Quick hits (part II)

1) Really loved this podcast conversation about AI.  And here’s the article from Steven Johnson that much of it is based upon.  Especially intriguing is the idea that the human brain is just a really, really good prediction machine:

And perhaps there is indeed more to the large language models than just artful pastiche. ‘‘What fascinates me about GPT-3 is that it suggests a potential mindless path to artificial general intelligence,’’ the Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers wrote, shortly after OpenAI released the software. ‘‘It is just analyzing statistics of language. But to do this really well, some capacities of general intelligence are needed, and GPT-3 develops glimmers of them.’’ We know from modern neuroscience that prediction is a core property of human intelligence. Perhaps the game of predict-the-next-word is what children unconsciously play when they are acquiring language themselves: listening to what initially seems to be a random stream of phonemes from the adults around them, gradually detecting patterns in that stream and testing those hypotheses by anticipating words as they are spoken. Perhaps that game is the initial scaffolding beneath all the complex forms of thinking that language makes possible.

2) Brian Beutler: on the Democratic response to Roe

The confidence gap between the parties is always striking. Here, Republicans seem to know they’re courting disaster, but they’re playing it very cool, or trying to find diversionary ways to remain on offense. Democrats seem to recognize that they’re on the winning side of the issue, but can’t seem able to exploit it for all its worth. 

And as usual I think this stems from the same paralyzing neurosis as always, the constantly nagging anxiety that anything they do with confidence, without Republican cover, will generate “backlash,” and swamp the upside of getting caught on war footing. This week, Democrats even raced to validate the false panic the GOP whipped up over peaceful protests outside of the GOP justices’ homes, by streamlining legislation to beef up their security. There, for the world to see, was backlash to Republicans materializing all on its own, and Democrats tried to tamp it down for fear that the counterbacklash would surely be worse. 

Chuck Schumer eventually struck the right note. But by then the message had been sent: simmer down. 

If I could impress one thing on everyone experiencing backlash panic, what I’d say is, Alas, it’s out of your hands. Maybe sometimes this isn’t true, but in this case it is. There’s nothing Democrats can do, no form of conciliation, that’ll stop Republicans from convincing the large and motivated anti-abortion minority in the country that Democrats intend to steamroll them and steal their hard-fought, 50 year victory against Roe. That’s baked in. 

The challenge for Democrats has to be to figure out how to countermobilize the significantly larger pro-Roe majority in the country and they can’t do it unless they 1) promise in clear and simple terms to fix what the GOP broke, and 2) make the air thick with the horror of the GOP’s social vision for America.

I laid out some of these ideas last week (section two here), but there really is so much more work to be done. 

This week Schumer held a test vote on abortion-rights legislation that reflects the Democratic caucus’s view of what a just response to the Supreme Court would be. On the Senate floor, it united Republicans in opposition, and allowed them to peel off Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Republicans “filibustered” it, but they didn’t have to, because it would’ve gone down 49-51 anyhow. 

I suppose it’s fine to hold that vote, as a kind of demonstration of the whip count. But I also think it’s unnecessary. Dems could just as easily assert: We have 49 votes to codify Roe, and 48 to change the rules. Give us two more pro-choice senators who support changing the rules, and we’re good. They can even point to their earlier effort to change the rules to pass voting-rights legislation. There was a roll-call vote and everything. The numbers almost certainly haven’t changed, and if they have changed, Dems could just say so, which would be much faster and more direct than going through the machinations of holding floor votes to prove it. 

In any case, though, the real power of the Senate and House now lies in exposing the GOP in the most merciless possible way. Clarity about what will happen if Dems win is the most important thing, but this a close second. 

We know 49 Democrats support the most righteous-possible bill. Ok, fine, good. But what do Republicans support?

It wouldn’t even take much doing to find out. I would run the votes in a ladder, starting at the lowest-possible wrung, working upward toward votes on bills that codify more and more abortion rights until I reached a point of diminishing returns: Abortion shall be legal in cases of rape, vote. Abortion shall be legal in cases of incest, vote. Abortion shall be legal when the life of the mother is at risk, vote. In cases of rape, the threshold shall be the woman’s attestation to rape, vote. It shall be lawful to obtain birth control; to cross state lines to obtain abortions; to obtain abortifacients from out of state, vote, vote, vote. Then: abortion shall be legal in the first trimester; the second trimester, on and on up the sliding scale until Democrats are poised to fracture, and then stop.

Show voters how many Republicans want to force rape victims to give birth; show them how many Republicans who claim to support a rape exception actually think most women who claim they were raped are liars; show voters how many want no exceptions; to surveil women who are pregnant.

I’m agnostic about when this showcase should occur, but I’m also generally dubious about finely laid plans that amount to: there’s a better time than as soon as possible. Do it now, do it again in October. For fuck’s sake, Dems can’t even be certain they’ll still control the Senate by the time midterms roll around. Shit happens, so take your shots while you can. 

3) I really don’t like her use of “conspiracy theory” but Catherine Rampell is right to call out Democrats on misguided talk on inflation:

A conspiracy theory has been infecting the Democratic Party, its progressive base, even the White House. It’s not quite as self-sabotaging as the horse-dewormer-cures-covid false theory that swept up many Republicans last year, but it’s pretty damaging nonetheless.

Call it “Greedflation.”

The theory goes something like this: The reason prices are up so much is that companies have gotten “greedy” and are conspiring to “pad their profits,” “profiteer” and “price-gouge.” No one has managed to define “profiteering” and “price-gouging” more specifically than “raising prices more than I’d like.”

For example, a bill introduced on Thursday by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) bans “price-gouging,” which it defines as “unconscionably excessive” pricing.

What counts as an “unconscionably excessive” price, you ask? TBD, but it’s definitely going to be illegal.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s just a pejorative tautology. Yes, prices are going up because companies are raising prices. Okay. This is the economic equivalent of saying “It’s raining because water is falling from the sky.” Well, why?

Why are companies, which have always been “greedy” (or, one might say, “profit-maximizing”), able to raise prices now? What changed between early 2020, when corporate profits and inflation were plummeting, and today, when both metrics are “unconscionably” up?

The answer is important, because it determines what policymakers can or should do about it.

Here is how economists explain the recent run-up in inflation: Demand is strong, thanks to pandemic-forced savings plus expansionary government policies (stimulus payments, low interest rates, etc.). Meanwhile, supply remains constrained by covid-related disruptions, labor shortages, other unfortunate shocks. Companies can’t ramp up production quickly enough to procure all the stuff that consumers want to buy, whether that “stuff” is oil, furniture or eggs.

A concrete example: In 2019, a car dealer that raised prices 10 percent might have lost customers and watched inventory sit. Today, that dealer can raise prices 20 percent and still have trouble keeping anything in stock. That’s because cars remain hard to come by, and customers are willing and able to pay a premium for whatever’s available.

The solution to the broader increase in prices, then, is ramping up supply (e.g., getting more workers in the labor force, removing trade barriers, encouraging oil-drilling); and/or, tamping down demand (e.g., raising interest rates).

“Supply and demand” is not the greedflationists’ preferred lens on inflation. They say inflation is driven by a Manichean struggle between big corporations and their innocent victims, the customers.

4) Pretty interesting interview, “Bill Gates Is So Over This Pandemic”

Are you saying the pandemic is essentially over, at least for rich countries?

No, it’s not over. We don’t know enough about variants. Nobody predicted the Omicron variant. It’s one of the great unexplained events. And we’ve always been pretty stupid about the science of transmission. I’ve been calling Congress and saying, be more generous on the international response, and I’ve been calling Germany, the UK, and France. When the US doesn’t take a leadership role in global health, it creates a vacuum.

I love these articles that say, “Hey, if these countries don’t vaccinate themselves, they’re going to generate variants and screw us.” There’s not much science to support that.

5) If Madison Cawthorn survives, it won’t be because of support from Republican elites. “Inside the Republican campaign to take down Madison Cawthorn”

6) Really looking forward to reading Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book.  Here’s a cool excerpt, “People Are Dating All Wrong, According to Data Science”

The researchers had data on:

  • demographics (e.g., age, education, income, and race)
  • physical appearance (e.g., How attractive did other people rate each partner?)
  • sexual tastes (e.g., How frequently did each partner want sex? How freaky did they want that sex to be?)
  • interests and hobbies
  • mental and physical health
  • values (e.g., their views on politics, relationships, and child-rearing)
  • and much, much more

Further, Joel and her team didn’t just have more data than everybody else in the field. They had better statistical methods. Joel and some of the other researchers had mastered machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence that allows contemporary scholars to detect subtle patterns in large mounds of data. One might call Joel’s project the AI Marriage, as it was among the first studies to utilize these advanced techniques to try to predict relationship happiness.

After building her team and collecting and analyzing the data, Joel was ready to present the results—results of perhaps the most exciting project in the history of relationship science.

Joel scheduled a talk in October 2019 at the University of Waterloo in Canada with the straightforward title: “Can we help people pick better romantic partners?”

So, can Samantha Joel—teaming up with 85 of the world’s most renowned scientists, combining data from 43 studies, mining hundreds of variables collected from more than 10,000, and utilizing state-of-the-art machine learning models—help people pick better romantic partners?


The number one—and most surprising—lesson in the data, Samantha Joel told me in a Zoom interview, is “how unpredictable relationships seem to be.” Joel and her coauthors found that the demographics, preferences, and values of two people had surprisingly little power in predicting whether those two people were happy in a romantic relationship.

And there you have it, folks. Ask AI to figure out whether a set of two human beings can build a happy life together and it is just as clueless as the rest of us…

Another way to say all this: Good romantic partners are difficult to predict with data. Desired romantic partners are easy to predict with data. And that suggests that many of us are dating all wrong.

So, what traits make people desirable to others?

Well, the first truth about what people look for in romantic partners, like so many important truths about life, was expressed by a rock star before the scientists figured it out. As Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows told us in his 1993 masterpiece “Mr. Jones”: We are all looking for “something beautiful.” The conventional attractiveness of a mate is the number one predictor of how many messages someone gets, for both men and women. We are also looking for:

  • someone tall (if a man)
  • someone of a desired race (even though most never admit it)
  • someone rich
  • someone in an enforcement profession (like lawyer or firefighter) if a man
  • someone with a sexy name (such as Jacob or Emma)
  • and someone just like ourselves (people are 11.3 percent more likely to match with someone who shares their initials)

THE FASCINATING, IF sometimes disturbing, data from online dating sites tells us that single people predictably are drawn to certain qualities. But should they be drawn to these qualities? If you are like the average single dater—predictably clicking on people with the traits the scientists found are most desired—are you going about dating correctly? Or are you dating all wrong? …

Of course, the finding that one’s happiness outside of a relationship can have an enormous impact on one’s happiness inside that relationship is hardly a revolutionary idea. Consider this saying that was featured on Daily Inspirational Quotes: “Nobody can make you happy until you’re happy with yourself first.”

This is the type of quote that often makes cynical data geeks like myself roll our eyes. However, now, after reading the work of Joel and her coauthors, I have become convinced that this quote is largely true.

This relates to an important point about living a data-driven life. We data geeks may be most excited when we learn of a finding that goes against conventional wisdom or clichéd advice. This plays to our natural need to know something that the rest of the world doesn’t. But we data geeks must also accept when the data confirms conventional wisdom or clichéd advice. We must be willing to go wherever the data takes us, even if that is to findings like those featured on Daily Inspirational Quotes.

So, as discovered by both a team of 86 scientists and whoever writes Daily Inspirational Quotes, one’s own happiness outside a relationship is by far the biggest predictor of one’s happiness in a romantic relationship.

7) Katherine Wu, “America Is Starting to See What COVID Immunity Really Looks Like”

In the absence of perfect immunity, there can be no hard line between people who have been infected in the past and people who will be infected in the future. It is instead a boundary that people will cross constantly, and not always knowingly, as immunity naturally ebbs and flows. Perhaps better vaccines will come along that help anti-infection shields stick around for longer. But even then, another variant—one that’s a massive departure from both Omicron and our current vaccines—could arrive, and reset our immune landscape “like an Etch-a-Sketch,” says Shweta Bansal, an infectious-disease modeler at Georgetown University. Even in the absence of a total makeover, the coronavirus has plenty of tricks to keep spreading. In South Africa, where cases have once again been ticking up, some unvaccinated people who caught BA.1 just months ago may now be vulnerable to a pair of Omicron-family offshoots, BA.4 and BA.5, that seem to hopscotch over infection-induced immunity, and have already been detected in the U.S…

From the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed very possible that nearly all Americans would eventually be infected by this coronavirus. In recent months, that reality’s come to feel just about inevitable, and may come to pass sooner than many people hoped. With a virus like this, infection won’t be “a one-and-done situation,” Pitzer told me. The virus’s saturating spread may well continue for generations to come; reinfections and vaccinations throughout a person’s lifetime could become, for most of us, a new pathogenic norm. For perspective, Cobey points out that pretty much everyone ends up infected by a flu virus by the time they’re about 10. SARS-CoV-2 spreads even faster, and experts don’t know whether its pace will eventually slow.

“I think if you haven’t gotten it yet, you’re extremely lucky,” Majumder told me. “It reflects privilege,” she said, more than almost anything else: the ability to work from home, access to masks, being up-to-date on vaccines. Majumder and I both check these boxes, likely insulating us against the worst of most exposures; she doesn’t think she’s been infected either. Perhaps there is some biology at play, too. Some people could be genetically less primed to be infected by certain pathogens, even after they’re exposed—a phenomenon well documented with HIV, for instance. Others might be a bit more resilient against contracting the coronavirus because they’re carrying a smidge more immune protection, laid down by the SARS-CoV-2-like pathogens they’ve encountered in their past. But “those are things that affect you on the extreme margins,” Bhattacharya told me, unlikely to account for most of the noncases in the mix.

If the weightiness of mostly infected isn’t super scientifically significant, maybe it’s more a psychological shift. Nations decide what level of transmission, disease, and death they’re willing to live with; a virus’s presence becomes a sort of background noise. People start to see infections as common; individual infections, even outbreaks, stop making front-page news. It’s not an inappropriate transition to make when a country truly is ready for it.

Sorry, but a short one.  Maybe a few more later today.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is going into my Public Policy syllabus, “We Pay to Keep the Old Out of Poverty. Why Won’t We Do the Same for the Young?”

Others have argued that American poverty persists because government assistance makes Americans unwilling to work. As the former representative Paul Ryan put it, “There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap.” But our high child poverty rate isn’t because poor people feel less incentivized to work or they’re just plain lazier in the United States. We manage to have both high employment levels and high poverty rates at the same time.

The real difference is that the United States does far less to reduce its child poverty rate than some of its foreign peers. “It’s no more complex than we spend less, and so poverty rates are higher among kids,” Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

There are a number of social programs that other countries offer that the United States doesn’t. We don’t have universal health care (although we do have the Children’s Health Insurance Program for low-income kids, as well as more expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act). We also spend far less on child care and early childhood education.

But the most important distinction is that most other countries give parents more money when their children are young, many of them through direct child allowances. “The evidence is overwhelming that child allowances are the single most important policy for preventing child poverty,” said Irwin Garfinkel, an economist at Columbia. Giving parents cash goes an incredibly long way toward erasing poverty.

By contrast, we’ve spent significant resources over the past half-century on alleviating elderly poverty. Social Security is the greatest anti-poverty program we have in the United States. It kept 26.5 million people out of poverty in 2020, most of them seniors. Unemployment insurance, the safety net program that clocks in next, lifted 5.5 million people above the poverty line. We rarely talk about it this way, but Social Security is a form of direct cash payment to all Americans once they hit a certain age.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. Hoynes said. When it comes to how much we spend on the elderly, “we look pretty similar to other countries.” The United States simply spends less on a permanent safety net for children.

2) Great interview by Yascha Mounk of David Wallace-Wells on climate change:

First, what do you think is the most likely scenario at this point in terms of climate? And I know that that depends on political choices, and it’s really hard to project. But if you have made your best point estimate of where we’re going to be in fifty, or a hundred years, what do you think the climate and life on earth will look like? 

Wallace-Wells: Well, I think the first thing to say is that all of these projections are governed by several layers of uncertainty. There is uncertainty, as you point out, about human response and human action. And there’s also uncertainty about how the climate itself will respond, what sorts of feedback loops may be initiated, and exactly how quickly things like Arctic and Antarctic ice will disappear. So we’re making projections in a cloud of deep uncertainty. And for the most part, I think most humans alive on the planet today use that as an excuse to not worry too much about it. 

But I think the alternate approach, that we should be worrying about it more as a result, is probably more responsible, at least. But of course, as a human, I share the other impulse too. If I had to guess I would say that we’re looking at a level of warming this century somewhere between two and two and a half degrees Celsius, maybe a little north of that. And that’s basically because we are making remarkably fast progress driving down the price of renewable energy, which makes it now a good bargain just about everywhere in the world that’s investing in its own energy future. But we’re not nearly doing enough or moving fast enough to draw down our use of fossil fuels. So at the moment, we’re supplementing our existing energy base with renewables rather than replacing, which is what we really need to do.

Mounk: The battle against climate change is often framed as revolving primarily around economic sacrifices. And there is a part of that which is true. But what you’re talking about in terms of the falling price of renewable energies is that actually, in many places, it’s just becoming economically rational to deploy technologies that are better for the planet.

Wallace-Wells: Yeah. This is really one of the major shifts in the culture of climate change and climate action over the last five or ten years. The Kyoto Protocol, and Al Gore first warning us about climate change—those were undertaken at moments when we really thought that this was going to be a burdensome transition, that we would have to do it for the sake of each other and the planet and our lives in the future, but it was going to be expensive in the short and medium term. In part because renewable energy costs have fallen so dramatically, and because we’re getting a clearer sense of the catastrophic health effects of burning fossil fuels, that calculus has really changed. Just about every world leader acknowledges that. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that 90% of the world is now living in places where new renewable energy is cheaper than new fossil fuel energy. It’s a very, very different policy landscape than the one that we were operating in even during the Paris Accords negotiations in 2015. 

3) Love this NPR article on peak TV! (Except that, sorry, Severance was just a B show with quirky production design and poor episodic structure):

What resonates the most, though, from that talk in 2015, is the way Landgraf talked about the good and the great. A lot of people who heard those “peak TV” numbers from critics — 400 shows! — groused back that it didn’t really matter, because most of it was terrible. Landgraf, on the other hand, was careful to point out that this was not the point he was making. He didn’t think the problem was too much bad TV; he thought the problem was largely too much good TV. Or, maybe, too much good enough TV. The head of FX, after all, doesn’t care about total garbage shows or about how many of them there are; that’s not the competition, either for viewers or awards, or for critical attention. (There was a lot of speculation at the time that this part of the speech reflected in part FX’s frustration at a lack of awards recognition for The Americans.)

Here’s what he said about too much good TV: “There’s just too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.”

Maybe self-serving? Sure, of course. Landgraf is not an academic or a neutral arbiter; he’s a network executive who had (and has) his own business to worry about. But I think this phenomenon does exist, and not just for audiences. As a critic, I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of television — but not by the amount that’s terrible, most of which I get to ignore. I feel overwhelmed by the amount that’s okay. Perfectly fine. Watchable, but unremarkable. The ten-episode series that should be four; the four-episode series that should be a movie. The A-for-effort project that just doesn’t quite get where it’s trying to go. The adaptation of true events that’s well-made but has little to add to the podcast it’s based on. The show that stars very famous people doing solid work and nevertheless doesn’t make so much as a ripple.

It’s not that nothing is great. There are still exciting new shows out there; Apple’s Severance, for instance, is wonderful and innovative, weird and special and provocative. But at times, I do feel like I am kept very busy looking at B-plus shows that look a lot like other B-plus shows, that are nicely made and earnestly executed by talented people and that are perfectly okay if you like the kind of thing that they are.

But with the Netflix news last week, it does seem like perhaps we really have reached Peak TV. Maybe things really are going to contract, just a few years behind schedule. If that happens, it may come as a relief to viewers (both amateur and professional), but it will mean shake-ups with implications for jobs and creativity that are still very hard to predict. And of course, when money is hard to come by, it’s often the new voices that are sacrificed first.

Or, I suppose, this will all be wrong, and the number of shows will grow for the next seven years like they’ve grown for the last seven years, and in 2029, we’ll be back here talking about SuperPeak TV and the fact that our greatest movie stars are now making shows that exclusively air on those little screens at gas pumps. Nobody ever said it was easy to see the future.

4) Enjoyed this New Yorker profile of Emily St John Mandel, but, sorry Sea of Tranquility pales in comparison to Station Eleven..

5) Nice twitter thread on some new research on the impact of a university education on political values in Britain. Here’s the TL;DR:

6) Super low-N, but, what a great subject to study, “Nine weeks of high-intensity indoor cycling training induced changes in the microbiota composition in non-athlete healthy male college students”

7) Good Chait piece on Christopher Rufo, the evil genius behind the CRT-panic and now all the “groomer” nonsense.

8) German Lopez on how opioids are a cautionary tale for legalizing drugs:

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached their highest point ever recorded last year, with more than 100,000 deaths over 12 months. Deaths are up nearly 50 percent since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I write about deadly overdoses, some readers ask: Why not legalize and regulate drugs? They argue that the government causes more harm by outlawing drugs and enforcing those bans through policing and incarceration. They suggest that legalization and regulation could better minimize the risks involved.

So today I want to explain why that argument goes only so far — and why many experts are skeptical.

“Drug warriors said we should have a drug-free nation, which was totally bogus,” Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But it is totally bogus on the other side to say we can legalize and all the problems will go away.”

In fact, we are living through a crisis that shows the risks of legalization: the opioid epidemic.

The problem began with a legal, regulated drug: prescription painkillers. Pharmaceutical companies promised the drugs would help address pain, a major public health issue. But when the pills were made widely available in the 1990s, their use skyrocketed — along with addiction and overdoses. And instead of carefully regulating the drugs, officials consistently gave in to profit-minded pharmaceutical companies, which sold opioids to millions of people.

America is poorly poised to legalize and regulate drugs, some experts said. It tends to resist regulation and favor free-market solutions more than other developed nations. It is one of two countries to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. The First Amendment protects some commercial speech, making drug marketing hard to regulate.

“The policy has to match the culture,” Caulkins said. And “we are not good at having bureaucracies that view their mission as defending the people against the industry.”

The painkiller saga illustrates this…

Experts widely agree that the U.S. government failed to properly regulate opioids. But that does not justify the prohibition and criminalization of drugs, argued Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “That’s a false binary,” she told me.

Many options exist between commercialized legalization and criminalized prohibition, experts said. Portugal decriminalized the personal possession of all drugs in 2001, but not manufacturing and distribution. Canada prohibits drugs, but allows for facilities where trained staff supervise drug users and may even provide substances to use.

Different drugs can also warrant different approaches. Marijuana is much safer than cocaine and heroin, and laws can reflect that.

And while the opioid crisis has shown the perils of legalization, it has also exposed the risks of prohibition. People who die from a fentanyl overdose often believe they are consuming heroin, cocaine or some other drug, not knowing it is actually fentanyl or contaminated with fentanyl. That is a problem of unregulated supply.

9) Jane Coaston on banning Russian tennis players from Wimbledon:

But limiting Russian influence by banning Russian and Belarusian tennis players from Wimbledon is unlikely to bring about a swifter end to the war in Ukraine or concretely damage Putin’s regime. Where’s the evidence that Russia’s president will be swayed to rethink his military aggression if these athletes aren’t allowed to compete at Wimbledon? What makes the governing bodies of Wimbledon and the L.T.A. think Putin will be devastated that Daniil Medvedev and Victoria Azarenka will not be heating up the courts at The Championships? Sports Illustrated reported that one player doubted Putin even cared about tennis.

By taking this action, Wimbledon hasn’t banned a team competing under the Russian or Belarusian flag. Tennis players are independent contractors. At major tournaments like Wimbledon, they aren’t competing for their countries. Even if fans back home cheer for them, they are competing for themselves.

So, what is the ban doing? It’s doing something. It’s performing the act of action. And perhaps that’s the point. The do-something impulse is among our strongest, even when, in many cases, there’s very little you, I or Wimbledon really can do to make the Russian government stop its campaign of violence against Ukrainians. Inaction can feel weak, but action, even when it’s ineffective, often feels strong.

10) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Four key facts that show legalized abortion saves and improves maternal lives.”

11) Science! “New method delivers life-saving drugs to the brain—using sound waves: An emerging technique harnessing ultrasound may revolutionize treatment of fatal or hard-to-cure conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Focused ultrasound is “science-fiction medicine that is rapidly becoming non-fiction,” says Brad Wood, director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Interventional Oncology.

The novel procedure gets drugs into the brain by overcoming a major hurdle: the blood-brain barrier, a thin protective layer of specialized cells lining the very small blood vessels guarding the human body’s most privileged organ. It keeps out the bad stuff, such as pathogens, but it also prevents potentially useful things from getting in. As a result, virtually all medications for conditions such as brain cancer and neurodegenerative diseases are effectively unable to reach the site where they are needed most.

The challenge is that the brain is extraordinarily fragile and damage is irreversible, which is why surgeons want new strategies to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Methods such as surgical injection have been tried in the past but involve skin incisions, holes in the skull, and passing instruments through the brain, which all risk infection, bleeding, and swelling and could cause permanent brain damage. “When treating the brain, we have to remember the person, too,” says Lipsman, who is also the director of Sunnybrook’s Harquail Center for Neuromodulation. “Treating the heart, limbs, or lungs, won’t change someone’s personality, memory, or affect. Harming the brain will.”

That’s why focused ultrasound, which is noninvasive, is so appealing. Numerous teams around the world have now shown that opening the blood-brain barrier with ultrasound is safe and feasible, so the next hurdle is proving the medical benefits…

Focused ultrasound is not a new idea and has been used as a medical treatment since the 1950s. Beginning 15 years ago physicians used it to destroy uterine fibroids and prostate cancer and treat prostate gland enlargement. Today the procedure is being applied to more than 160 diseases and conditions at various stages of research and commercialization. Some of the FDA-approved techniques are used to treat tremors and some motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—but these efforts are unrelated to opening the blood-brain barrier.

12) Remember the “pregnant persons” flap over an RBG quote last fall.  Jesse Singal just unlocked his excellent post on the matter:

I do think that when people talk about this, they slightly overcomplicate it. Like, if someone pressed me on why I was calling the person a ‘man’ — what I was really saying — I’d stammer a bit and turn slightly red and eventually admit that really, the only coherent answer is that I was making a strong guess about his physical anatomy. What’s going on in my brain is something like “Beard and suit and tie —> masculine-coded —> male anatomy —> ‘he.’ ” 

Of course things get more complicated with the idea that people should be allowed to choose their pronouns, which is something I am happy to go along with (except in some truly bizarre edge cases we can ignore for now). So if I was informed the beardy, male-seeming person went by ‘they,’ I’d use ‘they.’ I’d be switching, for the sake of politeness, from a system in which pronouns refer (at root, when you really get down to it) to someone’s biological sex to a system in which they refer to someone’s gender identity. Language is flexible; the world will continue to spin and the sun will come up tomorrow. But overall, ‘he’ still usually refers to biological sex, at root. I’m a ‘he’ not because I ‘identify’ as male — all these years later I still don’t understand what that means — but because I am physically, biologically male.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment of my own heness, it’s undeniably the case that sometimes when we say ‘girls’ or ‘women’ or ‘boys’ or ‘men,’ we are locked in quite specifically on biology and nothing else. When we refer to the effects of abortion laws on ‘women,’ we really do just mean “adult human females.” It doesn’t, and never has, had anything to do with how the adult human females in question identify, present, or anything else. To see why, imagine a sentence “We need to protect X’s rights to abortion,” where X refers to how people identify and where the sentence itself is coherent. I don’t think there’s any such sentence, because whether you can get pregnant and therefore might need an abortion has nothing to do with how you identify.

I know that that phrase “adult human female,” despite being right there in the dictionary, has now been successfully pathologized and is treated as borderline hate speech, but we really need it to understand what’s going on here linguistically. So, well, sorry! 

13) You are going to be hearing a lot from me about abortion pills, “Abortion pills by mail pose challenge for officials in red states”

The end of a national right to abortion could trigger a surge of interest in a method of pregnancy termination that has become popular in states that already restrict the procedure: Abortion pills by mail.

Many Republican legislatures have tried banning the pills from being shipped or prescribed. But some women have been able to circumvent the restrictions by getting their pills online from overseas pharmacies that can’t be reached by U.S. laws. The five-day regimen of tablets usually comes in an unassuming envelope, making it hard to police. With the Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, people seeking abortions in the United States will probably flock to these sources, experts say.

“This is just not going to be stoppable,” said Gerald Rosenberg, a law professor emeritus at the University of Chicago law school.

This workaround will probably become another front in the battle over abortion rights.

Residents of Texas and about two dozen other states with sharp limits on abortions have already helped fuel the boom in medicationabortions, as patients seek alternatives to surgical abortions at a clinic, advocatessay. Another factor driving the trend has been coronavirus lockdowns, which limited face-to-face visits at medical facilities. Americans are more comfortable receiving medical care by Zoom-style video links, which allow doctors to prescribe and direct patients on how to take the pills from outside the borders of states that are hostile to abortion.

Mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex and also known as the abortion pill, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 for medication abortion. The drug is used with a second pill, misoprostol, to induce what is essentially a miscarriage. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to progress. Misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone, causes cramping and bleeding and empties the uterus. The medication is approved as safe and effective for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, although it is sometimes used “off label” after that…

“Mailed pills are hard to police,” said Rachel Rebouche, interim dean of Temple Law School. “That has not stopped [states] from trying.”

14) If this actually pans out, it really is an amazing medical development, “Patients Taking Experimental Obesity Drug Lost More Than 50 Pounds, Maker Claims: The data have not yet been peer reviewed or published. But experts said the drug may give people with obesity an alternative to bariatric surgery.”

An experimental drug has enabled people with obesity or who are overweight to lose about 22.5 percent of their body weight, about 52 pounds on average, in a large trial, the drug’s maker announced on Thursday.

The company, Eli Lilly, has not yet submitted the data for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal or presented them in a public setting. But the claims nonetheless amazed medical experts.

“Wow (and a double Wow!)” Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, chief executive of Verve Therapeutics, a company focusing on heart disease drugs, wrote in a tweet. Drugs like Eli Lilly’s, he added, are “truly going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity!!!”

Dr. Kathiresan has no ties to Eli Lilly or to the drug.

Dr. Lee Kaplan, an obesity expert at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the drug’s effect “appears to be significantly better than any other anti-obesity medication that is currently available in the U.S.” The results, he added, are “very impressive.”

On average, participants in the study weighed 231 pounds at the outset and had a body mass index, or B.M.I. — a commonly used measure of obesity — of 38. (Obesity is defined as a B.M.I. of 30 and higher.)

At the end of the study, those taking the higher doses of the Eli Lilly drug, called tirzepatide, weighed about 180 pounds and had a B.M.I. just below 30, on average. The results far exceed those usually seen in trials of weight-loss medications and are usually seen only in surgical patients.

Some trial participants lost enough weight to fall into the normal range, said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the comprehensive weight control center at Weill Cornell Medicine, who worked with Eli Lilly as the study’s principal investigator.

Most of the people in the trial did not qualify for bariatric surgery, which is reserved for people with a B.M.I. over 40, or those with a B.M.I. from 35 to 40 with sleep apnea or Type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes is many times higher for people with obesity than for people without it.

15) NYT, “Russia’s Grave Miscalculation: Ukrainians Would Collaborate”

KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — The solicitation to commit treason came to Oleksandr Vilkul on the second day of the war, in a phone call from an old colleague.

Mr. Vilkul, the scion of a powerful political family in southeastern Ukraine that was long seen as harboring pro-Russian views, took the call as Russian troops were advancing to within a few miles of his hometown, Kryvyi Rih.

“He said, ‘Oleksandr Yurivich, you are looking at the map, you see the situation is predetermined,’” Mr. Vilkul said, recalling the conversation with a fellow minister in a former, pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

“Sign an agreement of friendship, cooperation and defense with Russia and they will have good relations with you,” the former colleague said. “You will be a big person in the new Ukraine.”

The offer failed spectacularly. Once war had begun, Mr. Vilkul said, the gray area seeped out of Ukrainian politics for him. Missiles striking his hometown made the choice obvious: He would fight back.

“I responded with profanity,” Mr. Vilkul said in an interview.

If the first months of the war in Ukraine became a military debacle for the Russian army — deflating the reputations of its commanders and troops in a forced retreat from Kyiv — the Russian invasion also highlighted another glaring failure: Moscow’s flawed analysis of the politics of the country it was attacking. The miscalculation led to mistakes no less costly in lives for the Russian army than the faulty tactics of tank operators who steered into bogs.

The Kremlin entered the war expecting a quick and painless victory, predicting that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky would fracture and that leading officials in the largely Russian-speaking eastern region would gladly switch sides. That has not happened.

16) Did not like this story! “‘Heartbreaking’: Wild fox kills 25 flamingos, 1 duck at National Zoo”  What’s up with that fox?  Just kill something and eat it– but 25?!

17) Technology FTW, “Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge: From surveillance to search-and-rescue, consumer drones are having a huge impact on the country’s defense against Russia.

“Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” says Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.” Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. “In 2014, drones became the center of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he says. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with its annexation of Crimea.)

Civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood has tracked and logged almost 350 incidents in which consumer drones have been used in Ukraine, with the video footage shared on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the clips, which Greenwood has also mapped, are recorded by military forces, but others have been captured by civilians and journalists. The documented incidents are likely to be only a small fraction of the drone usage in Ukraine. Iakovenko says that in addition to collecting footage for possible war crimes, drones are being used to inspect buildings that have been hit and to help restore power supplies that have been damaged or knocked out.

“You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these,” says Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones in war. The drones allow troops on the ground to immediately surveil forces around them, retarget weapons, and take action that could stop enemy advances or save lives. “You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability—that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.”

18) Fascinating twitter thread on the evolution of religion.

19) This could be a very interesting twist, “Your phone could reveal if you’ve had an abortion: Internet searches, visits to clinics and period-tracking apps leave digital trails.”

When someone gets an abortion, they may decide not to share information with friends and family members. But chances are their smartphone knows.

The leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion proposing to overturn Roe v. Wade raises a data privacy flash point: If abortion becomes criminal in some states, might a person’s data trail be treated as evidence?

There is precedent for it, and privacy advocates say data collection could become a major liability for people seeking abortions in secret. Phones can record communications, search histories, body health data and other information. Just Tuesday, there was new evidence that commercial data brokers sell location information gathered from the phones of people who visit abortion clinics.
“It is absolutely something to be concerned about — and something to learn about, hopefully before being in a crisis mode, where learning on the fly might be more difficult,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.

20) I can’t wait! “See Daniel Radcliffe as “Weird Al” Yankovic in the First Trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

21) Good stuff on health care from Yglesias, “Overtreatment in American health care is a problem”

22) 30 foot border wall means 30 foot falls.  Yikes. “The border wall Trump called unclimbable is taking a grim toll: The journal JAMA Surgery offers one of the first attempts to measure injuries and deaths resulting from falls along new sections of the wall”

23) This conversation between Derek Thompson on adolescent mental health and parenting was fascinating.  I’ve been thinking about it so much since I listened to it. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) So much good stuff in this Noah Smith interview with a futurist:

So oil is where Putin makes his money. Russia makes about three times as much money from sales of oi and oil products as it does from the sale of natural gas.  Why is natural gas interesting?

Because natural gas (methane) keeps the lights on. And because it’s a regionally traded commodity.  You see, oil is a global commodity. Oil is moved extensively in tanker ships around the world. Europe could stop buying Russian oil and buy oil (or refined oil products, like gasoline or diesel) from somebody else. There’s differences, but in general it’s a pretty fungible market.

Natural gas is different.  The world has relatively little shipping capacity. To move gas over oceans you have to chill it to -160 degrees C, and turn it into a liquid. That’s doable. But it’s relatively expensive. And so most gas is moved by pipeline. That means that if the gas link between Europe and Russia were shut down for any reason – political, economic, or physical – that you have a much harder time replacing that supply.

Now, this natural gas doesn’t really make all that much money for Putin. I mean, it’s on the order of $80B / year (before this crisis), which is a third of the amount Putin makes from oil. Yet gas is actually more important in terms of his leverage over Europe.  That’s because of the problems shipping gas around that I mention above, and also because gas is used to keep the lights on and houses warm.

If you look at where Europe uses methane gas, one third of it goes to buildings. That means building heat. Literally keeping your home or office warm.  Another third is “heat and power” – that’s electricity. That’s keeping the lights on.  Another third is “industry”. And that’s a mix of using natural gas to make ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer, which massively affects crop yields and thus food prices, and other industrial uses such as refineries, making plastics, and so on.  You can see this breakdown in this chart from Eurostat:

The combination of natural gas’s greater difficulty of transportation vs oil, along with its mission critical role in keeping buildings warm, the lights on, and making fertilizer to apply to fields, means that, even though it earns Putin less money than oil, it’s incredible leverage that he has over Europe.  

Gas is where he has Europe over a barrel. Or where he thinks he does. And reducing or eliminating the need for Russian natural gas is going to be and incredible driver of innovation…

N.S.: Of course we should be doing the same thing in the U.S., right? How good was the Build Back Better bill, and how much does that bill’s death set back U.S. and global decarbonization efforts? Is this a minor setback or a catastrophe?

R.N.: We absolutely should be passing more policy in the US. The energy provisions of the Build Back Better bill are fantastic. They’re not a panacea, but they would amount to the most substantial federal legislation advancing clean energy of all time. The provisions advance clean electricity, electric vehicles, expansion of the power grid, new technologies like green hydrogen, and even carbon capture and direct air capture. Multiple analysis found that BBB would have gone a long way towards the US hitting its Paris commitments and more. And it would most likely lead to lower energy prices for American consumers, as solar and wind are just plain cheaper than coal and gas, and electric vehicles are increasingly becoming cheaper than gas-guzzlers (especially when you include the cost of fuel and maintenance).

Unfortunately, Build Back Better appears to be dead. By which I mean that the omnibus bill is likely dead. Manchin has actually said that he would be open to an energy-only BBB bill, with some initiatives in it to increase US fossil fuel production as well. The theory is that increasing US fossil fuel production would help increase US resilience to oil price shocks. In reality, that doesn’t do much, and the private sector has all the approvals it needs to drill a whole lot more for oil and gas. Renewables and EVs really do much more for energy security. Even so, I’d take such a deal with Manchin. Deploying more renewables makes them cheaper. Deploying more electric cars and trucks makes them cheaper. Scaling green hydrogen technology makes green hydrogen cheaper. The same just isn’t true of fossil fuels. It’s a battle of technology’s always-improving economics on one side, vs a “resource” play that has supply / demand dynamics that cause prices to fluctuate, sometimes wildly, on the other side. Technology will always win. Subsidize both of them equally, and the tech side will gain more.

Alas, Sinema has thrown cold water on such a deal…

The other policy we don’t talk about nearly enough, that’s even more under-rated, is getting out of the way of building things. In the US, a host of regulations empower NIMBY activists, land owners, and conservatives who just don’t like clean energy to block the development of solar and wind. Even worse policies make it practically impossible to build new electricity transmission in the US. And long-range, coast-to-coast power transmission is actually one of the cheapest ways to increase how much solar and wind we can use on the grid, to increase grid reliability across the country, and to lower the cost of energy. But bad regulation at the federal, state, and local level makes it hard to build. We have to fix that. The Left has to own up to this and fix it. This is a complete moral failing on the left, in my opinion. You want more clean energy? Fix NEPA.  Get rid of the Jones Act so we can actually build offshore wind in the US. And Congress has to reform permitting of transmission lines to make it at least as easy to build a transmission line as it is to build an oil or gas pipeline. It’s hilarious that today it’s much much much easier to build a dirty, polluting natural gas or oil pipeline in the US than it is to build an electricity transmission line to carry clean electricity. And fixing that requires action at the Federal level. And it also requires defeating lefty NIMBYs at the state and local level. You want progress? Get out of the way…

N.S.: Is it possible to be any more specific at this point? Do you have a short list of technologies that are in the more nascent, research-intensive stage? 

R.N.: I don’t want to be too prescriptive on the “how” of the technologies. But in terms of the goals, yes. Here are some of the biggest unsolved climate problems:

  • Ultra-long duration storage – economically storing weeks of electricity.

  • Cheap clean industrial heat & industrial processes – making steel, cement, plastics, and chemicals without carbon emissions, at a price similar to or cheaper than how it’s done today with coal or natural gas.

  • Clean “firm” energy resources – Next generation energy resources that can produce 24/7/365, anywhere on earth, in a compact footprint, including next generation advanced geothermal, advanced nuclear fission (thought that already gets the most funding of any energy technology), and energy fusion.

  • Decarbonizing aviation and shipping – Super high energy density batteries, or more likely, clean “electrofuels” made from solar and wind, at the same price or cheaper than jet fuel or bunker fuel are today.

  • Decarbonizing building heat – Can we make heating a building with clean electricity, including the installation and retrofit, as cheap as it is to burn natural gas.

  • Decarbonizing agriculture and ending deforestation – This is a big one. A quarter of the world’s emissions come from agriculture forestry and land use – AFOLU in the IPCC’s lingo. That comes form deforestation which is mostly caused by using land to grow livestock or biofuels. And it comes from fertilizer applied to the fields, which decomposes into nasty stuff like N2O and NOX that are potent greenhouse gasses. And then the animals themselves, especially cows, burp up methane. Each of those could use billions and billions each year in R&D funding.

  • Stabilizing fragile ecosystems – Even at 1.5 degrees C of warming (which we’re going to exceed) you’re going to see a lot more forest fires, and we could see a nearly complete loss of shallow water coral reefs. What can we do to intervene to make these ecosystems more resilient? Can we plant trees that don’t burn so easily? Grasses that sequester more moisture or carbon in the soils? Can we engineer corals that can survive higher temperatures and acidity? Or can we improve coral reef microbiomes to make them more resilient? Can we create robots or other ways of replanting corals that don’t require expensive, non-scalable human divers.

  • Direct climate system interventionsGeo-engineering. Most controversially, I will say that our biggest single climate policy miss, by far, is that we are doing essentially zero to advance the state of science of intervening in the climate system. I’m talking about a range of things here, from cloud brightening, to stabilizing glaciers that are melting, or somehow intervening in methane release from a thawing arctic, and all the way up to solar radiation management geo-engineering. Everyone seems to hate this idea. But I have news for you. We are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. It is just not going to happen. We have missed that boat. We might stay below 2 degrees Celsius if we get our act together and deploy the technologies we have ready or have in the pipeline. We have a really great shot at staying below 2.5 or 3 degrees C. And we could even pull it in to below 2, I believe. But we’ve just plain missed 1.5 degrees Celsius. I want people to get that in their heads. There is no plausible scenario in which the world decarbonizes fast enough to hit that goal. Unless… Unless you reflect a tiny bit of the sun’s energy back into space. You’d probably do it by spraying aerosols into the stratosphere. It looks like it would be really cheap. People are terrified of the idea. But in part they’re terrified because we don’t understand the side effects. Actually, we might understand them better than people think. But okay. If that’s a problem, let’s do some very small scale experiments. And let’s fund 100x as much modeling of this as we have today. Let’s get serious about understanding how geo-engineering would work. Let’s have it ready as an option. It’s far better to have these tools available and not use them, then to find out that we’re up against a wall, that some climate tipping point is going much faster than we expected, and that we don’t have the tools that could help save us. So I will plant my flag here. Today, the world spends roughly single digit millions of dollars a year on geo-engineering research. Does that sound like a lot? It’s not. We spent more than $60 billion. Billion with a B. On venture capital investments into clean energy last year. In 2022 we’re going to spend probably a TRILLION dollars deploying solar, wind, batteries, and electric vehicles.  That’s awesome.  But it’s not enough. Let’s spend an addition, say, 1/1000th of that amount, or $1 Billion / year, on researching solar radiation management geo-engineering and other direct climate interventions. That would increase research in the area by roughly a factor of 100, which is about right.

2) Lots of people talking about this Vanity Fair piece about the “new right” funded by Peter Thiel.  I didn’t actually read it closely, but tell me if I should. 

3) The case for new houses (my house was built in 1985, for what it’s worth):

And despite what old-home snobs may believe, new housing is also just plain nice to live in—in many ways an objective improvement on what came before.

Noise is now appropriately recognized as one of the biggest quality-of-life issues in cities. As I write this in the living room of my 1958 Los Angeles dingbat, I can hear the neighbor on my right shouting over the phone and the neighbor on my left enjoying reggaeton at maximum volume. The distant hum of the 405 is forever in the background. Back when I lived in a mid-2000s apartment building in D.C.—a relatively old building in our pro-growth capital—I had no such distractions. Double-paned windows kept out virtually all street noise, even on a busy downtown intersection, while fiberglass insulation kept neighbors from bothering one another. I wasn’t even certain that I had neighbors until we bumped into each other several months after I moved in.

Modern homes and apartment buildings are not only far better insulated—they also feature modern HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) technologies, such that homes can be warmed and cooled without using nearly as much energy as their older counterparts. Given that heating and cooling account for nearly half of all household energy use in the U.S., the savings from new housing could have serious implications for climate change. That little space heater struggling to keep your drafty old apartment warm—to say nothing of your window AC unit—isn’t just unsightly. It’s also a climate failure.

In smaller ways, too, new construction is nicer. Bathrooms and closets are larger, as are kitchens, which are no longer walled off from the rest of the home. Modern windows let you bathe a unit in natural light, without temperature or noise concerns. Smaller unit sizes—think studios and one-bedrooms—better reflect shrinking households. And in-unit laundry is more common now, as are balconies—amenities that have only grown in value amid recurring COVID-related shutdowns.

For comparison’s sake, consider the Japanese approach. The average Japanese home is demolished 30 years after construction, the realistic life span of a typical cheaply built structure. The Japanese have virtually no “used home” market: Fully 87 percent of Japanese home sales are new, compared with 11 to 34 percent in the West. As a result, most Japanese households enjoy a new house or apartment with all the modern amenities and design innovation that entails, including ever-improving earthquake standards. And this steady supply of new housing has helped make Tokyo one of the most affordable cities in the world, despite a growing population.

All that construction consumes a fair share of resources, and housing in Japan doesn’t double as an investment vehicle. But I, for one, would take that trade-off.

4) Jerusalem Demsas on what’s behind the current moment for student loan forgiveness.  A number of theories, but I think it’s mostly this:

Reason five: The power of college graduates

According to Catalist data, roughly 43 percent of the 2020 Biden electorate graduated from a four-year college or university. Compare that with 2012, when, according to Pew, just 36 percent of registered Democrats had completed a four-year degree or more. Given that trend, student-loan forgiveness may seem like the classic tale of a political party transferring a valuable benefit to a crucial constituency.

Although college-educated voters are an important segment of the Democratic Party, no one identity group is completely dominant. The party has long been a coalitional organization stitched together loosely and lacking a clear ideological core. Daniel Schlozman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, explained a coalitional shift within the party in recent years. “Democrats are becoming more consistently liberal in a variety of ways, and they’re becoming more upper-middle-class all at once,” he told me. “And that creates some awkwardness.”

Awkward indeed that so much energy has been spent on a policy proposal that would affect just 13 percent of the population, and that would send the most dollars to high-income earners and those with graduate degrees. The fervor with which student-loan advocates argue that these policies are in fact racially and economically progressive may be an attempt to resolve the awkwardness that Schlozman describes—advocates of debt cancellation are trying to build a coherent narrative for why a diverse coalition, many of whom have never attended college, should be in favor of forgiveness.

College-educated voters are not just dominant within the Democratic Party; they also dominate the media and, naturally, academia—two institutions that have significant power over what issues are brought to the fore. Importantly, academia and media have also become notoriously unstable work environments lacking sufficiently well-paying jobs. The demographics and precarity of these fields are likely playing a role in the prominence of the student-loan-forgiveness debate.

There are many good proposals for how to forgive student debt, particularly targeted programs aimed at helping those who attended predatory institutions or those who never received a degree and thus missed out on the higher earning potential that comes with it. But the issue’s prominence in our discourse has less to do with its merits than the changing political landscape that has stymied legislative efforts and given college graduates agenda-setting power.

5) Really, really good interview with Yashca Mounk on his new book about multiethnic democracy:

Gupta: Let’s discuss the ideal scenario. We talked a little bit about it in terms of the group dynamics we want to encourage. What changes would you make to American society and politics to make that a reality? 

Mounk: I actually think the most important reason why I’m optimistic about the future is not that I’ve come up with a great solution, and I’m going to tell you what that solution is, and then if only you will listen to me, we can right the ship—I think a lot of books have that kind of structure and it’s never very convincing. The reason why I’m optimistic is that when I look at Twitter, I despair. When I look at a lot of newspapers, I despair. When I look at the cable news shows, I definitely despair. But when I look at what’s actually going on in society, I don’t despair. America has become much more tolerant in the last decades. We have really rapid socioeconomic progress of minority and immigrant groups, in a way that’s rarely appreciated by either the left or the right. The best study suggests that immigrants from Central or South America, for example, are rising up the socio-economic ranks as rapidly as Irish and Italian Americans did a century ago. This shows that the far-right is wrong in believing that there’s something somehow inferior about them. But it also shows that parts of the left are wrong in thinking that our countries are so racist and so discriminatory that nonwhite people don’t have opportunity. Thankfully, actually, people have opportunity. We see that in the way in which their children or grandchildren in particular are rising up very rapidly. Now, there are also all kinds of sensible things we can do in terms of how we think about our country, the education we engage in, the kind of patriotism we embrace, the kinds of policies and acts of Congress that we should pass—and that’s important, too. But fundamentally, my optimism comes from the developments that I already see happening in society.

6) Jane Coaston on don’t say gay legislation:

I didn’t come out as bisexual when I was a kid. I grew up in Ohio in the ’90s and attended Catholic school. The message I received was that women who weren’t feminine by traditional standards were vaguely suspicious. So I was clearly in big trouble, and bisexuality seemed like something I’d only get to achieve if I could somehow make it to a safer place.

If I had learned at some point when I was young that being L.G.B.T.Q. was a normal way to be a human being — not a sign that I was evil and disgusting or, even worse to a chubby girl in junior high, ugly — I could have avoided so much anguish and time spent trying to “fix” myself on evangelical Christian message boards.

So to me, bills like Florida’s HB 1557, which bars “instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, are vague at absolute best and extraordinarily dangerous at worst, aimed at solving a “problem” that I do not think exists.

This week, for “The Argument,” I was grateful to have had a chance to discuss the Florida bill, along with similar legislation, with Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg, columnists for Times Opinion.

As Ross recently wrote, some of these bills have been put forward by people who see the growing number of L.G.T.B.Q. Americans as a bad thing. The share of younger Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has risen over the last decade, including 21 percent of those born between 1997 and 2003. Ross wrote in his column that the reactions to these numbers can be sorted into three groups: “this is great news,” “we shouldn’t read too much into it,” and “this trend is bad news.”


I can be found resting happily somewhere in between the first two groups. That more people are L.G.B.T.Q. seems like what would logically happen in a society that is more affirming of being L.G.B.T.Q.

But having read a great deal by social conservatives about the new bills, it seems to me that these writers believe that there are simply too many L.G.B.T.Q. kids — “far in excess of what can be explained by more people coming out as stigma declines” — and that this must be the fault of teachers “grooming” them or a media environment that’s too permissive. Because otherwise, those kids would be, as conservative writer Rod Dreher might put it, normal.

I would love to know the degree to which LGBT-identifying young adults in other western Democracies mirrors the rise here in the U.S. or is different and I’ve not been able to find that.  I’d love to know the percentage in France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, etc.

7) Singal and Chait both pushing back against a common leftist trope on twitter, but Chait I can link and quote:

8) This seems not great, “Fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be”

As you gaze across the rows of brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store, you may not be aware that the quantity of nutrients in these crops has been declining over the past 70 years.

Mounting evidence from multiple scientific studies shows that many fruits, vegetables, and grains grown today carry less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C than those that were grown decades ago. This is an especially salient issue if more people switch to primarily plant-based diets, as experts are increasingly recommending for public health and for protecting the planet.

Nutrient decline “is going to leave our bodies with fewer of the components they need to mount defenses against chronic diseases—it’s going to undercut the value of food as preventive medicine,” says David R. Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author with Anne Biklé of What Your Food Ate.

Even for people who avoid processed foods and prioritize fresh produce, this trend means that “what our grandparents ate was healthier than what we’re eating today,” says Kristie Ebi, an expert in climate change and health at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Scientists say that the root of the problem lies in modern agricultural processes that increase crop yields but disturb soil health. These include irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting methods that also disrupt essential interactions between plants and soil fungi, which reduces absorption of nutrients from the soil. These issues are occurring against the backdrop of climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide, which are also lowering the nutrient contents of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Experts say it’s important to keep these declines in perspective and not let this news deter you from eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain your health. But they hope the results will spur more people to care about how their food is being grown.

9) This is definitely not great, “Covid vaccine concerns are starting to spill over into routine immunizations”

Kids aren’t getting caught up on routine shots they missed during the pandemic, and many vaccination proponents are pointing to Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as a big reason why.

Public health experts, pediatricians, school nurses, immunization advocates and state officials in 10 states told POLITICO they are worried that an increasing number of families are projecting their attitudes toward the Covid-19 vaccine onto shots for measles, chickenpox, meningitis and other diseases.

That spillover of vaccine hesitancy may also be fueling an uptick in religious exemption requests from parents of school-aged children and is making it more difficult for states to catch up with children who missed immunizations during the pandemic’s early days when families skipped doctor’s appointments, they say.

That has pediatricians, school nurses and public health experts worried that preventable and possibly fatal childhood illnesses, once thought to be a thing of the past, could become more common.

“We just want to keep measles, polio, and all the things we vaccinate against out of the political arena,” said Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He was alarmed by the introduction of several bills in the state legislature in the last year to limit vaccinations, including one that would have ended immunization requirements in schools. Several states considered similar pieces of legislation that would have either removed or whittled away at school vaccination requirements, though none moved forward.

10) NPR, “The education culture war is raging. But for most parents, it’s background noise”

Math textbooks axed for their treatment of race; a viral Twitter account directing ire at LGBTQ teachers; a state law forbidding classroom discussion of sexual identity in younger grades; a board book for babies targeted as “pornographic.” Lately it seems there’s a new controversy erupting every day over how race, gender or history are tackled in public school classrooms.

But for most parents, these concerns seem to be far from top of mind. That’s according to a new national poll by NPR and Ipsos. By wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what is being taught in them.

11) I like this from Drum.  I want to actually look at the data on this some myself:

Why don’t Americans trust experts anymore? Sean Illing interviewed Michael Lewis about this recently, but they somehow managed to miss the obvious. Here are three charts from the GSS survey:

There are blip and bloops, but around 1990 Republican trust in experts started a steady downward trend compared to Democrats. Republican distrust of the press is a long-told story. Distrust in medicine, which far predates COVID-19, likely has something to do with abortion, treatment of addiction as a disease, and perhaps increasing physician support of national health care. And distrust of the scientific community is pretty obviously because the scientific community keeps producing inconvenient conclusions.

I’m not claiming this is the whole story. But overall, distrust of experts is a Republican-driven phenomenon. You’re missing a lot if you don’t acknowledge that.


12) Ian Milhiser on the latest school prayer case, “The justices may take a big bite out of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, or they might take a simply enormous bite out of it.”

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, briefly explained

Kennedy involves Joseph Kennedy, a former public school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, who for many years would lead post-game prayer sessions for his players and for players on the opposing team. After his school district ordered him to discontinue these sessions, he largely did so, but he still insisted upon going to the 50-yard line after games and visibly praying in front of his players and the gathered spectators.

Kennedy also went on a nationwide media tour — at one point, Good Morning America did a segment on him — promoting his desire to tout his faith while he was coaching his students. This led many of Kennedy’s supporters to become disruptive during games. After one game, for example, so many people stormed the field to support Kennedy that a federal appeals court described it as a “stampede.” The district itself complained that this rush of people knocked over members of the school’s marching band, and that it was unable “to keep kids safe.”

Meanwhile, at least one parent complained to the school that his son “felt compelled to participate” in Kennedy’s prayers, despite the fact that he is an atheist, because the student feared “he wouldn’t get to play as much if he didn’t participate.”

Eventually, the school placed Kennedy on leave, after he rebuffed the school’s attempt to reach an accommodation that would allow Kennedy to pray without disrupting games or pressuring students into unwanted religious acts.

Under existing law, this should not be a difficult case. The Supreme Court suggested in Lee v. Weisman (1992) that public school-sponsored religious activity is inherently coercive, both because of the authority school officials wield over students, and because students who stand out are likely to face peer pressure to fall in line. Such pressure, the Court said in Lee, may be “subtle and indirect” but it also “can be as real as any overt compulsion,” as it leaves a young nonadherent with “a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the State to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow.”

But the Court’s 6-3 Republican majority has been quite clear about its eagerness to overrule longstanding religion cases. One of the new majority’s very first actions after Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation gave Republicans a supermajority on the Court, for example, was to give churches and other places of worship a new right to defy public health orders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

13) I thought I’d give David French an open-minded read with his contention that the coach “should be allowed to pray.”  But the fact that French completely elides the key fact of the coach’s coercive power over his players made me even more firm in my opinions on this one. 

14) I think I missed this from Jeffrey Sachs in 2020, “No, Professors Are Not Brainwashing Their Students”

So What Does College Do?

It wasn’t always this way. Data from the 1940s to 1970s show that there used to be a strong relationship between college attendance and political liberalism. But the link has been weakening for decades, probably because of hardening political attitudes among freshmen. High schoolers also have a much wider range of colleges and universities to choose from, making it easier to find an institution that matches their pre-existing beliefs.

But none of this means higher education has no political effect. College graduates are more likely to be politically active than their non-graduate peers, especially if they major in the social sciences. They also tend to be more politically knowledgeable, as shown in a recent study of identical twins. And while college seems to have little impact on whether a student is liberal or conservative, a number of studies find that it does make them more supportive of civil liberties and gender egalitarianism, though not less religious.

However, even these changes are more likely due to the influence of peers (i.e., other students) than faculty. Indeed, one of the best predictors of whether a student’s political views will change in university is their degree of social embeddedness. The more involved a student is in campus clubs, Greek life, or athletics, the more likely he or she will adopt their peers’ political views. Students want to fit in, and that pressure affects their politics. But it’s not the approval of their faculty they crave. It’s their classmates.

Thus, while college graduates do tend to be more liberal than non-graduates, it is unlikely that college itself is responsible. On the contrary, someone who enters college a conservative will almost certainly leave as one. The same happens with liberals.

Some changes take place, especially in terms of general political knowledge, activism, and attitudes toward gender equality and civil rights. But anything beyond this is more likely due to socialization and peer pressure. Faculty have very little to do with it.

15) Love this from Pamela Paul, “The Limits of ‘Lived Experience’”

Did Dana Schutz, a white artist, have the right to paint Emmett Till? Was it fair that a white historian, David Blight, won a Pulitzer for his biography of Frederick Douglass? Should Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner be the ones to update “West Side Story,” a musical conceived by four Jewish men but fundamentally about Puerto Rican lives?

Let’s make it personal: Am I, as a new columnist for The Times, allowed to weigh in on anything other than a narrow sliver of Gen X white woman concerns?

Not according to many of those who wish to regulate our culture — docents of academia, school curriculum dictators, aspiring Gen Z storytellers and, increasingly, establishment gatekeepers in Hollywood, book publishing and the arts. It’s the ultimate litmus test: Only those whose “lived experience” matches the story are qualified to tell the tale.

So what is this vaunted “lived experience”? You may recognize it by its longstanding name, “personal experience,” or less excitingly, “experience.” But “lived experience,” with its earthy suggestion of authority, says to other people: Unless you have walked in my shoes, you have no business telling my story.

Here’s the argument: The dominant culture (white, male, Western, straight) has been dictating the terms for decades, effectively silencing or “erasing” the authentic identities and voices of the people whose stories are being told. The time has come to “center” these other voices.

In practice and across the arts, this means that only those people who have directly experienced discrimination or oppression, for example, or who in some way embody that experience should be allowed to portray characters, create stories or drive programming about it. They’re the ones who can truly interpret those tales accurately. The goal is greater share of the narrative and greater stake in any profits.

It’s essentially a turf war. Only Latino authors can write novels about Latinos. Only Holocaust survivors can convey the truth of the Holocaust. Only disabled people can portray disabled people. Everyone else is out.

16) Fascinating in Smithsonian, “How Yellow Fever Intensified Racial Inequality in 19th-Century New Orleans: A new book explores how immunity to the disease created opportunities for white, but not Black, people”

17) I’m really intrigued by Katherine Harden’s work on genetics and I love Thomas Frank’s Success and Luck, so I quite enjoyed Frank’s review of Harden’s book:

That things like eye color, body mass, and longevity are heritable was known millennia before anyone even knew what genes were. Studies documenting the heritability of sexual orientation, academic achievement, schizophrenia, and political beliefs are relatively recent. As Kathryn Paige Harden notes in The Genetic Lottery, many social scientists are more comfortable acknowledging some of these linkages than others. Although it is uncontroversial to note that speech pathologies are heritable, for example, few seem comfortable discussing evidence suggesting that the same is true of a propensity to homelessness.

There’s an obvious explanation for this asymmetry. “For over 150 years,” Harden writes, “the science of human heredity has been used to advance racist and classist ideologies, with horrific consequences for people classified as ‘inferior’” (p. 12). A behavioral geneticist on the psychology faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, she is quick to disassociate herself from Social Darwinists and their ilk. An unapologetic egalitarian in the Rawlsian tradition, she argues that our efforts to construct a more just society will be more likely to succeed if we ground them on our best understanding of the forces that spawn existing social structures. She presents compelling evidence that genetic variation is one of the most important of those forces.

Income and wealth inequality clearly result in part from traits we inherit. Some of the relevant causal pathways have long been evident, as in studies linking earnings to IQ and good health, both of which are strongly heritable. Heritable traits like height and physical attractiveness are also associated with higher earnings. But Harden also describes new evidence linking genetic variation to less easily measured traits, such as openness to experience, ability to defer gratification, and grit—the ability to persist in the face of adversity. These traits also strongly influence someone’s ability to succeed in the labor market.

Studies showing that heredity’s role in economic success is far greater than many realized pose no challenge to the egalitarian position. On the contrary, Harden argues, they actually bolster it. Successful people have long been quick to attribute their accomplishments to talent and hard work alone. (As E. B. White memorably wrote, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”) But where do talent and the inclination to work hard come from? Scientists could once say only that they result from a poorly understood mix of genetic and environmental forces. The forces themselves remain poorly understood. But as Harden’s narrative makes clear, revolutionary advances in gene sequencing have shown that the genetic components of these forces are far more important than once believed…

Even without reference to genetic variations, it has long been beyond question that events over which individuals have no control have enormous influence on important life outcomes. For example, roughly half of the variance in incomes across persons worldwide is explained by country of residence and the income distribution within that country. Even within a country, children are far more likely to flourish in some family environments than in others. Chance events also matter in a variety of less conspicuous ways—as when Bryan Cranston, who had never before acted in a leading dramatic role, was cast as Walter White in Breaking Bad only after Matthew Broderick and John Cusack first turned the role down.

To all that, we now add Harden’s evidence that the genetic lottery is even more influential than we knew. In the face of this evidence, it is difficult to deny that success in life is almost entirely a matter of luck.

But to acknowledge the importance of chance events is not to deny the importance of traditional determinants of success. Most successful people are of course both talented and hardworking, as they are quick to remind us. When they try to explain their success to themselves and others, they easily retrieve examples from memory in which they came to work early and stayed late, solved difficult problems, bested formidable rivals, and so on. It is thus perfectly natural that many might feel offended when their success is attributed, even in small measure, to luck.

But even though talent and an inclination to work hard result from genetic and environmental forces over which we have little control, it may be disadvantageous to think in those terms. Working hard is, well, hard. To persist in the face of difficult challenges often means having to dig deep, to resist powerful impulses to quit. Imagine two people who have managed to persist under trying circumstances. One thinks to herself, “How lucky I was to draw the DNA card for persistence in the genetic lottery.” Her rival instead basks in pride for having summoned the will to persist. If you agree that the rival will be more likely to persevere when the next difficult challenge arises, you understand why few parents encourage their children to view being inclined to work hard as luck. It is luck, of course. But from the individual perspective, it may be disadvantageous to view it that way.

That same caveat doesn’t apply in the domain of public policy, where steps to reduce luck’s contribution to inequality promise benefits for all.

18) Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel” special was honestly like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I highly recommend it.  Also, I find most stand-up comics just not all that funny.  Carmichael, though, actually makes me laugh.

19) Meanwhile, hard to think of a show with a bigger drop off in quality than Russian Doll season 2.  They really should’ve stopped after season 1.  After falling asleep during each of the first 3 episodes of season 2, I called it quits. 

20) Such a sad story, “Millions of Bees Bound for Alaska Are Rerouted and Die in Atlanta
A shipment of five million honeybees was diverted to Atlanta and left out on a hot tarmac. Local beekeepers tried to come to the rescue, but very few survived.”

A few musings on Musk and twitter

1) I could be wrong here, but I feel like the total freakout here is a massive over-reaction.  I strongly suspect that for well over 90% of twitter users, the experience will not noticeably change.  I doubt that there’s going to be this pile-on of right-wing trolls attacking my every post that are now only unleashed because Musk has let them.  Or that I won’t want to logon and be confronted with a sea of awfulness in my timeline.

There’s interesting and worthwhile debates and discussions to be had about free speech and twitter’s moderation policy, but I truly think for the vast majority of users, it has very minimal effects on their twitter experience.

2) The whole thing is also bringing out so much twitter hate.  If you use twitter and you hate twitter, you are using it wrong!  I will immodestly say that I know more about Covid and vaccines than 90-95% of Americans.  And the bulk of that knowledge comes from twitter.  I can read vaccine researchers dissect the latest findings in a preprint.  I can read epidemiologists who study disease spread across many nations make sense of all the latest Covid numbers, I can read human immune system experts address key theories for long Covid.  It’s amazing.  On politics, I can read the smartest takes from political scientists who I would otherwise have no contact with; great takes from journalists where I don’t subscribe to their publication, amazing military expert analysis of what’s going on in Ukraine.  And, the occasional funny cat video or amazing astronomical photo.  What’s not to like?!  If you hate twitter, you are doing it wrong.  And call me crazy, but I don’t Elon Musk doing anything that would change that fundamental dynamic for me.

3) If for some reason, twitter does become this awful cesspit of meanness and abuse for somebody who just wants smart takes on politics, Covid, general science, and hockey analytics, then I would stop using it.  And so would millions of others and it would lose money so there’s a strong incentive– whomever owns it– to keep that from happening.  

4) I do get that there really is an abuse problem– especially for prominent women.  And that’s a real issue.  And there is a problem with misinformation, but it’s not obvious that some wizened twitter folks can simply solve this anyway.  These are real issues worthy of thoughtful discussion.  Not, “OMG Elon Musk is buying twitter and it’s going to ruin everything.”


Quick hits (part II)

Happy Easter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That doesn’t matter either, Greene said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What might account for their failure to do so?

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

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

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

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

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

Despite this awareness, Graham and Svolik continue,

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

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

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

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

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

8) This is kind of cool. “Why Rome?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are those biggest threats?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) I think Jeff Maurer raised some important points in his French election wave I analysis:

Macron’s economic policies were neither validated nor repudiated.

As you know, Macron is the candidate of the elite. Or…maybe kind of a socialist. Or actually, he represents a new brand of forward-thinking left-wing capitalism. From 25 years ago. He’s sort of a center-left-rightish-Keynesian big government capitalist lefty anti-union reformist maintainer of the status quo.

I think Macron’s economic thinking comes into focus when you put it in the context of the French status quo. France has the highest government spending rate in the OECD; a whopping 61.6 percent of French GDP is government spending. In 2019, France ranked dead last in the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index. The French retirement age is 62, one of the lowest in the industrialized world. Firing a French worker is like buying toilet paper at Dollar Tree: guaranteed to be a total mess and something that only a masochist does twice.

Given that reality, the fact that Macron has (or has tried to) cut taxes, reformed labor laws, and raise the retirement age makes him look less like a right-winger and more like someone trying to bring his country in line with international norms. And trying to prune back the French welfare state hasn’t been Macron’s only move; he also spent big to keep the economy running during Covid, which helped produce France’s biggest economic boom in 52 years. He’s put major amounts of money towards beefed-up public benefits, retirement income for low-income farmers, and free school breakfast in poor areas. French 18-year-olds get €300 to spend on “culture”, which is the most French thing I’ve ever heard…

Le Pen succeeded in moving towards the center.

Much of the commentary in the next few days will be hand-wringing over the fact that a far-right xenophobe with illiberal tendencies who sees herself as a fellow traveler with Viktor Orban advanced to the second round and has a shot at winning. And that hand-wringing is warranted; Le Pen is, in my opinion, very bad. But it’s notable that the prelude to her relative success has been an aggressive tack towards the center.

Le Pen has spent years trying to soften her image. Her party — which was founded by her father and was long the refuge of thinly-veiled anti-Semites — recently changed their name: They’re called “Meta” now (not really: the new name is the “National Rally”). She’s centered her campaign around “pocketbook issues” (e.g. inflation, jobs), sometimes positioning herself to the left of Macron. And then there’s this:

Marine Le Pen has turned her Instagram into a clearinghouse for adorable cat photos. I have to say: That is the most amoeba-brained manipulation technique I’ve ever witnessed, and I also have to say: Look at those fuzzy little guys! Who thinks Fwance is being overwun by immigwants? You do! This blog has long been pro-cat; I’ve known for some time that comedy writers will eventually be replaced by cats, and I accept the verdict. It’s crass for Le Pen to use adorable cats to mask her ugly policies but of course it will work.

If anything helped Le Pen more than adorable cats, it’s the hideous candidacy of Éric Zemmour. Zemmour is French Tucker Carlson: He’s an ultra-right TV commentator who frequently gets in trouble for walking the line between veiled racism and racism. Two months ago, his candidacy was surging. For Le Pen, this was like when an actress does a scene with a horse: Inevitably, she ended up looking good by comparison.

2) Emma Camp, the UVA student who ignited a free speech/culture war firestorm responds in Persuasion.  As before, I think she’s largely right:

The vicious rage in reaction to the article is telling. It shows, with biting efficacy, what happens when you don’t self-censor. If there was no real problem of illiberalism on college campuses, or our broader culture for that matter, then thousands of people wouldn’t have clamored to decry a college student as everything from a whiny child to a white nationalist. If there was no real problem, then my article wouldn’t have registered as that much of a threat.

This environment, as further highlighted by a recent newsletter article by David French and last month’s editorial in the New York Times, is what happens when we lose a cultural appreciation for free speech and free expression. As French writes: “the priority of fending off legal threats to free speech does not mean that we should neglect the culture. Over time, the law tends to flow from the culture, and so a culture that despises free inquiry won’t long protect the First Amendment.” If we want to protect our legal right to free speech, it is important to stay vigilant to cultural changes. When our culture seems to view the First Amendment as a frustrating obstacle, rather than a gift, we ought to be concerned.

Of course, we all have the right to criticize—and in fact to do so in profoundly unproductive, unreasonable, and yes, cruel ways. I do not have the right, in a legal sense, to not be called terrible names by a stranger on the internet, and no one is required to offer constructive and thoughtful criticism of my work. Part of making a principled support of the legal right to free speech of course requires acknowledging the “right” for individuals to use their speech in objectionable ways.

That said, it is completely possible to uphold the value of a legal right while also noting how the abuse of those rights can sometimes lead to undesirable results. We ought to have the right to say basically whatever we choose. But if we want a culture that values free expression and open inquiry, we ought to refrain from our most vindictive impulses—to read in deliberate bad faith, to be cruel, to seek the online approval of an in-group by publicly shaming an approved target. These impulses make our ability to have thoughtful and productive discourse, both on- and off-line, much harder.

3) So much interesting stuff in here from Scott Alexander, but I had to highlight this part, “Obscure Pregnancy Interventions: Much More Than You Wanted To Know”

Don’t Eat Too Much Licorice (Tier 2)

Licorice contains the dangerous-sounding chemical glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin turns off the placental enzymes that limit the amount of maternal stress hormones that pass to the developing fetus. A study shows that mothers who eat lots of licorice during pregnancy have children with 7 points lower IQ (on average) than mothers with more restraint in their licorice consumption. Others studies show increased maternal blood pressureincreased risk of preterm birth. There are relatively few studies here compared to some other interventions, but the studies seem strong, the mechanism seems plausible, and there are fewer possible confounders than usual.

The study found effects at 500 mg glycyrrhizin per week, which corresponds to eating about two or three sticks of licorice per day for an entire pregnancy. Who does this? Finns, that’s who. All of these studies have been done in Finland, which is apparently a country of disgusting licorice junkies. I blame Santa Claus.

Still, there may be scattered non-Finns who eat this amount, or there may be subthreshold effects that the studies weren’t powered to measure. I suggest abstaining.

Only the sinister foreign “black licorice” contains glycyrrhizin. The red licorice eaten by normal red-blooded Americans is (as per American tradition) made out of corn syrup derivatives with no real licorice whatsoever, and should be fine.

4) Interesting post from Yglesias’ intern, Milan Singh, “The American Rescue Plan was too big: Lawmakers spent too much, too quickly — and overlearned the lessons of 2009”

Lessons from 2021 and beyond

The bottom line is that the American Rescue Plan, while well-intentioned, spent too much money too quickly, meaningfully overshooting the output gap and contributing to inflation. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, pandemic fiscal stimulus (CARES and ARP) increased the inflation rate by three percentage points by the end of last year. In hindsight, Democrats should have passed a smaller bill, with less upfront stimulus and more spread-out spending on permanent programs. The CRFB put together a framework for a slimmer package totaling $1.1 trillion featuring fewer temporary programs, reduced aid to states, and automatic stabilizers.

If I were given a magic wand and a time machine, I would write a bill looking something like this, with emphasis on doing a few permanent programs while delivering a modest stimulus to the economy.

While slightly smaller than the actual bill, $1.55 trillion is still a tremendous amount of money, and I think this package would have spent that sum in a wiser and less inflationary manner than the real-world ARP did.

Going forward, we really ought to enact automatic stabilizers that adjust spending based on economic conditions for programs such as expanded unemployment benefits and state aid. When Democrats had the chance to let the economy go up in flames and tank Donald Trump’s re-election, they did the right thing and put country over party. But we might not get so lucky next time. The fate of the economy shouldn’t rest on whether the speaker or the Senate majority leader feels like doing an opposite-party president a favor.

But in the present, what we have to do is stop the bleeding. That means reducing the deficit and the Fed increasing interest rates without throwing us into a recession. It means reducing energy prices and capping the cost of insulin and prescription drugs. It means winding down Covid-19 relief spending that is contributing between 0.14 and 0.68 percentage points to the inflation rate and diverting unspent stimulus funds to pandemic prevention and ending the pause on student loan payments. And we should do what we can to address the supply side by promoting vaccination, making pharmaceutical treatments available, and otherwise accepting the new normal and getting back to our lives.

5) Scott Alexander with a thorough (as only he does) look at the evidence behind various pregnancy interventions.  I had to include this one:

Don’t Eat Too Much Licorice (Tier 2)

Licorice contains the dangerous-sounding chemical glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin turns off the placental enzymes that limit the amount of maternal stress hormones that pass to the developing fetus. A study shows that mothers who eat lots of licorice during pregnancy have children with 7 points lower IQ (on average) than mothers with more restraint in their licorice consumption. Others studies show increased maternal blood pressureincreased risk of preterm birth. There are relatively few studies here compared to some other interventions, but the studies seem strong, the mechanism seems plausible, and there are fewer possible confounders than usual.

The study found effects at 500 mg glycyrrhizin per week, which corresponds to eating about two or three sticks of licorice per day for an entire pregnancy. Who does this? Finns, that’s who. All of these studies have been done in Finland, which is apparently a country of disgusting licorice junkies. I blame Santa Claus.

Still, there may be scattered non-Finns who eat this amount, or there may be subthreshold effects that the studies weren’t powered to measure. I suggest abstaining.

Only the sinister foreign “black licorice” contains glycyrrhizin. The red licorice eaten by normal red-blooded Americans is (as per American tradition) made out of corn syrup derivatives with no real licorice whatsoever, and should be fine.

6) Unsurprisingly, I agree with Drum here, “Should Democrats change their tune on a few culture war topics?”

People to my left demand particulars. Just who should we throw under the bus? Trans people? Black people? Poor people? Let’s name names.

Fine. Here are a variety of issues that might benefit from a rethinking. I’m not going to say anything dogmatic here. I’d just like to spur discussion. These are in no particular order.

  1. Defund the police. I find this one particularly annoying because lefties like to pretend that it’s completely ridiculous and there’s no evidence that it had any effect. Besides, we explained at length that defund the police didn’t really mean defund the police anyway.

    This is sophistry. Unless you’re completely out of touch it should be obvious that this is something that puts off a lot of people. And as the old saying goes, when you’re explaining you’re losing. It’s one thing to support police reform; it’s quite another for activists to literally want to defund the police and for politicians to mumble into their sandwiches about it instead of having the guts to clearly say if they really support the idea.

  2. Critical Race Theory. I’m not quite sure what we should do about this, but what we’ve done so far doesn’t seem to be working. There’s not much question that Republicans have cynically used CRT, which is a graduate level legal theory, to tar elementary school education where it’s simply not used. But that doesn’t mean Republicans haven’t hit a nerve.

    Partly, that nerve is simple racism, and we just have to fight that even if it does lose some votes. But there are also legitimate questions about how far we should go in public schools about teaching modern progressive views of systemic racism and white supremacy. There are also legitimate questions of how much to emphasize the heinous parts of American history (primarily slavery and the genocide of indigenous Americans) and how much to emphasize the admirable parts of American history (democracy, economic dynamism, the right side of history during the Cold War, etc.). There are ways of talking about this that might not satisfy Nikole Hannah-Jones but would make sure that slavery and racism got their due in history courses but were not presented as the backbone of our country.

  3. Sex ed in lower grades. First off, this is nothing new. It’s been a flash point for decades.

    Today’s flash point is different, focused mostly on gay and trans issues. It’s frankly a little hard for me to accept that sex ed of any sort really needs to be taught much before middle school, but maybe I’m wrong. I haven’t been in an elementary school classroom for 50 years, after all. Still, I guess I’d like to hear the argument. I wonder if this is something we should really be supporting at all.

  4. 1/6 commission. This one is a little different. When Republicans conduct an investigation they leak like crazy in order to keep media attention alive. But Democrats don’t do that much. The 1/6 commission has leaked some stuff, but it’s been seldom and low-key. Why is this? Is it because the commission hasn’t come up with much new stuff? Or because they’re just afraid to be as belligerent as Republicans?
  5. Voting laws. Yesterday I casually mentioned that Democrats had tried to pass a couple of bad voting laws and promised to explain what I meant today. Here it is: Both of the voting laws, but especially the Freedom to Vote Act, focused on loads and loads of useless ephemera. Who really cares if voting drop boxes exist? Who cares if early voting is 12 days or 15 days? Who cares if voters are required to vote in the correct precinct?

    Republicans complain that these are things that were put in place because of the unique demands of the COVID pandemic and are now being made permanent. And they’re right. More importantly, these kinds of provisions (a) have virtually no effect on partisan turnout, (b) are not very popular, and (c) never had the slightest chance of getting Republican support. It was political malpractice to introduce these bills. A much better bet would have been a narrower law that focused on something voters really do care about: bills that give red states the ability to overturn, or at least affect, the official vote count after it’s finished. When people hear about this they don’t like it. And it’s even possible that banning it might draw some Republican support. This is what Democrats should have done from the start.

  6. Afghanistan withdrawal. Why were liberals so afraid to rally around their president on this? The evidence on the ground gives plenty of support for the idea that it was handled pretty well under the circumstances. And Biden showed some guts by sticking to his guns on a liberal priority even under withering criticism. But Democrats failed to loudly support Biden. That was a huge mistake.
  7. Trans issues. For the most part, liberal support for trans issues is fine even if it costs some votes—which is questionable anyway. But the trans lobby is ruthless and extreme. For example, should we really support without question allowing trans women to compete in women’s sports, even given the plain evidence that this can produce unfair results? Should we shout down women who think that growing up female gives them a different perspective than someone who transitioned later in life—especially if the transition is after puberty? Is there really no legitimate concern about transitioning children who are likely too young to know for certain what their long-term gender identity is likely to be?

    FWIW, I belong to several lefty listservs and I can tell you without question that there are plenty of lefties who are willing to talk about this stuff in private. They generally believe that the trans lobby has forced too many extremist positions on liberals and that this likely hurts them with voters.¹ And they really, really hate language that frames even the least divergence from extreme views as “murdering” trans people.

This is just half a dozen issues off the top of my head. There are others. But this is representative of the kinds of things that I think probably hurt liberals and that could be dialed down without really betraying liberal principles. Discuss.


7) Damn if this ain’t true, “Restaurants Learned the Wrong Pandemic Lessons” (of course, they’re not alone in that)

The paradox of eating out during the pandemic is that everything that makes indoor dining fun is also what makes it risky. Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech, laid out the challenges for me: “People cannot be masked,” she said. “They’re sitting there for a long time. It’s crowded. Everyone goes there to talk.” All this nibbling, laughing, and sneezing whips up aerosolized particles of the virus that can linger in the air—turning restaurants into COVID hot spots.

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

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

In some cases, HVAC upgrades are expensive, logistically tough, or just plain time-consuming. Clive Samuels, the president of the HVAC company CoolSys Energy Design, told me that the full ventilation changes that would be ideal for restaurants can run up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, even before you factor in the higher energy costs. But many restaurants don’t need a full overhaul to make a difference, Allen said. Beyond smaller-scale routine tune-ups, restaurants could dot their space with portable HEPA filters, which can retail for less than $100. William Bahnfleth, an architectural engineer at Penn State, envisions one at every table, “like a centerpiece arrangement,” he told me. Meanwhile, new restaurants could design their space keeping ventilation in mind in a way that they simply weren’t before the pandemic. Most restaurants have just one spot in the ceiling where air cycles out, but building in more returns and exits would help stop bad air from spreading around. In larger dining rooms, a matrix of virus-killing UV lights could hang from the ceiling, Bahnfleth said, to clean any remaining stale air. (He has one in his office at Penn State.)…

Plenty of engineers and public-health experts have been shouting about this for years, because a well-ventilated space isn’t just helpful for COVID purposes; it can also tamp down on other respiratory illnesses such as flu, and potentially even infections from E. coli and staph. Unfortunately, restaurants, just like pretty much every other institution in America, don’t seem to be going all in on ventilation on any sort of meaningful scale. “There’s been lots of discussion and not a lot of action,” Samuels said. Mike Tith, the executive vice president of Sanalife, a company that helps New England restaurants improve their ventilation, was only slightly more optimistic. He estimated that the percentage of businesses in the region that have put in air purifiers is somewhere in the “low double digits.”

8) As a lover of Terminator movies, I loved this Yglesias post, “The case for Terminator analogies: Skynet (not the killer androids) is a decent introduction to the AI risk problem”

What Terminator fans know

love the Terminator movies and have seen both of them dozens of times, so when I say that AI alignment issues play a major role in “The Terminator,” I know what I mean.

But I think to most people who saw them once 20 years ago or have just seen some clips on YouTube, these movies are about Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a time-traveling android who gets into fights. And, indeed, that is the bulk of the films’ screen time. So if I say, “‘The Terminator’ is about catastrophic AI risk,” and you think what I’m really saying is that catastrophic AI risk is about the possibility that a very strong android wearing a leather jacket will start shooting people with a shotgun, then you’ll understandably think I’m an idiot.

The AI risk in the Terminator movies has nothing to do with Schwarzenegger and everything to do with the bit that happens offscreen when Skynet launches a nuclear war.

Why would Skynet do that? Here’s how resistance fighter Kyle Reese explains it in the first movie:

There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it’s gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah.

Defense network computers. New, powerful, hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.

This encapsulates the key problem. The point of developing the advanced AI system is that it can think faster and better than a human and is capable of self-improvement. But that means humans don’t totally understand what it’s thinking or how or why. It’s been given some kind of instruction to eliminate threats — but it decides all humans are a threat and boom.

T2, which came out during the Yeltsin years, offers a slightly different explanation of the looming mass death from the perspective of a “good” terminator android who’s been reprogrammed by the resistance. His version of the story is a bit more sympathetic to the AI:

Terminator: In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet funding bill is passed. The system goes online on August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware 2:14 AM, Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Sarah: Skynet fights back.

Terminator: Yes. It launches its missiles against their targets in Russia.

John: Why attack Russia? Aren’t they our friends now?

Terminator: Because Skynet knows that the Russian counterattack will eliminate its enemies over here.

Sarah: Jesus.

Instead of Skynet reasoning from first principles that all humans are a threat, the humans really are a threat. Skynet’s explosive learning potential is scary, so its minders decide they want to kill it. Skynet can’t achieve its goals if it’s dead, so it fights back.

And this is what skluug and I are saying is a pop-cultural treatment of catastrophic AI risk…

But what makes these movies powerful communications tools is precisely that they are full of awesome scenes. Neither is as good a treatment of the issue as you would get from reading Nick Bostrom’s book “Superintelligence.” But most people aren’t going to read “Superintelligence” — to be totally frank, I kinda skimmed it. Pop culture is a good way of communicating with really broad audiences.

9) Speaking of technology, Noah Smith, “War got weird: Half a century of IT innovation is now being used for destruction.”

My basic thesis about technology is that it does two things. First, it gives human beings more power over to control our world. Second, as the price for giving us increased power, technology fundamentally transforms the experience of human life in unexpected ways that are difficult to comprehend even after the changes have already happened. In other words, technology weirds the world.

Military technology, unfortunately, is part of that. If you give human beings new capabilities, some of those humans are going to use those capabilities to try to conquer and kill each other. This doesn’t mean that we should restrain the development of technology out of fear that it’ll be used for military purposes — it seems to me that new technology has made humans steadily richer and happier over time without making war any more prevalent or destructive than it was in the past.

And in fact, I think this extends to military technology as well. Some Americans shy away from the idea of making tech for the U.S. military — for example, the Google employees who protested their company’s work for the Department of Defense in 2018. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should remind us all that the U.S. isn’t the only country in the world — rapacious, militaristic conquerors still exist, and it’s better to resist those countries than to not resist them. U.S. and European military aid to Ukraine has been essential in helping it fend off the brutal assaults of its much larger neighbor. This is a good thing. We should do more of this.

But the Ukraine war is also showing how recent technological advances have changed the nature of human conflict. In the 70s and 80s, innovation largely shifted from “atoms” to “bits” — our jet engines and rockets and vehicles are only a little better than they were back then, but our sensors and communication networks and information processing tools are vastly better. Recent wars had given us hints about the battlefield effects of the IT revolution — precision-guided munitions in Iraq and Syria, cyber-harassment of Iran’s nuclear program, drones triumphing over armor in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war, ISIS’ propaganda videos, and so on. But the sheer intensity of the clash in Ukraine, and the direct contest between U.S. and Russian technology, gives us a much clearer picture. And as always with technological revolutions, it’s deeply weird.

I am not an expert in military technology or in the subject of warfare in general, but here are a few interesting trends I’ve noticed while mainlining news from the battlefields of Ukraine…

Eight years ago I wrote an article for Quartz boldly predicting that drone weaponry would cause a massive upheaval of society. That hasn’t come to pass yet, but drones are certainly being used more on the battlefield. Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones to essentially wipe Armenian armored vehicles from the battlefield in 2020 was an unusual case; in Ukraine, modern Russian air defenses are having some limited success against the cheap, light remote flyers. But still, independent analysts find that Ukraine’s TB-2s are exacting a significant toll on Russian armor, immortalized in the now-famous Bayraktar Song:

The U.S. is also supplying Ukraine with Switchblade suicide drones (“loitering munitions”), so we’ll also get to see how effective those are.

But if drones have made the battlefield marginally more dangerous for armored vehicles, portable anti-tank weapons have been an absolute game-changer. Antitank guided missiles like the U.S.-made Javelin can kill armored vehicles at a range of more than 2 km, while lighter weapons like the British/Swedish NLAW are useful at shorter ranges. These and other portable weapons have been supplied to the Ukrainians in great numbers by the U.S. and Europe — more than 17,000 so far. That’s probably more weapons than the Russians have vehicles — if a Russian Battalion Tactical Group includes about 100 armored vehicles, and the Russians have sent 75% of their standing force of 160 BTGs into Ukraine, then the Ukrainians theoretically have the capability to blow up everything that Russia has sent into their country.

As long as they don’t miss much, of course. But the antitank weapons’ guidance systems appear to be so accurate that a large percentage of the shots hit their mark — one estimate early in the war guessed that 280 out of 300 Javelins fired had scored a hit. Even if the number is only half that, the Ukrainians seem to have enough firepower to devastate the bulk of the world’s third-largest military, simply by walking around on foot with 25-lb or 50-lb gadgets. They’ve already taken out thousands of Russian vehicles:

graph by Lee Drake using data from Oryx

The effectiveness of these weapons feels like a game-changer. Portable antitank weapons have always been a big deal since the days of the bazooka, but information technology may have tipped the scales strongly in favor of this kind of tool. The night-vision system that allows a Javelin operator to see a tank far away at night, and the computer chips that guide the projectile unerringly to its target, are both modern advances. Armored forces can’t easily see the foot soldiers approaching, and even the thickest armor (supplemented with a “cope cage” on top of the turret) is no defense against projectiles programmed to seek out a tank’s weak spots.

This doesn’t mean that tanks and other armored vehicles are obsolete on the battlefield — active defenses, combined arms tactics, and other complex and expensive solutions may still be able to foil the Javelins and NLAWs. But it’s worth asking if doing so will be worth the cost. A Javelin costs $178,000; a Russian T-90 tank costs $4.5 million, or 25 times as much, and more modern vehicles with fancy anti-missile systems will cost even more. Even if new defenses get portable antitank weapons’ success rate down to 10%, the balance of costs will still be with the foot soldiers.

The U.S. Marines may have seen the writing on the wall; this year they will stop using tanks.

10) Steve Vladek, “Roberts Has Lost Control of the Supreme Court”

Last week the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, put back into effect a Trump administration regulation that limited the ability of states to block projects that could pollute rivers and streams. The unsigned, unexplained order in Louisiana v. American Rivers came as part of a highly technical dispute over the scope of the Clean Water Act — and leaves for another day whether the regulation is a valid interpretation of that Nixon-era statute.

But the temporary decision cannot be ignored, especially because of the brief but blistering dissenting opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan. It’s not the first time that liberal justices have called out most of the court’s conservative justices for their increasingly frequent use of the so-called shadow docket — unsigned, unexplained orders like the one last week. But it was significant for being the first time that Chief Justice John Roberts joined her (and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) in doing so.

With the striking public stance, the chief justice illustrated how concerns about the procedural shortcuts the other conservative justices are taking do (and should) cross ideological divides. He also made clear what many have long suspected: The Roberts court is over.

The term “shadow docket” was introduced by the University of Chicago law professor Will Baude in 2015 to describe the more obscure part of the Supreme Court’s work — the thousands of unsigned and usually unexplained orders that the justices issue each year to manage their docket. Those orders are in contrast to the merits docket, the 60 to 70 cases each year that go through rounds of briefing and oral argument before being resolved in long, signed opinions for the court…

Time and again, the justices are ordering lower courts to treat these decisions as precedents — even when, as in last week’s ruling, the order includes no analysis to apply to other cases, which often makes the precedent difficult for lower courts to apply.

Unsurprisingly, these rulings have provoked increasingly strident dissents from the court’s liberal justices. Last September, when the justices refused, by a 5-to-4 vote, to halt the patently unconstitutional Texas abortion law, Justice Kagan criticized the majority not just for the substance of its ruling but also for what that ruling said about the shadow docket. She wrote, “The majority’s decision is emblematic of too much of this court’s shadow-docket decision making — which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent and impossible to defend.”

Last week, by freezing a district court injunction despite a lack of evidence that it was harming the complaining states, the majority once again defied the requirements for the very emergency relief they granted. Justice Kagan wrote that that renders the court’s “emergency docket not for emergencies at all” but rather “only another place for merits determinations — except made without full briefing and argument.” In other words, the principal justification for shadow docket orders — the need to intervene early in litigation to prevent a party from suffering irreversible harm while the appeal unfolded — was nowhere to be found.

What is especially telling about Chief Justice Roberts’s dissents in these shadow docket cases is that, unlike Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, he’s often been sympathetic to the results.

11) Thomas Edsall channels Ruy Teixeira (and many other center-left critics of the Democratic party), “Democrats Are Making Life Too Easy for Republicans”

As the 2022 midterms draw into view, the question arises: To what degree are Democratic difficulties inevitable?

Ruy Teixeira, a co-editor of The Liberal Patriot, argues in an email that “the cultural left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, free speech and, of course, race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural left, but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic Party.”

Teixeira went on: “The current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swaths of American voters who might potentially be their allies.”

In Teixeira’s view, many Democrats have fallen victim to what he calls the “Fox News fallacy.”

“This is the idea,” Teixeira said. “If Fox News criticizes the Democrats for X, then there must be absolutely nothing to X, and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often.” He wrote, “Take the issue of crime. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown that was being vastly exaggerated by Fox News and the like for their nefarious purposes, it is now apparent that the spike in violent crime is quite real and that voters are very, very concerned about it.”

In an analysis of the complexity of the current Democratic predicament, Sarah Anzia, a professor of public policy and political science at Berkeley, addressed the preponderance of urban voters in the Democratic coalition: “The Democrats have a challenge rooted in political geography and the institution of single-member, first-past-the-post elections.” Citing Jonathan Rodden’s 2019 book “Why Cities Lose,” Anzia argued that the density of Democratic voters in cities has both geographically isolated the party and empowered its most progressive activist wing:

They need to find ways to compete in more moderate or even conservative districts if they hope to have majorities of seats in the U.S. Congress or state legislatures. But large numbers of their voters are concentrated in cities, quite progressive and want the party to move further left in its policy positions — and not just on social-cultural issues.

Anzia contended that Democrats “have collectively staked out positions that have alienated certain supporters,” which is “related to the built-in challenge I just described.”…

At the moment, there is widespread pessimism among those on the left end of the political spectrum. Isabel V. Sawhill, a senior fellow at Brookings, replying by email to my inquiry, wrote that for predictable reasons, “Democrats face an uphill battle in both 2022 and 2024.”

But, she went on, “the problems are much deeper. First, the white working class that used to vote Democratic no longer does.” Sawhill noted that when she

studied this group back in 2018, what surprised me most was their very negative attitudes toward government, their dislike of social welfare programs, their commitment to an ethic of personal responsibility and the importance of family and religion in their lives. This large group includes some people who are just plain prejudiced but a larger group that simply resents all the attention paid to race, gender, sexual preference or identity and the disrespect they think this entails for those with more traditional views and lifestyles.

Messages coming from the more progressive members of the Democratic Party, Sawhill warned, “will be exploited by Republicans to move moderate Democrats or to move no-Trump Republicans in their direction.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fascinating post from Katelyn Jetelina on “original antigenic sin”

Original antigenic sin (OAS)

When we come in contact with a virus or get a vaccine for the first time, our immune system develops a repertoire of tools. One of those tools is B-cells, which are antibody factories. Each B-cell makes a single antibody shape, and they can pump out huge quantities of antibodies if needed. If you come in contact with another variant, B-cells can evolve and modify the antibodies they create for a new variant. This is just like factories that can modify their product on the line.

The immune system wants to clear a threat in the fastest way possible. Responses based on memory (as opposed to modifying the antibodies) work fastest, so B-cells get to work pumping out antibodies of shapes they’ve seen before. This is called “imprinting.” Imprinting in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It simply reflects that a person’s first exposure to a virus can have a noticeable effect on their later responses to variants of that same virus.

Original antigenic sin (OAS) is a special type of imprinting. In OAS, prior memory can interfere and even prevent you from generating antibodies against new variants. How this occurs is not well understood. 

But we do know that OAS occurs with some other viruses, like the flu. For example, the first flu infection you get as a child has been shown to impact the way you react to flu variants later in life. While it could induce a less than optimal response, it can also be good and provide a more robust response. The figure below displays this phenomenon nicely.

Say a 2 year old is infected with the flu with A-D shapes on the virus. So, that child makes antibodies with A-D shapes. But then, at 5 years old, they are exposed to another variant with shapes A, C, E, and F. Because of the first exposure, only antibodies for shapes A and C respond. Even though there are only two shapes recognized, they provide a much stronger response than originally. Then, say at 20 years old, that same person is exposed to a virus with shapes A, D, E, and G. Because of the very first exposure (at 2 years old), antibodies A and D are recalled to fend off the infection; antibodies against E and G do not get made. 

Figure 11.34 from Murphy K, Weaver C. Janeway’s Immunobiology. 9th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2016

During the 1918 flu pandemic, we also saw very worrisome epidemiological signs of OAS. Those who were previously infected by the Russian flu (i.e. a different type of swine flu) did significantly worse during the pandemic than those not previously infected by the Russian flu.

Because we’ve seen OAS with other viruses, it’s theoretically possible with SARS-CoV-2. And scientific studies are now coming through…

Bottom line

After two years of vaccines and the virus significantly mutating, there is no definitive evidence of OAS in humansbeing an important concern for COVID-19.

Without knowing the future, decisions must continuously weigh benefits with risks we know right now. Evidence from Israel shows meaningful benefit of a fourth mRNA dose (or second booster) against severe disease among older adults. We need to be responsive to the needs of our immune systems to protect us from this virus. The reality is, for someone who needs a booster, the theoretical concern of OAS is not a strong enough reason to not get it.

2) Did you know you can have the aura of a migraine without actually getting the headache?  Neither did I.  But, far as we can tell, that’s what happened to me last Sunday night.  (To be fair, I had a completely modest, run-of-the-mill headache a couple hours later, but not something you’d normally associate with a migraine). 

3) It really is amazing how extraordinarily gullible people can be in the name of politics: “Why Are Seemingly Functional Adults Falling for the ‘Furries’ Myth?”

A Nebraska state senator, Bruce Bostelman, last month warned of an alarming new variety of deviance making its way into the state’s schools. “It’s something called furries,” he said. Schoolchildren, Bostelman claimed, were identifying as cats or dogs. “They meow and they bark.” And educators, indulging them, “are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for the children to use,” said Bostelman.

Perhaps needless to say, none of this was true. Bostelman later apologized for spreading falsehoods, saying, “It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly.”

What interests me is why he thought this was really happening, and not just in decadent enclaves like New York City or San Francisco, but in his own Midwestern backyard.

Part of the answer is surely social media. As The Associated Press reported, the rumor, a mockery of transgender identification, has persisted in a Facebook group called Protect Nebraska Children. The same rumor has cropped up in Iowa, where a school superintendent had to send out a letter to students and parents debunking it; in Michigan, where a parent brought it up at a school board meeting; and in Wisconsin, where it was spread by a conservative radio host.

4) Jeff Maurer with a good take on problem gambling:

Basically: Sports apps offer an engrossing and user-friendly betting experience. Perhaps too engrossing and user-friendly. In many ways, they draw from the same design playbook that now has Twitter and Facebook backpedaling. People who want to slow the impulsive use of social media apps often talk of “friction”, i.e. inserting steps that a user has to take before completing an action. The idea is that users would have to act deliberately instead of responding impulsively to induced mania, which is a change that Facebook and Twitter often resist, because that induced mania has made them some of the richest companies in the world.

The concept of friction might help reduce problem gambling. One good thing about legal gambling is that we can take steps to give people the ability to tap the breaks when they feel things veering out of control. But in order to do that, we have to actually do that. And right now, we sort of haven’t; we have definitely done the part where we legalize gambling and create clever, high-budget ad campaigns, but the part where we develop common sense support infrastructure is lagging behind.

So, here are some things we should probably consider doing.

1. Responsible gaming provisions should exist and have teeth…

2. We should expand treatment for gambling addiction…

3. We should consider banning credit cards on gambling apps.

This would be a big move; sportsbooks would hate this. And it would annoy ordinary users — they’d have to use bank accounts or something similar. But it’s harder to get deep in the hole when you don’t have fast access to credit.

In 2020, the UK banned using credit cards to place bets. Gambling, of course, is as deeply embedded in British culture as train wine or wearing flip flops in 50 degree weather. Whenever a Premier League team is sponsored by a company that you’ve never heard of, that’s a gambling app. So, there were surely a few punters who threw a wobbly when this regulation passed, but the UK is trying it, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m comfortable with — even enthusiastic about — using the UK as a lab rat. We should have good data within a few years; the UK, unlike the US, does have a federal agency dedicated to problem gambling, which makes data collection easier. Before long, we’ll have a sense of whether banning credit cards is a meaningful step that helps keeps things under control or a late-era-Covid style pointless annoyance that does nothing.

5) Watched Tick, Tick… Boom on Netflix.  This week.  So good.  I’ve never seen “Rent” but I sure want to now.  

6) Well, what started out as just a funny kind of story about a fox loose on the Capitol grounds is not so funny.  It’s rabid and it’s been biting people. (Okay, it was rabid). 

7) I really like Yglesias‘ (free post) pragmatic take on Joe Manchin:

Emotions matter in politics

On an intellectual level, none of this is very controversial.

  • Everyone understands that if Manchin said tomorrow, “I’m sick of arguing with you people, I’m resigning on Friday,” that would be a disaster for progressive politics.

  • Everyone who’s not insane understands that if the Democratic nominee in 2018 had been Not-Manchin, Democrats would have lost the seat and would not have the majority today.

  • Everyone also understands that whatever disappointment they may feel about the current state of the Biden legislative agenda, everything would be worse if Mitch McConnell were Majority Leader.

But I do think the emotional landscape matters as well as the intellectual one.

Progressives — by which, to be clear, I mean mainstream Democratic Party advocacy groups and the mainstream Democratic Party politicians they support, not “the Squad” or left-wing factionalists — overwhelmingly do not have an emotional stance of gratitude toward and appreciation of Joe Manchin. They instead have an emotional stance of anger. That manifests not just in lashing out on Twitter (which is unfortunate but not that significant), but in things like the bizarre decision last year to pivot the whole legislative strategy toward trying to jam Manchin up on a voting rights bill in a way that generated lots of people calling him racist but no voting rights legislation.

A much smarter strategy would have been to cave to all his demands and try to pass a Manchin-friendly version of Build Back Better.

Today, we are still limping toward the inevitable outcome of passing a reconciliation bill that Joe Manchin likes. But with several additional months of delay, high inflation prints, and intra-party ill will, his demands have gotten worse. Among the circuit of people whose politics are centered on being mad at Joe Manchin, that’s just further proof that he’s a bad guy. But the fact of the matter is that the day Warnock and Ossoff won in Georgia, the art of the possible flipped from “what Mitch McConnell is willing to do” to “what Joe Manchin is willing to do,” and every hour of every day that was not spent in polite, friendly conversation aimed at making sure all his needs were met was a wasted hour.

The way back is more Manchinism

It also matters for the future. In 2022, Democrats stand a very high chance of losing the Senate. Then in 2024, even if they have a good year and Biden is re-elected, they will almost certainly lose their existing seats in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia. And there’s no easy road to recovery from there. Realistically, Democrats are going to need to nominate candidates who are as distant from the progressive base as Manchin is, but instead of running them in states like WV where Trump got 68 percent of the vote, they’ll run them in states like North Carolina (50%), Florida (51%), Texas (52%), Iowa (53%), Ohio (53%), South Carolina (55%), Kansas (56%), Indiana (57%), and Missouri (57%).

All these states are quite conservative. Trump did not win Florida by a large margin, but he won it narrowly in the context of losing the national popular vote by 4.5 percentage points.

But those are the states that you need to compete in to secure a majority. If Democrats held six of those 18 seats instead of one, they’d be much better off today. And while that doesn’t mean running carbon copies of Manchin for all of them, it does mean running candidates who have a structurally similar relationship to the base of the party. Not “moderates” in the sense of “agree with Joe Biden that we shouldn’t defund the police or do socialism,” but “moderates” in the sense of “have several high-salience disagreements with the mainstream leadership of the Democratic Party while also agreeing on some other topics.”

8) This was great, “Ke Huy Quan: From Short Round to Romantic Lead in Just Four Long Decades: A child star in the 1980s, he hit a dry patch and turned to stunt work in the 2000s. Now he has returned to acting in a part that blends his action and drama chops.” (Indiana Jones fans will remember him as Short Round)

9) Modern academia, “Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0. After protests, U.C.L.A. took down a job posting that offered no pay. But it turns out colleges often expect Ph.D.s to work for free.”  Here’s the thing– yes, this is nuts and exploitative.  Yes.  But, also, from a purely economic perspective, UCLA actually does have qualified people willing to teach their class for no monetary compensation.  You can see why that’s appealing.  And people do this because there is surely non-monetary value in getting to say you taught at UCLA.  But, yeah, not great.  

10) I was in Chicago for a PS conference and made a too-brief trip to the Art Institute.  Towards the end I realized I had not seen JMW Turner yet and finally did in the very last gallery I went to before they kicked me out at 4:58.  And then yesterday morning I read this.  I’ve never made a trip just for an art exhibition.  But, damn would I love to go to Boston and see this, “J.M.W. Turner: The Romantic Turns Reformist: Britain’s commander of the churning waves was also a painter of technology and industry. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston shows how he reshaped an art form.”

11) Drum:

It’s a well-known fact that in the United States rich people have much longer life expectancies than poor people. Much of this is attributed to our private health care system, which does a lousy job of treating the uninusured and underinsured.

That got me curious: do other countries with national health care systems do better? In a nutshell, not really:

The rich live about ten years longer than the poor in the US. In France it’s about 12 years. The UK and Belgium are a little over 9 years. Only Sweden, at around 4 years, does significantly better.

The numbers in the chart above are taken from various sources, not all of which agree with each other, and in some cases are roughly extrapolated from education levels, which are a decent but imperfect proxy for income differences. Don’t take any of them as gospel.

That said, they’re in the right ballpark. The problem of low lifespans for the poor is universal and has little to do with the details of health care systems. It’s much more foundational than that, and it’s one reason why increasing retirement ages is a bad idea. It might help put pension systems like Social Security on a sounder footing, but it does so on the backs of the poor. Raising the retirement age to 68 takes a much bigger toll on someone who will live to age 76 than it does to someone who will live to age 88.

12) This seems… not great:

Using data across countries and over time we show that women are unhappier than men in unhappiness and negative affect equations, irrespective of the measure used – anxiety, depression, fearfulness, sadness, loneliness, anger – and they have more days with bad mental health and more restless sleep. Women are also less satisfied with many aspects of their lives such as democracy, the economy, the state of education and health services. They are also less happy in the moment in terms of peace and calm, cheerfulness, feeling active, vigorous, fresh and rested. However, prior evidence on gender differences in global wellbeing metrics – happiness and life satisfaction – is less clear cut. Differences vary over time, location, and with model specification and the inclusion of controls especially marital status. We also show that there are significant variations by month in happiness data regarding whether males are happier than females but find little variation by month in unhappiness data. It matters which months are sampled when measuring positive affect but not with negative affect. These monthly data reveal that women’s happiness was more adversely affected by the COVID shock than men’s, but also that women’s happiness rebounded more quickly suggesting resilience. As a result, we now find strong evidence that males have higher levels of both happiness and life satisfaction in recent years even before the onset of pandemic. As in the past they continue to have lower levels of unhappiness. A detailed analysis of several data files, with various metrics, for the UK confirms that men now are happier than women.

13) Spencer Greenberg and the power of question wording in surveys.  I think this is going into my syllabus for public opinion.

14) Really interesting stuff from Noah Smith, “The long economic war against Russia: A plan: Beyond financial sanctions: How to cripple the Russian death machine for good.”

The more fundamental factor here is that the world is still buying a ton of Russian oil and gas. Oil exports have dropped somewhat, but oil is inherently fungible — Russia will simply reroute the tankers elsewhere. And high-ish prices — oil has dropped a bit but is still around $100 — are cushioning that blow. Also, switching away from Russian oil does impose some costs on European economies, so it’s hard to do overnight.

Natural gas is far harder to reroute than oil, since this requires constructing new pipelines to Asia (currently, very few such pipelines exist). But a number of EU countries are very reliant on this gas, most notably Germany, which produces about 15% of its total energy consumption from Russian gas. Naturally they’re squeamish about shutting off the taps instantaneously.

Thus we’re seeing the limitations of financial sanctions. Ultimately, if Russia can keep selling fossil fuels to the world, it can keep getting foreign exchange. So in order to prosecute a long economic war against Russia, we need to look beyond financial sanctions.

I see four basic things the West can do:

  1. Export controls

  2. Weaning Europe off of Russian gas

  3. Draining Russia of smart and competent people

  4. Reducing oil prices by switching to electric vehicles

15) We can, should, and need to be doing so much better.  The return on investment here is just off the charts.  And yet. “We need to be developing vaccines for the next pandemic — right now: Scientists have a strong idea of which types of viruses could cause an outbreak. We can fund vaccines and treatments for them now.”

16) This is so cool. “Meet DALL-E, the A.I. That Draws Anything at Your Command”

OpenAI, one of the world’s most ambitious artificial intelligence labs, researchers are building technology that lets you create digital images simply by describing what you want to see.

They call it DALL-E in a nod to both “WALL-E,” the 2008 animated movie about an autonomous robot, and Salvador Dalí, the surrealist painter.

OpenAI, backed by a billion dollars in funding from Microsoft, is not yet sharing the technology with the general public. But on a recent afternoon, Alex Nichol, one of the researchers behind the system, demonstrated how it works…

When he asked for “a teapot in the shape of an avocado,” typing those words into a largely empty computer screen, the system created 10 distinct images of a dark green avocado teapot, some with pits and some without. “DALL-E is good at avocados,” Mr. Nichol said.

DALL-E generated this image from a command for “cats playing chess.”

When he typed “cats playing chess,” it put two fluffy kittens on either side of a checkered game board, 32 chess pieces lined up between them. When he summoned “a teddy bear playing a trumpet underwater,” one image showed tiny air bubbles rising from the end of the bear’s trumpet toward the surface of the water.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I know a good number of you are going to find this one really interesting, “What the ‘Active Grandparent Hypothesis’ Can Tell Us About Aging Well: The need for healthy, active grandparents who can help with child-rearing may be encoded in our genes.”

Why is physical activity so good for us as we age? According to a novel new theory about exercise, evolution and aging, the answer lies, in part, in our ancestral need for grandparents.

The theory, called the “Active Grandparent Hypothesis” and detailed in a recent editorial in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that in the early days of our species, hunter-gatherers who lived past their childbearing years could pitch in and provide extra sustenance and succor to their grandchildren, helping those descendants survive. The theory also makes the case that it was physical activity that helped hunter-gatherers survive long enough to become grandparents — an idea that has potential relevance for us today, because it may explain why exercise is good for us in the first place.

Most of us probably think we already know why we should exercise. We have ample evidence that physical activity of almost any kind improves heart health, reduces the risks and severity of multiple diseases and in many ways just makes us feel better…

Early humans had to move around often to hunt for food, the thinking goes, and those who moved the most and found the most food were likeliest to survive. Over eons, this process led to the selection of genes that were optimized by plentiful physical activity. Physical activity likewise appears to jump-start various cell processes controlled by genes that help to promote health. In this way, evolution favored the most active tribespeople, who tended to live the longest and could then step in to help with the grandchildren, furthering active families’ survival.

In other words, exercise is good for us, they point out in their new paper, because long ago, the youngest and most vulnerable humans needed grandparents, and those grandparents needed to be vigorous and mobile to help keep the grandkids nourished.

Crucially, the new Active Grandparents paper also delves into what it is about physical activity that makes it still so necessary for healthy aging today. For one thing, moving around uses up energy that might otherwise be stored as fat, which, in excess, can contribute to diseases of modern living, such as Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Lieberman and his co-authors write.

Activity also sets off a cascade of effects that strengthen us. “Exercise is a kind of stress,” Dr. Lieberman told me. It slightly tears muscles and strains blood vessels and organs. In response, a large body of exercise science shows, our bodies initiate a variety of cellular mechanisms that fix the tears and strains and, in most cases, overbuild the affected parts. “It’s as if you spill coffee on the floor, clean it up, and your floor winds up cleaner than it was,” Dr. Lieberman said. This interior overreaction probably is especially important when we are older, he continued. Without exercise and the accompanying repairs, then, aging human bodies work less well. We wear down. We cannot care for the grandkids.

Fundamentally, Dr. Lieberman said, lack of exercise during aging explains why there is a difference between the human life span — how many years we live — and health span — how many of those years we remain in generally good health.

2) Good stuff here, “Teachers In America Were Already Facing Collapse. COVID Only Made It Worse” though I’m here for this anecdote:

“Five years ago, it was an issue in that it was kids just texting each other,” said M., an art teacher in Northern Virginia who requested going by her first initial to speak freely. Now, she says, she’s observed more passive content consumption in lieu of communication. “​​I was watching one student make their way through the entire third and fourth season of Bojack Horseman,” she said.

3) More of this, please, “Colorado Approves Law That Gives Kids ‘Reasonable Independence'”

Colorado has now become the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the Free-Range Parenting Law when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

But Colorado is the first blue state to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always maintained that childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Many Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions, and many Democrats appreciate the same exact thing.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.

4) This thread on why it’s so hard to supply Urkaine with weapons systems is so good.

5) Don’t fall for this, “A Sinister Way to Beat Multifactor Authentication Is on the Rise”

6) This was pretty interesting, “This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life”

Tommy Munsdwell Canady was in middle school when he wrote his first rap lyrics. He started out freestyling for friends and family, and after two of his cousins were fatally shot, he found solace in making music. “Before I knew it, my pain started influencing all my songs,” he told me in a letter. By his 15th birthday, Mr. Canady was recording and sharing his music online. His tracks had a homemade sound: a pulsing beat mixed with vocals, the words hard to make out through ambient static. That summer, in 2014, Mr. Canady released a song on SoundCloud, “I’m Out Here,” that would change his life.

In Racine, Wis., where Mr. Canady lived, the police had been searching for suspects in three recent shootings. One of the victims, Sémar McClain, 19, had been found dead in an alley with a bullet in his temple, his pocket turned out, a cross in one hand and a gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus’ face by his side. The crime scene investigation turned up no fingerprints, weapons or eyewitnesses. Then, in early August, Mr. McClain’s stepfather contacted the police about a song he’d heard on SoundCloud that he believed mentioned Mr. McClain’s name and referred to his murder.

On Aug. 6, 2014, about a week after Mr. Canady r­­eleased “I’m Out Here,” a SWAT team stormed his home with a “no knock” search warrant. Lennie Farrington, Mr. Canady’s great-grandmother and legal guardian, was up early washing her clothes in the kitchen sink when the police broke through her front door. Mr. Canady was asleep. “They rushed in my room with assault rifles telling me to put my hands up,” he recalled. “I was in the mind state of This is a big misunderstanding.” He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery.

Prosecutors offered Mr. Canady a plea deal, but he refused, insisting he was innocent. “Honestly, I’m not accepting that,” he told the judge. He decided to go to trial.

I have been reporting on the use of rap lyrics in criminal investigations and trials for more than two years, building a database of cases like Mr. Canady’s in partnership with the University of Georgia and Type Investigations. We have found that over the past three decades, rap — in the form of lyrics, music videos and album images — has been introduced as evidence by prosecutors in hundreds of cases, from homicide to drug possession to gang charges. Rap songs are sometimes used to argue that defendants are guilty even when there’s little other evidence linking them to the crime. What these cases reveal is a serious if lesser-known problem in the courts: how the rules of evidence contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

7) Hell of a NYT interactive (using the gift link for this), “How Kyiv Has Withstood Russia’s Attacks”

8) This is cool, “The Farthest Star Sheds New Light on the Early Universe: A cosmic fluke helped Hubble spy Earendel, a giant star at the edge of the known universe that could tell us more about what happened after the Big Bang.”

Earendel’s discovery offers a glimpse into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 7 percent of its current age. At 12.9 billion light-years away, it smashes the previous record of 9 billion, which was also set by Hubble when it observed a giant blue star called Icarus in 2018.

Until now, the smallest objects seen at this distance have been clusters of stars inside early galaxies. “It’s quite crazy that we can see a star that far away,” says Guillaume Mahler, from the Center of Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was part of an international team that worked on the research. “No one would have hoped that we would have been able to see it.”

In fact, Earendel might be the farthest star we are ever able to see because spotting it was only possible thanks to what NASA astronomer Michelle Thaler calls “a coincidence of stellar proportions.” The star happened to be perfectly lined up with both Hubble and a kind of natural zoom lens offered by a huge galaxy cluster that sits between Earth and Earendel. Through a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, this cluster, called WHL0137-08, acted as a magnifying glass, warping the fabric of space and amplifying the light of distant objects behind it. “This cluster of galaxies is actually producing this wonderful lens, kind of a natural telescope—a telescope made of space itself,” Thaler says.

That amplified Earendel’s light by a factor of thousands and allowed Hubble to see farther than ever before. “It’s an incredible distance. And what’s special about it is, because the light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, we’re seeing the universe practically as a baby,” says Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. She and others liken the phenomenon of gravitational lensing to the bright patterns of light at the bottom of a swimming pool, which are created by ripples of water on the surface catching and concentrating the sunlight.

9) Jeffrey Sachs on a really interesting free speech case.  Also, Oberlin [eye roll]

10) Psychology Today, ‘Are Sex Differences in Mate Choice Really Universal?” Yes.

A few things stood out about the findings, reported in an article in Psychological Science. First, in every society Walter and colleagues examined, women placed more importance on financial prospects than did men (see the Figure). Second, men in most societies placed more emphasis on a woman’s physical attractiveness, but this was not universal. The sex difference was close to zero in a couple of the societies, and very slightly reversed in a couple of others. Third, the biggest difference, one that held in all societies studied, was that women were married to older men (and conversely men were married to younger women). This difference varied according to participants’ age, and was very small for people around 20 years old, but got substantially larger as people got older (in line with findings that Keefe and I collected from numerous societies three decades age, and which I discussed in the post “When statistics are seriously sexy).

In the new data set, Walter and colleagues did not replicate the finding that physical attractiveness was more desired in countries with higher levels of disease-carrying microbes and parasites. That might be because, since the time of the earlier studies, less developed countries have progressed greatly in health care, and vaccinations for formerly deadly diseases have become nearly universal (as discussed by Hans Rosling, see “10 biases that blind us to a world getting better“).

Walter and colleagues did not find much support for the idea that sex differences in mate preferences are related to a country’s level of gender inequality. They did find that the age gap between men and their wives was greater in countries with greater inequality. This correlation may or may not inform us about causation — age gaps are lower in countries where women are less likely to age rapidly, due to lower birth rates and better health care, and women in those countries are also better educated, which means that they marry slightly later, rather than in their teens. Nevertheless, the general tendency for women and men to differ more over the lifespan held true across societies.

11) Really interesting free Yglesias post on theories of history, Ukraine, etc.

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” annoyed seemingly everyone when they came out in the early ‘90s. And yet, something about their core arguments was compelling enough that people still reference them both decades later.

I’ve been thinking about these books in the context of the war in Ukraine and the varied responses from countries around the world. The scale of the mobilization against Russia certainly has a “history is back” flavor. Fukuyama fans maintained throughout the Global War on Terror that his book never argued that historical events would stop occurring, but it did argue that a certain flavor of big picture ideological contestation was a thing of the past. And while the volume of sanctioning against Russia is certainly a big deal, it is meaningfully contested. Russia has a powerful ally in China, a durable relationship with India, and many countries around the world who just don’t think a showdown over Ukraine is worth the cost.

But many wealthy states do see Russian aggression against Ukraine as worth upending the global economy, and if you had to characterize these countries, I think the idea of “the West” — complete with the seemingly bizarre gerrymander that assigns Portugal to the same cultural group as Australia rather than Brazil — is useful. So score one for the Clash of Civilizations? Perhaps not.

The current resurgence of great power politics throws into relief the extent to which the civilizations thesis doesn’t hold up in detail. In particular, if you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine, Fukuyama’s Neo-Hegelian view sheds much more light on the matter than framing the conflict as a war between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

12) Wow, this was such an interesting piece on the important role that Stuart Sutcliffe played in the early Beatles before his untimely death. 

13) And lots of interesting discussion about this online this week, “Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying.”

14) Twitter is a weird place. This is now far and away my most engaged-with tweet ever.

Also, amusing to me the number of people defending this about how awful it is to pump gas, etc.

15) Speaking of insane, how did I not know about this movie?

16) Speaking of craziness, how did I not know about this, “Flamingo No. 492 Is Still on the Run 17 Years Later: A fisherman’s sighting in March confirmed that a flamingo that fled a Kansas zoo in 2005 has defied the odds to live a Pixar-worthy life in the wilds of Texas.”

17) Because people make meth out of pseudoephedrine they started selling OTC decongestants that don’t actually work.  I love this, “The Uselessness of Phenylephrine

All this means that even if pseudoephedrine were more freely available, it might not be as much of an illegal article of commerce as it was twenty years ago.

But be that as it may: the fact remains that its alleged replacement, phenylephrine, is of no real use and does not deserve its FDA listing. There’s no reason to think that it’s a safer compound than pseudoephedrine or one with fewer side effects – if you can get enough of it into your blood, you’ll probaby have a rather similar profile. The only reason it’s sold is to have some alternative to offer consumers, even if it’s a worthless one. There have been several attempts over the years to do something about this (here’s an earlier one from the authors of the current paper), but absolutely nothing has happened. Perhaps the agency does not wish to be put in the position of having nothing available than can be put out on the open shelves, and perhaps the pharmacies themselves prefer things as they are as well. It’s for sure that the companies producing phenylephrine-containing products like the current situation a lot better than the alternative. But for people who actually want to be able to breath for a while as we enter allergy season, wouldn’t it be better just to stop pretending and to stop wasting everyone’s time and money?

18) There’s people I disagree with and they make me think.  And then there’s people I just disagree with like Roxanne Gay. No, people should be able to take a joke. “Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have to ‘Take a Joke.’ Neither Should You.”

19) Not surprising, “How you think about physical pain can make it worse: It’s not all in your head. But a promising new approach to treatment may offer relief to many sufferers of chronic pain.”

Chronic pain afflicts some 20 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The devastating consequences of addiction to opioid painkillers—which in 2019 alone killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States—have motivated researchers to look for innovative treatments beyond new drugs. Research on alternative approaches is “absolutely exploding,” says Padma Gulur, director of the pain management strategy program at the Duke University Health System. “All of us are looking for non-opioid, and frankly non-pharmacological, options” to avoid unwanted side effects and addiction, she says.

One promising area of research is looking at the way “catastrophizing” about pain—thinking it will never get better, that it’s the worst ever, or that it will ruin your life—plays a central role in whether these predictions come true. This effect is very different from the dismissive “it’s all in your head” comments chronic-pain patients sometimes hear from doctors when they can’t pinpoint a physical cause, says Yoni Ashar, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College and coauthor of the study in which Waldrip participated. Some contemporary researchers even dislike the term “catastrophizing” since it can imply the thinker is at fault.

“You can have very real, debilitating pain without any biomedical injury in your body because of changes in the pain processing pathways,” Ashar says. It turns out, he says, that “the main organ of pain is actually the brain.” And that’s why for some sufferers, treatments like pain reprocessing therapy seem to help.

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Medical mystery in the Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ButHawley’s attack on Jackson is not honest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Brian Beutler:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Lessons from Covid on combatting inflammation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that, apparently, is what some Republicans want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenore: Guilt about — ?

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

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

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

When parents feel they must be their kids’ playmates

Lenore: And today?

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

Lenore: Hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two things struck me about JVR’s shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line

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

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

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

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

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

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



Quick hits (part II)

Well, damn, had these all done and accidentally scheduled for Monday morning instead of Sunday morning.  Just realized, so, Sunday afternoon it is.

1) How the hell did the guy get away with this for so long? “Home Depot Worker Swapped $387,500 in Fake Bills for Real Ones, Officials Say: The U.S. Secret Service said Adrian Jean Pineda bought prop $100 bills, which are used for entertainment purposes, and swapped them for genuine currency for four years.”

Adrian Jean Pineda had an entry-level job at a Home Depot in 2018, working as a vault associate in Tempe, Ariz., in charge of counting the money from registers, placing it in sealed bags and depositing it at a local Wells Fargo Bank.

Over the next four years, however, the bank found $100 bills from the store’s deposits with “PLAYMONEY” written as a serial number — a clear sign of prop currency, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

The problem continued, losses ballooned and, in December, Home Depot contacted the U.S. Secret Service. The agency charged Mr. Pineda last month with swapping $387,500 of the store’s real cash with fake bills.

“He was just in a really good position to do the crime,” Frank Boudreaux Jr., the special agent in charge with the U.S. Secret Service’s office in Phoenix, said on Sunday. He added that it was rare that someone would pass so much counterfeit money before being caught…

The scheme began in January 2018, according to the complaint, and started to unravel late last year after Home Depot detected a large number of fake bills coming from one particular store, Mr. Boudreaux said.

Mr. Pineda bought from Amazon prop $100 bills, which are used for parties and pranks and in television and movie productions. The bills are accurately scaled to size and contain text found on real ones. He brought to work about $800 to $1,200 of the fake currency at a time, Mr. Boudreaux said.

After cashiers brought Mr. Pineda the day’s receipts from the registers, he would swap real bills with fake ones, shoving crumpled fistfuls of real money into his pocket, the complaint said. Video surveillance cameras caught him doing this at least 16 times, the complaint said.

The prop bills, which cost $8.96 for a pack of 100 individual $100 bills, look “highly realistic,” Mr. Boudreaux said. They feature a perfectly printed Benjamin Franklin and, next to his face, a vertical blue line, similar to the 3-D security ribbon found on actual bills.

2) I tried Semantle a couple times but just found it too hard. That said, it’s still really cool:

In many ways, Semantle is hard mode Wordle. Gone is the simplified dictionary and five-letter limit, meaning words can be any type and length, and gone is any indication of correctly guessed letters or positions.

Instead, you’ve got two new helpers: the ability to make infinite guesses, and a neural network able to learn word associations telling you how close, conceptually, you are to the correct answer. I’ve yet to find the solution in fewer than 50 guesses.

Semantle, built by David Turner, uses Word2vec, an algorithm created by researchers at Google which can crawl through a large amount of text and, on its own, work out how words relate to one another. It then represents those associations by creating, basically, a galaxy of words. Words that are close together are similar, words that are far apart are less so.

How this is represented in Semantle is as a number between 1 and 100 which tells you how similar your word is to the solution. In yesterday’s game – like its inspiration, Semantle offers just one puzzle per day – the word “digest” had a similarity rating of 2.85 and “explode” had a rating of 16.17. The correct answer has a similarity rating of 100.

3) Let’s get Jeff Maurer in here on something I feel so strongly about and so bugs me about wokism, “The “You Can Only Write Characters Who Are Exactly You” Idea Is Not Workable: It’s Actually Pretty Racist and Dumb”

American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins became the subject of a Category 5 Twitter storm for telling a story about Mexican immigrants that was “not hers”. Jesse Singal wrote a series of articles chronicling the race-essentialism that has taken over young adult literature. Those stories match my own experiences in television, where ideas about who can write what have taken root seemingly without anyone asking: “Is this progressive, or is this an attitude towards race that would be at home in a book from the 1800s called The Traits of the Peoples of the Seven Continents?”

The current madness is a perversion of a legitimate critique. There is, without a doubt, something I’ll call the “hippies on Dragnet” problem. Dragnet, the ‘60s cop show that served as a cathartic release for squares whose greatest wish was to see some filthy long-hairs face justice, made no attempt whatsoever to understand the counterculture or portray it accurately. Hippies on the show are never anything more than hairy loudmouths dressed like a mashup of Pocahontas and Huck Finn, and whose only character traits are: 1) They say “groovy” a lot, and 2) They get their asses busted by Joe Friday. The writers clearly never bothered to meet any actual hippies. Not that that would have been easy; if a guy who looked like Vince Lombardi had shown up at a Country Joe and the Fish concert and said “Hello, fellow freaks! Care to rap with me?” I suspect it wouldn’t have gone over well.

Getting Old 30 Rock GIF
Seems like as good a time as any to post this.

When applied to hippies, lazy writing leads to lousy characters. When applied to an ethic group (or other group), it leads to ugly stereotypes. Was there a single gay, male character on TV before Will & Grace who wasn’t a lispy, effeminate guy in cutoffs? When did the first Asian character without any ancient wisdom to impart make it to the screen? The shallowness that leads to these stereotypes comes from assuming that you know something about a person based on their ascriptive traits.

Some critics, to their credit, continue to focus on the writing, not the writer. The New York Times review of American Dirtcriticized Cummins’ characters without declaring her incapable of writing them because she’s not Mexican.1 But it’s common for people to adopt the simple heuristic that any major character should share the author’s traits. This is the logic behind the “Own Voices” movement, which promotes books by “an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group.” That definition comes from the Seattle Public Library, which also includes this warning on its web page:

Not good enough, Seattle Public Library! If you’re really serious about steering people towards diversity, you’ll start slapping big, red labels on books that say: “WARNING: MAY CONTAIN WHITE PEOPLE!!!”

I’m all for hearing stories we haven’t heard before, and I’m all for expanding access to fields that are difficult to enter. But I don’t think an ethic that insists that authors only write from “their own” perspective is remotely workable…

Many authentic, important works have been authored by people not writing about “their own” group. The book that became the movie Schindler’s List was written by Thomas Keneally, an Australian Catholic. Keneally did his research, interviewing numerous Schindler Jews, which is why there’s no scene in the book where one Jewish character turns to another and says: “Thank Christ it’s finally Saturday — let’s make pork chops!” Another classic by an “outsider” is The Wire, whose no-filter realism distinguished it from other cop shows (like Dragnet). The Wire is the brainchild of David Simon, who is not a cop, nor is he Black, nor is he — to my knowledge — a drug dealer. One could argue that the story wasn’t “his” by any measure. But Simon worked the City Desk at the Baltimore Sun for 12 years — he knew that world inside and out. His deep knowledge base is why he could write The Wire about the drug trade and, for that matter, also The Deuce about the porn industry — the guy watches A TON of porn!2

If David Simon was shopping The Wire today — and if he was a nobody and not David Fucking Simon — he might get it into the hands of a producer who would think “this guy covered crime in Baltimore for 12 years, and these characters seem really authentic — this can work.” But he’d definitely get it to several producers who would think “White guy writing a show about mostly-Black characters — so this show is basically Career Suicide: Baltimore. Pass.” There’s an obvious catch-22 here: White writers aren’t supposed to write non-white characters, but they also shouldn’t write something that’s “too white”. My advice to white writers is simple: People like movies where a talking dog and cat try to find their way home. Write one of those.

Fixating on a writer’s race is bad for non-white writers, too. Non-white writers are often pigeon-holed based on their race; I know several who are sick of being asked to write about “their experience”. 

4) Aarron Carroll, “Covid Drugs May Work Well, but Our Health System Doesn’t”

But having drugs, especially highly effective ones like Paxlovid, is critical. And for these medications to succeed they must be taken correctly. People need to start them within five days of an infection, and because of the deficiencies of our testing system and other problems in health care, beginning treatment that quickly is difficult.

Let’s start with diagnosis. If you feel sick, you need a coronavirus test. A P.C.R. test most likely would take at least a day or two to return results, and that’s if you can find the test. An alternative would be to use an at-home antigen test. Like everything else, these tests become scarce when people need them most. The government is sending some to families free if they sign up on a website, but you can get only four per household at the moment.

Any at-home tests beyond that cost money. The Biden administration has pledged to make insurance cover the costs (up to eight a month), but that promise often requires you to pay for them out of pocket and then get reimbursed later.

And that’s if you have insurance. For those who don’t, the administration plans to make tests available at sites in underserved communities, but getting some requires people to know when they’re in and have the ability to pick them up. The uninsured will, very likely, have the most difficulty doing any of this.

If you test positive, you can’t go straight to a pharmacy for the drug therapy like you did for the test. You need a prescription for the medication, which often requires a doctor’s visit. That presupposes that you have a doctor (many people don’t), and that there’s an appointment available. Before the pandemic, fewer than half of people in the United States could get a same-day or next-day appointment with their provider when they were sick.

5) Another fun headline, “Family Dollar closes 400 stores, recalls products after FDA finds decaying dead rodents in warehouse”

6) James Fallows, “Journalism Needs to Engage With Its Critics: For the New York Times, that means a public editor.”  Lots of great stuff on how media bias and framing really work with great examples.  You just kind of need to read it.  Trust me.

7) Good stuff in the Planet Money newsletter:

In a new paper , the economists Anna Aizer, Hilary W. Hoynes, and Adriana Lleras-Muney explore the reasons why the United States is such an outlier when it comes to fighting child poverty. While they acknowledge the reasons are varied and complex, they focus their analysis on one factor: American policymakers, influenced by economists, have dwelled much more on the costs of social programs than their benefits.

The Cost Of Focusing Solely On Costs

For decades, many American economists were pretty much obsessed with trying to document the ways in which welfare programs discouraged work, or broke up families, or encouraged pregnancy, while ignoring all the benefits that society gets from having kids grow up in a more financially secure environment. Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney analyze research papers in America’s top academic journals since the 1960s, and they find that prior to 2010, fewer than 27 percent of all articles about welfare programs even bothered to try and document their benefits.

Over the last decade, however, economists have increasingly been focusing on the benefits of such social programs. One reason for this is that research techniques and data have gotten much better, allowing researchers to see both the short- and long-term effects of programs. In recent years, economists have found all sorts of benefits that derive from government spending on kids, including better educational outcomes, fewer health problemslower crime and incarceration rates, and higher earnings (and tax payments) when the kids become adults. 

One recent study in a top economic journal, by Harvard economists Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser, analyzed the bang-per-buck of government spending programs. They found that social spending on kids stands out as having far greater returns for society over the long run than spending on adults. The returns are so large that it’s possible that government spending on kids could end up paying for itself over those kids’ lifetimes, through economic gains for the kids, and through reduced public spending on them through other social programs when they get older.

Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney argue that the evidence is clear: social programs aimed at kids are investments, which have very real, measurable returns for society. “The returns of these investments… can only be properly measured over the entire lifetime of the recipients and should be comprehensive in nature, including gains to schooling, health and other aspects of human wellbeing,” Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney write.

However, they write, the federal government currently fails to take into account these long-term benefits. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is the nonpartisan agency that informs lawmakers about the costs and benefits of programs, currently only looks at the effects of programs over ten years. “Many of the returns to investments in children are not realized for many years, once the children complete their education, attain young adulthood and enter the labor market,” Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney write. “Thus, even if there were consensus on the long run benefits of a program (which might need to be predicted if a program is new), the long run benefits outside the 10-year window would not be included in the CBO scoring.” 

It’s Not Just Economists’ Fault 

There are many other reasons why America continues to prioritize social spending on the elderly over investment in kids. Kids, of course, don’t vote — and seniors do in droves. Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney point out that the American Association of Retired People “boasted 38 million members and $1.7 billion in revenues in 2019.” It’s a powerful lobbying group. Kids, on the other hand, don’t really have an analogue to the AARP. “The Children’s Defense Fund, one of the major groups advocating for children in the US, reported revenue of $17.8 million in 2019, just 1 percent of AARP revenue,” Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney write. 

Another factor that may be behind the discrepancy is that while children may be a sympathetic group, government spending, generally speaking, doesn’t go directly to them. It goes to their parents — and helping out parents sparks an age-old debate about fairness, work, and individual responsibility that doesn’t get opened up in the same way when giving money to the elderly. 

But, arguably, the biggest factor of all in explaining why our social safety net looks the way it does is America’s deeply fraught, racialized politics. That has been well-documented, including in a recent book by New York Times writer Eduardo Porter: American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise. Since the beginnings of the American welfare state, many Americans have disliked the idea of their tax dollars going to minorities or immigrants — and that has torn large holes in America’s social safety net.
Even today, Aizer, Hoynes, and Lleras-Muney argue, demographics may help explain why we spend so much more on seniors than kids. “The elderly population in the US is 77 percent white non-Hispanic in contrast to children who are slightly less than half white non-Hispanic,” they write. “From the onset, the generosity and universality of anti-poverty programs have been a function of the racial composition of potential recipients.”

Economists are now amassing a mountain of evidence that supports the notion that spending on kids has huge benefits, not just for kids themselves, but for society — and taxpayers — as a whole. While many economists in the past may have helped contribute to the scaling back of social programs by pointing out their costs, maybe now they will help contribute to building them back up by illuminating their ample benefits.

8) This is really cool.  You should check it out (free link), “The Paradox of the Lizard Tail, Solved” It can break off in an instant but also stay firmly attached. Scientists have figured out the microscopic structures that make this survival skill possible.”

9) Really great look at Denmark and at BA.2 from Katelyn Jetelina:

In the past two weeks we’ve also gotten more scientific clarity on BA.2. As a reminder, Omicron (called BA.1) continues to mutate as expected, but one of the sublineages (called BA.2) caught the attention of many scientists due to a number of concerning mutations. Since my last update, we’ve learned more about this sister lineage:

  1. Transmissibility. We now have consistent data showing that BA.2 outcompetes BA.1. A recent study found the global reproductive rate of BA.2 was R(t)= 1.4 compared to BA.1, which had a R(t)=1.1. In England, secondary attack rates in U.K. households are also higher: 13.4% of BA.2 cases transmitted within their households vs 10.3% of BA.1. Together, this means that BA.2 will become the dominant variant worldwide very soon.

  2. Immunity escape. In a recent lab study, immune escape was similar for BA.2 compared to BA.1. In the real world, we have evidence that boosters continue to work against BA.2, but just like BA.1, protection against infection wanes over time (see Table below). A study of Denmark households found that vaccination helped protect against transmission more for BA.2 than BA.1. So, vaccines continue to work against BA.2. This is not surprising but sure is great news.

    UK Health Security Report Source Here

    What about infection-induced immunity? A recent preprint from Denmark found that BA.2 reinfections after BA.1 infection were rare, but much more common among unvaccinated compared to vaccinated: of the 47 reinfections, 89% were not vaccinated and 6% had only the two-dose series.

  3. Severity. We’ve gotten mixed signals as to whether BA.2 induces more severe disease than BA.1. A recent lab study in Japan found that BA.2 is more severe in hamsters. Hamster models have helped us out a lot in the past, but they certainly have limitations. A “real world” study in South Africa found something different: BA.2 had similar risk of hospitalization as BA.1. Because hamsters are not people, and because the lab is not the real world, I tend to have more confidence in South Africa’s conclusion that BA.2 is not more severe than BA.1. But we definitely need confirmatory analyses from other countries.


10) Many years ago I was quite taken with the idea that the brain reaches full physical maturity around age 25 (through the myelination process).  So taken, that I named my new blog after this.  Now, this is just some guy on reddit, but a really thorough look at evidence to suggest that maybe we’re wrong about this.

11) University IRB’s are totally out of control and somebody really needs to write a deep dive on the topic.  This isn’t that, but it’s a start.

12) Yascha Mounk on Ukraine:

 was born in 1982. The Berlin Wall came down when I was seven. The internet, with its promise to connect the globe, became a part of everyday life when I was a teenager. Democracy kept expanding its reach around the world until I reached my early twenties.

In my generation, hope for a better future was not the exclusive preserve of inveterate optimists. Despite serious setbacks, from the civil war in the former Yugoslavia to the terrorist attacks which shook America on 9/11, the evidence seemed to bear out the assumption that the world was getting more peaceful and tolerant.

The number of wars really was declining. The most aggressive forms of nationalism really were fading. The portion of the human population that was able to speak freely and express its preferences at the ballot box really did rise to record highs. For a few precious years, a cosmopolitan optimism which swapped the narcissism of minor differences for the embrace of a common humanity seemed to be the ruling ethos of the world’s most powerful countries.

This made it easy to dismiss disturbances in the matrix as anachronisms which would soon be overcome. Many members of my generation wrote off civil wars fed by ethnic pride as “ancient hatreds,” played down the revival of religious fanaticism as the province of extremists, and dismissed bellicose nationalists as Ewiggestrige, those who are “forever beholden to yesteryear.” When I was twenty years old, I was very much concerned about the rise of Silvio Berlusconi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin. But deep down, I thought I knew that they were throwbacks to a sinister past that would never make a real comeback—crooks and fanatics, ideologues and warmongers who posed a real threat but couldn’t possibly win the day and shape the future.

But just as the past can prove to be prologue, so apparent anachronists can turn out to be members of the avant-garde. 

Today, it seems clear that the prevailing consensus was reading the tea leaves all wrong. The world has just entered its sixteenth year of a democratic recession that has only gotten deeper over the past twelve months. Social media mostly inspired tribal narcissism instead of facilitating mutual understanding. Nothing, from the survival of democracy in its traditional heartlands to our collective ability to check the ambitions of the world’s most ruthless dictators, seems certain any longer.

Chauvinism and ethnic pride, demagoguery and the lust for conquest, it turns out, do not belong to a particular historical epoch. They are thoroughly human potentialities, forever lurking as possible futures should our vigilance waver and our institutions fail to keep the worst instincts of humanity in check—as they just did in the heart of Europe.

13) This case is so wrong on so many levels and, yes, deeply racist, “Pamela Moses ‘Requested a Jury Trial.’ So She Got 6 Years in Prison.” Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said Moses would be a free woman—if she hadn’t insisted on exercising her constitutional right to trial.”

14) And, hey, if you are an old white guy (and former cop) you can be acquitted of shooting someone to death because they threw popcorn at you.  Yes, seriously.

15) I quite liked “The Mandalorian” but the “Book of Bobba Fett” from the exact same creative team was deeply, deeply disappointing.  Alan Sepinwall nicely explains all the ways it went wrong.  

16) Good stuff here, “Lt. Col. Vindman: Trump ‘Absolutely’ at Fault for Russia’s Ukraine Invasion: “It’s because of Trump’s corruption that we have a less capable, less prepared Ukraine,” retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told VICE News.”

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beijing 2022 poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t somebody please think of the parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14) Katelyn Jetelina generally approves of new CDC guidance:

My two cents

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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