying, “I never hear from Joe Biden, I never hear from Kamala Harris” when they talked about Build Back Better or any other legislation. They only knew the price tag; they didn’t know what was in it. If Joe Biden’s not a very good communicator, send out the troops. Build a bench of surrogates, have people on TV, identify breakout stars: who’s good at selling an agenda, who’s good at talking about policy, who’s good at arguing about the politics. But the Democratic Party hasn’t done that.

I think that Democrats are just different on the inside than Republicans. I don’t know quite how to formulate this, but I feel like they’re scared of their own shadows. They say, “Joe Biden’s policy is not popular, so I don’t want to go out and do it.” Donald Trump was passing nothing, and Republicans would go out there—Jim Jordan or any Trump acolyte—saying, “We moved the embassy to Jerusalem! We did an executive order on this or that!” They would tick through five things and they would all say the exact same things. Democrats cannot get that discipline. They seem unwilling to go out and be the person to carry the water. Republicans close ranks, they go out and push the message. The fear that’s in Democrats on messaging and communications is weird to me.

6) Cool prospect here on Monkeypox vaccine (thanks BB):

Amid a newly announced monkeypox national public emergency and shortage of vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration announced it is reviewing a new vaccine approach that could lead to a fivefold increase in the US’s supply of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine.

“Please know we’ve been exploring all scientifically feasible options, and we believe this could be a promising approach,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, speaking during a Thursday press briefing.

The vaccine would be given in a smaller, shallower injection under the skin, a method Califf said would still be safe, effective, and would allow up to five doses to be pulled from one vial.

The new strategy will still need to be tested in clinical trials — a process that could take weeks or months. But experts say prior studies look promising, and if successful, this could be a safe way to stretch limited vaccine supply.

“This kind of research is exactly what FDA and NIH should be leading in this moment of public health emergency,” said Dr. Josh Sharfstein, a former FDA Commissioner and currently vice dean for public health practice and community engagement and director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

7) This is really good, “The War on Drugs Has a Warning for Post-Roe America”

With the fall of Roe v. Wade, physicians across the country are struggling to balance the conflicting imperatives of their calling to care with their institutional duty to avoid legal liability, all to the detriment of their patients.

Medicine is hard to govern with the blunt instrument of criminal law. Human biological processes, including pregnancy, are enormously variable. In many cases, determining the precise moment when someone’s life or health is so threatened that abortion would be legal under a particular law is not an ethically answerable scientific question. And so doctors turn to lawyers, often with no medical experience, to protect themselves from prison.

Under Roe, most obstetricians and gynecologists didn’t face this level of legal peril. But this isn’t the first time America has criminalized aspects of medicine. Physicians who prescribe controlled substances like opioids carry a similar burden. They can face decades in prison if prosecutors target them for overprescribing. Although there are cases of bad actors who prescribed opioids for profit, even legitimate physicians may fear being targeted by law enforcement, and research shows that the threat of legal action has a broad chilling effect on the way doctors provide care.The war on drugs shows that when medicine is criminalized and politicized, harm to patients and doctors increases, while the activities that the laws are intended to curb continue or even increase.

8) Cool rundown of best two-player board games.  I have a couple of these and need to play them more.  I really love the simple gameplay, but reasonably complex strategy of Hive.

9) Unsurprisingly, most drugs are still safe and effective long after their expiration dates:

In a small 2012 study, Dr. Cantrell and three colleagues tested eight drugs, containing 14 widely differing active ingredients, that had been sitting unopened in a pharmacy closet with expiration dates that had passed between 28 and 40 years earlier. They found that 86 percent of the drugs’ ingredients were still present in the concentrations they were supposed to be. The findings suggest that some medications, like acetaminophen and the opioid painkiller hydrocodone, retain their potency “for a long, long time,” he said.

Dr. Cantrell pointed out, though, that he and his colleagues did not actually test the drugs in people. “I can’t say that it’s OK to take expired medication,” he said. The F.D.A. also recommends against taking expired drugs. However, he has been working at the California Poison Control Center in San Diego for nearly 30 years, and said that people call the center regularly after realizing they have taken expired medicines, worried about what will happen. To his knowledge, nothing bad ever has, he said.

Dr. Cantrell’s study is one of just a few published studies that have evaluated the chemistry of expired medicines. In a study published in 2006, researchers with the F.D.A. and the pharmaceutical company Sandoz tested 122 different drug products and found that 88 percent were still safe to use an average of 5.5 years past their expiration date.

In fact, the F.D.A. sometimes tests expired drugs needed for public health emergencies and extends their expiration dates if they are found to work and be safe. You can check whether the expiration dates of any of the drugs you own have been extended by searching here.

10) My 20-year old son had his wisdom teeth extracted this summer and, fortunately, all went well, and he seemed to enjoy his two weeks of a soft diet.  I saw his x-rays and it sure seemed like he needed them out, but it did prompt a short search in which I came across this from 2011:

The association said that 80 percent of young adults who retained previously healthy wisdom teeth developed problems within seven years, and that retained wisdom teeth are extracted up to 70 percent of the time.

 

Yet when asked, the association was not able to produce the evidence for these figures. “We were not able to locate the reference for it, and subsequently deleted the statement from our Web site,” Janice Teplitz, the group’s associate executive director of communications, said last week.

As of Monday, however, the association’s Web site still said that “between 25 percent and almost 70 percent” of the time, retained, asymptomatic wisdom teeth “are eventually extracted.”

Many studies suggest that the actual number of people who have trouble with their wisdom teeth is far lower.

Oral surgeons warn that even when young people are not experiencing pain or discomfort, they may have infection or inflammation; numerous studies have found that adults who keep their wisdom teeth tend to have more such problems over time than those who have them removed. But there does not appear to be a single randomized clinical trial — the gold standard for scientific proof — comparing similar patients who have and have not undergone prophylactic wisdom teeth removal…

Our dentist warned us that cysts and tumors could grow around impacted wisdom teeth. But a new study of more than 6,000 patients in Greece found that only 2.7 percent of the teeth had a cyst or tumor. An older study, often cited by critics of routine extraction, found that only 12 percent of 1,756 middle-aged people who had not had impacted wisdom teeth removed experienced a complication.

11) I really don’t like the idea that you cannot make up for “sleep debt” as I’ve basically been a fan of sleeping in on weekends my whole life:

The sleep debt collectors are coming. They want you to know that there is no such thing as forgiveness, only a shifting expectation of how and when you’re going to pay them back. You think of them as you lie in bed at night. How much will they ask for? Are you solvent? You fall asleep, then wake up in a cold sweat an hour later. You fall asleep, then wake up, drifting in and out of consciousness until morning.

As most every human has discovered, a couple nights of bad sleep is often followed by grogginess, difficulty concentrating, irritability, mood swings and sleepiness. For years, it was thought that these effects, accompanied by cognitive impairments like lousy performances on short-term memory tests, could be primarily attributed to a chemical called adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits electrical impulses in the brain. Spikes of adenosine had been consistently observed in sleep-deprived rats and humans.

Adenosine levels can be quickly righted after a few nights of good sleep, however. This gave rise to a scientific consensus that sleep debt could be forgiven with a couple of quality snoozes — as reflected in casual statements like “I’ll catch up on sleep” or “I’ll be more awake tomorrow.”

But a review article published recently in the journal Trends in Neurosciences contends that the folk concept of sleep as something that can be saved up and paid off is bunk. The review, which canvassed the last couple of decades of research on long term neural effects of sleep deprivation in both animals and humans, points to mounting evidence that getting too little sleep most likely leads to long-lasting brain damage and increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is really, really important in setting the stage for what needs to be done in sleep health and sleep science,” said Mary Ellen Wells, a sleep scientist at the University of North Carolina, who did not contribute to the review.

12) Some interesting social science on guns, “More Guns, More Unintended Consequences: The Effects of Right-to-Carry on Criminal Behavior and Policing in US Cities”

We analyze a sample of 47 major US cities to illuminate the mechanisms that lead Right-to-Carry concealed handgun laws to increase crime. The altered behavior of permit holders, career criminals, and the police combine to generate 29 and 32 percent increases in firearm violent crime and firearm robbery respectively. The increasing firearm violence is facilitated by a massive 35 percent increase in gun theft (p=0.06), with further crime stimulus flowing from diminished police effectiveness, as reflected in a 13 percent decline in violent crime clearance rates (p=0.03). Any crime-inhibiting benefits from increased gun carrying are swamped by the crime-stimulating impacts.

13) I’m loving my access to the real Dall-E 2, but here’s a nice Wired story on Dall-e Mini

14) I love this  (whole thread is really good):

15) This, from Sarah Longwell:

16) And, as long as I’m sharing the tweets, this is just a terrific takedown of the Forward Party with so much good social science.  Read the whole thread:

I7) In general, I’m okay with my county making election day a teacher workday.  But to do so because all those voters are somehow a threat to students is just to give in to paranoid parents and over-cautious hysteria:

Wake County school leaders are considering not holding classes on Election Day in response to parents who say it’s a safety risk when so many schools serve as polling sites.

The school system is currently scheduled to have classes on Nov. 8, when potentially more than 100,000 voters will enter schools to cast their ballots. Parents have been lobbying Wake to hold a teacher workday on Election Day so that students won’t be exposed to safety risks from so many strangers walking onto school campuses.

“While there are many risks that we can’t predict, we do have the ability to mitigate this one,” Kirstin Morrison, a Wake parent, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “We can align a teacher workday with Election Day so that our students can stay out of the buildings and safe with the extra visitors in those school buildings.”

Morrison, the Wake parent, said 38,785 voters entered Wake schools during the May 17 primary. She called that “an alarming security risk” as she talked about how voters crossed paths with students inside her son’s elementary school as they were getting lunch in the cafeteria.

“It concerned me that day, and a week later as I watched what unfolded at Robb Elementary School it was a crushing worry,” Morrison continued. “So today’s world is unpredictable and we have no ability to be immune to such a tragedy unfolding in our own community.”

Morrison’s concerns were echoed by several other parents who submitted written comments to Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“With recent events, safety at school is a top concern for me as a parent with a child in WCPSS,” wrote Kimberly Hatch. “I understand the importance of the civic duty to vote and understand that our schools provide a space that can be used as a polling place, however I have concerns with the students being on campus for election days.

18) I just love the problems Derek Thompson thinks about and the way he thinks about things.  Great discussion on “Is Old Music Killing New Music?”

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