Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really good on the myth of the Alpha Wolf:

Different wolf populations have packs of different sizes, but the basic structure is the same: a mom, a dad, and their offspring. Sometimes the one-year-olds set out on their own, hoping to find a mate and start their own pack; sometimes they stick around and, as yearlings, help raise the next set of pups. As Kira Cassidy, an associate research scientist with a National Park Service research program in Yellowstone, explained, “The wolves generally in those dominant positions are not there because they fought for it. It’s not some battle to get to the top position. They’re just the oldest, or the parents. Or, in the case of same-sex siblings, it’s a matter of personality.” Cassidy specializes in wolves’ sociality, both within and between packs. Wolves do fight one another—in Yellowstone, where humans can’t hunt them, fights are the primary cause of mortality—but most fights are between packs, for territory. “In Yellowstone, maybe because there’s a lot to eat and it’s a protected area, our packs are larger, more complex family units,” she said. Where conditions are harsh, a wolf pack might number four—two parents, two pups—because so few pups survive. In Yellowstone, a pack often includes aunts, uncles, and sometimes even more than one breeding pair.

Cassidy said that one finding that surprised her came when she looked into battles between packs. She suspected that pack size would be important in determining victors. “We found that even more important than pack size was whether a pack had an old individual, male or female,” she said. At six years old, a Yellowstone wolf is considered an elder—only about one in five lives to that age. “If they have one or two older individuals, they are more likely to win—which was not what we’d expected to find.”

After that, she looked into the literature on other animals, and discovered similar findings. In times of droughts, elephant herds with a matriarch older than thirty-five do better. When there’s a salmon shortage, orcas follow the grandmother. “In the pack fights, we see that the elders don’t panic,” Cassidy said. “It seems to match up with this idea of them having past knowledge that helps the pack. They can ease their pack mates and bring them together. Or maybe the older ones help the pack avoid fights that they know they can’t win—which brings up their winning rate over all.”…

The Schenkel study that gave rise to the terminology began in 1934, looking at wolves living at the Basel Zoological Garden. The conditions, as described in the study, were rough: “Up to ten wolves were kept together in a small area with a floor space of approximately 10 metres by 20 meters.” Not only were the wolves in captivity but they had been brought in from different zoos, and were unrelated to one another. This might be the equivalent of studying the human family by observing the culture of prisoners in a holding cell. Schenkel noted that “this space as a whole was regularly defended against the zookeeper by the whole pack.”

2) An interesting argument that they way schools teach books does not foster a love of reading (I’m very grateful that my 12-year old daughter loves reading– I wish her brothers read more, but they could be worse)

What I remember most about reading in childhood was falling in love with characters and stories; I adored Judy Blume’s Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse. In New York, where I was in public elementary school in the early ’80s, we did have state assessments that tested reading level and comprehension, but the focus was on reading as many books as possible and engaging emotionally with them as a way to develop the requisite skills. Now the focus on reading analytically seems to be squashing that organic enjoyment. Critical reading is an important skill, especially for a generation bombarded with information, much of it unreliable or deceptive. But this hyperfocus on analysis comes at a steep price: The love of books and storytelling is being lost.

This disregard for story starts as early as elementary school. Take this requirement from the third-grade English-language-arts Common Core standard, used widely across the U.S.: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.” There is a fun, easy way to introduce this concept: reading Peggy Parish’s classic, Amelia Bedelia, in which the eponymous maid follows commands such as “Draw the drapes when the sun comes in” by drawing a picture of the curtains. But here’s how one educator experienced in writing Common Core–aligned curricula proposes this be taught: First, teachers introduce the concepts of nonliteral and figurative language. Then, kids read a single paragraph from Amelia Bedelia and answer written questions.

For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.

But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.

3) I agree with Drum on this, “How about if we indict Donald Trump for something serious?”

I would really like to see Donald Trump indicted over his efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia. The problem is that it would be a tough case since Trump was savvy enough to avoid saying outright, “Hey, just invent the extra votes I need.” Still, everyone knows that’s exactly what he meant, and it’s a serious crime. Trump deserves to go to prison for that.

Ditto for the classified documents case. The problem is not that Trump took the documents when he left office. That might have been a mistake, after all. The problem is that even when he knew he had classified documents in his possession and he knew that the government wanted them back, he refused to return them. That’s why the FBI had to get a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago. Trump deserves to go to trial for that too.¹

But you go to war with the charges you have, not with the charges you wish you had. And right now, the charges we have are related to payoffs Trump made to a porn star. Here’s my understanding of the case:

  • In 2006 Trump (allegedly) had an affair with Stormy Daniels. This is not illegal.
  • Daniels threatened to tell her story while Trump was running for president in 2016. This is not illegal. (Not for Trump, anyway.)
  • Trump agreed to pay her off. This is not illegal.
  • But Trump wanted to keep it a secret, so he asked Michael Cohen to handle the payoff money. Trump would then reimburse Cohen. This is not illegal.
  • Trump reimbursed Cohen via payments from the Trump Organization. If this were a public company, that would be illegal. But it’s not, so apparently it isn’t.
  • However, in order to maintain the secrecy, the payments to Cohen were labeled “legal expenses.”

And that’s illegal. Moreover, you can argue that the payoff was a campaign expense that Trump didn’t report. That would be illegal too.

So the case against Trump is this: In order to keep his payoff of a blackmailer secret, he had it labeled as a legal expense.

This strikes me as pretty trivial, and I have my doubts that a jury would convict Trump if it goes to trial. We should probably save our legal firepower for something more serious.

And like it or not, public opinion matters too. One of the mistakes that Republicans made in their impeachment jihad against Bill Clinton was misjudging public opinion. To them, Clinton lied under oath, and a lie is a lie. It was an open and shut case.

But the public never really agreed. To them, it mattered what the lie was about. In Clinton’s case, he was lying about having an affair with a White House aide. To most people, this seemed (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. Anybody would. Come on.

Democrats may be making the same mistake here. To us, Trump falsified his business records, and a lie is a lie. It’s an open and shut case.

But the public, as usual, will care what the lie was about. They’re likely to think it’s (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. He was being blackmailed! Come on.

So tread carefully here.

4) This story is just nuts.  You read the headline and think its exaggerating. But nope. “This Principal Investigated a Sexting Incident. So the Police Charged Him With Possessing Child Porn.”

A Brush, Colorado, man is facing 12 years in prison for possessing child pornography. Even more fraught is that no one, including the government, thinks he had child pornography.

At least not in any traditional sense. Bradley Bass allegedly ran afoul of state law when he was found with explicit images of a local girl. But the 32-year-old high school principal came to have those photos in the course of a school sexting investigation carried out as a part of his job. The girl says she isn’t a victim of Bass’ and both she and her parents have pled with law enforcement to stop the prosecution.

Those requests have fallen on deaf ears. The law criminalizes possessing such photos, even if someone comes to have them while conducting a probe. There is one notable exception, however: “peace officers or court personnel in the performance of their official duties.” In other words, when law enforcement carries out such an investigation, it’s OK. When Bass carried out a similar investigation, he was hit with the potential of more than a decade behind bars, sex offender status, and the loss of his kids and job.

5) I read this headline and thought surely one of these was leaded gasoline. Indeed. “The Brilliant Inventor Who Made Two of History’s Biggest Mistakes

Each of these innovations offered a brilliant solution to an urgent technological problem of the era: making automobiles more efficient, producing a safer refrigerant. But each turned out to have deadly secondary effects on a global scale. Indeed, there may be no other single person in history who did as much damage to human health and the planet, all with the best of intentions as an inventor.

What should we make of the disquieting career of Thomas Midgley Jr.? There are material reasons for revisiting his story now, beyond the one accidental rhyme of history: the centennial of leaded gasoline’s first appearance on the market in 1923. That might seem like the distant past, but the truth is we are still living with the consequences of Midgley’s innovations. This year, the United Nations released an encouraging study reporting that the ozone layer was indeed on track to fully recover from the damage caused by Midgley’s chlorofluorocarbons — but not for another 40 years.

6) Recently came across this idea of “primal world beliefs” on a podcast. I think it is a very, very cool idea:

Your beliefs about a place strongly impact your behavior while in that place. For example, if you see a place as a battleground, you’re jumpy and ready to fight. If you see a place as a playground, you play. You feel good. You make friends.

What happens if you see the whole world as a battleground? Just like beliefs about local contexts, world beliefs could impact us, but constantly. If that’s true, then depression, success, optimismextraversion—honestly, most parts of psychology people care about—could be affected…

But all primals are not equally important. Most collapse for statistical and conceptual reasons into three big ones:

1. Safe World Belief

Those low on Safe world belief see the world as dangerous. These people don’t necessarily feel more scared or threatened in response to dangers, they are just of the honest opinion that there’s a lot more danger out there than the rest of us suspect—from germs to sharks to terrorism to getting insulted. So being alert seems responsible, and relaxing isn’t a great idea. Better safe than sorry.


Those high on Safe world belief see really dangerous threats as few and far between. Thus, they feel that constant vigilance is neurotic, risk is not that risky, and, in general, people should calm down.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Safe world belief is very strongly correlated to things like greater trust, higher agreeableness, and lower depression. Interestingly, men and women on average see the world as equally Safe. In fact, Safe is correlated surprisingly little to actual experiences of danger. This suggests that Safe world belief may be more like a lens used to interpret our life than a mirror reflecting what our life has been.


2. Enticing World Belief

Those low on Enticing world belief see the world as dull. In their view, truly beautiful and fascinating things are rare. Therefore, treasure-hunting, social exploration, risk-taking, and so forth, are only appropriate when it’s a sure bet.

Those high on Enticing world belief are of the opinion that treasure is around every corner, in every person, under every rock, and that beauty permeates everything. Therefore, exploration and appreciation are not naïve. It’s simply the rational way to live.

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Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Enticing is very strongly correlated to things like curiosity, gratitude, and happiness. Like SafeEnticing is uncorrelated to wealth or privilege; anyone can see the world as Enticing.

3. Alive World Belief

Those low on Alive world belief see the world as a machine with no awareness or intentions. Since the universe never sends messages, it makes no sense to try and listen for any. Just as machine parts are interchangeable, so too are people: the world doesn’t need you for anything special.


Those high on Alive world belief think everything happens for a purpose and listen constantly for those purposes. To them, life is a relationship with an active universe that animates events, communicates, and has a role for each of us to play.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Alive is strongly correlated to things like spirituality and having purpose in life. Though religious people tend to see the world as Alive, plenty of non-religious people do, too.

You can probably guess that I see the world as safe, enticing, and mechanistic.  Fun quiz here

7) Paul Waldman, “How much does charisma matter? DeSantis is putting it to the test.”

Liberals are horrified by Ron DeSantis, both in terms of what he has done so far as governor of Florida and what he might do as president. But many take comfort in this frequently repeated idea: Whatever his appeal to the Republican base, DeSantis is so lacking in charisma that winning the presidency would be exceedingly difficult.

This observation has come from both DeSantis’s critics and admirers. He is “reserved and dry” and has a challenge “forging connections with people.” He’s “pinched and humorless.” He “just doesn’t have the charisma to command a national political stage.” He “has the charisma of a pair of cargo shorts.”

It hasn’t seemed to hurt him so far, though. He was narrowly elected governor in 2018, reelected by a large margin in 2022 and has become the most prominent contender for the 2024 presidential nomination not named Donald Trump.

Ever since German sociologist Max Weber theorized about charisma in the early 20th century, scholars have considered its impact on politics — though many struggle to define it. Some describe it as “personal magnetism.” Others locate it in the bond between the leader and their followers; as historian David A. Bell wrote, “charisma is not just an individual quality but a relationship.” It only exists insofar as others perceive it.

Even if Republican voters are attracted to DeSantis, they don’t seem to be getting swept off their feet. They like what he’s done in Florida; they like his crusades against liberals; and they think he would be a smarter, more disciplined version of Trump. It’s all exceedingly rational.

Yet all those who made it to the White House in recent decades have possessed at least one of two kinds of charisma. On the personal level, many had a charm that enabled them to connect with people individually.That was especially true of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The other form of charisma was a more distant version — the kind you can see through your TV or on a jumbotron. They could hold a rapt crowd in their hands and move them emotionally. That was especially true of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

8) Yglesias on poverty: “Don’t overthink poverty in the United States”

American anti-poverty programs do a lot to reduce poverty


What shifts my read of Desmond’s work from “somewhat annoyed” to “actually angry” is his claim that the United States has made no progress against poverty in 50 years.

That’s just not true. It is true that there are flaws in the way the official poverty measurement is calculated, and I assume this is why Desmond mentions an additional metric called the Supplemental Poverty Measure. But then he implies, without quite saying so, that SPM poverty hasn’t fallen either, which also isn’t true:

In the past 50 years, scientists have mapped the entire human genome and eradicated smallpox. Here in the United States, infant-mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by roughly 70 percent, and the average American has gained almost a decade of life. Climate change was recognized as an existential threat. The internet was invented.

On the problem of poverty, though, there has been no real improvement — just a long stasis. As estimated by the federal government’s poverty line, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population was poor in 1970; two decades later, it was 13.5 percent; in 2010, it was 15.1 percent; and in 2019, it was 10.5 percent. To graph the share of Americans living in poverty over the past half-century amounts to drawing a line that resembles gently rolling hills. The line curves slightly up, then slightly down, then back up again over the years, staying steady through Democratic and Republican administrations, rising in recessions and falling in boom years.

What accounts for this lack of progress? It cannot be chalked up to how the poor are counted: Different measures spit out the same embarrassing result. When the government began reporting the Supplemental Poverty Measure in 2011, designed to overcome many of the flaws of the Official Poverty Measure, including not accounting for regional differences in costs of living and government benefits, the United States officially gained three million more poor people. Possible reductions in poverty from counting aid like food stamps and tax benefits were more than offset by recognizing how low-income people were burdened by rising housing and health care costs.

I’m concerned that this passage won’t come in for the vigorous criticism it deserves. Desmond is a big deal in scholarship and the New York Times Magazine is a big deal in journalism, and most people aren’t going to want to call them out for how irresponsible this is. It’s also not the kind of academic/journalistic error that conservative or “heterodox” people like to get mad about — Tucker Carlson isn’t going to do a segment about how irresponsible it is.

But I am.

Over the past 50 years, the United States has spent a considerable amount of money on new programs designed to lift the living standards of low-income people. The reason this hasn’t reduced OPM poverty is that OPM poverty excludes those benefits by definition. The SPM includes them, and the SPM does in fact show poverty falling over time. Desmond elides this by saying that SPM poverty indicates a higher rate than OPM poverty, but that’s neither here nor there. A time series of the SPM shows a Great Society drop, then a Clinton drop, and then an Obama drop. When the welfare state expands, SPM poverty goes down…

An expansive welfare state is expensive

I think the best answer is that just as all kids in America are entitled to K-12 schooling whether or not we think their parents have made great life choices, all kids in America should be entitled to some basic material living standards. There should be a monthly child allowance for all kids, probably one that starts quite large, then tapers when the kid hits kindergarten and again when the kid turns 14 or 15. You should get this allowance whether you’re rich or poor or anything in between; we can make the system progressive through taxes.

A program like that would be relatively simple to get people signed up for because eligibility is easy to determine.

It would avoid any “poverty trap” or “welfare dependency” perverse incentives, and I would hope it would minimize the toxic pitting of people against each other based on their circumstances in life. Kids have needs — policy should account for that. And just as Social Security massively reduces elder poverty without being “an anti-poverty program,” a Social Security benefit for kids would massively reduce poverty among children.

The problem is that while it’s analytically simple and easy to describe, it comes with a hefty price tag. I don’t think it would be costly in economic terms to finance a program like this with broad-based taxes. Indeed, in a lot of ways I think it would be superior to the current practice of bolting together a jumble of different programs for families. But the numbers involved are big and scary, GOP elites think it’s a bad idea, and Democratic Party advocacy groups who like this idea generally have higher priorities.

So policy entrepreneurs are left trying to improve life for low-income people with a mix of means-tested programs that are either in-kind (SNAP) or work-linked (EITC) and really sweating the details to try to maximize the benefits of scarce program dollars. That work is very complicated and technical because these programs all have their own legislative histories and design parameters, and some of them interact with each other.

But to say that the state of American anti-poverty programs is complicated is very different from saying that the persistence of poverty itself is complicated. Poverty persists because straightforward, highly effective solutions are politically untenable in the short term, leaving people in the trenches to deal with a very complex situation. Part of the role of those of us in the article-writing community should be to clarify this, not to layer new levels of complexity onto it.

9) Patricia Schroeder was awesome.  I used to assign a great excerpt from her memoir to my Gender & Politics class, “Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Force in Congress, Dies at 82”

10) Honestly, it seems truly crazy to me that people would honestly think women are more erratic than men. “Guess Which Sex Behaves More Erratically (at Least in Mice): A new study finds male mice more unpredictable than females, challenging century-old assumptions used to exclude females from research because of their hormones.”

For decades, male mice have been the default in scientific experiments that test new drugs or examine the connections of the brain. The reason? Female mice, which experience a four- to five-day cycle of fluctuating ovarian hormones, were thought to be too complicated. Accounting for the hormonal changes was viewed as too cumbersome and too expensive.

But the estrous cycle has little to do with how female mice behave, according to a new study that used machine-learning software to track the second-to-second behavior of animals exploring an open space. Male mice actually exhibited more erratic behavior than females did.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday, challenges century-old stereotypes that kept female animals out of laboratory research — and, until the 1990s, barred women from clinical trials.

The new research is “tipping all of these assumptions about sex differences and the influence of hormones on their head,” said Rebecca Shansky, a behavioral neuroscientist at Northeastern University and a co-author of the new study.

11) “Parental Nonadherence to Health Policy Recommendations for Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission Among Children”


People are not always honest about their medical information1 or adherent to medical recommendations,2 including the public health measures (PHMs) against COVID-19 (eg, not reporting symptoms, breaking quarantine).3 During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents experienced greater increases in stress compared with nonparents due to additional child-related PHMs (eg, school closings, quarantine rules for children).4 We examined the prevalence of misrepresentations of and nonadherence to COVID-19–related PHMs by parents regarding their children (eg, breaking quarantine rules by sending their child to school so that the parent can work), their reasons, and associations of individual characteristics with these behaviors.


This survey study recruited a national, nonprobability sample of US adults through Qualtrics for an online survey about COVID-19 experiences (participation, 1811 of 2260 [80.1%]) from December 8 to 23, 2021. The survey asked whether parents had ever engaged in 7 types of misrepresentation and nonadherence behaviors regarding COVID-19 PHMs for their children (Table 1) and reasons for these behaviors (Table 2). Additional methodological information is published elsewhere.3 The University of Utah Institutional Review Board deemed the study exempt and granted a waiver of informed consent owing to no risk or minimal risk to participants. The study followed the AAPOR reporting guideline.

The final sample consisted of 1733 US adults. The analyses included the 580 parent participants (33.5%) who had children younger than 18 years living with them during the pandemic. Race and ethnicity data were collected because COVID-19 and public health measures disproportionately impacted individuals from underserved populations. Descriptive statistics examined the prevalence of and reasons for misrepresentation and nonadherence, and multiple logistic regression was used to explore potential associated characteristics. Significance was set at 2-sided α = .05 with P values adjusted using Holm-Bonferroni correction. Analyses were performed using R Studio, version 1.4.1106 (R Program for Statistical Computing).


Among the 580 participants, the mean (SD) age was 35.9 (8.8) years; 403 (70.2%) identified as women compared with 171 (29.5%) men and 6 (1.0%) other or missing. In terms of race and ethnicity, 80 participants (13.8%) were Hispanic, 5 (0.9%) non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native, 14 (2.4%) non-Hispanic Asian, 86 (14.8%) non-Hispanic Black, 389 (67.1%) non-Hispanic White, 5 (0.9%) more than 1 race, and 1 (0.2%) White with no ethnicity specified.

One hundred fifty participants (25.9%) reported misrepresentation and/or nonadherence in at least 1 of 7 behaviors; the most common behaviors were not telling someone who was with their child that they thought or knew their child had COVID-19 (63 of 263 [24.0%]) and allowing their child to break quarantine rules (67 of 318 [21.1%]) (Table 1). The most common reason was wanting to exercise personal freedom as a parent. Additional reasons included wanting their child’s life to feel normal and not being able to miss work or other responsibilities to stay home (Table 2). In an exploratory multiple logistic regression, no characteristics (eg, education, religiosity) were associated with misrepresentation or nonadherence.


In this survey study of US parents, one-quarter engaged in misrepresentation or nonadherence regarding PHMs for their children. The most common reason was to preserve parental autonomy. Additional reasons included wanting to resume a normal life for their child and the inability to miss work or other responsibilities, among other reasons.

These results suggest that some PHMs implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19 may have been compromised due to misrepresentation and nonadherence by parents on behalf of their children, contributing to COVID-19–related morbidity and mortality. In addition, some children appear to have received a vaccine that was not fully tested and approved in their age group.

12) This story is wild! “Last year, a fox broke into a bird enclosure in D.C. and killed 25 flamingos. The zoo refused to let him strike again.”

At the back of Bird House, the fox may have noted the way the 74 flamingos ambled across their nearly 10,000-square-foot enclosure. Something about their movements may have struck him as curious. Great hunters of birds, foxes have cognitive processes that may contain an algorithm alerting them when an animal’s wings aren’t working. In the wild, some flamingos power up to Andean peaks or glide, pelicanlike, for miles along the coast. But not these flamingos. They were permanently grounded when zoo staffers removed their flight feathers three days after they were born, to make sure they wouldn’t escape their enclosure.

Wing clipping is cruel in part because it shrinks a bird’s world: A land animal’s range is a two-dimensional shape on a map, but a flying being can explore a truly voluminous chunk of the Earth’s atmosphere. Grounded birds are also more vulnerable to mass slaughter. If a fox came upon a flamingo flock in the wild, he’d be lucky to get his teeth into one before the rest flew away. But the zoo’s flamingos would never fly away, even under direct attack. They couldn’t. They were trapped like hens in a coop…

Flamingos are large birds; some weigh nearly half of an adult male fox. Their size did not deter him. “Foxes are the ultimate opportunists,” Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist for D.C., told me. “They’re happy to make meals of field mice, snakes, Canada geese, and everything in between.” Keeping low to the ground, the fox would have moved toward the birds in quick, measured steps. If he saw one of the birds glance in his direction, he would have stilled every muscle. When he got within leaping range, an adrenal thrill would have surged through his limbs. Feeling playful, like a kit romping around in the den again, he would have sprung forward in a lethal pounce.

13) This book review from Scott Alexander is just something else:

Around the wide world, all cultures share a few key features. Anthropologists debate the precise extent, but the basics are always there. Language. Tools. Marriage. Family. Ritual. Music. And penis-stealing witches.

Nobody knows when the penis-stealing witches began their malign activities. Babylonian texts include sa-zi-ga, incantations against witchcraft-induced impotence. Ancient Chinese sources describe suo yang, the penis retracting into the body because of yin/yang imbalances. But the first crystal-clear reference was the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th-century European witch-hunters’ manual. It included several chapters on how witches cast curses that apparently (though not actually) remove men’s penises…

So as a nature documentary, The Geography of Madness is kind of a bust. Still, Bures rescues it with some great analysis of culture-bound mental illness.

A culture-bound mental illness is one that only affects people who know about it, and especially people who believe in it. Often it doesn’t make sense from a scientific point of view (there’s no such thing as witches, and the penis can’t retract into the body). It sometimes spreads contagiously: someone gets a first case, the rest of the village panics, and now everyone knows about it / believes in it / is thinking about it, and so many other people get it too.

Different cultures have their own set of culture-bound illnesses. Sometimes there are commonalities – many cultures have something something penis something witches – but the details vary, and a victim almost always gets a case that matches the way their own culture understands it.

THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT MAKING IT UP. I cannot stress this enough. There are plenty of examples of people driving metal objects through their penis in order to pull it out of their body or prevent the witches from getting it or something like that. There is no amount of commitment to the bit which will make people drive metal objects through their penis. People have died from these conditions – not the illness itself, which is fake, but from wasting away worrying about it, or taking dangerous sham treatments, or getting into fights with people they think caused it. If you think of it as “their unconscious mind must be doing something like making it up, but their conscious mind believes it 100%”, you will be closer to the truth, though there are various reasons I don’t like that framing.

In Rajasthan, India, people come to the hospital with gilahari (lizard) syndrome. Patients say a lizard-like mass, sometimes visible as a skin swelling, is crawling around the body. They express terror that it will reach their airway and suffocate them.

Japanese people may contract jikoshu-kyofu, a debilitating fear that they have terrible body odor. No amount of reassurances by friends and psychiatrists can convince these people that they smell normal, nor will any number of deodorants or perfumes make them comfortable.

The French suffer from bouffée délirante, where a perfectly healthy person suddenly becomes completely psychotic, with well-formed hallucinations and delusions – then recovers just as suddenly, sometimes over hours or days. This is not how psychosis works anywhere except France and a few former French colonies.

Traditional Chinese medicine monitors the balance between yin and yang. The male orgasm can deplete yang, and sure enough in China (but nowhere else) some men suffer traditional symptoms of yang depletion after they orgasm. “The symptoms can last weeks to months after a single orgasm, [and include] chills, dizziness, [and] backache”.

The phrase “run amok” comes from Malaysia, where it referred to a specific phenomenon: some person who had been unhappy for a long time would suddenly snap, kill a bunch of people, then say they had no memory of doing it. Malaysian culture totally rolls with this and doesn’t hold it against them; the unhappiness is a risk factor for possession by a tiger spirit, which commits the killings. Although Malays have been doing this since at least the 1700s, there are some fascinating parallels with modern US mass shootings that suggest the damn tiger spirits have finally made it to the US common psychological origins.

14) NYT, “Conservatives Aim to Build a Chatbot of Their Own: After criticizing A.I. companies for liberal bias, programmers started envisioning right-wing alternatives, making chatbots a new front in the culture wars.”

15) Terrific from Josh Barro, “Why Won’t the Editors of Nature Follow the Data and Listen to the Science?”

So why does Nature still believe that “science” must speak out?

 Theirnew editorial never explains why. It rehashes arguments about why Trump (and other right-wing leaders like Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orban) are bad. But it does not even try to marshal an argument for why actions like running their pro-Biden editorial constitute a useful response to that badness:

The study shows the potential costs of making an endorsement. But inaction has costs, too. Considering the record of Trump’s four years in office, this journal judged that silence was not an option…

At a time when the world needed to unite to deal with these and other global threats, he took an axe to international relationships, pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the United Nations science agency, UNESCO. He moved to defund the World Health Organization, and he walked away from a deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that the United States had carefully negotiated with Europe, China and Russia to prevent Iran’s government from enriching weapons-grade uranium. It is hard not to think of a worst-case scenario for public health, climate change or nuclear security had Trump remained in office today…

Nature doesn’t often make political endorsements, and we carefully weigh up the arguments when considering whether to do so. When individuals seeking office have a track record of causing harm, when they are transparently dismissive of facts and integrity, when they threaten scholarly autonomy, and when they are disdainful of cooperation and consensus, it becomes important to speak up.

For people who prattle on about the importance of listening to the science, the editors of Nature sure haven’t done that here — they have looked at scientific evidence that the thing they did had effects counter to their own stated objectives, and they have cast that evidence aside, responding with a conclusory argument that “silence is not an option.”

Of course, there is the real reason the editors of Nature felt they had to run the Biden endorsement editorial: It made them feel good.

Freddie deBoer had a useful post last week about the word “woke” and what exactly people mean when they throw it around. It’s not my favorite word — I agree with Freddie that it would usually be more clear to talk about “social justice politics” — but I think he’s right that the problem with the vagueness and slipperiness with “woke” isn’t that much greater than problems with other terms like “liberal” or “moderate.” Lots of political terms mean different things to different people while still being a useful shorthand when discussing trends and tendencies in our politics.

In explaining what he thinks “woke” means, I think Freddie is right to focus on the fact that “woke” politics is inherently performative — more about holding the right views than about doing anything to turn those views into policy. He wrote:

“Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene — woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.

Nature’s idea that they had an obligation to speak out against Trump in the forum they control — that “silence is not an option” — flows directly from this idea that the purpose of politics is to declare good moral ideas. By this measure, Nature’s editorial endorsing Joe Biden was a success; it demonstrated that Nature’s editors have the right moral commitments and that they hate Donald Trump for the right reasons. That the editorial persuaded readers of the wrong thing — to listen less to the scientists at Nature — is immaterial, because woke politics is not about convincing people and influencing their behavior; it’s about separating the morally upright from the deplorable.

16) Excellent post from Emily Oster on the calculations involved in thinking about when to get a mammogram.

17) Loved this from Derek Thompson on how to think about AI:

Recently I gave myself an assignment: Come up with a framework for explaining generative AI, such as ChatGPT, in a way that illuminates the full potential of the technology and helps me make predictions about its future.

By analogy, imagine that it’s the year 1780 and you get a glimpse of an early English steam engine. You might say: “This is a device for pumping water out of coal mines.” And that would be true. But this accurate description would be far too narrow to see the big picture. The steam engine wasn’t just a water pump. It was a lever for detaching economic growth from population growth. That is the kind of description that would have allowed an 18th-century writer to predict the future.

Or imagine it’s 1879 and you see an incandescent light bulb flutter to life in Thomas Edison’s lab in New Jersey. Is it a replacement for whale oil in lamps? Yes. But that description doesn’t scratch the surface of what the invention represented.  Direct-current and alternating-current electricity enabled on-demand local power for anything—not just light, but also heat, and any number of machines that 19th-century inventors couldn’t even imagine.

Maybe you see what I’m getting at. Narrowly speaking, GPT-4 is a large language model that produces human-inspired content by using transformer technology to predict text. Narrowly speaking, it is an overconfident, and often hallucinatory, auto-complete robot. This is an okay way of describing the technology, if you’re content with a dictionary definition. But it doesn’t get to the larger question: When we’re looking at generative AI, what are we actually looking at? …

Here is another analogy that comes to mind, grandiose as it might initially seem. Scientists don’t know exactly how or when humans first wrangled fire as a technology, roughly 1 million years ago. But we have a good idea of how fire invented modern humanity. As I wrote in my review of James Suzman’s book Work, fire softened meat and vegetables, allowing humans to accelerate their calorie consumption. Meanwhile, by scaring off predators, controlled fire allowed humans to sleep on the ground for longer periods of time. The combination of more calories and more REM over the millennia allowed us to grow big, unusually energy-greedy brains with sharpened capacities for memory and prediction. Narrowly, fire made stuff hotter. But it also quite literally expanded our minds.

Our ancestors knew that open flame was a feral power, which deserved reverence and even fear. The same technology that made civilization possible also flattened cities. The ancient myths about fire were never simple. When Prometheus stole it from the gods, he transformed the life of mortals but was doomed to live in agony. The people building artificial general intelligence today don’t need media mythmaking to inflate their ego; they already clearly believe in the humanity-altering potential of their invention. But it is a complex thing, playing at Prometheus. They have stolen from the realm of knowledge something very powerful and equally strange. I think this technology will expand our minds. And I think it will burn us.


Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School management only matters so much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have the movies changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woke is defined by several consistent attributes. Woke is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has independence declined over time?


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

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

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

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

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

What is the link between independence and happiness?

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

The evidence here is a lot more indirect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The role of risk in childhood

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

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

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

Yes! So much this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone in this story makes me angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quick hits

1) I’ve been meaning to do a post about adolescent depression, social media use, and phones.  But I haven’t yet.  So, do me a favor and just read this excellent Noah Smith post. 

Younger Americans adopted the technology more quickly than older ones; 2010-11 seems to have been an especially important moment. And of course the “killer app” for smartphones was social media. When you had to go to a computer to check Facebook or Twitter, you could only experience it intermittently; now, with a smartphone in your pocket and notifications enabled, you were on every app all the time.

Why would that make us unhappy? There’s an obvious reason: social isolation.

Pretty much everyone knows that social isolation makes people less happy, and research strongly backs this up. It’s known to be a suicide risk. The worst punishment in a prison is solitary confinement, which some view as a form of torture. In case you doubt that the relationship between social isolation and unhappiness is causal, you should recall that we recently ran a gigantic natural experiment on much of society in the form of Covid, and the results were clearly negative.

But why would devices that make people more connected lead to social isolation? Isn’t that backwards? Doesn’t having access to all of their friends and acquaintances at all times via a device in their pockets mean that kids are less isolated than before?

Well, no. As the natural experiment of the pandemic demonstrated, physical interaction is important. Text is a highly attenuated medium — it’s slow and cumbersome, and an ocean of nuance and tone and emotion is lost. Even video chat is a highly incomplete substitute for physical interaction. A phone doesn’t allow you to experience the nearby physical presence of another living, breathing body — something that we spent untold eons evolving to be accustomed to. And of course that’s even before mentioning activities like sex that are far better when physical contact is involved.

Of course, smartphones, by themselves, don’t force you to stop hanging out in person. But there are several reasons they reduce it. First, they’re a distraction — the rise of smartphones was also the rise of “phubbing”, i.e. when people go on their phones instead of paying attention to the people around them. Second, phones provide a behavioral “nudge”, like a pantry stocked with junk food — when your phone is right there in your pocket, it’s easier to just text a friend instead of going and hanging out, even if the latter would be less fulfilling. And third, in-person interaction is a network effect. If 20% of people would rather be on their phones, that reduces everyone else’s options for in-person hangouts by 20%.

The psychologist Jean Twenge, the leading proponent of the theory that phones cause unhappiness, has a great run-down of these various mechanisms.

In any case, the data clearly shows that isolation is increasing. Teens had been getting gradually more isolated through the decades — perhaps as a result of larger houses and better entertainment options at home. But face-to-face interaction really plummeted right after — you guessed it! — 2010.

2) David Leonhardt with a good piece on Asian-American voters:

Nationally, the rightward drift of Asian voters is connected to a new class divide in American politics. The Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing, has increasingly come to reflect the views of college-educated professionals. This development has had some benefits for Democrats, helping them win more suburban voters and flip Arizona and Georgia in recent elections.

To a growing number of working-class voters, however, the newly upscale version of the party has become less appealing. The trend has long been evident among white working-class voters, and many liberal analysts have claimed that it mostly reflects racial bigotry. But recent developments have weakened that argument. Class appears to be an important factor as well. Since 2018, more Asian and Latino voters have supported Republicans, and these voters appear to be disproportionately working-class.

The Pew Research Center has conducted a detailed analysis of the electorate and categorized about 8 percent of voters as belonging to “the progressive left.” This group spans all races, but it is disproportionately white — and upper-income. True, a large number of Democrats, including many Black voters, are more moderate. But the progressive left has an outsize impact partly because of its strong presence in institutions with access to political megaphones, like advocacy groups, universities, media organizations and Hollywood.

The Covid era

The shift of Asian and Latino voters has coincided with a period when the progressive left has become bolder and shaped the Democrats’ national image. The shift has also coincided with the pandemic and its aftermath.

Progressives supported extended Covid school closures — which were easier for white-collar parents to manage — and often excoriated people who favored a return to normal activities. As crime surged during the pandemic, progressives often downplayed the importance of the trend even as it alarmed many people of color. “Being Asian, I felt I had a bigger target on my back,” Karen Wang, 48, a Queens resident and lifelong Democrat who voted Republican last year, told The Times.

Immigration may also play a role. Democratic leaders like Barack Obama once emphasized the importance of border security. Today, many Democrats are uncomfortable talking about almost any immigration restrictions. In Texas, polls show, immigration concerns have driven some Latino voters toward Republicans.

Then there are the debates over language. In the name of inclusion and respect, some progressives have argued that common terms such as “pregnant women,” “the poor” and “Latinos” are offensive. Many voters find these arguments befuddling and irrelevant to their everyday concerns.

Beyond individual policy issues, working-class voters tend to have a different worldview than much of the modern Democratic Party. They are often more religious and more patriotic. In a Times poll last year, only 26 percent of Democratic voters with a bachelor’s degree described the U.S. as the greatest country in the world; more than half of voters without a bachelor’s degree gave that answer.

The Republican Party obviously has its own problems with swing voters, including Asian Americans. Donald Trump has promoted white nationalism, and his descriptions of Covid fed anti-Asian racism. The Republican Party favors abortion bans, while most voters favor significant access to abortion. Many Republican politicians also oppose popular economic policies, like caps on medical costs.

Given the radicalism of today’s Republican Party, liberals had hoped that Asian and Latino voters would help usher in an era of Democratic dominance. And maybe that will happen one day. But it is not happening yet. Instead, Democrats’ struggles with Latino and Asian voters have helped Republicans solidify their hold on states where Democrats had hoped to start winning by now, like Texas, Florida and North Carolina.

To a growing number of working-class voters, the Democratic Party looks even more flawed than the alternative.

3) This is fantastic and going into my next Public Policy syllabus, “The Programs You’d Have to Cut to Balance the Budget.” Gift link

Several conservative lawmakers say House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised a House vote on a balanced federal budget. That’s a harder task than it sounds, given the size of the federal deficit.

More recently, Mr. McCarthy has said he doesn’t want to cut spending on defense, Medicare or Social Security — or raise taxes. Those constraints mean cuts to the rest of the budget would have to be brutal…

“It’s incredibly difficult to balance the budget within 10 years,” said Marc Goldwein, a senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group that backs deficit reduction. “It goes from being incredibly difficult to practically impossible if you start taking things off the table.”

The federal deficit is expected to be so large over the next decade that it would take about $16 trillion in spending reductions or new revenues to balance the budget by 2033. That’s about the size of the entire Social Security program. Or the entire Medicare program in addition to every anti-poverty program and refundable tax credit. Those outlandish examples come from a recent analysis from the committee.

Balancing the budget without tax increases, or cuts to the military, Medicare or Social Security, would mean cutting the rest of the budget by a whopping 70 percent. Cuts of that magnitude would mean the firings of most federal workers in agencies like the F.B.I., the Parks Service and the State Department, and huge reductions in food assistance and military retirement.

4) Deserves it’s own post (but do does a lot of stuff and I’ve been really busy with research lately), “The Polls Were Historically Accurate In 2022″

Let’s give a big round of applause to the pollsters. Measuring public opinion is, in many ways, harder than ever — and yet, the polling industry just had one of its most successful election cycles in U.S. history. Despite a loud chorus of naysayers claiming that the polls were either underestimating Democratic support or biased yet again against Republicans, the polls were more accurate in 2022 than in any cycle since at least 1998, with almost no bias toward either party.

5) Gallup with a nice look at the latest public opinion on Covid.  Still so polarized:

6) Loved this video from Vox.  I had no idea about the exposure to sunlight connection to myopia.  “Why so many people need glasses now”

7) Rob Henderson is not wrong, “Dropping the SATs Hurts Poor Kids: Columbia is the first Ivy League university to abandon standardized tests in the name of ‘equity.’ It’s disadvantaged students like me who will suffer.”

Columbia University has just become the first Ivy League school to permanently abandon the SAT/ACT requirement for college admission.

Elite colleges are eliminating standardized tests before they eliminate legacy admissions. Tells you all you need to know.

The reasoning, according to Columbia’s announcement, is “to best determine an applicant’s suitability for admission and ability to thrive in our curriculum and our community, and to advance access to our educational opportunities.”

The ability to effortlessly produce buzzwords and gibberish and euphemisms has become a precondition for advancement in our institutions of higher learning, which is how ambitious mediocrities have gained control.

I know it’s supposedly “test optional.” But this contributes to a situation in which testing is downgraded and other application materials take on even more importance.

Here’s a headline in The New York Times:


The writer claims standardized tests penalize poor kids who get good grades. He calls it a “barrier.”

I rarely see discussions about the reverse situation. There are poor kids who get bad grades but find a path upward because of standardized testing.

A 2016 study found that implementing a standardized testing requirement increased the number of poor and non-white kids in gifted programs. In other words, an IQ test administered to all students revealed that previously overlooked students from disadvantaged backgrounds qualified as academically gifted.

Similarly, a British study found that when relying on their own impressions, teachers tended to view a kid from a low-income background as less academically competent even when they had the same test score as a rich kid. The objectivity of scores can serve as a useful corrective to the subjective nature of teacher evaluations…

The chattering class is using poor kids as pawns to eliminate standardized testing, which helps their own kids—rich kids who “don’t test well.” But they know how to strategically boost their GPAs, get recommendation letters from important people, stack their résumés with extracurriculars, and use the right slogans in their admissions essays. They have “polish.”

Applicants from the most affluent families excel at these games. A study at Stanford found that family income is more highly correlated with admissions essay content than with SAT scores. Applicants from well-to-do backgrounds are especially adept at crafting their essays in ways that please admissions committees.

8) Tom Edsall with a bunch of academics on the assault on Higher Education in Florida:

Many who have in the past been sharply critical of progressive excess now see DeSantis as promoting excess on the right.

Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College in Minnesota, has written extensively in The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications on such subjects as “Yes, D.E.I. Can Erode Academic Freedom. Let’s Not Pretend Otherwise” and “The Data Is In — Trigger Warnings Don’t Work.”

However, when I asked Khalid about legislation in Florida (HB 999) that would codify DeSantis’s higher education proposals into law, she emailed back:

HB 999 is an abomination. It’s the most comprehensive attack on academic freedom we’ve seen. From banning concepts and theories that can be taught to limiting faculty and student speech outside the classroom to the erosion of tenure and faculty involvement in hiring decisions, this bill, if passed, will turn Florida colleges and universities into state propaganda factories and intellectual wastelands.

What’s most dangerous about the bill, Khalid continued,

is its vagueness. Calling for general education courses to ban “critical race theory” and the teaching of “identity politics,” without defining what exactly those terms mean, is a most devastatingly effective way of intimidating instructors. Anyone who wants to keep their jobs will no doubt have to self-censor and toe the line.

In addition, Khalid wrote, the measure “empowers university presidents and boards of trustees” (board members are appointed by the governor)

to make hiring, firing and post-tenure review determinations, making it impossible for faculty to critique any policy or challenge any position that runs counter to that of state officials. HB 999 targets the very core of academic freedom, the very thing that has made U.S. universities the envy of the world. If passed this bill will sound the death knell for higher education in Florida.

Khalid is by no means alone among those who have turned their fire on DeSantis.

Musa al-Gharbi, a sociologist at Columbia and a research fellow at the Heterodox Academy, noted in an email that

there is a vast and growing literature showing that existing D.E.I. programming used in many schools and corporations is not just ineffective, it’s actually pernicious. It demoralizes people, reduces trust, increases hostility and conflict and even sometimes reinforces stereotypes or legitimizes prejudicial behaviors.

Al-Gharbi, however, is equally critical of DeSantis:

What is the main complaint of DeSantis et al.? Not that knowledge being produced is unreliable or that students are failing to get good jobs, etc. No. They don’t like that institutions seem to bolster the cultural and political power of their rivals. And they want to instead leverage these institutions in the service of their own agenda. They’re not committed to academic freedom.

Many of the laws being passed, al-Gharbi wrote,

prevent teachers from discussing certain areas of research or force them to toe particular lines or drive them toward self-censorship or weaken tenure protections. These are not moves that enhance academic freedom but undermine it. They aren’t concerned about academic freedom. They’re concerned about power.

9) Radiolab has been one of my favorite podcasts for as long as I’ve been a podcast junkie.  Really enjoyed reading about the history of the show and the new hosts. 

10) I actually disagree with a lot of this, but this is honestly, by far, the most intellectually honest take of a youth gender transition booster in that it actually takes the skeptics, like me, seriously, rather than just labels skeptics as bigots. “There Are Two Sides to the Debate on Health Care for Trans Kids. Here’s What You’re Missing About One of Them.”

11) I think Josh Barro makes a good case here (and I’m looking at you DJC!) on daylight savings time. 

“Every March, it’s the same old thing,” the LA Times declared in a staff editorial this week, but unfortunately they weren’t referring to the annual raft of poorly reasoned editorials calling for the abolition of seasonal daylight saving time. No, they were referring to the annual time shift itself, which like so many writers before them, they purport to find so burdensome that Congress must act:

We set the clocks forward an hour to begin daylight saving time (or increasingly, our smart devices do it automatically) and then spend the next few days slightly discombobulated and wondering why we still practice this odd ritual. By the time the following Sunday rolls around, our disturbed schedules have adjusted and we forget about the week of missed appointments or bad sleep.

There are two possibilities when an entire editorial board claims the annual clock shift causes them to miss appointments for a week. One is that the board consists of the sort of people who frequently put on their shoes before realizing they’re not wearing pants. The other is that the board consists of people who like to complain so much they need to invent problems in order to complain about them.

I assume it has to be the latter.

 Haven’t any of these people ever taken a business trip to another time zone? Or stayed out too late on a weeknight? Or had to get up extra early to catch a flight? I assume their lives went on and these events were barely interesting enough to merit a mention in passing to friends, let alone a demand in a major newspaper for a legislative response.

I also don’t get why the authors of these articles always purport not to understand what daylight saving time is for. “Something about farmers? Or kids walking to school?” the LA Times proposes. No, the purpose of daylight saving time is so simple and obvious that it’s encapsulated right there in the title: The policy saves daylight. It obviously doesn’t increase the total amount of daylight, but increases the total amount of daylight for which members of the public are awake, and it balances that objective with also seeking to minimize the extent to which people have to wake up in the dark.

The fact that both of these objectives are important explains why people who want to abolish daylight saving time can rarely agree on what kind of time we should have instead:

  • If we set the clocks permanently forward by an hour, like Sen. Marco Rubio proposes, we’d get very late sunrises in the winter, such as 8:55 AM in Seattle and 8:58 AM in Detroit on December 21. This was the downfall of America’s prior experiment with permanent DST — yes, we tried this before, back in the ‘70s, a fact that many time-reform proponents fail to mention, maybe because they’re not aware. The experiment did not go well: People really didn’t like how dark it was quite late into the morning in the winter, and after just a few months of trying out eternal summer time, Congress voted by an overwhelming margin to repeal the experiment and return us to time that changes with the seasons.

  • If we instead left the clocks permanently on winter time — this is generally the actual preferred policy of the “sleep experts” whose advice permanent summer-time advocates dishonestly wave around to argue The Science Says we should implement their late-sunrise agenda for health reasons — we would end up with some extremely early sunrises in the summer, like 4:15 AM in Chicago and 4:07 AM in Boston on June 21. And that would mean a big loss of useful daylight: The long, sunlit summer evenings we love would all be one hour shorter, replaced with early-morning daylight we’d all sleep through — and all so some editor at the LA Times who frequently forgets his wallet on the bus doesn’t oversleep a week of meetings.

Those outcomes are both bad, which is why we have the policy we already have, which is designed to avoid both of them. I promise you, people thought this through already, and the system we have is the best one available for managing the effects of the earth’s axial tilt at moderate-to-high latitudes.

 So stop trying to change the way the clocks work — don’t make me write this column again! — and enjoy your extra hour of evening sunlight this Sunday.

12) DeSantis really is so bad, “Ron DeSantis’s book ban mania targets Jodi Picoult — and she hits back”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants you to know he’d never dream of engaging in mass censorship. He held a recent event challenging criticism of his classroom book restrictions as a “hoax,” releasing a video suggesting only “porn” and “hate” are targeted for removal.

There’s a big problem with DeSantis’s claims: The people deciding which books to remove from classrooms and school libraries didn’t get the memo. In many cases, the notion that banned books meet the highly objectionable criteria he detailed is an enormous stretch.

This week, Florida’s Martin County released a list of dozens of books targeted for removal from school libraries, as officials struggle to interpret a bill DeSantis signed in the name of “transparency” in school materials. The episode suggests his decrees are increasingly encouraging local officials to adopt censoring decisions with disturbingly vague rationales and absurdly sweeping scope.

Numerous titles by well-known authors such as Jodi Picoult, Toni Morrison and James Patterson have been pulled from library shelves. The removal list includes Picoult’s novel “The Storyteller” about the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who meets an elderly former SS officer. It contains some violent scenes told in flashbacks from World War II and an assisted suicide.

“Banning ‘The Storyteller’ is shocking, as it is about the Holocaust and has never been banned before,” Picoult told us in an email.

“Martin County is the first to ban twenty of my books at once,” Picoult said, slamming such bans as “a shocking breach of freedom of speech and freedom of information.” A coastal county in the southeastern part of the state, Martin County is heavily Republican.

Picoult said she’s puzzled by the ban, because she does not “write adult romance,” as objections filed against her books claimed.

“Most of the books pulled do not even have a single kiss in them,” Picoult told us. “They do, however, include gay characters, and issues like racism, disability, abortion rights, gun control, and other topics that might make a kid think differently from their parents.”

“We have actual proof that marginalized kids who read books about marginalized characters wind up feeling less alone,” Picoult continued. “Books bridge divides between people. Book bans create them.”

13) Zeynep on masks, “Here’s Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work”

Now the organization, Cochrane, says that the way it summarized the review was unclear and imprecise, and that the way some people interpreted it was wrong.

“Many commentators have claimed that a recently updated Cochrane review shows that ‘masks don’t work,’ which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation,” Karla Soares-Weiser, the editor in chief of the Cochrane Library, said in a statement.

“The review examined whether interventions to promote mask wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses,” Soares-Weiser said, adding, “Given the limitations in the primary evidence, the review is not able to address the question of whether mask wearing itself reduces people’s risk of contracting or spreading respiratory viruses.”

She said that “this wording was open to misinterpretation, for which we apologize,” and that Cochrane would revise the summary.

Soares-Weiser also said, though, that one of the lead authors of the review even more seriously misinterpreted its finding on masks by saying in an interview that it proved “there is just no evidence that they make any difference.” In fact, Soares-Weiser said, “that statement is not an accurate representation of what the review found.”

Cochrane reviews are often referred to as gold standard evidence in medicine because they aggregate results from many randomized trials to reach an overall conclusion — a great method for evaluating drugs, for example, which often are subjected to rigorous but small trials. Combining their results can lead to more confident conclusions…

So what we learn from the Cochrane review is that, especially before the pandemic, distributing masks didn’t lead people to wear them, which is why their effect on transmission couldn’t be confidently evaluated.

Soares-Weiser told me the review should be seen as a call for more data, and said she worried that misinterpretations of it could undermine preparedness for future outbreaks.

So let’s look more broadly at what we know about masks.

Crucially, the question of whether a mask reduces a wearer’s risk of infection is not the same as whether wearing masks slows the spread of respiratory viruses in a community.

14) This is so disturbing and there’s just going to be more and more, “Three Texas women are sued for wrongful death after allegedly helping friend obtain abortion medication”

15) I was challenged by tough books in high school and I hated them.  I even hated The Great Gatsby in high school (I loved it when I read it on my own in grad school).  I’m not sure Pamela Paul is right here because your typical HS kid is not on a path to NYT book review editor.  Still, interesting:

This began largely with the Common Core, instituted in 2010 during the Obama administration. While glorifying STEM, these nationwide standards, intended to develop a 21st-century work force, also took care to de-emphasize literature. By high school, 70 percent of assigned texts are meant to be nonfiction. Educators can maximize the remaining fiction by emphasizing excerpts, essays and digital material over full-length novels. Immersing children in the full arc of storytelling has largely gone out that window as novels have increasingly been replaced by short stories — or shorter yet, by “texts.”

“The Common Core killed classic literature,” as Diane Ravitch noted in 2018.

So what do kids read instead? To even be considered, a work must first pass through the gantlet of book bans and the excising of those books containing passages that might be deemed antiquated or lie outside the median of student body experiences. Add to that the urge to squelch any content that might be deemed “triggering” or controversial, the current despair over smartphoned attention spans and the desire to “reach students where they are.” Toni Morrison’s short first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” a coming-of-age story, tends to be assigned over her longer, more intricate, more provocative — and to this reader, anyway, richer — novel “Beloved.”

The assumption is that kids aren’t discerning or tough enough to handle complexity or darkness, whether it’s the nastiness of Roald Dahl or the racism and sexism in 19th-century fiction, and that they can’t read within context or grasp the concept of history. But kids adopt the blinkered veil of presentism — the tendency to judge past events according to contemporary standards and attitudes — only when adults show them how.

Citing the need to appeal to fickle tastes with relevant and engaging content, teachers often lowball student competence. Too often, this means commercial middle grade and young adult novels such as “The Lightning Thief” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” or popular fiction like “The Outsiders,” or on the more ambitious end, accessible works of 20th-century fiction like “To Kill a Mockingbird” — all engaging novels that kids might read on their own — in lieu of knottier works that benefit from instruction and classroom discussion. The palpable desperation to just get students to read a book doesn’t come across as the kind of enticement that makes literature soar.

Those books that remain are read in a manner seemingly intended to leach all pleasure from the process. Even apart from the aims of the Common Core, the presiding goal is no longer instilling a love of literature but rather teaching to the test and ensuring students reach certain mandated benchmarks. In recent years in New York State, for example, skills like “information literacy” appear to be given priority over discussions of literature…

When I was in public high school in the olden ’80s, we read “The Red Badge of Courage” and “The Scarlet Letter,” with multiple forays into Shakespeare. We were assigned Faulkner, Joyce, Conrad and Henry James, authors whose work opened my mind and tested my abilities of comprehension and interpretation.

I also hated the Scarlet Letter (I might appreciate it now) and got less than nothing out of Faulkner in high school. 

16) Kat Rosenfeld, “The Illusion of a Frictionless Existence: Eliminating everyday annoyances may be creating the most risk-averse generation in history.”

It is almost certainly this, and not a sudden epidemic of extraordinary wisdom among teenagers, that is fueling the current generation’s extreme aversion to risk, whether it’s the physical hazards of drinking too much or the emotional ones of a broken heart. Today’s teens and young adults have spent their whole lives being overscheduled, micromanaged, and encouraged to report even the most minor disagreement to the nearest authority, rather than attempting to resolve it themselves—and have been taught to see genuine danger in any situation that causes emotional upset. Witness the rise of the word “unsafe” to describe things like a PowerPoint presentation or a New York Times opinion piece that contains arguments someone finds disagreeable; witness how the discourse surrounding sex and dating has become dominated by discussions of consent, until one gets the sense that relationships are not so much an exciting chance at romantic connection as a terrifying midnight sprint through a minefield full of rapists. Of course today’s young people are having less sex; if all you ever heard about dating was how dangerous it was, how rife with the potential for lifelong trauma, would you risk it?

All of this has been well-intentioned. Nobody wants their child to experience trauma—or heartbreak, or failure, or any other kind of hurt. But in seeking to provide kids with a frictionless path through the world, and by teaching them to expect one, we are also sending a powerful message: You can’t handle this. Inadvertently instilled in many of this generation’s kids is a lack of faith in their ability to negotiate discomfort, to recover from emotional wounds, to weather a difficult situation and experience growth as a result; instead, we teach them that bad experiences create permanent trauma and should be avoided at all costs.

The irony is, the result of all this effort to protect Gen Z from feeling anxious has only made their anxiety worse.

For 10 years between 2009 and 2019, I authored a teen advice column. At first, the problems being sent to me were more or less the same ones I struggled with during my own high school years: bullying, crushes, the desperate yearning to be your own person (or at least, to figure out who that person was). But a few years in, something changed, and the letters began to be imbued with a strange fearfulness—of awkward situations, of ordinary social conflicts, of having to hear, or articulate, the word “no.” Amid all this, there was one phrase that popped up, repeatedly, verbatim: “I shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable.”

At the time, I thought this was remarkable. And I thought: Oh, but you should. You do. You must.

Indeed, the world is an uncomfortable place, filled as it is with 8 billion humans who think differently, talk differently, live differently. People of different religious faiths; people of different political persuasions. People who think it’s morally acceptable to put ketchup on a hot dog! Living in a society means encountering people who test us, or annoy us, or infuriate us—or to whom we ourselves are tiresome, annoying, and infuriating. Two things are true: that a frictionless world would spare us the duty to tolerate all of these people, and that we would be the worse for it. Perhaps it’s for the better, then, that such a thing is unattainable.

17) I don’t eat meat with bones. I love the Bojangles Cajun Filet Biscuit. But, it was really interesting to see that it is making new stores with no bone-in chicken. 

Bojangles is ditching the bones, at least in newer markets.

The Charlotte-based chicken chain, which has made its living specializing in bone-in chicken, is planning to expand in new markets with a menu pared down to its breakfast and boneless options, the better to take advantage of shifting consumer demands.

Jose Armario, CEO of the 800-unit chain, said on this week’s episode of the A Deeper Dive podcast that the company has been testing a smaller menu featuring its breakfast, chicken sandwiches and chicken fingers, but not the bone-in chicken for which it’s known.

The company is testing the new menu at some restaurants in Memphis. Results have been strong thus far, and he said the company will likely use that menu in new locations going forward.

“We’re finding the customer is pretty happy, really. The sales have been well over our projections,” Armario said. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised, so far.”

Chicken is increasingly popular among consumers in general. And bone-in chicken had something of a renaissance during the pandemic as buckets of chicken proved popular meal replacements for consumers stuck at home, not wanting to cook.

But in general, much of that market has shifted to boneless options like chicken fingers or chicken sandwiches. That was highlighted by the popularity of Chick-fil-A, now the largest chicken chain in the U.S. and the country’s third-largest restaurant chain, period.

And in general, companies specializing in boneless chicken, such as Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s, have easily outperformed their bone-in cousins, according to data from Restaurant Business sister company Technomic. But even those numbers highlight one key fact: Popeyes’ growth in recent years has been driven primarily by the sale of its own boneless option, the chicken sandwich.

18) Jeremy Faust with a nice explainer. This needs to start being widely prescribed, “Metformin found to reduce Long Covid in clinical trial.”

19) Just finished the first season of Poker Face.  So, so good. Basically, I never watch episodic television because it doesn’t have the same high quality production values, casting, and writing of serialized dramas. But give it those things– especially Natasha Lyonne, and it can be great. 

20) Great Planet Money newsletter on the problem of fake reviews:

But there is no scientific support for any of these hypotheses or approaches. In fact, the science suggests that our ability to detect lying vs. truthful witnesses is mediocre, at best. And that’s when we’re face to face with someone. So how do we stand a chance when we’re reading something online, and we aren’t able to see a person’s mannerisms or expressions? 

It could be that without those distractions, we might do better at identifying fakes. There is a theory that it’s easier to determine whether someone is telling the truth when one reads the account of what they say, rather than seeing them say it.

Azimi, Chan and Krasnikov’s study suggests that we’re no better with text than we are in person, although the liar’s tools may be different when he or she is writing, as opposed to talking.

When it came to faking a review, length was important to believability, as was detail. A long, negative review of a hotel, complete with lots of information, tended to convince participants. A lengthy, positive review, on the other hand, was regarded as suspicious, and participants tended to trust writers that kept their glowing reviews short.

Emotion was also important in convincing readers — or the lack of emotion, at least. Azimi says study participants tended not to trust reviews where the writers expressed their feelings in a big way. The more dispassionate that negative write-up, the more likely it was to take the reader in.  

Other keys to a convincing review were the fluency of the writing, and the readability of the text. With a positive review, the more the test read like an ad, Azimi says, the less likely the participant was to believe it. Typos and grammatical errors, meanwhile, tended not to sway people either way.

Finally, the study authors wanted to see whether there was a certain type of person that was more susceptible, or more capable of detecting fakes. So they selected participants that conformed to the Big Five personality types: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. It turns out that people who display openness, and tend to be adventurous and intellectually curious, are better at spotting fake reviews than other personality types. Extroverted people, on the other hand, tend to have a harder time identifying a fake review.

Machine manipulation

The fake reviews written for Azimi’s study were put together by humans, but increasingly, fake reviews are being written by machines. In the past, these bogus endorsements or critiques have been relatively easy to spot, but programs like ChatGPT and other neural networks are now being used to generate realistic reviews that can swamp a business’s website.

Many companies that host reviews, like Amazon, Tripadvisor or Expedia use algorithms to weed out fake reviews. But Azimi points out that the machines are programmed by humans, and given our inability to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to fake reviews, this doesn’t bode well.

The conclusion? When it comes to reviews, it’s wiser to be skeptical. We can’t be sure whether a machine wrote that review, or, if it was a human, whether they’re telling the truth. We can’t trust them. Unfortunately, it seems, we can’t trust ourselves, either.

21) How had I never heard of this bookGalileo’s Middle Finger till a random twitter post, 

“Soon enough,” Alice Dreger writes at the beginning of her romp of a book, “I will get to the death threats, the sex charges, the alleged genocides, the epidemics, the alien abductees, the anti-lesbian drug, the unethical ethicists, the fight with Martina Navratilova and, of course, Galileo’s middle finger. But first I have to tell you a little bit about how I got into this mess.”

As is so often the case, what got ­Dreger into trouble was sex. A historian of science and medicine, she criticized a group of transgender activists who had attacked a sex researcher for his findings on why some people want to change gender. Having hounded the researcher mercilessly, the activists attacked Dreger too. The bad news is that this was hard on ­Dreger. (More on that momentarily. For now, I’ll just note they called her son a “womb turd.”) The good news is that from this mess emerged not only a sharp, disruptive scholar but this smart, delightful book.

“Galileo’s Middle Finger” is many things: a rant, a manifesto, a treasury of evocative new terms (sissyphobia, autogynephilia, phall-o-meter) and an account of the author’s transformation “from an activist going after establishment scientists into an aide-de-camp to scientists who found themselves the target of activists like me” — and back again.

As its title suggests, the book is also a defiant gesture aimed at those who would deny empiricism. Yet this middle finger (Galileo’s actual middle finger, in fact, which Dreger stumbles across in Italy) is raised in affirmation as well. It points toward the stars that confirmed his cosmology — and toward empiricism’s power to create a fairer, more rational society. For Galileo is famous not just because he saw how the stars move. He’s famous because he insisted we see for ourselves how the world works, share what we see and shape our society accordingly.

22) This is really cool, “Using A.I. to Detect Breast Cancer That Doctors Miss: Hungary has become a major testing ground for A.I. software to spot cancer, as doctors debate whether the technology will replace them in medical jobs.”

Advancements in A.I. are beginning to deliver breakthroughs in breast cancer screening by detecting the signs that doctors miss. So far, the technology is showing an impressive ability to spot cancer at least as well as human radiologists, according to early results and radiologists, in what is one of the most tangible signs to date of how A.I. can improve public health.

Hungary, which has a robust breast cancer screening program, is one of the largest testing grounds for the technology on real patients. At five hospitals and clinics that perform more than 35,000 screenings a year, A.I. systems were rolled out starting in 2021 and now help to check for signs of cancer that a radiologist may have overlooked. Clinics and hospitals in the United States, Britain and the European Union are also beginning to test or provide data to help develop the systems.

A.I. usage is growing as the technology has become the center of a Silicon Valley boom, with the release of chatbots like ChatGPT showing how A.I. has a remarkable ability to communicate in humanlike prose — sometimes with worrying results. Built off a similar form used by chatbots that is modeled on the human brain, the breast cancer screening technology shows other ways that A.I. is seeping into everyday life.

Widespread use of the cancer detection technology still faces many hurdles, doctors and A.I. developers said. Additional clinical trials are needed before the systems can be more widely adopted as an automated second or third reader of breast cancer screens, beyond the limited number of places now using the technology. The tool must also show it can produce accurate results on women of all ages, ethnicities and body types. And the technology must prove it can recognize more complex forms of breast cancer and cut down on false-positives that are not cancerous, radiologists said.

The A.I. tools have also prompted a debate about whether they will replace human radiologists, with makers of the technology facing regulatory scrutiny and resistance from some doctors and health institutions. For now, those fears appear overblown, with many experts saying the technology will be effective and trusted by patients only if it is used in partnership with trained doctors.

My theory… we will absolute still need radiologists, but there will be fewer of them as they will be more productive and more accurate with the assistance of AI technology and that is a great thing.

23) This is wild, “They thought loved ones were calling for help. It was an AI scam.: Scammers are using artificial intelligence to sound more like family members in distress. People are falling for it and losing thousands of dollars.”

As impersonation scams in the United States rise, Card’s ordeal is indicative of a troubling trend. Technology is making it easier and cheaper for bad actors to mimic voices, convincing people, often the elderly, thattheir loved ones are in distress. In 2022, impostor scams were the second most popular racket in America, with over 36,000 reports of people beingswindled by those pretending to be friends and family, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission. Over 5,100 of those incidents happened over the phone, accounting for over $11 million in losses, FTC officials said.

Advancements in artificial intelligence have added a terrifying new layer, allowing bad actors to replicate a voice with an audio sample of just a few sentences. Powered by AI, aslew of cheap online tools can translate an audio file into a replica of a voice, allowing a swindler to make it “speak” whatever they type.

Experts say federal regulators, law enforcement and the courts are ill-equipped to rein in the burgeoning scam. Most victims have few leads to identify the perpetrator and it’s difficult for the police to trace calls and funds from scammers operating across the world. And there’s little legal precedent for courts to hold the companies that make the tools accountable for their use.

24) I got access to the new Bing/ChatGPT.  I haven’t had too much time to play with it yet (and I’m open to ideas). Doesn’t seem all that different to me except that, when it comes to politics, it really is a big deal that it can search the web (gave me some pretty decent stuff on the 2024 election).  This was also pretty good:

25) The origins of Daylight Saving in WWI 

26) For my fellow hockey fans.



Quick hits (part I)

1) Derek Thompson on lab leak and masks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

●       Atlanta reduced homelessness by 40% through housing

●       Houston reduced homelessness by 63% through housing

●       Finland reduced homelessness by 75% through housing

●       Tokyo reduced homelessness by 80% through housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) David French on Scott Adams and cancel culture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) George Packer takes on the language of wokeness:

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

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

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

10) Edsall on Trump’s “magic trick”

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

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

Enders said he doubts that Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To become powerful, you need to overcome three hurdles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great Adam Serwer piece on Fox News:

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

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

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

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

3) This was great from Tim Urban.

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

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

6) Some really cool new political science research:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) On subjective age:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ally says the results are predictive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Continuing isolation quick hits (part II)

1) OMG this is just the absurdist end-point of leftists eating themselves, “Durham fails to condemn anti-gay bill because of debate over who is more oppressed” 

Things got heated at Durham City Council’s Thursday work session when council member and former Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson introduced a resolution that would take a firm stance against the transphobic bills being filed in the North Carolina General Assembly.

North Carolina Republicans have filed at least two bills that directly target trans youth in North Carolina. The most worrisome of these is the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — also known as N.C.’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill — that has already passed the N.C. Senate and will soon get a vote in the House.

This type of resolution seems like a no-brainer for Durham, the city that held North Carolina’s first Pride parade. Yet the conversation ended up taking a turn when Mark-Anthony Middleton, the current Mayor Pro Tem, had a concern over the phrasing of the second sentence in the resolution.

“WHEREAS, members of the LGBTQ+ community currently experience the highest rate of hate-motivated violence among all marginalized communities in the US.”

Middleton said he felt this wasn’t factually accurate, as the FBI’s hate crime tracking data shows that race is the most common reason victims of hate crimes were targeted. Johnson pointed out that, when compared to the size of the overall U.S. population, LGBTQ individuals experience the highest rate of hate crime victimization. 

From there, other members of the council began weighing in on the resolution and the argument between Johnson and Middleton. Johnson eventually asked if the rules could be suspended so that the council could hold a vote, even though that isn’t part of work session procedure. The council voted against changing things up, and now the resolution will be voted on in 10 days.

2) I really, really liked the movie Tar. (And shoutout to Peacock TV, which is proving to be my best $2/month).  Loved this analysis of key scenes from the movie.  And, I really liked this exploration of the movie’s reality (definitely don’t read this if you haven’t seen it). 

3) Ethan Mollick with a guide to making a remarkably effective fake video of yourself (it looks fake if you are looking for it, but could easily fool people not paying close attention) for less than $10 in software and tools. 

4) I really respect Cochrane views (as people who take science/medicine seriously, generally do), so was pretty taken aback by their essentially “masks don’t work” review.  I’ve seen surprisingly few good takes on-line, but, Scott Alexander came through with something that made a lot of sense:

45: New Cochrane meta-analysis finds no evidence that masks work for preventing transmission of respiratory illnesses, including COVID, but that hand-washing does.

Context is that long before COVID, there was debate about whether respiratory illnesses were more droplet spread (in which case hand-washing > masks) or airborne spread (in which case masks > hand-washing), and some people who have been on Team Droplet for decades wrote this meta-analysis, which did indeed find handwashing > masks.

This shouldn’t be surprising – most of the studies included were the same pre-COVID studies that the establishment used to argue that hand-washing worked and masks didn’t back in March 2020. Most of these were studies showing that if one person in a household had flu, them wearing a mask at home didn’t seem to prevent their family from getting flu – although there were some issues here like “they were supposed to wear masks even while sleeping because they slept in the same bed as their spouse, but obviously they didn’t do that and then their spouse got the flu” which don’t translate to the COVID situation. The analysis does include two new COVID studies – one from Bangladesh that shows a positive effect from masks and one from Denmark that doesn’t (but people complain the lockdown there was so strict that there was too low a sample size of people getting COVID). But mostly it’s just the same set of studies. So this shouldn’t be a strong update on whatever you thought about the mask debate in March 2020.

In March 2020, I reviewed many of these same studies and concluded that while they pretty clearly showed that masking within households didn’t prevent flu from spreading, this seemed different enough from the spread of COVID in public places that it was hard to say, and given the low risk of masks, they were probably worth trying for most people. I still think this is true, although notice that this is a lower bar than “government mandate”.

More commentary hereherehereherehere, I’m focusing on the negative commentary since obviously the positive commentary is “haha, we were right, suck it”. This article discusses the broader transition from Team Droplet to Team Airborne among epidemiologists, and I would interpret continuing establishment support for masks as coming from this change at the theoretical level, rather than new RCTs (which mostly haven’t happened). I’m cynical enough to believe that most RCTs conducted during the pro-droplet-consensus period got pro-droplet results, but that once they get around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, they’ll get pro-airborne results. But people mostly haven’t gotten around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, so most RCTs are still pro-droplet, so all the meta-analyses come out pro-droplet for now. Trust Science!

5) What we really need is regulatory crackdown so that pharmaceutical companies cannot change one meaningless molecule and claim they have a new drug with new patent protection, but, until then, I love this idea, “Insulin is way too expensive. California has a solution: Make its own.”

The newer artificial insulins can be very valuable for people with diabetes who need to time their insulin injections with meals in mind, though it is not clear that artificial insulin is more beneficial than bioengineered human insulins for some patients, such as those with Type 2 diabetes. But, according to many academic experts, the amount of innovation in the insulin business hardly justifies the current costs for insulin products. Insulin is still, at its core, more or less the same product that debuted a century ago.

Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies stand to make a lot of money by continually refreshing their products. Thus, the three major insulin manufacturers in the US — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — continue to do that, and thereby maintain their control of the country’s insulin supply. The main mechanism the US has for bringing down prescription drug prices is allowing generic drugs to compete with brand-name versions. When a company develops a new drug, it gets a period of exclusivity, 10 years or more, in which it is the only one able to make or sell that drug. But after that exclusivity period has passed, other companies can make a carbon copy and sell it at a lower price. Studies find that once several generic competitors come on the market, prices drop significantly.

But pharma companies are savvy about finding ways to extend their monopolies, with insulin and other drugs, by making minor tweaks to the chemical compound and asking for a patent extension. In the case of insulin, the companies can also modify the delivery device to protect their market share. Each product is meant to be used with specific, company-designed injectors. Though the patents on the artificial insulin developed in the 1990s have started expiring, these companies continue to hold and extend monopolies on either their devices or other chemical compounds, making it harder for generic competitors to enter the market.

Other federal regulations have added to the challenge. The FDA began to treat insulin as a biologic drug in 2020 — meaning it is made with living materials instead of combining chemicals like conventional pharmaceuticals — which comes with a different set of standards for generic versions, which are known as biosimilars, as well as manufacturing challenges given the precise conditions these products must be made in. Biosimilars can cost up to $250 million to produce and take up to eight years to bring to the market, versus a one-year investment of as little as $1 million for conventional generics. And unless the FDA recognizes a new generic insulin as interchangeable with the products already on the market, health insurers might not want to cover it and doctors may not be willing to prescribe it.

6) How did I have no idea about these absolutely massive prehistoric elephants?? “These Extinct Elephants Were Neanderthals’ ‘Biggest Calorie Bombs’
A study of butchered bones from 125,000 years ago offers what researchers call “the first clear-cut evidence of elephant-hunting in human evolution.””

It is now accepted that the more typical Neanderthal was one who lived in southern Europe through the Ice Age and in central Europe during interglacial periods, as epitomized by Neumark-Nord. About 86,000 to 106,000 years ago, for instance, fisher-hunter-gatherers occupied the Gruta da Figueira Brava site on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.

Similarly, a new body of research has transformed our image of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging brutes who wandered from cave to cave while gnawing on slabs of slain mammoth. Evidence is mounting that they were skilled toolmakers with a complex language who built shelters, traded jewelry and lived in large social groups.

“Until very recently, Neanderthals were considered simple slaves of nature who were living off the land, the first hippies,” Dr. Roebroeks said. “The truth is that they were using fire to shape their environment, as well as having a huge impact on the most massive animals alive at that time.”

Straight-tusked elephants were the largest terrestrial mammals of the Pleistocene, a geological epoch lasting until 11,700 years ago when vast ice sheets and other glaciers spread across North America and Eurasia. Adult males weighed as much as 14 tons, adult females about half that. The straight-tusked elephant, or Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was the reigning elephant ancestor of that time. It was much larger than the woolly mammoth and roughly twice as big as today’s African elephant.

7) This is good. Liberals should not back from either of these.  We just need to define the progressive vision, not the cramped and problematic conservative versions. “Ro Khanna on the Progressive Case for Patriotism and Capitalism”

8) Jennifer Rubin on PRRI’s new poll on white Christian nationalism:

When you hear the phrase “Christian nationalists,” you might think of antiabortion conservatives who are upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and embrace a vaguely “America First” way of thinking. But according to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.

“Christian nationalism is a new term for a worldview that has been with us since the founding of our country — the idea that America is destined to be a promised land for European Christians,” PRRI president and founder Robert P. Jones explained in a news release on the survey of more than 6,000 Americans. “While most Americans today embrace pluralism and reject this anti-democratic claim, majorities of white evangelical Protestants and Republicans remain animated by this vision of a white Christian America.”The poll used the following beliefs to gauge how deeply respondents embraced Christian nationalism:
  • “The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”
  • “U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.”
  • “If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.”
  • “Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.”
  • “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”

PRRI found that 10 percent (“adherents”) of American adults believe in these ideas overwhelmingly or completely; 19 percent agree but not completely (“sympathizers”); 39 percent disagree (“skeptics”) but not completely; and 29 percent disagree completely (“rejecters”).

Who are these people? “Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%).” Put differently, Christian nationalist adherents are a minority but when combined with sympathizers still comprise a stunning 29 percent of Americans — many tens of millions.

Christian nationalists also make up the base of the Republican Party. “Most Republicans qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (33%) or adherents (21%), while at least three-quarters of both independents (46% skeptics and 29% rejecters) and Democrats (36% skeptics and 47% rejecters) lean toward rejecting Christian nationalism.” In total, “Republicans (21%) are about four times as likely as Democrats (5%) or independents (6%) to be adherents of Christian nationalism.” Some promising news: There are fewer adherents and sympathizers among younger Americans. “More than seven in ten Americans ages 18-29 (37% skeptics, 42% rejecters) and ages 30-49 (37% skeptics, 35% rejecters) lean toward opposing Christian nationalism.” Support is also inversely related to educational attainment.

Christian nationalist adherents are emphatically out of synch with the pluralist majority. “Americans overall are much more likely to express a preference for the U.S. to be a nation made up of people belonging to a variety of religions (73%).” They also are much more likely to hold authoritarian and racist views…

More than 70 percent of adherents embrace replacement theory, nearly one-quarter harbor the antisemitic view that Jews hold too many positions of power and 44 percent believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America, the poll found. More than 65 percent think Muslims from some countries should be banned. Almost 70 percent believe “the husband is the head of the household in ‘a truly Christian family’ and his wife submits to his leadership.”

If you think this sounds like MAGA tripe, you’re right. This is the hardcore MAGA base. More alarming: “Nearly six in ten QAnon believers are also either Christian nationalism sympathizers (29%) or adherents (29%).”

9) I love “Rick and Morty” and have definitely had concerns about how the loss of one of the co-creators may affect the show in the future, but this Vox essay suggests I need not worry and is a great appreciation of the show:

Hidden in all this clever recursion and juvenile brinkmanship are genuine human concerns. Throughout both shows, Jeff and Rick earnestly, even plaintively continue to wonder why they’re such walking disasters — at least they do when they can overcome their self-loathing long enough to get the question out. Why do people do bad things? Harmon wants to know, and he wants us to want to know.

10) No, “Last of Us” cordyceps is not coming for us, but we do need to worry about fungal pathogens:

Fungus-caused infections — real ones, not the ones sparking the zombie apocalypse on the popular show “The Last of Us” — pose a growing threat in the United States and around the world.

Mississippi has become the latest state to report residents infected with Candida auris, a highly contagious fungus that thrives in hospitals and nursing homes. It won’t be the last and, without dedicated effort, infections and deaths will continue to pile up.

The Mississippi Department of Public Health announced it has identified six people infected with C. auris. This pathogen can contaminate just about any surface imaginable, from intravenous lines and feeding tubes to bedsheets, doctors’ coats, and sinks. People who are elderly or immunocompromised are the most vulnerable to this pathogen, and it is often deadly: two of the six people infected in Mississippi have died.

The rapid ascent of C. auris is unsettling. The fungus has carved a deadly path around the globe since Japanese researchers identified the first-known infection in 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that it had logged seven cases of C. auris across four states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois. By 2019, the pathogen had infected more than 700 people across 12 states, and the numbers continue to climb. In 2022, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Hawaii all confirmed their first C. auris cases, and nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. have now been infected with it.

Public health experts have for years been warning that C. auris and other fungal infections are a growing threat. Numerous studies have detailed the ways in which climate change may aid and abet the spread of these pathogens as the world warms. C. auris is just one of dozens of fungal pathogens affecting humans, yet the U.S. — and the world — has continually failed to take action against this threat.

A quick assessment of the armamentarium of antifungal agents shows just how underprepared countries are. No new classes of antifungal drugs have become available during the last 20 years, according to a study in the journal Drugs, and only one new agent from a known antifungal class has been approved in the last decade. Investment in this area is sorely lacking: the World Health Organization reports that fungal infections receive less than 1.5% of all infectious disease research funding.

11) Some good political science here, even if I find it mystifying as to why there would be a dozen co-authors, “Rooted in Racism? Race, Partisanship, Status Threat, and Public Opinion Toward Statehood for Washington, D.C.”

In recent years, a number of prominent elected officials on both sides of the partisan divide have weighed in on the possibility of making Washington, D.C., the nation’s fifty-first state. While Democratic supporters of statehood for D.C. emphasize issues of equal representation, some Republican opponents have stressed the partisan and ideological consequences of D.C. statehood. Other Republican opponents, in justifying their position, have made the claim that Washington, D.C., lacks the necessary and sufficient characteristics associated with statehood, and these claims have been widely interpreted as implicitly racist appeals. In this paper, using three nationally representative surveys, we explore whether mass opinion on this issue is primarily shaped by partisanship, ideology, racial status threat, or racial prejudice. We find clear and consistent evidence that while partisan and ideological attachments, as well as perceptions of racial status threat, influence opinion on statehood for Washington, D.C., the strongest determinant of opposition to statehood are negative racial attitudes. We take these results as further evidence of the debate over D.C. statehood, like debates over public policies that are purported to benefit African Americans, is intimately intertwined with negative racial views expressed by the mass public.

12) I don’t know how I had never come across this 10-year old Gladwell talk at Google, but it’s really good, “Why Did I Say “Yes” to Speak Here?”

13) This Vox video on the Titanic’s insufficient number of lifeboats is the best thing I’ve seen on the subject by far. 

14) Here’s a fun technology story, “‘My Watch Thinks I’m Dead’ Dispatchers for 911 are being inundated with false, automated distress calls from Apple devices owned by skiers who are very much alive.”

Winter has brought a decent amount of snowfall to the region’s ski resorts, and with it an avalanche of false emergency calls. Virtually all of them have been placed by Apple Watches or iPhone 14s under the mistaken impression that their owners have been debilitated in collisions.

As of September, these devices have come equipped with technology meant to detect car crashes and alert 911 dispatchers. It is a more sensitive upgrade to software on Apple devices, now several years old, that can detect when a user falls and then dial for help. But the latest innovation appears to send the device into overdrive: It keeps mistaking skiers, and some other fitness enthusiasts, for car-wreck victims.

Lately, emergency call centers in some ski regions have been inundated with inadvertent, automated calls, dozens or more a week. Phone operators often must put other calls, including real emergencies, on hold to clarify whether the latest siren has been prompted by a human at risk or an overzealous device.

“My whole day is managing crash notifications,” said Trina Dummer, interim director of Summit County’s emergency services, which received 185 such calls in the week from Jan. 13 to Jan. 22. (In winters past, the typical call volume on a busy day was roughly half that.) Ms. Dummer said that the onslaught was threatening to desensitize dispatchers and divert limited resources from true emergencies.

15) Great stuff from Jeff Maurer, “Debt Ceiling Idiocy Shows the Dangers of Living in a Fantasyland”

But here we are, trying to find a way forward that’s compatible with the Bizarro World of false narratives that Republicans have been living in for years.

The first falsehood warping Republican brains is the idea that the deficit needs to be mostly or completely eliminated to avoid catastrophe. This idea has become a bedrock of Republican orthodoxy over the course of several decades. Remember the National Debt Clock, which showed up in Times Square in 1989? Remember the Balanced Budget Amendment that was part of Newt Gingrich’s 1995 Contract with America? Remember Paul Ryan’s YouTube videos, which were delivered with the solemn tone of a tough-love dad who’s worried about your marijuana use? Conservatives keep warning of a fiscal crisis that never comes. Of course, the kernel of truth here is that debt does matter; leftists who have convinced themselves that it doesn’t are in a cult every bit as deranged and disappointingly sexless as the Republican one. But it’s become an article of faith on the right that we must move the deficit towards zero AND FAST, which doesn’t comport with reality.

Republicans love to compare the federal budget to a household budget. But the federal budget is different from a household budget in a few crucial ways. For starters, you and I can’t print money. I mean…I suppose we could. could run off a few million Maurer Bucks on the ol’ HP ink jet, but if I try to buy a Whopper with them, they’ll kick me out of Burger King. Also, my self-produced currency is unlikely to become a coveted store of value around the globe, and that remains true even in a world in which people buy Dogecoin. In contrast, the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which makes it easier for the US to borrow money. Finally, a lot of federal borrowing is done in-house; America can borrow money from Americans, whereas I can’t borrow $1,000 from my son, because he is both a baby and a deadbeat.

Which is to say: We don’t need to balance the budget. And in fact, we shouldn’t: A singular focus on a balanced budget would cause us to pass up low-interest-high-yield investments that we should make. Our goal should be to keep the debt manageable, and our definition of “manageable” should change depending on economic conditions. The obsession with zero deficit is an overly-simple view promoted by people who either have ulterior motives or who don’t understand how the federal budget works.

The second Republican misunderstanding driving this insanity is the idea that a vote to raise the debt ceiling “puts more money on the nation’s credit card”. In reality, the money has already been charged to the card, and raising the debt ceiling just lets us pay the bill…

The third relevant brain worm is the myth that the budget could be balanced through a few relatively-painless cuts. Republicans frequently object to suggestions that they want to cut Social Security or Medicare, and obviously, tax hikes are as heretical to GOP doctrine as Lobsterfest is to Orthodox Judaism. So, if the deficit is a crisis, then what’s the proposed solution?

Republican rhetoric tends to focus on non-defense discretionary spending. That is: nuts-and-bolts government function stuff like highways and diplomacy, plus more touchy-feely stuff like environment, health, and education. That stuff doesn’t butter a typical Republican’s toast, and even a liberal like me will admit that not every penny of that spending is crucial funding keeping vulnerable Americans from being dragged out to sea by economic currents and ripped apart by sharks. But to talk about non-defense discretionary spending as a solution to the budget deficit is basically a non-sequitur.

The bottom line is that there just isn’t enough money there. Non-defense discretionary spending is usually around $600 billion (adjusted for inflation); the deficit has averaged $1.16 trillion over the past 15 years. So, if you carved out the whole District of Columbia, floated it into the Atlantic ocean, and then sank it along with the entire federal government, you’d be about half way to where you’d need to be. For context, this spending is slightly below where it’s been for the last 35 years as a percentage of GDP. To allege a budget crisis and then shift to talk of shaving non-defense discretionary spending is like announcing a plan to lose 100 pounds and declaring that you’ll get there by reducing how often you eat bananas foster.

These three myths combine to form a simple, misleading, narrative, which goes like this: The government is on the brink of a fiscal crisis. This crisis can be solved without tax hikes or cuts to popular programs. Members of Congress who vote to raise the debt ceiling are authorizing more profligate spending instead of getting our fiscal house in order.

How much does the GOP base believe this narrative? Well, they believe it enough that most Republican members of the House seem scared to vote to raise the ceiling. We also might deduce something from the fact that the most zealous debt ceiling warriors seem to be those Republicans who are least in touch with reality. To wit: Major players include Ralph Norman, who doesn’t appear to know what the debt ceiling is, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, of whom former RNC chair Michael Steele recently said: “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.” GOP leadership has ignored White House calls for proposed spending cuts, and of course they have: No cuts exist that are big enough to satisfy the Republican base and that are popular with the rest of the country. The GOP is reaping what they sowed: They promoted a lie, people believed the lie, and now those same people are demanding that their leaders take action in response to a crisis that doesn’t exist.

16) Just maybe this time the promising new Alzheimer’s drug is actually promising?  Really interesting stuff here on the latest drug and the history of false hope.

17) Good stuff from Phillip Bump, “The core weakness of the Republican Party, on raucous display”

Why is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in Congress?

The 2020 campaign that first brought her to Washington wasn’t centered on the policy proposals Greene wanted to enact as a legislator. Her campaign was instead centered mostly on fringe rhetoric and chastisements of the D.C. establishment, including members of her own party. This was amplified after Republican leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) criticized past comments of Greene’s that were racist or endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But that didn’t matter. Greene easily won the primary and then election in a district that backed Donald Trump by a 3 to 1 margin. So now she’s in Congress — and was a key ally of McCarthy in his struggle to be elected House speaker. Her willingness to throw bombs at her perceived opponents has made her a force in Republican politics, one that McCarthy clearly thinks is useful to keep close.

In other words, Greene is in Congress because her style of agitating the Republican base was useful in winning a primary in a deep-red district, winning election in a wildly pro-Trump one and in getting access to the core of Republican institutional power. And this, really, is the Republican Party’s central weakness, as made obvious in last year’s midterm elections: It is very, very good at energizing its base and not very good at appealing to everyone else.

On Tuesday night, President Biden delivered his State of the Union address. This annual event is Congress’s prom, an opportunity to get dressed up and be fancy with lots of expectations that people will be on their best behavior. Before this year’s iteration, McCarthy cautioned his caucus to behave, reportedly reminding them that the country would be watching.

To continue the prom analogy, this is a bit like the principal telling the jocks that the local news would be filming the dance and not to act up. Guess what the jocks are going to do? …

The other motivation for interrupting Biden is implicit: Many Republican elected officials are simply used to treating their opponents with overt disdain. Greene has endorsed QAnon theories and mused about executions of prominent Democrats. Given the rare opportunity to be face-to-face with Biden, we should expect her to demurely observe his speech?

We should not be surprised that McCarthy’s warning to his caucus about behaving went unheeded. We should not be surprised that his efforts to quell the uproar in the moment were ignored. We should not be surprised that on Wednesday morning he excused the interruptions as evidence of his caucus being “passionate.” After all, the story of McCarthy’s tenure as leader of his party has largely been about his failure to erect fences around the party’s fringe, from Trump on down.

There is simply a large element of his party that is focused on combating the left, on fighting Democrats or other elites in Fox News hits or punchy tweets. They do so for the same reasons some of them interrupted Biden’s speech: They want attention or they are simply behaving in the way they’ve become accustomed to behaving. There’s a Pavlovian element here. Greene and others have been successful at getting Republican votes by ginning up Republican anger. In districts where Republicans win easily, that works just fine. In the jostle to get attention and support from Republicans nationally, extremism in this regard is a boon. But in winning contested races? Less so.

18) So tired of stories like this!! Our laws and enforcement are both woefully insufficient.  And who are all the damn people buying dogs from these disreputable breeders and thereby propping up the whole sordid mess?!  Shame on them! “47 dogs rescued from backyard breeder, animal hoarding home in rural NC”

19) I’m in a monthly meeting with a faculty member who I am pretty sure never turns her camera on because she believes cameras on is “ableist.” Oh, yeah, that’s a thing.  As for me, I believe it’s rude to hide yourself and participate by voice only if you are perfectly capable of more fully participating.  It’s already diminishing human contact enough to be on in zoom instead of in person, that you really shouldn’t make it worse unless there’s a good reason (to be fair, there’s often good reasons, but a stand against ableism is not among them).   

20) It was pretty cool to read this Atlantic article on obstacles to nuclear power growth from within the nuclear power industry and think, “wow, that was really good” and then go back and see it was Jonathan Rauch. I love that guy. 

Small and safe is the vision, at least. Dozens of companies and labs in the U.S. and abroad are pursuing it. Kairos is well along, with a permit to build a full-fledged nuclear test reactor already moving toward federal approval, hopefully by the end of 2023. That test will depend on this one in Albuquerque, because molten-salt reactor cooling has not been tried in the United States since the 1960s, when a five-year experiment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, proved the idea viable. In a few days, the test unit’s top will be installed, crowning the device with bristling pipes and sensors. Nearby, welders ready those pipes and valves. Engineers stand on top of scaffolding slotting graphite reflectors into place.

As I tour the facility, however, I soon realize that the crucial technology is not 16 feet tall but about 5 foot 6, balding, with jeans and thick, black-framed glasses…

Nuclear power is in a strange position today. Those who worry about climate change have come to see that it is essential. The warming clock is ticking—another sort of countdown—and replacing fossil fuels is much easier with nuclear power in the equation. And yet the industry, in many respects, looks unready to step into a major role. It has consistently flopped as a commercial proposition. Decade after decade, it has broken its promises to deliver new plants on budget and on time, and, despite an enviable safety record, it has failed to put to rest the public’s fear of catastrophic accidents. Many of the industry’s best minds know they need a new approach, and soon. For inspiration, some have turned toward SpaceX, Tesla, and Apple…

The real challenge with giant nuclear plants like Fukushima and Three Mile Island is not making them safe but doing so at a reasonable price, which is the problem that companies like Kairos are trying to solve. But even people who feel scared of nuclear power do not dispute that fossil fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous. One study, published in 2021, estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed about 1 million people in 2017 alone. In fact, nuclear power’s safety record to date is easily on par with the wind and solar industries, because wind turbines and rooftop panels create minor risks such as falls and fire. As for nuclear waste, it has turned out to be a surprisingly manageable problem, partly because there isn’t much of it; all of the spent fuel the U.S. nuclear industry has ever created could be buried under a single football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, according to the Department of Energy. Unlike coal waste, which is of course spewed into the air we breathe, radioactive waste is stored in carefully monitored casks.

And so environmentalists, I thought, were betraying the environment by stigmatizing nuclear power. But I had to revise my view. Even without green opposition, nuclear power as we knew it would have fizzled—today’s environmentalists are not the main obstacle to its wide adoption…
And so, in a generation, nuclear power went from the fuel of the future to not worth the bother. Supply chains withered; talented engineers and executives sought greener pastures. The United States, once the industry’s world leader, became an also-ran. Today, as Peterson said, we find ourselves “mired in this world where all you can get are light-water reactors, and they’re challenging and expensive to build, and we don’t have good alternatives. Breaking out of that set of problems is one of the critical things we need to do today.” That requires technological breakthroughs; more important, however, it requires attitudinal ones.

21) Headlines like this all the time, of course, “Single Powerball Ticket Wins $754.6 Million Jackpot” got me thinking how much more good would we do in in the world and really change lives by having 100 $7 million jackpots.  That would be so much better!  Of course, I’m sure you’d sell way less tickets for that.

22) McWhorter on “racism” and policing:

As Duane Loynes Sr., an assistant professor of urban and Africana studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, told The Los Angeles Times’s Jaweed Kaleem, “Here’s a dirty little secret: Studies indicate that Black officers are just as brutal and at times even more brutal against Black bodies as their white counterparts.”

The point is not that we don’t have a grievous problem, but rather that the problem is not exclusively racist white cops. It’s cops, period. (An important note: When it comes to nonlethal mistreatment, as opposed to police shootings, studies demonstrate the existence of outright racial bias. This is very much a problem, but a very different problem from police killings.)

The way we are trained to view the situation is understandable, but outdated. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, cops killed people — Black and white alike — at much higher rates in major cities than they do now, as the criminologist Peter Moskos has shown. I grew up in the Philadelphia of that era, where Mayor Frank Rizzo openly condoned cops’ brutality against Black people. By morbid coincidence, I saw the gruesome videotaped beating of Nichols shortly after I rewatched Melvin Van Peebles’ pioneering 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” In the movie, Van Peebles plays a Black man on the run from racist white cops whose shameless, bloodletting brutality roughly corresponded to what some Black people of the period actually experienced. A lot of time has passed since then, but the way we discuss police brutality against Black people today can sometimes make it sound as if there is no difference between the situation Van Peebles depicted — of marauding, openly racist cops — and the one we face today.

Yet white Americans are also killed by police officers in appalling numbers — many more, overall, than Black Americans, owing to the fact that the latter make up only about 14 percent of the U.S. population. In 2022, The Washington Post’s database on cop killings documented that of 755 victims whose race was known, 225 were Black and 389 were white.

Because casual and sometimes lethal violence against Black people by cops is part of our shameful and still recent national narrative, names like those of the victims I cited earlier sometimes become national news stories. But the media rarely even covers police killings of white people, which don’t fit so neatly into that pre-existing narrative…

Police killings of unarmed or unthreatening American citizens are a national disgrace, and one that requires action. But action requires comprehension, and the simplest explanation — “racist white cops kill Black people” — is clearly often not the correct one.

Is “systemic racism” at work in Memphis?  Quite clearly.  That said, I think the fact that black cops killed a black man forces us to deal with the broader problems of policing and police culture rather than just simply saying, “see… racism.”

23) Drum on social security: “Fixing Social Security forever requires only 1.5% of GDP”

Social Security is back in the news. The word on the street is that MAGA Republicans—unlike Donald Trump himself—want to “reform” Social Security so it doesn’t go “bankrupt” and cut off our kids from their rightful pensions.

I’m willing to go toe-to-toe on the gritty details of Social Security with anyone, but not today. Instead, I’ll just give you a taste of the Social Security doomsaying we’re likely to get. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is Travis Nix telling us that raising the payroll tax cap is a bad idea:

The Social Security administration forecasts that without benefit cuts or structural reforms the entitlement program will run out of money in 2035. In response, lawmakers in both parties are mulling the idea of lifting the payroll tax cap.

….[This] wouldn’t fix the structural issues with Social Security. Like a ponzi scheme, the program relies on the contributions of a shrinking young population to pay off an increasing elderly population.

….These programs need serious structural reforms—more tax revenue won’t save them….Lawmakers need to think bigger to offer real solutions. By raising the retirement age, letting workers put their tax in personal accounts instead of Social Security, and shifting Social Security to a flat benefit to make it a true antipoverty program, lawmakers could begin to address the crisis.

First off, Social Security will not “run out of money” in 2035. Current estimates say it will run about 25% short in 2035. That’s a big difference, but conservatives can never bring themselves to say it.

Second, it’s not a Ponzi scheme. If you cut off all the babble surrounding it, Social Security is just a standard social welfare program: Taxes go in and pensions go out. This can keep up forever, just like it can for Medicaid or the military or anything else.

Third, raising the retirement age saves money but does so mainly on the backs of the poor. Personal accounts are risky, which is why Social Security doesn’t use them. And a flat, small benefit for the few would destroy public support for Social Security. Nix surely knows all this.

Fourth, literally everything Nix implies is baloney. I’m excited to report that the Social Security Trustees now include Excel data in their annual report, which means I can recreate their charts on my own. Here’s the most basic, most important single chart you will ever see about Social Security:

That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Forget about high and low estimates or bend points or the accuracy of the Trustees’ actuarial assumptions or any of that. Those are trivial. What this chart tells you is that Social Security is not doomed to an endless spiral of death. It’s projected to eventually run annual deficits of about 1.5% of GDP forever.

So to fix it, all we need is reform that eventually adds up to 1.5% of GDP. That’s it. Some combination of tax hikes and benefit cuts that come to 1.5% of GDP. That will keep Social Security properly financed forever

24) Oh man do I hate unrealistic obsessions with “stranger danger” and I loved this Melida Wenner Moyer post so much!

During the show, host Brown took a moment to address the audience, saying: “Predators are a real threat. In the U.S., 2,300 children go missing each day. I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s an urgent child safety issue.”


There is so much fear-mongering about child safety these days, and I believe it’s actually more dangerous than the supposedly scary things parents are being warned about.

Consider the terrifying statistic that 2,300 kids are reported missing each day in the U.S. That’s technically true, but extremely misleading. For one thing, an estimated 99 percent of those kids are found fairly quickly, and 98 percent of them are either runaways or abducted by family members. The F.B.I. reported that only between 52 and 306 children were kidnapped by strangers or acquaintances in 2019, which is a very, very small number, considering that there are about 75 million children living in the United States. As researchers from UC-Irvine explained in a 2016 research paper:

The actual risk of a teen or child being abducted by a stranger and killed or not returned is estimated at around 0.00007%, or one in 1.4 million annually—a risk so small that experts call it de minimis, meaning effectively zero.

And yet, according to a new Pew Research survey published in January, 28 percent of American parents say they are “extremely worried” that their children will someday be abducted.


Why are we so worried about abductions when they are so rare? Well, because of shows like The Parent Test. Okay, I’m oversimplying; there are many reasons, but the media sure hasn’t been helping. In a 2022 study, researchers in Australia analyzed the content of TV shows and other media that discussed child abductions and related issues. They found that 94 percent of the media coverage focused on scary risks and that only six percent mentioned the potential benefits of granting kids autonomy. (The reports of parents being arrested for not constantly supervising their kids don’t help, either.)

It’s worth pointing out, too, that violent crime rates have dropped precipitously since the 1990s, even though U.S. adults tend to say they think crime has been increasing:

Okay, but, you might be thinking — it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, if there’s even a slim chance your kid could be abducted or hurt, shouldn’t you teach them to be scared of strangers and supervise them as much as possible? Not necessarily. When we worry too much about stranger danger and overestimate the potential risks of giving kids freedom, we rob our children of important experiences and opportunities. (It’s important to note here that some American kids really do face horrific dangers. Black children are, for instance, are nearly six times as likely as white children to be killed with guns. So some parents are indeed right to be terrified, which is unfair and awful.)

Among other things, parents today are much less likely than parents of generations past to let kids walk to school alone and to let them play unsupervised. In fact, research has found that parents believe they should be communicating to their kids that the world is a terrible, scary place.

The problem is that all this over-protectiveness doesn’t give kids the chance to learn how to navigate the world. It may also make them more prejudiced. And when we constantly tell our kids to be afraid, they are more likely to develop anxiety. (To learn more about why over-protectiveness is dangerous — and what to do instead — check out the non-profit organization Let Grow and its resources.)

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider risk or teach our kids to be aware of it. What I am saying is that safety risks — especially to kids — are often overstated, and that this inaccurate messaging harms kids and society at large. I found myself quite frustrated that The Parent Test chose drama over data, fueling a dangerous parenting trope. What we need from the media is balance.

Yes, we should teach our kids what to do if strangers ring the doorbell. But if our kids are a bit too trusting at times, this does not mean we have failed them or that they have failed. We shouldn’t teach our kids that the world is always out to get them, and, assuming they really aren’t at much risk, we shouldn’t hide our children away to keep them safe.

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

2) Good stuff from Chait:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You got knocked out,” someone else said.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15) Julia Belluz on the new weight loss drugs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quick hits (part I)

1) Nicholas Kristoff on woke idiocy in policing language:

The flap over the French underscores the ongoing project to revise terminology in ways that are meant to be more inclusive — but which I fear are counterproductive and end up inviting mockery and empowering the right.

Latino to Latinx. Women to people with uterusesHomeless to houseless. L.G.B.T. to LGBTQIA2S+. Breastfeeding to chestfeeding. Asian American to A.A.P.I. Ex-felon to returning citizen. Pro-choice to pro-decision. I inhabit the world of words, and even I’m a bit dizzy.

As for my friends who are homeless, what they yearn for isn’t to be called houseless; they want housing.

Representative Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat who identifies as Afro-Latino, noted that a Pew survey found that only 3 percent of Hispanics themselves use the term Latinx.

“I have no personal objection to the term ‘Latinx’ and will use the term myself before an audience that prefers it,” Torres told me. “But it’s worth asking if the widespread use of the term ‘Latinx’ in both government and corporate America reflects the agenda-setting power of white leftists rather than the actual preferences of working-class Latinos.” …

The aim is to avoid dehumanizing anyone. But some women feel dehumanized when referred to as “birthing people,” or when The Lancet had a cover about “bodies with vaginas.”

The American Medical Association put out a 54-page guide on language as a way to address social problems — oops, it suggests instead using the “equity-focused” term “social injustice.” The A.M.A. objects to referring to “vulnerable” groups and “underrepresented minority” and instead advises alternatives such as “oppressed” and “historically minoritized.”

Hmm. If the A.M.A. actually cared about “equity-focused” outcomes in the United States, it could simply end its opposition to single-payer health care.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, president emeritus of the Children’s Health Fund and a lifelong champion of vulnerable children, told me that the linguistic efforts reflect “liberals going overboard to create definitions and divisions” — and he, like me, is a liberal.

“It actually exacerbates divisions rather than accomplishing something useful,” Redlener said, and I think he’s right..

First, much of this effort seems to me performative rather than substantive. Instead of a spur to action, it seems a substitute for it.

After all, it’s the blue cities on the West Coast, where those on the streets are often sensitively described as “people experiencing homelessness,” that have some of the highest rates of unsheltered homelessness. How about worrying less about jargon and more about zoning and other evidence-based policies that actually get people into housing? …

So I fear that our linguistic contortions, however well-meant, aren’t actually addressing our country’s desperate inequities or achieving progressive dreams, but rather are creating fuel for right-wing leaders aiming to take the country in the opposite direction.

2) This piece on the shifting demographics of the Democratic party from Tom Edsall is excellent.  You should just read it (gift link). 

Over the past four decades, the percentage of white Democrats who identify themselves as liberal has more than doubled, growing at a much faster pace than Black or Hispanic Democrats.

In 1984, according to American National Election Studies data, 29.8 percent of white Democrats identified as liberal; by 2020, that percentage grew to 68.5 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of liberals among Black Democrats grew from 19.1 percent to 27.8 percent and among Hispanic Democrats from 18 percent to 41 percent.

This shift raises once again a question that people have been asking since the advent of Reagan Democrats in the 1980s: What does it mean for a party that was once the home of the white working class to become a coalition of relatively comfortable white liberals and less-well-off minority constituencies?

I posed this and other questions to a range of scholars and political strategists, including William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings, who recently cited similar (though not identical) trends in Gallup data. In an essay last month, “The Polarization Paradox: Elected Officials and Voters Have Shifted in Opposite Directions,” Galston wrote:

In 1994, white, Black and Hispanic Democrats were equally likely to think of themselves as liberal. But during the next three decades, the share of white Democrats who identify as liberal rose by 37 points, from 26 percent to 63 percent, while Black and Hispanic Democrats rose by less than half as much, to 39 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

Galston argued in an email that Black Democrats have assumed an unanticipated role in the party:

African Americans are now a moderating force within the party. It was no accident that they rallied around the most moderate candidate with a serious chance of winning the nomination in 2020, or that the leader of the pro-Biden forces took the lead in rejecting the “defund the police” slogan.

The coalition of upper-middle-class liberals and minority voters, Galston wrote, “has been sustainable because the former believe in the active use of government to fight disadvantage of various kinds and are willing, within limits, to vote against their economic self-interest.” …

There are those who argue, however, that the contemporary Democratic coalition is more fragile than Wronski suggests. Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, emailed to say, “If you’re a Democrat, you might worry that the coalition is not stable.”

Over the long haul, Enos wrote:

College-educated whites, especially those with higher incomes, are not clear coalitional partners for anyone — they don’t favor economic policies, such as increasing housing supply or even higher taxes on the rich, that are beneficial to the working class, of any race. And many college-educated whites are motivated by social issues that are also not largely supported by the working class, of any race. It’s not clear that, with their current ideological positions, socially liberal and economically centrist or rightist college-educated whites are natural coalition partners with anybody but themselves.

Enos went so far as to challenge the depth of elite support for a liberal agenda:

My sense is that much of the college-educated liberal political rhetoric is focused on social signaling to satisfy their own psychological needs and improve their social standing with other college-educated liberals, rather than policies that would actually reduce racial gaps in economic well-being, civil rights protections and other quality of life issues.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, is an explicit critic of the left wing of the party. “It is plain to me that the Democrats’ greatest challenge is the progressive left,” Begala wrote in an email:

Pew Research shows they are the most liberal, most educated and most white subgroup in the Democratic coalition. They constitute 12 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democrat — which means 88 percent of us are not on their ideological team.

In contrast, Begala continued:

Black voters are both the most loyal Democrats and the most sensible, practical, strategic and moderate voters. This is why it was important, politically and even morally, for President Biden to move the African-American-rich South Carolina primary ahead of overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire.

In the November 2021 study of the composition of the Democratic Party that Begala referred to, Pew Research reported:

The progressive left makes up a relatively small share of the party, 12 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. However, this group is the most politically engaged segment of the coalition, extremely liberal in every policy domain and, notably, 68 percent white non-Hispanic. In contrast, the three other Democratic-oriented groups are no more than about half white non-Hispanic.

3) Fascinating New Yorker article about a new book about the modern surveillance state and long-haul trucking:

The use of electronic logging devices in trucks, Levy argues, represents an example of how “we impose apparent order to the detriment of actual order.” From the perspective of apparent order, the problem of trucking safety—the job ranks eighth on the list of occupational fatality rates—is driver fatigue. Truckers are tired because they drive too many hours. They drive too many hours because they were not only permitted but effectively encouraged to falsify their logbooks. If the problem is compliance, the solution is to take accountability out of the discretionary sphere of human activity and rely instead on mechanism. You use technology to force truckers to tell the truth…

All of this, Levy maintains, was predictable insofar as the mandate was designed to solve the apparent problem rather than the actual one. The problem was not that truckers lied. The problem is the industry’s economic structure. Truckers are paid on a per-mile basis—“If the wheel ain’t turnin’, you ain’t earnin’ ”—which means that all of the time they spend resting, or refuelling, or looking for scarce parking, or being detained by slow shippers at their destination is uncompensated. Truckers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, so they’re not paid overtime. Beginning in the late nineteen-seventies, the trucking industry underwent rapid deregulation. Shipping costs fell dramatically, but so did wages. In 1980, the median income for a trucker was a hundred and ten thousand dollars in today’s dollars; today, the average trucker brings home less than half of that. Solidarity has proved elusive. The Teamsters were once powerful, but the percentage of truckers with union membership has declined to the low single digits.

As Levy puts it, “By using digital surveillance to enforce rules, we focus our attention on an apparent order that allows us to ignore the real problems in the industry, as well as their deeper economic, social, and political causes. Under the apparent order envisioned by the ELD, the fundamental problem in trucking is that truckers cannot be trusted to reliably report how much they work, and the solution to that problem is to make it more difficult for them to fudge the numbers. But under the actual order, the problem in trucking is that drivers are incentivized to work themselves well beyond healthy limits—sometimes to death. The ELD doesn’t solve this problem, or even attempt to do so.”

4) Pretty cool to read about AI technology in speech recognition/transcription. 

5) I really hope they figure out how and why in the world somebody stole emperor tamarin monkeys from a Dallas Zoo and left them in an abandoned house!

6) Apparently this video is from 8 years ago or so, but a friend just posted on FB and it was the first time I’ve seen it. So much fun.

7) Nate Cohn on what to make of Trump and the polls:

At the onset of the Republican campaign, the polls are exceptionally divided on Mr. Trump’s support among Republican primary voters.

In national surveys since last November’s midterm election, different pollsters have shown him with anywhere between 25 percent and 55 percent of the vote in a multicandidate field.

In just the last two weeks, an Emerson College poll found Mr. Trump leading Mr. DeSantis by 26 points, 55 percent to 29 percent, in a multicandidate field, while a Bulwark/North Star/Dynata poll over a similar period found Mr. DeSantis leading by 11 points, 39 percent to 28 percent.

This is not normal. It’s also a recent development. In the three months before the midterm election, 10 polling firms showed a much more typical 12-point spread in Mr. Trump’s share of support, between 45 percent and 57 percent.

Whether Mr. Trump is at 25 percent or 55 percent is no small matter. Believe it or not, early polling is fairly predictive of the eventual outcome in presidential primaries. It also has real-world consequences. It affects the decision-making of potential candidates, operatives and activists, many of whom have adopted a wait-and-see approach in part because there are so many conflicting signs of Mr. Trump’s strength.

And the existence of such a wide split betrays that the survey research industry may be in far worse shape than one might have otherwise guessed. While the exact reason for the vast spread in survey results is hard to ascertain, the likeliest explanation is that many well-known pollsters are collecting profoundly unrepresentative data.

Although there’s not a clear picture, a rough pattern in the data might hint at the actual state of the race. Higher-quality surveys havetended to show far less support for Mr. Trump…

Whatever the explanation for the variance among the nonprobability shops, the consensus among probability polls suggests that the polls showing a relatively weak Mr. Trump are closer to the truth.

Second, the state polling is almost entirely consistent with a weak or relatively weak Trump.

Nearly every nonpartisan state poll shows him running a few points worse than his performance in the same state in the 2016 primary. Most of those state primaries were held at a time when Mr. Trump’s national support was in the mid-30s, suggesting he sits in that range or a little lower today.

If we exclude the unusual cases of Florida and Utah (Florida because Mr. DeSantis is its governor; Utah because Mr. Trump had such vanishingly low support there in the 2016 caucus), Mr. Trump is underperforming his 2016 vote share by an average of four points in polls with a one-on-one matchup with Mr. DeSantis and by 10 points in multicandidate state polls.

Lots of good technical stuff in there for poll lovers, too.

8) A must read from Radley Balko, “Tyre Nichols’s Death Proves Yet Again That ‘Elite’ Police Units Are a Disaster”

The SCORPION program has all the markings of similar “elite” police teams around the country, assembled for the broad purpose of fighting crime, which operate with far more leeway and less oversight than do regular police officers. Some of these units have touted impressive records of arrests and gun confiscations, though those statistics don’t always correlate with a decrease in crime. But they all rest on the idea that to be effective, police officers need less oversight. That is a fundamental misconception. In city after city, these units have proven that putting officers in street clothes and unmarked cars‌, then giving them less supervision, an open mandate and an intimidating name shatters the community trust that police forces require to keep people safe…

Programs like SCORPION are a big part of the problem.

These units are typically touted as the best of the best — teams of highly experienced, carefully selected officers with stable temperaments, who have earned the right to work with less supervision. It isn’t difficult to see the dangers of telling police officers again and again that they are “elite,” but what’s really remarkable is how far that ideal is from the reality. As Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles deputy police chief and former SWAT officer, once told me, “The guys who really want to be on the SWAT team are the last people you should be putting on the SWAT team.” These units tend to attract aggressive, rules-skirting officers who then bring in like-minded colleagues to join them.

One former Memphis officer told CBS News that ‌SCORPION hired young and inexperienced officers with a propensity for aggression. Their “training” consisted of “three days of PowerPoint presentations, one day of criminal apprehension instruction and one day at the firing range.” One of the five officers indicted in Nichols’s murder had a prior complaint against him, and the civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he has already heard from other people who say they were abused by the unit.

The name of the team gives the game away. You call a unit SCORPION or Strike Force because you want to instill fear and because you want to attract police officers who enjoy being feared…

Scandals involving elite police units have also hit IndianapolisAtlantaPhiladelphiaNewarkPomonaMilwaukeeGreensboro and Fresno, among others. Most recently, eight officers from a unit in Baltimore were convicted and imprisoned after allegations that they robbed city residents, stole from local businesses, sold drugs and carried BB guns to plant on people.

The evidence is overwhelming: Giving roving teams of police officers added authority, elite status, a long leash and a vague mandate is a formula for abuse.

9) Sorry, that’s all you get for now. Maybe more later.  Gotta get to bed early (I queue these up Friday night) for the Krispy Kreme Challenge (no, I don’t eat all the donuts, but it’s super-fun) in the morning).


Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good on misguided police culture:

Thirty-four years ago, near the crest of the crack-cocaine-fuelled crime surge of the early nineteen-nineties, two F.B.I agents began a novel investigation of threats to police. One agent was a former police lieutenant in Washington, D.C. The other was also a Catholic priest with a doctorate in psychology. Together, they plunged into the prison system, interviewing fifty convicted cop killers. Most criminologists today call such research pseudoscience. A sample size of fifty was almost anecdotal, and why should anyone trust a cop killer, anyway? The agents also had no benchmark—no comparable interviews with criminals who had complied. Yet the sweeping conclusions of their study, “Killed in the Line of Duty,” made the front page of the Times, and, through decades of promotion by the Department of Justice, became ingrained in the culture of American law enforcement.

At the top of an inventory of “behavioral descriptors” linked to officers who ended up dead, the study listed traits that some citizens might prize: “friendly,” “well-liked by community and department,” “tends to use less force than other officers felt they would use in similar circumstances,” and “used force only as last resort.” The cop killers, the agents concluded from their prison conversations, had attacked officers with a “good-natured demeanor.” An officer’s failure to dominate—to immediately enforce full control over the suspect—proved fatal. “A miscue in assessing the need for control in particular situations can have grave consequences,” the authors warned.

Although few patrolmen today explicitly cite the study, some of its findings survive as police folklore, like the commonplace that unshined shoes can make an officer a target. Most significant, the study’s core lesson about the imperative to dominate dovetailed with a nineties-era turn in law-enforcement culture toward what was known as a “warrior mind-set,” teaching officers to see almost any civilian as a potentially lethal assassin—an approach that many police trainers still advertise, even as the cops-vs.-citizens mentality has fallen out of favor among many police chiefs.

The killing, this month, of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis is the latest reminder that the dominate-or-die impulse persists among some rank-and-file officers. Body-camera and surveillance videos released on Friday by the the city of Memphis show that a cluster of officers appear to have beaten Nichols to death merely for defying their orders: commands like “Get on the ground,” “Lie flat, goddammit,” and “Give me your fucking hands.”

2) Okay, I get that everything that uses energy can be framed as a “climate change!” issue, but as someone who has not skied since about 1993, I was pretty intrigued to learn of the advances in fake snow technology:

A lack of snow and abnormally mild temperatures are threatening ski resorts in the eastern United States, Europe and Asia. As natural snow becomes scarcer and temperatures creep too high for traditional snow machines, new technology is helping a growing number of ski areas adapt to the warming climate.

These new snow machines can make fake snow in temperatures as high as 80 degrees. But there are limitations that may keep this human-made snow from being a true solution. The costly machines require an enormous amount of energy to operate — much more than traditional ones — and can often make only enough snow to cover small areas…

The all-weather snow-making technology comes in containers where ice flakes are shaved from frozen barrels. The snowlike ice flakes are then fired out using a high-powered fan. The machine uses electricity to draw from local water sources, pumping 20 gallons of water per minute. Since the artificial snow is made up of individual ice flakes, it’s much colder and more durable against warmer temperatures.

“I believe it’s the magic bullet that everyone needs,” said Ken Marlatt, the director of operations for the resort, in an interview.

The machine, made by the Italian company TechnoAlpin, can produce 60 tons of snow a day in any environment — a huge upgrade from previous machines that required temperatures of 28 degrees or lower to operate. Using the machine, Ski Apache was able to produce five acres of snow to get up and running nearly a month earlier at the start of this season, Marlatt said.

3) I love me some Rachmaninoff, but 3 1/2 hours for a classical music concert just seems insane to me. “Yuja Wang, Daredevil Pianist, Takes on a Musical Everest: Known for dazzling virtuosity, Wang faces a new challenge in a three-and-a-half-hour Rachmaninoff marathon at Carnegie Hall.”

4) Apparently the UC system made a deal with the grad student union for huge raises.  But there’s no additional budgetary allocation for this– could get interesting!

The full financial costs of the labor settlements between UC and 48,000 academic workers who help power the system’s vaunted teaching and research engine are still being tallied. But preliminary estimates have dealt a “financial shock to the system,” said Rosemarie Rae, UC Berkeley chief financial officer.

The UC Office of the President estimates the increased costs for salary, benefits and tuition systemwide will be between $500 million and $570 million over the life of the contracts. Campuses have come up with their own calculations: At UC Santa Barbara, for instance, the Academic Senate chair estimated that the cost of pay hikes alone could spiral to more than $53 million over three years at her campus, one of 10 systemwide.

Overall, the costs take in pay increases of 20% to 80% depending on the workers — teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and postdoctoral scholars — and are among the highest ever granted to such university employees in the nation.

“It’s a huge number,” UC Board of Regents Chair Rich Leib said of the costs. “I think it was a good agreement and I’m happy with that. But there are ramifications. It’s not like the money’s coming from the sky. We’re trying to figure it out, but it’s going to require changes.”

Options are limited, with no new state influx of money in the coming academic year dedicated to covering the raises when they kick in — and the state is facing a projected $22.5-billion budget deficit. Fixed federal contracts that pay for 60% of the academic workers can’t be abruptly renegotiated. Many campuses have raised pointed questions as to why UC negotiated the contracts without identifying a clear funding source.


5) This article from Brian Klass in 2021 is on my syllabus and highly relevant to the latest situation, “Focus on Who Police Are, Not What They Do”

This week, voters in Minneapolis decisively rejected a proposal to replace its much-maligned police department with a new department of public safety, and the rest of the United States remains fiercely divided over police reform. Some progressives cling to the faltering movement to defund the police, others suggest better training or accountability, and many Republicans insist that no reform is necessary. For years, there have been calls to expand the use of body cameras, to create more citizen-oversight panels, and to adopt more de-escalation training. All of those reforms are useful and can reduce avoidable police violence. But while American discourse has been focused on what the police do, New Zealand decided to improve upon its already-low levels of police violence by focusing on who the police are.

Several years ago, Doraville, Georgia, a small town not far from Atlanta, posted a disturbing police-recruitment video on the main page of the department’s website. The video (which has since been taken down from the department’s site, but remains online) opens by flashing the Punisher logo, a reference to a fictional vigilante whose tactics routinely include kidnapping, torture, and murder. Then a military vehicle screams into view, and officers in assault gear toss smoke grenades out the hatch before briefly exiting the vehicle to shoot their targets with military-style weapons. The entire video is accompanied by the song “Die MF Die” by the heavy-metal band Dope.

Anyone who went to the department’s website while contemplating joining the force would have been greeted by that video. It’s an unapologetic celebration of military tactics and the use of deadly force. For anyone who hoped to be part of a department devoted to public service and community policing, the video would be enough to dissuade them from applying. For other potential recruits who saw policing as being part of an occupying army that uses violence to lay down the law, the video would affirm that they had found the right department.

As I discovered in my research, the profession of policing is heavily skewed by a self-selection bias. Just as tall kids are more likely than short ones to try out for the school basketball team, certain kinds of people are more drawn to policing than others. Helen King, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, told me that authoritarian personalities are disproportionately drawn to the uniform. “If you’re a bully, a bigot, or a sexual predator, policing is a really attractive career choice,” she explained. This doesn’t mean that police officers are overwhelmingly bullies and bigots, but it does mean that many bullies and bigots like the idea of being a cop. To put it bluntly, white men with authoritarian personalities are disproportionately likely to be drawn to policing.

As I like to say, damn if selection bias doesn’t explain almost everything.

6) I hope that with the right scale and investment, small modular nuclear reactors– as those just approved– can be cost effective because they sound like a great solution:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has certified the design for what will be the United States’ first small modular nuclear reactor.

The rule that certifies the design was published Thursday in the Federal Register. It means that companies seeking to build and operate a nuclear power plant can pick the design for a 50-megawatt, advanced light-water small modular nuclear reactor by Oregon-based NuScale Power and apply to the NRC for a license.

It’s the final determination that the design is acceptable for use, so it can’t be legally challenged during the licensing process when someone applies to build and operate a nuclear power plant, NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell said Friday. The rule becomes effective in late February.

The U.S. Energy Department said the newly approved design “equips the nation with a new clean power source to help drive down” planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions…

However, David Schlissel at the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis expressed concerns about the costs. Schlissel, who has studied the history of the nuclear power industry and the finances of the NuScale project, expects they will continue to go up, which could limit how many NuScale reactors are built. He said he thinks they’re not competitive in price with renewables and battery storage.

Hughes said from wind and solar to hydrogen and nuclear, energy projects have seen cost increases due to changing financial market dynamics, interest rate hikes and inflationary pressures on the sector’s supply chain that have not been seen in decades. NuScale’s VOYGR power plant remains a cost competitive source of reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy, she added.

7) I’ve watched the first two episodes of “Poker Face” and I love it. 

8) Great stuff from Binyamin Applebaum on tax policy:

Washington’s favorite show, “Debt Ceiling Chicken,” is playing again in the big white theater on Capitol Hill. And once again, it is diverting attention from the fact that the United States really does have a debt problem.

Republicans and Democrats in recent decades have hewed to a kind of grand bargain, raising spending and cutting taxes, and papering over the difference with a lot of borrowed money.

From 1972 to 2021, the government, on average, spent about 20.8 percent of gross domestic product while collecting about 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in revenue. It covered the gap with $31.4 trillion in i.o.u.s — the federal debt.

The government relies on this borrowed money to function, and for decades, it has defied a variety of dire predictions about the likely consequences. Notably, there’s no sign that Washington is exhausting Wall Street’s willingness to lend. In financial markets, U.S. Treasuries remain the ultimate comfort food. There’s also little evidence the government’s gargantuan appetite is making it harder for businesses or individuals to get loans, which could impede economic growth.

But the federal debt still carries a hefty price tag.

The most immediate problem with the government’s reliance on borrowed money is the regular opportunity it provides for Republicans to engage in blackmail. Congress imposes a statutory limit on federal borrowing, known as the debt ceiling. The government hit that limit this month, meaning the total amount of spending approved by Congress now requires borrowing in excess of that amount…

Indeed, Americans need more federal spending. The United States invests far less than other wealthy nations in providing its citizens with the basic resources necessary to lead productive lives. Millions of Americans live without health insurance. People need more help to care for their children and older family members. They need help to go to college and to retire. Measured as a share of G.D.P., public spending in the other Group of 7 nations is, on average, more than 50 percent higher than in the United States.

In recent decades, proponents of more spending have largely treated tax policy as a separate battle — one that they’ve been willing to lose.

They need to start fighting and winning both.

It costs money to borrow money. Interest payments require the government to raise more money to deliver the same goods and services. Using taxes to pay for public services means that the government can do more.

The United States paid $475 billion in interest on its debts last fiscal year, which ran through September. That was a record, and it will soon be broken. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the government paid $210 billion.

The payments aren’t all that high by historical standards. Measured as a share of economic output, they remain well below the levels reached in the 1990s. Last year, federal interest outlays equaled 1.6 percent of G.D.P., compared with the high-water mark of 3.2 percent in 1991. But that mark, too, may soon be exceeded. The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal interest payments will reach 3.3 percent of G.D.P. by 2032, and it estimates interest payments might reach 7.2 percent of G.D.P. by 2052.

That’s a lot of money that could be put to better use.

Borrowing also exacerbates economic inequality. Instead of collecting higher taxes from the wealthy, the government is paying interest to them — some rich people are, after all, the ones investing in Treasuries.

9) Loved this from Jeff Maurer as so many liberals are so fundamentally dishonest on “Critical Race Theory”– “We Are NOT Teaching Post-Funk Techno-Industrial Nü-Metal In Schools! We Are Teaching Funk-Infused Synthetic Post-Punk Neo-Metal.
Any suggestion otherwise is propaganda”

Let me be perfectly clear: Despite what activists claim, children are emphatically NOT being taught post-funk techno-industrial nü-metal in schools. This is, frankly, a ridiculous charge. Children are being taught funk-infused synthetic post-punk neo-metal, as required by state guidelines that have been in place for more than a decade.

The first time I heard this accusation, I scarcely believed it was serious. A clip of a parent waving a Staind album popped up on my Twitter feed, and I almost burst out laughing. As if we would ever impose the rap-infused caterwauling of Staind — or for that matter Korn or Papa Roach — on children! Obviously, those offerings would be better suited to a college-level Intro To Thrash course. The idea that teachers across the country are putting on Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” and saying “class, what are the etymological origins of the line ‘Bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy’?” doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Here’s the truth: A child’s metal education starts with the classics. So: Judas Priest, Motörhead, and anything Ozzy (though a teacher may choose to focus specifically on Sabbath). From there, coursework progresses commensurate with the child’s ability to recognize which bands totally fucking shred. By middle school, a student should be able to differentiate between the take-no-prisoners slaying of Pantera or Dream Theatre and the drop-D poseurism of Soundgarden or Faith No More. By graduation, a student should know the difference between black metal and goth metal, be able to accurately arrange bands according to djent-ness, and be able to explain how Dave Mustaine’s departure from Metallica led to the collapse of glam metal in the early ’90s.

This basic framework has existed since Zeppelin. What’s changed is parents’ belief — stoked by activists — that the curriculum includes the body of work known as nü-metal. Part of the confusion seems to stem from a lack of understanding about what, exactly, nü-metal is. Some parents think that any post-grunge, hip-hop infused guitar rock that relies on syncopated rhythms and minor-key tonalities is nü-metal. In one clip that’s been circulating on social media, a parent refers to Primus as nü-metal — this is absolute madness. Primus is nü-metal about as much as Mercyful Fate is Krautrock!

In my class, I teach an extensive unit on post-punk modern metal that draws from funk and the hard-industrial bands of the ’90s (Rammstein, Pitchshifter). But this is neo-metal, not nü-metal. And yet, activists push their agenda by blurring the line between the two. 

Presumably you get the point.

10) A while back I flagged this otherwise excellent article on school board politics for this bit:

At the work session, Golden shared one end of a conference table with Nancy Garrett, the board’s chair. Garrett, who has rectangular glasses and a blond bob, is from a family that has attended or worked in Williamson County Schools for three generations. She had won the chairmanship, by unanimous vote, the previous August. At one point, she asked an assistant superintendent who had overseen the selection and review of Wit & Wisdom whether “the concept of critical race theory” had come up during the process. No, the assistant superintendent said.

Moms for Liberty members were portraying Wit & Wisdom as “critical race theory” in disguise. Garrett found this baffling. C.R.T., a complex academic framework that examines the systemic ways in which racism has shaped American society, is explored at the university level or higher.

Sorry, but that’s just a fundamentally dishonest argument within the current political context, as Maurer’s piece makes so clear with satire.

11) Some good academic scholarship from last year I think I forgot to highlight, “Are Republicans and Conservatives More Likely to Believe Conspiracy Theories?”

A sizable literature tracing back to Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style (1964) argues that Republicans and conservatives are more likely to believe conspiracy theories than Democrats and liberals. However, the evidence for this proposition is mixed. Since conspiracy theory beliefs are associated with dangerous orientations and behaviors, it is imperative that social scientists better understand the connection between conspiracy theories and political orientations. Employing 20 surveys of Americans from 2012 to 2021 (total n = 37,776), as well as surveys of 20 additional countries spanning six continents (total n = 26,416), we undertake an expansive investigation of the asymmetry thesis. First, we examine the relationship between beliefs in 52 conspiracy theories and both partisanship and ideology in the U.S.; this analysis is buttressed by an examination of beliefs in 11 conspiracy theories across 20 more countries. In our second test, we hold constant the content of the conspiracy theories investigated—manipulating only the partisanship of the theorized villains—to decipher whether those on the left or right are more likely to accuse political out-groups of conspiring. Finally, we inspect correlations between political orientations and the general predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories over the span of a decade. In no instance do we observe systematic evidence of a political asymmetry. Instead, the strength and direction of the relationship between political orientations and conspiricism is dependent on the characteristics of the specific conspiracy beliefs employed by researchers and the socio-political context in which those ideas are considered.

12) Paul Waldman, “The evolving political symbolism of the pickup truck”

At a moment of rapid social change in which gender norms are being challenged, it was predictable that conservatives would begin warning of a new “crisis of masculinity” — practiced as they are in fomenting backlash to trends that unsettle their traditionalist base. That makes this a good time to consider one emblem of manhood that has fascinating implications for gender and politics: the pickup truck.

Nineteen years ago, then-presidential candidate Howard Dean caused some controversy when he said that Democrats needed to appeal to “guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.” While he was accused of stereotyping Southerners as Confederate sympathizers, no one questioned the idea that Democrats had a serious deficit with the pickup demographic.

Since then, a significant divide has opened up between what pickups symbolize and who’s actually buying them — a divide that says a lot about the place of geography and masculinity in a country that grows more urbanized with each passing year.

While some people still buy trucks for work, the pickup has also become a luxury item that carries in its bed a cargo of ideas about rural culture and manhood, enabling men to spend as much as $100,000 on an identity that may have little to do with their actual lives…

Which brings us to how pickups are marketed: by placing power at the core of their appeal.


In the most common type of pickup ad, the truck is presented as a work machine that gives the man who drives it almost limitless power. “A man will ask a lot of his truck,” says the rough-hewn voice of Sam Elliott over scenes of pickups traversing dusty landscapes and job sites in one ad for Ram trucks. “Can it tow that? Haul this? Make it all the way over the top of that? Well isn’t it nice to know that the answer will always be: Hell, yes!” The truck makes you strong and capable, up for any challenge. Does it make you a man? Hell, yes!

That idea of the pickup as a tool for work — especially agricultural work — goes back to its beginnings. The first production pickup truck, the Ford Model TT, debuted in 1917 as a vehicle that would allow farmers who were already using their Model T’s for farm work to haul bigger loads. Its roots in rural American work remain central to its marketing, even if rural people are no longer the target customers. That imagery is meant to evoke a kind of manhood that embodies self-reliance, competence, mastery over the environment and a physicality most men have no need for in their day-to-day lives.

13) OMG do I hate the tipping everywhere now with the electronic payments.  Yes, many retail workers are underpaid.  And, yes, official tipped employees like servers should definitely tip well.  But on the whole, tipping is a dumb way to do things and I hate that technology has led to its proliferation.  

The new tipping culture is confusing at best. I’ve found that some employees feel as uncomfortable about the point-of-sale moment as many consumers do. One barista in Colorado told me that he’d watched a customer contort his fingers on the tablet to make it look like he was tipping 20 percent when he was really selecting “No tip”; far from being offended, the barista said he now deploys the tactic when checking out elsewhere. Other service workers I spoke with suggested that the tablets aren’t the real problem here: If you can afford a $7 latte, they argued, why are you bristling at a $1 tip that would help your server?

And a long-running theory that technology has made people into better tippers may also be more complicated than it appears. A bartender at a Delta SkyClub in Seattle told me that incorporating a personal Venmo QR code into his work has drastically improved his tips. A Park and Ride–shuttle driver told me that digital tipping has hurt him, because people now tend not to carry cash. Square sent me data showing that tips received by both full-service and quick-serve restaurants exploded from 2020 to 2021; growth continued in 2022, but more modestly—full-service was up by more than 25 percent in the third quarter of 2022, and quick-service restaurants were up nearly 17 percent. Despite complaints, people are still tipping well and often.

It’s clear, in any case, that tech has upended tipping, creating a pervasive sense of cultural confusion about parts of the practice. And it’s been exacerbated by societal upheaval from the pandemic, mounting cultural and political frustrations, and broken business models. Employees and consumers are caught in the middle of these larger forces, and the result is a feeling of uncertainty at the moment of transaction.


It’s not that modern tipping is “out of control,” as CNN recently put it—a framework that seems to communicate a lack of compassion for service workers, whose minimum wage is staggeringly low in many states. There have always been vindictive customers, bad tippers, and class conflict, and stories about tablet-induced guilt trips have been popping up for a decade now. The new tipping weirdness is about something bigger. Service employees have been made to work through a pandemic, often without adequate protections. On top of that, they’ve had to deal with patrons behaving much more aggressively since mid-2020. Customer-facing employees are burned out, and consumers are more erratic, which means ample opportunities for resentment. More frequent prompts to tip can dredge up complex feelings of guilt and force us to confront difficult conversations: Why do some service industries have standardized tipping cultures, while others don’t? Why did Black service employees receive less money in tips during the pandemic than other employees? …

Ultimately, these tablets accomplish what so much tech-enabled automation does: adding another layer of abstraction between a business’s decisions and its customers. And when customers feel like they’re being taken advantage of by a business’s choice (say, a sneaky 30 percent tip default), they tend to lash out at the workers in front of them—the people least responsible for the decision. It’s another way that technology, when poorly or cynically implemented, can pit consumers against lower-wage employees.

14) Pretty fascinating thread on aging and appearance:

15) Really seems like public toilets should have lids:

Whatever the specifics, the main conclusion from years of research preceding the pandemic has been consistent and disgusting: “Flush toilets produce substantial quantities of toilet plume aerosol capable of entraining microorganisms at least as large as bacteria … These bioaerosols may remain viable in the air for extended periods and travel with air currents,” scientists at the CDC and the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health wrote in a 2013 review paper titled “Lifting the Lid on Toilet Plume Aerosol.” In other words, when you flush a toilet, an unsettling amount of the contents go up rather than down.

Knowing this is one thing; seeing it is another. Traditionally, scientists have measured toilet plume with either a particle counter or, in at least one case, “a computational model of an idealized toilet.” But in a new study published last month, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder took things a step further, using bright-green lasers to render visible what usually, blessedly, is not. John Crimaldi, an engineering professor and a co-author of the study, who has spent 25 years using lasers to illuminate invisible phenomena, told me that he and his colleagues went into the experiment fully expecting to see something. Even so, they were “completely caught off guard” by the results. The plume was bigger, faster, and more energetic than they’d anticipated—“like an eruption,” Crimaldi said, or, as he and his colleagues put it in their paper, a “strong chaotic jet.” …

The question, then, is not so much whether toilet plume happens—like it or not, it clearly does—as whether it presents a legitimate transmission risk of COVID or anything else. This part is not so clear. The 2013 review paper identified studies of the original SARS virus as “among the most compelling indicators of the potential for toilet plume to cause airborne disease transmission.” (The authors also noted, in a dry aside, that although SARS was “not presently a common disease, it has demonstrated its potential for explosive spread and high mortality.”) The one such study the authors discuss explicitly is a report on the 2003 outbreak in Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens apartment complex. That study, though, is far from conclusive, Mark Sobsey, an environmental microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me. The researchers didn’t rule out other modes of transmission, nor did they attempt to culture live virus from the fecal matter—a far more reliable indicator of infectiousness than mere detection.

16) Frustrating poll results given our political reality

17) Pretty intrigued by this policy for ChatGPT and college classes.



Quick hits (part I)

1) I think my students would tell you I genuinely care about them and want the best for them. But, my god the coddling approach that the Chronicle of Higher Education teaching newsletter is always taking is just so grating:

  • Acknowledge the Bigger Picture. “We were brought up to just walk into the classroom and say, oh, this DNA molecule is so cool, or this new Shakespeare play is so cool,” said Bryan Dewsbury, associate professor of biological sciences and associate director of the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University. But that’s not working for today’s students, who face not only the pandemic but climate change and a host of other serious threats. “We have to stop pretending that the classroom and the campus and the online-course space are just completely disconnected to what’s happening in the wider world — and that people are walking in and just able to shelve all that chaos and just fully be present.”

So, expect less of my students because… climate change?

2) Really interesting interview on how two Supreme Court cases could make some pretty big differences in how social media companies operated. A lot of complicated issues involved.  Also, how had I never heard of this painting?

You said you were sympathetic with the goals, but it seems that the goals might have been just to stop companies from restricting far-right content.

Yes, I do think that’s the goal. But the first time that I saw litigation on claims like this, it came from more traditionally left sources. In Brazil, Facebook took down an image of a native Amazonian woman who was topless. And [the Ministry of Culture said] this was a violation of cultural diversity.


That’s hilarious.

The other one’s even crazier. I don’t know if you know the French “L’Origine du Monde,” which is a Gustave Courbet painting? It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay. Its credentials are impeccable, but it’s also a very closeup depiction of female genitalia. Facebook took it down. And the Frenchman who had posted it was, like, “But this is art. I have a right to post art.”

Both of these state laws require platforms to carry speech that the platforms don’t want to. And both of them imposed transparency obligations somewhat similar to the ones in the Digital Services Act in the E.U. The platforms challenged both of those laws in both aspects, the transparency and the so-called must-carry provisions, on a couple of different legal grounds. But the grounds that the Supreme Court would look at if they took it is whether the platform’s own First Amendment rights to set editorial policy have been violated.

The Florida one says that, if an online speaker counts as a journalistic enterprise, which is defined very broadly and strangely, or if they’re a political candidate or they’re talking about a political candidate, then the platform can’t take down anything they say, with almost no exceptions. There’s a weird obscenity exception. Basically, that means if you’re talking about a political candidate or you are a political candidate, you can share electoral disinformation or covid disinformation or racist biological theories. All kinds of things that I think most people would consider pretty horrific. Platforms would have to leave it up in Florida.

The Texas law is also motivated by a concern about conservative voices being silenced, but it comes at it a little bit differently. It says that platforms can engage in content moderation under their own discretionary terms, but they have to do so in a way that is viewpoint-neutral. And there’s a lot of disagreement and uncertainty about what it means to be viewpoint-neutral. I think, and a lot of people think, that it means that if you take down posts celebrating the Holocaust, you also have to take down posts condemning it. If you leave up posts that are anti-gun violence, you also have to leave up posts that are pro-gun violence.

Sorry, these examples are very dark. But that is what we’re talking about here: horrific things that people say on the Internet, that, effectively, platforms such as Facebook or YouTube would have to leave up under this Texas law, unless they want to take down a whole lot of user speech. They could not let anybody ever talk about racism at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, or not let people talk about abortion at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, etc.

3) Scott Alexander on AI is always interesting.  I was also listening to a podcast on ChatGPT today and what was really key was that the language model was trained by feedback from real humans.

So far, so boring. What really helped this sink in was reading Nostalgebraist say that ChatGPT was a GPT instance simulating a character called the Helpful, Harmless, and Honest Assistant.

The masked shoggoth on the right is titled “GPT + RLHF”. RLHF is Reinforcement Learning From Human Feedback, a method where human raters “reward” the AI for good answers and “punish” it for bad ones. Eventually the AI learns to do “good” things more often. In training ChatGPT, human raters were asked to reward it for being something like “Helpful, Harmless, and Honest” (many papers use this as an example goal; OpenAI must have done something similar but I don’t know if they did that exactly).

4) The Durham investigation is a complete embarrassment. Nice summary from Drum:

Today’s big New York Times piece about the Durham investigation is chock full of goodies about how Donald Trump and his lackeys desperately tried to prove that the FBI had illegally opened an investigation of Trump for no good reason. Attorney General Bill Barr and his special counsel, John Durham, were obsessed about this and became increasingly agitated as their investigation continued and they were unable to find anything that backed up their suspicions. They never did. We know now that, in fact, Trump’s presidential campaign did have links to the Russian government. The FBI did have a perfectly sensible reason to open an investigation into this. Vladimir Putin did try to interfere with the election in Trump’s favor. And several members of Durham’s team did quit because of disagreements with him over prosecutorial ethics.

There’s no single smoking gun in the story, just a long series of incidents that paint a damning picture of Barr’s Justice Department. In one of them, Barr received a tip from Italian intelligence:

[In 2019] the Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

Barr was normally a chatterbox, constantly tossing out tidbits about the investigation that made it seem as if they had the goods on the FBI. This time, however, he kept his mouth shut.

Why? Because the tip from the Italians linked Trump to financial crimes. That was the criminal investigation, but Barr saw no need to correct reporters who thought he was looking into criminal conduct by the FBI.

Nothing came of this investigation, but it’s telling nevertheless. And it’s a warning to everyone to take Durham’s final report with a salt mine’s worth of skepticism when it comes out. Past experience tells us that Durham will do his best to make it look like the FBI was guilty of massive crimes even though he was unable to prove any of them and unable to successfully prosecute even the minor charges he took to court.

Poor John Durham. He made his own bed, but this was partly because he got sucked into the black hole that is Donald Trump. Everyone who associates with Trump comes out of it looking worse than when they went in, and that’s what happened to Durham. In 2019 he was a respected veteran prosecutor. Four years later that reputation is in tatters. Nomen amicitiae sic, quatenus expedit, haeret.

5) Pamela Paul on the chilling effect of the American Dirt controversy:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a prepublication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over; sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis; self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

“It was a witch hunt. Villagers lit their torches,” recalled the novelist and bookseller Ann Patchett, whose Nashville home Cummins stayed in after her publisher told her the tour was over. The two were up all night crying. “The fall that she took, in my kitchen, from being at the top of the world to just being smashed and in danger — it was heartbreaking.”…

But if the proposal for “American Dirt” landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.

“In the past two or three years, there’s a lot of commentary about the publishing industry being increasingly eager to appease potential cancelers, to not get into trouble to begin with, to become fearful and conformist,” says Bernard Schweizer, a professor emeritus of English at Long Island University who is founding a small publishing company, Heresy Press, with his wife, Liang, to take on the kind of riskier work that now gets passed over. According to Schweizer, the publisher will look for work “that lies between the narrow ideological, nonaesthetic interests presently flourishing on both the left and the right” and “won’t blink at alleged acts of cultural appropriation.” As he told me: “The point is not to offend but to publish stories that are unfettered and freewheeling, maybe nonconformist in one way or another. Somebody may be offended or not, but that’s the kind of risk we want to take.”

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media. Elizabeth Ellen, Hobart’s editor and the person who conducted the interview, posted a letter from the editor advocating for an atmosphere “in which fear is not the basis of creation, nor the undercurrent of discussion.”

6) It really is crazy that on an entirely regular basis the local school system simply fails to run the necessary busses to get kids to school.  It’s not even Econ 101 about what to do about the bus driver shortage; it’s Econ 01.  Just pay more or find other ways to make the job more enticing.  But, damnit, you’ve got to get the kids to and from school!

That means parents need to be prepared — sometime on short notice — to become their child’s chauffeur when the school bus is very late or isn’t running at all.

“Any day in the office I could get the message that I need to leave my job to get my child,” said Heather Wilson, a Raleigh parent whose daughter rides the bus to Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary. “It’s definitely very stressful.”

The driver shortage is causing students to miss school, teachers to stay late watching students and bus drivers to feel burned out from the additional routes they’re running.

And the situation could get worse as more drivers retire or switch to other jobs with better hours and higher pay. School bus driver vacancy rates have soared post-pandemic.

7) Big story in the NYT this week about whether schools should tell parents when the kids switch gender identities. I don’t think this is an easy issue with an obviously right answer.  I do think all the trans “allies” who consider the very reporting of this story and a sympathetic hearing of the parents’ views to be so very wrong.  Mona Charen:

Advocates for “gender-affirming care” are vigilant, potent, and feared, trashing anyone who raises questions about rushing into transition as hatemongers who are attempting to “erase” trans people. But their campaign to stifle debate is ebbing. The Atlantic ran a sympathetic account of detransitioners, i.e., patients who’ve regretted sex changes and sought to restore their natal identity. Both of the authors are trans themselves. The New York Times Magazine also ran a piece highlighting competing views within the medical community about how best to handle the explosion of young people saying they think they’re trans, and acknowledging that social contagion may indeed be at work.

The Times also reported on the controversy (yes, there is a controversy) about the use of puberty blocker drugs in children. The Washington Post, noting the pattern of schools withholding information about students’ social transitions from parents, quoted Erica Anderson, a transgender woman and former president of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health, to the effect that failing to notify parents is a form of malpractice: “If there are issues between parents and children, they need to be addressed. It’s not like kicking a can down the road. It only postpones, in my opinion, and aggravates any conflict that may exist.” And New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait chastised enforcers on the left who attempt to cow mainstream journalists on this topic:

The purpose of their rhetorical strategy is to conflate advocates of more cautious treatment of trans children with conservatives who oppose any treatment for trans children. This campaign has met with a great deal of success. Much of the coverage in mainstream and liberal media has followed this template—ignoring or denying the existence of the medical debate, and presenting anti-trans Republican politicians as the only alternative to gender-affirming care. This has been the theme . . . of mainstream organs like Politico and CNN, where coverage of the issue often treats progressive activists as unbiased authorities and dismisses all questions about youth gender treatment as hate-driven denial of the medical consensus.

It’s healthy that the suppression of competing views on this subject is starting to subside, because, as independent journalist Jesse Singal has indefatigably reported, the research on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone treatment, and other aspects of the affirmative treatment model is actually quite weak. Several European nations, including France, Sweden, and Finland, have drastically limited treatment with puberty blockers, and the largest transgender clinic in Great Britain has been closed due to controversy about unprofessional standards.

8) I actually found this NYT feature on mass shooters infuriating, “We Profiled the ‘Signs of Crisis’ in 50 Years of Mass Shootings. This Is What We Found.”  They are deeply disturbed people suffering despair.

This is no coincidence. The killings are not just random acts of violence but rather a symptom of a deeper societal problem: the continued rise of “deaths of despair.”…

We think the concept of “deaths of despair” also helps explain the accelerating frequency of mass shootings in this country.

Every damn country has people like this, though.  Only in America do they have such ready access to guns.  It’s the guns, guns, guns!

9) I’m cranky about a lot this week. Like this guest essay on childhood obesity:

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first comprehensive guidelines for evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. The paper, co-written by 21 prominent doctors, health researchers and obesity experts, advises health care providers that they may refer children as young as 2 years old to “intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment” programs if they have a body mass index in the overweight or obese range. For children ages 12 and up with an obese B.M.I., doctors are encouraged to prescribe weight-loss medications and to offer those over age 13 with severe obesity a referral to a bariatric surgery center.

The paper’s authors see this new guidance as a brave leap forward in the fight against childhood obesity, which they frame as a “complex and often persistent disease” requiring early and aggressive treatment.

But the guidelines are rooted in a premise that should have been rejected long ago: that weight loss is the best path to health and happiness.

The academy’s guidelines are the latest sally in the war on obesity that health care providers, public health officials and the general public have waged to shrink our bodies for over 40 years. The approach hasn’t worked; Americansincluding kids, are not getting thinner.

Instead, we face an epidemic of anti-fat bias, which results in the stigmatization of fat people in schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices and other public spaces. In a study of almost 14,000 people enrolled in behavioral weight management programs across six countries, researchers found that over half of the participants had experienced weight stigma, with more than two-thirds of those encountering it doing so from doctors…

The guidelines acknowledge that experiences of “weight stigma, victimization, teasing and bullying” are major challenges faced by kids in larger bodies that contribute to disordered eating and worse mental health outcomes. Some health care providers, they note, are biased against fat patients in ways that compromise the quality of care and contribute to more severe illness and even death.

Yes, be nice to overweight people!  But, that doesn’t mean childhood obesity isn’t a serious health issue that we should not take diet and behavioral steps to try and reduce!

10) Loved this in Yglesias‘ mailbag about Reuben Gallego taking on Sinema in Arizona:

Gallego is a great type of candidate for Democrats to run in general — very solid working-class background, military veteran, knows how to talk to normal people — and I think specifically in Arizona is well-positioned to hold on to Democrats’ new voters while halting or partially reversing some Republican gains with Latinos. You can’t tell all that much from his electoral track record because he’s been running in very safe blue House seats, but he did run two to three points ahead of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020 respectively, which is what you want to see. Some House members use safe seats like that to be bomb throwers and cast prudence to the wind. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do (members of the Squad run on average 6+ points worse than a generic Democrat, but none of them are at risk of losing their seats), but Gallego doesn’t do that. He’s personable, he champions mainstream Democratic positions on economic issues, and he tries to represent his constituents. He’s also got good judgment, and his team features Rebecca Katz, late of the John Fetterman campaign, and Chuck Rocha, who was Bernie’s Hispanic outreach strategist in the 2020 cycle.

People get touchy about how exactly you characterize the Fetterman campaign, but I’d say it was a good example of how to run a race that progressive factionalists are happy with while avoiding progressive pitfalls and embracing banal popular messages.

But there are sort of three interrelated challenges facing Gallego:

  1. He needs to establish himself as quickly as possible as the immovable force in the race — the Democratic Party nominee who is either going to win the race and finish in first place, or else a Republican will win and Gallego will be in second. Sinema is a spoiler, don’t waste your vote on Sinema.

  2. He needs to define the campaign as having some texture to it other than “he’s more left-wing than Sinema.” I think that probably means trying to find at least one topic to be in some sense to her right on, even as he can clearly position himself as a champion of mainstream Democratic positions on taxing private equity managers and prescription drug pricing against her plutocrat politics. He’s got the progressive base locked down, but he needs to be more than a factional candidate.

  3. He needs to manage his elite politics — his relationship with Katie Hobbs and Mark Kelly and Chuck Schumer and the White House and the national press — to clarify that he, Gallego, the guy with the D next to his name, is standing up for mainstream Democratic Party positions, not for left-factionalist positions. The stuff Sinema killed from the reconciliation package was Biden/Wyden ideas on taxation and prescription drugs that Joe Manchin supports.

The upshot of all this is that as unrealistic as it sounds, I think a dream goal for a Gallego campaign would be to do something collaborative with Manchin on taxes, pharma pricing, and deficit reduction where they talk about how working-class people have a lot in common whether they’re rural whites in West Virginia or Latinos in southern Phoenix, and the Democrats need to be something more than a party for educated snobs.

We’ll see what happens. But I thought the launch ad was pretty great. My only criticism is that I think they are going to want to drop the framing that he is “challenging Kyrsten Sinema” for the seat. She has vacated the Democratic Party nomination and he is running to (a) get the Democratic Party nomination and (b) defeat the GOP nominee. Sinema is unpopular, electorally doomed, and should just bow out from running and go be a part-time lobbyist, part-time triathlete. If she wants to insist on running an obviously doomed spoiler campaign, that’s on her, but Gallego wants to rally the Kelly/Biden/Hobbs coalition of Democrats, independents, and McCain Republicans against the MAGA forces who’ve taken over the Arizona GOP.

11) I love German Lopez’s take on the classified documents– especially since it’s basically what I told my class earlier this week.  A cost/benefit lens and bureaucratic risk aversion explain so much:

Why does this keep happening? One possible reason, experts say, is that too many documents are classified in the first place. The federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of all of them. Some get lost and found years later — and many more are likely still out there…

Playing it safe

The government classifies all kinds of information, including informants’ identities, war plans and diplomatic cables. There are three broad categories of classification: confidential, secret and top secret. Technically, the president decides what is classified. But the job is delegated to cabinet and agency heads, who further delegate, through agency guidelines, to lower-ranked officials.

That system effectively encourages federal officials to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to classification. The classification of a document reduces the risk that important secret information leaks and leads to trouble, particularly when it concerns national security. But if a document is not classified and is obtained by America’s enemies or competitors, the people who originally handled that information could lose their jobs, or worse.

In many agencies, officials “face no downsides for over-classifying something,” said Oona Hathaway, a professor at Yale Law School and former special counsel at the Pentagon. “But if you under-classify something, really dire consequences could come for you.”

So officials tend to play it safe. Of the more than 50 million documents classified every year, just 5 to 10 percent warrant the classification, Hathaway estimated, based on her experience at the Pentagon.

One example of the extremes of classification: In a cable leaked by Chelsea Manning, an official marked details of wedding rituals in the Russian region of Dagestan as “confidential” — as if most such details were not already well known in a region of more than three million people.

Presidents have criticized the classification system, too. “There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” Barack Obama said in 2016. “There’s stuff that is really top-secret top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”

In 2010, Obama signed the Reducing Over-Classification Act. It didn’t solve the problem, experts said.

The downsides

So what’s the harm? Experts say there are several potential dangers to over-classification.

For one, it keeps potentially relevant information from the public, making it harder for voters and journalists to hold their leaders accountable. One example: Starting in the 2000s, the U.S. ran a highly classified drone program to identify, locate and hunt down suspected terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. The program’s existence was well known, and the destruction it caused was widely reported. Yet elected officials, including members of Congress briefed on the program, could answer few questions from constituents or reporters about it because the details were classified.

Over-classification can also make it difficult for agencies to share information with others, whether they are other U.S. agencies or foreign partners. “There are national security concerns — in terms of information not getting shared that should be,” said Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

And, of course, the recent discoveries show how hard it can be to track all of these classified documents. “We’ve just overloaded the system,” Goitein said. “And that makes slippage inevitable.”

12) You know where I stand on Alec Baldwin’s guilt, but here’s the other side, “Why Alec Baldwin Could Be Found Guilty.”  Not to be belabor, but I just feel like a gun on a movie set is in important ways, fundamentally different from a gun in the rest of the world in ways that affect what would be considered “negligence.”

13) Sorry, but this is wokeness amok, “Stanford student may need to ‘take accountability,’ ‘acknowledge harm’ for reading Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’”

14) Good public post from Yglesias on the debt ceiling, “Republicans can’t even explain what they’re trying to do with the debt ceiling”

15) I ultimately found this New Yorker article not all that enlightening, “Republicans’ sustained and successful courting of Latino voters in South Florida could be a road map for the G.O.P. in 2024.”  And it raises the question of why it is so easy to convince South American immigrants that Democrats are basically socialists/communists when this is not remotely true. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Cathy Young, “Ron DeSantis, Chris Rufo, and the College Anti-Woke Makeover”

DeSantis’s move has been met with alarm by progressive media and by many New College students who see the school as a haven for social justice-friendly values. But harsh rebukes have also come from some people who are themselves strongly critical of the progressive academy and its illiberal bent—such as New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, who has been writing about “social justice” zealotry and its baneful effects on public discourse for the past eight years (and has taken his share of lumps for it). Indeed, in his column slamming DeSantis’s power grab, Chait wrote:

It is important to understand that there is a critique of the academic left rooted in free-speech norms that posits that many schools have had an atmosphere of ideological pressure that discourages or punishes professors who violate left-wing taboos. This is not the belief system animating DeSantis’s academic mission. He is not seeking to protect or restore free speech, but to impose controls of his own liking.

The DeSantis brand of “anti-wokeism” is classic right-wing illiberalism. (Chait rightly compares it to the conservative institutional takeover in Hungary under the stewardship of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who proudly embraces the “illiberal” label—and who was cited as a model by a DeSantis spokesperson at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami last September.) But that brand is also bad news for those of us who oppose left-wing illiberalism from a liberal, libertarian, or classical conservative perspective favoring the values of free expression, individual rights, and intellectual openness.

2) Advice I will never take (I don’t think they are talking about 10am). “How to Become a Morning Exercise Person”

3) I think Voter ID laws motivated by making it disproportionately harder for minorities to vote are bad on their face.  I think lying to the public about the amount of voter fraud to push these laws is wrong.  That said, they really just don’t have much impact on turnout.  Nate Cohn:

Effects of voter suppression

Many readers asked about another topic I didn’t mention in my post-election analyses: voter suppression.

Did voter suppression or even the threat thereof affect Black and Hispanic turnout? Thank you for your interesting newsletters! — Claire Hess

It’s worth noting that this is a reply to a newsletter entry from early December, when I noted that Black turnout appeared to drop markedly across the country. Indeed, Black turnout really did seem to decline everywhere, regardless of whether states imposed new voter suppression laws or even expanded voter access.

To take the three states where we have the best data — North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia — Black turnout dropped off the most in North Carolina and Louisiana, where Democratic governors blocked efforts to restrict access. And turnout stayed strongest in Georgia, the epicenter of the fight over voting rights.

This pattern doesn’t prove that new voter laws had zero effect in Georgia or elsewhere — and this analysis is separate from the ethics of the intent of the laws — but the broad decline in Black turnout across the country suggests that other factors were mainly responsible. It also implies that the effect of the new laws was small enough that it’s hard to tease out from the other factors that affect turnout from state to state.

As I wrote two years ago about the new Georgia law, “In the final account, it will probably be hard to say whether it had any effect on turnout at all.” This is by no means the final account, but that remains my best guess.

4) Jamelle Bouie on he debt ceiling– he’s right:

One proposed solution to all this is to use accounting tricks and other games to get around the debt limit and render it immaterial. But I think the better option is to take the offensive and confront the issue head-on. Biden should make the case that the debt limit, because of the threat it poses to the validity of the nation’s debt, is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

By this reasoning, Congress has no right to prevent the White House from faithfully executing the law and borrowing money in accordance with its own instructions. If and when the Treasury exhausts its extraordinary measures, it should simply keep issuing debt, in order for the federal government to do what it is obligated to do under the Constitution.

This is not the best of a set of bad options; I’d say it is the best option, period. President Biden, like all other constitutional officers, is duty bound to interpret and faithfully adhere to the Constitution. And here, on the question of whether he is permitted to place “substantial doubt” on the status of the national debt, much less to let the nation go into default, the Constitution is clear — or at least clear enough for the president to take a stand.

5) From a classified documents expert, “Yes, Trump and Biden Both Broke the Rules. Here’s Why It’s Not the Same.”

But a closer, fuller examination of both the presidency and historical prosecutions for mishandling classified records actually makes the opposite case: Mr. Biden’s mishandling of a limited number of classified files, which upon discovery were promptly turned over to the National Archives and proper authorities, should make the reasoning, and necessity, of prosecuting Mr. Trump all the more clear.

Mr. Biden’s handling of the issue — especially given the more detailed timeline recently released by his team — shows how an official who finds misfiled or improperly stored classified files should react. Mr. Biden’s behavior stands in sharp contrast to that of Mr. Trump, who spent months fighting with the National Archives over the files and repeatedly assured the Justice Department that he had turned over all files, even when he was still — apparently knowingly — holding onto scores of classified files. He failed to comply with a legal subpoena, and only then did the F.B.I. move to search his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Mr. Biden’s scandal so far feels more like an administrative error; there’s no evidence he even knew the documents were misplaced or in his possession, and when discovered they were promptly and properly returned to authorities. The government didn’t know they were missing (which itself is a bit of a mystery, since classified documents are usually tightly controlled, which is how the National Archives knew Mr. Trump had missing documents in the first place), and Mr. Biden didn’t try to hold onto them in the face of a legal process ordering otherwise…

In a tweet, the former Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander compared Mr. Biden to a shopper who “realized he mistakenly failed to pay for an item in his cart” when he left a store and an alarm went off. Mr. Biden, the analogy goes, went back in and returned the items. By contrast, Mr. Trump apparently stuffed items in his pockets, and when the store alarm sounded “he ran to his car and peeled out.”

You could add to the Trump part of the analogy that he led the police on a low-speed pursuit, and then insisted the stolen items were his all along.

6) Great stuff from Brian Beutler on the debt ceiling:

This gets at my Grand Unified Theory of the politics of Republican debt-limit sabotage. Having learned the hard way in 2011 that the worst approach is to negotiate terms of surrender, Democrats reasoned that the optimal approach is to beat Republicans at their own game. To bait them into offering up a list of politically toxic demands, then using it to turn the public against them. That approach is obviously better than simply caving, but it still sets the political system on a path to vitriol and chaos and economic harm as the drop-dead date to raise the debt limit approaches, and leaves us dangerously vulnerable to a Republican-imposed default. Even if they cave before doing the greatest possible damage, there’ll be more economic misery than there needs to be, and everyone will be less popular than they otherwise would’ve been, including Joe Biden. Liberal commentators often marvel that Republican leaders seem totally indifferent to the concerns of their frontline members when they deploy these kamikaze tactics. But it isn’t irrational at all—just sociopathic. They operate on the theory that hurting the incumbent president by creating national distress helps their frontline members more than any specific antics harm them. And the record, from 2009-2022 suggests it’s at least a wash.

The truly optimal approach, then, is to beat Republicans in the battle of aggression. After Donald Trump became president, and needed Democratic help to raise the debt limit, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on permanently neutralizing the debt limit itself. No more jerking us around when we control the presidency. When Trump wrecked the economy in 2020, and needed Democratic help to pass various rescue bills, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on, among other things, permanently neutralizing the debt limit. When Democrats were rounding out their legislative agenda in 2022, and then lost the House in November, I argued that they should permanently neutralize the debt limit on a partisan basis. Each time, Democrats balked. They also bypassed their best political option. They left the country vulnerable to today’s predictable Republican depredations, because they viewed using power in this way as a liability. Something that would expose them to political attacks and campaign ads they didn’t want to face, rather than an opportunity to defeat a gang of bullies before god and everyone, and brag about having stood between the sinister and the meek…

The good news is that Democratic leaders (if not all the rank and file members of the party) have the correct bottom-line. No negotiations. That’s the one strategic element they can not sacrifice. Isolate Republicans, let them do most of the work of making it clear to everyone they they’re courting default because their demands are not being met. I like what Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the Daily Beast“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing. You don’t get a cookie. You don’t get to be treated like you’re the second coming of LBJ. You’re just a person doing the bare minimum of not intentionally screwing over your constituents for insane reasons.”…

Beyond that, I’d add two important ingredients. First, since the Biden administration has disclaimed unilateral measures, Democrats may as well accept (both publicly and in their private contemplations) that Republicans really might do something evil and irreversible out of spite, and no one can really force them to be better people. It’s in their hands alone now and the best hope for the country is that their consciences and political survival instincts kick in before it’s too late. 

Second, since Republicans are threatening to do something evil out of spite, the best way to make that clear to a bewildered public is with real, justified outrage and contempt. I don’t know whether Democrats are outraged or not, but if they are, it isn’t coming through, and I think that’s because being indignant isn’t totally compatible with trying to lure Republicans into a trap…

7) Persuasion, “The Green Technology That Dare Not Speak Its Name”  You know what it is, of course. Nuclear.

It’s the biggest, strangest, most unnecessary environmental disaster of the 21st century: a source of hundreds of millions of tons of new carbon emissions that aren’t just needless but purely senseless, at a time when we’re meant to be going all out to combat climate change.

I’m not talking about fossil fuel subsidies or plutocrats’ private plane fleets, or any other of the climate bugbears you already know about and hate. No, I’m talking about an environmental disaster perpetrated largely by environmentalists in the name of the environment.

Yes, I’m talking about the mass, premature shutdown of nuclear power plants.

As scientists and policy analysts know perfectly well, nuclear power—and I’m talking about old-style nuclear fission power—is in some ways the perfect solution to the climate crisis: extremely safe and reliable, it’s the only way humanity knows to produce large quantities of energy without heating up the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants tick over reliably in fair weather and foul, at night time as well as day, providing a stable base for any electric grid.

And we’re turning them off. In great numbers. All around the developed world. For no good reason. 

8) This was good, “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach”

Across the country, university professors like Mr. Aumann, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones…

The moves are part of a real-time grappling with a new technological wave known as generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT, which was released in November by the artificial intelligence lab OpenAI, is at the forefront of the shift. The chatbot generates eerily articulate and nuanced text in response to short prompts, with people using it to write love letters, poetry, fan fiction — and their schoolwork.

That has upended some middle and high schools, with teachers and administrators trying to discern whether students are using the chatbot to do their schoolwork. Some public school systems, including in New York City and Seattle, have since banned the tool on school Wi-Fi networks and devices to prevent cheating, though students can easily find workarounds to access ChatGPT.

In higher education, colleges and universities have been reluctant to ban the A.I. tool because administrators doubt the move would be effective and they don’t want to infringe on academic freedom. That means the way people teach is changing instead.

For now, I’ve only added the following line to my syllabi, “Academic Integrity also includes not representing work from AI as your own.”  You can follow the links to them and judge for yourself whether my assignments are sufficiently GPT-resistant.

9) You probably already know the social science answer as to the key to a good life… good relationships.  So, how to have them?  Good stuff in the Atlantic.

Thinking about these numbers can help us put our own relationships in perspective. Try figuring out how much time you spend with a good friend or family member. We don’t have to spend every hour with our friends, and some relationships work because they’re exercised sparingly. But nearly all of us have people in our lives whom we’d like to see more. Are you spending time with the people you most care about? Is there a relationship in your life that would benefit both of you if you could spend more time together? Many of these are untapped resources, waiting for us to put them to use. And, enriching these relationships can in turn nourish our minds and bodies…

In this sense, having healthy, fulfilling relationships is its own kind of fitness—social fitness—and like physical fitness, it takes work to maintain. Unlike stepping on the scale, taking a quick look in the mirror, or getting readouts for blood pressure and cholesterol, assessing our social fitness requires a bit more sustained self-reflection. It requires stepping back from the crush of modern life, taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive. Finding the time for this type of reflection can be hard, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But it can yield enormous benefits.

10) I think it’s ridiculous that Alex Baldwin is being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter.  Yes, you should check a gun before you fire it, but an actor on a movie set has no reason whatsoever to think the gun they are firing would ever be loaded with real bullets!  That has to matter.  All the comments I’ve been seeing on standard gun safety apply to situations where you have reason to believe there might possibly be actual bullets in it.  Why would there be on a movie set?

11) Interesting discussion on obesity and the amazing new generation of weight-loss drugs.  I really do think obesity is essentially a disease for many people.  But, for many others it really can be controlled by better diet and exercise and thus it should not always be considered a disease.  But, yeah, it does affect your brain, hormones, and metabolism in dysfunctional ways for many.  Honestly, it really does seem like the key is to never become obese in the first place, if at all possible. 

So I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain. And the reason why I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain is because the brain regulates how the body stores fat. The brain is the central operating system.

If the brain’s not there, the rest of the body doesn’t work. So let’s explain what happens. There are two primary pathways by which the brain will regulate weight. There is the pathway that tells us to eat less and store less, what we call the POMC or proopiomelanocortin pathway, or AGRP pathway, which is the agouti-related peptide pathway, which tells us to eat more and store more.

And we don’t choose. And this is where the willpower issue goes away. My organs, my genetics, my environment, all of these things can play a role in whether I signal down the more desirable pathway or less desirable pathway. And so this comes the complexity of this disease that is obesity. Why do certain people signal one way and other people signal another way?

Lulu Garcia-Navarro

Well, help me understand this. Our genetics haven’t completely changed in the past 40 years. Yet, we’ve seen this huge increase in the number of people living with obesity. So what’s changed? I mean, are there environmental factors at play?

Fatima Cody Stanford

Absolutely. So we’ve placed our bodies inside of what we call this obesogenic environment. And this gets into those environmental factors and how they play a role.

How has diet quality changed? How has our sleep quality changed? Our screen time, how does that disrupt or affect our circadian rhythm? We’re supposed to rise when it’s bright outside and go to sleep when it’s dark outside.

But I can tell you that most of us don’t follow that as our inherent rhythm. So when we deviate from all of these things, put ourselves in this world that our bodies weren’t really created to be in, it’s going to lead to a greater storage of adipose or fat. It’s stress on the body. And when we have stress, stress increases storage of an organ that has typically helped us out. And that organ is adipose or fat.

12) Love this from Derek Thompson, “Stop Trying to Ask ‘Smart Questions’”

But for most of my professional life, I labored under a powerful delusion. I thought that asking Smart Questions was of the utmost importance.

A Smart Question is a query designed to advertise the wisdom of the asker. The point may be to establish that the interviewer and interviewee are on equal intellectual footing. Sometimes, the question is designed to get the source to begin the answer with a brief compliment: “That’s a smart question!” or, on a good day, “That’s a really smart question!”

I used to think these kudos were a sign that my investigation was on the right track. I didn’t want to embarrass myself on the phone with a government official or an academic. And a part of me just wanted the conversations to go as pleasantly as possible.

But after many years of subscribing to the theory of Smart Questions, I’ve decided that I’ve been mostly wrong. Smart Questions are, typically, kind of dumb. And, just as typical, questions that might initially seem dumb or underinformed, or downright unintelligent, are the smartest way to learn stuff if you’re a journalist, an academic, or anybody else…

Readers seemed to like the Big Dumb Question stories because the articles used the day’s news to investigate a deeper truth about the world. Personally, I liked them because they changed the way I thought about asking questions. Reporting out these BDQs required my writers and me to ask a lot of, well, BDQs. Really revelatory and surprising answers can come from extremely basic questions such as:

  • “Can you just explain this to me like I barely know anything about this subject?”
  • “What, if anything, is actually interesting or new about this story?”
  • “Let’s say everything you say is going to happen really does happen. Then what happens?”

And perhaps most important of all:

  • “Is there some angle here that I’m not even seeing?”

None of these questions assume any knowledge. None of them reveal much intelligence. It’s their openness that I’ve found to be useful. 

13) Jeremy Faust, “”Future Covid-19 booster vaccinations should be 100% Omicron.”

14) A few days ago I had the random thought, “why haven’t we cured any genetic diseases with CRISPR yet?”  Next day, I see we actually do have a Crispr-based cure for Sickle Cell Disease.  But, it’s complicated. 

This year, Dr. Jackson and other people with sickle cell may have the option of finally living without the damage the disease causes. Two drug companies are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for gene therapies that may provide what amounts to a cure. But the decision to take the medication — should it become available — it turns out, is not so simple.

After a life adapted to their illness, some like Dr. Jackson are unsure of how to begin again as healthy people. Do they go back to school after dropping out because of their illness? Do they start looking for jobs after thinking that, with frequent hospitalizations because of sickle cell, they were unemployable? What if this new life is not so easy to enter?

Others fear that the logistical complexities of gene therapies may imperil their ability to access them.

These and other dilemmas illustrate an often hidden aspect of medical advances — a long awaited cure can be accompanied by trepidation.

15) Good stuff in the Atlantic.  Since it actually written by trans people, all the trans-radicals cannot just dismiss this out of hand, “Take Detransitioners Seriously: Some people reverse their gender transition. Understanding their experience is crucial.”

Both of us are trans academics. One of us studies the history of trans activism; the other recently studied detransitioners’ experiences in depth. We strongly oppose efforts, in state legislatures and elsewhere, to target trans children and their families and pass laws restricting treatment options for gender dysphoria, a condition that the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual defines as impairment or distress over an incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their gender assigned at birth. But trans-rights advocates and mainstream-media outlets should stop downplaying the reality of detransition, lest readers and viewers conclude that it’s a negligible issue. It’s not…

To many in the trans and nonbinary community, detransition stories—especially those that involve regret—seem to jeopardize half a century of hard-won gains for civil rights and access to health services. Detransition has become a political cudgel to challenge any and all gender care for young people. This may be one reason right-wing outlets have prominently featured Beck, who has urged trans youth to “slow down” in order to avoid his own fate. Never mind that Beck explicitly states that he is not against trans people or gender-related medical care.

Unfortunately, some people who discuss their detransition on social media are met with suspicion, blame, mockery, harassment, or even threats from within the LGBTQ communities in which they previously found refuge. Some trans-rights advocates have likened detransitioners to the ex-gay movement or described them as anti-trans grifters. In fact, many detransitioners continue to live gender-nonconforming and queer lives. No one benefits from the anger and suspicion that gender-care issues currently inspire. Detransitioners who face social rejection, coupled with shame and isolation, may come to view anti-trans activists as their only allies—even when those activists portray them negatively, as damaged goods rather than as human beings who have survived medical trauma. Meanwhile, clinicians who receive threats of violence for assisting trans youth are vulnerable to developing myopic positions and overly optimistic clinical practices that ignore detransitioners’ accounts…

The LGBTQ community today must still contend with attacks on gender and sexual diversity—but is also at a moment of unprecedented cultural, institutional, and political strength. Those of us who believe in LGBTQ-inclusive health care and bodily autonomy must recognize that some of our hard-earned wins may have introduced new uncertainties. Upholding the dignity and diversity of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming populations should not be at odds with a data-informed medical approach that seeks to maximize positive outcomes for all. Gender-affirming care must be available to those who need it. But our community must also advocate for the research to help transitioning patients thrive in the long run—regardless of their individual outcome.

16) For example, Jesse Singal is reviled and constantly defamed by trans activists for regularly writing about detransitioners and the complexities of the issue overall.  Not surprisingly, a bunch of the woke went crazy over this piece in the NYT, but, he’s got the research to back him up, “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?”

D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.”

Dr. Paluck’s team found just two large experimental studies in the previous decade that attempted to evaluate the effects of diversity trainings and met basic quality benchmarks. Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” (To be fair, not all of these critiques apply as sharply to voluntary diversity trainings.)

17) This was disturbing reading.  Lot of dog murder going on in Italy! “Hunting for Truffles Is a Perilous Pursuit, Especially for the Dogs Who Dig: Truffles are big business, and some are trying to take out the competition by poisoning the dogs that accompany those known as “truffle hunters.””

18) Fascinating thread from a gender scholar on sex differences in how we use humor:

19) HEPA filters are great to reduce our exposure to airborne viruses. They can also be a real problem in classroom environments because they are loud.  Here’s the solution:

20) Somehow I had never watched the movie “The Sting” and I saw a little twitter conversation about it this week and decided that it’s time.  It’s on Netflix and if you like Redford, Newman, and a good caper movie, it’s a must watch.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Honestly surprised I haven’t read more about Metformin and Covid.  This was from around Christmas:

There are no proven therapies that prevent or treat Long COVID. Christmas Eve, however, brought the world a promising gift. On December 24, follow-up results from the COVID-OUT trial were released, which offer the tantalizing possibility that a well-known diabetes drug could prevent the development Long COVID.

The COVID-OUT study was a randomized placebo-controlled trial that tested whether existing therapies could be repurposed as an early treatment for COVID. Three drugs were tested: metformin (a diabetes drug), ivermectin (an anti-parasitic I have previously written about), and fluvoxamine (an anti-depressant). The study enrolled overweight subjects age 30-85, with a median age of 45. The primary goal of the study was to see if any of these drugs could prevent the development of severe COVID when taken early in the course of infection. Previously published results have shown that not to be the case for any of them, although metformin might have benefit in preventing the worst outcomes.

A secondary outcome of the trial was whether patients received a formal diagnosis of Long COVID. Participants were followed for up to 10 months after their infection and asked whether their doctor had given them such a diagnosis. This endpoint was added after the start of the trial but pre-specified before results were available.

Participants who received two weeks of metformin at the start of their infection were about half as likely to later receive a diagnosis of Long COVID, compared to those who had received a placebo. The confidence interval spanned a 12% to 62% reduction in risk. Neither ivermectin nor fluvoxamine offered a benefit.

2) This was good from Yglesias, “The most important 2016 “misinformation” came from the regular news media”

Recently published research by Gregory Eady, Tom Paskhalis, Jan Zilinsky, Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua Tucker looked at the influence of Russian social media disinformation operations on the 2016 race and concluded that the impact was minimal, or potentially non-existent. It’s a good paper.

In terms of the discourse, I don’t think anyone credible is still seriously arguing that the pro-Trump Russian meme accounts were a decisive factor in the election, though the relevance of those accounts is sometimes downplayed by those on the right who want to blind themselves to the Russian government’s role in the election. But I think this is a good opportunity to step back and look at the explosion of interest in “misinformation” in the wake of the 2016 election specifically because I think an enormous share of this interest is a kind of displaced guilt.

After all, it wasn’t the GRU that made The New York Times run this front page on the weekend before Election Day.

Reasonable people can, to an extent, disagree about the appropriateness of the coverage of the Clinton email story in The New York Times and on network broadcast news during the 2016 campaign. But what I don’t think can be seriously doubted is that this coverage was:

  • High-profile and seen by more people than any information operation

  • Not “fake news” in the original sense of being willfully made up

  • Damaging to Clinton’s election prospects

But the fact remains that if you want to place blame for Trump’s narrow victory over Clinton on someone or something in the information environment, it’s not the Russians or Facebook or “misinformation” you should be looking to — it’s the most influential mainstream news outlets in America.

2016 campaign coverage was dominated by emails


That one splash from the Times has become emblematic of the obsessive coverage of the Clinton emails story, but the issue was much broader than that. The mainstream American press treated the 2016 campaign as one in which the most important issue was whether or not Hillary Clinton had accidentally mishandled classified information as a result of breaking State Department policy to use her own email server for work.

Consider broadcast television news. The Tyndall Report concluded that there were roughly 32 minutes of coverage of the candidates’ policy positions on network news during the 2016 cycle in contrast to 100 minutes on the emails story. David Rothschild and Duncan Watts looked at the Times’ front page and found, similarly, that “in just six days, the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”

I would also note that beyond the emails, there was an inordinately negative inflection to the coverage of Clinton.

The 2016 cycle, for example, saw a lot of scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation and its activities. I am, as I hope people know at this point, pretty interested in the subject of philanthropy. So I’d wondered for years whether the Clinton Foundation was any good. My suspicion was always that a closer look would show that the “real scandal” of the Clinton Foundation was that it spent tons of money on programs that sound nice but don’t do any good. But Dylan Matthews, who had similar suspicions, looked at it, and it turned out that the Clinton Foundation was pretty good! …

Another thing you could say about the coverage (but that I never hear) is that the coverage was really good and that the heavy coverage of the email scandal helped people really understand the stakes in the election. You might think that whatever impact Trump’s presidency had on taxes or abortion rights or whatever else, voters who were concerned about scrupulous adherence to federal document retention and IT policies got their chance to elect a champion.

Except of course that’s absurd. And that’s what I think is so fundamentally damning about the 2016 coverage — not that I necessarily “blame” it for anything, but that it was simply a media failure on its own terms. We’re all of us responsible for our decisions about what to cover, and the decisions made painted a misleading portrait of the race in a way that helped Trump win.

3) I’m so frustrated with America’s self-defeating immigration policy.  Planet Money:

Sergey Brin, co-founder Google; Satya Nadella, head of Microsoft; Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood actress who, quite incredibly, was also a pioneering inventor behind Wi-Fi and bluetooth; Elon Musk; Chien-Shiung Wu, who helped America build the first atom bomb; Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone; James Naismith, the inventor of basketball; Nikola Tesla, one of the most important minds behind the creation of electricity and radio. 

What do all these innovators have in common? They were all immigrants to the United States. 

Many studies over the years have suggested that immigrants are vital to our nation’s technological and economic progress. Today, around a quarter of all workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are immigrants.

But while there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that immigrants play an important role in American innovation, a group of economists — Shai Bernstein, Rebecca Diamond, Abhisit Jiranaphawiboon, Timothy McQuade, and Beatriz Pousada — wanted to find a more precise estimate of how much immigrants contribute.

In a fascinating new working paper, the economists link patent records to more than 230 million Social Security numbers. With this incredible dataset, they are able to suss out who among patent-holders are immigrants (by cross-referencing their year of birth and the year they were assigned their Social Security number). 

The economists find that, between 1990 and 2016, 16 percent of all US inventors were immigrants. More than that, they find that the “average immigrant is substantially more productive than the average US-born inventor.” Immigrant inventors produced almost a quarter of all patents during this period. These patents were disproportionately likely to be cited (a sign that they were valuable to their fields) and seem to have more financial value than the typical native-born patent. The economists also find evidence suggesting that immigrant inventors help native-born inventors become more productive. All in all, the economists estimate that immigrants are responsible for roughly 36% of innovation in America. 

As for why immigrant inventors tend to be so productive and innovative, the economists entertain various explanations. Immigrant innovators may be motivated to come — and are able to come — to the United States because there’s something special about their character, intelligence, or motivation. Or maybe it’s because they live, work, and think differently when they come here. The economists find these immigrants tend to move to the most productive areas of the country. They tend to have a greater number of collaborators when they work here. And, as the economists write, they also “appear to facilitate the importation of foreign knowledge into the United States, with immigrant inventors relying more heavily on foreign technologies and collaborating more with foreign inventors.” 

Immigrants, they suggest, help create a melting pot of knowledge and ideas, which has clear benefits when it comes to innovation.

4) Sooo much this, from Eric Levitz, “Conservatives Clarify That They’re Pro-Boss, Not Pro-Market”

Progressives have long held that the right’s economic theories are just elaborate rationalizations for funneling money to the elite. The argument goes like this: In any capitalist society, business owners and senior managers will inevitably have economic interests that run contrary to those of ordinary workers. The less firms have to spend on wages for common laborers, the more they can increase compensation for executives and dividends for investors. Similarly, the less income governments progressively redistribute, the higher the wealthy’s posttax earnings.

Economic elites therefore have a strong incentive to fund political movements that minimize the bargaining power of workers and the fiscal ambitions of governments. And given their outsize share of national income, the rich also have copious financial means to bankroll such political activities.

In a democracy, however, it is untenable for a political movement committed to benefiting the few at the expense of the many to identify as such. Rather, such a movement would need to manufacture theories for why policies that appear to serve the interests of a tiny elite actually serve those of society as a whole.

But these ideas would all just be means to an end. The movement’s ultimate commitment wouldn’t be to maximizing innovation, open competition, or economic liberty but rather to advancing the invidious interests of elite business owners and bosses. Were the movement ever forced to choose between upholding free-market ideals and safeguarding class domination, it would abruptly dispense with the former. The inequality would be the point.

As an account of American conservatism, I think this narrative is a tad unfair (there are some genuine insights in right-wing economic theory and some libertarian intellectuals who genuinely oppose elite rent seeking). But in the wake of the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed ban on noncompete agreements, conservatives have been making a compelling case for the vulgar Marxist point of view.

5) You know I can’t wait for more synthetic meat.  Interesting take from Virginia Postrel in her substack, after writing a WSJ piece:

The reaction to my WSJ article on cultivated meat has been fascinating and disturbing. Some people in the business have lectured me not to use the terms synthetic, as in “synthetic biology,” or lab-grown, lest I scare off customers. (Technically, meat is only lab-grown in the research stage, since scaling up requires something more like a brewery.) They are, in other words, squeamish about acknowledging the artifice involved in their own products—exactly what interests me!

Then there’s the knee-jerk right-wing reaction, represented by the comments on the WSJ site. When the WSJ accepted my article but said they wanted me to write the shopping feature first, I considered sending the synbio essay to another paper. But rereading the piece, which I’d written with the WSJ in mind, I decided it it was implicitly tilted right and would need revising to get into a left-of-center outlet. Since I didn’t have much time for revisions, I left the piece at the Journal.

The core of the article consists of these paragraphs:

A century ago, “a chicken in every pot” was an ambitious political slogan. It has long since become an everyday reality. Americans will consume nearly 100 pounds of chicken per capita this year, according to the National Chicken Council, up from around 67 pounds in 1992, when chicken first surpassed beef.

Behind chicken abundance is the efficient production that critics call factory farming. Bred for maximum meat in minimum time, confined to crowded sheds, and subjected to assembly line slaughter and disassembly, chickens destined for mass consumption endure short, unhappy lives. Cheap chicken also exacts a human toll. Although automation is improving conditions, chicken processing may be the country’s worst job: smelly, noisy, bloody, cold and injury-prone from slippery floors and repetitive motions. Plus the pay is low.

Most Americans aren’t about to give up chicken, but we’d rather not dwell on where it comes from. In the not-too-distant future, however, the trade-off between conscience—or ick factors—and appetite may no longer be relevant. Instead of slaughtering animals, we’ll get our meat from cells grown in brewery-like vats, with no blood and guts….

Synbio executives talk like animal lovers and environmental activists. But synbio is still a form of engineering, a science of the artificial. As such, its ethical appeal represents a significant cultural shift. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, businesses large and small have emerged from the conviction that “natural” foods, fibers, cosmetics, and other products are better for people and the planet. It’s an attitude that harks back to the 18th- and 19th-century Romantics: The natural is safe and pure, authentic and virtuous. The artificial is tainted and deceptive, a dangerous fake. Gory details aside, the “factory” in factory farming makes it sound inherently bad.

Synthetic biology upends those assumptions, raising environmental and ethical standards by making them easier and more enjoyable to achieve. It could help reverse what the writer Brink Lindsey has dubbed “the anti-Promethean backlash” that began in the late 1960s, defined as “the broad-based cultural turn away from those forms of technological progress that extend and amplify human mastery over the physical world.” Synthetic biologists are manipulating atoms, not merely bits.

Anti-Promethean attitudes are still culturally potent, of course, with their own intellectual ecosystem of publications and advocacy groups. “Cell-cultured meats are imitation foods synthesized from animal cells, not meat or poultry that consumers know,” pronounces Jaydee Hanson, the policy director for the Center for Food Safety. The activist group is lobbying the U.S. government to require that lab-grown meat carry off-putting labels like “synthetic protein product made from beef cells.” A neutral term like “cultivated meat” should satisfy most people, however; or the industry could push for the tendentious “cruelty-free” favored by cosmetics makers.

This is a story about market-driven progress! Abundance is good!! The anti-Promethean backlash is bad! “Cruelty-free” is tendentious and the Center for Food Safety is the bad guy. Those are all right-of-center tells.

Or they used to be. I was naively stuck in the 20th century…

Now, everything is personal and I, who write as a meat eater who likes human ingenuity and technological progress, am read as a woke propagandist.

6) Some stranger was listening in on me explaining this to a friend in a restaurant today, and felt the need to come across the restaurant and share his many populist right-wing viewpoints.  Anyway, I do love this idea on the debt ceiling as explained by Yglesias:

The Treasury Department could basically flip the terms of the auction. Instead of saying “We want to sell a $100 perpetual bond, how much interest will you demand to give us the money?” they could say “I have this nice juicy $100 bond for sale that pays a 27% interest rate, how much are you willing to pay for it?”

If the current yield on a hypothetical perpetual bond is 3.79%, then we would expect our new bond to sell for a market price that causes convergence with that yield. So we do a little algebra:

0.0379 = ($100 * 0.27) / Market Price
Market Price * .0379 = $27
Market Price = $712

And it turns out the $100 bond sale raises $712 for the government by the magic of fixing the interest rate before the auction rather than at the auction.

The first thing this would do is let the Treasury finance the ongoing operations of the government while dramatically slowing the pace at which the face value of the outstanding debt accumulates. I picked numbers at random, but there’s no reason it has to be a $100 bond with a 27% interest rate. Treasury could just as easily sell a $1 bond with a 2,700% interest rate and raise the $712 that way. This is the magic of the trick. Just as the government can sell high face-value bonds at low interest rates to raise a large sum of money, they can also sell tiny face-value bonds at high interest rates to raise the exact same sum of money.

In addition to the 10-year bond that’s often discussed in policy terms, the government sells a lot of short-term debt — 1-month, 2-month, 3-month, 4-month, and 6-month bonds — so there are always some fresh bonds coming due. By swapping out old bonds with high face values and low interest rates for equivalent-yielding bonds with low face values and high interest rates, the Treasury can not only slow the pace at which the face value of debt accumulates, it can start to reduce the face value of that debt. This should not only get around the debt ceiling issue — it should make it entirely irrelevant over time.

Does this really work?

From the standpoint of the smooth functioning of financial markets, this would not be an ideal situation. Republicans are committed to the debt ceiling fight precisely because they, for a mix of reasons, actively want a huge destructive blowup. So they’re not going to respond to this by just saying “well played Secretary Yellen, you’ve foiled us this time.”

They’re going to scream and yell and posture and complain and sue and possibly do other things.

In practice, confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States will be somewhat diminished if the Treasury resorts to this tactic, and federal borrowing costs will rise.

Yes, far from ideal.  Hell of a lot better than a Republican-caused default.

7) This was really good, “Why the January 6th Mob Wasn’t Stopped in Time: Transcripts reveal where the bottlenecks were.”

8) As was this, “11 Details You May Have Missed in the January 6 Report”

9) Brett Stephens and David Brooks with an interesting discussion of how the Republican Party went wrong and why they had to leave it.  What’s fascinating, though, is in this whole discussion, the issue of race does not come up at all, which strikes me as a very noteworthy omission. 

10) The definitive piece on the scandal of Hamline University firing a professor for showing an image of Muhammad in Art History class.  Gift link so just read it. 

11) The anonymous tweeter/substacker/History professor who guys by HistoryBoomer has a really nice takedown of the Hamline President’s awful response, which is honestly just embarrassing.  

12) Increasingly, it seems to be that psychedelics are near-miracle cures for a number of conditions. No reason eating disorders shouldn’t fit in here. “Could Mushrooms Be the Drug to Finally Cure Eating Disorders? For young patients, lasting treatment can feel elusive. Psychedelics could change that.”

The scientific journal Eating and Weight Disorders — Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity published the first quantitative analysis of the psychological effects of psychedelics in eating-disorder sufferers in September 2020. The data “demonstrated overwhelming evidence for improvements in depression and well-being scores following the psychedelic experience,” researchers wrote.

There is no single cause of eating disorders, and illness profiles vary widely, but certain characteristics are common and help explain the diseases’ resistance to treatment. Eating disorders have significant genetic underpinnings, which intertwine with factors like life experiences, personality traits, and sociocultural influences. Clinical psychologist Dr. Adele Lafrance, who is researching the effects of psychedelics in eating-disorder sufferers, notes that many patients have difficulties expressing and modulating emotions; symptoms like restrictive dieting engender a sense of control that helps them regulate emotional stress, which “can lead to ruminative patterns around weight, body image, and calorie counts,” she explains. “In some ways, the eating disorder is an attempt at self-medication,” adds UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals pediatrician and psychiatrist Dr. Amanda Downey. By tampering with what the brain perceives as “rewards,” eating disorders rewire behaviors that should be aversive as beneficial actions.

So full recovery, researchers postulate, could require not just changing how patients eat or exercise but how they think.

Psychedelic drugs are known to quiet activity in the brain’s default mode network, a group of interconnected structures involved in various cognitive processing related to introspection and self-reflection. In eating-disorder patients, this network often upholds a negative self-image and encourages repeating maladaptive behaviors around eating, exercising, and weight monitoring. “The disorder hijacks neuronal systems in a pathologic way,” Kaplan explains. “No drug that we have now can break those connections. Psychedelics seem to be able to facilitate that.”

A psychedelic experience that disengages neuronal connections dictating patterns of thought can be a powerful respite for individuals who are, say, stuck in a pattern of obsessing over the appearance of their bodies. Moreover, a trip often heightens a sense of mind-body connection and thus helps patients get back in touch with physiological cues like hunger signals, explains Ben Greenberg, a clinical psychologist. But the impact of mushrooms doesn’t end during the trip itself.It’s in the weeks and months that follow when users examine what happened during the psychedelic experience that lasting effects can take hold. Meg Spriggs, a research scientist at the Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, calls this the post-acute phase: “You have this window of opportunity, after the psychedelic, where the brain is kind of more malleable and more plastic,” and perhaps more able to generate new neuronal connections and thinking patterns.

Still, the research is nascent. A team at UCSF is currently getting regulatory approvals for a new study that could be the first to research the impact of psychedelics on young adults with anorexia nervosa.

13) More electric vehicles is a good thing.  But there’s a real downside as more of them are bigger/heavier SUV’s and trucks:

Converting the transportation system from fossil fuels to electricity is essential to addressing climate change. But automakers’ focus on large, battery-powered SUVs and trucks reinforces a destructive American desire to drive something bigger, faster, and heavier than everyone else.

In many ways, EVs reflect long-standing weaknesses in the design and regulation of American automobiles. For decades, the car industry has exploited a loophole in federal fuel-economy rules to replace sedans with more profitable SUVs and trucks, which now account for four in five new cars sold in the United States.

Meanwhile, SUVs and trucks have themselves grown more massive; their weight increased by 7 percent and 32 percent, respectively, from 1990 to 2021. The 2023 Ford F-150 with a conventional engine, for instance, is up to 7 inches taller and 800 pounds heavier than its 1991 counterpart. Each purchase of a big truck or SUV pushes other people to buy one, too, in order to avoid being at a disadvantage in a crash or when trying to see over other cars on the highway.

This shift toward ever-larger trucks and SUVs has endangered everyone not inside of one, especially those unprotected by tons of metal. A recent study linked the growing popularity of SUVs in the United States to the surging number of pedestrian deaths, which reached a 40-year high in 2021. A particular problem is that the height of these vehicles expands their blind spots. In a segment this summer, a Washington, D.C., television news channel sat nine children in a line in front of an SUV; the driver could see none of them, because nothing within 16 feet of the front of the vehicle was visible to her.

Few car shoppers seem to care. For decades, Americans have shown little inclination to consider how their vehicle affects the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, or other motorists. (The federal government seems similarly uninterested; the national crash-test-ratings program evaluates only the risk to a car’s occupants.)

As large as gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks are, their electrified versions are even heftier due to the addition of huge batteries. The forthcoming electric Chevrolet Silverado EV, for example, will weigh about 8,000 pounds3,000 more than the current gas-powered version. And there will be a lot of these behemoths: A recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy shows that carmakers are rapidly shifting their EV lineups away from sedans and toward SUVs and trucks, just as they did earlier with gas-powered cars.

14) Not great:

15) Mike Pesca did a really nice little segment on this the other day because 1) good news gets insufficient attention; 2) gradual, rather than sudden, news gets insufficient attention.  But isn’t this kind of a big deal? “US cancer death rate falls 33% since 1991, partly due to advances in treatment, early detection and less smoking, report says”

16) This was disturbing as hell (including disturbing images, but I’m about out of gift links), “Tranq Dope: Animal Sedative Mixed With Fentanyl Brings Fresh Horror to U.S. Drug Zones: A veterinary tranquilizer called xylazine is infiltrating street drugs, deepening addiction, baffling law enforcement and causing wounds so severe that some result in amputation.”

17) Sure, writing a decent college exam answer or creating a cool original is one thing, but, this sounds truly awesome, “A.I. Turns Its Artistry to Creating New Human Proteins: Inspired by digital art generators like DALL-E, biologists are building artificial intelligences that can fight cancer, flu and Covid.”

But when some scientists consider this technology, they see more than just a way of creating fake photos. They see a path to a new cancer treatment or a new flu vaccine or a new pill that helps you digest gluten.

Using many of the same techniques that underpin DALL-E and other art generators, these scientists are generating blueprints for new proteins — tiny biological mechanisms that can change the way of our bodies behave.

Our bodies naturally produce about 20,000 proteins, which handle everything from digesting food to moving oxygen through the bloodstream. Now, researchers are working to create proteins that are not found in nature, hoping to improve our ability to fight disease and do things that our bodies cannot on their own.

David Baker, the director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, has been working to build artisanal proteins for more than 30 years. By 2017, he and his team had shown this was possible. But they did not anticipate how the rise of new A.I. technologies would suddenly accelerate this work, shrinking the time needed to generate new blueprints from years down to weeks.

“What we need are new proteins that can solve modern-day problems, like cancer and viral pandemics,” Dr. Baker said. “We can’t wait for evolution.” He added, “Now, we can design these proteins much faster, and with much higher success rates, and create much more sophisticated molecules that can help solve these problems.” …

“With DALL-E, you can ask for an image of a panda eating a shoot of bamboo,” said Namrata Anand, a former Stanford University researcher who is also an entrepreneur, building a company in this area of research. “Equivalently, protein engineers can ask for a protein that binds to another in a particular way — or some other design constraint — and the generative model can build it.”

The difference is that the human eye can instantly judge the fidelity of a DALL-E image. It cannot do the same with a protein structure. After artificial intelligence technologies produce these protein blueprints, scientists must still take them into a wet lab — where experiments can be done with real chemical compounds — and make sure they do what they are supposed to do.

For this reason, some experts say that the latest artificial intelligence technologies should be taken with a grain of salt. “Making a new structure is just a game,” said Frances Arnold, a Nobel Laureate who is a professor specializing in protein engineering at the California Institute of Technology. “What really matters is: What can that structure actually do?”

But for many researchers, these new techniques are not just accelerating the creation of new protein candidates for the wet lab. They provide a way of exploring new innovations that researchers could not previously explore on their own.

“What’s exciting isn’t just that they are creative and explore unexpected possibilities, but that they are creative while satisfying certain design objectives or constraints,” said Jue Wang, a researcher at the University of Washington. “This saves you from needing to check every possible protein in the universe.”

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