(The return of full) Quick hits (part I)

You’re regularly scheduled quick hits are back for your Saturday reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

1) Ruy Teixera, “There Just Aren’t Enough College-Educated Voters! You Can Ignore the Working Class If You Like, But That Would Be Very, Very Unwise”

Education polarization is increasing election on election in the United States. In 2012, the difference in Democratic support between college-educated and noncollege (working class) voters in the Presidential election was about 4 margin points (Catalist data, two party vote), with college voters being more favorable to the Democrats than noncollege voters. In 2016 that difference ballooned to 18 points. And in 2020, it went up again to 22 points.

Democrats seem remarkably relaxed about this polarization, despite liking to style themselves as the party for “working people”. One reason for this is the general perception that the college-educated population is growing while the working class is declining. True as far as it goes but the fact remains that noncollege voters far outnumber college voters. In the 2020 Catalist data, the tally was 63 percent noncollege/37 percent college. That means that any given shift among noncollege voters is significantly more consequential than a similarly-sized shift among college voters. This situation will continue for many election cycles, as the noncollege voter share is likely to decline only gradually.

Another reason for Democratic complacency is the firm belief that Democrats’ working class problem is solely confined to whites and that white working class voters are so racist/reactionary that it is a badge of honor to ignore them. This is highly questionable as a matter of political strategy and arithmetic, given that they are 44 percent of voters and a lot more than that in key swing states and districts.

But there is a deeper problem. The perception that nonwhite working class voters are a lock for the Democrats is no longer tenable. In the 2020 election, working class nonwhites moved sharply toward Trump by 12 margin points, despite Democratic messaging that focused relentlessly on Trump’s animus toward nonwhites. According to Pew, Trump actually got 41 percent of the Hispanic working class vote in 2016. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters…

More broadly, as Matt Yglesias noted in a recent article documenting the growth and extent of education polarization:

[H]aving society sharply polarized around occupational categories and educational attainment is going to make it very difficult for us to function effectively as a country… [S]tark education polarization is really bad for Democrats’ prospects of winning a Senate majority….[M]athematically, Democrats cannot govern in the long term without increasing their appeal to less-educated voters…..For some people, of course, the current system works great. Culture wars and skewed maps help Republicans win elections, after which they cut taxes for rich people and multinational corporations while doing nothing to satisfy their base’s resentments — resentments that fuel the fire for the next campaign.

In short, Democrats should not be complacent about education polarization. College graduates are neither numerous nor reliable enough to underpin a dominant coalition. Their party’s fate—and that of the country’s prospects for effective governance—depends on reducing this polarization as much and as rapidly as possible.

2) This is a hell of a tale.  A little long, but pretty good and everybody’s talking about it.  As for “who is the bad art friend?”  Both of them, damnit.  1) Person #1 needs to get over herself for donating a kidney and accept that other people can take a kidney donation as the inspiration for their own fiction and person #2 needs to not actually plagiarize and then get out of it by claiming “racism!” 

3) Leonhardt on mandates:

Many vaccinations, few firings

We are now living through this cycle again. The deadline for many workplace mandates arrived this week, often requiring people to have received a Covid-19 vaccine or face being fired. In California, the deadline for health care workers is today.

As was the case with Washington’s army, the mandates are largely succeeding:

  • California’s policy has led thousands of previously unvaccinated medical workers to receive shots in recent weeks. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about 800 additional workers have been vaccinated since the policy was announced last month, bringing the hospital’s vaccination rate to 97 percent, according to my colleague Shawn Hubler.
  • When New York State announced a mandate for hospital and nursing-home staff members in August, about 75 percent of them had received a shot. By Monday, the share had risen to 92 percent. The increase amounts to roughly 100,000 newly vaccinated people.
  • At Trinity Health, a hospital chain in 22 states, the increase has been similar — to 94 percent from 75 percent, The Times’s Reed Abelson reports. At Genesis HealthCare, which operates long-term-care facilities in 23 states, Covid cases fell by nearly 50 percent after nearly all staff members had finished receiving shots this summer.

Often, the number of people who ultimately refuse the vaccine is smaller than the number who first say they will. Some are persuaded by the information their employer gives them — about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety, compared with the deadliness of Covid — and others decide they are not really willing to lose their jobs.

A North Carolina hospital system, Novant Health, last week suspended 375 workers, or about 1 percent of its work force, for being unvaccinated. By the end of the week, more than half of them — about 200 — received a shot and were reinstated.

Of course, 175 firings are not nothing. (A Washington Post headline trumpeted the story as “one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.”) United Airlines said this week that it would terminate even more employees — about 600, or less than 1 percent of its U.S. work force.

These firings can create hardship for the workers and short-term disruptions for their employers. But those disruptions tend to be fleeting, because the percentage of workers is tiny. “I’m not seeing any widespread disruptive effect,” Saad Omer of the Yale Institute for Global Health told The Times.

And the benefits — reducing the spread of a deadly virus and lowering the chances it will mutate dangerously in the future — are large.

4) Scott Lemieux summarizes the mandate success in Washington state:

Also nice to see a story that focuses on the big picture rather than unrepresentative outliers:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s order for 63,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has drawn broad outcry from conservatives, large protests from state workers and legal challenges by employees who stand to lose their jobs under the mandate.

But if Washington’s biggest agencies are any indication, state employees are largely complying with the mandate that they be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

The Washington Department of Corrections, (DOC) which oversees the state’s 12 prisons, has verified that 89% of workers have been vaccinated as of noon Thursday, according to a spokesperson. That’s a steep rise from a few weeks ago, when individual prisons reported vaccination rates among staffers as low as 39%.

The Department of Social and Health Services — Washington’s largest state agency, with nearly 16,000 employees — had verified 91% of its workers as vaccinated as of Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation meanwhile is at 93% verified vaccinated as of Friday morning, and the Washington State Patrol announced Wednesday that 93% of its workers had been vaccinated.

At the Department of Children, Youth and Families, that number stood at nearly 87% as of Wednesday — up from around 50% three weeks ago.

5) Sad story with a 20-year old local kid (unvaccinated, of course) who had a Covid death like none I’ve heard of– somehow is Covid led to a fatal sinus infection. that got into his brain.

6) I think one of the clearest indications of the degradation of our democracy is that we’re hardly even talking about it.  Adam Serwer a couple weeks ago, “Trump’s Plans for a Coup Are Now Public: Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.’

7) I meant to write a post on this back in August(!) but it’s still really relevant.  Alec MacGillis, “What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge”

The video of George Floyd’s death was appalling to Joe Sullivan, who spent 38 years with the Philadelphia police department, much of it overseeing the unit that handles large demonstrations, eventually rising to deputy commissioner. He retired from the force in early 2020, after Outlaw’s arrival as commissioner. Sullivan could stomach watching the video of Floyd only once, but immediately texted his former colleagues on the force that they needed to see it. “My heart just sank,” he said. “I knew right then and there that bad things were going to happen, because it just was so egregious.”

The protests in Philadelphia commenced the following Saturday, with hundreds of people gathering at the art museum and City Hall. As the crowds swelled, someone set a police car on fire, and others started breaking into stores near Rittenhouse Square, carrying out clothes and electronics. Mayor Kenney ordered an 8 p.m. curfew; by day’s end, more than 100 people had been arrested and more than a dozen officers were injured.

Overnight, action shifted to the 52nd Street commercial strip in a heavily Black section of Southwest Philadelphia. Early on Sunday morning, four people looted a clothing store, and that afternoon and into Monday morning, others emptied a jewelry store and a pharmacy, set fire to a uniform shop and damaged a day care center, a tax-preparation business and a seller of hijabs, among others. It was just a couple of blocks from where Tyffani Rudolph had lived before she entered foster care. “It was heartbreaking to see, because it was my own people doing it,” she said. “It was upsetting because it’s like we’re destroying our own home.”

Sullivan, too, watched with dismay, aghast that things unraveled to the point where officers felt the need to take a step he had avoided in many years of crowd control: releasing tear gas. In Philadelphia, protests and looting continued for days, as did the use of tear gas. The police department redeployed officers from across the city to the protests and looting, leaving swaths of the city underpatrolled.

The shift in police focus was immediately discernible in the data: from late May to mid-June last year, police vehicle and pedestrian stops plunged by more than two-thirds. This was driven by more than staffing shifts, said Sullivan. Even officers still on their usual patrols were increasingly opting not to engage with the frequency they had before, which he attributed partly to the firing and arrest of two officers during the protest, one for pepper-spraying protesters on Interstate 676 and another for striking a Temple student in the head with his baton. (Charges were dropped in the first case, and the second officer was later acquitted.) “Officers are saying, ‘Man, if they’re getting locked up that easily, I don’t really want to get involved in this. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and tuition to pay,’” Sullivan said. “I’m sure that some officers have pulled back.”

It was a seeming replay of the dynamic observed in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, and in Chicago following the death of Laquan McDonald. In those cities, arrests dropped sharply in the weeks following protests over the deaths. What made this latest iteration so unusual was that it was playing out in cities across the country, not only in the city that had experienced this particular death at police hands, Minneapolis. Some combination of the extremity of the Floyd video and the release of emotions pent up during the lockdowns had elevated the protests into a national event, reproducing nationwide the dynamic seen in Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago several years earlier.

There is another side to the dynamic, many criminologists agree. In the wake of high-profile deaths at police hands and the often heavy-handed police response to the ensuing protests, community trust in the police plummets. This leaves many people even less likely to report a crime or offer a tip or testify, further depressing case closure rates that were already barely 50% for homicides in Philadelphia, and much lower for nonfatal shootings. “The murder of George Floyd really reactivated this deep sense of mistrust and cynicism in many disadvantaged communities,” Abt said. “And when that happens, there’s multiple bodies of evidence that suggests that when people don’t believe in the system, they don’t comply with it and they don’t use it.”

Instead, they resolve disputes themselves — sometimes with violence…

That could be seen as self-preservation, a response to a rise in shootings that in turn would beget more shootings, abetted by the loss of confidence in the police. “There certainly are young men and women carrying guns on the street because they don’t believe the police can protect them,” said Sullivan, the former deputy commissioner. “They’ve been led to believe that police won’t protect them, and they feel they need to carry guns. And that means more guns on the street.”

One could also consider it from the supply perspective: There had been a surge in legal gun sales nationwide early in the pandemic, amid all the apocalyptic talk of food and supply shortages. Some weapons were inevitably making their way onto the black market, via theft or resale. And, in Philadelphia and other cities, many people now had extra means to buy their own guns on the black market. For all the economic stresses caused by pandemic-related job losses, the $1,200-per-person stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits of the CARES Act had injected cash into many neighborhoods. An 18-year-old member of YEAH Philly, who also didn’t want his name used because of his open criminal cases, said, “Everybody had a lot of money, and everybody started buying guns. When everybody started buying guns, everybody wanted to be tough.” Johnson, the councilmember, found this dynamic worrisomely plausible: “The easy access to money, and some people who never had this kind of money before, is playing a role in purchasing guns.”

There’s also the other side of personal risk calculus: the odds of repercussions for carrying. After all, police were making fewer stops. And even before the pandemic and the Floyd protests, those getting caught with illegal firearms were facing fewer consequences. Krasner’s office had launched a diversion program for some defendants, under which those who had purchased firearms legally but lacked the permit to carry them could have their arrests expunged after probation. (The office argued that it was unfair that Philadelphians face more stringent gun rules than residents of other parts of Pennsylvania, as the state requires gun permits for city residents but not for those elsewhere.) And the overall conviction rate for illegal gun possession cases was falling, too. It dropped to 49% in 2019 from more than 60% in the four years before Krasner took office, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

8) Good stuff from Freddie DeBoer, “Anatomy of a Bad Idea: Affirmative Consent”

My primary objection to affirmative consent is pretty simple, really. I don’t, in fact, think that most cases of sexual assault are a matter of mixed signals and misunderstandings. I think most rapes are committed by rapists who don’t care if women say no and are perfectly happy to lie about whether they did. (In fact I remember in the 90s that the feminist position was to ardently assert that sexual assault is very rarely a matter of mixed signals.) And this is the immediate, existential problem for affirmative consent: a rapist can just as easily say “she said yes” as he previously would have said “she didn’t say no.” Right? So what problem is being solved here? It’s still a matter of disputing what communication took place in a world where we generally have no evidence about those communicative facts. The condition that vexes a lot of people is that it’s genuinely very difficult to establish the truth if the question at hand is not whether sexual acts took place but whether they were consensual. We live in a rule-bound society where due process has to exist, as unpopular as that sentiment has become in liberal circles, which means that we will frequently be locked in he said-she said scenarios. Affirmative consent is often represented as some sort of salve for this problem but it simply replaces one type of dispute about who said what with another.

And because of the nature of sex affirmative consent activists are forever introducing ambiguity into the picture when the entire purpose of affirmative consent was to reduce ambiguity. You say to people, “you know, it really doesn’t seem like two people who have been dating for five years are going to robotically be saying ‘may I touch your breast now?’ every time they have sex.” And they say “oh no no, of course not, you see there can be implied consent between partners.” Which, one, is no longer affirmative, and two, seems like a disturbing concession – of course people in long-term relationships can commit sexual assault against their partners, so isn’t the notion of such implied consent pretty problematic? Or they’ll say “well, consent can be affirmative without being explicit, it can be a touch, a look in the eye.” Again, this completely torpedoes the very clarity that affirmative consent was designed to achieve. That notion simply empowers rapists; “I read that consent doesn’t have to be explicitly voiced to be affirmative, and she had that look in her eye….”

A common defense of the standard, when this debate was raging, was to say that no one would make an allegation if no sexual assault had occurred, therefore it wouldn’t matter if most people usually don’t follow the standard. Which is bizarre enough on the face of it; what do we make of a policy whose defenders reassure us that it usually won’t be followed? But it’s especially perverse here because it presumes an entirely different standard than the one it’s advocating. If affirmative consent means anything at all, it must mean that someone who does not proactively give consent has been sexually assaulted regardless of whether they believe that they have been. Otherwise it makes no sense, nothing’s changed from the old standard. If what rules is not the victim’s actually expressed consent but their feeling towards whether or not they have consent, then there is no standard of affirmative consent at all! We’re right back where we started. It’s completely unworkable and would appears to solve no problems. It’s just a way to look busy…

The problem was always this: the affirmative consent standard required the participation of a large and diverse group of young adults who, like most of us, find constantly stopping to ask permission of every discrete “sexual act” dehumanizing and unnatural. They’ve told us so. This seems like an entirely predictable outcome, yet when this was being debated in around 2014 or 2015, criticism of the policy was muted. Why? Well, it’s obvious: to appear to be against a law represented as a victory for women’s sexual and bodily autonomy is very risky in the social media era, regardless of how ineffective and bizarre that law actually is and regardless of what you’re actually objecting to. Who, in the era of cancellation, is going to be particularly vocal about opposing laws that some people represent as an impediment to rape, even if everyone knows that they’re a fig leaf? Should this post escape from my regular readership onto Twitter, surely someone is going to claim that I’ve said that consent is dehumanizing and unnatural, and many more people will then amplify that claim without bothering to read what I actually wrote. Most writers are too emotionally delicate and professionally vulnerable for that, so everybody halfheartedly got on board the way they did with Defund the Police and other bad ideas.

So you get this huge policy change at hundreds of universities that does effectively nothing to stop sexual assault, infringes on the rights of the accused, and functions as a make-work program for overpaid “consultants” and liberal writers, all while most people quietly recognize that nobody follows it, and support for that empty policy is enforced with missionary zeal not by true believers but almost entirely by people who are too scared to ask whether any of it makes any sense. Perhaps creating an oppressive culture of fear of permanent ostracism and professional exile in liberal media was a bad idea.

9) Katherine Wu on the possible future evolution of Covid:

In the worst-case scenario, a variant could arise that would “make it like the vaccines did not exist,” Hanage said. But at the moment, “there is no such variant like that.” And it would probably be extraordinarily difficult for one to manifest. Even the most evasive variants we know of—the ones that have stumped certain antibodies—aren’t fully duping vaccinated bodies, which harbor a slew of other immunological guards. Hanage also pointed out that many people’s immune systems have been trained on different triggers—distinct brands of vaccines, unique variants, or some combination thereof. A new version of SARS-CoV-2 would find skirting all of those blockades at once to be nearly impossible.

Viruses aren’t infinitely mutable; sometimes, to keep themselves in contention, they must make sacrifices. Several experts told me they’re hopeful that the coronavirus might struggle to max out both transmission and immune evasion at once, requiring some sort of trade-off between the two. Some of the most powerful anti-coronavirus antibodies target SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, which the virus uses to unlock and enter our cells. If the virus altered the protein to sidestep those antibodies, it might make itself less recognizable to the immune system. But it could also hurt its ability to infect us at all.

That might help explain why Beta has, so far, remained only a supporting character in the coronavirus’s ensemble cast. Another hint comes from Alpha, which didn’t seem to benefit all that much when it acquired an antibody-eluding mutation last spring, despite widespread fears. There is, in other words, probably a limit to just how bad SARS-CoV-2 can get: Even the most careful dog breeders cannot turn a bulldog into a bear…

Vaccines, however, aren’t just reactive. They are also proactive interventions that curb the number of times the virus gets to roll the evolutionary dice, cutting down on the number, intensity, and duration of infections, and the chance that they’ll pass to others. A more vaccinated world creates a more hostile global environment for SARS-CoV-2. Mutations will still occur, but fewer of them will be of consequence; lineages will still splinter, but they’ll do so less often. “The overriding effect of vaccination should be to reduce the rate of [virus] adaptation,” Cobey told me. Variants, after all, can’t adapt when they’re starved of hosts to infect.

Glimmers of early evidence suggest that this slowdown has already begun. One recent study, not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that SARS-CoV-2’s shape-shifting rate is lower in highly immunized countries, the expected outcome of a virus knocking up against new immune walls. Gupta, of the University of Cambridge, also hopes that we’ll someday cook up vaccines that can stamp out infection and transmission to an even greater degree—or ones that direct immune cells to hit the virus in spots that can’t mutate without hamstringing it. “That will force the virus into a corner,” he told me. We’d need those types of inoculations less often, too. “I don’t envision a constant cat-and-mouse game.”

10) Wildfires aren’t just destructive, expensive, and potentially deadly– they’re also really bad for human health. “Breathing wildfire smoke can affect the brain and sperm, as well as the lungs”

10) Terrific New Yorker article on Kathryn Harden and her research into the genetic bases of intelligence.  To their profound discredit, many liberals just cannot ideologically admit the obvious– of course there’s a genetic basis to intelligence.  

11) And good stuff from Drum on the matter:

But lots of things are impossible until suddenly they aren’t. Readers with very good memories may recall that a few years ago I wrote about Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS, pronounced jee-wass). These do the impossible: they allow genetic researchers to find single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced snips) that are associated with cognitive traits. At the time, I linked to a paper that claimed to have found SNPs that explained about 5% of the variance in intelligence. But work was ongoing, and the latest studies have gotten up to 20% or so. There’s no telling where this number will eventually end up, but it’s almost certain that within a few years we’ll get to one that’s high enough to prove to all but the most recalcitrant that genes do in fact have a considerable effect on human intelligence.

Why mention this? Because in its current issue the New Yorker has a profile of Kathryn Paige Harden, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who has written a new book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality. Harden has been doing GWAS work of her own and her conclusion is unsurprising: both genes and environment play significant and intertwined roles in most cognitive traits. But there’s a depressing coda:

In my conversations with her colleagues, Harden’s overarching idea was almost universally described as both beautiful and hopelessly quixotic….James Tabery, a philosopher at the University of Utah, believes that underscoring genetic difference is just as likely to increase inequality as to reduce it. “It’s truly noble for Paige to make the case for why we might think of biological differences as similar to socially constructed differences, but you’re bumping into a great deal of historical, economic, political, and philosophical momentum—and it’s dangerous, no matter how noble her intentions are, because once the ideas are out there they’re going to get digested the way they’re going to get digested,” he said. “The playing board has been set for some time.”

“Hopelessly quixotic” is a fancy way of saying that no matter what the science says, Harden will never convince people on the left. As Harden puts it, the life of a behavior geneticist resembles “Groundhog Day.” Always the same arguments no matter what.

In fairness, the reason for lefty intolerance of cognitive genetics is obvious and righteous: It’s been violently misused for a very long time as a way of proving that certain kinds of people are inferior to others. As Tabery says above, the playing board has been set, and it’s almost certain that any new results, no matter how carefully explained, will be used as an excuse by some people to dismiss the possibility of ever improving the lives of the poor, the black, and the oppressed.

But as understandable as this is, it has a big problem: it looks as if we’re getting close to a genuine understanding of how genes affect cognitive traits—and the answer is not going be “they don’t.” At that point the left had better have an argument to make, because they’re certain to lose if they just bury their heads in the sand.

The funny thing is that I’ve never entirely understood lefty opposition to the notion that genes have a significant impact on cognitive abilities. My view has always been close to Harden’s: if genes do have an impact, then it makes the case for social safety nets incomparably stronger. It becomes impossible to argue, for example, that poor people are merely lazy if you can point to SNPs that have a clear association with poverty. At that point, it’s provably the case that being poor is mostly a matter of bad genetic luck. So what argument is left for leaving anyone in poverty?

Beyond that, as Harden points out, if you know the genetic foundations for a particular trait then it’s easier to disentangle its genetic and environmental causes. This makes it easier to accurately identify the environmental causes, which in turn makes it more likely that you can construct social interventions that actually work. In other words, knowledge of genetics is a key part of the liberal project of doing everything we can to improve lives via social programs that are truly effective.

But most people don’t see it that way. And beneath it all lurks the deep fear that someone doing GWAS research is eventually going to find SNPs associated with both race and intelligence. I continue to think that’s unlikely in anything more than a trivial sense, but I may be wrong. And if I am, what are we going to do?

12) And how about this for some interesting social science research, “Cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of political tolerance”

Abstract

Objectives

Despite the broad appeal of abstract notions of political tolerance, people vary in the degree to which they support the political rights of groups they dislike. Prior research highlighted the relevance of individual differences in the cognitive domain, claiming the application of general tolerance ideals to specific situations is a cognitively demanding task. Curiously, this work has overwhelmingly focused on differences in cognitive style, largely neglecting differences in cognitive ability, despite compelling conceptual linkages. We remedy this shortcoming.

Methods

We explore diverse predictors of tolerance using survey data in two large samples from Denmark (N = 805) and the United States (N = 1,603).

Results

Cognitive ability was the single strongest predictor of political tolerance, with larger effects than education, openness to experience, ideology, and threat. The cognitively demanding nature of tolerance judgments was further supported by results showing cognitive ability predicted tolerance best when extending such tolerance was hardest. Additional small-sample panel results demonstrated substantial 4-year stability of political tolerance, informing future work on the origins of political tolerance.

Conclusions

Our observation of a potent role for cognitive ability in tolerance supports cognitively oriented accounts of tolerance judgments and highlights the need for further exploration of cognitive ability within the political domain.

13) This was quite an interesting story, “One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia: Ksenia Coffman’s fellow editors have called her a vandal and a McCarthyist. She just wants them to stop glorifying fascists—and start citing better sources.”

14) Apparently library e-books are a massive rip-off (of us taxpayers who fund libraries).  When it comes to your library, you really should stick with the physical books if you can.  New Yorker:

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”…

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

15) Highlights from a Barred Owl nestcam.  “Who cooks for you?”

16) Very good stuff from Yglesias on homelessness and it’s a public post, so read it. “Homelessness is about housing, not addiction or mental health”

17) It’s crazy that there’s so much evidence on how to best teach reading (phonics!) that so many places aren’t following.  Drum:

John McWhorter says we should quit arguing about how to teach reading and just accept that we already know perfectly well how to do it:

In a word, phonics….Phonics works better for more children. Project Follow Through, a huge investigation in the late 1960s led by education scholar Siegfried Englemann, taught 75,000 children via the phonics-based Direct Instruction method from kindergarten through third grade at 10 sites nationwide. The results were polio-vaccine-level dramatic. At all 10 sites, 4-year-olds were reading like 8-year-olds, for example.

….However, there is a persistent disconnect between the world of reading science and the world of people teaching children to read. Only 15 percent of programs training elementary-school teachers include actual instruction on how to teach children to read. There remain people who favor the whole word method, or a combination of whole word and phonics, or even no particular “method” at all.

There’s a wealth of research that confirms this, but unfortunately reading instruction has become part of the culture wars, with conservatives taking the side of phonics while university education departments tend to favor other methods.

This is unfortunate. Phonics works, and to the extent that you can invent add-ons that are potentially a little bit better it’s really not worth the effort. DI-based phonics instruction is so good that we’d be a lot better off simply making it universal since it works well with both poor and affluent children. In addition:

There is a racial angle to this….We have known how to teach Black children, including poor ones, how to read since the Johnson administration: the Direct Instruction method of phonics. In this case, Black children don’t need special materials; districts need incur no extra expenses in purchasing such things. I consider getting Direct Instruction to every Black child in the country a key plank of three in turning the corner on race in America (the other two are ending the War on Drugs and sharply increasing funding and cultural support to vocational education).

Liberals should get on this train. Stop resisting just because conservatives have been pushing this for decades. In this case, they’re right.

18) What the heck, one more on IQ (sometimes, I go down rabbit holes), “Complicated links between IQ and prejudiced views”

There’s a long-standing and somewhat uncomfortable finding in psychology: that low IQ, conservative social beliefs and prejudice — including anti-gay attitudes and racism — are all linked. Many studies have found this relationship — so much so that a 2015 meta-analysis of the research suggested that researchers who conduct studies of people’s ideology and prejudice should take participants’ cognitive ability into account.

New research, though, suggests that there’s more to the story. When the definition of prejudice is expanded beyond its usual meaning — that is, holding negative attitudes toward historically powerless minority groups — it turns out that people all along the IQ spectrum show prejudiced attitudes.

In other words, intelligence doesn’t determine if you’re prejudiced, but rather the target of that prejudice, the study found. Both the smart and the dumb have biases, but those biases are toward different groups of people, according to the new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

19) And the limits of robot intelligence, “Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt: Machines can print textiles, cut fabric, and fold clothes. But it’s hard to train them to sew as fast and precisely as humans.”

The length of time it has taken to get to this point isn’t surprising. Machines have proved adept at many steps in making clothes, from printing textiles to cutting fabric and folding and packaging finished garments.

SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.

20) Interesting, “Alcohol Is the Breast Cancer Risk No One Wants to Talk About”

According to a 2020 analysis of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, only about one in four women ages 15 to 44 knows that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. Priscilla Martinez, who is leading the Drink Less campaign, would like to change that. “My goal was to prevent a young woman of today who uses alcohol, like many women do, from finding out in 20 years that she has breast cancer and wondering why,” says Martinez, a public health researcher who typically studies racial and ethnic health disparities related to alcohol at the Alcohol Research Group, a nonprofit based in Emeryville, California. “To me, it’s also an equity issue. Society has this information about a potential consequence of this behavior, and the women at risk don’t know about it.”

In a 2021 paper published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, calculated a “global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption” based on prior research on alcohol-linked cancer risk, per capita alcohol consumption, and country-specific data on cancer cases. By their estimate, 14,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the US in 2020 could be attributed to prior drinking.

Research shows that overall cancer risk rises with heavier drinking, even for women who don’t drink every day. Binge drinking—four or more drinks at one sitting—is, in itself, associated with higher breast cancer risk.

University of Wisconsin oncologist Noelle LoConte has long felt that the link doesn’t get enough attention—even among oncologists. She is the lead author of a 2017 statement on alcohol and cancer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which calls on these specialists to take the lead in addressing “excessive exposure to alcohol” through education, advocating for policy changes, and research.

Alcohol raises the risk of head, neck, esophageal, liver, and colorectal cancers, in addition to breast cancer, likely due to the way it is metabolized, the statement explains. Ethanol undergoes a biochemical reaction that produces acetaldehyde, which is then broken down by another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase and excreted from the body. Some people, particularly those of East Asian descent, have a less active form of the enzyme, which allows the acetaldehyde—a probable human carcinogen—to circulate longer in the body, potentially putting them at greater risk of cancer. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA, causing changes that can lead to cancer.

Quick hits (part I)

Very abbreviated quick hits because I’ll be hiking, etc., almost all weekend with NC State Park Scholars, but time to get a few out…

1) You know I’m always here for David Shor’s takes.  I think this point is particularly important:

Prior to Afghanistan, Shor credited Biden with managing “to avoid a lot of the controversies. I think the [Biden] formula – to talk about and run on broadly popular economic issues – is good”. He noted that Biden’s initial $1.9trn Covid-19 relief bill was “the most popular policy we have ever polled”. Many Democrats, however, deviate from Shor’s playbook: they are led by their values even when they contradict public opinion, which Shor thinks futile. “If you had told me in 2012 that most of the Democratic field would embrace [slavery] reparations and decriminalising border crossings, I would have thought that a joke.” Talking about divisive issues or issues that “people don’t care about”, said Shor, is damaging. Most voters know this, but many in the media and politics do not.

The problem is that political debate is shaped by the few, not the many. Young white graduates, Shor noted, account for one in 20 voters, yet make up “a literal majority of people who work in politics”. Many are unaware of, or uninterested in, the unpopularity of their own biases.

Biden is from a different political generation, one that Shor believes has a better grip on how to retain power. “Biden just intuitively understands that defunding the police is crazy.” Yet as the US has polarised in recent decades – for every 100 voters, only a handful are now swing voters – the rules of the game have changed. The incentives for young politicians today are clear: raise money from the hyper-engaged, cater to hyper-partisan outlets, and build a digital following. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic congresswoman from New York, exemplifies the new tribal politician.

But an older generation – and Shor here includes Bernie Sanders alongside Biden – know that gaining a cult following does not help you win. The key is to build a broach church. Shor believes that polling is the way to “get around” your biases and align your view with the world’s view. If a politician or activist ignores the public, Shor told me, it is easy for them to think “we’re so progressive, we’re so amazing”. But what they are really doing is “privileging the concerns of rich, educated people”.

2) Yglesias on the Fed Chair broadly, but I most liked his take on the ridiculous attack from the Squad:

What is the climate left doing?

Where I feel on firmer ground is once again asking What Is The Climate Left Doing?

Of all the possible things you could be doing with your time and money, why pick a fight about the Fed Chair job and start funding financial regulation groups to devise this slightly loopy notion of crippling fossil fuel investment through backdoor bank regulation?

And the answer is that the climate left has a misperception that the Democratic Party desperately needs to be pushed toward more aggressive climate action, and that therefore finding fights to pick — even weird and unimportant ones — is constructive.

The reality is that Democratic Party elites — members of Congress, liberals in the media, Biden executive branch employees, foundation officers, etc. — are in practice all much more fired up about climate change than the median voter, or even than the median Democratic Party voter. Climate activists have won the intra-party argument, and Democrats push hard on climate issues because they sincerely believe the issue is important. They are held back in this regard by the tilted electoral maps that give more weight to non-college rural white people’s preferences and they have bestowed on the Democrats a razor-thin majority that’s dependent on senators from West Virginia and Montana. But they are also held back by the preferences of the electorate, which is loosely favorable to climate action but very averse to anything that smacks of personal sacrifice or disruption.

It’s simply a difficult problem. But the answers involve things like helping Democrats be popular and win elections and actually convincing more voters to care more about climate change. The idea that you’re going to fix this by sneaking in a climate-friendly Fed Chair is silly, and trying to craft a narrative whereby Biden is betraying climate activists if he makes a safe Fed appointment is absurd.

3) This was really interesting from NPR, “Why The South Is Decades Ahead Of The West In Wildfire Prevention”

As Western states contend with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, some are looking to the Southeastern U.S., where prescribed fire is widespread thanks to policies put in place decades ago. From 1998 to 2018, 70% of all controlled burning in the country was in the Southeast.

While a continent apart, both regions have a similar need for fire. For thousands of years, forests and woodlands experienced regular burning, both sparked by lightning and used by Native American tribes, which prevented the buildup of flammable growth. Without fire, the landscape is prone to intense, potentially devastating wildfires.

Despite that risk, Western states have struggled to expand the use of controlled burns. This month, the U.S. Forest Service suspended them because of the extensive fires burning in record-dry conditions.

“We have this generational gap in fire knowledge in the Western U.S. that we’re trying to rebuild now,” says Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “But Florida and the Southeast still have it.”

4) This seems like a good idea, “There’s a Better Way to Stop Ransomware Attacks”

But none of these efforts tackle the problem at its root. Ransomware attacks occur because criminals make money from them. If we can make it harder to profit from such attacks, they will decrease.

The United States can make it harder. By more aggressively regulating cryptocurrencies, the government can limit their use as an anonymous payment system for unlawful purposes.

In the nonvirtual world, kidnappings for ransom are wildly unsuccessful. Between 95 percent and 98 percent of criminals involved in cases of kidnapping for ransom that are reported to the police are caught and convicted. Why? In part because at the moment when the victims are exchanged for cash, the criminals put themselves at great risk of identification and capture.

Ransomware attacks are different. Cybercriminals can “kidnap” a company from afar and receive payment anonymously and securely in the form of cryptocurrency. (Technically, cryptocurrency use is only pseudonymous, but in practice the challenge of identifying a user is formidable.)

What should the U.S. government do to make cryptocurrency harder for criminals to use? First, it should adopt and enforce regulations for the cryptocurrency industry that are equivalent to those that govern the traditional banking industry. Cryptocurrency exchanges, “kiosks” and trading “desks” are not complying with laws that target money laundering, financing of terrorism and suspicious-activity reporting, according to a recent report from the Institute for Security and Technology. Those laws ought to be enforced equally in the digital domain.

For example, some cryptocurrency services offer a “tumbler” feature. Tumblers take cryptocurrencies from many sources, mix them up and then redistribute them, making financial transactions harder to trace. This practice looks like money laundering and would be illegal in the nonvirtual world.

To do this, the U.S. banking system should refuse access to cryptocurrency exchanges unless they demonstrate that they are equipped and prepared to prevent ransomware payoffs. It may seem as if cryptocurrency exchanges operate free from traditional banking, but to be fully valuable, digital currency must also be convertible to cash, so the exchanges would have a strong incentive to comply.

The United States should also prohibit transactions with the American banking system by foreign banks that do not impose stricter regulations on cryptocurrency. Because access to the American financial market is vitally important to foreign banks, they, too, would have a strong incentive to comply.

5) Leonhardt earlier this week on whether Delta has crested:

We have asked experts about these two-month cycles, and they acknowledged that they could not explain it. “We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said.

But two broad categories of explanation seem plausible, the experts say.

One involves the virus itself. Rather than spreading until it has reached every last person, perhaps it spreads in waves that happen to follow a similar timeline. How so? Some people may be especially susceptible to a variant like Delta, and once many of them have been exposed to it, the virus starts to recede — until a new variant causes the cycle to begin again (or until a population approaches herd immunity).

The second plausible explanation involves human behavior. People don’t circulate randomly through the world. They live in social clusters, Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, points out. Perhaps the virus needs about two months to circulate through a typically sized cluster, infecting the most susceptible — and a new wave starts when people break out of their clusters, such as during a holiday. Alternately, people may follow cycles of taking more and then fewer Covid precautions, depending on their level of concern.

Whatever the reasons, the two-month cycle predated Delta. It has repeated itself several times in the U.S., including both last year and early this year, with the Alpha variant, which was centered in the upper Midwest:

6) Hot damn Josh Marshall unloads on the Supreme Court and legal elitism more generally:

There’s nothing I can add to the overnight news out of the Supreme Court and Texas that we haven’t discussed previously: the Supreme Court is both corrupted and corrupt. One of the court’s nine members sits illegitimately. At least five of the current conservative majority have opted for a parodic version of what the judicial right once denounced as “judicial activism.” The conservative majority’s jurisprudence is a results-oriented approach abandoning both precedent and the more basic interpretive traditions to arrive at the preferred outcomes of either the Republican party or conservative ideology generally. A 6 to 3 Court doesn’t require extraordinary measures to overrule Roe. It seems prepped to do so next year in a case from Mississippi. The overnight decision – which rather overstates what the Court did – is another example of the injudicious exuberance to use the Court to remake the nation’s laws in ways that mere democracy will not allow.

The Court’s corrupt. The solution is to expand the number of justices on the high court to at least thirteen in order to break its power. I don’t know when this will be possible. We don’t know the future. But it is important to know what the correct and proper solution is…

I would be remiss if I didn’t add that Justice Breyer is in the process of handing the corrupt majority a seventh seat by insisting on remaining on the Court with no justification whatsoever.

He deserves the most unremitting scorn.

This is not only a verdict on his selfishness and self-regard. His rationale for remaining on the Court at the risk of further empowering the corrupt rightwing majority is emblematic of a further problem. It is on a par with those liberal legal academics who in recent years have penned editorials confidently informing us that while they disagree with now-Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett they are nonetheless learned and brilliant jurists of integrity who deserve our support in ascending the bench.

This decision – or rather bad faith refusal to render a decision – is emblematic of the fact that that claim fails even on its own terms. But there is a deeper problem with the claim. It imagines that constitutional jurisprudence is a specialized professional discipline that commands our public assent and support regardless of the outcomes it delivers. If a lawyer has mastered the technical processes of constitutional jurisprudence and has a keen mind they should be supported regardless of their beliefs or likely decisions, the argument goes. This is an argument both dangerous and absurd.

As civilians we don’t presume to judge the personal beliefs or research ambitions of physicists who do advanced research at universities or build our nuclear weapons. We defer to all sorts of specialized domains of knowledge. With all due and real respect to various friends and peers who do important work in the field of law, lawyering is not such a field of knowledge. The suggestion that it is is part and parcel of the same general institutional arrogance of the elite academic legal profession that leads countless law professors to head out on disciplinary safaris into economics, history, psychology and virtually every other domain of knowledge. They actually imagine, risibly, that a JD – a limited and largely technical credential – enables one to launch off on this sort of intellectual tourism as easily as a member of the New York bar might get waived in to try a case in California as a matter of professional courtesy. Both claims are products of the same professional arrogance. And in the case of deference to Court appointees it is an arrogance that menaces democratic and civic life itself.

7) Michele Goldberg, “The Intolerable Wait for a Kids’ Vaccine”

Julie Swann, an engineer who studies health systems and models infectious disease at North Carolina State University, leads a team of researchers who recently tried to simulate how the Delta variant of the coronavirus could move through schools in various scenarios. The results, which The Washington Post published over the weekend, were alarming.

Absent masking and testing, the study said, more than 75 percent of susceptible students would become infected in three months. Even with masking and testing, the simulation found, kids in environments with low immunity — which includes virtually all elementary school classrooms — had a 22 percent chance of getting Covid within 107 days.

As a parent of two elementary-school students, I found these figures harrowing. It already felt like a gut punch when, last week, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said he didn’t expect a pediatric Covid vaccine to be approved before the end of the year…

That’s why we need the Food and Drug Administration to move quickly. “I can tell you almost certainly there will be data available in September to present to Pfizer,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford professor of pediatric infectious diseases and a lead investigator at the Stanford site of Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric vaccine trial, told me. She thinks Pfizer will be able to file for emergency use authorization in October.

So why is Collins saying the end of the year? It’s unclear. One question, which even well-connected people are having a hard time getting an answer to, is whether the F.D.A. is going to demand extra data for the kids’ vaccine. In July, the agency asked Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to double the number of kids in their clinical trials to have a better chance of detecting rare side effects. The F.D.A. also said it wanted four to six months of follow-up safety data, as opposed to two for adults.

Most experts don’t think this data is necessary for the F.D.A. to authorize the vaccine on an emergency basis. But we don’t know if the F.D.A. will insist on waiting for it. “That is probably one of the decision points that is affecting the various predictions,” said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Two weeks ago, 108 members of Congress, worried about how long approval for a pediatric vaccine was taking, wrote to the F.D.A. seeking some visibility into its timetable. On Monday, the F.D.A. responded, but without offering specifics. “We understand that it is essential that the public have full trust in the F.D.A.’s review process, complete confidence in whatever products we approve or authorize, and faith in F.D.A. and our commitment to protecting public health,” the agency said.

Personally, I’m losing that trust. I fear the F.D.A. knows it will be blamed if anything goes wrong with the vaccine, but not necessarily if kids get horribly sick for lack of it.

8) This is a great NYT feature on medical pricing.  Definitely check it out, “Hospitals and Insurers Didn’t Want You to See These Prices. Here’s Why.”

9) And we’ll wrap up this short version with Will Wilkinson, “The Density Divide and the Southernification of Rural America”

But here’s the thing… America’s increasingly placeless, homogenous white rural culture isn’t a blend of all our various regional cultures. Rural Iowans and Minnesotans sound more like rural Missourians than the reverse.

Now, consider this analysis of the latest Census figures from David A. Hopkins, a Boston College political scientist:

Many large metropolitan areas grew faster over the past decade than the Bureau had previously projected, with eight of the nation’s ten largest cities showing an increased growth rate compared to the 2000 to 2010 period. At the same time, most of rural America shrank in absolute as well as relative terms. A majority—52 percent—of the nation’s counties actually reported a smaller raw population in 2020 than they had in 2010.

[…]

The fundamental geographic division in American politics has traditionally been a sectional conflict setting the North against the South. The idioms of “red states” and “blue states” caught on widely after the 2000 presidential election because they could be applied to a regional divide—blue North, red South—that was already presumed to reflect the main axis of political debate and competition. But the partisan difference between large-metro and rural residents has now become much larger than the gap between northerners and southerners.

I call this widening gap between the partisan loyalties of urban and rural America “the density divide.” Hopkins is clearly correct that urban vs. rural has eclipsed North vs. South as the geographic embodiment of our partisan divisions. As the old adage goes, a chart speaks a thousand white papers. The divergence is crazy.

However, I suspect that battle between North and South lives on both culturally and geographically. The North has drifted out of the countryside and concentrated itself into our cities. At the same time, America’s rural and exurban counties have slowly become more and more homogenously Southern. The South has risen again … in rural Maine? …

One of the puzzles of the 2016 election, and the catastrophe of the Trump presidency, is how populist white nationalism finally prevailed at a time when Americans, taken altogether, were less racist than ever. This is one of the questions I take up in the “Density Divide.” But I left out one of my favorite answers to this question largely because it’s too speculative and I didn’t have the data to prove it. My hunch is that rural white culture, which was once regionally varied and distinctive, became more uniform by becoming increasingly Southern. I call this the Southernification thesis.

In the Density Divide, I argued that the key to answering “Why did white ethnonationalism finally work to win the GOP nomination and then the White House when it didn’t even get close to working for Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul?” was that residential self-selection on ethnicity, personality, and education had made lower density parts of the country progressively more homogenously ethnocentric and socially conservative, which finally made it possible to unify and organize rural and exurban whites as a single constituency.

I’m confident that this is correct, as far as it goes. However, I think it’s an incomplete explanation without something like the Southernification thesis. Before it could be successfully organized politically, America’s increasingly ethnocentric non-urban white population needed to be consolidated first through the adoption of a relatively uniform ethnocentric white culture.

What I’m still groping for is solid empirical confirmation that the Southernification of white rural America did happen and, if so, how it happened. Now, I have few doubts that it did happen and is still happening. Indeed, it’s hard to think of better impressionistic evidence than the spread of Confederate flags far from the South into all parts of white rural America. But that doesn’t seem like quite enough.

Are smartphones making our teenagers lonely?

Some solid social science says… probably yes.  Great summary of their work from Jon Haidt and Jean Twenge:

So what does the PISA survey show? In a paper we just published in The Journal of Adolescence, we report that in 36 out of 37 countries, loneliness at school has increased since 2012. We grouped the 37 countries into four geographic and cultural regions, and we found the same pattern in all regions: Teenage loneliness was relatively stable between 2000 and 2012, with fewer than 18 percent reporting high levels of loneliness. But in the six years after 2012, rates increased dramatically. They roughly doubled in Europe, Latin America and the English-speaking countries, and rose by about 50 percent in the East Asian countries.

This synchronized global increase in teenage loneliness suggests a global cause, and the timing is right for smartphones and social media to be major contributors. But couldn’t the timing just be coincidental? To test our hypothesis, we sought data on many global trends that might have an impact on teenage loneliness, including declines in family size, changes in G.D.P., rising income inequality and increases in unemployment, as well as more smartphone access and more hours of internet use. The results were clear: Only smartphone access and internet use increased in lock step with teenage loneliness. The other factors were unrelated or inversely correlated.

These analyses don’t prove that smartphones and social media are major causes of the increase in teenage loneliness, but they do show that several other causes are less plausible. If anyone has another explanation for the global increase in loneliness at school, we’d love to hear it. [emphasis mine]

All young mammals play, especially those that live in groups like dogs, chimpanzees and humans. All such mammals need tens of thousands of social interactions to become socially competent adults. In 2012 it was possible to believe that teens would get those interactions via their smartphones — far more of them, perhaps. But as data accumulates that teenage mental health has changed for the worse since 2012, it now appears that electronically mediated social interactions are like empty calories. Just imagine what teenagers’ health would be like today if we had taken 50 percent of the most nutritious food out of their diets in 2012 and replaced those calories with sugar.

So what can we do? We can’t turn back time to the pre-smartphone era, nor would we want to, given the many benefits of the technology. But we can take some reasonable steps to help teens get more of what they need.

One important step is to give kids a long period each day when they are not distracted by their devices: the school day. Phones may be useful for getting to and from school, but they should be locked up during the school day so students can practice the lost art of paying full attention to the people around them — including their teachers.

A second important step is to delay entry into social media, ideally keeping it entirely out of elementary and middle schools. At present, many 10- and 11-year-olds simply lie about their age to open accounts, and once that happens, other kids don’t want to be excluded, so they feel pressured to do the same.

I actually like that my 15-year old basically entirely eschews social media.  On the other hand, I’m presumably guilty of letting my 10-year old lie about her age, but’s really so she can mostly post cute photos of our dog, which really does seem to avoid the harms this article is talking about.  Or, even better, an outlet for her creative writing about velociraptors (now featuring stop-motion video!)  

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) The fact that here we are in 2021 with all the technological sophistication we have and HBO cannot make an app for Roku that’s not extremely glitchy strikes me as nuts.  I mean, I use a bunch of different apps on Roku and HBO Max is the only one that consistently has problems.  And, yet, here we are.  It clearly cannot be that difficult a technological problem if you just care enough, thus HBO apparently, does not.  Damn them and all their good programming I want to watch despite their glitchy app!  Appreciated very much this Bloomberg article as I now know it’s not remotely just me:

Hershberger is not the only irritated customer. For months, subscribers have been complaining about HBO Max’s technical shortcomings, particularly on Roku — one of the most popular streaming devices, with 54 million active accounts. A post in December on Roku’s community forum about how HBO Max freezes and crashes now stretches 37 pages long and is filled with more than 360 replies. Similar angry comments from HBO Max subscribers have flooded Twitter and Reddit

Andi Agardy, 46, who lives in Tennessee, decided to wait a few months to sign up for HBO Max to give the service time to work out the bugs on Roku’s platform. But she said the app still frequently freezes and crashes, forcing her Roku to restart.

She also subscribes to Netflix, Hulu and YouTube TV. But HBO Max, she said, “is the one I have the most problems with.” …

Annoyed HBO Max subscribers say they’re torn between a desire to see the acclaimed shows and the headaches of constantly restarting the app.

2) Very good stuff on the evolution of Covid:

This progression of variants demonstrates the virus’s drive for heightened fitness, the natural selection of mutations and strains that make it more likely to find hosts and are further facilitated by sidestepping the immune response, even allowing repeat infections of people who previously had COVID-19. We emphasize, however, that enhanced transmissibility, rather than immunoevasion or greater lethality, would be considered the most potent path for the virus to become more fit and viable.

Indeed, more-fit variants can be expected to emerge over time (the occurrence of which will need to be monitored meticulously, as these pose a potential public health threat), but we believe that these will not continue to emerge indefinitely: nothing is infinite in nature, and eventually the virus will reach its form of ‘maximum transmission’. After then, new variants will provide no further advantage in infectivity. The virus will thus stabilize and this ‘final’ variant will prevail and become the dominant strain, experiencing only occasional, minimal variations.

By homology, we can imagine that the same took place when some very contagious RNA viruses (e.g., measles virus) spilled over in humans: in the early stages of the epidemic, the virus was probably unstable and less transmissible than it is now; then—once the most contagious phenotype was reached—the measles virus stabilized. We note that the inevitable outcome of this strategy for all RNA viruses that have developed high contagiousness (beyond measles virus, we could name, for instance, the viral agents that cause hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, mumps and rubella) is the lack of molecular structures that allow the virus to ‘dodge’ the immune response of the recovered host. Why is that? To make a long story short, by the time these viruses are attacked by the adaptive immunity of their new host, they have no immediate advantage in evading it, because they have probably already spread to another susceptible host, where replication and survival are ensured4.

3) I was having a hard time figuring out how I felt about the Simone Biles thing until I read this.  I had actually come to the conclusion that what was going on seemed a lot like the yips in golf or baseball and then I read this.  It’s the twisties! I love validation. I absolutely feel for Biles and this makes it clear she was right to pull out.  But, also, it really is stunning and I think unprecedented for such a superlative athlete to be felled by a psychological malady in a circumstance like this.

TOKYO — Imagine flying through the air, springing off a piece of equipment as you prepare to flip on one axis while twisting on another. It all happens fast, so there’s little time to adjust. You rely on muscle memory, trusting that it’ll work out, because with so much practice, it usually does.

But then suddenly, you’re upside down in midair and your brain feels disconnected from your body. Your limbs that usually control how much you spin have stopped listening, and you feel lost. You hope all the years you’ve spent in this sport will guide your body to a safe landing position.

When Simone Biles pushed off the vaulting table Tuesday, she entered that terrifying world of uncertainty. In the Olympic team final, Biles planned to perform a 2½-twisting vault, but her mind chose to stall after just 1½ twists instead.

Biles, who subsequently withdrew from the team competition and then the all-around final a day later, described what went wrong during that vault as “having a little bit of the twisties.”

The cute-sounding term, well-known in the gymnastics community, describes a frightening predicament. When gymnasts have the “twisties,” they lose control of their bodies as they spin through the air. Sometimes they twist when they hadn’t planned to. Other times they stop midway through, as Biles did. And after experiencing the twisties once, it’s very difficult to forget. Instinct gets replaced by thought. Thought quickly leads to worry. Worry is difficult to escape.

“Simply, your life is in danger when you’re doing gymnastics,” said Sean Melton, a former elite gymnast who dealt with the twisties through his entire career. “And then, when you add this unknown of not being able to control your body while doing these extremely dangerous skills, it adds an extreme level of stress. And it’s terrifying, honestly, because you have no idea what is going to happen.”
The twisties are essentially like the yips in other sports. But in gymnastics, the phenomenon affects the athletes when they’re in the air, so the mind-body disconnect can be dangerous, even for someone of Biles’s caliber.

4) Really, really enjoyed this profile of Matt Damon.  Especially the parts about the changing business of hollywood and how there’s no good mid-range movies anymore.

But you only have to look a bit closer at Damon’s career, at the notion of Matt Damon, Movie Star we have in our heads, to see that nice might be an ingenious sleight-of-hand, an illusion of sorts. Because that darkness is there. Damon doesn’t just play nice guys. Far from it. There’s Jason Bourne, whom he has played in four hit films and who is a miserable, self-loathing killing machine; the sociopathic social climber Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; the crooked Colin Sullivan in “The Departed.” Or the prep-school anti-Semite in “School Ties,” an early hint at the lurking appeal of Bad Matt. Damon’s most deftly portrayed cretin may be Mark Whitacre, the self-dealing, weaselly-mustached corporate whistle-blower in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!” His most unexpected heel turn: a cameo as a cowardly astronaut (Mark Watney turned inside out) in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” “He has a willingness to rip apart his boyish, all-American exterior,” says Soderbergh, who has directed Damon in nine films. “He’s self-aware enough, and secure enough, to riff on that.” Whether another actor could have similar riffing opportunities anymore is doubtful. Over the course of his career, Damon has seen the films like the ones that sustained him — that is, the $20-million-to-$70 million drama, what he calls his “bread and butter” — mostly disappear. “You need those roles to develop as an actor and build your career, and those are gone,” Damon said, nodding. “Courtroom dramas, all that stuff, they can’t get made.” Those sorts of movies have been replaced by more easily exportable, higher-budget but paradoxically lower-risk ones. “You’re looking for a home run that can play in all these different territories to all these different ages,” Damon said. “You want the most accessible thing you can make, in terms of language and culture. And what is that? A superhero movie.” …

William Goldman’s old saw about how in Hollywood nobody knows anything could probably now be amended to this: Everyone knows only one thing, and it’s that superhero movies sell. The reorientation of the studios toward those films and other pre-existing intellectual property means the power of actors, even proven stars like Damon, has diminished. It’s the recognizable characters and cinematic universes that can be counted on financially, not the people inhabiting them. Fewer attractive parts adds extra pressure on stars to pick those parts wisely — a big, undervalued aspect of Hollywood acting. In hindsight, when you look over a successful actor’s IMDB page, it’s a list of hits and near misses and duds, but originally, they were all the same: a script. Nothing is preordained. Anyone who has a 25-year career as firmly A-list as Damon is good at picking, at telling not just whether a movie will be good but also whether he can be good in it, and whether it can be good for him. “Sometimes the right choice for an actor isn’t the biggest film, but what is the right choice for that moment in an actor’s career,” says George Clooney, who directed Damon in “The Monuments Men” and “Suburbicon.” “Matt has bounced back and forth between big studio pictures and independent, interesting films. Because he doesn’t keep doing the same thing, audiences don’t get bored of him.”

5) Drum has his list of rules for the pandemic. I endorse:

YES, kids should go back to school in person next month, with temporary exceptions during serious outbreaks. The risks of infection are far lower than the risk of yet another year of remote “learning.”

YES, kids should wear masks in school. Some extra caution is a good idea.

YES, vaccinations should be mandated for all health professionals who work with the public. This is really a no-brainer.

YES, we should accept help from wherever we can get it. If Alex Jones is willing to hype vaccinations by inventing a story that liberals have been secretly promoting vaccine fear in order to kill off conservatives, that’s fine. Whatever.

YES, vaccination mandates should be as widespread as possible. Corporations should put them in place for their own workers; businesses should put them in place for customers; and states should put them in place for everyone. They are legal, constitutional, and sensible. Enforce them via tax credits available only to those who have been vaccinated.

NO, mask mandates shouldn’t include most outdoor areas. The point here is not to put in place the maximum possible regime. It’s to put in place a regime that truly provides the most bang for the buck.

6) What’s interesting to me is the pathetically transparent rationalizations/justifications of the journalists who think this is a remotely reasonable way to practice journalism, “A Catholic newsletter promised investigative journalism. Then it outed a priest using Grindr data.”

In January, when Ed Condon and JD Flynn broke off from their jobs at a long-standing Catholic news agency, they promised readers of their new newsletter that they would deliver reporting without an agenda, or a foregone conclusion. “We aim to do serious, responsible, sober journalism about the Church, from the Church and for the Church. . . . We want The Pillar to be a different kind of journalism.”

Six months later the Pillar broke the kind of story mainstream news organizations would be unlikely to touch: They said they had obtained commercially available data that included location history from the hookup app Grindr, and used it to track a high-ranking priest from his offices and family lake house to gay nightclubs.

Now Condon and Flynn, two 38-year-old canon lawyers-turned-muckrakers, are at the center of both a global surveillance-ethics story as well as a mud fight among their fellow Catholics over whether last week they served or disgraced the church. One Catholic writer described it as “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests.”…

Flynn and Condon initially said they were not interested in participating in an interview for this article, then agreed to consider questions by email, and later said they didn’t have sufficient time and declined. But in comments they’ve tweeted since Tuesday and a podcast they posted Friday, they explained a bit of their thinking.

“There’s nothing to recommend the indiscriminate naming and shaming of people for moral failures just because you can. That is unethical. And that is not something I believe we’ve done,”Condon said on the podcast.

“People are entitled to moral failures and repentance and reconciliation and to a legitimate good reputation. There’s a difference between that and serial and consistent, immoral behavior on the part of a public figure charged with addressing public morality, isn’t there?” Flynn said.

7) Great stuff from Jeremy Faust (I highly recommend his newsletter) on the Olympics.  “Don’t cancel the Tokyo Olympics. Emulate them.”

In the lead up to the Opening Ceremonies, many in Japan and around the world called for the Tokyo Olympics to again be postponed or scrapped entirely. But one week into the Games, it appears that the 108-acre Olympic Village may actually be one of the safest populated areas on the planet.

Yes, there have been coronavirus cases among athletes and staff, and more will occur. That was inevitable. But a close analysis reveals that the International Olympic and Paralympic Committee “playbook” seems to be working as hoped. Cases have been identified rapidly. Those with positive tests have been quickly isolated and contact tracing has been completed. As a result, the situation has never spiraled out of control. The realistic goal was never to find zero cases. The idea was to rapidly find any and all cases, act decisively, and keep everyone else safe.

The system is working. While the plan has many elements, it is rooted in one crucial idea: a testing tsunami.

Check out the data visualization that we created for Inside Medicine below‡. It demonstrates that if the Olympic Village were a country, it would be the 4th most vaccinated nation in the world, behind Gibralter (population 34,000), Pitcairn (population 67), and Malta (population 502,000), and it would lead the world in daily coronavirus testing per person by a colossal margin. In fact, if coronavirus testing were an Olympic sport, the Olympic Village would tower over the world in Gold Medal position at over 250 tests per 1,000 people each day, with Cyprus in a distant Silver Medal position at just 84 tests per 1,000 people per day. Only 9 countries on Earth are currently conducting more than 10 tests per 1,000 people daily.

One week into the Games, it appears that the 108-acre Olympic Village may actually be one of the safest populated areas on the planet.
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There is no populated region anywhere on the globe currently combining such high rates of vaccination and anything close to the testing protocols being implemented at the Olympic Games. So far, around 1 in 5,000 coronavirus tests performed in the Olympic Village have come back positive, giving it the lowest “positivity” rate in the world by a factor of 5 over its four closest competitors (Austria, Singapore, Australia, and Taiwan), and a literal order of magnitude or better than the rest of the nations of the world. As of this writing, more Olympic athletes have tested positive for banned drugs leading up to and during the Games than have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 while living in the actual Olympic Village in Tokyo.
 

8) The Washington Post takes a deep dive behind the scenes of UNC and NHJ.

9) For those of you at all epidemiologically inclined, this was really, really good, “How the coronavirus infects cells — and why Delta is so dangerous.”  Lots of really cool visualizations, e.g., 

Life cycle of the pandemic coronavirus: Infographic showing how the virus enters, adapts and exits from host cells.

10) Good Covid stuff from Katherine Xue, “COVID-19 is likely to become an endemic disease. How will our immune systems resist it?”

Still, it is likely that the virus itself is here to stay. “I personally think that there’s essentially zero chance that sars-CoV-2 will be eradicated,” Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told me. (Bloom advised my Ph.D. research on influenza evolution.) Most viruses, including the four seasonal coronaviruses, other common-cold viruses, and the flu, haven’t been eradicated; scientists describe them as “endemic,” a term derived from the Greek word éndēmos, meaning “in the people.” Endemic viruses circulate constantly, typically at low levels, but with occasional, more severe outbreaks. We don’t shut out these endemic viruses with quarantines and stay-at-home orders; we live with them.

What will it be like to live with endemic sars-CoV-2? That depends on the strength of our immune memories. How vividly will our bodies remember the virus or vaccine? How will waning immunity and the rise of variants—such as Delta, which is currently driving a spike in covid cases around the world—affect our vulnerability to reinfection? We’re beginning to learn the answers to some of these questions, and to get a sense of the years to come…

The immune system’s overlapping layers work together to strengthen its memory. But viruses aren’t static. As they accumulate mutations, their shapes shift, and they gradually become more difficult for the system to recognize. Survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic maintained strong antibody responses against that virus for almost ninety years. And yet adults still get the flu approximately once every five years, because the influenza virus’s rapid evolution insures that each year brings new variants. On average, flu viruses acquire half a dozen mutations each year; many of these alter the proteins that allow the viruses to enter and exit host cells. Antibodies that once bound tightly to a virus may have a weaker grip on its evolved form; the virus might escape the notice of certain T cells that used to recognize it.

“You can also ask the question for coronaviruses,” Bloom said. “How much of the ability to reinfect people might be driven by the virus changing?” Growing evidence suggests how much viral evolution might make us vulnerable to coronavirus reinfection. Recently, researchers in Bloom’s lab analyzed blood samples collected from people in the nineteen-eighties and nineties; the samples contained antibodies for the version of seasonal coronavirus 229E that circulated back then. Those same antibodies failed to recognize the descendants of the virus that had evolved in the intervening years. Coronaviruses mutate more slowly than viruses like influenza and H.I.V., but, over the course of a decade or two, they can still change enough to evade our immune memory.

11) This was fascinating, “Doctors Might Have Been Focusing on the Wrong Asthma Triggers: The pandemic was a big social experiment that sent asthma attacks plummeting.”

All around the country, doctors have spent the pandemic wondering why their patients with asthma were suddenly doing so well. Asthma attacks have plummeted. Pediatric ICUs have sat strangely empty. “We braced ourselves for significant problems for the millions of people living with asthma,” says David Stukus, Scarlett’s doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “It was the complete opposite. It’s amazing.” (Fears about people with asthma getting more severe COVID-19 infections haven’t been borne out either.) Studies in other countries, including England, Scotland, and South Korea, also found big drops in hospital and doctor’s-office visits for asthma attacks.

The massive global experiment that is the pandemic is now leading doctors to rethink some long-held assumptions about the disease. Asthma is a chronic condition that occasionally flares up, leading to 3,500 deaths and 1.6 million emergency-room visits a year in the United States. These acute attacks can be triggered by a number of environmental factors: viruses, pollen, mold, dust mites, rodents, cockroaches, pet dander, smoke, air pollution, etc. Doctors have often scrutinized allergens that patients can control at home, such as pests and secondhand smoke. But patients have stayed at home for a year and suffered dramatically fewer asthma attacks—suggesting bigger roles for other triggers, especially routine cold and flu viruses, which nearly vanished this year with social distancing and masks.

With life in the U.S. snapping back to normal, asthma doctors and patients are facing another new reality. Masks are going away; schools will be reopening in the fall. The pandemic unexpectedly reduced asthma attacks, and now doctors and patients have to navigate between what they know is possible in extraordinary conditions and what is practical in more ordinary ones.

12) Good stuff from the How Democracies Die team, “The Biggest Threat to Democracy Is the GOP Stealing the Next Election: Unless and until the Republican Party recommits itself to playing by democratic rules of the game, American democracy will remain at risk.”

13) What I find particularly interesting about this study is the ideological backlash to its conclusions.  Maybe it’s wrong and could have been conducted better; always a reasonable critique.  But I really don’t like critiques based on not liking the implications of the findings.  “Is opening more strip clubs one way to reduce sex crimes?”

In theory, adult entertainment businesses — including strip clubs and escort services — could either increase or decrease sex crimes. By teaching men to treat women as sex objects, they could foster the kinds of attitudes that lead men to commit rape and sexual assault. On the other hand, such establishments might provide substitutions for sex crimes: Men otherwise inclined to commit assaults might instead spend more time in strip clubs or hiring escorts.

In a forthcoming study in the Economic Journal, we found evidence for the second theory: In New York City, over the period from Jan. 1, 2004, to June 30, 2012, the opening of an adult entertainment business in a police precinct decreased sex crimes by 13 percent in that precinct.

This did not seem to be because police presence increased in those precincts when strip clubs appeared: Other crime rates — involving drugs and theft, for example — were not affected, something we’d be unlikely to see if more police were patrolling these neighborhoods. Nor was it because women (including street prostitutes, who are often the victims of sex crimes) avoided the areas around such businesses: If that were true, we’d expect to find sex crimes increase in neighboring precincts; the crimes might simply be relocated.

All of that suggests that the substitution explanation may be true: People inclined to commit sex crimes may be less likely to do so if they have an outlet for sexually explicit entertainment (which may include, at some clubs, illegal prostitution). Strengthening the case for this conclusion is the fact that the effect we found was more powerful at night, when these establishments do most of their business.

14) Pretty damn happy with the heat pump that’s been keeping me warm in winter for almost 20 years here in NC, “Are ‘Heat Pumps’ the Answer to Heat Waves? Some Cities Think So.”

15) Michael Pollan, “The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?” Ummm, no, it’s not time.  But I do try to avoid it after mid-afternoon most all days.  In my case, I’m definitely not using caffeine to compensate for poor sleep as, I never use caffeine before noon (that’s when I go on my Diet Dr Pepper binge for the day).

An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is of poor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”

Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.

I thought of myself as a pretty good sleeper before I met Walker. At lunch he probed me about my sleep habits. I told him I usually get a solid seven hours, fall asleep easily, dream most nights.

“How many times a night do you wake up?” he asked. I’m up three or four times a night (usually to pee), but I almost always fall right back to sleep.

He nodded gravely. “That’s really not good, all those interruptions. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.” The interruptions were undermining the amount of “deep” or “slow wave” sleep I was getting, something above and beyond the REM sleep I had always thought was the measure of a good night’s rest. But it seems that deep sleep is just as important to our health, and the amount we get tends to decline with age.

Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.

16) I cannot imagine writing a book without Laurel Elder’s help.  Meanwhile, Laurel just churns out books on her own:

From Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren to Stacey Abrams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, women around the country are running in—and winning—elections at an unprecedented rate. It appears that women are on a steady march toward equal representation across state legislatures and the US Congress, but there is a sharp divide in this representation along party lines. Most of the women in office are Democrats, and the number of elected Republican women has been plunging for decades.

In The Partisan Gap, Elder examines why this disparity in women’s representation exists, and why it’s only going to get worse. Drawing on interviews with female office-holders, candidates, and committee members, she takes a look at what it is like to be a woman in each party. From party culture and ideology, to candidate recruitment and the makeup of regional biases, Elder shows the factors contributing to this harmful partisan gap, and what can be done to address it in the future. The Partisan Gap explores the factors that help, and hinder, women’s political representation.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is so good.  Amanda Knox— famous for being wrongfully convicted in Italy– with a great piece on the many, many cognitive biases that led to her awful situation.  

2) I’m an unapologetic Olympics lover.  Matt Grossman has been tweeting links to Olympics research.  Love this regresssion model of gold medals by country:

3) This from Melinda Wenner Moyer sounds right to me, “American Parents Are Way Too Focused on Their Kids’ Self-Esteem: Our over-the-top efforts to ensure that kids feel valued and adored can actually make them feel inept.”  I’ve requested and plan to read her new book, How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes.  But, seriously, she couldn’t give it a title that’s not going to be super awkward when I have it on the coffee table where I leave the books I’m reading?  I’m 95% positive this title will ultimately hurt her sales and readership.  Anyway…

But as I dug into the research, I learned that many American parents have been woefully overvaluing and misunderstanding the concept. Having healthy self-esteem does not ensure that kids will fare well or stay out of trouble. And although self-esteem is a tricky concept to study, research suggests that the steps parents take to foster self-esteem in their kids often have the paradoxical effect of undermining it. Our over-the-top efforts to ensure that kids feel valued and adored can actually make them feel inept—whereas intentionally exposing our kids to disappointment and failure, which so many parents are loath to do, can give children a satisfying sense of self-efficacy.

For decades, Americans have been a little obsessed with the concept of self-esteema measure of how much confidence and value people feel they have. In 1986, the governor of California, George Deukmejian, signed legislation that created the Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility, which concluded that boosting Californians’ collective levels of self-esteem would lower rates of crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, welfare dependency, and school underachievement. The task force’s final report referred to self-esteem as a “social vaccine” that is “central to most of the personal and social problems that plague human life in today’s world.”

That’s a bold statement, based on a bold assumption that the U.S. is suffering from an ongoing epidemic of low self-esteem, and that this deficiency is dangerous. You’ve probably heard that teens with low self-esteem are more likely than other kids to be depressed, to be anxious, to drink, to do drugs, and to commit crimes. This is all true. But what might come as a surprise is that the inverse of this statement is not also true. High self-esteem is not a panacea against all things bad, and kids with high self-esteem often make bad choices too.

“It’s unclear, actually, just how important self-esteem may be in terms of predicting healthy outcomes,” says Grace Cho, a developmental psychologist at St. Olaf College, in Minnesota, and the co-author of Self-Esteem in Time and Place: How American Families Imagine, Enact, and Personalize a Cultural Ideal. “The literature is actually really kind of messy and mixed.” In an exhaustive review of the research literature, the Florida State University social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and his colleagues concluded that “raising self-esteem will not by itself make young people perform better in school, obey the law, stay out of trouble, get along better with their fellows, or respect the rights of others.”

4) Monica Gandhi, “We are testing too many vaccinated people who lack covid symptoms”

Early in the pandemic, the United States had an undertesting problem. Now we are overtesting those who are immune and asymptomatic. A person with immunity to the coronavirus will fight off an infection. But during and after the person’s exposure to the virus, it’s common for a low number of virus particles to be detectable in the nose. In medicine, we call this virus a “colonizer” — a pathogen that does not cause illness or spread the illness. It’s an incidental finding. But in today’s world of routine coronavirus testing of vaccinated people, these positive tests are inflating the number of positive cases in a misleading way.

It is true that the delta variant has led to an increase in cases in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low, and these surges need to be taken seriously; these cases correlate with increases in serious illnesses and hospitalizations mainly among the unvaccinated. What we’re concerned about is the overtesting of the fully vaccinated, who now make up roughly 60 percent of U.S. adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially decreed that fully vaccinated people should not be tested for the coronavirus in the absence of symptoms. That’s because immunity works. Mounting evidence has demonstrated an extremely low risk of asymptomatic transmission by vaccinated people.

But despite this guideline, testing vaccinated people with no symptoms is a bandwagon that cannot seem to be stopped. Employers, entertainment venuesschoolsairlines, local governments and even hospitals are adopting universal testing policies regardless of vaccination status. This results in asymptomatic immune people testing positive even though they pose no substantive public health threat. This practice was evident even at the White House’s outdoor Fourth of July party, where each of the more than 1,000 attendees was tested for the coronavirus. We can assume that many of Biden’s staff and friends who attended were vaccinated. So unless they had symptoms (which would preclude them from attending, anyway) this testing was not consistent with CDC guidelines.

Testing people who have been vaccinated and have no symptoms could extend this pandemic forever. That’s because a PCR test, which still remains the gold standard of testing (over antigen-based testing), can detect just a few virus particles — or even just one. Those small amounts of the virus are not enough to cause transmission, according to studies in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and the Lancet. Indeed, such small amounts of exposure can boost immunity in the vaccinated while causing no ill effects.

In this new phase of battling the pandemic, we should change the way we talk about covid-19 infections: Rather than discussing “cases” — meaning instances when a PCR test delivers a positive result — we should describe the viral load a person is carrying. Measuring the load size is done by determining the number of cycles required for the PCR machine to detect the virus. The more cycles used to find a virus, the lower the viral load. A positive test with a high cycle threshold, say, more than 25 cycles) — signaling a noninfectious virus — should be treated as far less worrisome than a positive test with a low-cycle threshold.

5) We don’t hear a lot about the J&J vaccine these days.  This is good, “Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine produced fewer antibodies against Delta compared with other shots in an experiment. Experts say we shouldn’t worry about the results.”

Dr. Ned Landau, who led the experiment, told CNBC that the findings suggested people who got the J&J vaccine “should at least consider” a second dose of the same vaccine or one from Pfizer or Moderna. 

But other experts aren’t convinced about the findings of a small lab study, which hasn’t yet been scrutinized by other experts in a peer review. They say Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine could still work against Delta in real life.

Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported Tuesday that fully vaccinated people could get COVID-19 — but if they do, they usually get mild symptoms, or none at all.

 

8) As someone who discovered oral allergy syndrome and my allergies to apples as an adult, I found this really interesting:

My grandson Tomas first noticed a distressing reaction to hazelnuts at age 8. Whenever he ate Nutella, his mouth and throat felt tingly and swollen, and so this sweet spread was then banned from his diet and the household.

A few years later, Tomas had the same reaction when he ate raw carrots. In researching this column, I learned that hazelnuts and carrots, although botanically unrelated foods, share a protein with birch pollen, to which Tomas is allergic. However, he can eat cooked carrots safely because cooking denatures the allergenic protein.

Now 21, he has not yet reacted to other foods that also contain the birch pollen protein, namely celery, potato, apple and peach, although he could eventually become sensitive to one or more of them. His father said that as an adult he’s developed similar mouth and throat symptoms when he eats apples and peaches, especially during pollen season.

I also learned of another common link between pollen and food sensitivities. People allergic to ragweed may also react to bananas and melons. Again, a shared protein is responsible. This type of allergy is believed to start with sensitization to inhalation of the offending pollen that later results in an allergic reaction when the food protein is consumed.

9) I had the amazing opportunity when I was in 9th grade to spend a week in the Dominican Republic with my high school band so I’ve always tried to pay a little extra attention to the country.  Really interesting piece from Noah Smith examining all the hypotheses for why it has been so much more successful than its island neighbor, Haiti.  Short version– lots of good ideas, but no clear answer.  

10) I love this approach from Drum on how to make American politics so, so much better:

If you’ve been watching Fox News since last November, you believe that:

  1. Democratic voter fraud was rampant in the 2020 presidential election, which Donald Trump probably won.
  2. The 1/6 insurrection was a false flag operation of some kind that was planned and carried out by liberals, the FBI, and other parts of the Deep State who then tried to blame it on Trump supporters.
  3. There is no reason to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  4. Our nation’s public schools have been taken over by left-wing teachers who tell white kids that they should all be ashamed of being white.

If I were a multi-billionaire, what would I do with my money? Unfortunately, the really big problems—climate change, national healthcare, racism, etc.—are too big even for a billionaire. Only national governments can really address them.

Instead I would dedicate my fortune to destroying Fox News. I would do it any way I could. Marketing. Lawsuits. Boycotts. Talent poaching. Cable access. Making Rupert Murdoch’s life miserable. You name it. Nor would I have any qualms about playing fair. You have a plan for a space-based laser that interferes with Fox News broadcasts and makes them unwatchable? Great! Here’s a hundred million to give it a go.

Fox News may have started out with narrower goals, but today it’s explicitly aimed at undermining American politics and getting us to hate each other. Why? Because it adds to the fortune of an Australian plutocrat who thinks that plundering the American public is a great way of becoming ever richer. Ditto for the on-air “talent,” which has become rich by figuring out ever bigger and better ways of scaring the poor schmoes who trust them.

American politics is unlikely to recover until Fox News is reduced to rubble. Anyone know a billionaire who agrees?

11) What Texas is trying to do with its abortion law may have far-reaching consequences.  Really good stuff here from Laurence Tribe and Stephen Vladeck:

Efforts in red states to pass increasingly restrictive limits on abortions have ramped up in the past few years as the composition of the Supreme Court has made it more likely that those laws will be upheld. But a new law in Texas that’s set to go into effect on Sept. 1 is especially worrisome.

Not only has Texas banned virtually all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, a point at which many women do not even know they’re pregnant, it has also provided for enforcement of that ban by private citizens. If you suspect that a Texan is seeking to obtain an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, not only will you be able to sue the provider to try to stop it, but if you succeed, you’ll also be entitled to compensation. (And what’s known as the litigation privilege would likely protect you from a defamation claim even if you’re wrong.) The law, known as S.B. 8, effectively enlists the citizenry to act as an anti-abortion Stasi.

All of that would be problematic enough, but enlisting private citizens to enforce the restriction makes it very difficult, procedurally, to challenge the bill’s constitutionality in court. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Austin last week tries to get around those roadblocks. We believe that it should succeed. But if it fails, not only would that leave the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country impervious to constitutional challenge, it would also encourage other states to follow Texas’ lead on abortion, as well as on every other contested question of social policy.

California could shift to private enforcement of its gun control regulations, never mind the Second Amendment implications of such restrictions. Vermont could shift to private enforcement of its environmental regulations, never mind the federal pre-emption implications. And the list goes on.

In the abstract, allowing citizens to help enforce the law is nothing new. Many states have so-called citizen suit or private attorney general provisions that allow people to help enforce a range of laws and rules governing consumer and environmental protection, government transparency and more. The federal government authorizes citizens to help bring certain fraud claims on behalf of the United States — and allows those citizens to share in any damages that the government receives. The critical point in both of those contexts is that citizens are supplementing government enforcement.

The Texas law, by contrast, leaves private enforcement as the only mechanism for enforcing the broad restrictions on abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. It specifically precludes the state’s attorney general or any other state official from initiating enforcement. Under this new law, private enforcement supplants government enforcement rather than supplements it. If this seems like a strange move, it is. And it appears to be a deeply cynical one, serving no purpose other than to make the abortion ban difficult to challenge in court.

12) This was really interesting, especially for a Jeopardy fan, “What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson? IBM’s artificial intelligence was supposed to transform industries and generate riches for the company. Neither has panned out. Now, IBM has settled on a humbler vision for Watson.”

 

Better late than never quick hits

0) Had a terrific vacation at the beach last week.  Read plenty of good stuff, but, more important to sit in the sun than to work on the blog.  And when I got back home, set back due to an AC failure.  Good news is that I had it repaired in less than 24 hours and I’m typing this in pleasant climate-controlled air.  Anyway…

1) Great conversation between Yascha Mounk and Sabrina Tavernise:

Mounk: You’re somebody who has spent much of your career as a foreign correspondent living outside the United States. You spent time in Russia and Turkey, some time in Lebanon and other places. But coming back to the United States, you suddenly felt like your experience of covering deeply divided societies gave you insight into the United States. [The U.S.] suddenly felt similar to both societies in a way that it hadn’t done when you were growing up here. What lessons can we take from these deeply divided societies? And how can we make sure that we have empathy for our fellow citizens who are on the other side of a political divide without excusing the most reprehensible actions?

Tavernise: I moved to Russia when I was 24 years old, and I started in journalism when I was 26. And I didn’t really know very much about the way the world worked at that point. And I feel like I kind of went out into that society speaking very good Russian—my Russian was very fluent—without very much humility, and with a lot of arrogance about who they were and how they were supposed to get their act together. I remember traveling to these little provincial towns, and I’d be writing about an aluminum plant or an oil company or a local election. And I remember thinking and writing in this way, “You know, guys, the widget factory is never coming back. I know everybody wants the widget factory because that was what was comfortable and safe. But that was a communist thing, and communism is over. You really need to get your act together. Why don’t you just go out and kind of invent something? Go out and build a business, go out and rearrange your life and your town in a way that will make you prosperous and more like us.” 

When I first came back to the United States, I’d been gone for the better part of more than a dozen years. And I started talking to Americans, also in provincial places, and I realized they were saying, “Oh, if only the widget factory that was here in the 70s, in the 80s, would come back! If only it would come back, then all of our problems would be gone.” I realized, oh, my God, it was the same thing. It was the same dynamic. And part of that was economic collapse. Part of that was extreme lack of trust in government and in each other. 

Another parallel was the disinformation that started to spread in Russia, quite early and very virulently. [With] every person you would talk to, every cab driver, you would get into it: “Gorbachev is actually being run by MI6.” Everybody had a theory of why life was so messed up, and who was responsible, who was to blame. And I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, this is just a bunch of tinfoil-hat stuff. These people were in the Soviet cave for 70 years, and they kind of got a little wacky in there. They didn’t modernize with everybody else.”

[But] more recently, in my own society, people say, “Oh, yeah, the election was stolen? Absolutely. Biden has basically been kidnapped, and there are all these people around him who are actually making the decisions and pulling the strings.” I realized we are absolutely not exceptional in any way. We basically have exactly the same problems and exactly the same group dynamics and exactly the same divides. We were richer and more developed, [but] that didn’t matter. That’s pretty sobering, because now we’re stuck. How do we get out of this situation? No one on the right I’m talking to even thinks that Biden is kind of a sentient, conscious individual. The elections [going forward] are going to be really fraught, because there’s been this poison pill injected into them by Trump, and it’s hard to know where it’s going. 

2) Great stuff on cuttlefish and the implications for the evolution of intelligence:

These studies suggest that cuttlefish are capable of self-control and of remembering their own past experiences. The next step will be tests of whether, like the jays, they are aware of how they will feel in the future, and can plan for it.

“We’re adapting these experiments that have been done in chimpanzees and corvids,” Dr. Schnell said, “to see if these animals that diverged from this lineage 550 million years ago have the same capacity.”

If they do, cuttlefish will have an important role in illuminating how and when intelligence evolves. Corvids and certain primates — including humans — each developed the ability to plan for the future, but they seem to have arrived at it independently, rather than inheriting the capacity from a common ancestor. Both kinds of creatures have complex social lives and lengthy life spans to learn from, commonalities that make it hard for biologists to say what traits or environment make intelligence a good investment for an organism.

The cuttlefish promises to add another dimension to the study of intelligence because they must have developed it in a completely different context.

“They don’t live a long time, unlike the corvids. They’re not highly social, unlike the corvids,” Dr. Clayton said. “It was very unlikely that it was social intelligence that was driving the evolution.”

There are still more tests to come. It’s not clear whether cuttlefish will turn out to have all the same skills as apes and corvids, or just a handful. If what they have is similar, then it’s possible that profound vulnerability, rather than long life or social complexity, is what has forced them to become so canny.

3) Philip Bump, “Want to know how a county voted? Find out how many White Christians live there.”

Here, as the title of the image says, are two maps of the United States. One shows every county in which at least half of the population is made up of non-Hispanic Whites who are Christian, as estimated by PRRI as part of its 2020 Census of American Religion. The other map shows counties that Preside nt Donald Trump won in the 2020 election. The darker the coloration, the greater each percentage.

 

So which is which?

The easiest way to tell is by looking at the Northeast. Much of New England votes reliably Democratic but is also densely White. So you can tell that Map B is the map of White Christians and Map A the map of 2020 election results.

The point, of course, is that it isn’t easy to differentiate between them. Looking at PRRI’s maps of the distribution of religious groups, the superficial similarity of White Christianity and Trump support is immediately obvious. But, of course, national maps of county-level data tend to obscure underlying trends, as anyone who has had a debate over how to depict presidential-vote results can attest.

4) I literally don’t get why paramedics are paid so little.  I’d like to see that addressed in this article.  I mean, like what’s going on economically that you can actually have a sufficient supply of people trained to treat heart attacks, major trauma, etc., on the spot for only $17/hour?

The misconception that emergency medics provide transportation, not medicine, leaves them to cope with all sorts of indignities. “They’re used to being second-class citizens,” says Michael Levy, the president of the National Association of EMS Physicians. In one hour—during which they may respond to several 911 calls—the median paramedic or EMT makes a little more than $17. That’s half the hourly pay of registered nurses and less than one-fifth the pay of doctors—if they’re paid at all. During the pandemic, emergency medics were literally enclosed in rolling boxes with COVID-19 patients. But in some states, they were not prioritized alongside other essential health-care workers for the first round of vaccines. After delivering their precious cargo to a hospital, in many cases they don’t learn the final diagnosis, or whether their patient ever makes it back home.

That medicine treats emergency medics like disposable, low-wage workers instead of the health-care professionals they are isn’t just unfortunate for the workers themselves—it also leads to less than optimal care for the rest of us on the day we may need it most.

5) Good Post editorial, “The U.S. is growing more unequal. That’s harmful — and fixable.”

First, the data: The combined wealth of all households in the United States added up to $129.5 trillion in the first quarter of this year. The wealthiest 1 percent held 32.1 percent of the total, up from 23.4 percent in 1989. The top 10 percent of households owned $70 of every $100 in household wealth, up from $61 in 1989. The bottom half, whose share never exceeded 5 percent, now holds just 2 percent of household wealth in the United States…

Though wealth inequality has grown in other industrialized democracies too, the U.S. figures mark this country as an outlier. A 2018 study of 28 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development found that, on average, the top 10 percent of households owns 52 percent of wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns 12 percent. But in the United States the top 10 percent held 79.5 percent and the bottom 60 percent held 2.4 percent…

The wealth gap did not develop overnight. It neither can, nor should, be entirely eliminated; but the United States could aim for a more equitable distribution similar to that of our peer nations today — and, indeed, that which prevailed in the country during the era of its greatest international prestige. Policy reforms, starting now, could make it happen.

6) This was interesting, “The Secrets of ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’: By studying centenarians, researchers hope to develop strategies to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and slow brain aging for all of us.”

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Findings from the Dutch study may eventually pave a path for many more of us to become “cognitive super-agers,” as researchers call people who approach the end of the human life span with brains that function as if they were 30 years younger.

One day everyone who is physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy. By studying centenarians, researchers hope to identify reliable characteristics and develop treatments that would result in healthy cognitive aging for most of us. Meanwhile, there is much we can do now to keep our brains in tiptop condition, even if reaching 100 is neither a goal nor a possibility.

These hopeful prospects stem from the study of 340 Dutch centenarians living independently who were tested and shown to be cognitively healthy when they enrolled. The 79 participants who neither died nor dropped out of the study returned for repeated cognitive testing, over an average follow-up of 19 months.

The research team, directed by Henne Holstege at Vrije University in Amsterdam, reported in JAMA Network Open in January that these participants experienced no decline in major cognitive measures, except for a slight loss in memory function. Basically, the participants performed as if they were 30 years younger in overall cognition; ability to make decisions and plans and execute them; recreate by drawing a figure they had looked at; list animals or objects that began with a certain letter; and not becoming easily distracted when performing a task or getting lost when they left home.

7) It’s been a while since I’ve adopted a pet, but can we all agree that so many rescue organization are over-the-top nuts?  I didn’t realize how bad it’s gotten. “Want to Adopt a Pet? Prepare for a Full Background Check.: Overlong applications, home inspections and fecal samples from existing pets are all fair game in finding a cat’s or dog’s “forever home.””

Shortly after the pandemic began, I started religiously checking Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet in search of a kitten. Whenever I saw one I wanted, I filled out an application. Unlike the two pages I’d submitted to adopt my dog in 2009, these were long, exhaustive and, in my opinion, a bit invasive.

One rescue organization asked that I fill out a seven-page application, submit five personal references and provide a detailed record of every pet I’ve owned since childhood. Another wanted my driver’s license number, multiple references, a fecal sample from each of my dogs, a personal meeting and a separate home visit.

Others wanted to know whether my yard was fenced; if I’d enroll my pet in a training class; if I had ever been divorced; how much time I spent at home; and what my overall discipline philosophy was.

8) This NYT “How to be happy” guide is really good.  As for me, I am, of course, already on most of it.

9) Damon Linker argues that the anti-anti-CRT people have gone too far, and I think he’s right.  Yes, systemic racism is a thing, but CRT goes way further than that to places that are a lot less defensible:

According to an adage attributed to George Santayana, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. But how to explain those who know history quite well and yet nonetheless repeat it?

That question has cropped into my head many times in recent weeks, as conservative activists and Republicans in Congress have actively denounced and in some cases acted to ban the teaching of what they call Critical Race Theory in public schools (both K-12 and universities) — and many of the left’s most intelligent writers have responded almost exclusively by railing against right-wing critics of CRT.

Put in slightly more schematic terms, the left is reacting to the anti-CRT movement by becoming loudly anti-anti-CRT. That is a big mistake, both intellectually and politically. How do we know? In part because we just lived through the folly of Republicans enacting the double negation of becoming anti-anti-Trump in order to avoid calling out the obscenity of the man himself.

 

But there’s an even more pertinent parallel further back in American history. Roughly seventy years ago the left’s forebears made precisely the same move when confronted with an overly zealous, demagogic critic of communism. Rather than single out Sen. Joseph McCarthy for hysterical overreach while also acknowledging that communism was a serious threat that demanded vigilance, they instead became anti-anti-communists, elevating “McCarthyism” into the real danger, perhaps even the only danger, and dismissing concerns about communism as a phantom threat…

Left-leaning critics of the ascendant anti-CRT movement like to point out that Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in schools. Strictly speaking, this is correct, and I’ve made the point myself. CRT is a diffuse academic specialty animating the work of serious scholars across a range of fields, including law, history, and various disciplines in the social sciences. Much of this work is worthwhile and fruitfully provocative in its emphasis on structural dimensions of racial oppression in the past and present. But the suggestion that this scholarship is regularly being taught in K-12 history classes, or even in survey-level courses to undergraduates, is risible…

Others on the left will quietly concede that the past and present of American life is indeed more complicated than the most simple-minded construals of systematic or structural racism imply. Yet they will point out more loudly that conservatives hardly do better at advocating pluralism and complexity in the classroom. On the contrary, they propose and prefer uncritical patriotic homilies like those contained in the report produced by Donald Trump’s “1776 Commission.”

This is certainly true of some on the right. But that’s precisely why the country needs liberal-minded leftists to ally with liberal centrists in taking a stand against the pious simplicities proffered by illiberal ideologues on both extremes. Public schools should be teaching the story of the past and present in a way that foregrounds the admirable as well as the shameful, that shows students how to hold contrary and complex views in their minds at the same time, that highlights our noblest principles as well as our most egregious faults, in the past as well as in the present.  

But that’s not what we’re getting from the left. Instead, we’re seeing savage critiques of the critics of CRT, but almost nothing about the simple-minded counter-homilies that their own allies are proposing. 

10) That said, indeed, let’s be careful here.  Somehow I never read Jamelle Bouie’s 1619 Project essay, and it’s great.  Students need to learn stuff like this.  “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.”

The Republican rationale for tilting the field in their permanent favor or, failing that, nullifying the results and limiting Democrats’ power as much as possible, has a familiar ring to it. “Citizens from every corner of Wisconsin deserve a strong legislative branch that stands on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison,” one Wisconsin Republican said following the party’s lame-duck power grab. The speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos, made his point more explicit. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority — we would have all five constitutional officers, and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.” The argument is straightforward: Some voters, their voters, count. Others — the liberals, black people and other people of color who live in cities — don’t.

Senate Republicans played with similar ideas just before the 2016 election, openly announcing their plans to block Hillary Clinton from nominating anyone to the Supreme Court, should she become president. “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” declared Senator John McCain of Arizona just weeks before voting. And President Trump, of course, has repeatedly and falsely denounced Clinton’s popular-vote victory as illegitimate, the product of fraud and illegal voting. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he declared on Twitter weeks after the election, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

The larger implication is clear enough: A majority made up of liberals and people of color isn’t a real majority. And the solution is clear, too: to write those people out of the polity, to use every available tool to weaken their influence on American politics. The recent attempt to place a citizenship question on the census was an important part of this effort. By asking for this information, the administration would suppress the number of immigrant respondents, worsening their representation in the House and the Electoral College, reweighting power to the white, rural areas that back the president and the Republican Party.

You could make the case that none of this has anything to do with slavery and slaveholder ideology. You could argue that it has nothing to do with race at all, that it’s simply an aggressive effort to secure conservative victories. But the tenor of an argument, the shape and nature of an opposition movement — these things matter. The goals may be colorblind, but the methods of action — the attacks on the legitimacy of nonwhite political actors, the casting of rival political majorities as unrepresentative, the drive to nullify democratically elected governing coalitions — are clearly downstream of a style of extreme political combat that came to fruition in the defense of human bondage.

11) Appreciated reading the details of how the Raleigh Zebra Cobra was captured.  

12) Meanwhile a black bear was camped out in a tree near a local hospital and was lured down with doughnuts.  

13) As the parent of an intellectually disabled adult (here we are at the beach last week), I really appreciated former Obama adviser David Axelrod talking about the challenges for parents of intellectually-disabled adults.

14) Really appreciate BB sharing this article on NHL draft pick values with me.  After the first half of the first round, it’s really just a crapshoot.

15) Katherine Wu on the fact that we should not label all breakthrough Covid infections the same.

The first thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re doing exactly what they were designed and authorized to do. Since the shots first started their rollout late last year, rates of COVID-19 disease have taken an unprecedented plunge among the immunized. We are, as a nation, awash in a glut of spectacularly effective vaccines that can, across populations, geographies, and even SARS-CoV-2 variants, stamp out the most serious symptoms of disease.

The second thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re flame retardants, not impenetrable firewalls, when it comes to the coronavirus. Some vaccinated people are still getting infected, and a small subset of these individuals is still getting sick—and this is completely expected.

We’re really, really bad at communicating that second point, which is all about breakthroughs, a concept that has, not entirely accurately, become synonymous with vaccine failure. It’s a problem that goes far beyond semantics: Bungling the messaging around our shots’ astounding success has made it hard to convey the truly minimal risk that the vaccinated face, and the enormous gamble taken by those who eschew the jabs.

The main problem is this. As the CDC defines it, the word breakthrough can refer to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But infections can come with or without symptoms, making the term imprecise. That means breakthroughs writ large aren’t the most relevant metric to use when we’re evaluating vaccines meant primarily to curb symptoms, serious illness, hospitalizations, and death. “Breakthrough disease is what the average person needs to be paying attention to,” Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, told me. Silent, asymptomatic breakthroughs—those that are effectively invisible in the absence of a virus-hunting diagnostic—are simply not in the same league.

16) I would’ve missed this if not for SAM sharing with me.  Profound biotechnological advancement, “Tapping Into the Brain to Help a Paralyzed Man Speak
In a once unimagined accomplishment, electrodes implanted in the man’s brain transmit signals to a computer that displays his words.”

Three years ago, when Pancho, now 38, agreed to work with neuroscience researchers, they were unsure if his brain had even retained the mechanisms for speech.

“That part of his brain might have been dormant, and we just didn’t know if it would ever really wake up in order for him to speak again,” said Dr. Edward Chang, chairman of neurological surgery at University of California, San Francisco, who led the research.

The team implanted a rectangular sheet of 128 electrodes, designed to detect signals from speech-related sensory and motor processes linked to the mouth, lips, jaw, tongue and larynx. In 50 sessions over 81 weeks, they connected the implant to a computer by a cable attached to a port in Pancho’s head, and asked him to try to say words from a list of 50 common ones he helped suggest, including “hungry,” “music” and “computer.”

As he did, electrodes transmitted signals through a form of artificial intelligence that tried to recognize the intended words.

Pancho (who asked to be identified only by his nickname to protect his privacy) also tried to say the 50 words in 50 distinct sentences like “My nurse is right outside” and “Bring my glasses, please” and in response to questions like “How are you today?”

His answer, displayed onscreen: “I am very good.”

In nearly half of the 9,000 times Pancho tried to say single words, the algorithm got it right. When he tried saying sentences written on the screen, it did even better.

By funneling algorithm results through a kind of autocorrect language-prediction system, the computer correctly recognized individual words in the sentences nearly three-quarters of the time and perfectly decoded entire sentences more than half the time.

17) While on vacation I read Andy Weir’s Hall Mary Project.  Loved, loved, loved it!  And, 2/3 of the way through, my 15-year old definitely feels the same.  I love how seriously Weir takes the science.  But, I had a nagging feeling about him not taking language/communication quite seriously enough.  Thus, I loved this essay on that part of the book.  But don’t read this if you think you will be reading the book.

18) Haven’t read much on gut microbiomes lately, so very much appreciated BB sharing this with me, “Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status”

Summary

Diet modulates the gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the immune system. Here, we determined how two microbiota-targeted dietary interventions, plant-based fiber and fermented foods, influence the human microbiome and immune system in healthy adults. Using a 17-week randomized, prospective study (n = 18/arm) combined with -omics measurements of microbiome and host, including extensive immune profiling, we found diet-specific effects. The high-fiber diet increased microbiome-encoded glycan-degrading carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) despite stable microbial community diversity. Although cytokine response score (primary outcome) was unchanged, three distinct immunological trajectories in high-fiber consumers corresponded to baseline microbiota diversity. Alternatively, the high-fermented-food diet steadily increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers. The data highlight how coupling dietary interventions to deep and longitudinal immune and microbiome profiling can provide individualized and population-wide insight. Fermented foods may be valuable in countering the decreased microbiome diversity and increased inflammation pervasive in industrialized society.

19) I found this “How to Raise Kids Who Won’t Be Racist” essay to be interesting just in the idea that, apparently many people have the idea that ignoring the fact that race is a thing will help your kids be less racism.  Ummmm… no.

Even if we don’t want them to, children do notice differences in race and skin color. And that means that attempts to suppress discussions about race and racism are misguided. Those efforts won’t eliminate prejudice. They may, in fact, make it worse.

So-called colorblind parenting — avoiding the topic of race in an effort to raise children who aren’t prejudiced — is not just unhelpful, it actually perpetuates racism.That’s because racism isn’t driven solely by individual prejudice. It’s a system of inequity bolstered by racist laws and policies — the very fact that opponents of teaching critical race theory are trying to erase…

When children aren’t presented with the context required to understand why our society looks the way it does, “they make up reasons, and a lot of kids make up biased, racist reasons,” said Rebecca Bigler, a developmental psychologist who studies the development of prejudice. Children often start to believe that white people are more privileged because they’re smarter or more powerful, Dr. Bigler says.

Parents should explicitly challenge these wrong assumptions and explain the role of centuries of systemic racism in creating these inequities. Brigitte Vittrup, a psychologist at Texas Woman’s University, and George W. Holden, a psychologist at Southern Methodist University, found that white children whose parents talked with them about race became less prejudiced over time, compared with children whose parents didn’t have such conversations.

Another study co-written by Dr. Bigler found that white children who had learned about racial discrimination had more positive attitudes toward Black people than children who were not exposed to that curriculum. The same researchers later found that classroom discussions about racial discrimination also had a positive impact on Black children.

20) Important research here, “Who is most likely to develop severe COVID-19 even after a second jab?” Answer: older people with serious health conditions.

21) So, is it wrong of me to still talk about gypsy moths? “This Moth’s Name Is a Slur. Scientists Won’t Use It Anymore.”

22) As you know, I’m a big fan of Matt Yglesias and a big fan of Noah Smith.  So I really enjoyed the latter interviewing the former.

Quick hits (part I)

1) No, prominent Catholic priests should not be using Grindr.  But it’s far more disturbing that this kind of private data can somehow make it into the hands of people who will exploit it so easily.  Who among us is confident we’d be okay with all the information our cell phone has about us getting out?

2) Given that ties have already seemed pretty optional in the vast majority of workplaces, I wonder how true this is.  Like, will law firms and wherever else they wear ties stop now? “Neckties Are the New Bow Ties: Now that tie wearers have tasted freedom, no one should expect them to go back.”  I mean, I almost always wear a tie to teach (even when that was through Zoom) and I’m not changing that now.

3) Really enjoyed this story about the “miracle” drug Rappamune, discovered in the soil of Easter Island because it is the drug that has successfully shrunk my son’s brain tumors without surgery.  

4) It’s great that Republican politicians are finally taking Covid seriously?  But what’s behind the change of heart?  Susan Glasser speculates:

So it was more than a bit surprising to see some Republicans this week kinda, sorta, maybe embrace a different message. The Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise, the House’s No. 2 Republican, posed for a photo of himself getting a vaccine shot, many months after he was eligible, and urged others to do the same. “Get the vaccine,” Scalise said, at a press conference on Thursday. “I have high confidence in it. I got it myself.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a polio survivor who was never on board with his party’s vaccine denialists and anti-maskers, warned, during his own press conference: either get vaccinated or get ready for more lockdowns. “This is not complicated,” McConnell said. Fox News, which, along with Facebook, has been among the country’s premier platforms for vaccine disinformation in recent months, started promoting a new get-vaccinated public-service announcement. Its prime-time star, the Trump confidant Sean Hannity, stared straight into the camera on Monday night and said, “It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.”

These statements were not a coincidence; they were a coördinated political retreat. And no wonder: the new politics of the pandemic are following the alarming new math of the pandemic. With not quite half of the country—48.8 per cent, to be exact—fully vaccinated, cases of the new Delta variant are spiking upward across the United States, with particularly pronounced increases in large swaths of Trump country. At the end of June, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that eighty-six per cent of Democrats had at least one shot, versus fifty-two per cent of Republicans—and the gap in vaccination rates is not closing but widening. As of July, thirty-five per cent of the population in counties that voted for Trump had been vaccinated, compared with nearly forty-seven per cent in counties that voted for Biden. By this week, new daily cases nationally were at their highest level since April. Deaths are increasing, too, while the number of new vaccinations is down to January levels.

The Republican pollster Glen Bolger told me that he didn’t think the G.O.P.’s about-face stemmed from a sudden fear of electoral debacle so much as a reflection of the alarming trend lines in red America. Until now, “Republicans felt like we don’t necessarily need to push on vaccines and tick off a significant portion of our base, so we won’t talk about it,” Bolger said. But, with cases increasing, that calculus changed. “It’s more of ‘Hey, guess who’s getting sick? Republicans,’ ” he said. Red America is facing a deadly fourth wave of the pandemic, and Republican politicians, or at least some, appear to have decided that they don’t want to take the blame for killing off their own voters.

5) Good stuff in Politico on 2020 polling, “Pollsters: ‘Impossible’ to say why 2020 polls were wrong”

A new, highly anticipated report from the leading association of pollsters confirms just how wrong the 2020 election polls were. But nine months after that closer-than-expected contest, the people asking why are still looking for answers.

National surveys of the 2020 presidential contest were the least accurate in 40 years, while the state polls were the worst in at least two decades, according to the new, comprehensive report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

But unlike 2016, when pollsters could pinpoint factors like the education divide as reasons they underestimated Donald Trump and offer specific recommendations to fix the problem, the authors of the new American Association for Public Opinion Research report couldn’t put their finger on the exact problem they face now. Instead, they’ve stuck to rejecting the idea that they made the same mistakes as before, while pointing to possible new reasons for inaccuracy

“We could rule some things out, but it’s hard to prove beyond a certainty what happened,” said Josh Clinton, a professor at Vanderbilt University and the chair of the association’s 2020 election task force. “Based on what we know about polling, what we know about politics, we have some good prime suspects as to what may be going on.”

Those “prime suspects” will hardly be comforting to pollsters and those who depend on them, from political campaigns to the news media. The most likely — if far from certain — culprit for off-kilter polling results is that key groups of people don’t answer polls in the first place.

Decreasing response rates have been a major source of concern for pollsters for more than a decade. But the politicization of polling during the Trump era — including the feedback loop from the former president, who has falsely decried poll results he doesn’t like as “fake” or deliberately aimed at suppressing enthusiasm for answering polls among GOP voters — appears to be skewing the results, with some segment of Republicans refusing to participate in surveys.

I think a key test will be how the problem is influenced by Trump not being on the ballot.  2018 seemed to be somewhat better as a result.

6) Enjoyed this list.  Love most all these movies. “The Best Time Travel Movies of … All Time”  Though, apparently, I really need to see Primer.

7) Science/nature never fails to amaze what millions of years of evolution can accomplish, “The Never-Aging Ants With a Terrible Secret: A parasite gives its hosts the appearance of youth, and an unmatched social power in the colony.”

Under typical circumstances, Temnothorax ants live as most other ants do. They reside in communities ruled by a single fertile queen attended by a legion of workers whose professional lives take a predictable trajectory. They first tend the queen’s eggs as nurses, then graduate into foraging roles that take them outside the nest. Apart from the whole freaky parasite thing, “they are pretty boring,” Foitzik told me…

Normalcy goes out the door, however, when Temnothorax larvae ingest tapeworm-egg-infested bird feces trucked in by foragers. The parasites hatch and set up permanent residence in the young ants’ abdomens, where they can access a steady stream of nutrients. In return, they offer their host an unconventional renter’s fee: an extra-long life span that Foitzik and her colleagues managed to record in real time.

The researchers spent three years monitoring dozens of Temnothorax colonies in the lab, comparing the fates of workers who’d fallen prey to the parasites and those who remained infection-free. By the end of their experiment, almost every single one of the hundreds of worm-free workers had, unsurprisingly, died. But more than half the parasitized workers were still kicking—about the same proportion as the colonies’ ultra-long-lived queens. “That was amazing to see,” Biplabendu Das, an ant biologist and parasite expert at the University of Central Florida, who wasn’t involved in the study, told me. And despite their old age, the ants’ bodies still bore the hallmarks of youth. They were difficult to distinguish from uninfected nurses, who are usually the most juvenile members of the colony’s working class.

The tapeworm-laden ants didn’t just outlive their siblings, the team found. They were coddled while they did it. They spent their days lounging in their nest, performing none of the tasks expected of workers. They were groomed, fed, and carried by their siblings, often receiving more attention than even the queen—unheard of in a typical ant society—and gave absolutely nothing in return.

The deal the ants have cut with their parasites seems, at first pass, pretty cushy. Foitzik told me that her team couldn’t find any overt downsides to life as an infected ant, a finding that appears to shatter the standard paradigm of parasitism. Even the colonies as a whole remained largely intact. Workers continued to work; queens continued to lay eggs. The threads that held each Temnothorax society together seemed unmussed.

Only when the researchers took a closer look did that tapestry begin to unravel. The uninfected workers in parasitized colonies, they realized, were laboring harder. Strained by the additional burden of their wormed-up nestmates, they seemed to be shunting care away from their queen. They were dying sooner than they might have if the colonies had remained parasite-free. At the community level, the ants were exhibiting signs of stress, and the parasite’s true tax was, at last, starting to show. “The cost is in the division of labor,” Das said. The worms were tapping into not just “individual [ant] physiology, but also social interactions,” Farrah Bashey-Visser, a parasitologist at Indiana University who wasn’t involved in the study, told me.

8) Helen Branswell, “Can we stretch existing Covid vaccines to inoculate more people? Experts are divided.”  Actually, I’d say it’s pretty damn clear we “can.”  But, since it’s not actually tested in phase 3, we get disagreement:

Several times in recent years the World Health Organization has recommended “fractionation” — using partial or fractional doses when supplies of critical vaccines have been limited. When a dangerous yellow fever outbreak in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo threatened to exhaust the world’s stores of yellow fever vaccine, the WHO instructed countries to use one-fifth of a normal dose in their emergency vaccination efforts. (Research done during that 2016 outbreak suggested the lower dose protected those who received it.) The WHO has also recommended use of fractional doses of inactivated polio vaccine and meningococcal conjugate vaccines during periods of scarcity of those shots.

The idea of splitting doses of Covid vaccines is not universally supported, however; a number of experts contend that the vaccines should be used in the dose size tested during clinical trials and cleared for use by regulatory agencies. That route offers the best protection for individuals who are vaccinated, they insist. “The problem where I’m coming from is you have to prove fractional dosing works,” said Larry Corey, who co-led design of the trials of the Covid vaccines supported by the U.S. government. That hasn’t happened yet.

“Think of the lives that would have been saved” if manufacturers geared their research to finding the smallest possible dose that was protective when they were testing their Covid vaccines, Cowling told STAT in an interview about fractionation.

It’s important to understand that when pharmaceutical companies set out to develop Covid vaccines in early 2020, they were in a race against time, with the SARS-CoV-2 virus sweeping the globe and infections and deaths rising rapidly. In such a scenario, there was no time to find a Goldilocks dose — the one that used just enough antigen to protect a person being vaccinated, but no more than was needed.

Settling on a vaccine dose in a situation like this is as much an art as it is a science. Most manufacturers tested a two-dose regimen, because the accumulated body of vaccine experience suggests that an immune system will need two introductions to a new pathogen to mount a good response against it. (The sole exception was Johnson & Johnson, which tested both a one-dose and a two-dose vaccine. The former has been authorized for use; study of the latter continues.)

On the question of how much antigen — the fluid that comprises each vaccine dose — was needed, each of the manufacturers quickly tested a small range of options. For instance, Pfizer and BioNTech, the partnership that brought the first vaccine to market in the U.S., tested doses of 10, 20, and 30 micrograms given in a two-dose regimen, and a single 100-microgram dose in its dose-finding studyModerna tested doses of 25, 100 and 250 micrograms. Both opted for two-dose regimens with Pfizer selecting the 30-microgram dose and Moderna opting for 100 micrograms. (Moderna’s 250-microgram dose had caused too many side effects and was abandoned.)

The studies used to decide on those doses weren’t large enough to show whether the lower doses would have been protective. They only charted how tolerable the doses were — did they trigger too many unpleasant reactions? — and what the measurable immune responses were in the people who were vaccinated. For manufacturers, the priority was to find a vaccine dose that was effective, pushing them toward higher doses to be on the safe side.

9) One of those issues that really flies under the radar, but is an example of business power run amok being reigned in by the Biden administration, “Joe Biden Wants You to Be Able to Fix Your Own Damn iPhones: A sweeping new presidential directive includes, among other things, an initiative to secure consumers’ right to repair their own devices.”

10) Timing on this was maybe not the best right as Delta was about to surge, but David Wallace-Wells does make some good points here (while, perhaps eliding some issues):

In fact, for all the consternation that the United States responded to the pandemic by abandoning individuals to fend for themselves — a narrative belied by the data, which shows a roughly average level of stringency in our public response and a remarkably generous level of social-welfare spending, as Alex Tabarrok, among others, has noted — this principle of universal and shared burden has guided an enormous amount of our pandemic response: We have treated the disease almost as a uniform threat as a way of encouraging uniform vigilance. The best way to stop deaths was to stop cases, went the thinking, which dovetailed naturally with every parent’s intuitive caution and desire to keep their kids healthy and uninfected — and distrust, perhaps, of anyone who suggested that your child would be fine if she got sick. But whatever we told ourselves in doing so, we didn’t pull those kids out of school and put them in masks for their own. We did it for the sake of others.

But on that point mass vaccination in the United States has utterly changed the landscape of the pandemic: not only by protecting those who have received shots, indeed astonishingly well, but by changing the calculus for all those who haven’t, by eliminating almost all of the mortality risk of the population at large. All told, 80 percent of American deaths have been among those 65 and above. According to the White House, 90 percent of American seniors are now fully vaccinated. Which means that while more cases are likely and some amount of hospitalization and death, as well, vaccines have eliminated the overwhelming share of American mortality risk, with the disease now circulating almost exclusively among people who can endure it much, much better — kids especially.

The country’s whole risk profile has changed. But our intuitions about risk tolerance haven’t — at least not yet…

But the second gift may be more profound: the way our collective vulnerability has been transformed by vaccination programs focused on the old. The scale of this impact reflects the still under-appreciated fact of the age skew of COVID-19 — even by those who know, vaguely, that the older are more vulnerable. The important question is: How much more vulnerable? According to the CDC, the mortality risk for those 85 and above is 610 times higher than for 18-29 year olds. The number is so large it is almost hard to process. If a given number of infections among 20-somethings would produce just a single fatality, the same number of infections in 85-year-olds would produce 610. Of all the risk factors and comorbidities we read and heard so much about last spring, from race and class to obesity and COPD, each of which should raise ringing alarm bells about inequities in our society and our health system, the effect of age absolutely dwarfs all of them. Somehow, we could barely hear that alarm bell in the panicked pandemic din.

And though the skew is most visible among the very old, the effect is consistent across all age groups, with mortality risk doubling every five years. This means every difference of two decades multiplies risk 16-fold. Three decades and the difference is 64-fold. Those aged 75-84 face a mortality risk from the disease 230 times higher than those in their twenties. Between 65 and 74 you are 95 times more likely to die from a COVID infection than the CDC’s 20-something baseline reference group.

And the risk of children is dramatically smaller still than that CDC baseline; according to one, much-cited paper, the infection fatality rate for those aged 5 to 9 is less than 0.001 percent. It suggests that a child of that age, even sick, faces roughly one-ten-thousandth the mortality risk of an 85-year-old. Statistically speaking, if a kid who comes down with a coronavirus infection is facing a threat to her life equivalent to the flu — perhaps significantly less — a 90-year-old who does so is treading in the neighborhood of anthrax, the bubonic plague, and certain lighter outbreaks of Ebola. It was often said, in lamentations of American indifference at the outset of the pandemic, that the country would have taken the disease much more seriously if it hadn’t spared the very young. In the year that followed, we mostly pretended it didn’t.

11) Don’t 100% agree with Andrew Sullivan here on the illiberalism of the American left, but he makes a lot of good points, especially for Wokeism to traffic in overly-simple binaries:

The reason “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for this new orthodoxy is that it was precisely this exasperation with liberalism’s seeming inability to end racial inequality in a generation that prompted Derrick Bell et al. to come up with the term in the first place, and Kimberlé Crenshaw to subsequently universalize it beyond race to every other possible dimension of human identity (“intersectionality”).

A specter of invisible and unfalsifiable “systems” and “structures” and “internal biases” arrived to hover over the world. Some of this critique was specific and helpful: the legacy of redlining, the depth of the wealth gap. But much was tendentious post-modern theorizing. The popular breakthrough was Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on reparations in the Atlantic and his subsequent, gut-wrenching memoir, “Between The World And Me.” He combined the worldview and vocabulary of CRT with the vivid lived experience of his own biography. He is a beautifully gifted writer, and I am not surprised he had such an emotional impact, even if, in my view, the power of his prose blinded many to the radical implications of the ideology he surrendered to, in what many of his blog readers called his “blue period.”

The movement is much broader than race — as anyone who is dealing with matters of sex and gender will tell you. The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

What happened to me? You know what I want to know: What on earth has happened to you?

12) Thanks to BB for sending this my way on intermittent fasting.  Even if it’s not helping you lose weight, there appears to be some benefit, 

Abstract

Introduction 

Recently, a modified intermittent fasting protocol was demonstrated to be able to maintain muscle mass and strength, decrease fat mass and improve some inflammation and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy resistance-trained males after 2 months. The present study sought to investigate the long-term effects on these parameters.

Methods 

The experiment is a single-blind randomized study. Twenty healthy subjects were enrolled and underwent 12 months of either a time-restricted eating (TRE) diet or a normal diet (ND) protocol, along with resistance training. In the TRE protocol, subjects consumed their energy needs in 3 meals during an 8-h period of time each day (1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m). Subjects in the normal diet (ND) group also had three meals, which were consumed at 8 a.m., 1 p.m., and 8 p.m. Groups were matched for kilocalories consumed and macronutrient distribution at baseline.

Results 

After 12 months of TRE, body mass, fat mass, IGF-1 and testosterone were significantly lower compared to ND. Moreover, inflammatory markers (IL-6, IL-1β and TNF-α), insulin sensitivity (fasting glucose, insulin and HOMA-IR) and lipid profile (cholesterol, HDL and LDL) significantly improved after TRE compared to ND. Finally, subjects in TRE spontaneously decreased their daily energy intake whilst ND maintained their starting kcal/day. No adverse events were reported.

Conclusion 

Our results suggest that long-term TRE combined with a resistance training program is feasible, safe and effective in reducing inflammatory markers and risk factors related to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

13) Really liked this Yglesias post, “In defense of the old-fashioned idea of “racism”” as he takes on what Kendi gets wrong (I tried to give Kendi a chance in his recent interview with Ezra, but he really elided some key points, and, yes, he too readily deals in seemingly simple binaries when the world is more complicated:

To me, one of the weirder phenomena of the past 12 to 18 months in American life is the way that Ibram X. Kendi has become this widely quoted, widely interviewed, widely celebrated figure, and yet hardly anyone has asked him about the most provocative and distinctive ideas in his book.

When the book was first published in 2019, that’s not how it was received. Kelefa Sanneh’s excellent review in the New Yorker heads straight for what I think is the core weirdness of Kendi’s ideas. If we accept the definition that a racist is a person who supports racist policies, and what makes a policy racist is that it “produces or sustains racial inequity,” then determining which policies are racist requires exhaustive analysis of controversial empirical questions. Sanneh uses the example of “ban the box” laws which prohibit employers from asking about past criminal convictions. Many activists and the National Employment Law Center regard this as an important anti-racist measure since African Americans are more likely to have prior convictions and thus be disadvantaged by this question.

But Jennifer Doleac and Benjamin Hansen find that “ban the box” laws lead to worse employment outcomes for Black men because absent specific information about past criminal records, employers engage in statistical discrimination.1

“Are these laws and their supporters racist?” Sanneh asks. “In Kendi’s framework, the only possible answer is: wait and see.”

Sanneh’s review suggests, rightly, that neither Kendi nor anyone else can consistently stick with this empiricist concept of racism. That the visceral reaction to animus, bias, and discrimination is still with us and still works as the primary meaning of “racism,” even for people who would like to officially move to something more like Kendi-ism…

Structural racism has its place

It feels almost absurd to write a column about how, you know, hate crimes are bad and discrimination is bad and nobody likes to be subjected to bigotry.

But something very odd happened in the Trump years. A lot of people had a visceral reaction of disgust to his bigoted rhetoric — implying that Mexican immigrants are typically murderers or offhand references to “shithole countries,” but at the same time, more people than ever were insisting that this actually isn’t what racism is, that real racism is what Kendi says it is.

Yet it seems inescapable that the reason white liberals started talking more about racism isn’t that we suddenly became aware of gaps in economic conditions — it’s because Trump was saying all this racist stuff.

That’s not to say that there’s no place for a structural account of racism. My go-to example is the U.S. Senate, which not-really-by-design systematically down weights the preferences of Black voters. Things then flow downstream from that. A more equitable Senate would have confirmed Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. A more equitable Senate would have passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. A more equitable Senate would not need to swap rural broadband money to get mass transit money…

This is different from how other political systems work. Finland’s political institutions create a situation where the small party representing the country’s Swedish-speaking minority is almost always useful to have as a coalition partner. As a result, even though Swedish-speakers are in some sense marginalized in a majority-Finnish-speaking country, their concrete interests are safeguarded. But a lot of America’s governance institutions (including the aforementioned zoning ordinances) were created in a much more aggressively racist time and become ongoing sources of disadvantage.

That being said, remember when Donald Trump spent years making “jokes” about how Barack Obama was secretly Kenyan? That was really racist. And then when those racist jokes catapulted him into being someone whose endorsement Mitt Romney would court, and someone who was on Fox News a lot, and then suddenly someone leading in the polls for the GOP nomination, that was really disturbing. Because it was super racist. And racist in a very banal, commonsense way that I think is actually very important relative to the more fashionable and largely unworkable version of racism that Kendi is trying to sell us on.

14) I liked this from Ed Kilgore, “Democrats Can’t Win the Culture War With Silence”

The most persuasive case for treating silence on cultural issues as golden is being made by data analyst David Shor, who believes Republican traction on such issues explains why Donald Trump and his party did better than expected last year. I won’t go through his math lesson on Trump’s performance among non-college-educated white and nonwhite voters, other than to say it leads to the conclusion he outlined earlier this year in an interview with my colleague Eric Levitz:

If we divide the electorate on self-described ideology, we lose — both because there are more conservatives than liberals and because conservatives are structurally overrepresented in the House, Senate, and Electoral College. So the way we get around that is by talking a lot about progressive goals that are not ideologically polarizing, goals that we share with self-described conservatives and moderates. Even among nonwhite voters, those tend to be economic issues. … Now, how we should campaign and what we should do once in office are different questions. Our immigration system is a humanitarian crisis, and we should do something about that. But the point of public communication should be to win votes. And the way that you do that is to not trigger ideological polarization.

With all due respect to Shor, Democrats do not have the power to keep “ideological polarization” from happening on cultural issues that he considers party weak points. Indeed, if they are Democratic weak points, Republicans are going to talk about them incessantly, and if Democrats fall silent, Republicans will be free to define Democrats as they wish. Silence is not golden, in other words; in politics, it’s often a big mistake.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask Hillary Clinton, who lost in 2016 in no small part because decades of conservative attacks on her personality and character that she never effectively addressed came to fruition that year in the ridiculous but crucial pseudo-scandal of “Hillary’s emails.” Ask John Kerry, whose campaign’s determination to stay on message in the face of the smears of his war record, launched by the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads in the late summer of 2004, let Republicans turn his biography upside down and arguably cost Democrats the presidency. Or ask Michael Dukakis, who relentlessly pursued a good-jobs-at-good-wages message in 1988, as George H.W. Bush’s campaign savaged him on his crime record as governor of Massachusetts. And as Crooked’s Brian Beutler reminds us, something similar happened in the 2014 midterm elections, when Democrats tried to ignore the conspiracy-theory-mongering and thinly veiled racism of Republican attacks on Obama by serving up tasty and poll-tested economic policy treats:

Dems entered the 2014 cycle with a head of steam from President Obama’s re-election; their advantage narrowed over the first half of 2013; exploded when Republicans shut down the government; reverted to the mean when the shutdown ended (exacerbated a bit by the failed launch of healthcare.gov); then basically nothing happened for a year until the month before the election when Republicans (led even then by Donald Trump) began a propaganda campaign to convince Americans that Obama would allow ISIS to bring Ebola into America across the southern border. They rode that lie to victory in the Senate, through the theft of the Scalia Supreme Court seat, and straight into the maw of Trump’s America. All the ups and downs of policy for two years, completely swamped by a late surge of culture-war nonsense.

And that was only a pale echo of what happened in 2010, when the tea-party movement — supposedly about fiscal discipline but actually a nasty attack pushing the notion that our nonwhite president was robbing white taxpayers to shower vast federal resources on undeserving nonwhite constituents — blew two years of major Democratic messaging on health care and the economy out of the water.

Beutler isn’t just right about the failure of change-the-subject Democratic politics in the past. He’s also right about the painful but necessary remedy for what Republicans are campaigning on right now:

I’d wager that the January 6 insurrection polls terribly basically everywhere and that discouraging young people from getting their COVID-19 shots is only popular in the fringiest of communities. 

For Republicans to suffer politically for embracing these things, though, Democrats have to make them. To treat these liabilities less as side shows than as the actual thematic center of the election. To stop hiding from the culture wars and actually win them.

It would take a little creative thinking, and a modest tolerance for getting down in the mud; but the goal should be to make Republicans pay a price for venturing down the road to cultishness and political violence directly, rather than through a parallel referendum on health care or the minimum wage.

Exactly how to do that is a separate conversation (Beutler suggests, for example, a campaign to honor the health-care providers going door-to-door to save lives with COVID-19 vaccinations who Republicans are attacking as brownshirts). But the key point is to contest Republican smears, instead of looking like you are afraid to discuss them because they are true. Bill Clinton was an effective media-era politician in part because he understood Democrats had to address their perceived weaknesses. You don’t have to agree with exactly how he responded on this or that issue see how his determination to counterattack drove Republicans crazy. “He’s stealing our issues!” they’d cry. And his success showed how ridiculous the very idea of “issue ownership” was.

15) This was something, “A Grizzly Bear Terrorized a Man for Days in Alaska. The Coast Guard Saw His SOS.”

16) Caitlyn Flanagan on how California is being dishonest about the impact of discontinuing standardized testing for admissions:

The university has averred that standardized tests discriminate against low-income Black and Latino students; its evidence is that these students tend to perform worse on the SAT and ACT than students from other racial and ethnic groups. If we were to think about this assertion rationally instead of emotionally, we would have to face what California has done: consigned its most vulnerable students to some of the worst K–12 schools in America. There can be no more obvious example of state-sponsored discrimination than the condition of these schools, which, decade after decade, have robbed students of 13 years and given them little in return. All the standardized tests do is reveal the obvious outcome of our cruelty. Saying it’s the tests’ fault is like feeding children a poisoned sundae and then blaming the cherry on top for making them sick.

Do the tests prevent low-income Black and Latino students from getting college degrees? This is the charge of a lawsuit filed in 2019 and settled by the university in May that claimed that requiring test scores for admission “actively prevent[s] Plaintiffs from accessing public higher education and its attendant opportunities.“

Only the counterrevolutionary impulse would lead anyone to want to douse the flames of social justice with the fire retardant of fact. But the truth is that no high-school graduate in California is denied higher education because of a test score. The UC schools are some of the most competitive in the state, but the Cal State system has more than twice as many campuses and costs about half as much to attend, and some locations have an admission rate of almost 90 percent. Students reluctant to earn a degree from the “lesser” system may avail themselves of the best deal in American higher education: Earn a 2.4 GPA in the requisite courses at a California Community College, and your ability to transfer to a UC campus is guaranteed. Not a single standardized test need ever be taken.

Here are some more of the fiercely held arguments for dumping the tests: Test scores don’t reflect the character-forging aspects of life as a poor teenager; the tests force students from underfunded schools to compete against “affluent whites” who can afford expensive test prep; high-school GPA is a much better predictor of students’ ability to succeed in a UC program anyway.

These are not facts. They are assumptions, all of them flawed or flat-out incorrect.

First, poor students were not pitted against rich students. One of the ways the UC system found to work around the state’s ban on affirmative action was to evaluate test scores “in local context.” You didn’t need to be a top test taker in California to be UC-eligible. You just needed to be a top test taker within your own school. Moreover, UC admissions adopted a system of “holistic review” to take into account the hardships that applicants faced, allowing students to express themselves in essays that are read by an army of readers.

Second, while high-school GPA has been found to be more predictive of success at college than standardized test scores at some schools, the exact opposite turns out to be true for students at UC schools. There, standardized test scores say more about which applicants are likely to earn a degree and to do it in less than eight years; they also correlate strongly with students’ GPA at the university.

The biggest barrier to getting into the University of California is not the SAT; it is, again, the GPA. Because students at underfunded schools have such limited access to college counseling, they often assume that if they want to go to the UC, they should keep an eagle eye on their GPA. What many don’t know is that, to be eligible, they must complete a series of 15 college prep classes called the A-G requirements. Good grades in other classes don’t count. (And—shockingly—some high schools don’t even offer all the A-G requirements.)

There was a loophole these students could use, and it involved test scores: The course-load requirement could be waived for those who did well enough on the SAT or the ACT. This was a Hail Mary pass for many smart kids who, for whatever reason, didn’t do well in high school or did well but not in the A-G classes. In 2018, about 22,000 students “tested in” to the UC. Almost half of those students were low-income, and more than a quarter were Black, Latino, or Native American. The UC has now taken this lifeline away…

How do i know all of this? Because unlike the regents, who enthusiastically voted to eliminate the tests for the first time in 2020, I did not ignore the findings of a 225-page report that was prepared for them at the request of the UC’s then-president, Janet Napolitano. This report, by the Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force, was based on years of UC admissions data and was the product of a tremendous amount of work by a formidable team of experts in statistics, medicine, law, philosophy, neuroscience, education, anthropology, and admissions.

The scholars determined that the obvious challenges faced by low-income Black and Latino students were poverty and poor K–12 education. And they found that the UC’s use of standardized tests did not amplify racial disparities. They agreed that the university should continue using test scores in admissions, but recommended that the UC begin developing its own test, which would be designed to meet the needs of both students and the institution.

17) Wonky and good: “The smartest way to make the rich pay is not a wealth tax”

In Ms. Warren’s version of the wealth tax, which calls for 2 percent annual levies on net wealth above $50 million, and 3 percent above $1 billion, very rich people would face large tax bills even when they had little or negative net income, forcing them to sell assets to pay their taxes. That could set off a downward spiral in the markets, affecting people of more modest means. Though prices of marketable securities are easy to track, the huge chunks of private wealth tied up in real estate, rare art and closely held businesses are more difficult — sometimes impossible — to assess consistently.

Such problems help explain why national wealth taxes yielded only modest revenue in the 11 European countries that levied them as of 1995, and why most of those countries subsequently repealed them. Americans should be familiar with the issues from our existing equivalent to a wealth tax: state and local property taxes, which raised $547 billion in 2018, a surprising 10 percent of all federal, state and local revenue. The fairness and accuracy of property-value assessments is a perennial bone of contention. Reforming local property taxes — though a difficult battle that would have to be waged across thousands of counties and cities — could go a long way toward reducing national wealth inequality, without adding a new layer of political controversy and policy complexity by trying to replicate them at the federal level.

Fortunately, legitimate goals of a wealth tax can be achieved through other means, as the OECD report indicates. This would require undoing not only some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts, but much previous tax policy as well, which has produced a top federal marginal tax rate on capital gains of 23.8 percent — far below the top rate on ordinary income, which is 37 percent. The Treasury Department has aptly summarized the effect of this differential: “Preferential tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends disproportionately benefit high-income taxpayers and provide many high-income taxpayers with a lower tax rate than many low- and middle-income taxpayers.” The disparity “also encourages economically wasteful efforts to convert labor income into capital income as a tax avoidance strategy.” A notorious example of the latter is the “carried interest” loophole that enables hedge fund managers to characterize their multimillion-dollar annual compensation as lightly taxed capital gains.

The higher capital gains rate should be applied to a broader base of investment income, of which carried interest, egregious as it is, represents a relatively small slice. The big money is in changing rules that let wealthy people pass on securities that have increased in value to their heirs, without the latter having to pay taxes on the appreciation. President Biden’s American Families Plan calls for reform of this so-called “stepped-up basis” loophole that would yield an estimated $322.5 billion over 10 years.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Excellent stuff from Yglesias on capitalism, China, and free speech:

That being said, it seems really clear at this point that the original premise of U.S.-Chinese economic integration got one important point backward. Rather than trade and development allowing for some spread of American liberal norms into China, it is doing the reverse, and western multinationals’ commercial interests in China are inducing them to impose Chinese speech norms on the West. And we ought to try to do something about it…

But here’s what’s worst of all: not only is the internet failing to smuggle free speech into China, Western companies’ desire to make money is smuggling unfree speech out of China.

There are no Chinese movie villains

International intrigue is a common cinematic plot device. There are lots of movies about spies and assassins and terrorists attacking the White House and all sorts of other things. One would expect that just in the ordinary course of such matters, someone would make a movie where the bad guy is an agent of the Chinese government. After all, I assume that in the real world, the U.S. and Chinese intelligence agencies tussle here and there doing whatever the boring real-world equivalent of cool movie spying is.

For a while, the general understanding about this was basically that the PRC would not let you show your movie in China if it made them mad, so film studios told the stewards of big tentpole films and franchises to not do stuff that would cut them off from the China market.

That’s kind of lame, but it also seems to fall within the scope of pretty normal business operations. But last year, Ben Smith reported that Apple’s formal guidelines for original Apple TV+ content include that you cannot portray China in a negative light:

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services, who has been at the company since 1989, has told partners that “the two things we will never do are hard-core nudity and China,” one creative figure who has worked with Apple told me. (BuzzFeed News first reported last year that Mr. Cue had instructed creators to “avoid portraying China in a poor light.”)

And Smith says that Disney+ has essentially the same policy:

So far, Apple TV+ is the only streaming studio to bluntly explain its corporate red lines to creators — though Disney, with its giant theme park business in China, shares Apple’s allergy to antagonizing China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

What’s disturbing about this is that while “you can’t sell this particular movie in China” certainly hurts that movie’s marketing prospects, it’s not like it’s impossible to make a profitable film or TV series without selling it to China. It’s one thing to say “look, we’re so invested in the James Bond franchise that we don’t want to lose any opportunities to market it.” It’s another thing entirely to say “we are categorically going to refuse to make anything that antagonizes the Chinese government.”

The implication is that Chinese pressure has stepped up. That they’re not just telling Disney that if they make a movie the PRC disapproves of then that movie won’t air in China, but that they will retaliate against Disney’s overall business interests. Of course on some level, we can’t really know what’s going on inside these companies or in their conversations with Chinese leaders. But some things that we can see are disturbing.

2) Not dead yet by any means, but what is going on now with the Republican Party (and too many Democrats who don’t seem to realize the stakes) is exactly what it looks like when democracies die.

Before leaving town for their Memorial Day recess, in fact, Senate Republicans successfully used the legislative filibuster for the first time this session to block the proposed bipartisan panel. Their stated arguments against a commission range from the implausible to the insulting; the real explanation is political cynicism in the extreme. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is so far delivering on his pledge to focus a “hundred per cent” on blocking Biden’s agenda, even claimed that an investigation was pointless because it would result in “no new fact.” John Cornyn, a close McConnell ally, from Texas, was more honest, at least, in admitting, to Politico, that the vote was all about denying Democrats “a political platform” from which to make the 2022 midterm elections a “referendum on President Trump.” For his part, Trump has been putting out the word that he plans to run for reëlection in 2024—and exulting in polls showing that a majority of Republicans continue to believe both his false claims of a fraudulent election and that nothing untoward happened on January 6th. Needless to say, these are not the signs of a healthy democracy ready to combat the autocratic tyrants of the world.

“Turns out, things are much worse than we expected,” Daniel Ziblatt, one of the “How Democracies Die” authors, told me this week. He said he had never envisioned a scenario like the one that has played itself out among Republicans on Capitol Hill during the past few months. How could he have? It’s hard to imagine anyone in America, even when “How Democracies Die” was published, a year into Trump’s term, seriously contemplating an American President who would unleash an insurrection in order to steal an election that he clearly lost—and then still commanding the support of his party after doing so…

In contemporary Germany, he pointed out, an incitement to violence of the kind deployed by Trump and some of his backers might be enough to get a political party banned. But, in America’s two-party system, you can’t just ban one of the two parties, even if it takes a terrifying detour into anti-democratic extremism.

This is the worrisome essence of the matter. In one alarming survey released this week, nearly thirty per cent of Republicans endorsed the idea that the country is so far “off track” that “American patriots may have to resort to violence” against their political opponents. You don’t need two Harvard professors to tell you that sort of reasoning is just what could lead to the death of a democracy. The implications? Consider the blunt words of Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in a ruling on a case involving one of the January 6th rioters at the Capitol, issued even as it became clear that Republican senators would move to block the January 6th commission from investigating what had caused the riot:

The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away; six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near daily fulminations of the former President.

It’s worth noting that Jackson released this ruling this week, the same week that Trump issued statements calling the 2020 vote “the most corrupt Election in the history of our Country,” touting himself as “the true President,” and warning that American elections are “rigged, corrupt, and stolen.”

3) Good interview here, “Are Democrats sleepwalking toward democratic collapse?”

Sean Illing

You said we were “at a very dangerous moment in American history” back in 2018. I have to say, the situation seems worse now. Trump is gone, but over the last year or so the Republican Party has taken an explicit turn against democracy itself. So what’s your current level of concern?

David Faris

My current level of concern is exploring countries to move to after 2024. I’m deeply concerned about the direction that the Republican Party has taken, especially over the last year or so. Things were bad in 2018, but the basic problem in 2018 was that we had structural factors working against the Democrats and you had a Republican Party that was fundamentally trying to keep people from voting.

So 2020 felt like a test run. The plot to overturn the 2020 election never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that, which I never thought was particularly likely. But the institutional path that they pursued to steal the election failed because they didn’t control Congress and they didn’t control the right governorships in the right places.

So I worry complacency has set in on the Democratic side and people are lulled into thinking things are normal and fine just because Biden’s approval ratings are good.

Sean Illing

2020 was a “test run” for what, exactly?

David Faris

It was a test run for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality. You have to give Trump and Republicans some kind of dark credit for figuring out that this is really conceivable. I think they now know that, even though it would cause a court battle and possibly a civil war, that if they can’t win by suppressing the vote and the election is close enough, they can do this if they control enough state legislatures and the Congress.

If Democrats don’t make some changes to our election laws and if they lose some races that they really need to win in 2022 and 2024, then we’re in real trouble.

4) College are moving away from relying on standardized tests in admissions, but they may mean more reliance on essays.  Which have even more of a socio-economic bias (and really interesting to read in which ways).

5) Kind of nuts that twitter will literally ban people because it’s AI is entirely lacking a sense of humor and that twitter doesn’t seem to care to much about wrongly banning people unless they have a ton of followers.

It took a single tweet about autism for Twitter to suspend me for life. The tweet, part of my “life with #autism” series, quoted a clumsy joke from my autistic son. It contained the words “smash your head.”

The fate of those who accidentally post the wrong words on social media should set off alarm bells for anyone concerned about due process and free speech.

Shortly after posting what turned out to be my last tweet about life with autism, I discovered I had been permanently suspended for violating Twitter’s rules against violent threats. I also discovered that Twitter won’t tell you what your offending tweet was. But when, stunned, I scrolled through my history, I found that one tweet—and one only—had been expunged.

It is highly unlikely that a human would mistake the quotation of a joke threat for an actual threat. But artificial intelligence has no sense of humor. And most artificial intelligence looks only for keywords and phrases, not for whether they are embedded within a quoted dialogue.

I am a computational linguist and have long known about the limitations of AI. But only after becoming a Twitter outcast did I learn the dirty secret of moderation on social media. While Twitter’s policy for reviewing tweets is ambiguous (likely purposefully so), prominent figures, like the former president, are almost certainly monitored by real humans who examine their every utterance. But regular people are more frequently relegated to AI—an AI that not only erases tweets, but indefinitely suspends entire accounts. And though Twitter claims not to ban accounts solely based on AI, my own experience and many similar anecdotes make me incredibly skeptical of that claim.

A scroll through tweets directed at @TwitterSupport, Twitter’s customer support account, shows scores of people using alternative accounts, along with their supporters, protesting that no Twitter rules were violated. Some report making joke threats like “I’ll kill you”; others have no idea what went wrong.

But this problem has flown under the radar. Most people writing about free speech and social media are focused on partisan politics, not on artificial intelligence. They appear to be unaware of, or unconcerned about, the thousands of ordinary folks who are suspended indefinitely because a clumsy and indifferent AI flagged a perfectly legitimate tweet.

6) And, back to a theme, “If American Democracy collapsed, you probably wouldn’t notice it”

Let’s warm up with a question. Why don’t powerful people just seize the reins of authority in American politics? You may think that the answer is because our system of laws says that they may not. We have a Constitution, after all, that says that presidents and members of Congress are elected. The rules say that powerful people cannot just seize power. If you want to have the authority to make laws, you have to win elections.

But that answer is wrong. What constrains the powerful is not the Constitution, nor the system of laws, regulations, and bureaucracies that govern political competition. What constrains them is the practice that American politicians seek power through elections and that everyone agrees to accept that method.

That difference is subtle. It may even seem tautological—didn’t I just say that powerful people don’t seize power because they don’t? But it is essential for understanding what sustains democracy, and what undermines it. Democracy is a political regime, which O’Donnell and Schmitter define as

the ensemble of patterns, explicit or not, that determines and channels of access to principal governmental positions, the characteristics of the actors who are admitted and excluded from such access, and the resources or strategies that they can use to gain access.

Democracy is nothing other than a particular pattern of behavior that reveals how, within some community, people access positions of political authority.

Constitutions and laws, like other so-called “parchment institutions,” help to provide a structure for politics. Given that there are many ways to have elections, our Constitution generates public, common expectations about how they might be conducted (see Carey [PDF]). But laws do not constrain on their own. They constrain—and this is the essential bit—if people behave as if they are constrained by them.

Working from these two points—democracy is a pattern of behavior, and laws only constrain if people behave as if they are constrained—it follows that we would be correct to say that democracy has collapsed if the explicit or implicit patterns of behavior that govern access to political authority no longer operated. And we would not look to the passage of a law, or necessarily even the outcome of an election, to determine if democracy had collapsed.

Democracy, in fact, makes it particularly challenging to know if democracy has collapsed. That is because when democracy functions, challenges to it are usually hidden, and when they emerge in the open, they are processed through a system that presumes that challenges can be handled democratically. Political actors invoke laws and Constitutions as if they were binding constraints. Stresses that pose questions about the stability of the regime over time, therefore, are fundamentally ambiguous. They may be regime-altering, or not. And the responses to them by those who hold power may be regime-altering. Or not.

And that is why, if American democracy were to collapse, you almost certainly wouldn’t notice it. Not right away, at least…

That is an unsettling conclusion, but it is an important one, because it lays out the stakes for defending democracy. Indeed, there aren’t very many differences between everyday life under most forms of authoritarianism and everyday life under democracy. For most people, in most cases, life is basically the same. And because most people, in most cases, are not motivated primarily by their politics in going about their everyday life, the functioning of national politics is not a first-order concern for them.* Democracies usually do not go out with a bang. They just cease to be.**

7) OMG I hate articles about “myths” that aren’t myths at all, or that actually a thing and they pretend its not.  The reality is that NPR should just not being producing this kind of ideological journalism, “6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority”  For starters, “Myth: Asian Americans are a single monolithic group.”  Seriously?!  Does even your average 8-year old believe this.  What a ridiculous low bar of a “myth” to debunk.  Meanwhile “myth” number 2 got dragged, rightly, all over twitter because “Myth: Asian Americans are high earning and well educated” in this case the underlying data shows, that, on average, yes.  The fact that there are large disparities within Asian-Americans (really– not a monolith?!) does not undermine this at all.

8) I loved this guest post at Zeynep’s substack about the key to the novel coronavirus being the novelty.

Novelty Means Severity

by Dylan. H. Morris, PhD

SARS-CoV-2 is new to our immune systems. That makes it very dangerous. Viruses that are new to us spread faster and are more lethal than old familiar ones.

Some scientists are tempted to chalk this up to evolution. The argument is that a virus that leaves its host alive will outcompete one that kills its host. Viruses do sometimes become less deadly as they adapt to a new host species (like us), but they also sometimes become more deadly. But whether wrong or right for a given virus, this tempting just-so story can be a distraction.

Novelty is bad regardless of virus evolution.

When a virus is new, nobody possesses acquired immune protection against it. Acquired immune protection is a different kind of adaptation: not virus evolution, but our own learned—adaptive—immunity. We build over our lifetimes as we encounter new pathogens and learn how to fend them off.

If nobody has adaptive immune protection, a virus spreads faster. Even a few immune individuals in a population can meaningfully slow the rate of virus spread, since they are less likely to become infectious and infect others. If there are enough immune individuals, the virus may not be able to spread at all. This is the logic of population immunity and herd immunity. It is important. We talk about it a lot.

If nobody has adaptive immune protection, a virus causes severe disease in more of the people it infects. This is also important. We don’t talk about it enough…

One of the first observations people made about COVID was that it was frighteningly lethal in the elderly, but by and large, children were not getting too sick. Some people were surprised. Conventional wisdom was that influenza hit children and the elderly hardest, while sparing younger adults. Why was SARS-CoV-2 different?

But we need to look a little more closely, because it’s hard to reach adulthood without having had the flu. Look at virus severity not by age but by age of first infection, and a pattern emerges: see something for the first time as a kid, and you’ll most likely be okay (but only most likely). See it for the first time as an adult, and it can be nasty. The older you get, the worse it becomes to be infected with a virus you’ve never seen.

Children encounter many viruses to which they have no prior immunity. They compensate with robust innate immune responses that allow them to handle novel infections fairly well.

Robust doesn’t equal invincible. Without widespread childhood vaccination, infectious diseases kill many children, particularly children under five. A first encounter between the immune system and a virus can end tragically, even for a child.1

As you age, you get less good at handling novel viruses. And eventually you get less good at handling any virus, novel or familiar—your immune system ages (“immunosenescence”). The flu, for example, can be very severe in the elderly. But adults, even elderly adults, usually have at least some adaptive immunity to the viruses they face.

Things can get bad if they don’t…

In an article on OC43, Anthony King writes: “If OC43 was the culprit in the 1889/90 pandemic, it has clearly lost its sting in the past 130 years”. Has it? Or do we (almost) all now see it in childhood?

The “almost” may be important. I often wonder about the strong similarity between myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)—a rare but severe chronic health condition—and many cases of Long COVID. ME/CFS is more common in adults than in children; it often takes hold in adults after a viral infection. What if it is a rare but dangerous consequence of first seeing in your 30s a virus most people first saw in childhood? Evade OC43 or another common virus as a kid, and it could give you post-viral sequelae when it finally hits you in adulthood.

And so while we don’t yet have hard data on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing Long COVID if they fail to prevent infection, the severity-is-novelty principle makes me hopeful. The virus might get you sick, but it won’t be new to you. That could matter a lot.2

9) Thank your T-cells.  Monica Gandhi, “Relax: If you’re vaccinated, you won’t need a booster any time soon”

As coronavirus vaccines begin to steer the United States back to normalcy after a long and nerve-racking year, Americans’ optimism is mixed with anxiety about the pandemic hurdles that lay ahead. Among those worries is boosters — extra shots that might be needed to shore up immunity among the vaccinated. But emerging research is showing that vaccines and even infections by the virus actually confer long-term immunity and that most vaccinated people won’t need booster shots — at least, not any time soon.

A short primer on the immune system will help explain why. There are two major arms of the immune system: B cells, which produce antibodies, and T cells, which form to attack parts of a pathogen called epitopes. Part of the reason booster shots are under discussion is that antibodies in the bloodstream produced by B cells wane over time. Your blood cannot hold high levels of antibodies to all of the infections you have seen over your lifetime or it would be as thick as paste.

But when you get an infection or vaccine, both parts of your immune system also typically make what are known as memory cells. These long-lasting cells are designed to protect you from a disease you might have encountered a long time ago. For instance, a 2008 study found memory B cells in the blood of people who had been exposed to the influenza pandemic of 1918 and were over 90 years old. Those memory B cells could produce strong neutralizing antibodies against the virus or its variants decades later. The immunity conferred by memory T cells can also last decades.

10) Edsall rounds up a variety of opinions on how the “woke” debate may (or may not) be hurting Democrats:

At one level, it is a dispute over ground rules. Can a professor quote literature or historic documents that use taboo words? What rights should be granted to a person accused of sexual harassment? Are there issues or subjects that should not be explored in an academic setting?

On another level, though, it is a conflict over practical politics. Do specific policies governing speech and sexual behavior win or lose voter support? Are there policies that attract criticism from the opposition party that will stick? Are certain policies so controversial that they divert attention from the opposition’s liabilities?

In an article in March, “Why Attacking ‘Cancel Culture’ And ‘Woke’ People Is Becoming the G.O.P.’s New Political Strategy,” Perry Bacon Jr., formerly a senior writer at FiveThirtyEight and now a Washington Post columnist, described the ways that policies the Democratic left argued for provided political opportunities to the Republican Party:

First and perhaps most important, focusing on cancel culture and woke people is a fairly easy strategy for the G.O.P. to execute, because in many ways it’s just a repackaging of the party’s long-standing backlash approach. For decades, Republicans have used somewhat vague terms (“dog whistles”) to tap into and foment resentment against traditionally marginalized groups like Black Americans who are pushing for more rights and freedoms. This resentment is then used to woo voters (mostly white) wary of cultural, demographic and racial change.

Among the reasons Republicans will continue to adopt an “anti-woke posture,” Bacon writes, is that it

gives conservative activists and Republican officials a way to excuse extreme behavior in the past and potentially rationalize such behavior in the future. Republicans are trying to recast the removal of Trump’s accounts from Facebook and Twitter as a narrative of liberal tech companies silencing a prominent conservative, instead of those platforms punishing Trump for using them to “incite violence and encourage overturning the election results.”

Insofar as Republicans suppress Democratic votes, Bacon continued,

or try to overturn election results in future elections, as seems entirely possible, the party is likely to justify that behavior in part by suggesting the Democrats are just too extreme and woke to be allowed to control the government. The argument would be that Democrats would eliminate police departments and allow crime to surge if they have more power, so they must be stopped at all costs. Polls suggest a huge bloc of G.O.P. voters is already open to such apocalyptic rhetoric.

Bacon’s views are widely shared among Democratic Party strategists, whether or not they will say so publicly. And Bacon is hardly alone.

In a piece in New York magazine, “Is ‘Anti-Wokeness’ the New Ideology of the Republican Party?” Ed Kilgore makes the case that for Republicans

Casting a really wide range of ideas and policies as too woke and anyone who is critical of them as being canceled by out-of-control liberals is becoming an important strategy and tool on the right — in fact, this cancel culture/woke discourse could become the organizing idea of the post-Trump-presidency Republican Party.

This approach is particularly attractive to conservative politicians and strategists, Kilgore continued, because

It allows them and their supporters to pose as innocent victims of persecution rather than as aggressive culture warriors seeking to defend their privileges and reverse social change.

Really not a fan of casting everything in the language of harm, so I really appreciated the pushback from Randall Kennedy:

Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard and the author of the forthcoming book “Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History and Culture,” cited in an email a similar set “of reasons for the deficient response to threats against freedom of thought, expression and learning emanating from the left.”

His list:

“Woke” folk making wrongful demands march under the banner of “EQUALITY” which is a powerful and attractive emblem, especially in this George Floyd/Covid-19 moment when the scandalous inequities of our society are so heartbreakingly evident. On the campuses, many of the most vocal woke folk are students whom teachers and administrators want to mollify, comfort and impress. Many teachers and administrators seek desperately to be liked by students.

At the same time, Kennedy continued, many of the people demanding the diminution of what he sees as essential freedoms have learned how to package their insistence in effective ways. They have learned, Kennedy wrote, to deploy skillfully the language of “hurt” — as in “I don’t care what the speaker’s intentions were, what the speaker said has hurt my feelings and ought therefore to be prohibited.”

Authorities, particularly those at educational institutions, need to become much more skeptical and tough-minded when encountering the language of “hurt.” Otherwise, they will continue to offer incentives to those who deploy the specters of bigotry, privilege and trauma to further diminish vital academic, intellectual and aesthetic freedoms.

11) Good stuff in Reason on the NHJ tenure case:

The question is who ought to decide whether particular individuals should be hired for available faculty positions. The board at UNC has apparently taken the view that it should not rubber stamp such offers but should feel free to override the determination of the faculty and administration on individual personnel decisions. Nothing good can come of this.

Members of the boards of trustees of universities have no expertise to assess the quality of an individual’s work and the potential contribution that a faculty member might make to the campus. They have no basis on which to assess whether the faculty have made a good or bad choice in a hiring or promotion decision from a scholarly perspective. What board members do have are political opinions and personal interests. If boards can block faculty hiring and promotion decisions, the inevitable result will be to shrink the range of acceptable ideas that can be expressed, taught and investigated on the university campus. Faculty hiring and promotion decisions will turn not just on peer review but also on the vagaries of political lobbying campaigns by activists. Peer review is hardly perfect, but it does not get better if a political body gets to second-guess the results…

Even so, those who seek to promote academic freedom, campus free speech, and greater intellectual diversity in academia should be seeking to expand and not to shrink the range of ideas expressed on college campuses. Free speech is not only for those with whom we agree. The principle requires tolerating those with whom we disagree. We do not improve the state of higher education by further politicizing the process of hiring and promoting faculty.

The Hannah-Jones situation is not the most egregious sin against freedom of thought in American higher education. She was still offered a five-year contract. She apparently accepted that offer. She will remain a loud voice in American political discourse, and she will be regularly feted on university campuses. Far more troubling and career-damaging decisions are made every day on university campuses across the country.

But the principle that trustees should not interfere in faculty hiring decisions was hard won and essential to establishing academic freedom in the United States. It would be all too easy for that principle to be eroded in our current polarized political environment. Setting aside that principle whenever we happen to disagree with what the faculty has done will only encourage the belief that faculty appointments should be treated as political spoils and that the scope of acceptable teaching and scholarship should be determined by politicians and mass public opinion.

12) This is so true, “Americans, It’s Time to Get Comfortable With Platonic Touch.”  I remember that being a big issue when I went off to college and no longer got daily hugs from my mom and dad.  My two youngest kids, especially, really just love snuggling up, so I sure get plenty these days, but, as a society, we should do better.

The isolation of the pandemic has highlighted how much we need — and miss — the many forms of nonsexual contact that once permeated daily life. Returning to normal offers not just a chance to resume hugs and handshakes, but also to ask if we should engage in more forms of touch with our friends and colleagues.

As I learned from 17 months of travel abroad before the pandemic, America has a narrow approach to touch. (I’d witnessed the difference on previous travel abroad, but a trip of this duration allowed me to also experience the difference firsthand.) As adults, our opportunities to touch each other are generally limited to a handshake when we meet someone for the first time, a quick hug greeting of a friend, and all the forms of touch two people in a romantic relationship exchange.

In other countries, touch is far freer. I interviewed Christian singles around the world, talking to more than 300 people in nearly 40 countries — all but a handful in person. In several of those places, I saw public touch between same-sex pairs that has almost no corollary in the United States.

13) Good stuff from Zeynep on the media and the lab leak:

Essentially, in early 2020, Trump and Senator Tom Cotton weighed in on the issue, after which it exploded in the fever swamps, with undeniable racism at play, advocating increasingly weird and unlikely scenarios. All that made it kind of became harder to talk about the topic at all.

At the same time, a small but vocal group of scientists, some of whom had fairly active profiles on social media, provided a lot of content, quotes and viewpoints to the media,  generally making themselves very accessible but with a particular point of view on this question. They also wrote strongly-worded opinion pieces for a few high-profile scientific outlets, essentially dismissing a version of what’s getting called the “lab leak” hypothesis—which is fine, as is their right.

By itself, there isn’t anything wrong with what I just outlined. That small vocal group of critics were not even entirely wrong, in my view, and they are certainly entitled to their opinions and to being loud about them.

But the response to that reality from traditional journalism/media is where things went awry.

Many top media outlets took this group of critics’ dismissal of a version of the lab leak hypothesis and then acted like that dismissal was universal and a scientific consensus, which it wasn’t, or was conclusive, which it couldn’t be simply because we… don’t know. We certainly didn’t have the evidence we need to be so conclusive, especially not at the time.

In addition, press reports suggested that everything that fell under the umbrella of the term ‘lab leak,’ which has been a conceptual mess, had also been dismissed, although it hadn’t been, even by some of the original opponents of that particular version.

Then, for a whole year, the coverage implied that any question or statement skeptical of the lab leak critics, broadly defined, was essentially unscientific and could only be motivated by racism. Social media sites took down posts, and even news articles that made such claims.

In the meantime, the reporters did not do the leg work to separate the pieces of the question or seek a broad range of experts. If they had, they might have realized that many experts were quiet on the topic partly because they didn’t want to die on this hill last year, and partly because many were actually eminent experts very very busy doing work on the pandemic itself. Unfortunately, many media outlets failed to do the work necessary to pull themselves out of the tight Twitter/media feedback loop that dominates so much of our media coverage.

Next came the scolding “fact-checks,” painting all discussion of the lab leak as a possibility in any version as mere racism or just a conspiracy theory, suggesting that any attempt to have a sane conversation about a really important topic was, at best, aiding and abetting racists if not outright racist. Of course, these knee-jerk dismissals just makes the problem worse, because when the mainstream media ignores vital, debatable topics, the ones left speaking about the issue most vocally become the racists in the fever swamps.

In any case, just looking at the names on that letter itself would make it obvious to someone who was familiar with the field why it was such a big deal, but it seemed not to get the media attention it would get in that context, probably because most the signatories, while leaders in the filed, are not on social media much, if at all and not that active — and there are many others in this and related fields who aren’t involved openly at all, but would maybe talk to reporters if contacted. However, media keeps quoting the same few very accessible people, to the detriment of the story.

Plus, the coverage has been weird in terms of logical analysis and causal inference. Once something does happen in the real world, we cannot go directly from considering the abstract odds of it happening before to understanding what actually happened after it already happened. It’s one thing to understand how pandemics happen, in general and in the past. It’s an entirely different process to try to answer the question as how did this one happen…

I believe that working to answer key questions that otherwise would be monopolized by racists is core to practicing antiracism. I also believe that equating criticism of the Chinese government with racism against Chinese people is, to put it bluntly, is, indeed, racist. The government is not the people, and like all authoritarian countries, China has great many dissidents.Some dissidents we know of, and there are many others who cannot speak out freely, including some who risked everything to warn us about the pandemic early on and were punished by their government. We should honor and highlight their work, not bury them by acting like criticizing a government — any government, to be honest, but especially unelected, authoritarian ones — means we’re somehow being racist against a billion of people who just happen to live there, or people of that descent. These people are not puppets of a singular government, and criticizing a government is not racism; rather, it’s often a requirement of antiracism.

14) For a while, I was pretty annoyed that we were not going to get a vaccine mandate for NC State.  But, pretty soon I realized this is just politics and our university system is under control of the Republican legislature.  Here’s the sad reality, “For Colleges, Vaccine Mandates Often Depend on Which Party Is in Power: Hoping for a return to normal, more than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated for Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.”

15) There’s good arguments for banning ransomware payments.  And there’s good arguments against banning ransomware payments.  And this Post article nicely rounds them up.  That said, I’m not sure there are not good arguments for failing to step up investment and policies that make life much tougher for the ransomware malefactors.

16) This was good from Linda Greenhouse, “The Free Ride May Soon Be Over for Anti-Abortion Politicians”

Do I think the court will use this case to permit states to ban abortion entirely? No, not directly and not this soon; there’s no need for the new majority, handpicked for that very purpose, to go that far this fast. The question the court has agreed to answer, as framed by the state’s petition, “Whether all previability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” suggests but doesn’t require an all-or-nothing response.

However, as President Biden might say, here’s the deal: Viability has been the essential firewall protecting the right to abortion. As the law of abortion currently stands, states can require onerous waiting periods, misleading “informed consent” scripts, needless ultrasound exams — anything to make abortion as burdensome, expensive and stigmatizing as possible. But what a state can’t do at the end of the day is actually prevent a woman with the resources and will to get to one of the diminishing number of providers (the clinic that sued to block the Mississippi law is the only one in that state) from terminating her pregnancy.

Once the viability firewall is breached, it’s hard to see what limiting principle the new majority might invoke even if so inclined. Ninety percent of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. What’s the difference between 15 weeks and 13, or 11, or 10? Mississippi offers as a limiting principle the claim that at 15 weeks a fetus is “likely capable of conscious pain perception.” But as a compilation of peer-reviewed medical articles published in 2015 by FactCheck.org concluded, scientific evidence is lacking even for the more common assertion that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks…

If there is any good news to salvage from the court’s announcement this week, it is this: the free ride that anti-abortion politicians have enjoyed may be coming to a crashing end.

Ever since the 2010 election ushered new Republican majorities into state legislatures, politicians there have been able to impose increasingly severe abortion restrictions without consequence, knowing that the lower courts would enjoin the laws before they took effect and save the people’s representatives from having to own their actions.

The question as the polls’ respondents processed it was most likely “Do you want to keep the right to abortion?” And no wonder the answer was yes: nearly one American woman in four will have an abortion. (Catholic women get about one-quarter of all abortions, roughly in proportion to the Catholic share of the American population.) Decades of effort to drive abortion to the margins of medical practice have failed to dislodge it from the mainstream of women’s lives.

For the cynical game they have played with those lives, politicians have not paid a price. Now perhaps they will. Of course, women themselves will pay a heavy price as this new reality sorts itself out, particularly women with low incomes who now make up the majority of abortion patients.

And there’s another price to be paid as justices in the new majority turn to the mission they were selected for. The currency isn’t votes, but something even more important and harder to win back: the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court of the United States.

There’s no free ride for the court either.

17) I cannot remember the last time I watched a Friends episode.  And I don’t even remember if I was still watching at the end of their run.  But I quite enjoyed the Friends Reunion special on HBO.  Truly some excellent writing and gifted comic actors on that show.

Quick hits

Sorry, just this one not-all-that-long edition:

1) Bernstein on what we really need to make the House better:

In particular, increasing number of House districts enough to make representation happen on a normal human scale would produce an unwieldy legislative chamber of thousands of representatives. The likely results: either chaos, or a highly centralized body in which individual representatives had little or no importance. Neither of these would be good for healthy, meaningful representation. The more plausible reforms, on the other hand, would add relatively small numbers of representatives, and it wouldn’t take long before population growth brought their districts back to about the same size they are now.

In other words, in a nation soon to reach 350 million people, there’s no realistic way for the national legislature to have districts that allow most people to know their representatives.

Rather than increasing the size of the House, the best way to increase personal connections between members and constituents would be to throw money at the problem.

Congressional staff budgets haven’t come close to keeping up with the size of congressional districts over the last 30 years. Over that same period, the demise of local media has made low-cost communication with the district a lot harder, and perhaps impossible. Once upon a time, members gave interviews to local TV and radio stations that everyone in the district could watch and listen to, and were quoted on national and local issues in local newspapers that constituents could subscribe to. All of that, of course, is either gone or diminished. There are lots of reasons that the incumbency advantage in House elections has just about disappeared, but it certainly can’t help that there’s a lot less local media for incumbents to dominate.

So instead of, say, quadrupling the size of the House, how about quadrupling (or more!) each member’s budget? Yes, a lot of that money would be wasted or spend on frivolous things, but so what? Constituents might not have any better chance of knowing their representative personally, but they would have a better chance of visiting a district office, knowing a district staffer (or even a Washington-based one), and perhaps “knowing” their representative on social media. Of course, with a bigger personal staff, members might also increase their personal capacity for doing legislative work without relying on the party leadership. That would be good, too.

In the 1970s, a reasonable objection to adding resources to individual members of the House would have been that it might make them invulnerable to electoral defeat. Today, House elections are nationalized, and so individual members are hostage to the fate of their parties. Whether restoring a bit of incumbency advantage would be a little good or a little bad, it certainly wouldn’t be decisive.

2) Yglesias: on standardized testing and racial equality:

Most critiques of SATs are wrong

People offer a lot of casual criticisms of the SAT that are false or misleading, such as noting that kids with richer parents have higher SAT scores and thus inferring that the test is easily gamed by high-income parents.

It’s true that there is a modest positive correlation between parental income and SAT scores, but you see a similar positive correlation with pretty much anything related to school or child development. Parceling out exactly why it is that the children of doctors and lawyers and business executives do better at school-related stuff than the children of waitresses and cashiers and cab drivers is probably really hard. But broadly speaking, people who do well in school and have high standardized test scores end up earning more money than those who don’t. They then have children who are genetically related to them, and they raise those children in households where the adults are able to constantly model the behaviors of a good-at-school person. There would be something profoundly weird about a world in which the children of good-at-school people were not, on average, better at school than the children of bad-at-school people.

What’s not the case is that rich parents are bestowing huge gains to their kids via the mechanism of extensive test prep. Slate’s Daniel Engber did a good roundup of this in 2019 — the benefits of test prep are modest, maybe between 10 and 30 points out of 1600. There’s a Wall Street Journal article making the same point.

Note that this is not the same as saying that practicing for the tests isn’t helpful! You will absolutely do better on a test if you are familiar with the kind of questions you are going to be asked than if you show up to it cold. But what that means is that taking a little time to prepare is going to help you, not that vast sums of money are going to dramatically boost your score. From the WSJ article:

Laurence Bunin, a College Board senior vice president, says the board’s own research shows limited benefit from test-prep courses. He says familiarity with the SAT tends to provide the biggest short-term gains for students. He recommends free and low-cost College Board materials, including a $20 study guide.

This kind of practice can make a huge difference!

3) Leonhardt on wages:

The chief executive of Domino’s Pizza has complained that the company can’t hire enough drivers. Lyft and Uber claim to have a similar problem. A McDonald’s franchise in Florida offered $50 to anybody willing to show up for an interview. And some fast-food outlets have hung signs in their windows saying, “No one wants to work anymore.”

The idea that the United States suffers from a labor shortage is fast becoming conventional wisdom. But before you accept the idea, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think it through.

Once you do, you may realize that the labor shortage is more myth than reality.

Let’s start with some basic economics. The U.S. is a capitalist country, and one of the beauties of capitalism is its mechanism for dealing with shortages. In a communist system, people must wait in long lines when there is more demand than supply for an item. That’s an actual shortage. In a capitalist economy, however, there is a ready solution.

The company or person providing the item raises its price. Doing so causes other providers to see an opportunity for profit and enter the market, increasing supply. To take a hypothetical example, a shortage of baguettes in a town will lead to higher prices, which will in turn cause more local bakeries to begin making their own baguettes (and also cause some families to choose other forms of starch). Suddenly, the baguette shortage is no more…

Human labor is not the same thing as a baguette, but the fundamental idea is similar: In a market economy, both labor and baguettes are products with fluctuating prices.

When a company is struggling to find enough labor, it can solve the problem by offering to pay a higher price for that labor — also known as higher wages. More workers will then enter the labor market. Suddenly, the labor shortage will be no more…

If anything, wages today are historically low. They have been growing slowly for decades for every income group other than the affluent. As a share of gross domestic product, worker compensation is lower than at any point in the second half of the 20th century. Two main causes are corporate consolidation and shrinking labor unions, which together have given employers more workplace power and employees less of it…

Corporate profits, on the other hand, have been rising rapidly and now make up a larger share of G.D.P. than in previous decades. As a result, most companies can afford to respond to a growing economy by raising wages and continuing to make profits, albeit perhaps not the unusually generous profits they have been enjoying…

That so many are complaining about the situation is not a sign that something is wrong with the American economy. It is a sign that corporate executives have grown so accustomed to a low-wage economy that many believe anything else is unnatural.

4) Terrific interview with Michael Mina on the Yankees outbreak and his latest ideas on testing:

It seems like you don’t think these are “breakthrough” infections and also that you’re not surprised to see them.
The Yankees are testing themselves frequently. When that happens, especially if you’re doing PCR tests, you’re going to find exposures and infections.

Even in people who’ve been vaccinated?
Yes. I’ve always said that it is very unlikely that these vaccines will create fully sterilizing immunity. Sterilizing immunity is the kind of immunity where, if you get exposed and the virus lands in your respiratory tract, it will be neutralized (or killed) immediately. It will not have a chance to replicate. On the other hand, you can have very highly protective vaccines that are not fully sterilizing — vaccines that prevent you from illness, especially severe illness, but may still allow the virus to grow.

And a PCR test would catch those kinds of infections?
This is a technology that can catch just ten molecules of virus. But this is a virus that when it is contagious, there are billions of molecules. So we have to be very careful about how we interpret PCR results. Just because the virus can grow a bit — and be detected on a PCR test — does not mean we are stuck in the woods as far as herd immunity goes. A vaccine that doesn’t create sterilizing immunity can still greatly limit virus growth, perhaps enough to massively limit transmission. This is likely the case with the mRNA vaccines at least, given the large reductions in cases among kids in hospitals as a result of the adults getting vaccinated. Clearly transmission declined significantly enough to elicit some level of herd effects on the kids.

But it probably won’t decline to zero.
As I have been saying since last summer, we should expect reinfections following infection or vaccination. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. The real question is do those reinfections matter — or more to the point — do the reinfections have negative consequences?

Do we not have to worry about infections of that size?
In my opinion, if they’re not infections that are causing disease, they should be viewed very differently from a breakthrough case, which is a term that should absolutely be reserved for a case that’s causing disease…

In other words treating infection as much more of a spectrum, when throughout the pandemic we’ve treated it much more as a binary matter. 
Right. The way we’ve been using PCR thus far is the equivalent of saying that you either are completely immune to a disease, or you’re completely vulnerable. But we all know that you can get a little bit sick or you can get a lot sick, and that those are two really different things.

That had its own cost throughout the pandemic, of course, but it’s also meant we’ve sort of poorly educated the public about how to navigate the post-pandemic, as this episode with the Yankees shows.
That’s exactly right. Binarizing all of these results, and continuing to put everything in black and white — that has been immensely destructive. One of my core philosophies in public health is we absolutely need to bring the public along. You need to keep them up to speed. You need to keep them informed. If you don’t have the public buy-in for everything you’re doing, you will never defeat a pandemic.

Throughout this pandemic, we’ve generally considered the public to be the problem. But this is public health. The public isn’t the problem – that’s on the virus – instead, the public is the solution. As we are seeing with vaccines, the public is the solution and unless we want to vaccinate people based on some forceful military state requirements (which we do not and I hope never would) then we must see the public as the solution, always.

So we need to bring the public along. You need to keep them up to speed. You need to keep them informed. If you don’t have the public buy-in for everything you’re doing, you will never defeat a pandemic. What we’ve done instead, by assuming that the public was unable to deal with this kind of information and this kind of nuance, we have done immeasurable damage.

We’ve made the same mistake with herd immunity — treating it as some threshold before which there’s still great danger and after which there is none, rather than a gradual lessening of risk as more people gain immunity through infection or vaccination.
It’s crazy. Why we continue to treat everything as black and white from testing to disease to herd immunity is … I can’t really figure out why. Maybe it’s just a basic human thing, but I think it’s something our CDC and our FDA and our policymakers should’ve done a much better job educating about. The burden really falls on them.

5) Quite entertaining science journalism, “The Body’s Most Embarrassing Organ Is an Evolutionary Marvel: And yet we have very little idea where anuses come from.”

The appearance of the anus was momentous in animal evolution, turning a one-hole digestive sac into an open-ended tunnel. Creatures with an anus could physically segregate the acts of eating and defecating, reducing the risk of sullying a snack with scat; they no longer had to finish processing one meal before ingesting another, allowing their tubelike body to harvest more energy and balloon in size. Nowadays, anuses take many forms. Several animals, such as the sea cucumber, have morphed their out-hole into a Swiss Army knife of versatility; others thought that gastrointestinal back doors were so nice, they sprouted them at least twice. “There’s been a lot of evolutionary freedom to play around with that part of the body plan,” Armita Manafzadeh, a vertebrate morphology expert at Brown University, told me.

But anuses are also shrouded in scientific intrigue, and a fair bit of squabbling. Researchers still hotly debate how and when exactly the anus first arose, and the number of times the orifice was acquired or lost across different species. To tap into our origins, we’ll need to take a squarer look at our ends.

 

In the beginning, there was nothing. The back ends of our animal ancestors that swam the seas hundreds of millions of years ago were blank, relegating the entry and exit of all foodstuffs to a single, multipurpose hole. Evolutionary echoes of these life-forms still exist in corals, sea anemone, jellyfish, and a legion of marine worms whose digestive tract takes the form of a loose sac. These animals are serially monogamous with their meals, taking food in one glob at a time, then expelling the scraps through the same hole. (Contrary to what you might have read, not everyone poops.) These creatures’ guts operate much like parking lots, subject to strict vacancy quotas that restrict the flow of traffic.

The emergence of a back door transformed those parking lots into highways—the linear “through-guts” that dominate body plans today. Suddenly, animals had the luxury of downing multiple meals without needing to fuss with disposal in between; digestive tracts lengthened and regionalized, partitioning into chambers that could extract different nutrients and host their own communities of microbes. The compartmentalization made it easier for animals to get more out of their meals, Andreas Hejnol, a developmental biologist at the University of Bergen, in Norway, told me. With the lengthening and uncorking of the end of the gut, he said, many creatures grew into longer and larger body forms, and started to move in new ways. (It would take several more eons for true buttocksthe fleshy, fatty accoutrements that flank the anuses of some animals, such as humans—to evolve. Some researchers I talked with are comfortable using butt to mean any anal or anus-adjacent structure; others are purists, and consider the term strict shorthand for buttocks and buttocks alone.)

6) Really enjoyed Robinson Meyer on the new F150 electric:

4. An electric vehicle is, at a mechanical level, a giant battery on wheels. Ford is pitching this not only as a technical necessity but as a feature: They want you to plug stuff into the car. “Let’s say you’re at a tailgate or at work. You can set up a cement mixer, a band, or lights and draw only half the power the truck is capable of producing at a time,” Linda Zhang, the chief engineer on the Lightning, told me. Like all electric vehicles, the F-150 replaces the hefty internal-combustion engine with a much smaller electric motor, and like many EVs therefore has a storage compartment under its front hood: a “frunk.” Except the F-150 has a “power frunk”—the most marvelous three-syllable phrase American marketing has produced since “half-priced apps”—meaning that it both opens to the touch of a button and has multiple plugs for appliances.

The Lightning can store so much power that, in a blackout, it can supply a house’s normal power usage for three days, according to Ford. If the house conserves power, it can keep the lights on for more than a week, Zhang said. Talking about this feature, Ford employees and Farley himself have referenced the Texas blackouts. The Lightning is a technology of resilience, of climate adaptation.

5. Chemically speaking, decarbonization—the move away from carbon-based fossil fuels—is a shift to less dense forms of energy. Gasoline, for its many flaws, contains an enormous amount of potential energy in a very small amount of mass. Transitioning away from it means, in practical terms, that electric vehicles will be much heavier than gasoline-powered vehicles. The F-150 Lightning weighs 6,500 pounds, about the same as the gargantuan Hummer H2 of the mid-2000s. The battery alone is 1,800 pounds.

These are hefty, dangerous vehicles. Ford has said that it will send software updates to its EVs over the air, and that it will soon transmit its new autonomous-driving feature, BlueCruise, to its EV fleet. But the tonnage of the Lightning, specifically, means that it must especially prioritize advanced safety features, sensors, and auto-braking. Otherwise pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers of smaller and lighter vehicles will die.

7) Zeynep on ransomware:

The dynamics of digital insecurity, ransomware, and related threats are eerily similar to the global public health dynamics before the pandemic. Battlestar Galactica helps explain one key similarity: Networked systems are vulnerable. The premise of the series is that the battleship Galactica, and only Galactica, survived an attack by the Cylons (humanoid robots) on the human fleet simply because it was old and had just been decommissioned in the process of being turned into a museum. Being older, it had never been networked into the system. The “shutdown” command sent by the attackers never reached it, and it was thus spared…

In pandemic terms, Galactica was an island that no one could travel to.

Our software infrastructure is not built with security in mind. That’s partly because a lot of it depends on older layers, and also because there has been little incentive to prioritize security. More operating systems could have been built from the start with features such as “sandboxing,” in which a program can play only in a defined, walled-off area called a “sandbox” that is unreachable by anything else. If that program is malicious, it can do damage only in its sandbox. (This is analogous to the idea of “air gapping,” in which crucial parts of a network are unplugged from a network’s infrastructure.)

Adding security after the fact to a digital system that wasn’t built for it is very hard. And we are also surrounded by “technical debt,” programs that work but were written quickly, sometimes decades ago, and were never meant to scale to the degree that they have. We don’t mess with these rickety layers, because it would be very expensive and difficult, and could cause everything else to crumble. That means there is a lot of duct tape in our code, holding various programs and their constituent parts together, and many parts of it are doing things they weren’t designed for.

Our global network isn’t built for digital security. As I wrote in 2018, the early internet was intended to connect people who already trusted one another, such as academic researchers and military networks. It never had the robust security that today’s global network needs. As the internet went from a few thousand users to more than 3 billion, attempts to strengthen security were stymied because of cost, shortsightedness, and competing interests.

8) My favorite sports analytics discovery (thanks, BB!) of recent vintage is hockey writer JFresh.  I really enjoyed this look at how hockey is about the most luck-dependent of sports and we really need to keep this in mind.  So much regression to the mean both ways.  

9) It also led be to this Vox video” Why it’s so much harder to predict winners in hockey than basketball” that I just absolutely loved (and put in a request for the book it’s based upon).

10) Good stuff from Mark Blumenthal, “How far might incentives nudge the hesitant toward getting COVID-19 vaccines?”

As the rate of new COVID–19 vaccinations has slowed, health officials have grown more creative in efforts to entice the unvaccinated to get their shot. In Ohio, the offer of a chance to win $1 million helped boost new vaccinations to their highest rate in three weeks.

New YouGov polling – conducted prior to the announcement of the Ohio lottery – shows that while such efforts may do little to dissuade the most hardcore of vaccine resistant Americans, the various nudges and incentives being offered in some areas have the potential to motivate many Americans still on-the-fence about getting vaccinated.

The most recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, for example, asked unvaccinated Americans whether a series of incentives would make them more likely to get vaccinated. Not surprisingly, the various enticements were most attractive to those already planning to get vaccinated (11% of adults overall), especially the prospect of getting easier access to things like travel, sports, entertainment and restaurants (would make 63% of this group more likely to get a shot), receiving $100 in exchange (62%), or the option to be vaccinated “at my doctor’s office” (58%). Nearly all (91%) who say they are planning to get vaccinated respond favorably to at least one of eight potential incentives tested…

In short, these results confirm survey results elsewhere, such as those of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which finds the unvaccinated “have a range of questions and concerns about the vaccine that require different strategies to address.” 

It may take a broad range of approaches and incentives, but if 90% of those still planning to be vaccinated and 40% of those who say they are unsure can be prodded to get at least one vaccine dose – targets consistent with the results above – it would mean a vaccination rate above 70% of the adult population, the goal recently set by President Biden for July 4.

11) I’ve got Amanda Ripley’s new book on conflict on my coffee table and cannot wait to read it.  I really loved this whole interview with Yascha Mounk.  So many good tidbits in here:

Mounk: I’m struck often, in our political discourse, by the ways in which many of my friends and acquaintances—people who are broadly on the, quote, unquote, same side—want to have a view of the other side that’s as negative as possible. Actually, they seem comforted when the other side does something horrible, because it allows them to hate them without any reservations or without any nuance. Then when the other side actually does something honorable, that’s sort of irksome. 

Ripley: At this level of conflict, emotion is driving the train. I admit to that myself. I remember, early on in Trump’s tenure, he did something—I can’t remember what it was, something about China. I remember having this sudden thought that, actually, that was not a bad idea—but not even wanting to have the thought in my head, let alone verbalize it. Then I realized I felt like if I gave him an inch, he’d take a mile—as if we were in a relationship. It’s a trick of the brain, as if he and I were in conversation, which we’re not. So, it’s a fear. It’s a lack of trust. It’s easier, in a way, to keep things binary: bad, good. There’s really cool research that haunts me to this day by Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg, where they asked liberals and conservatives if they would reframe an argument for something in words that [would get] conservatives behind it. Interestingly, they found that 20% of liberals would not reframe their arguments to persuade conservatives, even if it would work better to get what they want. That’s high conflict: when any concession, no matter how small, feels too threatening to contemplate, even when it would be in their interest.

Mounk: I find it to be true that when you say, “Hey, these arguments really are not persuasive and popular to a lot of people,” there’s a particularly strong reaction against that among some readers and on social media, where they’re saying, “Look, this is a question of justice, how dare you talk about it in these kinds of terms.” It’s like you’re desecrating the sacredness of your cause by thinking about how you might put it in a way that’ll actually attract support. Of course, we live in a democracy, and that means you have to think about majorities, and that can sometimes be a slightly dirty business. But if you actually cared about the cause, you would be willing to reframe your argument in the ways that makes it most likely for your cause to happen—whereas I think it’s an indication that you care more about being on the good side when you become reluctant to do that. […] To what extent do you think we can apply everything you say about high conflict to the current situation in the United States?

Ripley: I think 100%. That’s why I wrote the book. What I found is, if you come at [conflict] head on, you lose a lot of people. Many people are stridently locked in on one side or another. But if you come at it sideways, with an analogy, people will make the connection. When you’re in high conflict, it feels unique to you, your country and your pathology. You just can’t believe that this is a universal human condition that has anything to do with divorce court. But I’ll tell you what, there is no daylight between divorce court and Congress at this point. There is nothing different about it. 

12) Really good stuff from Derek Thompson on why Texas was okay despite removing its mask mandate super-early:

In early march, Texas became the first state to abolish its mask mandate and lift capacity constraints for all businesses. Conservatives hailed Governor Greg Abbott’s decision, while liberals predicted doom and death and President Joe Biden disparaged it as “Neanderthal thinking.”

Nine weeks later, the result seems to be less than catastrophic. In fact, in a new paper, economists at Bentley University and San Diego State University found that Abbott’s order had practically no effect on COVID-19 cases. “The predictions of reopening advocates and opponents failed to materialize,” the authors concluded.

How could a policy so consequential—or at least so publicly contested—do so little? …

A subtler possibility is that Abbott’s decision didn’t matter very much because other factors—such as weather, accelerating vaccinations, and a bit of luck—mattered more at the time. The coronavirus seems to spread less efficiently in hot and humid environments, which could partly explain why states such as Texas and Florida have managed to avoid higher-than-average COVID-19 deaths, despite their governors’ famous aversion to restrictions. Add this to the pace of vaccinations in March, and it’s possible that Abbott just got lucky, by lifting restrictions at a time when cases were destined to decline, no matter what.

Yet another explanation is that Abbott’s decision didn’t matter because nobody changed their behavior. According to the aforementioned Texas paper, Abbot’s decision had no effect on employment, movement throughout the state, or foot traffic to retailers. It had no effect in either liberal or conservative counties, nor in urban or exurban areas. The pro-maskers kept their masks on their faces. The anti-maskers kept their masks in the garbage. And many essential workers, who never felt like they had a choice to begin with, continued their pre-announcement habits.The governor might as well have shouted into a void.

Across the country, in fact, people’s pandemic behavior appears to be disconnected from local policy, which complicates any effort to know which COVID-19 policies actually work.

In November, for instance, a team of economists using private data to survey all 50 states concluded that state-ordered shutdowns and reopenings had only “small impacts on spending and employment.”…

Governors don’t reopen or close economies. The CDC doesn’t put masks on or take them off citizens’ faces. A small number of elites don’t decide when everyone else feels safe enough to shop, eat inside, or get on a plane. People seem to make these decisions for themselves, based on some combination of local norms, political orientation, and personal risk tolerance that resists quick reversals, no matter what public health elites say.

And, I gotta say, this following part super-resonated with me (for obvious reasons, once you read it):

If governor mandates don’t change behavior, and state shutdowns don’t change behavior, and CDC guidance doesn’t change behavior (so far), then where do our beliefs about this virus come from? Who shapes the way we think, feel, and act in response to complex and consequential things like a global pandemic?

I’ll first answer for myself: Skeptical of some official narratives from the Trump administration to the CDC, I’ve become my own private investigator on all things COVID-related. (It helps that I’m paid to be one.) I track what public-health officials say about the pandemic, but I don’t wait with bated breath for their pronouncements. Months before the CDC acknowledged that surface transmission of the coronavirus is vanishingly rare, I wrote that surface transmission is vanishingly rare. Weeks before the CDC acknowledged that outdoor mask mandates make no sense, I wrote that outdoor mask mandates make no sense. I’m not bragging; I’m … well, all right, I’m bragging a little.

But my private-detective work isn’t so special. At at time when citizens don’t trust their government and when information is abundant, anybody can, like me, become their own sleuth on all things COVID-related, piece together their own theory about what this virus is and how it spreads, and come up with their individual risk level. Many remote workers, hunched behind their laptops for 16 months, have had the opportunity to steep themselves in modern epidemiology.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I meant to share this a while back– it’s so good.  Zeynep shares the insights of Whitney Robinson on meta-epistemology of epidemiology.  Basically goes through how she thinks about thinking about the pandemic, “How to reason when information is incomplete, uncertain and emotionally-fraught”

Principle 1. “Look to previous phenomena to know what questions to ask”

Principle 2. “Observed versus expected.” In other words, “Pay attention to unexpected data that has no natural constituency and to lack of data that are in high demand”…

Principle 3. “Beware of ‘sticky’ priors” 

2) Relatedly, loved this from Ellie Murray.  “I’m an epidemiologist. Here’s what I got wrong about covid.”  We should all do more of this.  For example, I put way too much stock in the potential value of therapeutics.  I have undoubtedly been more skeptical of findings that emphasize the role of children in transmission than those that suggest a small role.  Anyway, if you want to be a good thinker you should definitely be putting your own thinking under a skeptical focus. 

3) I really enjoyed Tim Harford’s The Data Detective.  In the last chapter, he talked about the power of curiousity and combating the “illusion of explanatory depth.”  I really love that idea.  Nice summary here:

If you asked one hundred people on the street if they understand how a refrigerator works, most would respond, yes, they do. But ask them to then produce a detailed, step-by-step explanation of how exactly a refrigerator works and you would likely hear silence or stammering. This powerful but inaccurate feeling of knowing is what Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil in 2002 termed, the illusion of explanatory depth (IOED), stating, “Most people feel they understand the world with far greater detail, coherence, and depth than they really do.”

Rozenblit and Keil initially demonstrated the IOED through multi-phase studies. In a first phase, they asked participants to rate how well they understood artifacts such as a sewing machine, crossbow, or cell phone. In a second phase, they asked participants to write a detailed explanation of how each artifact works, and afterwards asked them re-rate how well they understand each one. Study after study showed that ratings of self-knowledge dropped dramatically from phase one to phase two, after participants were faced with their inability to explain how the artifact in question operates. Of course, the IOED extends well beyond artifacts, to how we think about scientific fields, mental illnesses, economic markets and virtually anything we are capable of (mis)understanding.

At present, the IOED is profoundly pervasive given that we have infinite access to information, but consume information in a largely superficial fashion. A 2014 survey found that approximately six in ten Americans read news headlines and nothing more. Major geopolitical issues from civil wars in the Middle East to the latest climate change research advances are distilled into tweets, viral videos, memes, “explainer” websites, soundbites on comedy news shows, and daily e-newsletters that get inadvertently re-routed to the spam folder. We consume knowledge widely, but not deeply.

Understanding the IOED allows us to combat political extremism. In 2013, Philip Fernbach and colleagues demonstrated that the IOED underlies people’s policy positions on issues like single-payer health care, a national flat tax, and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. As in Rozenbilt and Keil’s studies, Fernbach and colleagues first asked people to rate how well they understood these issues, and then asked them to explain how each issue works and subsequently re-rate their understanding of each issue. In addition, participants rated the extremity of their attitudes on these issues both before and after offering an explanation. Both self-reported understanding of the issue and attitude extremity dropped significantly after explaining the issue—people who strongly supported or opposed an issue became more moderate. What is more, reduced extremity also reduced willingness to donate money to a group advocating for the issue. These studies suggest the IOED is a powerful tool for cooling off heated political disagreements.

The IOED provides us much-needed humility. In any domain of knowledge, often the most ignorant are the most overconfident in their understanding of that domain. Justin Kruger and David Dunning famously showed that the lowest performers on tests of logical reasoning, grammar, and humor are most likely to overestimate their test scores. Only through gaining expertise in a topic do people recognize its complexity and calibrate their confidence accordingly. Having to explain a phenomenon forces us to confront this complexity and realize our ignorance. At a time where political polarization, income inequality, and urban-rural separation have deeply fractured us over social and economic issues, recognizing our only modest understanding of these issues is a first step to bridging these divides. 

I’m totally going to start having my students engage in this exercise of explaining things they think they understand.

4) Good stuff from PRRI on Republicans and the Big Lie.  This chart via main news source is not all the surprising, but still kind of amazing:

5) Good stuff from Zeynep on the Yankees outbreak:

So, yes, it does feel quite unusual for eight vaccinated people to test positive. That is almost certainly a cluster. Here’s what we know: it got detected after a coach, who had some mild symptoms but now no longer has any, tested positive. Then they found seven more people who tested positive, all of whom were completely asymptomatic. Here’s how the testing is done.

Everyone in the Yankees’ traveling party of 50 to 60 people is being tested three times a day using polymerase chain reaction, saliva and rapid tests. Thursday was the first day of no new positive test results since the outbreak began, Cashman said. “Maybe it’s slowing down,” he said.

For one thing, they should sequence these cases so we know if it was a variant or not, but the incident is still not a cause for worry. Here are some of the possibilities:

1-They are all positive because of a common source, likely a highly infectious individual. These people all got a bit of the virus, and the virus was able to replicate just enough to be picked up by PCR tests that are very sensitive and can pick up even very small amounts. They are testing people three times a day with PCR tests! They’ll pick up anything and everything, even the tiniest viral amount. The virus was obviously stopped in its tracks, so almost everyone is without symptoms. That sounds like a great outcome to me. 

A case of vaccine breakthrough is not the same thing as an unvaccinated or non-immune person catching COVID-19. Personally, if I had tested positive while unvaccinated, I’d be worried until it played out. Post-vaccination? For me, testing positive would be but a curiosity unworthy of my anxiety. There’s a reason that vaccine trials and real world data show so few severe cases, let alone hospitalizations or deaths. Post-vaccination, the virus would no no longer be able to surprise my immune system as a novel pathogen, and I’m not that worried whether it replicates just a bit in my nose before getting shut down.

The virus in the Yankees case might even have been a variant with some antibody evading features which gives the virus a bit more time to replicate (the mutations act like a disguise that slow down but don’t eliminate its eventual recognition) before the rest of the immune system shuts it down. None of the variants we have are in “disguises” (antibody evading mutations) that are 100% effective in hiding from the totality of the immune system, and it’s quite likely they never will get there. 

6) Really liked this, “Stop Deriding Liz Cheney: Demanding ideological purity among those who stand up to Trump is not a viable way to protect American democracy.”

Cheney deserves commendation for breaking with Trump and the GOP. The Republican Party’s refusal to accept the results of a free and fair election is an existential threat to our democracy. Defenders of liberal democracy of all political stripes should be applauding her honesty, courage, and refusal to bend the knee. 

But in the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and progressive publications besides, journalists have been attacking Cheney. They say that it’s too little too late, label her a warmonger, or complain that she’s just too conservative. 

These critiques might be fair to level in a different circumstance, but raising them now as a reason not to applaud Cheney for standing up to her party is foolish. For five years, progressives asked for conservatives to come out and condemn Trump. Yet when they do, these same voices condemn conservatives within the Republican Party’s ranks for the sin of remaining conservative. It is ludicrous, if not reckless, to claim that the threat to the republic is imminent, and then rebuff potential allies who don’t come from the same ideological club…

Cheney could have gone along with Trump’s lie and stayed in Republican leadership. By fighting back, she is potentially sacrificing a powerful future in the party. Her quick rise up the party ranks shows that she is savvy enough to have had a clear shot at becoming speaker of the House. She was a State Department official and a viable future candidate for secretary of state or defense. She may have even had a chance at winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and becoming the first female president of the United States. 

Instead, she chose to be cast into the political wilderness. This might have been why she waited so long to come out against Trump. To many of us, January 6 was the climax of Trump’s attacks on democracy. For Cheney, it was a wake-up call. But she finally woke up, and now she is sacrificing a potentially great future. That is worthy of admiration and praise, not scorn.

That is not to say that any progressive should become a Cheney superfan. Nor does it mean that Democrats should start agreeing with her on policy. It only means that they should welcome her efforts to preserve our liberal democracy and admire her courage.

As much as some progressives would like to do away with conservatism, America is going to have a conservative political faction with significant influence over a major party. We cannot afford to apply an ideological purity test, especially one that bans all conservatives, in our efforts to save liberalism in America. One can object to Cheney’s views on foreign policy, or even oppose conservatism altogether, and still see Cheney as a welcome addition to the fight against illiberalism…

Defenders of liberal democracy in America, on both the left and the right, should take the same approach. The main political divide is no longer between conservatives and progressives, but between liberals and illiberals. Demanding ideological purity among our liberal allies is not a viable way to protect American democracy.

7) This. “To prevent next pandemic, scientists say we must regulate air like food and water”

8) This story is totally bonkers and it was also basically a one-day story.  Amazing what we’re willing to just accept from all the corrupt criminals in the Trump administration, “Activists and Ex-Spy Said to Have Plotted to Discredit Trump ‘Enemies’ in Government: The campaign included planned operations against President Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and F.B.I. employees, according to documents and interviews.”

9) Years ago I learned just how bad drug-sniffing dogs are from a paper from one of my students.  They are so bad at it! And yet, our whole criminal justice system treats them as if they are infallible.  Some dogs will basically just indicate, “yes, drugs here” every damn time you ask them.  And the way they test these dogs is some embarrassingly bad I expect many an elementary school student could explain it:

Don’t blame Karma. The police dog simply followed his training when he helped local agencies impound vehicles that sometimes belonged to innocent motorists in Republic, Washington, an old mining town near the Canadian border.

As a drug detection dog, Karma kept his nose down and treated every suspect the same. Public records show that from the time he arrived in Republic in January 2018 until his handler took a leave of absence to campaign for public office in 2020, Karma gave an “alert” indicating the presence of drugs 100 percent of the time during roadside sniffs outside vehicles.

Whether drivers actually possessed illegal narcotics made no difference. The government gained access to every vehicle that Karma ever sniffed. He essentially created automatic probable cause for searches and seizures, undercutting constitutional guarantees of due process.

Similar patterns abound nationwide, suggesting that Karma’s career was not unusual. Lex, a drug detection dog in Illinois, alerted for narcotics 93 percent of the time during roadside sniffs, but was wrong in more than 40 percent of cases. Sella, a drug detection dog in Florida, gave false alerts 53 percent of the time. Bono, a drug detection dog in Virginia, incorrectly indicated the presence of drugs 74 percent of the time…

False alerts, which create problems for people like Farris and Said, sometimes have nothing to do with a dog’s nose. Brain scientist Federico Rossano, who studies animal communication with humans at the University of California, San Diego, says dogs have an innate sense of loyalty that can override their sense of smell.

“The tendency of producing signals even when they detect nothing comes from the desire to please the human handler,” he says.

Essentially, intelligent animals pick up subtle cues from their handlers and respond. Rossano says the communication often occurs by accident without anyone being aware.

Clever Hans, a horse celebrated in the early 1900s for his math ability, provides the most prominent example. The proud owner truly believed that Hans could solve arithmetic problems, but skeptics later proved that the horse merely was responding to facial expressions and body language from his human companion.

A 2011 study from the University of California, Davis, shows how cues can influence drug detection dogs. When human handlers believed that narcotics were hidden in test areas, their canine partners were much more likely to indicate the presence of drugs—even when no drugs actually existed.

Police participants did not like the implications. But rather than using the findings to improve their training techniques, they denounced the study and refused further cooperation.

They preferred a 2014 study from Poland, which eliminated the potential for false positives. Rather than simulating real-world conditions, researchers ensured that every test included measurable quantities of narcotics.

Participating dogs had no opportunity to sniff drug-free vehicles and communicate a lack of odor. The only correct answer was an indication for drugs. Karma could have aced such a test simply by sitting down every time. He would have looked like a prodigy, but a broken dial stuck on “alert” would have achieved the same result.

10) Speaking of bad criminal justice practices… the death penalty really needs to go.  Yes, there are some people who actually “deserve” it, but not at the cost of the fact that we just keep putting innocent people on death row.  And maybe executing some innocent people. “4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon
Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.”

11) Really liked this on diversity “training” at universities:

At a time when trainings are proliferating across institutions of higher learning, people could be forgiven for confusing training with education. But they are vastly different and should be seen as such especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The purpose of education, bell hooks reminds us, is critical thinking. Requiring “courage and imagination,” the “heartbeat of critical thinking is the longing to know — to understand how life works.” With hooks’s words in mind, here are 10 ways to tell training and education apart.

  1. Training makes assumptions; education challenges them.
  2. Training is packaged; education cannot be contained.
  3. Training rewards compliance, education curiosity.
  4. Training is having to say something, education having something to say.
  5. Training tells you what to think; education teaches you how to think.
  6. Training answers questions; education poses them.
  7. Training is generic; education all about context.
  8. Training simplifies the world; education reveals its complexity.
  9. Training promotes conformity, education independence.
  10. Training is performative; education is transformative.

Training has its uses. It can even save lives. (See CPR above.) But training is woefully inadequate when it comes to confronting social problems such as poverty, discrimination and racism. These are long-standing, knotty and complex issues that defy ready-made solutions. Any serious effort to address them must start with education, a process for which there are no shortcuts.

Consider these two hypothetical examples of a college trying to deal with issues of race and diversity. The first is a prototypical training module; the second takes an educational approach.

In many trainings, you likely will be told that your racial identity defines who you are — and that participants will be divided into two main racial affinity groups, white and BIPOC. You will be informed that white people are oblivious to race, while BIPOC people see everything through a racial lens. You will be advised that white folks use “white talk,” which is “task-oriented” and “intellectual,” whereas people of color use “color commentary,” which is “process-oriented” and “emotional.”

It will be explained to you that traits like precision, individualism and objectivity are hallmarks of “white supremacy culture.” “White supremacy” will be defined as an ideology that maintains “white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions.” In order to reveal unconscious biases, you will be made to share the racial stereotypes you hold and then catalog the racial microaggressions you have perpetrated. Finally, you will be encouraged to make a public commitment to transforming your institution into a “fully inclusive antiracist multicultural organization.”

12) OMG, I really do “know” that we just cannot build our way out of traffic.  And I’ve read many studies like this.  But even still, it’s so hard not to just want more lanes. “Asphalt, Gridlock and Common Sense: It’s clear that adding lanes to urban expressways or building new ones doesn’t reduce congestion. Sometimes it makes things worse. So why do we keep doing it?”

Sometimes in government, the best-laid strategies of policymakers and consultants are much less rational than ordinary common sense. Nearly everyone in America believes, correctly, that workers shouldn’t be yoked to their employers for health insurance, even though we can’t seem to change that. Nearly all of us can see that our zoning laws are a hodgepodge of outdated rules that ban mixed uses in neighborhoods badly in need of them. I could make a much longer list.

Other times, however, what seems the most elementary common sense turns out to be wrong. Nothing looks more obvious to most people than the idea that when a highway is choked with traffic, the solution is to expand it or build another road nearby. It looks like plain common sense, but it doesn’t work. A whole slew of examples from recent history is sufficient to prove the point.

There is, to cite one clear case, the Interstate 405 freeway in Los Angeles. In the first decade of the new century, it was such a traffic-clogged mess that people would leave social engagements hours early with the excuse that they needed a head start on the 405. So it was widened in a five-year project ending in 2014 at a cost of $1.8 billion. The benefits? Not very many. Travel times actually increased once the project was finished, although rush hours shortened slightly…

FIASCOES LIKE THESE run into the reality of “induced demand,” the phenomenon that lures more vehicles and more congestion to a highway after it is expanded than were there before. The idea goes back to the 1960s, when the economist Anthony Downs promulgated what he called “the law of peak-hour expressway congestion.” “On urban commuter roads,” Downs argued, “peak-hour congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” Traffic planners, especially those in state highway departments, refused to believe it. They went with what they considered common sense and kept expanding and widening. They made a costly mistake.

What the numbers invariably show is that highways are vulnerable to latent demand — people who haven’t been using them start to fill them up once the capacity is expanded, especially at rush hour. Some are commuters who had been using public transportation; some are drivers who shift their trips to rush hour rather than the middle of the day; and some who hadn’t been making trips at all take to the highway. The combined result, in many cases, is more traffic than existed prior to the expansion.

But it isn’t just drivers suddenly venturing onto the highway. Expanded capacity means more development — new trucking depots and large numbers of employees who commute to work; new housing developments and shopping centers at the exits. All of this contributes to making a situation, if not greatly worse, then demonstrably no better.

13) Pretty fascinating post from Scott Alexander on prescription apps, which is pretty interesting in its own right.  In this case, the apps are for CBT-I (Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia), which I don’t need, but also find very interesting.  

14) I wish we didn’t live in a world where we so valued the lives of Americans over the lives of people in other countries.  Or that we weren’t such a damn tribal species.  But we do and we are, so arguments like this are so fantastically unrealistic that they just annoy me, “As pediatricians, we say please don’t use precious coronavirus vaccines on healthy children.” I mean, in reality, you can say this about the vast majority of resources spent on Americans, period, would have way way way more impact for good if spent in developing nations.  

15) Want to read a super-depressing assessment of the state of the world?  Here’s one from Noah Smith, “The Darkness: Illiberalism is on the march, all over the world.”

16) So, I just came across this from 6 years ago and, immodestly, was pretty happy with my results. “A Quick Puzzle to Test Your Problem Solving”

Quick hits (part I)

1) One of the better takes on the ransomware that’s made getting gas a nightmare in NC.  Just because I happened to be out running errands Monday evening and was low I serendipitously filled up as the craziness started Tuesday morning here.  Now, I regularly drive by mostly empty stations with a few stations having lines of dozens of cars.  Do better America!

2) Ummm, I definitely stick with my less intelligent, but friendlier/happier dog.  But, interesting, “Grumpy Dogs Outperform the Friendlies on Some Learning Tests
Dogs that would not be the first choice of many pet owners do better than some of the more agreeable fellows when they have to learn from a stranger.”

3) This, especially when it comes to summer camps this summer, “I Tell My Patients Not to Mask Their Kids Outside: For most young people, the social and emotional benefits of taking masks off outdoors greatly outweigh the personal and public-health advantages of keeping them on.”

4) There’s some really, really bad diversity training that really is out there based on absolutely nonsense, racist ideas like hard work and punctuality are “white supremacy” virtues.  As Yglesias points out, nobody really bothers to defend it (nor did they when he posted this), and, yet, it keeps getting propagated because nobody wants to speak against it and risk being labeled racist or “fragile” white person:

So I want to talk instead about one specific document, not because I think it’s the most important document in the world, but because I don’t really see anyone who I read and respect talking about it even though I’ve seen it arise multiple times in real life.

I’m talking about “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture” by Tema Okun, which I first heard of this year from the leader of a progressive nonprofit group whose mission I strongly support. He told me that some people on the staff had started wielding this document in internal disputes and it was causing big headaches. Once I had that on my radar, I heard about it from a couple of other nonprofit workers. And I saw it come up at the Parent Teacher Association for my kid’s school.

It’s an excerpt from a longer book called Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups that was developed as a tool for Okun’s consulting and training gigs.

But today, even though it’s not what I would call a particularly intellectually influential work in highbrow circles — even ones that are very “woke” or left-wing — it does seem to be incredibly widely circulated. You see it everywhere from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence to the Sierra Club of Wisconsin to an organization of West Coast Quakers.

Which is to say it’s sloshing around quite broadly in progressive circles even though I’ve never heard a major writer, scholar, or political leader praise or recommend it. And to put it bluntly, it’s really dumb. In my more conspiratorial moments, I wonder if it’s not a psyop devised by some modern-day version of COINTELPRO to try to destroy progressive politics in the United States by making it impossible to run effective organizations. Even if not, I think the document is worth discussing on its own terms because it is broadly influential enough that if everyone actually agrees with me that it’s bad, we should stop citing it and object when other people do. And alternatively, if there are people who think it’s good, it would be nice to hear them say so, and then we could have a specific argument about that. But while I don’t think this document is exactly typical, I do think it’s emblematic of some broader, unfortunate cultural trends…

The craziest thing about “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture” is that it has literally nothing to do with race.

Some of the things she condemns are genuinely bad. For example, it is true that some people have “the belief there is one right way to do things and once people are introduced to the right way, they will see the light and adopt it.” That is in fact not true and not a productive way to live your life, conduct political work, or run an organization of any size.

Mostly, though, she’s against things like “either/or thinking” and “perfectionism” where it’s pretty clearly a case in which you just don’t want to take things too far. I am the very opposite of a perfectionist, and in my old blogging days, I was infamous for my typos. Today I am still like that, but thanks to the help of Marc and Claire, I try to keep dumb mistakes out of Slow Boring since this is, after all, my job, and thousands of subscribers have kindly agreed to pay for it. But I still frequently find myself encountering people who are too perfectionist-oriented, and there are absolutely people who are too hung up on dichotomous thinking and false binaries. But there are also people who are too sloppy or too indecisive.

But big picture, none of this has anything to do with race or white supremacy!

And I don’t mean that in, like, “it’s not racist unless you’re wearing a Klan hood and burning a cross in my lawn.” I mean, nothing. If you don’t know any non-white people who sometimes strike you as excessively rigid in their thinking or seem like too much of perfectionists then you need to get out more. But then Okun herself concedes that there’s no necessary relationship between manifesting white supremacy culture and being white yourself, nor even the ethnic composition of the group…

Okay, but really who cares?

I think enough attention has been paid to the view that Cancel Culture Is A Totalitarian Menace Threatening Our Freedoms that a lot of people have trouble hearing any other kind of criticism, and it leads them to immediately retreat into whataboutism and minimization.

So for the record, I wholeheartedly agree — I do not think a bunch of folks running around telling the world that asking for written memos and focusing on measurable results is racist are going to take over the United States and extinguish human liberty. Frankly, I don’t think they’re going to do anything at all other than run a bunch of basically useless trainings and disrupt the internal functioning of progressive organizations. My concern is less that Woke Conservation Biologists are going to oppress us and more that they aren’t going to do conservation biology very well.

But this can still be very harmful.

If you tell teachers and principals that having a sense of urgency about teaching kids to read is a form of white supremacy, then that is going to hurt kids’ learning. And if young people entering the progressive nonprofit sector believe that any effort to construct disciplined, hierarchical organizations is a form of white supremacy, then they are not going to accomplish anything.

I would also say that the political faction that tends to pride itself on ideas like “taking the science seriously” and “trusting the experts” should ask itself how a white physical education major from Oberlin got to be such a guru on this subject…

But that not only has a range of first-order harms, but it also creates a situation where you then find yourself turning around later and wondering why nobody trusts the experts anymore. Some of the reason is that they’re under assault by bad-faith operators who derive personal benefits from discrediting the concept of neutral expertise. But some of it is that the participants in these institutions can’t be consistently bothered to uphold those values and ask really basic questions of the influential practitioners who happen to be aligned with the right politics.

5) Using drugs to cheat in sports is bad.  They way international athletics organizations horribly treat their athletes based on questionable drug test is… worse?  I mean, your career ruined for eating a steak?!

The American Olympic long jumper Jarrion Lawson, the first man since Jesse Owens to win the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump at the same N.C.A.A. championships, had a similar experience. After he ate a beef teriyaki bowl at a Japanese restaurant in Arkansas in 2018, he also tested positive for a metabolite of trenbolone.

His agent, Paul Doyle, tracked down the restaurant’s beef supplier, which said it collected beef from farms that, like many farms across America, treated cows with trenbolone to make them grow. Because Mr. Lawson could not recover an exact sample of the beef he’d eaten before the test, he was exonerated in part through old text messages about what he wanted to have for lunch that day and a receipt the restaurant had retained. But he lost 19 months of competition to a provisional suspension while he fought the charge.

“Had he ordered the chicken bowl instead of the beef bowl, he would have saved himself $2 million and his reputation,” said Mr. Doyle, referring to losses from sponsor contracts, competition earnings and legal fees. “It’s very frustrating. Sometimes it seems like they’re taking the approach of ‘Let’s try and ban as many athletes as we can.’”

6) For a variety of reasons, the NHL is gone from a minor interest to me to being my favorite sport by a long shot.  They kind of suck on player safety (Tom Wilson!), though I appreciate the improvements from the constant fighting that really turned me off long ago, but, damn do they get it on air quality.  Kind of amazing that a sports league understands this so much better than major public health agencies.  I loved reading this about upcoming Hurricanes playoff games:

PNC Arena can normally seat 18,680 for hockey. Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said Friday the team was still discussing with the NHL how many fans the team would initially be allowed to host, but that NHL ventilation standards would still limit PNC to about 10,000-12,000 fans until the team can bring in additional HVAC and dehumidifying equipment.

7) No, I’m never going to love wasps, but I can appreciate the important environmental roles they play, “Wasps have a bad rap. This summer, let’s learn to love them”

8) Love, love, love this headline, “Pandora ditching mined diamonds for lab-grown ones: The move by the world’s biggest jeweler reflects consumer demand for sustainability and ethical sourcing.”  I mean, diamonds are absurdly over-rated as gemstones (I mean, a good emerald, ruby, or sapphire over a diamond any day!!), but even worse their environmental and human impact, so, yes, more of this!

9) This was interesting and definitely a move in the right direction, “Is This the End of the Leotard?The German gymnastics team’s full-body uniforms are a bold statement against sexualization and wedgies.”  Also, I had no idea the wedgies were such a big thing.  Athletes should be comfortable, damnit.

10) Good stuff from Noah Smith, “Why politically guided science is bad: Research should not be an effort to reach one’s desired conclusions.”

The other day, a paper was published in the American Economic Review about incarceration’s effect on children. It caused quite a stir, because it concluded that kids can sometimes benefit in certain ways from having their parents locked up:

Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member. Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US. Parental incarceration has beneficial effects on some important outcomes for children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and improving their adult neighborhood quality. While estimates on academic performance and teen parenthood are imprecise, we reject large positive or negative effects. Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity.

There was a torrent of negative reactions to the paper. That’s understandable. You have to be pretty ghoulish to actually like incarceration, and finding out that it can have some beneficial effects for the very children and siblings of the people who get locked up would place us on the horns of a dilemma. Uncomfortably, this is not the first paper to find some sort of effect like this. Here’s another from 2020, which uses a similar methodology but looks at education instead.

Some defended the paper, but very many people were upset about it. Negative reactions from various academics on Twitter ranged from “yikes” to barf emojis to allegations that its publication represented a breach of ethics. Defenders responded that these negative reactions were merely cases of people encountering inconvenient facts.

Those facts — and we do not yet know if they’re facts — would certainly be inconvenient, if you don’t like mass incarceration (and I definitely do not like it!). The U.S. prison system is a human rights nightmare; it would be disgusting to think that casting more people into the maw of that nightmare could be good for their children and siblings. And on top of that, these papers imply that family is sometimes a bad thing — that parents can be such toxic people that throwing them into a dungeon actually makes life better for their kids! That disturbing idea cuts against our deep-seated family values.

Nevertheless, I think calls for the suppression of findings like this are wrong. (And saying that papers like this should not be published, or should have to clear greater-than-usual hurdles for publication, is definitely a call for suppression.) In fact, this reaction is part of what I see as a growing movement in recent years to make scientific inquiry more governed by political ideology. And I think that’s a very bad idea. Scientists can’t ever be fully free of biases, but being less political and more devoted to seeking the facts is a worthy goal that should not be abandoned…

One worry that’s commonly brought up in these debates is that if bad people get a hold of these research results, they will do bad things with it…

In other words, maybe people like John Pfaff know how to use this research to craft better alternatives to modern-day incarceration or subtly tweak sentencing policy, but Ben Shapiro will see it and start screaming “SEEEE? MASS INCARCERATION IS GOOOOOOOD!!!” to his twelve bazillion followers. And then where will we be?

In fact, you can make a similar argument for almost any piece of research, especially for scientific discoveries. The same technology that can cure disease might be used to create bioweapons. The same chemistry discoveries that can create useful new materials can be used to blow people up. And so on.

It’s reasonable for scientists (including social scientists) to be concerned about the evil uses to which their discoveries might be put. But to suppress or modify those discoveries is akin to the Noble Lie — it’s an expression of a belief that you, the researcher, can predict the uses to which society will put your discoveries, and can thus control social outcomes by deciding whether to report what you’ve found.

11) Sorry if I’ve already mentioned Julia Galef and her new book on Scout Mindset, but this is a great interview and I’m really looking forward to reading the book.

Dylan Matthews

Walk me through what you mean by “scout mindset.” What does it mean to have it? How do you know if you have it?

Julia Galef

It’s my term for the motivation to see things as they are and not as you wish they were, being or trying to be intellectually honest, objective, or fair minded, and curious about what’s actually true.

By default, a lot of the time we humans are in what I call “soldier mindset,” in which our motivation is to defend our beliefs against any evidence or arguments that might threaten them. Rationalization, motivated reasoning, wishful thinking: these are all facets of what I’m calling a soldier mindset.

I adopted this term because the way that we talk about reasoning in the English language is through militaristic metaphor. We try to “shore up” our beliefs, “support them” and “buttress them” as if they’re fortresses. We try to “shoot down” opposing arguments and we try to “poke holes” in the other side.

I call this “soldier mindset,” and “scout mindset” is an alternative to that. It’s a different way of thinking about what to believe or thinking about what’s true.

12) As a top-notch linguist and someone decidedly anti-woke, John McWhorter is always especially interesting on the N-word:

Some will despise that I am calling the new take on the word pious. But 25 years ago we all knew exactly those things about the word’s heritage, and felt modern and enlightened to, with sensible moderation, utter the word in reference rather than gesture. Under normal conditions, the etiquette would have stayed at that point. The only thing that makes that take on the word now seem backwards is a sense of outright “cover-your-mouth” taboo: i.e. religion. This performative refusal to distinguish, this embrace of the mythic, shows a take on the N-word analogous to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

I call this refusal performative – i.e. a put-on – because I simply cannot believe that so many people do not see the difference between using a word as a weapon and referring to the word in the abstract. I would be disrespecting them to suppose that they don’t get this difference between, say, Fuck! as something yelled and fuck as in a word referring to sexual intercourse. They understand the difference, but see some larger value in pretending that it doesn’t exist.

In my experience, a common idea is that if we allow the word to be used in reference, there is a slippery slope from there to whites feeling comfortable hurling the slur as well. There are two problems with this point. One: for decades civilized people could use the word in reference, and yet there was no sign of the epithet coming back into style. Today’s crusaders can’t claim to be holding off some rising tide. Second: what is the sociohistorical parallel? At what point in human history has a slur been proscribed, but then returned to general usage because it was considered okay to refer to the word as opposed to use it? That many people can just imagine this happening with the N-word is not an argument, especially since it’s hard not to notice that this hypothetical scenario fits so cozily into their professionally Manichaean take on race…

We are getting to a point where a generation of Elect people will be unable to even sit through a classic witfest like the film Blazing Saddles, their religion rendering them unable to process that the use of the N-word by vicious, stupid, silly characters was written as a way of decrying racism rather than fostering it.

Actually, I would not be surprised if we are already at that point, given things one sees and hears these days. True to form, in the fall of 2020 at Bard College, freshmen began a campaign of shaming against a professor who read out not the word n—– [McWhorter used the full word, but you sure won’t catch me doing that] but Negro in a discussion of Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. The new idea is that even that word is profane, in being an outdated one black people no longer consider appropriate. The pretended inability to distinguish between the abusive and the antique is an indication that 2020 had been a Sunday School in Electism for these kids. They are showing that they have learned their lesson in suspending basic intelligence in favor of virtue signalling, in the face of something that would not matter a whit to most black people themselves…

Many ask why black people give whites the power to harm us so easily with this word. I for one have never and never will see it as a badge of strength to announce to white America that uttering a sequence of sounds will send me into therapy. I’d be embarrassed if it did, and that is what I call Black Power.

But I know I am missing the point. This performative transformation of the N-word into a taboo term affords a kind of power: black Elects get a way of getting back at whites by destroying their careers; white Elects spectating get to show they aren’t racists by cheering on the witch-hunting. To these people all of this feels healthy, active, restoring, noble.

But the problem is that while it may feel that way to them, to the rest of us – among whom are legions of thoroughly reasonable, intelligent, concerned, and sensitive persons of all races  – this new take on the N-word looks paranoid, fake, and mean.

What kind of antiracism is that?

13) I haven’t actually read all of this, but everybody sure does love it, “‘I’d Never Been Involved in Anything as Secret as This’ The plan to kill Osama bin Laden—from the spycraft to the assault to its bizarre political backdrop—as told by the people in the room.”

14) I’m not sure that the correct response from the CDC from being overly-cautious is to now be overly aggressive.  My take is that universal public indoor masking should be expected until all adults who want to be fully vaccinated have had the chance to be fully vaccinated, and, realistically, we’re talking about some time in June for that.  As, usual, I think Zeynep is right, “Maybe We Need Masks Indoors Just a Bit Longer”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say it did not believe that fully vaccinated people needed to wear masks or distance indoors or out, with a few exceptions, like when using public transportation.

It’s difficult for officials to issue rules as conditions evolve and uncertainty continues. So I hesitate to question the agency’s approach. But it’s not clear whether it was responding to scientific evidence or public clamor to lift state and local mandates, which the C.D.C. said could remain in place.

It might have been better to have kept up indoor mask mandates to help suppress the virus for maybe as little as a few more weeks.

The C.D.C. could have set metrics to measure such progress, saying that guidelines would be maintained until the number of cases or the number vaccinations reached a certain level, determined by epidemiologists…

Telling everyone to wear masks indoors has a sociological effect. Grocery stores and workplaces cannot enforce mask wearing by vaccination status. We do not have vaccine passports in the U.S., and I do not see how we could. Places can either say “wear a mask regardless” or just accept that people who don’t want to wear one will not…

Even if the only people not protected by the vaccines were those hesitant to use them or who had false beliefs about them, public health principles would not allow us to say that any threat to their health is their problem, at least not while the virus is still spreading at substantive levels. Infectious diseases create risks for others.

There are those who are not yet vaccinated because they haven’t managed to navigate the process, or have started late, or are concerned because of bad experiences with the medical establishment. The immunocompromised remain vulnerable. Even if the unvaccinated were all conspiracy theorists and dead-end anti-vaxxers, we would need to take virus levels into account before discounting the risks even to them.

Plus, Covid-19 can still terribly burden our health resources, especially in those areas that still have many unvaccinated adults.

The C.D.C. guidelines are essentially implying that the risk that the vaccinated will transmit the virus to others, including their unvaccinated children, is so vanishingly low that it is not worth worrying about. But if that’s their position, they should state it clearly and explain it, not just say that “fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting” the virus.

And is the expectation that the unvaccinated will all simply go with the guidance and stay masked? That does not fit with what we’ve observed in this country over the past year, especially with the ongoing polarization over these questions.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Bernstein:

You want to know something really depressing? Now is the time when Republicans have the least to fear from former President Donald Trump. There’s more than a year to go until the 2022 midterm elections, and at least 10 months until the primaries for those elections. Trump left office at one of his low points in popularity. Sure, most Republican voters still like him — as most Republicans like most Republican politicians (other than congressional leaders, who are almost always unpopular).

Not only that, but Trump’s electoral defeat is still fairly recent news. If there was ever a time to move away from him, it’s now.

That, of course, is not what’s happening. Just in the last few days, angry Utah Republicans hooted at Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to remove Trump from office after his impeachment trials. Over in the House of Representatives, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming is apparently in danger (again) of losing her leadership post because she insists on accurately saying that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election. And believing — or at least pretending to believe — Trump’s fantastic lies about nonexistent voting fraud is increasingly the central belief Republican elected officials must share

My guess is that this has little to do with Trump. Republican complaints about fictional election fraud were central to their legislative agenda in state after state well before Trump’s 2016 campaign. It’s true that the specifics of that agenda have shifted somewhat in response to Trump’s whining. What that shows more than anything, however, is that attempts to hijack elections may only be the secondary motive for these laws; the primary reason for them is for Republican elected officials to convince their strongest supporters that they are doing their best to repress Democrats and various Democratic groups. 

That’s why fictional election fraud is such a good issue for many Republicans right now. Opposing Biden and the Democratic legislative agenda, after all, would tend to unite the party. But a united Republican Party is the last thing that Republican radicals want. They need enemies; they need apostates they can label “Republicans in name only” to prove that they are the true conservatives. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s continuing lies are so obviously an attack on the Constitution, the rule of law and the American republic that Republicans such as Romney and Cheney refused to go along. For the radicals, that’s exactly the kind of opportunity they rarely fail to exploit.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that any of this will seriously damage Republicans in 2022 and 2024. Elections tend to ride on what voters think about incumbents, not challengers. There is a slim possibility that the party will split and make itself unelectable. And there’s a somewhat greater chance that it will wind up throwing away a handful of elections by nominating candidates who run well behind what a generic candidate would do, as it’s done repeatedly over the last decade. For the most part, however, the out-party’s actions don’t have much to do with its electoral success.

The real damage continues to be to the party’s capacity to govern when it does win. And, even more seriously, to the party’s commitment to core democratic beliefs and procedures. Depressing, indeed — and scary.

2) Yeah, so this… “Experts: CDC’s Summer-Camp Rules Are ‘Cruel’ and ‘Irrational’”

With all this good news related to the pandemic in the U.S. and the relaxing of a number of controls, the CDC’s newly released guidance for summer camps is notable for its rigidity and strictness: Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old. The exceptions are for eating and swimming. (The guidance helpfully notes that if a person is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, no mask need be worn.) Campers must remain three feet apart from each other at all times including, again, outdoors. Six feet of distance must be maintained during meals and between campers and staff. If you need to sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, do it into your mask. (Children presumably are expected to carry a cache of spares.) Campers and staff should be cohorted, and any interaction with a person outside the cohort must be conducted at a distance of six feet. Art supplies, toys, books, and games are not to be shared…

For much of last summer, when COVID-19 rates were on par with where they are now — before half the adult population was vaccinated and millions of children had acquired immunity naturally — many camps had far fewer restrictions and there was no corresponding wave of related outbreaks.

The combination of masking and social distancing of children outdoors, said Dimitri Christakis, an epidemiologist and the editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics, the leading journal for pediatric medicine, “is unfairly draconian.” We should let kids be close and play, he said. And with rapid testing twice a week on a rolling basis, a relatively easy program to conduct, he added, we should be able to forgo masks. Even without testing, Christakis said that sports like soccer should be able to be done without masks. And that “keeping children masked for activities like baseball and tennis is ridiculous.”

Mark Gorelik, a pediatric immunologist at Columbia University and an expert on MIS-C, the rare COVID-19-related inflammatory syndrome, said, “We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC’s recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”

An infectious-disease scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci’s agency, spoke with me about the CDC guidance on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “With staff and parents vaccinated, there is no reason to continue incredibly strict mitigation efforts or put severe limitations on activities,” they said. “Charitably,” the scientist, who has an expertise in respiratory viruses, continued, “masking kids at camp outdoors is simply virtue signaling. Requiring kids to continuously wear masks at camps, even while outside playing in the heat, when it provides little additional protection is unfair and cruel to our children. Considering that children are at incredibly low risk for developing severe illness, the minimal benefits of mask wearing do not outweigh the substantial costs of discouraging children to be active and their overall health.

3) We’re doing some survey experiments with some cool PSA’s we made.  Check out this one.  At the end of the survey there’s an option for open-ended feedback.  This one was just amazing:

In case you’re wondering.  I’m not getting the vaccine any time soon because I’m pissed off about the government lockdowns and the blatant lying by the CDC, and Fauci, about the actual research studies that prompted the state mandated lockdowns.  Refusing to get the vaccine is the only thing that I have control over in this whole unconstitutional situation.  So even though I compleley trust the vaccines, and I believe that they work remarkably well, and that refusing to get the vaccine is not in my best interest nor in the best interest of society as a whole, I am still going to say no.  I’ll get the vaccine when I’m done being pissed off.

4) Speaking of vaccines, I’m so tired of the media trying to scare people about variants for clicks when the reality is more like this, “Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is Highly Effective Against Variants, Studies Find: Two studies showed the vaccine to be more than 95 percent effective at protecting against severe disease or death from the variants first identified in South Africa and the U.K.”

5) Given the current reality, I’d be disappointed if my or my kid’s university was doing on-line only graduation.  NC State is doing multiple outdoor graduations.  I am disappointed, though, that the PS ceremony where we get to see our graduates and meet their families is not happening.  

6) The lost Franklin expedition of 1845 is fascinating.  I’ve not watched AMC’s The Terror, but read Dan Simmon’s novel upon which it’s based.  Now there’s this, “His Ship Vanished in the Arctic 176 Years Ago. DNA Has Offered a Clue.: For the first time, researchers have identified the remains of a sailor from the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

7) I gotta say, I’m not impressed by the prison abolition movement.  There’s so much we need to do a lot better, but I think there’s pretty solid models in Europe rather than a utopian vision of prison abolition:

The book, which débuted on the Times best-seller list, offers an entry point into the world of abolitionist politics, beginning with an essay titled “So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist.” It contains several basic but profound observations: “Increasing rates of incarceration have a minimal impact on crime rates. Moreover, crime and harm are not synonymous. All that is criminalized isn’t harmful, and all harm isn’t necessarily criminalized.” If there is a mismatch between punishment and crime, and crime and harm, then what is the intent of the criminal-justice system and the police it employs? Kaba refers to the “criminal punishment system” to emphasize that justice in the United States means a promise of retribution much more than an effort to understand why an infraction has occurred. She writes, “If we want to reduce (or end) sexual and gendered violence, putting a few perpetrators in prison does little to stop the many other perpetrators. It does nothing to change a culture that makes this harm imaginable, to hold the individual perpetrator accountable, to support their transformation, or to meet the needs of the survivors.” When we spoke, Kaba told me, “I am looking to abolish what I consider to be death-making institutions, which are policing, imprisonment, sentencing, and surveillance. And what I want is to basically build up another world that is rooted in collective wellness, safety, and investment in the things that would actually bring those things about.” …

Our current criminal-justice system is rooted in the assumption that millions of people require policing, surveillance, containment, prison. It is a dark view of humanity. By contrast, Kaba and others in this emergent movement fervently believe in the capacity of people to change in changed conditions. That is the optimism at the heart of the abolitionist project. As Kaba insists in her book, “The reason I’m struggling through all of this is because I’m a deeply, profoundly hopeful person. Because I know that human beings, with all of our foibles and all the things that are failing, have the capacity to do amazingly beautiful things, too. That gives me the hope to feel like we will, when necessary, do what we need to do.” Abolition is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even the guiding lights of the movement are embedded in campaigns for short-term reforms that make a difference in daily life. For Kaba, that has meant raising funds for mutual aid during the pandemic and campaigning for reparations in Chicago. For Gilmore, it has meant working with incarcerated people and their families to challenge the building of prisons across California. For Angela Davis, it has meant lending her voice to movements for civil and human rights, from Ferguson to Palestine. The point is to work in solidarity with others toward the world as they wish for it to be. “Hope is a discipline,” Kaba writes. “We must practice it daily.”

8) Looks like MDMA (aka Ecstasy) can be remarkably effective as part of a treatment regime for PTSD.  It’s a shame to think of the human suffering we could have been alleviating without such a moralistic and binary approach to so many potentially beneficial drugs:

In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder when paired with talk therapy.

Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group.

MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite.

“This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,” said Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.”

Mental health experts say that this research — the first Phase 3 trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy — could pave the way for further studies on MDMA’s potential to help address other difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disordersdepressionend-of-life anxiety and social anxiety in autistic adults.

And, mental health researchers say, these studies could also encourage additional research on other banned psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD and mescaline.

“This is a wonderful, fruitful time for discovery, because people are suddenly willing to consider these substances as therapeutics again, which hasn’t happened in 50 years,” said Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the new study.

9) The latest on Neanderthals

Estatuas cave in northern Spain was a hive of activity 105,000 years ago. Artifacts show its Neanderthal inhabitants hafted stone tools, butchered red deer, and may have made fires. They also shed, bled, and excreted subtler clues onto the cave floor: their own DNA. “You can imagine them sitting in the cave making tools, butchering animals. Maybe they cut themselves or their babies pooped,” says population geneticist Benjamin Vernot, a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), whose perspective may have been colored by his own baby’s cries during a Zoom call. “All that DNA accumulates in the dirt floors.”

He and MPI-EVA geneticist Matthias Meyer report today in Science that dirt from Estatuas has yielded molecular treasure: the first nuclear DNA from an ancient human to be gleaned from sediments. Earlier studies reported shorter, more abundant human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from cave floors, but nuclear DNA, previously available only from bones and teeth, can be far more informative. “Now, it seems that it is possible to extract nuclear DNA from dirt, and we have a lot of dirt in archaeological sites,” says archaeologist Marie Soressi of Leiden University.

“This is a beautiful paper,” agrees population geneticist Pontus Skoglund of the Francis Crick Institute. The sequences reveal the genetic identity and sex of ancient cave dwellers and show that one group of Neanderthals replaced another in the Spanish cave about 100,000 years ago, perhaps after a climate cooling. “They can see a shift in Neanderthal populations at the very same site, which is quite nice,” Skoglund says.

In what Skoglund calls “an amazing technical demonstration,” they developed new genetic probes to fish out hominin DNA, allowing them to ignore the abundant sequences from plants, animals, and bacteria. Then, they used statistical methods to home in on DNA unique to Neanderthals and compare it with reference genomes from Neanderthals in a phylogenetic tree.

All three sites yielded Neanderthal nuclear and mtDNA, with the biggest surprise coming from the small amount of nuclear DNA from multiple Neanderthals in Estatuas cave. Nuclear DNA from a Neanderthal male in the deepest layer, dating to about 113,000 years ago, linked him to early Neanderthals who lived about 120,000 years ago in Denisova cave and in caves in Belgium and Germany.

But two female Neanderthals who lived in Estatuas cave later, about 100,000 years ago, had nuclear DNA more closely matching that of later, “classic” Neanderthals, including those who lived less than 70,000 years ago at Vindija cave in Croatia and 60,000 to 80,000 years ago at Chagyrskaya cave, says co-author and paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University of Madrid.

At the same time, the more plentiful mtDNA from Estatuas cave shows declining diversity. Neanderthals in the cave 113,000 years ago had at least three types of mtDNA. But the cave’s Neanderthals 80,000 and 107,000 years ago had only one type. Existing ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones and teeth had also pointed to a falloff in genetic diversity over the same period.

Arsuaga suggests Neanderthals thrived and diversified during the warm, moist interglacial period that started 130,000 years ago. But about 110,000 years ago, temperatures in Europe dipped suddenly as a new glacial period set in. Soon after, all but one lineage of Neanderthals disappeared. Members of the surviving lineage repopulated Europe during later, relatively warm spells, with some taking shelter in Estatuas cave.

10) The Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebasitan Aho had the team’s first hat trick of the season this week.  I was disappointed to learn that the team makes no effort to return the hats to the fans (some teams do).  

11) John Swartzwelder wrote a ton of iconic Simpsons episodes (and way more episodes than any other writer), but is known for being extraordinary private and reclusive.  Thus, a real treat to read this new interview with him.  

12) I’m entirely open to the scientific possibility that we don’t actually need to vaccinate all our kids to keep them safe and Covid well-contained (I like that formulation better than “herd immunity”).  But, the sociological/psychological reality is that there’s too many parents (and teachers) who won’t be able to relax and behave normally till all the kids are vaccinated— so let’s do it. “Do Kids Really Need to Be Vaccinated for Covid? Yes. No. Maybe.: Many experts argue that Covid-19 cannot be curbed without vaccinating children. But others aren’t so sure.”

13) I was shocked to see an ad for Dr Pepper Zero the other day.  As those who know me in real-life know, I absolutely swear by my Diet Dr Pepper (or DDP as we refer to it in the Greene household).  Fortunately, it’s not being replaced and we’ll have a Diet Coke/Coke Zero kind of thing going on here.  Also, I am curious about it.  

14) I remember being really intrigued by David Buss’ work on sex and evolutionary psychology a long time ago (in fact, I even used to discuss it in my Gender & Politics class).  I imagine it is less welcome than ever on the left.  Here’s a pretty interesting summary from his new book:

Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it “uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict.” Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology.

Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or 18,000 calories more in total than they otherwise would have required. This surplus was not easy to obtain for our ancestors. Men, in contrast, did not face the same level of sexual risk.

These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier “on average.” Some women are taller than some men—but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men—but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.

Because of the increased risk women carry, they tend to be choosier about their partners. In contrast, men are less discerning. Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60 percent of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5 percent of male profiles.

The book provides a simple figure to understand the ongoing conflict between men and women.

Men are constantly trying to manipulate women into moving closer to their preferred optimum, and women are likewise relentlessly influencing men to inch closer toward theirs. Buss writes, “If women and men could agree in advance on a compromised middle-ground solution that was perfect for neither but acceptable for both … they could avoid many of these costs.”

Because sexual risks are higher and sexual mistakes are more dangerous for women, they prefer to wait longer to evaluate a potential partner for suitability. For men, sexual mistakes are viewed differently. Research indicates that when asked to reflect on their sexual history, women are more likely to regret having had sex with someone, while men are more likely to regret having missed out on sexual opportunities. 

Even in the most egalitarian countries, men prefer more sexual partners compared to women. In Norway, researchers asked people how many sex partners they would prefer over the next 30 years. On average, women preferred five, men preferred 25. Even the desire to kiss before intercourse differs between the sexes. About 53 percent of men report that they would have sex without kissing, while only 14.6 percent of women would have sex without kissing. These different preferences can give rise to sexual conflict.

15) Pretty interesting stuff from Gallup on proof of vaccination status:

Americans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities Based on COVID-19 Attitudes
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Vaccination status  
Have been/Will be vaccinated 74 71 59 56 52
Will not get vaccinated 8 7 6 6 5
Worry about getting COVID-19  
Very/Somewhat worried 77 72 66 59 55
Not too/Not at all worried 49 48 36 37 34
*Among those employed full or part time.
GALLUP PANEL, APRIL 19-25, 2021
Partisans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Party identification  
Democrat 85 82 69 66 62
Independent 47 47 38 35 30
Republican 28 25 16 22 19
*Among those employed full or part time.
GALLUP PANEL, APRIL 19-25, 2021

16) There’s a 9 inch(!) moth in Australia.

The giant wood moth was discovered by a construction worker at the Mount Cotton State School.

Credit…Mount Cotton State School

17) This is terrific.  “‘I seek a kind person’: the Guardian ad that saved my Jewish father from the Nazis: In 1938, there was a surge of classified ads in this newspaper as parents – including my grandparents – scrambled to get their children out of the Reich. What became of the families?”

18) David Frum argues that China is actually a paper dragon and not nearly as scary as we think.

Undergirding these examples and dozens more like them is Beckley’s clarifying theoretical insight: Repression is expensive.

The lines that plot the comparative GDP of the United States and China distort the real balance of power between the two societies, Beckley argues, because China must devote such a large share of its resources to basic subsistence needs to avert the overthrow of the state.

Beckley dramatizes this point with historical context. The concept of GDP did not exist in the 19th century, but economists have retrospectively reconstructed those figures backward into time. They have found that in the 1800s, the Chinese empire had a GDP much larger than that of Great Britain. The Chinese army of 800,000 men also enormously exceeded Britain’s troop numbers. Yet when the two states clashed in the two Opium Wars, from 1839 to 1842 and again in 1858, China was crushingly defeated. Why?

A great part of the answer, then as now, was the cost of repression.

Nineteenth-century China faced an average of 25 local uprisings a year. Most of its troops had to be deployed to suppress rebellions and control banditry, leaving few available for war-fighting.

The next part of the answer is that mass is not power.

Although China’s resources were enormous in the aggregate, most were consumed by the basics of subsistence. In the 19th-century, Britain produced only half as much as China, but it did so with one-thirteenth the population—making more wealth available for more purposes.

A final piece of the answer is that technological copycats face huge disadvantages against technological innovators. They will always lag behind the more creative rival, not only in the factory, but on the battlefield. “Repeatedly during the Opium Wars … Chinese armies of thousands were routed in minutes by a few hundred, or even a few dozen, British troops,” Beckley notes.

19) Looks like I was wrong on this and I truly believe that when you opine on stuff it’s important to admit when you are wrong (and even better to grapple with why you were).  For now, here’s Drum: “Update: The J&J Vaccine Pause Probably Had No Effect on Vaccine Hesitancy”

20) Always read Ash Jha: “We may not reach herd immunity. That’s okay.”

After an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign over the past four months, vaccine demand has begun to soften, leading to hand-wringing in some quarters about whether the United States will achieve herd immunity or whether we will be living with the coronavirus months and years from now.

The answer is, it’s not that simple. And just as important, it may not matter that much.

Herd immunity is not a clear line. The virus will not be eradicated the moment we administer the shot that gets us to herd immunity. The term describes the inflection point at which each infection results in less than one additional infection and outbreaks sputter out. You can think of it like a wildfire surrounded by firebreaks, where the blaze ultimately burns out without additional interventions.

It’s not hard to see how it came to be viewed as the pandemic finish line, but that line has shifted. Estimates of herd immunity have been adjusted upward from the 60 percent to 70 percent that we expected last year, to 80 percent more recently, largely because of new variants that are more contagious. The threshold is determined by factors beyond vaccination, including immunity due to prior infections, seasonal effects such as humidity and time spent indoors, who is immune and who isn’t, and broader behavioral factors such as whether people are engaging in any public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
 
Real-world evidence from Israel and the United Kingdom suggests that even without hitting the herd immunity threshold, vaccination can drive infections way down. Why? Because immunity in a population is not like an on-off switch. As populations begin to build up immunity, infection spread begins to slow. If people practice even modest levels of public health measures such as mask-wearing indoors or avoiding large crowds, it may be enough to drive infection numbers down substantially. To stretch the fire metaphor, even if you don’t have the flames surrounded on all sides, a little bit of a drizzle combined with some firebreaks may be enough to keep it from burning out of control…

The coronavirus pandemic marks the clearest dividing line in most of our lives. But while the pandemic had a clear beginning, the ending will be much more gradual. As vaccination rates slow, we will require a resource-intensive ground game to reach more and more unvaccinated people and push us toward herd immunity. It is indeed possible that we may not reach that elusive threshold, or we might get there for a period only to have waning immunity, new variants or changes in behavior drop us below that threshold. But with infection numbers low and modest mitigation efforts in place, we will see small outbreaks that will affect the unvaccinated and burn out quickly. The terrifying surges of the past year will be behind us. And the things we value most in our lives — time with family and friends, social gatherings with colleagues, entertainment and sports — things we have missed so much, will be possible and safe.

This pandemic will end when the risk it poses, and the strategies necessary to mitigate that risk, fade into the background and become part of normal life. To get there, we should focus less on the herd immunity threshold, vaccinate more people and get on with our lives. As the old saying goes, pandemics end with a whimper, not with a bang. This one, too, will end. With a whimper.

21) This was very interesting, but I think in some ways misguided, “The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles: A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green” Yes, there’s absolutely local, significant environmental costs to mining all that lithium.  But on a global cost/benefit scale the benefits are so much greater.  Of course we should minimize the harm we do from mining lithium, but, let’s keep this in big picture perspective.

22) I’ve been following the whole global efforts and patents controversy at some remove so I’m a little cautious, but Alex Tabarrok seems pretty right based on what I do know:

For the last year and a half I have been shouting from the rooftops, “invest in capacity, build more factories, shore up the supply lines, spend billions to save trillions.” Fortunately, some boffins in the Biden administration have found a better way, “the US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic.”
Waive IP protections. So simple. Why didn’t I think of that???

Patents are not the problem. All of the vaccine manufacturers are trying to increase supply as quickly as possible. Billions of doses are being produced–more than ever before in the history of the world. Licenses are widely available. AstraZeneca have licensed their vaccine for production with manufactures around the world, including in India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, China and South Africa. J&J’s vaccine has been licensed for production by multiple firms in the United States as well as with firms in Spain, South Africa and France. Sputnik has been licensed for production by firms in India, China, South Korea, Brazil and pending EMA approval with firms in Germany and France. Sinopharm has been licensed in the UAE, Egypt and Bangladesh. Novavax has licensed its vaccine for production in South Korea, India, and Japan and it is desperate to find other licensees but technology transfer isn’t easy and there are limited supplies of raw materials:

Virtually overnight, [Novavax] set up a network of outside manufacturers more ambitious than one outside executive said he’s ever seen, but they struggled at times to transfer their technology there amid pandemic travel restrictions. They were kicked out of one factory by the same government that’s bankrolled their effort. Competing with larger competitors, they’ve found themselves short on raw materials as diverse as Chilean tree bark and bioreactor bags. They signed a deal with India’s Serum Institute to produce many of their COVAX doses but now face the realistic chance that even when Serum gets to full capacity — and they are behind — India’s government, dealing with the world’s worst active outbreak, won’t let the shots leave the country.

Plastic bags are a bigger bottleneck than patents. The US embargo on vaccine supplies to India was precisely that the Biden administration used the DPA to prioritize things like bioreactor bags and filters to US suppliers and that meant that India’s Serum Institute was having trouble getting its production lines ready for Novavax. CureVac, another potential mRNA vaccine, is also finding it difficult to find supplies due to US restrictions (which means supplies are short everywhere). As Derek Lowe said:

Abolishing patents will not provide more shaker bags or more Chilean tree bark, nor provide more of the key filtration materials needed for production. These processes have a lot of potential choke points and rate-limiting steps in them, and there is no wand that will wave that complexity away.

Technology transfer has been difficult for AstraZeneca–which is one reason they have had production difficulties–and their vaccine uses relatively well understood technology. The mRNA technology is new and has never before been used to produce at scale. Pfizer and Moderna had to build factories and distribution systems from scratch. There are no mRNA factories idling on the sidelines. If there were, Moderna or Pfizer would be happy to license since they are producing in their own factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week (monopolies restrict supply, remember?). Why do you think China hasn’t yet produced an mRNA vaccine? Hint: it isn’t fear about violating IP. Moreover, even Moderna and Pfizer don’t yet fully understand their production technology, they are learning by doing every single day. Moderna has said that they won’t enforce their patents during the pandemic but no one has stepped up to produce because no one else can.

The US trade representative’s announcement is virtue signaling to the anti-market left and will do little to nothing to increase supply.

What can we do to increase supply? Sorry, there is no quick and cheap solution. We must spend. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed spent on the order of $15 billion. If we want more, we need to spend more and on similar scale. The Biden administration paid $269 million to Merck to retool its factories to make the J&J vaccine. That was a good start. We could also offer Pfizer and Moderna say $100 a dose to produce in excess of their current production and maybe with those resources there is more they could do. South Africa and India and every other country in the world should offer the same (India hasn’t even approved the Pfizer vaccine and they are complaining about IP!??) We should ease up on the DPA and invest more in the supply chain–let’s get CureVac and the Serum Institute what they need. We should work like hell to find a substitute for Chilean tree bark. See my piece in Science co-authored with Michael Kremer et. al. for more ideas. (Note also that these ideas are better at dealing with current supply constraints and they also increase the incentive to produce future vaccines, unlike shortsighted patent abrogation.)

Bottom line is that producing more takes real resources not waving magic patent wands.

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