Elon Musk is just unbelievably bad at this!

I am so tired of all the Elon Musk obsession on twitter.  Honestly, the only difference I’ve noticed on twitter since he took over is that half the damn posts are about him.  That said, it is amazing to be watching a future business school disaster case study in real time.  I’ve never been part of the cult of Musk nor think he’s some amazing genius.  But, still, it really is just amazing how bad he is at this and how much money he’s burning.  Loved Charlie Warzel’s take:

Elon Musk has spent the past 12 years tweeting whatever comes into his mind, often without major negative consequences. That was before he owned the place. Now, less than two weeks after his $44 billion purchase, the world’s richest man is finding that his actions—which recently included tweeting a baseless conspiracy theory to Hillary Clinton about the assault on Paul Pelosi—may actually have consequences. Advertisers are fleeing, the employees remaining after a round of mass layoffs are alienated, and onlookers are completely vexed by a freewheeling approach that has coincided with a rise in hate speech on the platform, among other problems.

Musk’s fans see the billionaire as a visionary, but it’s worth noting that many casual observers—people whose only real understanding of Musk is as the guy who put the fancy electric cars on their streets—have also internalized the heuristic that he is Good at Business and the type of man who spends his waking moments dreaming of how to save humanity from its existential problems. But what the past two weeks demonstrate is that Musk is, at best, a mediocre executive—and undoubtedly a terrible, distracted manager.

Musk is obviously wildly financially successful, and the companies he owns have a reputation for taking futuristic-sounding ideas and dragging them into the present. But what Musk is showing us in real time is the folly of equating financial success with intellect, managerial savvy, and good judgment…

“The advertisers are gone because of his awful tweets,” Webb told me. “There’s no room for debate. He stated his intentions up front. He cared about advertisers and didn’t want them to leave and then he told us they’ve left.” Webb suggested to me that Musk’s now-deleted Paul Pelosi tweet was perhaps the most expensive tweet ever: It may have cost Twitter billions in advertising revenue. Companies including General Mills, Audi, and Pfizer are pulling their marketing from Twitter because they likely don’t want their brands to be associated with anything remotely scandalous. High-level executives—CMO types—are the ones ultimately deciding what these brands spend on Twitter, and “those people are, to a T, conflict-avoidant,” Webb said…

As bad as that sounds, Webb argues that the reality is worse: “What people might not understand is that the advertisers don’t need Twitter. They barely cared about it at all before Musk. The only reason those people cared about Twitter ads is because they had personal relationships with members of Twitter’s marketing team or because there are hundreds of Twitter account reps making them pay. And Elon may have fired those people.” Twitter is much smaller than rivals like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, after all.

With each passing day, Musk seems to be digging a deeper hole. This morning, to the dismay of many brand advertisers who strive to be apolitical, Musk used his 114-million-follower platform to endorse the Republican slate of candidates for tomorrow’s midterm elections. “The dude could’ve napped and saved billions of dollars,” Webb said. “Every decision he’s made has lost him money. It’s astonishing.”

I’m not going to Mastodon anytime soon because other than the excessive amount of Musk tweets, I’m still enjoying all the good takes and information.  I use plenty of other products (though not my pillow!) run by, I’m sure, awful CEO’s.  So, until twitter is awful, you’ll still see me there.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting essay at NBC News, “The Source of the ‘Asian Advantage’ Isn’t Asian Values”

Yet, the idea that Asian-American success is the result of a unique cultural inheritance ignores the role of U.S. immigration policy in creating Asian-American success. In the mid-1800s Asian immigrants were recruited as laborers to work as farm laborers and on the first transcontinental railroad. They were despised laborers who toiled for low wages in the harshest of conditions. Confucian values were not seen as the key to success, but as a marker of racial and religious differences. Eventually, most Asians were excluded from immigration altogether due to fears of racial contamination.

But what a difference a law can make. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act changed the way Asians were seen in this country–from uneducated and unwanted scourge to hardworking students and examples of economic success. How did we go from backwards laborers to a so-called “model minority”? Too many people assume the community’s educational and economic success is due to the cultural traits of Asian Americans. Like Kristof, they believe Asian Americans care more about education than the average American.

There is another explanation. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act ended Asian exclusion and created two immigration priorities: high skills and family reunification.

“We must not let the advantages of immigration policy and positive attitudes from teachers fuel the myth of cultural superiority.”

After 1965, the U.S. started to recruit high-skilled immigrants from Asia. More than half of the Asian-American population immigrated after 1990, when these efforts were ramped up even further. Today, fully 72 percent of all high-skilled visas are allocated to immigrants from Asia. And the majority of international student visas go to Asian immigrants.

This mode of selective recruitment challenges the idea that Asian success in the U.S. is due to Asian values. That is too simple. If Asian cultural values were the explanation, why don’t we see the same kind of educational achievement in Asia as in the U.S.? We don’t.

2) Always like good pantone drama, “Adobe Just Held a Bunch of Colors Hostage: Certain Pantone collections now require users to pay $15 a month to access them—with colors turned black unless you pay up.”

3) I haven’t used predictit much this election, but I had a pretty good ROI on my 2020 bets.  Thorough story in the New Yorker on the history of and current challenges for legal betting markets. 

4) Man, reporters just love talking about “unaffiliated“, voters.  And I just love telling them, no, these are not all swing voters who don’t have partisan attachments!

Over the years, the political landscape in North Carolina has shifted, there are more unaffiliated voters in the state than ever before. As North Carolina becomes more of a purple state, fewer people are publicly designating what party they support.

“People are frustrated with the party system, they don’t really want to feel like they have to publicly choose one or the other,” Steven Greene, a professor of political science at NC State University said…

“I think its nonetheless important to recognize that the vast majority of those unaffiliated voters have pretty strong party inclinations,” Greene said. “And whether someone is registered as unaffiliated probably doesn’t tell you very much about how they’re going to vote.”

That means most unaffiliated voters are not necessarily swing voters or moderates that can be won over by candidates.

5) This is hilarious.  A women in Raleigh literally called 911 because her barbecue was pink (it’s supposed to be after smoking) and somehow still thinks she’s in the right.  Also, this reminded me that I haven’t been to Clyde Cooper’s in too long. 

6) This was really cool. How Peter Jackson used AI to make the Beatles documentary and a remaster of Revolver.  

The problem was in its master tapes. Beginning with Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles recorded most of their instruments and vocals to separate tracks. So for Martin, boosting the volume of a guitar or organ from Abbey Road or “The White Album” was probably as simple as moving a fader. But on earlier albums, the band often combined a few sounds to the same track. The effect was to lock multiple voices or instruments in place together, leaving no easy way for future remixers to tweak just one by itself.

Non-audiophiles may ask: Who cares? The original Revolver sounded good enough to top lists of the greatest albums ever made. Did it really need the overhaul?

Arguably, yes. For all the Beatles’ genius, they never imagined a day when their music would mainly be played through earbuds. The stereo versions of their early albums were mixed for novelty, with extreme separation between sounds in the right and left speakers, sometimes to the point of lopsidedness. (The Beatles themselves preferred the mono mixes, which are harder to find these days.) “Taxman” was a notorious offender, with bass, drums, and rhythm guitar on one side, and for much of the song, just tambourine and cowbell on the other. It’s been reported to cause dizziness in headphone listeners. For 56 years, there was no way to separate those instruments and rearrange them across the stereo field.

But then Peter Jackson took up the case. A few years ago, the Lord of the Rings director was hired to sift through 60 hours of unused footage from the 1970 Beatles documentary Let It Be and cut it into his own movie — 2021’s Get Back. Large sections of that footage had been marked as unusable because the band’s conversations were drowned out on the mono audio tapes by the sound of their instruments: John, Paul, and George had deliberately hidden their sensitive discussions from the original doc crew by noodling on their guitars. Jackson asked the engineers at his production company, WingNut Films, to see what they could salvage, and so they developed their own machine-learning “de-mixing” software capable of splitting up interlocked sounds. It worked so well decoupling music from speech on the Let It Be audio tapes that Get Back, which had been planned as a two-hour film, grew into an eight-hour TV miniseries (a hit for Disney+ last fall and, by some estimations, the best rock documentary ever).

Martin wondered if Jackson’s software could also be used to isolate the sounds on the Beatles’ early studio albums. Could it ever! And so now we have a remixed Revolver, a “Taxman” that won’t make anybody sick, and, presumably, boxed-set remixes of the band’s other six albums on the way for the 2023-2028 holiday seasons. At last, the most valuable music catalogue in history will be AirPod compliant.

“There’s no one who’s getting audio even close as to what Peter Jackson’s guys can do,” Martin recently told Rolling Stone. “It’s like you giving me a cake, and then me going back to you about an hour later with flour, eggs, sugar, and all the ingredients to that cake, that all haven’t got any cake mix left on them.”

7) Why the decline in Monkey pox?

When monkeypox cases in Europe began to decline this summer, researchers’ first question was: Is it real? Some worried that people might not be getting tested because of receding fears of the virus, coupled with strict isolation requirements for patients. “They might be reluctant to be confirmed and be told not to go out at all,” says Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Regional Office for Europe.

But the decline is now unmistakable. WHO Europe, which reported more than 2000 cases per week during the peak in July, is now counting about 100 cases weekly. In the Americas, the other major epicenter of the outbreak, numbers have dropped by more than half (see graphic, right). “We’re seeing a true decline,” Smallwood says.

Vaccines, behavior change among the most affected group—men who have sex with men (MSM)—and immunity after natural infection are all playing a role in that decline, says Erik Volz, an infectious disease modeler at Imperial College London, but how much each factor has contributed is unclear. “This is something we’ve debated a lot internally.”

In the United Kingdom, at least, vaccination campaigns have played a minor role, according to a model published as a preprint this month by Samuel Brand, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Warwick. Monkeypox’s reproductive number—the average number of new infections triggered by an infected person—began to drop by mid-June, even though campaigns only started in July, Brand notes. Several other European countries saw the same pattern.

That leaves behavior change and immunity from natural infections. A survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among MSM in August found about half had reduced their number of sexual contacts. As awareness of the disease increased, people also became more likely to seek diagnosis and treatment early and to avoid sex while they were infectious. The UK Health Security Agency has presented data suggesting syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections declined as well—which would bolster the case for behavior change—although that signal is “suggestive but not conclusive,” Volz says.

Immunity acquired through infections in the most sexually active men may be the biggest factor, however. Monkeypox has been affecting mostly MSM and their sexual networks because parts of those networks are densely connected, with some people having a large number of sexual contacts. Rising immunity in that group could limit the viru’s ability to spread, says Jacco Wallinga, chief epidemic modeler at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “Because the persons with a very high number of sexual contacts are also those at the highest risk of infection, the depletion of susceptibles due to natural infection is very rapid,” he says. Brand agrees. His model suggests that among the estimated 1000 people in the United Kingdom who have 120 sexual partners per month or more, “maybe half got infected by the time of the peak.” Still, Brand says his model suggests infections among this small part of the MSM population cannot explain the observed decline on their own. “I don’t think it is as plausible” as behavior change playing a role as well, he says.

8) One of my problems with land acknowledgements is that whatever tribes are being acknowledged quite likely took that land by force from earlier tribes.  Really interesting new book reviewed by Thomas Ricks:

In INDIGENOUS CONTINENT: The Epic Contest for North America (Liveright, 592 pp., $40), Pekka Hämäläinen asserts that the war for control of the continent was “one of the longest conflicts in history,” lasting some four centuries. Hämäläinen, a prizewinning historian at Oxford University, recasts the history of North America from a Native American, or Indian, perspective. (He uses those two terms interchangeably.) In the process, he has produced the single best book I have ever read on Native American history, as well as one of the most innovative narratives about the continent.

One of his running themes is how limited the Europeans were in their range of action. Essentially, for most of the time, the English, French and Spanish did nothing without approval from one or another Native American tribe or confederation. The Iroquois, who were the dominant economic, military and diplomatic power in the Northeast in the late 17th century, once had a tribal representative respond to a French official’s threat of war with the dismissive comment, “Let us see whether his arms be long enough to remove the scalps from our heads.”

Westward expansion, the author says, was led not by European colonists but by the Sioux, who perceived the huge advantage in migrating with the horse, an animal new to the Western Hemisphere, into the grasslands of the Great Plains. There, armed with muskets and gunpowder given to them by the French as tribute, they became the second Native American superpower, dominating the Upper Mississippi Valley.

In the Southwest, the Comanches used the same combination of the gun and the horse to rise to a dominant regional position. Soon all of their buffalo hunters were mounted, enabling them to reap a bonanza of protein that fueled the rapid expansion of the tribe. By the 1840s, Hämäläinen notes, Comanches may have grown to become 10 percent of the total Native American population on the continent.They found the Spanish useful and made them their “junior allies,” he writes.

9) Loved reading Bono’s take on various books. 

10) Katrina vanden Heuvel argues, “Democrats have helped working-class Americans. They need to say so loudly.”  I feel like they would do this more if it actually worked.  I think it just doesn’t, even though it really should.

11) German Lopez, “Racial disparities in incarceration have fallen.”

I want to explain one such shift that has gotten little attention: Slowly, the American criminal justice system has become more equitable. The racial gap among inmates in state prisons has fallen 40 percent since 2000, fueled by a large decrease in Black imprisonment rates, according to a new report by the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank.

Finding the right balance between public safety and human dignity animated many of the criminal justice policies enacted in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. The decline in racial disparities is a remarkable reversal of policies now widely seen as unfairly punishing Black people. “It’s a tremendous drop,” said Thaddeus Johnson, one of the report’s authors…

Why did inequities in prison rates shrink? The decrease was the result of a decades-long effort to reduce what critics call mass incarceration.

That is their term for the harsher sentencing laws passed in response to a crime increase that began in the 1960s, which made the U.S. one of the world’s biggest incarcerators. Black communities were disproportionately affected and in some cases targeted by law enforcement, as the Justice Department has found in Ferguson, Mo., in Baltimore and elsewhere. By 2000, Black adults were locked up in state prisons at 8.2 times the rate of white Americans, after accounting for population.

Eventually, the high costs of incarceration and the racial disparities prompted activists from across the political spectrum to push for a rollback of the toughest punishments. Bit by bit, lawmakers obliged, reducing penalties mainly for nonviolent crimes.

As those changes took effect, incarceration rates dropped. Since Black Americans were more likely to be imprisoned, they benefited the most. Rates of arrest and imprisonment for Black Americans fell sharply, the Council on Criminal Justice analysis found. White arrests also fell, but by less. And the rate of white offenders being sent to prison actually increased.

12) The social science case for the “diversity” value of affirmative action.

The notion that racially diverse student bodies improve campus intellectual life has been roundly attacked by both liberals and conservatives. But the Roberts court should not be quick to dismiss diversity’s value and dismantle affirmative action. Because we have evidence that diversity works…

But we have found a way to quantify the value of diversity in higher education, as these GOP-appointed justices demanded. In a Columbia Law Review article published this year, we marshaled statistically significant evidence that the value of racial diversity is not illusory.

Our paper, “Assessing Affirmative Action’s Diversity Rationale,” examined the effect of increasing diversity in a setting familiar to the justices: student-edited law journals. The student editors of these publications select and edit the articles they will publish, with a goal of choosing those that will be cited most frequently by legal scholars. Citations are not a perfect measure of an article’s quality, but they are a widely used way to gauge the impact of research in many disciplines and to provide a metric for how well a journal is performing.

Over the past six decades, many leading student-run law journals — including the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Law Review—have taken steps to increase the diversity of their mastheads, believing, like Powell, that a more diverse group of student editors would bring more diverse ideas and experiences to their publications.

More broadly, our article lends credibility to the idea that diverse student bodies, diverse faculties, diverse teams of attorneys and diverse teams of employees generally can perform better than non-diverse teams. These results, in sum, place empirical heft behind Powell’s much-derided diversity rationale.

13) Brownstein on crime:

These attacks assume that the changes in criminal-justice policies that some states and many cities have pursued over the past few years are undermining public safety and fueling higher crime rates.

But an exhaustive new study released today by the Center for American Progress refutes that allegation. Conducted by a team of seven academic researchers, the study compares cities that have elected so-called progressive prosecutors with places whose district attorneys continue to pursue more traditional approaches.

Countering conventional wisdom, the study found that homicides over recent years increased less rapidly in cities with progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys. It also found no meaningful differences between cities with progressive or traditional DAs in the trends for larceny and robbery. “I think it’s really important to emphasize the extent to which we looked for a relationship and found none” between a prosecutors’ commitment to reform and crime rates, Todd Foglesong, a fellow in residence at the University of Toronto and one of the co-authors, told me.

The data, from CAP, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization, reinforces the message from a study released earlier this year by Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. That report found that per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump than in those that voted for President Joe Biden. The study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2020 have voted Republican in every presidential election in this century…

But although competing theories abound (such as more guns or less conscientious policing amid increased scrutiny of their behavior), there’s no real consensus about why crime picked up again starting around 2014. Nor is there any consensus on whether it will now recede from its pandemic heights.

Rick Rosenfeld, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and one of the authors of the CAP study, told me some evidence suggests that homicide rates have peaked. But property crime is likely to continue rising, he said, largely because the high price of conventional goods amid soaring inflation has increased the market for lower-cost stolen goods, which creates more incentives to steal. “We live in a multicausal world,” Rosenfeld, a former president of the American Society of Criminology, told me. “Some things may be pushing up crime rates at the same time other things are pushing them down.”

“Multicausal” is far from the world most Democratic candidates are living in these final weeks before Election Day. The CAP study makes a thorough case that the new policies the progressive prosecutors are implementing can’t be blamed for the rising incidence of crime. But the slugfest on the campaign trail underscores an equally important truth: that as long as crime rates are elevated, those criminal-justice reforms will remain politically vulnerable anyway.

14) Really good stuff from NYT on the sociology and demographics of election-denying, “Their America Is Vanishing. Like Trump, They Insist They Were Cheated.” (Gift link)

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Eric Levitz on Republican hostage-taking on the debt:

Unfortunately, the debt ceiling provides the GOP with a hostage. This means the second half of Biden’s first term may look a lot like a throwback to the Obama era, when a Republican-controlled Congress would repeatedly torment the Democratic administration with threats to blow up the global economy in exchange for austerity. Alarmingly, Biden appears to have learned little from those manufactured crises. On October 21, the president ruled out the one tool that Democrats could use to preempt Republican brinksmanship.

In most developed countries, the budgetary process goes roughly like this: The legislature passes laws that authorize spending and taxation and then the government borrows money to cover the gap between the two. The U.S. follows a similar procedure except it includes an additional step. After Congress has approved deficit-increasing budgets, it must vote on whether it will allow the Treasury to borrow the necessary funds. This is because there is a statutory limit on how much debt the government is allowed to hold. Congress must raise this “debt ceiling” whenever the budgets it has already authorized generate debt in excess of the limit.

Raising the debt ceiling does not increase the amount of money the government owes its bondholders. It just prevents the government from having to default on either its debt or its obligations to U.S. service members, Social Security recipients, Medicaid enrollees, and the myriad other beneficiaries of federal spending.

In other words, the debt ceiling is an insane institution. Failing to raise it to a level consistent with Congress’s fiscal demands presents the executive branch with an impossible order: It is simultaneously instructed by Congress to borrow more and forbidden from doing so…

In light of all this, Democrats should do two things.

First, the party should inform voters that the GOP’s plan for lowering inflation is to cut America’s most popular government programs or else engineer a global depression. Attacking the GOP’s plan to reduce inflation at the expense of America’s seniors allows Democrats to increase the relevance of an issue on which it enjoys an advantage (protecting Medicare and Social Security) while addressing voters’ top concern.

Second, and most important, Democrats must effectively abolish the debt ceiling. Assuming Republicans win the House in November, the new majority won’t take the reins until January 2023. Between Election Day and then, Democrats will have the opportunity to use the reconciliation process to pass a budget bill without needing to overcome a Senate filibuster (and thus without needing Republican votes). Due to Senate rules, such a bill couldn’t technically abolish the debt limit, but it could effectively do so by raising the debt ceiling to, say, a googolplex of dollars. Better to kill the debt ceiling before Republicans can use it to take the world hostage.

But no such bill can pass without Biden’s support, and he told reporters that abolishing the debt limit would be “irresponsible.” In so doing, he affirmed the GOP’s fiction about what raising the debt ceiling actually means, while leaving the economy at its mercy. If the Republican Party’s commitment to brinksmanship threatens to upend the global financial system, the president’s nostalgic attachment to congressional conventions threatens to do the same.

I’d like to think Biden isn’t really this dumb and just didn’t want to give the Republicans another economic talking point before the election.  Because, if Democrats don’t actually essentially eliminate the debt ceiling, that’s just profound political malpractice.

2) Couldn’t agree more with this Melinda Wenner Moyer post, “Why I Won’t Teach My Son Chivalry”

I know this post is going to ruffle some feathers. So first, I want to point out that I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our kids to be generous or helpful. It’s great to teach kids to hold the door for others! It’s important to teach kids to offer a helping hand when someone is struggling! But I firmly believe we should not be teaching boys to do this specifically for girls,and especially not to be doing it because they are girls. We should teach kids to come to the aid of others who need and want help, regardless of their gender — and not to make blanket assumptions about the kinds of people who need assistance and don’t. The notion that boys should go out of their way to help or protect girls promotes dangerous ideas, and, ultimately, dangerous behavior. (But if you have been teaching your kids chivalry, don’t fret! Just a slight tweak in framing turns chivalry into kindness towards all.)

Although chivalry is insidious — more on why in a minute — it’s very attractive. Among other things, it provides a simple code of conduct for young, typically heterosexual, people to follow when dealing with the opposite sex. “People are pretty desperate for a rulebook — ‘Okay, you want to get in a relationship, here’s how you do it,’” said Matt Hammond, a social psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand who studies prejudice and intimate relationships. Chivalry provides “hard and fast rules, which are super restrictive [but] are also very freeing in their restrictiveness, because they present a solution to complex problems.” (Speaking of restrictive rules: This post focuses on people who identify as either men or women and who are in heterosexual relationships, but of course, the world is much more complex than that. Still, chivalry does tend to thrive within these particular spheres.)…

But if you sit with the concept for a few minutes, and take a look at the research, you discover that chivalry is patronizing and based on misogynistic ideas. (In the research literature, chivalry is referred to as “benevolent sexism.”) The notion that men should care for and protect women inherently implies that women are weaker and less competent. It’s as if chivalrous guys think, “‘We love women. We love girls. But they’re also so helpless that we need to like make sure that they don’t hurt themselves while opening the door,’” said Andrei Cimpian, a psychologist at NYU who studies cognitive development, including how biases develop. “Sending the signal that girls need additional protection — while in the moment, it might be a nice thing for girls and they might feel good about it — it is ultimately undermining because the message is that you need extra help.”

Consciously, of course, many women and girls don’t interpret chivalry as sexist — and as I said, years ago, neither did I. This is another reason it’s become such a staple of our culture: It serves, at least initially, to keep women happy in their subordinate roles. If men were overtly misogynistic, many women wouldn’t tolerate them (I mean, one would hope?). Chivalry makes the existing gender power structure more palatable — it is what researchers have described as “the carrot dangled in front of women to motivate them to accept inequality” (whereas overt, hostile sexism is “the stick by which they are beaten when they do not”).

I’m not saying that chivalrous men are pretending to adore women in order to get females to tolerate them. Chivalry isn’t an act of willful manipulation. Many chivalrous men truly believe that what they’re doing is helpful and loving — I know lots of these guys and they mean well! — and many may be extremely offended by the argument that chivalry is rooted in sexism. (I can’t wait for all the hate mail I get in response to this post.) But we know from the research that men who support or engage in chivalrous behavior also tend to hold more overtly sexist beliefs deep down, even if they’re not consciously aware that they do. The two kinds of sexism — benevolent and hostile — typically go hand in hand. We also know that chivalry has negative consequences, even when men mean well.

3) OMG, Scott Alexander’s review of the Malleus Malificarum is soooo good:

I myself read the Malleus in search of a different type of wisdom. We think of witch hunts as a byword for irrationality, joking about strategies like “if she floats, she’s a witch; if she drowns, we’ll exonerate the corpse.” But this sort of snide superiority to the past has led us wrong before. We used to make fun of phlogiston, of “dormitive potencies”, of geocentric theory. All these are indeed false, but more sober historians have explained why each made sense at the time, replacing our caricatures of absurd irrationality with a picture of smart people genuinely trying their best in epistemically treacherous situations. Were the witch-hunters as bad as everyone says? Or are they in line for a similar exoneration? …

Question IX: Whether Witches May Work Some Prestidigitory Illusion So That The Male Organ Appears To Be Entirely Removed And Separate From The Body.

IE: can witches steal your penis?

It would seem that witches can steal your penis. After all, many people claim to have had their penis stolen by witches. The fifteenth-century peasants among whom Kramer went witch-hunting claimed this. And modern people claim it even today. Frank Bures’ The Geography Of Madness is a great book about recent penis-stealing-witch-related panics, which happened until the mid-20th century in Asia and still happen in Africa. For some reason, this is a classic concern across cultures and centuries.

But on the contrary side, God created the human body, and charged Man to be fruitful and multiply. So if the Devil could steal people’s penises it would seem that he must be more powerful than God, which is blasphemous.

Kramer answers that witches cannot steal men’s penises, but they can cast an illusion that causes it to look and feel like the penis has been stolen. Classic namby-pamby liberal centrist compromise! …

So what’s going on? Theory 1, Kramer made everything up. I don’t want to completely discount this. There must be at least one pathological liar in 15th century Europe, and surely that would be the kind of person who would write the world’s most shocking book on witches and start a centuries-long panic. Against this proposal, he sometimes names specific sources who a fact-checker could presumably go talk to, or specific court cases that living people must remember. I’ll stop here before we start retreading the usual arguments around the Gospels, etc.

Theory 2, Kramer is faithfully reporting a weird mass hallucination that had been going on long before he entered the picture. You can imagine a modern journalist interviewing UFO abductees or something. Some consistent rules might emerge – the spacecraft are always saucer-shaped, the aliens always have big eyes – but only because pre-existing legends have shaped the form of the hallucinations and lies. Then, unless he’s really careful, he unconsciously massages the data and adds an extra layer of consistency, until it everything makes total sense and seems incontrovertible.

I think 2 is basically right – again, I refer interested readers to Frank Boles’ study of penis-stealing-witch traditions around the world. Wherever there are superstitious people, there will be stories about witches, which will cohere into a consistent mythos. Add a legal system centered around getting people to confess under torture, and lots of people will confess. And since confessed witches were judged more repentant if they explained to the judge exactly what they did and maybe incriminated others, they’ll make up detailed stories about entire covens, and these stories will always match what their interlocutors expect to hear – ie the contours of the witch myth as it existed at the time…

So I think of Henry Kramer as basically a reasonable guy, a guy who expected the world to make sense, marooned in a century that hadn’t developed enough psychological sophistication for him to do anything other than shoot himself in the foot again and again.

This is how I think of myself too. As a psychiatrist, people are constantly asking me questions about schizophrenia, depression, chronic fatigue, chronic Lyme, chronic pain, gender dysphoria, trauma, brain fog, anorexia, and all the other things that the shiny diploma on my wall claims that I’m an expert in. In five hundred years, I think we’ll be a lot wiser and maybe have the concepts we need to deal with all of this. For now, I do my best with what I have. But I can’t shake the feeling that sometimes I’m doing harm (and doing nothing when I should do something is a kind of harm!)

They say the oldest and strongest fear is the fear of the unknown. I am not afraid of witches. But I am afraid of what they represent about the unknowability of the world. Somewhere out there, there still lurk pitfalls in our common-sensical and well-intentioned thought processes, maybe just as dark and dangerous as the ones that made Henry Kramer devote his life to eradicating a scourge that didn’t exist.

Happy Halloween!

4) I’ve been sleeping with variations of white noise for almost as long as I’ve been a parent.  It proved to be a godsend when our children were infants, and since we were in the same room with them we all got used to it and never stopped.  We have white noise machines in all the bedrooms.  I did know there were different “colors” of noise till a few years ago when I downloaded the Simply Noise app to use for white noise on my phone when I’m on the road (as my PS conference roommates can attest).  I was intrigued to discover the other colors, and “brown” noise is definitely the bomb.  And now here it is in the NYT (complete with interactive sounds).  Haven’t done a gift link in a while. “Can Brown Noise Turn Off Your Brain?”

5) I don’t know why The New Yorker would have a pretty scientific explainer on how metabolism works, but it’s pretty cool.  

6) Good stuff from Pew, “Parents Differ Sharply by Party Over What Their K-12 Children Should Learn in School”

Bar chart showing Republican and Democratic parents have widely different views of what their K-12 children should learn about certain topics in school

And check out the huge racial differences among Democrats on this graph below.  This matters.

Bar chart showing views on what children should learn about gender identity in school differ by gender among Republicans and by race and ethnicity among Democrats

7) It really is amazing how many fewer bugs are on my windshield on road trips these days.  It’s hardly an issue at all anymore and it used to be a big messy deal.  And this is probably not good. “Wait, why are there so few dead bugs on my windshield these days?”

Before we address possible causes of the “windshield phenomenon,” such as more aerodynamic cars, we should make one thing clear: It’s not a mass delusion or faulty collective memory. Windshield splats are valid ecological data, and they don’t bear good news…

From 1996 to 2017, insect splatters fell by 80 percent on one of the routes Moller regularly travels. On the other, longer stretch, they plunged 97 percent. Conventional measures show similar trends, and more recent observations have seen even sharper declines, Moller told us.

Experts say the lack of insect innards on our summer windshields is just one symptom of a broader decline in insect populations worldwide. But how much are insects declining? We’re not sure…

Many smart people we spoke with, including entomologists and wheat farmers, speculated that maybe the cars have changed, not the bugs. As vehicles become more aerodynamic, the thinking goes, their increasingly efficient airflow whisks the bugs away from the windshield instead of creating head-on splatters.

But when we called experts in the arcane art of computational fluid dynamics, they sounded skeptical. Yes, today’s sleek sedans can have half the drag of the land boats that ruled the road just a generation or two ago. But that improved airflow won’t do much for a bug.

8) Among my many concerns about the midterm elections is this, ‘Why Putin hopes for a GOP victory, as explained by a top Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: The guy likely to become House speaker is openly declaring that Republicans might not continue U.S. military aid to Ukraine. A number of House GOP and Senate candidates are also hostile to such aid. How seriously do you take this threat?

Timothy Snyder:I take it very seriously, because democracy around the world depends on Ukrainians winning this war. I also find it puzzling, because the Ukrainians are doing more for declared bipartisan American national security interests than any American foreign policy has done for decades.

By pinning down the Russian army and substantially weakening it, they are weakening China’s cat’s paw, which is Russia. By showing how difficult it is to carry out this kind of invasion, Ukraine is making the scenario for war with China — a Chinese invasion of Taiwan — much less likely.

A lot of Republicans genuinely support the Ukrainian cause and want the United States to help Ukraine prevail. But now we might see a genuine power struggle inside the GOP over whether the party will retreat from backing Ukraine.

I talk to quite a few Republicans who say and do exactly the right things regarding Ukraine. But an underlying source of the [power struggle] you mention is media. The guidelines for state-sponsored Russian propaganda television predict very well what Tucker Carlson says about Russia and Ukraine. Then Russian propagandists play clips of Tucker Carlson for their viewers.

So an awful lot of Americans and Republican voters are imbibing Russian propaganda tropes without knowing it.

It seems to me that the alignment of nontrivial swaths of the Republican Party with Vladimir Putin — we should try to understand this as potentially a serious geopolitical development.

We are actually on the verge of winning in Ukraine. We’re also on the verge of a tipping point back toward democratic institutions, and I don’t mean just in the West; I mean around the world. An awful lot hinges on Russia losing and Ukraine winning.

The tipping point can also go the other way. If the Ukrainians hadn’t fought — or if they had already lost — we would have already seen a tipping point where authoritarianism and Putin-style nihilism would be much more popular.

Right now, we have an opportunity for a positive tipping point. We could throw it all away if we do the wrong thing after November. Things could go either extremely well or extremely poorly.

9) Good (and free) stuff from Yglesias, ‘Getting back on track with the Latino vote: A decade of bad analysis built on a flawed analogy”

If you want some good takes on where things stand, I’d recommend this Pablo Manríquez article, as well as Miriam Jordan’s piece on racism in Latin America and in Latin-derived communities in the United States. I’d recommend Jay Caspian Kang on the difference between ethnic politics grounded in community solidarity and ideological anti-racism. And I really recommend “Reversion to the Mean, or Their Version of the Dream: An Analysis of the Latino Voting in 2020” by Bernard Fraga, Yamil Velez, and Emily West which concludes the rightward shift in the Hispanic vote may be permanent. I also recommend Ruy Teixeira’s article “Hispanic Voters are Normie Voters.”

This new conventional wisdom is, I think, completely correct — Americans of Latin American ancestry are a very diverse group with a range of ethnic backgrounds, issue positions, interests, etc.

This has always been personally salient because my grandfather was a Cuban-American leftist whose family came to the United States before the Cuban Revolution. He had very little in common politically with the mainstream Cuban-American community in the United States, which was dominated by anti-Castro emigrés. Which is just to say that even though everyone always knew the Cuban-American case was somewhat “special” in political terms, I knew that amongst Cuban-Americans, there were a lot of differences based on specific family experiences and, ultimately, the individual ideas of individual people.

And I think it’s important to remember the extent to which this was not the conventional wisdom in the recent past.

Teixeira, famously, was the author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” a book whose actual thesis was more complicated than the caricature, but that a lot of people read as “the growing Hispanic population will deliver victory to the Democrats.” Fraga wrote the more recent book, “The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America.”His newer work doesn’t contradict anything the older work on turnout says. But it does reflect an important shift in emphasis from a mobilization frame to a persuasive one.

I’ve written about this a couple of times, but understanding the depth and persistence of the belief that Democrats could win elections through mobilization alone is critical to understanding what’s happened over the past decade of American politics. A lot of progressives were very disappointed by Barack Obama’s eight years in office. As far back as 2011, Jonathan Chait was writing pieces about how progressives are disappointed by every president and should maybe alter their expectations. But most progressives didn’t agree with that and wanted to construct a theory of how it would be possible to run and win campaigns with a much more progressive agenda.

If you want to understand why Democrats moved left on almost every issue since 2012, this misread of the Hispanic vote is a key piece of the picture. The idea was that if the party went left on criminal justice issues, Black turnout would remain high. Then the party could go left on immigration to maintain high Hispanic turnout, and count on the rising Hispanic share of the population to loft Democrats to victory as they moved left on climate and economics. The belated recognition that there are lots of moderate and conservative Hispanic voters, that the conservative ones will probably vote Republican, and that you need to court the moderate ones by paying attention to what they actually think and care about is welcome. But I think assimilating the significance of those facts requires revisiting some earlier debates.

10) And the Teixeira piece, “Hispanic Voters Are Normie Voters: Time for Woke Democrats to Wake Up”

It therefore follows that, if Hispanic voting trends continue to move steadily against the Democrats, the pro-Democratic effect of nonwhite population growth will be blunted, if not cancelled out entirely. Exactly that happened in 2020. This radically undermines the Democrats’ rising American electorate theory of the case.

Digging deeper reveals even more problems for the Democrats. Their slippage among Hispanic voters in 2020 was all over the country and among all the different ethnicities lumped under the Hispanic label. The biggest damage was among Cuban Hispanics (a 26 point decline in Democratic margin) and in Florida (down 28 points), but the damage went far beyond that. The Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters declined 18 points in Texas and Wisconsin, 16 points in Nevada, 12 points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Arizona. And among Hispanic ethnicities, the Democratic margin was down 18 points among Puerto Ricans, 16 points among Dominicans, 12 points among Mexicans and 18 points among other Hispanic ethnicities…

But it’s not that simple, as the election results from 2020 demonstrate. In retrospect, it seems clear that Democrats, in fact, seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with “people of color” and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. In reality, Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly an upwardly mobile, patriotic population with practical and down to earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, effective schools and public safety.

In short, they are normie voters, not at all a liberal voting bloc, especially on social issues, that just needs to be mobilized. This is not true about Hispanics in general and is very far from the truth among working class Hispanics, three-quarters or more of Hispanic voters. In Pew’s post-election validated voter survey, just 20 percent of these voters described themselves as liberal, while 45 percent said they were moderate and 35 percent said they were conservative.

Just how normie and not super-progressive Hispanics are as a group is well-illustrated by recent data from Echelon Insights. Take the issue of structural racism. Echelon asked respondents to choose between two statements: Racism is built into our society, including into its policies and institutions vs. Racism comes from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions.

Of course in progressive sectors of the Democratic party, which do so much to define the party’s national brand, it is an article of faith that the first statement is the correct one. Indeed, in Echelon’s “strong progressive” group—roughly 10 percent of voters—they are so very, very sure of America’s systemic racism that they endorse the first statement by an amazing 94-6 margin. But Hispanic voters disagree, endorsing the second statement that racism comes from individuals by 58-36.

That’s quite a difference. Clearly, this constituency, unlike Democratic progressives, does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy. 

Or consider patriotism. The Echelon survey posed this choice to respondents: America is not the greatest country in the world vs. America is the greatest country in the world. By 66 percent to 28 percent, strong progressives say America is not the greatest country in the world. By 70-23, Hispanic voters say the reverse…

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democrats’ emphasis on social and democracy issues, while catnip to some socially liberal, educated voters, leaves many Hispanic voters cold. Their concerns are more mundane and economically-driven. This is despite the fact that many of these voters are in favor of moderate abortion rights and gun control and disapprove of the January 6th events. But these issues are just not salient for them in the way they are for the Democrats’ educated and most fervent supporters.

In short, they are normie voters.

11) Seems like harnessing the power of the tides for energy would be really cool.  At least for now, it’s hard to make cost-effective, but, that could potentially change with the right investments.  Almost surely worth a shot.

13) I don’t think we should have the death penalty.  But, since we actually do, this seems like a legitimate question, ‘If Not the Parkland Shooter, Who Is the Death Penalty For?”

Society embraces four major justifications for punishment: deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution. Retribution has often been scorned by academics and judges, but ultimately, it provides capital punishment with its only truly moral foundation. Critics of the theory, including Mr. Cruz’s lawyers, commonly equate retribution with revenge — disparaging “an eye for an eye” as barbaric.

But retribution is not simply revenge. Revenge may be limitless and misdirected at the undeserving, as with collective punishment. Retribution, on the other hand, can help restore a moral balance. It demands that punishment must be limited and proportional. Retributivists like myself just as strongly oppose excessive punishment as we urge adequate punishment: as much, but no more than what’s deserved. Thus I endorse capital punishment only for the worst of the worst criminals.

Notice what retributivists don’t count: punishment’s future costs or benefits. Although Mr. Cruz’s execution might deter future mass murderers, especially school shooters, we don’t subtract its costs and add its benefits. We refuse to make an example of convicted killers, to treat them as means to other ends.

Can Mr. Cruz be rehabilitated? Will he ever acquire the skills and values to function as a productive member of society? It’s morally irrelevant. Nor can his future dangerousness — that he might kill again — justify permanently incapacitating him by executing him. Surely it’s possible to construct and operate prisons that keep us safe.

So we retributivists reject deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. Instead we insist that Mr. Cruz’s human dignity requires his just punishment as an end in itself. By rejecting as morally insufficient the defense’s plea that Mr. Cruz’s life should be spared because he suffered fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, by holding him fully responsible and executing him, we acknowledge him as fully human, condemning the free will that produced his monstrous crimes.

For Nikolas Cruz, adequate, proportional punishment means death. His crime was coldblooded and calculated. At 13 or 14, he first thought about shooting up a school. He studied how mass murderers had committed their crimes. He told a psychiatrist that he thought, “If I do go onto the school campus, the police are not going to do anything, and I would have a small opportunity to shoot people for maybe 20 minutes.”

14) Yes, Newsweek ain’t exactly Newsweek any more, but it’s still cool to be in there:

Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Newsweek that given the pattern of national polls, it seems consistent that Budd would “have a reasonable but certainly not safe lead” in what he described as a purple state “with the slightest red tinge.” …

Greene said he would be surprised if independents broke at more than 60-40 once results conclude on Election Day.

“That’s not to say it can’t happen but kind of looking at the whole larger political context, I don’t necessarily see the scenario where voters break strongly for Beasley to put her over the top….Regardless of the history, when you have a race polling this close, it would be insane for Democrats not to invest in this race and give a go at it,” he said.

15) Derek Thompson, “How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe: Britain chose finance over industry, austerity over investment, and a closed economy over openness to the world.”

This calamity was decades in the making. After World War II, Britain’s economy grew slower than those of much of continental Europe. By the 1970s, the Brits were having a national debate about why they were falling behind and how the former empire had become a relatively insular and sleepy economy. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, markets were deregulated, unions were smashed, and the financial sector emerged as a jewel of the British economy. Thatcher’s injection of neoliberalism had many complicated knock-on effects, but from the 1990s into the 2000s, the British economy roared ahead, with London’s financial boom leading the way. Britain, which got rich as the world’s factory in the 19th century, had become the world’s banker by the 21st.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.

The past few months have been rough for the United Kingdom. Energy prices are soaring. National inflation has breached double digits. The longest-serving British monarch has died. The shortest-serving prime minister has quit.

You probably knew all of that already. British news is covered amply (some might say too amply) in American media. Behind the lurid headlines, however, is a deeper story of decades-long economic dysfunction that holds lessons for the future.

In the American imagination, the U.K. is not only our political parent but also our cultural co-partner, a wealthy nation that gave us modern capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. But strictly by the numbers, Britain is pretty poor for a rich place. U.K. living standards and wages have fallen significantly behind those of Western Europe. By some measures, in fact, real wages in the U.K. are lower than they were 15 years ago, and will likely be even lower next year.

This calamity was decades in the making. After World War II, Britain’s economy grew slower than those of much of continental Europe. By the 1970s, the Brits were having a national debate about why they were falling behind and how the former empire had become a relatively insular and sleepy economy. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, markets were deregulated, unions were smashed, and the financial sector emerged as a jewel of the British economy. Thatcher’s injection of neoliberalism had many complicated knock-on effects, but from the 1990s into the 2000s, the British economy roared ahead, with London’s financial boom leading the way. Britain, which got rich as the world’s factory in the 19th century, had become the world’s banker by the 21st.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.

In the past 30 years, the British economy chose finance over industry, Britain’s government chose austerity over investment, and British voters chose a closed and poorer economy over an open and richer one. The predictable results are falling wages and stunningly low productivity growth. Although British media worry about robots taking everybody’s jobs, the reality is closer to the opposite. “Between 2003 and 2018, the number of automatic-roller car washes (that is, robots washing your car) declined by 50 percent, while the number of hand car washes (that is, men with buckets) increased by 50 percent,” the economist commentator Duncan Weldon told me in an interview for my podcast, Plain English. “It’s more like the people are taking the robots’ jobs.”

16) And, while we’re on the subject, “What Liz Truss Proved: Dismantling guardrails to cater to the grassroots is a dangerous experiment.”

Until 1998, Conservative members of parliament (MPs) had the job of choosing their party leader. That leader would become head of government if the party could command a majority in the House of Commons. After 1998, however, the rules changed: henceforth Conservative MPs would “thin the herd” of leadership hopefuls through successive rounds of balloting, then leave the choice between the final two to the members.

What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, it turns out. Political scientists know that weakening party officials can introduce all kinds of dysfunction into a democracy. Britain’s recent history bears that out in great detail.

The first hint of trouble came from the opposition benches. The Labour Party moved decisively to let ordinary members choose their party leader in 2014. In 2015, the rank-and-file, which skews far to the left, overruled the party’s MPs and picked the hardliner Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party. Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader is now widely understood to have been a catastrophe. Constant Labour infighting left Britain without a credible opposition for five crucial years.

Seven years later, following the fall of Boris Johnson, it was the Conservative rank-and-file’s turn to overrule their MPs’ preferences by choosing a new ideologically rigid and fundamentally unserious leader. Only, as the party in power, the stakes were far higher: their choice would move directly into Downing Street.

Liz Truss’s leadership bid was exquisitely in tune with the 142,000 or so people who voted in the Conservative Party leadership vote. But they amount to about a third of one percent of the 47.6 million people registered to vote in Britain. Conservative members are older, whiter, wealthier and more right wing than Britain’s electorate. To win power, she convinced them she would pursue an aggressive tax cutting agenda that most of the public reject

Was the danger of a Truss premiership unknowable ahead of time? Not at all: her colleagues knew it. Most Conservative MPs understood very well that trying to introduce massive tax-cuts amid a surge in inflation would be madness—both politically and economically. That’s why more of them voted for her moderate opponent for leadership, Rishi Sunak (who was today announced as her successor), than voted for her. It didn’t matter. Their judgment was overruled by the grassroots.


A prodigious body of literature in political science deals with the role of parties within democracy. A leading hypothesis appeared inResponsible Parties, Saving Democracy from Itselfby Yale’s Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro, published in 2018. In exhaustive detail, Rosenbluth and Shapiro chronicle how reforms that weaken parties in the name of grassroots involvement fail. Such reforms, they argue, “feed political dysfunction and produce policies that are self-defeating for most voters, even those who advocate the decentralizing reforms.” They end up leaving voters more dissatisfied with the political system, and less able to hold their leaders to account.

17) The worst part about 2022 may be how it sets us up for a democracy-crushing 2024.

“My hair is on fire” to an even greater degree than it was in 2020, said Hasen, who published a prescient book that year called “Election Meltdown.”

18) My neighborhood has acorns like you wouldn’t believe (I should take a photo), thus I was intrigued to see this in the NYT, “Why We Should All Be Chasing Acorns

As Douglas W. Tallamy explains in his splendid 2021 book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” oaks are keystone plants, the central life form upon which so many other species in the ecosystem depend. Hundreds of insects and caterpillars feed on oak leaves, and those insects in turn feed birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even other insects. In fall and winter, acorns feed many of them all over again. Because so many predators eat the creatures that eat the acorns, a good year for oaks is a good year for everybody. “No other tree genus supports so much life,” Dr. Tallamy notes.

It probably goes without saying that oaks are commercially valuable, too, used in making everything from furniture and flooring to cabinets and whiskey barrels. Those utilitarian purposes go a long way toward explaining why the vast oak forests once found in the United States have been destroyed in many places and are too often fragmented where they remain.

One of my dogs has taking to eating some acorns.  Alas, the other day he was having a lot of trouble finishing the job of clearing his bowels while we were on a walk and it was most unpleasant. When all was finally done, I discovered the culprit– acorns!

19) I won’t be reading American Midnight, but I certainly enjoyed this review:

At a time when professional doom-mongering about democracy has become one of the more inflationary sectors of the American economy, it is tonic to be reminded by Adam Hochschild’s masterly new book, “American Midnight,” that there are other contenders than the period beginning in 2016 for the distinction of Darkest Years of the Republic. By some measures — and certainly in many quarters of the American left — the years 1917-21 have a special place in infamy. The United States during that time saw a swell of patriotic frenzy and political repression rarely rivaled in its history. President Woodrow Wilson’s terror campaign against American radicals, dissidents, immigrants and workers makes the McCarthyism of the 1950s look almost subtle by comparison.

As Hochschild vividly details, the Wilson administration and its allies pioneered the police raids, surveillance operations, internment camps, strikebreaking and legal chicanery that would become part of the repertoire of the American state for decades to come. It may be recalled how, when Donald Trump was a presidential candidate in 2016, his followers ignited a media storm when they threatened to lock up his challenger. But only Wilson went the distance: He jailed his charismatic Socialist opponent, the 63-year-old Eugene Debs, for opposing America’s descent into the carnage of the First World War, with the liberal press in lock step. “He is where he belongs,” Hochschild quotes The New York Times declaring of the imprisoned Debs. “He should stay there.” …

Aided by the news of German war atrocities, the Wilson administration whipped up anti-German hysteria. Wilson produced a great deal of cant about making the world “safe for democracy,” though by “democracy” he had in mind something like an international clinic for political delinquents with America as supervisor. Internal enemies ultimately proved more reliable than high ideals in sustaining the country’s war fever. German-speaking Americans and other immigrant groups made for obvious targets. “I want to say — I cannot say it too often,” Wilson declared in 1919, “any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic.” But the grander enemy was American socialists, who publicly opposed entering a war in which they would kill fellow workingmen at the behest of their ruling classes.

20) Among the more unusual features (including interactive video game!) I’ve seen in the Post, “D.C.’s great rat migration — and how they survived during the pandemic.” Definitely worth the gift link. 

21) I hope JPP is reading this so he can appreciate the Quick Hits birthday wishes.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting profile of Ron DeSantis:

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He’s really good at ‘othering’ people,” said Mac Stipanovich, a veteran Florida Republican activist who was involved in the 2000 recount that handed the presidency to George W Bush, but has grown disgusted with the party under Trump. Perhaps one-third of the party was always composed of extremists and oddballs who were generally beyond the pale, Stipanovich estimated. Trump coaxed another silent third to come out of the closet. “This is the business model for today’s Republican party: stoking outrage, creating fear and then exploiting that fear,” he said.

2) Nate Silver on the growing pessimism for Democrats in the midterms.

From a modeling standpoint, another challenge is that Democrats were defying political gravity. The president’s party typically performs poorly in the midterms. There have been some exceptions and there is some reason to think this year may be one of them. But the model has been trying to balance polls showing Democrats having a pretty good year against its prior expectation that the electoral environment should be poor for Democrats.

As the election nears, the model relies on its priors less and trusts the polls more, so it was initially skeptical of buying into a post-Dobbs surge for Democrats. Right about the time the model had fully priced in Democrats’ improved polling, though, the news cycle shifted toward a set of stories that were more favorable for Republicans, such as immigration and renewed concerns about inflation.

It’s also possible to overstate the case for Republican momentum. Midterm elections tend not to turn on a dime in the way that presidential elections sometimes do. And there haven’t been any self-evidently important developments in the news cycle in the past week or so. If you’re one of those people who thinks gas prices are all-determining of election outcomes, they’ve even started to come down again slightly.

Rather, this is more a case of now having more evidence to confirm that the Democrats’ summer polling surge wasn’t sustainable.

That doesn’t mean it was fake: In fact, Democrats had a string of excellent special election and ballot referendum results in which they met or exceeded their polling. If you’d held the midterms in late August, I’d have bet heavily on Democrats to win the Senate. It sure would be nice to have another special election or two now, and to see how these polling shifts translate into real results. Polls can sometimes change for reasons that don’t reflect the underlying reality of the race, such as because of partisan nonresponse bias or pollster herding.

And certainly, Democrats have plenty of paths to retain the Senate. Republicans don’t have any sure-fire pickups; Nevada is the most likely, and even there, GOP chances are only 53 percent, according to our forecast. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman is still ahead in polls of Pennsylvania, although his margin over Republican Mehmet Oz has narrowed. The model is likely to be quite sensitive to new polling in Pennsylvania going forward. If Democrats gain a seat there, meaning that the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats to take the chamber, that starts to become a tall order. Nevada, sure, but I’m not sure Republicans would want to count on Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona.

But the bottom line is this: If you’d asked me a month ago — or really even a week ago — which party’s position I’d rather be in, I would have said the Democrats. Now, I honestly don’t know.

3) To be fair, there’s some data in here, but, honestly, wasn’t the whole point of 538 to not have articles like this, “How 5 Asian American Voters Are Thinking About The Midterms.” (And, yes, it’s by the same author who wrote that it’s ableist to consider cognitive impairments when voting).

4) I didn’t realize the new Ebola outbreak is a new variant that’s not susceptible to the great new Ebola vaccine. That sucks.  Though, hopefully a new vaccine should be coming soon.

And this outbreak is different. Ebola is a disease of multitudes. For the most common species of the virus, successful vaccines have already been developed. But for others, no vaccine exists. To the dismay of health officials in Uganda, the version of the virus found in the body at Mubende was from the Sudan species, for which there is no vaccine.

Ebola has flared up intermittently in Africa for more than 40 years, most notably during an outbreak between 2013 and 2016 that infected 28,000 people and took more than 11,000 lives. During that outbreak, experimental vaccines against the most common form of the virus—the Zaire species—could be tested. They worked well, and have since been approved and used to protect people. But developing vaccines for rare viruses like Ebola is always a game of cat and mouse. The Sudan virus behind the current outbreak has caused only a handful of human cases over the past two decades. Work to develop vaccines to target this virus is underway, but none have been fully tested, let alone finished.

Using a Zaire vaccine against the Sudan virus isn’t an option, says Pontiano Kaleebu, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute. “This has already been proven in the laboratory. The neutralizing antibodies do not respond,” he says. This means two things: that surveillance and physical control measures are currently the only tools available for limiting the virus’s spread, and that a working vaccine needs to be found as quickly as possible.

The candidate that’s farthest along is the single-dose ChAd3 Ebola Sudan vaccine, which is being developed by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC. By working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and other organizations, the institute is planning to run a clinical trial in the current outbreak to see how well the vaccine works.

But there are only 100 doses available. With limited supply, health officials plan to give doses of the vaccine to immediate contacts of confirmed Ebola cases. Scientists then hope to use these contacts as potential candidates in the vaccine’s clinical trial—though the exact testing protocol they will use is still being worked out.

Kaleebu says they are hoping for accelerated production from the Sabin Vaccine Institute now that more doses are needed. But even if the number of vaccines used in the trial is small, they will still provide useful data, says Bruce Kirenga, a senior respiratory physician at Makerere University College of Health Sciences on the outskirts of Kampala.

5) Nice Yashca Mounk interview with Lis Smith on Democratic messaging:

Yascha Mounk: What are the main things political candidates should be doing, but aren’t? And what are the main things that they shouldn’t be doing, but are?

Lis Smith: The number one piece of advice that I give to candidates—and it shouldn’t be this complicated—is to just be normal: talk like a normal person, communicate in simple ways and with simple concepts. That’s a lot harder for a lot of political candidates than it should be. I worked for Pete Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar, but he was someone who, like Bill Clinton, another Rhodes Scholar, had a gift for taking really complex ideas and reducing them to points that everyone could understand—whether he was on CNN, at a think tank, or in front of a crowd in rural Iowa. It’s really important to act and speak like a normal person, and it’s something politicians don’t do enough. We get into a sort of wonky speak, or as James Carville says, “faculty lounge” speak. Speaking in front of a camera, or to a crowd, is really daunting to a lot of people. If they were just talking to friends around a dinner table, or at a bar, they would speak one way; but the second a camera turns on, they feel the need to speak in this stilted way. Or they’re just terrified of making a gaffe, so they end up speaking in this political gobbledygook.

You have a lot of political candidates who maybe watched too much of The West Wing or had advisors who watched too much of it. But unless you’re a poet, you should not engage in any poetry. If you’re not John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama, don’t try to speak like them. Look: like a lot of Democratic operatives, I went to an Ivy League college. I grew up in Bronxville, New York. But the difference between me and a lot of other Democratic operatives is that I cut my teeth in red states, places like South Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, and Kentucky. And so I understand how to speak to voters in a way that is not rooted in SAT words or advocacy group language.  

I wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post about this recently, because I was seeing these special interest groups put out things saying that “pro-choice” is harmful language; you need to say “pro-decision.” But no-one has ever heard anyone describe themselves as “pro-decision.” And so, you do see staffers who come out of this advocacy world, who have surrounded themselves with people who only share their worldviews—who think like them, talk like them, and live in bubbles where they don’t communicate with normal people. I think that distorts how politicians talk. 

Mounk: What are some of the big mistakes that candidates make?

Smith: Candidates should really limit how much time they spend on social media. It’s a good thing that younger candidates are more fluent in social media and modern technology. But there are some downsides. There is a distortionary effect that happens on social media, including really toxic group-think: e.g. the idea that unless you embrace the position that is popular online (which is oftentimes the most far-left position), you’re a Republican in disguise and you can’t be trusted. And if you take your cues from the online group, you’re going to be extremely out of touch with voters. 

We saw that when some prominent Democrats and Democratic groups embraced absolutely toxic, nonsensical slogans like “defund the police.” There was a time when, if you went online and said, “defund the police is a really bad slogan and it’s going to backfire on Democrats,” you would have gotten absolutely piled on. Now, I think people have come to realize this. After seeing the millions and millions of dollars that were spent against Democrats—even ones who had never even embraced that, just because certain Democrats had gone out there and embraced it—they understand that it was stupid. 

But that’s a problem that every campaign is gonna have to deal with. And it’s not just the candidates, it’s also the staff. A twenty-something year old staffer is not going to have the wherewithal to understand that just because some Twitter accounts are saying these things, it doesn’t mean that those views are held by the majority of voters. What’s really important is to get out and talk to the voters you’re trying to appeal to. If winning Twitter is your goal, you’re probably not going to win an election.

6) Relatedly, “Tim Ryan Is Winning the War for the Soul of the Democratic Party”

After years of being overlooked, Tim Ryan is pointing his party toward a path to recovery in the Midwest. On the campaign trail, he has embraced a unifying tone that stands out from the crassness and divisiveness that Mr. Trump and his imitators have wrought. A significant number of what he calls the “exhausted majority” of voters have responded gratefully.

And his core message — a demand for more aggressive government intervention to arrest regional decline — is not only resonating with voters but, crucially, breaking through with the Democratic leaders who presided over that decline for years. The Democrats have passed a burst of legislation that will pave the way for two new Intel chip plants in the Columbus exurbs, spur investment in new electric vehicle ventures in Mr. Ryan’s district, and benefit solar-panel factories around Toledo, giving him, at long last, concrete examples to cite of his party rebuilding the manufacturing base in which the region took such pride.

In short, the party is doing much more of what Mr. Ryan has long said would save its political fortunes in the Midwest. The problem for him — and also for them — is that it may have come too late.

7) You know I’m always fascinated by AI-generated art, ‘A.I.-Generated Art Is Already Transforming Creative Work”

For years, the conventional wisdom among Silicon Valley futurists was that artificial intelligence and automation spelled doom for blue-collar workers whose jobs involved repetitive manual labor. Truck drivers, retail cashiers and warehouse workers would all lose their jobs to robots, they said, while workers in creative fields like art, entertainment and media would be safe.

Well, an unexpected thing happened recently: A.I. entered the creative class.

In the past few months, A.I.-based image generators like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have made it possible for anyone to create unique, hyper-realistic images just by typing a few words into a text box.

These apps, though new, are already astoundingly popular. DALL-E 2, for example, has more than 1.5 million users generating more than two million images every day, while Midjourney’s official Discord server has more than three million members.

These programs use what’s known as “generative A.I.,” a type of A.I. that was popularized several years ago with the release of text-generating tools like GPT-3 but has since expanded into images, audio and video.

It’s still too early to tell whether this new wave of apps will end up costing artists and illustrators their jobs. What seems clear, though, is that these tools are already being put to use in creative industries.

Recently, I spoke to five creative-class professionals about how they’re using A.I.-generated art in their jobs.

8) Alas, the N&O makes it super hard to cut and paste and this is subsciber only, but it’s a really important point, “As more people carry guns, thieves steal with ease — adding weapons to NC streets”

9) And this, “Durham had a tool for tracking stolen guns. North Carolina lawmakers killed it.” Because even though this is effective for fighting crime, heaven forbid gun owners should have to register their guns. 

10) I especially enjoyed the part of this about the NYT firing Opinion editor James Bennett as that was really peak wokism amok, “Inside the identity crisis at The New York Times”

Times management has clawed back its ability to run conservative points of view without facing a newsroom revolt. But has anyone noticed?  It’s hard to walk back high-profile grand gestures, like Bennet’s firing and the marketing of the 1619 Project, with quiet bureaucratic changes, columns and beat reporting.

One skeptic that the Times has an easy path back is Bennet himself. The former Opinion Editor and onetime heir apparent to run the Times spoke to me Saturday in his first on-the-record interview about the episode.

Bennet believes that Sulzberger, the publisher, “blew the opportunity to make clear that the New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength,” he said. “He still could have fired me.”

Bennet, who now writes the Lexington column for The Economist, signed off on an editor’s note amid the controversy that the column “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”

“My regret is that editor’s note. My mistake there was trying to mollify people,” he said.

The Times and its publisher, Bennet said, “want to have it both ways.” Sulzberger is “old school” in his belief in a neutral, heterodox publication. But “they want to have the applause and the welcome of the left, and now there’s the problem on top of that that they’ve signed up so many new subscribers in the last few years and the expectation of those subscribers is that the Times will be Mother Jones on steroids.”

Bennet, who spent 19 years of his career at the Times, said he remains wounded by Mr. Sulzberger’s lack of loyalty.

“I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times,” he said, referring to incidents in the West Bank and Gaza.

“None of that mattered, and none of it mattered to AG. When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,” Bennet said. “This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.”

The Times declined to comment on Bennet’s words. The publisher told colleagues at the time that he was most upset that the Times seemed to have been blindsided by a series of controversies coming out of Bennet’s section. One thing that is clear in retrospect: while The Times sought to cast the firing into a question of performance, process, and Bennet’s ability to lead after the controversy, the move was widely perceived as a political gesture.

After we got off the phone, Bennet texted me a final note: “One more thing that sometimes gets misreported: I never apologized for publishing the piece and still don’t.”

11) You think any adult will face accountability for this?  I don’t.  Should they? Hell yeah! “2-year-old boy fatally shot was playing with loaded handgun, NC sheriff’s office says”

12) Do not call your physician by their first name unless they specifically ask you to! “‘Kind of Awkward’: Doctors Find Themselves on a First-Name Basis”

13) I found this a really interesting piece on creative writing programs and cancel culture.  Your mileage may vary.

14) This is really good, “I Did Not Steal Two Piglets. I Saved Them. A Jury Agreed.”

A jury in southern Utah let me walk free earlier this month after I took two injured piglets from a farm in the middle of the night that I had no permission to be on. The verdict, on felony burglary and misdemeanor theft charges that could have sent me and my co-defendant, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, to jail for more than five years, was a shock. After all, we had admitted to what we had done.

We’re animal rights activists. We believe the decision underscores an increasing unease among the public over the raising and killings of billions of animals on factory farms. Our rescue of the piglets took place during a clandestine three-month undercover operation I led into the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. We focused on Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises over a million pigs for slaughter every year.

We sneaked into the farm one night in March 2017. Inside, we found and documented sick and underweight piglets. One of them could not walk properly or reach food because of an infected wound to her foot, according to a veterinarian who testified on our behalf. The other piglet’s face was covered in lesions and blood, and she struggled to nurse from a mother whose teats showed gruesome reproductive injuries, the veterinarian, who reviewed video of the piglets and spoke to caretakers, said in a report. Given their conditions, both piglets were likely to be killed and potentially tossed into a landfill outside of Circle Four Farms, in which millions of pounds of dead pigs and other waste are discarded every year. Nationally, an estimated 14 percent of piglets die before they’re weaned.

But that would not be the fate of these two. After removing the piglets, our team nursed them back to health. We named them Lily and Lizzie. Some four months later, we shared a video of our actions with The Times. (Smithfield claimed that the video appeared staged. It was not.) In August, F.B.I. agents descended on animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado with search warrants for the two pigs. At the Colorado shelter, government veterinarians cut off part of Lizzie’s ear for DNA testing. Not long after, my four co-defendants and I were indicted in Utah…

The juror I spoke to also mentioned a third major factor that went beyond the legal issues: our appeal to conscience. During the closing statements in the trial, in which I represented myself, I told the jurors that a not-guilty verdict would encourage corporations to treat animals under their care with more compassion and make governments more open to animal cruelty complaints.

15) Very good stuff from Jake Tapper, “This is not Justice: A Philadelphia teenager and the empty promise of the Sixth Amendment”

16) David Graham, “What to Cheer About in the Sentencing of Steve Bannon”

The sentence is a landmark because no one has been sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress in decades. The term is shy of the six months that prosecutors sought, but well more than the 30-day mandatory minimum, as well as the probation that Bannon’s lawyers sought. He probably won’t see the inside of a cell for some time, if ever, as he is free while he appeals.

Bannon’s sentence is a victory for the rule of law—but not an unmitigated one. It is a message to those in the Trump orbit that you cannot simply ignore laws, and that Trump’s umbrella of protection has big holes. It also demonstrates that the ability to defy Congress is large, but not infinite. Yet even the most ardent Trump critics should not be too jubilant. The committee whose inquiry led to Bannon’s sentence seems to be steaming toward an abrupt end, a Trump-friendly Congress is likely, Bannon’s most nefarious activities are probably not going to be seriously harmed, and Trump himself has still evaded consequences in court.

17) Noah Smith is no fan of Xi Jinping,”China has shackled itself to…this one mediocre guy.”

But last year I do think I managed to catch something important that a lot of people seem to have missed: Xi Jinping is not as competent of a helmsman as he’s made out to be…

Already, the mistakes have begun piling up. Growth, especially all-important productivity growth, slowed a lot even before Covid and has now basically halted. The crash is due largely to Xi Jinping’s personal choices — his stubborn insistence on Zero Covid (which also has a dimension of social control), his willingness to let the vast real estate sector crash, and his crackdown on tech companies and other entrepreneurs. Overseas, Xi’s signature Belt and Road project has left a trail of uneconomical infrastructure, debt, and bad feelings around the world. His aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, combined with his crackdown on Hong Kong and his use of concentration camps and totalitarian surveillance in Xinjiang, has soured much of the world on the prospect of Chinese leadership. And his promise of a “no limits” partnership with Russia blew up in his face when Putin bungled the invasion of Ukraine. Even Xi’s nationalized industrial policy — the Made in China 2025 initiative and the more recent push for semiconductor dominance — has not done much to accelerate growth, and has prompted the U.S. and other countries to switch from engagement to outright economic warfare.

18) It’s kind of amazing that there’s almost no experts in such an important part of the female anatomy.  Really interesting piece, “Half the World Has a Clitoris. Why Don’t Doctors Study It?
The organ is “completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” medical experts say, and that omission can be devastating to women’s sexual health.”

Some urologists compare the vulva to “a small town in the Midwest,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist and pioneer in the field of sexual medicine. Doctors tend to pass through it, barely looking up, on their way to their destination, the cervix and uterus. That’s where the real medical action happens: ultrasounds, Pap smears, IUD insertion, childbirth.

If the vulva as a whole is an underappreciated city, the clitoris is a local roadside bar: little known, seldom considered, probably best avoided. “It’s completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. “There is no medical community that has taken ownership in the research, in the management, in the diagnosis of vulva-related conditions.”

Asked what she learned in medical school about the clitoris, Dr. Rubin replied, “Nothing that sticks out to my memory. If it got any mention, it would be a side note at best.”

Only years later, on a sexual-medicine fellowship with Dr. Goldstein, did she learn how to examine the vulva and the visible part of the clitoris, also known as the glans clitoris. The full clitoris, she learned, is a deep structure, made up largely of erectile tissue, that reaches into the pelvis and encircles the vagina.

Today, Dr. Rubin has appointed herself Washington’s premier “clitorologist.” The joke, of course, is that few are vying for the title — out of embarrassment, a lack of knowledge or fear of breaching propriety with patients. “Doctors love to focus on what we know,” she said. “And we don’t like to show weakness, that we don’t know something.”

19) Nice follow-up on the Beagle story, ‘Profit, pain and puppies: Inside the rescue of nearly 4,000 beagles”

20) Paul Waldman’s twitter thread needs to be an article I can assign to all my classes.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jennifer Rubin on the GOP and antisemitism:

It’s routine for Republicans “who surely know better,” as the Atlantic’s Peter Wehner aptly described them, to claim that they don’t subscribe to these views or that those reacting to antisemitic statements are simply being “politically correct.” Let’s get real. To subscribe to a party that tolerates antisemitism and is headed by a figure who regularly spouts racist, antisemitic and misogynistic rhetoric is to condone and endorse the same.

Moreover, hatred toward minorities is no sideline for the GOP these days. White grievance, xenophobia, the “great replacement theory” and Confederate idolatry have taken center stage. They are the emotional levers by which Republicans incite their base and draw attention away from their rotten governance. Sure, Republicans might not deliver drinkable water. And yes, they have no plan to solve inflation. But by gosh, they are going to “own the libs” by demonizing minorities and consigning women to motherhood.

2) $40/kg is a lot for a steak, but, pretty cool for a 3D printed, meat-free steak.  This will only get better at economies of scale.  I look forward to our meatless future. 

3) Good stuff in a WP Editorial, “California made prison phone calls free. Others should follow.”

Imagine having to go into debt to stay in touch with a loved one — all while fearing for their safety and well-being. That is the grim reality facing 1 in 3 families of incarcerated people in the United States, thanks to the sky-high costs of phone calls from prison. So it is welcome news that California has moved against this cruel situation. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law to make all phone calls from state prisons free. Now it’s time for other states, and Congress, to act.

This represents a clear market failure. The prison phone industry is a near-duopoly: Two companies control between 74 and 83 percent of the market. That, coupled with the fact that many facilities select which companies to use based on kickbacks rather than service, has permitted rapacious corporations to charge exorbitant rates without consequence. The industry earns more than $1.4 billion annually, largely profiting off low-income, incarcerated people of color.

Allowing inmates to affordably speak to relatives and friends would be a more humane approach — and a more effective one. Studies have shown that frequent and consistent family phone calls reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation after release. In the long run, lowering phone costs could save taxpayers money and improve public safety.

4) I just had my students read this for class this past week and it’s about the best thing I’ve seen for understanding modern presidential primary campaigns.  Definitely worth your time, “Voters need help: How party insiders can make presidential primaries safer, fairer, and more democratic”

More specifically, we argue that:

  • Professional input makes the process more representative. Copious theory and evidence, dating back to the time of America’s Founders, show that nomination by plebiscite (popular vote) can collapse into randomness or minority capture, and it does not dependably aggregate and reflect the preferences of Democrats and Republicans. When many candidates are in the field, professionals help majorities and coalitions to form, and they help prevent minorities and factions from capturing the process.
  • Professional input strengthens quality control. Primary elections place insufficient emphasis on evaluating nominees with an eye toward competence at governing: that is, selecting individuals with traits such as coalition-building skill, connections to varied constituencies, ability to work with others, and IOUs to and from other politicians. Only professionals can fill that gap.
  • Professional input deters renegades. Combined with the party ballot’s accessibility to all comers, the plebiscitary nomination process opens the field to demagogues and charlatans. Party leaders have strong incentives to keep candidates off the party ballot who are dangerous to both the party and democracy.
  • Professional input checks the power of billionaires and media elites. Influence in nominations has shifted dramatically toward actors who bear no responsibility for governing. Billionaires can bankroll themselves or favored candidates, while media elites propel those who break norms and generate conflict. Party professionals tend to favor candidates who are responsible to broad voter constituencies and other members of the governing party.
  • Professional input is widely acceptable to Americans. There is nothing undemocratic or un-American about professional vetting of nominees. To the contrary, even as the nation became more democratic and inclusive since its founding, formal and informal vetting of candidates by parties and professionals remained standard practice until just a decade or so ago. Even today, survey results indicate that most Americans support giving parties and professionals a voice in the process.
  • Restoring professional input is mechanically easy, but politically hard. Methods might include superdelegates, early votes of confidence, ratings or signoffs by party stalwarts, use of influence on debate participation, unbinding convention delegates, routing more campaign money through the party organizations, and many more possibilities. The harder challenge is pushing back against democracy fundamentalism, the idea that more democratization is always good for democracy—something which the Founders knew is not true.

We do not claim that primary elections have no place or serve no purpose. To the contrary: They test candidates’ abilities to excite voters, raise money, and campaign effectively; they provide points of entry for fresh faces, ideas, and constituencies; they force candidates to refine their messages and prove their stamina. What we do claim is that primaries are insufficient. By themselves, they are only half of a functional nominating system.[1] Without professional input, the nominating process is fraught with risks that turn filling the country’s highest office into game of chance. If Democrats don’t think it can happen to them, they are deluding themselves.

5) Perry Bacon Jr on the case for the Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party’s voters (not necessarily its leaders) are what we want America to be. They are diverse on a number of dimensions, unified around laudable goals such as reducing economic and racial inequality, and actively trying to make the United States the best nation it can be.

Because the news media tries to cover both parties equally critically, the story of U.S. politics today is often depicted as an extreme Republican Party facing an almost-as-extreme Democratic Party dominated by over-educated elites who are hostile to the values of average Americans and leave them little choice but to vote Republican. But that’s an attempt to turn a one-sided problem into a two-sided one.

Being a consistent, stalwart Democratic voter today should not be dismissed as being overly partisan or unthinking. It’s common sense.

What unifies Democrats isn’t education or race but policy stances and values. Around 80 percent of Democrats support the Black Lives Matter movementraising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hourstricter gun lawsfree public collegethe right to an abortionhigher taxes on the wealthy to redistribute income, and say that increased attention on America’s history of slavery and racism in recent years is a positive development.

Those are not out-there views. The majority of Americans agree with Democrats on nearly all of those positions.

More important, these are the morally correct stands. We tend to think the issues of our day are more nuanced than the issues of past eras. But being deeply committed to ending slavery was a controversial position in the 1850s, as was being deeply committed to ending racial segregation 100 years later. Today, describing the United States as having racial practices and systems that end up maintaining disparities between White and Black people even if individual people are not being explicitly racist (this is what critical race theory essentially argues) is so controversial that it’s being banned from being taught in public schools in conservative areas. But 50 or 100 years from now, I suspect people studying this period of U.S. history will conclude fairly easily that critical race theory was correct and that the bans on teaching it were just an assertion of White power over Black people.

And it’s not just that Democratic voters are on the right side of a host of issues, in a way that is obvious now and will be even clearer in a few decades. It’s also that the Democratic Party is very representative of the broader nation. The Republican Party is way more White (the GOP is about 85 percent White) than the country is (59 percent). About 60 percent of people who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 are White. About 60 percent of Democrats are Christian, Jewish or part of another major religion tradition, compared with around 70 percent of Americans nationally. About half of Democrats have a four-year college degree, as do about 40 percent adults overall.

6) You will not be surprised to learn I loved this in Persuasion, “Talking About John Fetterman’s Stroke Is Not Ableism”

But no matter how much journalists, activists, and the campaign might disagree, it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the health of a candidate running for one of the highest elected offices in the nation. Being a politician, especially a senator, is hard work. It requires long days negotiating with colleagues, listening to and giving speeches, sitting through hours of committee meetings, and the like. Physical and cognitive stamina are necessary to be effective. It’s valid for voters to ask whether or not Fetterman’s stroke would impact his job performance, and therefore his ability to effectively represent the people of Pennsylvania.


As recently as a few years ago, most people wouldn’t have denied that a stroke’s aftereffects are reasonable to consider when evaluating a Senate candidate. There is even a test case from 2016, when the Chicago Tribune explicitly cited Republican Senator Mark Kirk’s stroke as grounds for endorsing his Democratic challenger:

While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness. His health is a fundamental component of this race — a hotly contested matchup that could return control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. We aren’t physicians; Kirk’s doctor attests to his good cognitive health. But we are voters. And our reluctant judgment is that, due to forces beyond his control, Kirk no longer can perform to the fullest the job of a U.S. senator.

When this was published, there wasn’t any pushback of the sort that is coming now from the people and groups so aggressively defending Fetterman. The lack of outrage is likely because Kirk was a Republican and, more importantly, people recognized the validity of the Tribune’s concern. The unfortunate truth is that strokes can be life-changing events with aftereffects that never fully go away, and so asking questions about Fetterman’s health shouldn’t be out of bounds. The media and the Fetterman campaign should be addressing the issue head-on…

Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about the point at which honest concern veers into genuinely offensive prejudice. Unfortunately, Fetterman’s challenger Mehmet Oz, and some right-wing media figures, are guilty of the latter. Oz’s campaign joked that “if John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson made comments that were even more off-color when discussing the closed captioning that Fetterman used in the NBC interview: “Here you have one of the most famous politicians in the country merging with a computer … where exactly does the software end and John Fetterman’s consciousness begin?” 

It’s a shame that Fetterman’s allies have refused to differentiate between these types of attacks and earnest concern about Fetterman’s health. Though they might not realize it, those who fail to make this distinction are hurting their own cause; their public frustration has brought more attention to the issue of Fetterman’s health than the NBC interview alone ever would have. Likewise, a great number of Pennsylvanians are probably seeing charges of ableism and just rolling their eyes at yet another instance of tone policing from the left.  

7) I love Yglesias‘ distillation of politics here in his weekly Q&A:

Mark: Right wing activists on abortion and other issues are much more disciplined and strategic than left wing activists, whose theory of change is basically 1) throw soup on painting, 2) ???, 3) profit. But the voting bases are basically the opposite, where the GOP primary consistently elects insane people to lose winnable races, while Democratic primaries mostly nominate widely acceptable candidates. How do you explain this contrast?

If you go back to the origins of electoral democracy 200-300 years ago, you see a basic issue that emerges quickly — the median voter is always poorer than the national mean, so there is a potential electoral majority for redistribution.

There is a set of political forces — the right — that wants to resist that redistribution. And there is a contrary set of forces — the left — that wants to encourage it. The left’s strategy is to make this dynamic explicit and transparent — we the people can seize the levers of power and make ourselves better off. And the right’s strategy is to obfuscate — the left will denigrate God, endanger public safety, weaken our national defenses, and so forth. That’s politics boiled down to its essence.

But this in turn gives rise to the characteristic flaws of the left and the right.

On the left, that’s a kind of romanticism about politics that holds that every issue comes down to the masses versus narrow moneyed elites. It denies that the people themselves may just be wrong or short-sighted, so it believes that the answer to every problem is to raise the temperature with more dramatic stunts and “calling out.”

On the right, it’s a fondness for conmen and grifters. Because right-wing politics is organized as a conspiracy to mislead people into not voting to give themselves more money, it creates structures that elevate and reward hucksters and flim-flam artists. GOP politicians and conservative media figures elevated Donald Trump as a political spokesman in the Obama years not despite the fact that he’s a fraud and a liar but because he’s a fraud and a liar. They know it would be toxic to put a professor up there to tell people about the Chamley-Judd theorem and why we should cut capital gains taxes. You need someone who’s going to talk about Mexican rapists and how Obama is secretly Kenyan.

8) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this NatGeo take on plant-based meat:

A single hamburger is by all measures an unsustainable product, requiring 660 gallons of water to produce, including lettuce, tomato, and a bun. And yet we’ve come to expect this subsidized luxury, the result of tens of billions of dollars in annual U.S. reimbursements to the meat and dairy industries over the past decade (versus a fraction of that subsidizing fruits and veggies). None of meat’s true cost—ethical, environmental, or nutritional—really matters to most people, an Arby’s restaurant executive told me in 2019. He also vowed that his company would never sell plant meat, because, as he declared, “people are not going to pay more for something that tastes worse.”…

My biggest shock recently was a chicken breast made with mycelium, the subterranean heart of a mushroom. It looked like a giant breaded guitar pick but flavorwise was so indistinguishable from breaded baked chicken that I wondered, from a practical standpoint, why we still bother raising chickens (or portobellos for that matter). Yet no company is good at making everything. When I tried the same vendor’s steak, made from the same mycelium, it had the texture of an aged fillet but the odor of a subway pole.

I watch the plant-based meat industry like I watch the Chicago Bears—with marvel, skepticism, and frequent disappointment.

But truth be told, much of the world solved its meat addiction millennia ago. Examine cuisines across the world, and you’ll see that cultures have evolved to harvest protein without meat.

I am not simply referring to the original plant meats: tofu, commonly thought to have been invented during the Han dynasty circa 150 B.C., or seitan, thought to have been developed in the area even earlier. In Mexico, corn tortillas and beans marry the essential amino acids to create a complete protein. Across South America, it’s beans and rice. In Ethiopia, it’s lentils and the ancient grain teff. And in India, ground rice and black gram, a relative of the mung bean, ferment together into a batter used to make steamed idli cakes and crisp dosas.

It’s difficult to imagine the human sacrifices that brought our culture this incredible knowledge. How many poisonous things did we eat before we learned that rice was worth cultivating? How many generations were malnourished until a tribe realized that one family—stronger and healthier than the rest—always ate certain plants in combination?

The first amino acid wasn’t discovered until 1806 (from asparagus, by the way). The last wasn’t discovered for another 120 or 130 years. By the time scientists found the 20 amino acids inside a complete protein, cultures had been reverse-engineering them into their diets for thousands of years.

Through this historical lens, I will admit that I begin to see plant meat differently—and for what it really is.

Consider that when we talk of the pea protein inside any popular plant burger, it’s not made from garden-fresh green peas but from an ingredient many Americans ignore in the grocery’s ethnic foods aisle: the split yellow peas cooked into popular Indian dals. Here, the cutting-edge combination of pea protein and rice in a plant-based burger is not particularly novel or unique. Rather, it is what the West does best: We have reconstituted tradition into a logo.

Repackaging these staple proteins as “meat” is more than a hot business trend; it is the colonialization of the global diet. We’re Americanizing and corporatizing the very components behind historical, meatless world cuisines that have successfully and satisfyingly fed countless generations.

9) The Clearer Thinking “World’s Biggest Problems” quiz was so much fun!  I did pretty well, I think.

10) Here’s a fun graph from it:

Deadliest animals 01

11) And a cool video about nuclear winter:

12) Are Republican Senators better at politics than Democrats?  Maybe.  When pro-life interests pushed hard for a legislative push on banning abortion, they basically said, forget it, we have elections to win:

On September 19, Republican senators received a letter from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America warning them in no uncertain terms that they needed to publicly back a proposed national ban on abortion within days — or risk taking a hit on their prized candidate scores.

Few budged. [all bold in original] The pressure campaign angered Republicans, who are still wary of the politics around the bill, authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Within weeks, the same group had sent a follow-up letter toning down their demands and extending their deadline.

In the initial letter to lawmakers, obtained by Semafor, senators were given a deadline of September 30 — the date bolded, underlined, italicized and highlighted for emphasis — to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor.

At the point the letter was sent, Graham’s bill was co-sponsored by only three more senators, according to Congress.gov: Steve Daines, Marco Rubio and Kevin Cramer. That number ticked up to nine after SBA’s warning.

But Graham’s bill proved divisive within the party. Publicly, prominent Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they prefer to leave the issue to the states. Privately, there was frustration with the outside push from anti-abortion groups to back a national ban just as candidates were trying to find their footing in must-win races.

“We should be able to reasonably disagree on the best pro-life legislative strategy at this exact moment,” a Republican staffer familiar with the conversation around the SBA letter told Semafor. “Threatening pro-life senators with a reduced score unless they adopt a policy only previously discussed by SBA and Graham is divisive, and it’s going to make their scorecard look silly. SBA is overplaying their hand, and offices will remember this attempt to strong-arm us.”

The backlash seemed to have had an impact. In a follow-up letter on October 4, after the bill’s support had stalled, SBA made an apparent concession and told members they would “continue to add cosponsorship recognition” up to election day. They also noted they had “received questions” about how the bill would affect member scores, and that while “votes weighed most heavily” in their evaluations, they would also consider “the totality of each member’s pro-life activity.”

13) Nice interview with the always interesting David Hopkins on what a Republican Congress would do:

Graham Vyse: How do you understand the key aspects of the agenda U.S. Republicans will pursue if they win back power in Congress?

David A. Hopkins: Their agenda will have two parts: The first is about legislation and policy; the second, investigations. The Republicans’ legislative ambitions mostly relate to standard conservative policies, as they laid out in their Commitment to America policy platform introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—though there’s more of an emphasis there than there has been in the past on cultural issues. Of course, Republicans won’t be able to achieve any of their legislative ambitions on their own, given President Joe Biden’s ability to veto legislation. But they will be able to use the subpoena power of congressional committees—and the public attention you can get from that power in conducting oversight hearings—to investigate their political opponents, including the Biden administration, Biden’s family, and the technology companies they accuse of discriminating against conservative users.

The last time there was both a Democratic House and a Republican president in the United States, the president was impeached twice. The last time there was a Republican House and a Democratic president, the Republican speaker got run out of town by his own party. So if you’re the presumptive speaker in the next Congress, Kevin McCarthy, one lesson you’re likely to take from recent American history is that there will be tremendous pressure from within your party to attack major Democratic and liberal targets. Now, that might not mean impeaching President Biden, but it certainly might mean investigating his family—or trying to impeach a cabinet official or some other senior member of the administration. Another lesson you’re likely to absorb is that if you don’t satisfy your party’s quests for political retribution, you could easily end up on the firing line yourself..

Vyse: Would you say they’re facing more pressure from their base—and from conservative media—than they would have faced in the past?

Hopkins: Conservative media keeps growing more powerful within the Republican Party in America. It was stronger during Donald Trump’s presidency than it was during George W. Bush’s presidency. The Fox News host Sean Hannity essentially recruited Herschel Walker to run for the Senate in Georgia this year. [Walker, a former American football star and emphatically right-wing politician, is now the Republican nominee.] There’s less and less of a distinction between the Republican Party and the American conservative media universe. The conservative media is now functionally a part of the party in a lot of ways.

Republican members of Congress are going to need to show their base that they’re doing something. Actually passing legislation is going to be really tough, and a lot of what their base is demanding isn’t about passing legislation; it’s about waging a broad symbolic war against the left.

Vyse: Why is that?

Hopkins: Conservative voters have come to understand politics as largely a symbolic, cultural battle. They don’t necessarily want a lot of policy changes; that’s not necessarily what they’re asking for. A lot of what they’re asking for—and what conservative media encourages them to ask for—are gestures of superiority over Democrats and the left.

Similarly, a lot of what people liked about Trump didn’t have to do with his policies, and his lack of many legislative accomplishments in office didn’t reduce his appeal with his base. Much of Trump’s appeal came from his daily combativeness against liberals, the media, celebrities, and anyone who opposed him. That’s what his bond with his supporters was largely based on. [emphasis mine]

This dynamic wouldn’t have held true for a Democratic president. Contemporary Democratic voters have a different set of expectations for their leaders, which are much more centered on legislative accomplishments and policy achievements.

Now, I do think that the average Republican member of Congress has policy goals, even if those goals won’t necessarily get a lot of attention in conservative media. They want to try to cut taxes and regulations and to oppose liberal expansions of the government—and they may have some points of leverage, including around the U.S. debt limit.

14) Drum on the Republicans improvement in the polls:

Democrats seemed to be doing well this summer as their approval level surged following the Dobbs decision. But now Republicans are surging back. This is partly because the out party always does well in midterm elections, but David Brooks thinks there’s more to it:

The Trumpified G.O.P. deserves to be a marginalized and disgraced force in American life. But I’ve been watching the campaign speeches by people like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. G.O.P. candidates are telling a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-olds, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people.

Sure, I guess. But this is the farthest thing imaginable from something new. The details change from election to election, but this narrative began with Richard Nixon and became fully weaponized by Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s. It’s been part of the core Republican message for 50 years, and it’s been their nearly exclusive message for the past 20.

The most discouraging part of this is not that Republicans do it. What do you expect an opposition party to do? The discouraging part is that after 50 years Democrats still have no idea how to fight it.

It’s not that we lose every culture war battle. In fact, we win quite a few. But when Republicans sense weakness, they circle the wagons and beat the class war drums loudly and in unison. That’s what we don’t know how to fight.

Practically all the evidence suggests the United States is fundamentally a strong country right now. Probably the strongest in the world, and with the brightest future. It’s extraordinary to think of just how good a place it could be if only we could figure out a way to overcome the debilitating fear that so many people still have of progress and change.

15) I really enjoyed Katherine Wu on the bivalent boosters, especially about the under-studies randomness of side effect responses. I too have a spouse that is significantly annoyed by my minimal comparative side effects:

“Why don’t you feel anything?” my spouse howled at me from the bedroom, where his sweat was soaking through the sheets. “Sorry,” I yelled back from the kitchen, where I was prepping four days’ worth of meals between work calls after returning from an eight-mile run…

On average, then, mRNA-vaxxed people can probably expect to have an annual experience that’s pretty similar to the one they had with their first COVID booster. As studies have shown, that one was actually better for most people than dose No. 2, the most unpleasant of the injections so far. (The math, of course, becomes tougher for people getting another vaccine, such as the flu shot, at the same time.) There are probably two main reasons why side effects have lessened overall, experts told me. First, the spacing: Most people received the second dose in their Pfizer or Moderna primary series just three or four weeks after the first. That’s an efficient way to get a lot of people “fully vaccinated” in a short period of time, but it means that many of the immune system’s defensive cells and molecules will still be on high alert. The second shot could end up fanning a blaze of inflammation that was never quite put out. In line with that, researchers have found that spacing out the primary-series doses to eight weeks, 12 weeks, or even longer can prune some side effects.

Dose matters a lot too: Vaccines are, in a way, stimulants meant to goad the immune system into reacting; bigger servings should induce bigger jolts. When vaccine makers were tinkering with their recipes in early trials, higher doses—including ones that were deemed too large for further testing—produced more side effects. Each injection in Moderna’s primary series contains more than three times the mRNA packaged into Pfizer’s, and Moderna has, on average, caused more intense side effects. But Moderna’s booster and bivalent doses contain a smaller scoop of the stimulating material: People 12 and older, for instance, get 50 micrograms instead of the 100 micrograms in each primary dose; kids 6 to 11 years old get 25 micrograms instead of 50. (All of Pfizer’s doses stay the same size across primaries and boosters, as long as people stay in the same age group.) People who switch between brands, then, may also notice a difference in symptoms…

The fact that I get fewer side effects than my spouse does not imply that I’m any less protected. A ton of factors—genetics, hormone levels, age, diet, sleep, stress, pain tolerance, and more—could potentially influence how someone experiences a shot. Women tend to have more reactive bodies, as do younger people. But there are exceptions to those trends: I’m one of them. The whole topic is understudied, Locci told me.

16) Vox with a nice feature on the NC Senate race (even if they didn’t talk to me).

DURHAM, North Carolina — Before locals packed inside Beyú Caffè in downtown Durham on a Tuesday evening in October, Rheba Heggs arrived early to save her seat. A retired attorney, she had come to see Democrat Cheri Beasley, who could become the first Black person to represent North Carolina in the US Senate.

A Black woman herself, Heggs visited North Carolina as a girl, decades before she relocated to the state to be closer to her grandchildren, and well before desegregation was complete. In the front row at Beyú Caffè, she was giddy with caffeine, and hopeful about witnessing history.

“I listened to … [Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown] Jackson the last few days. That is something I never expected to see in my lifetime. … This is the result of all the women who have come before, not just Black women, pushing,” Heggs said. “If [Cheri Beasley] wins — when she wins, it means so much. But it also means that the Senate becomes a working institution.”

North Carolina hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than a decade, and most thought this year, with its tough climate for Democrats, would go the same way. But the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr is actually competitive, with FiveThirtyEight’s tracking poll showing Republican Rep. Ted Budd with a less than 2 percentage point lead over Beasley, former chief justice of the state supreme court. Both are now attracting big spending from their parties and outside groups, with the Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC announcing an additional $4 million investment Thursday.

Even with polls close, Beasley has a tougher task ahead than Budd in the closing weeks of the campaign. There’s the recent history of close federal races slipping away from the state’s Democrats and the long history of parties in power struggling during the midterms. She has to thread a needle to assemble a coalition of enthusiastic urban, suburban, and Black voters while mitigating losses in increasingly red rural areas. But Beasley may be close to doing that, and defying history despite initially tepid investment from national Democrats.

That said, the two polls out since this article (though, only two polls) aren’t great.

17) Monkey Cage, “Why resentful rural Americans vote Republican”

As the midterms approach, political observers are once again talking about the widening divide between urban and rural voters. Over the past 25 years, rural areas have increasingly voted Republican while cities have increasingly voted Democratic — a dividing line that has replaced the North/South divide as the nation’s biggest source of political friction. That divide will influence which party takes control of Congress in January.

But why are rural and urban voters so sharply divided? Some scholars and pundits argue that it comes down to who lives where: that the disproportionately White, older, more religious, less affluent and less highly educated voters who live in rural areas are more likely to hold socially conservative views generally championed by Republicans. Meanwhile, urban areas are filled with younger, more racially diverse, more highly educated and more affluent people who hold the more socially liberal views generally championed by Democrats.

While all that matters, our new research shows that place itself also matters. Unlike Republican voters in suburbs and the cities, rural voters care about what we might call “geographic inequity” — the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. Without these beliefs, the urban-rural political divide would not be as vast as it is today…

Political scientist Katherine Cramer defines rural resentment as focused on three things. First concerns redistribution, or the belief that rural areas don’t receive their fair share of government resources and benefits. Second is representation, or the perception that most politicians ignore rural residents. And third, a sense of being culturally overlooked, that rural lifestyles and cultures don’t get the same respect as those of urban and suburban communities…

18) Big thanks to BB for sharing this twitter thread on how hard it is to actually have a playoff series be a reasonably reliable indicator of who the better team is.  And this related post.

19) Remember the missing crabs.  Excellent thread on the interaction between climate and overfishing.

20) Interesting study on just how much YouTube actually sends people down rabbit holes.

Contrary to popular concern, we do not find evidence that YouTube is leading many users down rabbit holes or into (significant) ideological echo chambers via its recommendation algorithm. While we do not find compelling evidence that these rabbit holes exist at scale, this does not mean that some that the experiences of the small number of individuals who encounter extremist content due to algorithmic recommendations are not consequential, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t be worried about the possibility for users to find harmful content online if they go searching for it. However, as we consider ways to make our online information ecosystem safer, it’s critical to understand the various facets of the problem.

While our study was designed to test whether the algorithm leads users down rabbit holes, into echo chambers, or in a particular ideological direction, these outcomes could still emerge from user choice (recall that the recommendations in our study were collected without user choice). So, for example, a well known article by Baskhy et al. shows that Facebook recommended an ideologically diverse array of content but users consistently clicked on ideologically congruent content. In another study of YouTube, Chen et al. found that other platform features—subscriptions and channel features—were the primary path by which users encountered anti-social content.

Furthermore, other platforms, like 4chan, are hotbeds for extremist content. Indeed, if an individual is bound and determined to jump down a rabbit hole online, they can do so fairly easily. What we explore in our work is incidental exposure: that is, users who are perusing content and encounter harmful content by accident, subsequently leading them down a rabbit hole. While recommendation systems may play a small role in this type of incidental exposure, we do not find significant evidence that they drive consumption of harmful content (at least on YouTube). Other studies have found that harmful content is often encountered off-platform via link sharing, driving users to extreme places on YouTube via the internet at large rather than the recommendation algorithm. That’s what makes this problem tricky. If it’s not just the recommendation engine and instead it’s the entire online ecosystem, then how do we fix it?

Our findings are consistent with—and add additional evidence to—a growing body of research showing that YouTube is not consistently pushing harmful or polarizing content to their users but rather that users self-select into viewing the content when offered. Collectively, the research suggests that there is unlikely to be one technological panacea to reducing the consumption of harmful content on YouTube. Instead, we need to be sure we focus both on the amount of harmful content online as well as the (many) paths which users might take to this content. Focusing solely on the role of YouTube’s algorithm in advertently luring people to extremist content may make for great headlines, but our research suggests that this alone is not going to get us at the crux of the problem.

21) Important new research on the insidious impact of Fox:

COVID-19 vaccines have reduced infections and hospitalizations across the globe, yet resistance to vaccination remains strong. This paper investigates the role of cable television news in vaccine hesitancy and associated local vaccination rates in the United States. We find that, in the earlier stages of the vaccine roll-out (starting May 2021), higher local viewership of Fox News Channel has been associated with lower local vaccination rates. We can verify that this association is causal using exogenous geographical variation in the channel lineup. The effect is driven by younger individuals (under 65 years of age), for whom COVID-19 has a low mortality risk. Consistent with changes in beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine as a mechanism, we find that Fox News increased reported vaccine hesitancy in local survey responses. We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect. That, in turn, indicates that more differentiated characteristics, like the networks’ messaging or tendency for controversy, matter and that the effect of Fox News on COVID-19 vaccine uptake is not due to the general consumption of cable news. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.

22) Really cool post from Jeremy Faust on how ER docs think about treating their patients, “Two questions about headaches that ER doctors always ask—and the one they don’t, but should.”

And in general, an ER physicians’ job is sorting out which patients have “dangerous headaches” including subarachnoids, and which ones have bothersome headaches which need symptom control, but no further action. Again, most headaches (even extremely painful ones) are benign. But headaches that are different from anything a patient has previously experienced should be checked out.

Fewer than 1% of patients who come to the ER with a headache have a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If we ordered CT scans or MRIs on everyone with a headache, the system would break down and patients wouldn’t benefit. There aren’t enough scanners and not enough radiologists to interpret them. The system would grind to a halt, causing delays in diagnosing other time-sensitive conditions. Plus, we’d be harming patients by scanning all comers with headaches. Yes, the scans are low risk (though they add hours to an ER visit), but there’s radiation to consider, and the harms stemming from false positives (i.e., findings which look like disease, but are not). False positives often lead to further tests, leading to “medical misadventures.” Occasionally, a rare but significant complication occurs, which is particularly tragic when the procedure that caused it was unnecessary in the first place.

The goal is to only scan perhaps 10% of ER patients with headaches, and yet never miss a single dangerous condition. Doing this is a huge aspect of emergency medicine as a cognitive discipline.

23) Very good post from Yglesias, “Elon Musk’s business ties deserve more scrutiny”

Dozens of different controversies are swirling around Elon Musk at any given time, most of them related to people being angry and/or thrilled by the idea of a rich businessman vocalizing right-of-center political opinions.

What has gotten lost in this discourse is a more boring — but, I think, more significant — concern about his possible takeover of Twitter. This is because Musk, like most global manufacturing executives these days, has extensive business dealings with China. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it means Musk has to watch what he says regarding the PRC, not just in his personal capacity as a business executive but potentially in his institutional role as well. And he’s not alone; Apple TV+, for example, has a rule that none of its content can portray China negatively.

That’s an unfortunate but straightforward consequence of Apple TV+ being so small compared to Apple’s core business of making and selling smartphones: they compromise the content business for the sake of the manufacturing business. The good news for the world is that Apple TV+ is a very small share of western cultural output. They’re doing well with niche content (I love “For All Mankind”), and they won an Oscar for “Coda.” But it’s a small service in the scheme of things.

The problem for the world is that Twitter would be the Apple TV+ of Elon Musk’s enterprises, much smaller and less important than Tesla, so its interests will always be sacrificed to advance Tesla’s interests. And Tesla, like Apple’s hardware business, is deeply enmeshed in China. But Twitter is much more important to global politics and culture than Apple TV+. That’s the whole reason the Musk/Twitter saga has been such a subject of fascination. Twitter is one of a handful of other influential media properties — The New York Times, the three cable networks, AM talk radio stations — that exert a cultural and political influence that far exceeds their modest financial footprints. Apple executives are much less polarizing and controversial than Musk. But pretty much everyone on both the left and right knows they’re a bit squirrelly about China for business reasons. And if they bought the New York Times, that would have dire implications for the integrity of their China coverage.

Musk is mercurial and I won’t pretend to be able to predict what he will do. But I think his business relationships with China and tendency to take pro-PRC positions in his public statements raise some disturbing questions about the future of Twitter that deserve much more scrutiny relative to the concern that he won’t be strict enough in policing hate speech.

24) Our current federal marijuana policy is just stupid.  Marijuana should be legal.  But that does not mean its an unalloyed good and we should take its potential harms to youth seriously.  Leanna Wen:

The dominant narrative about marijuana seems to be that it is harmless. Indeed, 19 states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and young people are increasingly nonchalant about using it. One study shows nearly half of college students said they consumed marijuana. Eight percent reported they used it daily or nearly every day. One in 5 high school students used marijuana in the preceding 30 days.

But there are real dangers associated with the substance, as a 2020 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showsAbundant research demonstrates how exposure to marijuana during childhood impacts later cognitive ability, including memory, attention, motivation and learning. Studies have linked regular cannabis use in adolescents with lower IQs in adulthood and higher propensity to drop out of high school. This association persists in college-age students. One large study followed college students and found frequency of marijuana use to correlate with skipping classes, lower grade-point average and longer time to graduation.

Some studies have also linked frequent cannabis use in youths to increased rates of schizophreniadepression and anxiety. One Lancet article reported that smoking high-potency marijuana every day increased the chance of developing psychosis by nearly five times.

More research is needed on whether the causality could be the other way around — perhaps those predisposed to mental health diagnoses are more likely to seek out marijuana. But as Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist and the director of NIDA, told me, “Based on the data we already have, we can clearly say that marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for children and adolescents.”

25) Talk about overdue! “The US Is Finally Considering Protections Against Salmonella

Last week, responding to pressure from these groups, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it is considering reforms to the way it regulates the processing and sale of raw poultry, the largest single source of salmonella infections. If the changes go through, they will give that agency the power to monitor salmonella contamination in live birds and slaughterhouses, and the power to force producers to recall contaminated meat from the marketplace.

The agency doesn’t have those powers now, even though salmonella causes more serious illnesses than any other foodborne pathogen. It sickens about 1.35 million people in the US each year; about 26,500 of them end up in the hospital, and 420 die. At its mildest, it causes fever and diarrhea that can last up to a week. But because it can migrate to the bloodstream and invade bones, joints, and the nervous system, it often leaves victims with arthritis and circulatory problems.

Today, the USDA can only ask meat producers to voluntarily recall their products, and companies don’t always move as rapidly as the agency would wish. That leaves consumers vulnerable to threats they do not know exist…

It might come as a surprise that the USDA didn’t already have this authority. But that agency (which regulates meat, poultry, and eggs; the US Food and Drug Administration oversees everything else) can force recalls only for contamination with one specific, small group of organisms: E. coli O157:H7 and a few related strains, which make toxins that destroy red blood cells. It got that power during the shocked national reaction to a 1993 outbreak that sickened 732 kids who ate hamburgers from the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. That outbreak killed four and left 178 with kidney and brain damage.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Another thoughtful interview on Ukraine.

2) The NC Senate race hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but, people have finally started interviewing me on the matter.  This one kept in some decent quotes.

One theory for why the race has garnered so little attention from the national press is because “it’s a generic 2022 Senate race,” according to a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, Steven Greene.

He explains that both candidates are strong, drama-free and focusing mostly on national issues like inflation or abortion in their effort to replace Senator Burr, who is retiring at the end of his term…

This is in sharp contrast to races in states like Pennsylvania or Georgia, where big personalities and personal scandals are dominating the headlines.

“This whole time this race has been sort of ignored,” Mr. Greene tells the Sun. “You’ve got these interesting stories in Senate campaigns sucking up the oxygen but the truth is that in this race both Senate candidates are good.”

The Republican nominee, Congressman Ted Budd, has focused his campaign on inflation and criticizing President Biden. The Democratic nominee, a former chief justice of North Carolina’s supreme court, Cheri Beasley, has focused her campaign on protecting abortion rights.

Mr. Greene says “national Democrats realize that when any race could flip the Senate it’s crazy not to invest in a place as competitive as North Carolina.”

3) This is something else, “THE KILLING OF DOM AND BRUNO: My friend Dom Phillips and activist Bruno Pereira were shot dead in the Amazon. I traveled deep into the forest to find out why.”  Gift link so you can read it.

4) Interesting on many levels: “‘Eye of Sauron’: The Dazzling Solar Tower in the Israeli Desert: Looming over a remote village in the Negev, the Ashalim solar plant is, for some, a marvel of green technology. For others, it’s a boondoggle and an eyesore.”

ASHALIM, Israel — You shouldn’t look at i5) t directly, but that’s easier said than done. Drive through the crags and craters of the Negev Desert, and it’s difficult to miss: a piercing light, mounted on an austere gray tower, more than 800 feet high. It’s visible even from space.

This is the great solar tower of Ashalim, one of the tallest structures in Israel and, until recently, the tallest solar power plant in the world.

“It’s like a sun,” said Eli Baliti, a shopkeeper in the nearest village. “A second sun.”

To backers, the tower is an impressive feat of engineering, testament to Israeli solar innovation. To critics, it is an expensive folly, dependent on technology that had become outmoded by the time it was operational.

For Mr. Baliti and the 750 or so other residents of the nearby village, Ashalim, after which the plant is named, the tower is also something far more tangible. It is the ever-present backdrop to their lives, a source of frustration, occasional fondness and even pride, eliciting both ire and awe…

Using energy from the sun, the tower generates enough electricity to power tens of thousands of homes. Completed in 2019, the plant showcases both the promise and the missteps of the Israeli solar industry, and it is a case study in the unpredictable challenges that await any country seeking to pivot from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Idle overnight, the tower starts its day as the nearby roosters start their morning chorus — with the first light of dawn.

At that moment, the sun’s rays hit a sea of more than 50,000 mirrors positioned strategically in the dunes surrounding the tower. The mirrors reflect the light beams upward, concentrating them on a giant water boiler inside the tower’s turret…

The reflected sunlight, which creates the intense glare that dazzles anyone who looks directly at it, heats the water to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into steam. In a process known as solar thermal power, the steam is then piped down to ground level, turning turbines to create electricity.

There are more than 25 similar towers across the world, including in China, Spain and the United States — but only one, in the United Arab Emirates, stands taller.

To its champions, the Ashalim tower is a sophisticated, trailblazing endeavor that displays the prowess of Israeli solar energy experts.

Under a deal sealed in 2014 between the government and the consortium that built the plant, the companies agreed to pay construction costs of about $800 million. In return, the government promised to buy the tower’s electricity at a rate of about 23 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the Israeli electricity authority.

That was considered a fair rate at the time of the tender. But during construction, scientists made unexpected improvements to a simpler form of solar power — photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight to electricity without the need for mirrors or water. And those improvements have allowed solar panels to create power for about one-fifth of the cost of a solar-thermal tower, according to data published by the Israeli government.

In fact, solar panels became so profitable that Mr. Kroizer, the engineer who helped build the Ashalim site, left the solar thermal industry and now runs a company that focuses on panels.

5) You don’t even really want to read this, “What Will Happen to America if Trump Wins Again? Experts Helped Us Game It Out. The scenarios are … grim.”

Phase 3: Political violence and democratic collapse? It’s possible.

Trump did not cause the fissures slowly pulling the country apart. He’s a symptom — but he’s also an accelerant, one whose return to the White House could provoke the final breakdown. “Trump has been able to add to the narrative that if democracy doesn’t deliver what I want, then it must be a flaw in the democracy,” says Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, executive vice president of Freedom House, a nonpartisan democratic advocacy and research group, which has recorded a decade-long decline in political and civil rights in the United States that accelerated during Trump’s term, putting us on par with Romania and Panama.

Ideological, racial and ethnic tensions ramp up.

America is already gripped by an unprecedented level of what political scientists call “pernicious polarization” — stoked and exploited by Trump — and a second Trump term could make it dangerously worse, says Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor at Georgia State University who co-authored a study of the phenomenon for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. No other established democracy since at least 1950 has been so polarized for so long. In nearly half of the dozens of countries McCoy studied, the next step after pernicious polarization was either “electoral autocracy” — where votes are cast but don’t necessarily confer power — or outright “democratic collapse.” “It’s extremely worrisome; we’re in uncharted territory,” McCoy told me. “If Trump does come back, I think it would severely deepen the crisis that we face.”

Racism, including violent racism, is likely to increase. “The most immediate concern of Trump returning to the presidency is it would provide the greatest domestic terrorist threat of our time — violent white supremacist organizations — the ability to rebuild and spread and engage in even more violence and terror,” says Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and author of “How to Be an Antiracist.” At the same time, “I don’t think the people who are opposed to what Trump would try to build would just go lightly into the night. The ideological collision, potentially violent collision, political collision would just be unlike anything we’ve seen since the Reconstruction era.”

Trump would almost certainly return to the issue that first built his following in the GOP and still animates the party: harsh measures to counter illegal immigration. “America will not be known as the place of the Statue of Liberty but rather as the place where there’s a big wall at the border,” says Vanessa Cárdenas, deputy director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. She predicts he’ll find another domestic use for the military: deployment to the border with Mexico. Dehumanizing rhetoric and conspiracy theories about White people losing their status will lead to more mass shootings targeting immigrants, like the one in El Paso in 2019, she adds. “He will just continue to create these really hard moments, terrifying moments, for communities.”

6) Did I maybe not need that colonoscopy I had a few months ago? (Actually, not too bad and I made $450 by being part of two different trials).  Jeremy Faust explains some interesting new findings:

Colonoscopy: common in the United States. Not common elsewhere. The procedure aims at removing suspicious growths before they become cancerous. It’s an expensive test and—many are surprised to learn—not backed up by data from randomized clinical trials.

Still, the general medical consensus, in the US anyway, is that colonoscopy reduces colon cancer rates and saves lives. But we don’t know how well they work here (if at all) because it would be unethical to run a randomized clinical trial in which tests which would otherwise be recommended were denied to people randomly selected to be in a control group.

However, in places where views on colonoscopies are less rosy, such trials are possible; It’s fair to do a study when experts are unsure of whether the thing being studied actually helps (what researchers call “equipoise”).

Three such countries (Poland, Norway, and Sweden) have been running a massive trial on colonoscopy since 2009. Tens of thousands of people ages 55-64 were invited either to have colon cancer screenings or not. Researchers have been following the patients in databases ever since.

Today, researchers unveiled the first set of results from the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results were disappointing, though not indicative of total failure.

The hope had been that colonoscopy would decrease colon cancer mortality rates by 25%; those tested would have a 50% reduction in death (but only half of the people invited to have the tests actually would). Unfortunately, the researchers found that offering colonoscopy led to no decrease in cancer mortality (0.28% versus 0.31%, an insignificant difference that missed the trial’s goals). Ten years out, the risk of death from all causes was 11% in both those invited to have colonoscopy and in the control group. Colonoscopy did lead to an 18% reduction in cancer diagnoses, a finding smaller than anticipated. Surprisingly though, on average, the cancers found were not in earlier stages. An editorial published alongside the report described the overall findings as “discouraging.”…

Currently, US expert guidelines recommend colonoscopy or a stool-based test every 10 years starting at age 45 for average risk persons (or even earlier if a close relative has previously been diagnosed with colon cancer, or if the person has certain medical conditions including inflammatory bowel disease). It might be that some populations should start screening even earlier, say at age 40, while those in groups without such risks (i.e. like those in this latest study) might be able to wait until perhaps age 60. Time will tell.

For those without risks who still want peace of mind but aren’t sure whether colonoscopy is worth the trouble (or risk), other options exist. There’s sigmoidoscopy (which examines a small but important part of the colon near the end of the GI tract). There’s also stool-based testing. In fact, doctors in many nations like the U.K. don’t routinely offer colonoscopy not because they’re convinced it doesn’t work, but because less invasive testing of patients’ stool for signs of cancer are thought to accomplish almost as much as colonoscopy, but with less hassle, risk, and expense.

 
I’m 43 years old. I have no family history of colon cancer. I’m supposed to have a colonoscopy in a couple of years. Will I? I’m not sure. I’ll definitely have some kind of colon cancer screening. Whether it involves a fiberoptic camera (colonoscopy) or a fancy biochemical stool test, remains as-yet determined.

We doctors love screening patients for undiagnosed chronic diseases. It makes us feel like we’re getting ahead of problems. It works less often that we’d like. That said, I don’t think today’s results mean that colonoscopy is a failed paradigm for everyone. But we have work to do. We have to identify the people who need colonoscopy the most—and also work out the optimal timing to maximize the benefits.

More may not be better. But too little could also be a problem.

7) Concerning.  “The Biggest Judicial Races in the Country Are in North Carolina. Democrats Are Losing. Abortion, voting rights, criminal justice, gerrymandering—it’s all on the line in November.”

North Carolina voters will soon decide whether their state constitution will be defined by a slim Democratic majority that has broadened civil rights or by a new conservative majority that will narrowly interpret the rights of voters, criminal defendants, and people seeking abortion care.

Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the election for two seats now held by Democrats. Republicans have formed new groups to funnel money into the race. And national conservative organizations could drop millions on ads in the final days of the election.

A recent poll by WRAL in Raleigh suggests that one race is too close to call, though the Republican candidate, Trey Allen, holds a two-point lead. In the other race, the Republican candidate, Richard Dietz, holds a five-point lead, but nearly a third of voters are still undecided. Another poll by a conservative group claims the GOP candidates have a substantial lead, with fewer undecided voters. Early voting begins next week.

The two Democratic candidates, Justice Sam Ervin IV and Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman, have both reported raising more than $1 million, around twice as much as their Republican opponents. All four candidates, including Republican Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz, are running ads touting their qualifications and independence. They’ve mostly steered clear of discussing hot-button issues. But at a debate last month, Republican candidate Trey Allen, a former clerk to Chief Justice Paul Newby who’s challenging Ervin, did suggest that the current court hadn’t shown enough deference to the legislature.

The Republicans will be backed by millions in outside spending. A former member of Congress recently created a group called “Win the Courts” to help Republican candidates. A GOP campaign donor launched Stop Liberal Judges. And Justice Phil Berger Jr.—whose father is North Carolina Senate president and a defendant in voting rights cases at the high court—funded a political action committee that spent money in the GOP primary.

Conservative groups in D.C. are also pouring money into the race. A billionaire-backed organization called Fair Courts America has pledged to spend $22 million—a record-breaking sum—to help conservative high court candidates around the country. The Judicial Crisis Network, a dark-money group whose leader has lied about spending in high court races, could funnel money into groups that run ads attacking the Democrats.

8) Katherine Wu, “Pregnancy Is a War; Birth Is a Cease-Fire: Fetuses want more than their mother can safely give.”

Evolutionarily speaking, every human is a bit of a preemie. The nine months most babies spend in the womb are enough for them to be born with open eyes, functional ears, and a few useful reflexes—but not the ability to stand, sprint, climb, or grasp onto their parents’ limbs. Compared with other primates, our offspring are wobbly and inept; they’d probably get their butts kicked by infant lemurs, gorillas, and even tiny tarsiers, which all come out more fully formed. Think of it this way: Researchers have estimated that, for a newborn human to be birthed with a brain as well developed as that of a newborn chimp, they would have to gestate for at least an extra seven months—at which point they might run 27 inches from head to toe, and weigh a good 17 or 18 pounds, more than the heftiest bowling ball on the rack…

However you look at it, pregnancy is marked by intergenerational strife, if not an all-out war between an offspring and its parent. Birth, then, in addition to welcoming new life, can bring about an end to the harshest hostilities—and its timing partly reflects the terms of a tightly negotiated truce.

That idea might be tough to square with the common conception of pregnancy as “this joyous, wonderful, great time, with the fetus and the mom working toward the same shared interest,” Jessica Ayers, an evolutionary social psychologist at Boise State University, told me. The goals of child and parent, however, don’t always align, even when one is growing inside the other. Fetuses may maximize their chances of surviving after birth by extracting as many resources from their parent as they can. Their tool for mooching is the placenta—technically, the very first organ that any human produces, Ayers said—which allows a fetus to access its mother’s blood vessels and siphon out nutrients. The human placenta actually entrenches itself so aggressively into the uterine wall that it sometimes leads to severe hemorrhaging at birth, Ayers told me, when the tissue starts to rip away.

9) David French on the Alex Jones verdict

On Wednesday, two extraordinary things happened. First, a Connecticut jury awarded almost $1 billion to the families of eight Sandy Hook victims, imposing a massive legal liability on Alex Jones, a far-right media personality who had claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and that Sandy Hook families were “actors” who were “lying” and “manipulating” the public.

Second, many of the right’s most popular voices were outraged, but not at Jones. They viewed the verdict not just as a direct attack on free speech but as evidence of the power of what they called the “Regime”—the amorphous, elite American establishment—to cancel and persecute the American right.

Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, tweeted to his 1.7 million followers, “This isn’t about calculating real damages from Alex Jones. This is about sending a message: If you upset the Regime, they will destroy you, completely and utterly, forever.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted to her 1.1 million followers, “No matter what you think of Alex Jones all he did was speak words. He was not the one who pulled the trigger. Were his words wrong and did he apologize? Yes. That’s what freedom of speech is. Freedom to speak words. Political persecution must end.”

Kirk and Greene were hardly alone. In the hours after the verdict, person after person after person (all of whom possess immense social-media platforms) rallied to condemn the outcome.

Why? To understand the reflexive defense of Alex Jones, one has to understand the ethos of the new right. It is both aggressively punitive and perpetually aggrieved. It lives to smash its enemies in the mouth and “burn down” the American establishment. At the same time, the new right claims that it’s the real victim—as if its lies and conspiracies shouldn’t carry consequences.

But there’s more to the outrage than mere performance. The Jones verdict is a direct threat to the new right’s fabrication-industrial complex. The Connecticut trial represented one of a series of high-profile legal assaults on right-wing fabrications.

Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic have multiple defamation suits against Fox News, OANN, Newsmax, MyPillow’s Mike Lindell, lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and news anchors Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo. Two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Moss, have sued a popular far-right website called Gateway Pundit for a series of false claims that they committed voter fraud in Fulton County Georgia…

These cases all share characteristics with the Jones case. Far-right figures aggressively pushed blatant, easily disproved falsehoods and inflicted a catastrophic degree of misery on their targets. Consider these claims, from Freeman and Moss’s lawsuit:

At the height of Defendants’ campaign of disinformation, Ms. Freeman, at the recommendation of the FBI, fled her home and did not return for two months. On January 6, 2021, a crowd on foot and in vehicles surrounded Ms. Freeman’s house. Ms. Freeman was forced to shutter her online business when social media became impossible to navigate. Ms. Moss has suffered personal and professional consequences in her ongoing work on Fulton County elections. On at least two occasions, strangers showed up at her grandmother’s home and attempted to push into the house in order to make a “citizens’ arrest.”

I am a longtime First Amendment attorney. I’ve filed lawsuits defending the First Amendment in federal courts from coast to coast. I filed an amicus brief defending the First Amendment in a Supreme Court case this term. I know that defamation claims are subject to abuse, and that plaintiffs should have to clear a high evidentiary hurdle before they’re able to hold another person liable for their words…

Sadly, however, there is a market for misinformation. In a polarized nation, angry voters are willing to believe almost anything about their political opponents. They’re hungry for “news” that reinforces their convictions that their political enemies aren’t just wrong; they’re evil. The fabrication-industrial complex is lucrative.

When the market fails, law and justice can prevail. Defamation litigation can’t reform a grifter’s heart, but it can compensate a grifter’s victims, and successful cases tell the right-wing public that they cannot trust the media outlets that led them astray.

So, in a sense, Charlie Kirk is right. The Jones jury did send a message, but the message wasn’t about destroying dissidents; it was about seeking justice. Even though the final damages won’t be known until they’ve been reviewed by the courts and the case concludes, the message is still clear—grave harms require a serious response.

10) Jonathan Weiler on the completely morally depraved GOP:

The committee released footage yesterday of congressional leaders, led by Nancy Pelosi, responding to the events of January 6 as they were unfolding. As many others have observed, her calm and poise as others were literally hiding from violent mobs, was striking. Pelosi is seen working the phones with everyone she can get a hold of, from the Pentagon and elsewhere, to plead for reinforcements to be sent to the Capitol to repel the violent mob. Among the congressional leaders standing literally by her side while she was doing all this is Steve Scalise. Indeed, one gets the impression, watching this footage, that while Pelosi is trying to problem solve in a crisis, all of those otherwise powerful men standing around her were doing nothing so much as rocking back and forth like fearful children, anxiously waiting for mommy to fix it.

I digress. Scalise, as I said, was standing right there while all of this was happening. And yet, Scalise subsequently did this:

Scalise himself is a lying piece of garbage. But that’s not the thing that makes me so sick. It’s that this brazen lying, emanating from the highest reaches of the GOP, and pervading its ranks at every level, is what happens when a political movement prepares itself to seize power and to reject the very idea that any mechanism for holding it accountable is legitimate. When Steve Scalise stood in front of a microphone on June 9, the first day of the January 6 hearings and said there were “serious questions” about whether Nancy Pelosi tried to delay intervention, he was one of a tiny handful of people in the world who had direct, firsthand knowledge that the opposite was true. He raised those “questions” anyway, both because he’s a pathological liar and because his only priority is to remain in good standing in a world in which such lying is what actually signals that you are a member in good standing.

Humans adapt to their circumstances. We can’t be in crisis mode all the time. When we first confront change we might feel a sense of alarm. But eventually we get used to it. We’ve been watching a slow motion disaster overtake the Republican Party for a long time now. That has made it easier to adjudge these more recent, deeply disturbing developments as part of a longer incremental arc of change, in which this cycle of alarm and adaptation recurs. All of the ways we’ve gotten used to Trump, normalized him as so many have said, in spite of what’s deeply aberrant about him, is a striking example. And we all have our own breaking points, the moments or events that convince us that we’re in new territory. I’ve experienced my own constant swirl of alarm, perspective-taking, reevaluation and recalibration of where exactly we are on the road to authoritarianism. And I don’t know for how long we can limp along the edge of the precipice it feels like we’re on.

But this Scalise incident still feels shocking to me, somehow (I know, I know). He’s the second ranking member of the House GOP. As Joe Scarborough pointed out this morning, Scalise is a victim of political violence, having been nearly fatally shot in 2017. And he was standing right fucking next to Pelosi when she was trying protect everyone in building, including freaking Steve Scalise himself. I just can’t get over that.

And I fear as I never have before for a country in which such behavior is not only normal, but is a prerequisite to remain a leader of one our two major political parties.

11) Good stuff from Nate Cohn, “Who in the World Is Still Answering Pollsters’ Phone Calls?”

There are a lot of good points here, so let’s take it bit by bit.

How do we know where they are? Some pollsters (like us) call voters from a list of telephone numbers on a voter registration file, a big data set containing the names and addresses of every registered voter in most states. The addresses tell us “where they are” with a great deal of precision.

How do we deal with people who have moved? The voter file offers a solution to this problem as well. Once you’ve registered to vote in your new state, pollsters can call your phone number if it’s on the voter file — and call it regardless of whether it’s an in-state or out-of-state area code.

How do you account for the fact that few people answer? Before I respond, I want to dwell on just how few people are answering. In the poll we have in the field right now, only 0.4 percent of dials have yielded a completed interview. If you were employed as one of our interviewers at a call center, you would have to dial numbers for two hours to get a single completed interview.

No, it wasn’t nearly this bad six, four or even two years ago. You can see for yourself that around 1.6 percent of dials yielded a completed interview in our 2018 polling.

The Times has more resources than most organizations, but this is getting pretty close to “death of telephone polling” numbers. You start wondering how much more expensive it would be to try even ridiculous options like old-fashioned door-to-door, face-to-face, in-person interviews.

Call screening is definitely part of the problem, but if you screen your calls almost 100 percent of the time, it might be a little less of one than you might think. About one-fifth of our dials still contact a human. But once we do reach a person, we’ve got a number of challenges. Is this the right human? (We talk only to people named on the file, so that we can use their information.) If it is the right person, will he or she participate? Probably not, unfortunately.

OK, back to the question: What do we do to account for this? The main thing is we make sure that the sample of people we do reach is demographically and politically representative, and if not, we adjust it to match the known characteristics of the population. If we poll a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by two percentage points, and our respondents wind up being registered Democrats by a four-point margin, we give a little less weight to the Democratic respondents.

We make similar adjustments for race; age; education; how often people have voted; where they live; marital status; homeownership; and more. As I explained last month, we believe our polls provide valuable election information. Is all of this enough? After 2020, it’s hard not to wonder whether the people who answer the phone might be more likely to back Democrats than those who don’t answer the phone. We’re conducting some expensive multi-method research this fall to help answer this question, to the extent we can. We’ll tell you more at a later time.

What about cellphones? Finally, an easy one: We call cellphones and landlines! About three-quarters of our calls go to cellphones nowadays — including nearly every call to young people.

12) I don’t remember how or why I came across this research this week.  But, yeah, I do like that it confirms my priors that a lot of anti-immigrant views are flat-out racism, 

Using two survey experiments, I reconsider the role that the racialized physical traits and level of assimilation of salient immigrants play in shaping attitudes toward immigration. In the first experiment, a nationwide sample of 767 White, non-Latino adults was exposed to a story about a family of undocumented immigrants living in the Unites States who were at risk of deportation. Subjects were randomly assigned to view a version of the story in which the immigrants were depicted with light skin and stereotypically Eurocentric features, or dark skin and stereotypically Afrocentric features, and their level of assimilation to mainstream American culture was suggested to be high or low. Similar to previous research, the study’s results show that assimilation has a direct effect on attitudes toward immigration. Yet in contrast to previous studies, the racialized physical traits proved to be a much more important factor in shaping attitudes toward immigration than previously demonstrated. The role of an immigrant’s racialized physical traits was replicated in a second survey experiment of 902 White, non-Latino adults. Overall, the findings shed new light on how media depictions of immigrants are affecting immigration attitudes, as well as the nuanced ways that race continues to shape public opinion in the United States today.

13) I had been vaguely aware of some indigenous people mass graves in Canada scandal.  More recently, I’ve learned this might not be all it seemed. It certainly seems clear that mainstream media was much too credulous:

“The discovery of unmarked graves at a former Residential School in [the province of British Columbia] and the countrywide awakening it set off have been chosen as Canada’s news story of the year by editors in newsrooms across the country,” reported the CBC last December. It was an apt choice—though not necessarily for the reasons described by the author.  

Canada’s unmarked-graves story broke on May 27th, 2021, when the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the existence of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data that indicated regularly spaced subterranean soil disturbances on the grounds of a former Indigenous Residential School that had operated in Kamloops, BC between 1893 and 1978. In addition, the First Nation’s leaders asserted their belief that these soil disturbances corresponded to unmarked graves of Indigenous children who’d died while attending the school.

The story became an immediate sensation in the Canadian media; and remained so for months, even after the GPR expert on whom the First Nation relied, Sarah Beaulieu, carefully noted that the radar survey results didn’t necessarily indicate the presence of graves—let alone graves that had been unmarked, graves of Indigenous people, or graves of children. Contrary to what many Canadians came to believe during that heady period, GPR survey data doesn’t yield X-ray-style images that show bodies or coffins. What it typically shows are disruptions in soil and sediment. Investigators then need to dig up the ground to determine what actually lies underneath…

Canadians were being told that the old orchard in Kamloops where the GPR data had been collected was a crime scene—a site of mass murder, and the final resting place of 215 child homicide victims. As I’ve reasoned elsewhere: If you told Canadians that, say, 215 murdered white children were buried somewhere in Toronto, or Ottawa, or Vancouver, there’d be investigators and police crawling all over the place, looking for remains that could be tested and identified. And so I naturally assumed the same thing soon would be happening in Kamloops.  

Many of the abuses identified at the Kamloops Residential School and others like it date to the early decades of the Cold War. This means that some of the perpetrators of these claimed child homicides—that is, the staff who worked at these schools—could still be alive. Perhaps their crimes might even be studied and solved by inspecting the bones of children buried alongside one another. Surely, no effort would be spared to pull evidence from the ground immediately, so that criminal cases could be prosecuted before the passage of time allowed the killers to escape accountability for their racist bloodbath.

But then the weeks and months passed in 2021. Spring turned to summer, then summer to fall, and fall to winter, and … nothing happened. It’s now been 14 months since the original announcement was made about presumed graves in Kamloops, and no physical evidence has been unearthed. No graves. No corpses. No human remains. In fact, as far as I can tell, there doesn’t even seem to be any systematic effort by police or First Nations leaders to commence such investigations. Eventually, it began to strike the general public that this was a very odd way to treat a mass murder scene, even as pundits and politicians refused to change their early, apocalyptic tone…

Which brings us back to that CBC announcement in December, which informed us that “the discovery of unmarked graves” had been Canada’s biggest news story of 2021. That very statement encoded the polite lie, which most Canadian journalists have been encouraged to repeat in one form or another, that some known number of “unmarked graves” had well and truly been “discovered.” The truth was (and remains) that the number of confirmed graves remains at zero. No one, to my knowledge, has found any human remains—i.e., body parts or tissue from decaying corpses—either at Kamloops or any of the other former Residential Schools, through the use of GPR.

14) This is really good, “The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement” (gift link)

Most students in psychology and psychiatry programs today are too young to have any firsthand memory of the moral panic engendered by the recovered memory movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was a time when therapists proudly advertised their ability to help clients unearth supposedly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse; the accusations that followed shattered families and communities across the country.

The belief that such memories could be repressed and then recovered through special techniques was widespread among mental health professionals for well over a decade. In books and on television, therapists portrayed themselves as the first generation of healers to understand both these mechanisms of repression and how to unlock them without contaminating the story that emerged. The results were dramatic: Patients often recovered abuse memories that began in infancy and lasted for decades. Some came to believe not only that they had repressed memories but also that their minds had fractured into many personalities to manage the pain and betrayal.

With a few decades’ perspective, it’s clear this level of confidence led to disastrous results. In 2005 a Harvard psychology professor, Richard McNally, called the recovered memory movement “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.” …

Unfortunately, many of the mistaken assumptions about memory and trauma remain part of popular culture. Among clinical psychologists, the belief that the unconscious mind can block out memories of trauma is commonplace. Memory researchers and scientists, for the most part, remain highly skeptical. In 2019 a group of seven memory scientists, including Dr. Loftus, concluded that therapists were still using techniques that had the potential for creating false memories and that the practice continued to pose a substantial risk, “potentially leading to false accusations and associated miscarriages of justice,” they wrote. While the so-called memory wars rage on over the issue of repression, clinicians and their professional organizations have largely “feigned forgetfulness” of the recovered memory movement’s excesses, as the author and psychology professor Richard Noll once wrote.

Recently, I spent an afternoon watching various TikTok channels under the hashtags #recoveredmemory and #dissociativeidentitydisorder. The ideas and themes I heard, mostly from young adults, were disturbingly familiar. Belief in memory repression and the idea that the mind can split into dozens of distinct personalities are alive and well. Across social networking sites, I also found a maelstrom of information, opinion and conversation about mental health topics, including Tourette’s syndrome, gender dysphoria, attention deficit disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicide. The internet as we know it didn’t exist during the rise of recovered memory therapy, but it is a powerful cultural force now and may be ground zero for the creation of new symptom pools, new looping effects andnew ways of being.

What takes place on social media will, no doubt, influence what develops during private therapy sessions. Effectively treating this new generation will require an understanding of how culture is once again shaping the symptoms of patients and the certainties of healers. Without that knowledge, mental health professionals will risk engendering new hysterias that they can neither control nor cure.

15) I really liked this from Yglesias, “Europe should look at hard rationing and price controls for natural gas”

Putin is not Hitler and contemporary Russia is not Nazi Germany.

But Europe is in basically a “wartime” situation. Russia invaded Ukraine, and Europe has been a willing participant in a western-led response whose key modes are (a) denying Russia access to crucial imports it needs to sustain its military-industrial complex, and (b) provisioning Ukraine with a quality and quantity of military hardware that it could not possibly afford on its own. Russia is retaliating as best it can by attempting to wreck Europe’s economy.

And Europe ought to respond to this geopolitically induced crisis in a collective, strategic way — with economic consequences rather than a purely economic catastrophe that should be addressed with market tools.

You can’t leave it up to the market

 

Of course, one thing you could do is say, “well this shock is nasty, but the best course of action is just to leave things up to the free market which will make the optimal adjustment.”

In a lot of contexts pure market solutions are underrated, but not in this one. The big issue is that people die if they can’t get their homes warm enough in the wintertime, but also normal people prefer to keep their homes at a temperature that is much, much, much warmer than what is needed for survival. And people put a very high value on that kind of comfort. An affluent person is going to respond to an energy price shock by drawing down savings while continuing to heat his home to 20 degrees, or maybe budge just a bit down to 19.2 And a person who’s seriously pinched by energy costs is going to cut back on non-energy luxuries before turning down the heat. That relatively inelastic demand on the part of the more affluent segments of society means that people with lesser means can find themselves pushed below subsistence heating levels to the point where their health is in serious danger. This is part of a broader set of phenomena where background conditions of inequality make pure market allocations inefficient from a welfare perspective, and it’s why — as far as I can tell — every government is trying to find ways to shield the poorest from the full impact of the gas crunch.

But the other issue is that gas is both a household consumption item and also an input to industry.

If the input costs of industrial production go up, so will the prices. To an extent, those higher prices will be passed on to consumers. But those industrial outputs are also traded globally. So European industrialists will have only a limited ability to pass costs on to consumers who will instead switch to foreign products. Now of course the world as a whole has only limited production capacity, so a newly high-cost European industry won’t totally vanish. But it will shrink considerably if market forces are allowed to play out. That’s going to mean lots of workers losing their jobs and then needing extra support from the welfare state.

To the extent that we think higher prices are a new normal that the whole continent needs to adapt to, that’s fine, and a combination of flexible markets with a generous welfare state is the best option. But to the extent that we think higher prices are a wartime emergency that will fade away as Europe responds with more non-gas energy sources and more LNG terminals, then it’s very inefficient to incur all these costs of layoffs on the back-end through the welfare state. What you ought to do is spend money to keep the factories running and keep people employed.

So you end up with strong cases for subsidizing both industry and the poor…

If you think back to World War II and the limited oil supply situation, the government articulated some clear priorities.

They needed oil to actually prosecute the war — to keep tanks and planes and ships going. They also needed oil for war production, including both direct use in factories but also the whole long supply chain that benefits from trucks and tractors. Last and very much least, they wanted civilians to be able to have an okay quality of life.

Europe is not currently at war with Russia, but they’re not not at war. The West is deploying a kind of blockade on Russia that in the past might have been viewed as an act of war. Russia is not retaliating with force because they fear NATO’s clear conventional military superiority. Meanwhile, it would actually be much cheaper and easier for NATO to deliver a battlefield victory to Ukraine than it is to try to engineer victory through roundabout means. But the U.S. and its allies aren’t doing that because we fear Russia would escalate to nuclear war. These are reasonable fears on both sides. But the lack of an official war tends to obscure the extent to which there is a wartime economic situation, especially in Europe where the physical infrastructure leaves them subject to this Russian gas embargo.

In an actual war, I think it would be a no-brainer that you need to:

  • Use rationing to force every household to keep their homes uncomfortably cold.

  • Use price controls to guarantee that even the poorest can keep their home survivably warm.

  • Ensure that industry can continue to use all the gas it needs.

  • Deploy the government’s fiscal resources to subsidize energy production or conservation, not energy consumption.

The fact that it’s not officially a war is not, I think, super-relevant to the analysis, and it’s still what Europe should be doing. Keeping people alive is more important than keeping factories running, but keeping factories running is more important than keeping people comfortable. There should be a system of explicit rationing and price controls that keeps home energy cheap for everyone but also forces everyone to use way less. Then on the industrial side, energy should continue to be allocated by price (so it flows to the highest-value uses), but the hard constraint on household consumption should keep it relatively abundant.

The goal should be for non-subsidized household energy spending to actually go down rather than up through a mix of price controls and rationing, so that everyone — no matter how poor — can easily afford to stay warm enough, and nobody — no matter how rich — is allowed to get comfortable. Well-being will decline (nobody likes to be chilly at home), but both industrial production and domestic service spending will keep chugging along so the overall economy will survive.

Public spending should go to LNG terminals and reopening nuclear plants and building new wind and solar. But it should also go to broadly-construed conservation. That means insulation and heat pumps, but it also means just keeping people warm. Europeans probably don’t need the government to buy them all hats and sweaters, but there are sleeping bags rated for use at below-freezing temperatures, and subsidizing their purchase is a much better use of limited fiscal capacity that subsidizing gas consumption.

Now I obviously understand why no European elected officials want to say “as a result of our foreign policy choices, we now all need to be cold all winter.” But something bad has to happen as a result of those foreign policy choices. And to make the opposite choice and say Russia can conquer nearby countries by threatening to cut off gas exports would be extremely destabilizing. Putin isn’t going to get the West to break this winter, and as a result of new investments, things will only get better for Europe in winters to come — dependence on Russian gas was a policy choice that is now being reversed. But for the short term, there needs to be some pain. And the least-bad form of pain is a hard rationing scheme.

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Ipsos/NPR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, they continue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is your body fat fit?

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

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

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

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

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

Why fat cell size matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. That we badly need criminal justice reform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23) 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I do some strength training, but, I suspect not enough for optimal benefit.  I need some study to tell me the minimum 🙂 “People Who Do Strength Training Live Longer — and Better
A consensus is building among experts that both strength training and cardio‌ are important for longevity.”

Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, one of which is that it might help you live longer. But what’s still being determined are the types and duration of exercise that offer the most protection.

In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while doing either aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of dying during the study’s time frame, regularly doing both — one to three hours a week of aerobic exercise and one to two weekly strength training sessions — was associated with an even lower mortality risk.

Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a workout schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the authors of the study.

 

The paper is the latest evidence in a trend showing the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health…

After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15 percent lower mortality risk. Mortality risk was 27 percent lower for those who did three hours a week.

But those who also took part in one to two strength-training sessions per week had an even lower mortality risk — a full 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This was roughly the difference between a nonsmoker and someone with a half-a-pack-a-day habit.

2) This is really good.  More to come on this topic, “Richard Reeves on Why Men are Struggling
Yascha Mounk and Richard Reeves discuss the cultural and economic challenges facing boys and men and how to fix them.”

Mounk: It’s striking just how much of a gender gap there now is in American politics, and not always on the topics where people assume there is one. In broader questions like, “Do you prefer Democrats or Republicans,” and “how do you feel about Donald Trump?” and so on, there’s now a very strong gender divide, which I believe is actually stronger among young people. A few years ago, everyone was debating about Jordan Peterson, which some listeners may have strong feelings about. I always thought that he said some things that were sort of straightforwardly true, along with many things that I disagreed with. But there was a visceral moment of media panic about his rise. And that really was the fault of everybody on the center left, because we were not able to speak in clear and orienting ways to young people who may be trying to look for a path. It would have felt very strange for anybody in my sort of social milieu to say, “I’m going to write a book that tries to appeal not exclusively, but in some ways primarily, to young men who are a little bit lost in life, and tell them: here are some basic rules for how you should go about conceiving of a meaningful life.” If we’re not filling that space, it is unsurprising that somebody with whom I have some robust political disagreements, would end up becoming a star by moving into that empty space.

Reeves: It’s a vacuum. Anybody that doesn’t take seriously the appeal of people like Jordan Peterson, especially to young men, just isn’t paying attention. I treat some of his work in my book and have many criticisms of what he’s done, but I also have a great deal of admiration in some ways for the fact that he does make a lot of these young men feel listened to. He clearly has genuine compassion for them. I don’t like where his ideology goes, and he thinks out loud, so he’s bound to say something stupid or crazy. Every ten sentences are going to contain three horrific ones. But there is this reservoir of unmet questions and a sense of dislocation and disequilibrium which he has been able to exploit as a public intellectual, but which successful populists are also able to exploit. 

We have a Gender Policy Council now in the White House. They just put out a report, and there isn’t a single gender inequality it treats that goes the other way, not a single one. For me, that’s just a huge missed opportunity. Let’s say 90% of the things discussed were still about women, but it also talked a bit about deaths of despair, incarceration, how boys have fallen behind in education—just two or three issues. I think that would have paid massive political dividends. I don’t think that’s quite permissible on the left right now, and so it is leaving this gap, and I really do fear that it could get worse before it gets better. As we approach the midterms, I feel that the Democrats are doubling down in some ways on their current agenda, which I think may have the effect of worsening the gender divide even more than we’ve seen it in recent years.

3) It really seems amazing what psychedelic drugs are capable of when used therapeutically, “Psilocybin Therapy Sharply Reduces Excessive Drinking, Small Study Shows”

4) Really good piece from Jesse Singal on affirmative action in higher ed.  Its supporters need to 1) stop eliding how deeply unpopular it is with the American public, and 2) stop acting as if everyone who opposes it is “racist.”  And 3) come up with actual solutions.

I would question the utility of this framework in this particular setting. Yes, race-based affirmative action (let’s just call it RBAA so I don’t have to keep typing that) is likely to be dealt a crippling blow by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court set to hear a pivotal case on the subject this autumn, and yes, white people who feel racial resentment, and/or who are outright racists, are vehemently opposed to RBAA.

But these aren’t the only people who dislike RBAA. The fact is, it’s an unpopular policy, full stop. The racial group that most favors RBAA is black Americans, and even there, 59% say race should not be a factor in college admissions at allaccording to Pew polling from earlier this year:

Among all other racial groups, the numbers are significantly worse. This is a policy that enjoys no broad support among anyone, and that includes the groups most likely to benefit from it…

So even if RBAA didn’t face constitutional challenges, there’d still be the fact that, rightly or wrongly, people don’t like it. You’d think a column by two scholars very concerned about the potential extinction of this policy would make some reference to its durable unpopularity, and perhaps offer a strategy or two for convincing voters to feel more warmly toward it. They do neither: They present a flattened account in which supporting RBAA is supporting racial justice and opposing it is opposing racial justice. Never mind the fact that opponents of RBAA range from far-right white racists to… the average black voter…

There’s an ingrained breezy entitlement in some liberal intellectual spaces that mucks everything up. If people don’t agree with our preferred racial justice policies, it’s because they’re racist. Okay, whatever, they’re racist — what are you going to do about it? Ummmm, more ethnic studies? Wait, so your argument is that affirmative action is on its deathbed because society is too racist, but you think ethnic studies is part of the answer instead? Or what about if, like, rich universities gave money to poor kids? Okay, but isn’t that already a thing and don’t you worry that — Also: Let them catch up.

I don’t think this represents a very serious effort to address what is, in fact, a very serious problem.

5) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “What’s a “Progressive”, Anyway?

Progressivism makes sense to me as a continuation of the constant project of improving society. Liberalism arose mostly in response to government tyranny, which was a problem from the beginning of human history until…actually, it’s still a problem. It will likely be a problem forever — this is why I consider the negative rights at the core of liberalism to be fundamental. Progressives probably should have extolled those rights as essential instead of trashing them as insufficient. But even so, the creation of a new movement that responded to new problems was a good thing, and progressives got more right than they got wrong.

Bottom line: Gaining a better understanding of progressivism did not cause me to think that progressivism is, itself, a problem. I found progressivism to be completely compatible with liberalism. Authoritarian is not compatible with liberalism; it’s pretty much liberalism’s polar opposite. Same with Marxism; liberals balk at that level of government control, not to mention the monochromatic color scheme. But I see nothing inconsistent about a person calling themselves a “liberal progressive”. In fact, I think that would be a somewhat-accurate descriptor of what I am.

The problem — to the extent that there is a problem — is the absence liberal principles. I think that much intra-left tension these days is between progressives who don’t hold liberal principles and progressives who do. Those who don’t hold liberal principles are fine with things like steamrolling due process in the prosecution of sexual assault claims and the extreme narrowing of the bounds of acceptable speech. Those who do hold liberal principles are bothered by these things and have written many biting Twitter threads saying so. It may be true that the righteous tenor of progressive rhetoric attracts zealots, but as far as I’m concerned, the progressive label is a red herring. To me, the great political divide continues to be between liberals and everyone else, and the specific flavor of a person’s illiberalism doesn’t matter much.

6) Really good essay on how our blood plasma “donations” exploit the poor.  

7) Rod Graham on wokeness and post-materialism:

So what does the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map tell us about wokeness?

Countries composed of people that reject traditional life patterns and value self-expression, countries towards the upper right corner of the map, are more likely to develop ideas and movements that we see as woke. This is because people in those countries care about the quality of life (symbolic aspects) as opposed to the quantities of life (material aspects).

I’ll give three examples:

  1. The emphasis on language. The intolerance that is often levied at woke people is essentially an attempt to protect people from the negative impact of words. In woke nations, movements can arise to abolish words like “midget” because it is seen as a slur. The material benefits to using a different word are little to none, but there are symbolic benefits of restricting the use of that word. The word can be disrespectful or hurtful to the person it is directed at.

  2. The emphasis on diversity. Generally, all groups that have not been traditionally the focus – meaning not white, heterosexual, Christian, and male – are celebrated and platformed. The 1619 Project is about platforming the experiences related to black people in the United States. This emphasis on diversity also extends to nontraditional lifestyles like polyamory or jobs that have been stigmatized like sex work.

  3. The emphasis on thought patterns. Concepts like heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and implicit bias are all about thinking differently. Sure, recognizing that hypermasculine behaviors can be damaging can lead to policy changes. But at its core, the idea is about changing how we think about masculinity. The same goes for ideas like white fragility, where white people are asked to think differently about how they engage in conversations about race…

So why is the West woke?

Well, it is not because of a few critical theorists in academia producing ideas about transphobia or systemic racism. Nor is it because white liberals have taken over our institutions.

Wokeness is likely a result of living in a wealthy, modern country. When people do not need tradition, are not religious, and have their material needs taken care of, they will focus on the quality of their lives. The West has had two generations of people who have lived in a world of relative comfort. We have had no major wars. With the end of the Cold War, we didn’t even have an enemy. Elections have been, for the most part, peaceful. Crime and violence are still a problem but have been steadily declining. Even with downturns and recessions, the standard of living in Western countries has been steadily improving.

In these conditions, people can focus on the quality of life. This is what has caused wokeness, and it is a good thing. Wokeness is an indicator of success.

8) David Brooks on the awfulness of open plan offices.

9) An electric car with a 600 mile range sounds great. “A New Approach to Car Batteries Is About to Transform EVs: Auto companies are designing ways to build a car’s fuel cells into its frame, making electric rides cheaper, roomier, and able to hit ranges of 620 miles.”

If you want to build an EV with better range, slapping in a larger battery to provide that range is not necessarily the solution. You would then have to increase the size of the brakes to make them capable of stopping the heavier car, and because of the bigger brakes you now need bigger wheels, and the weight of all those items would require a stronger structure. This is what car designers call the “weight spiral,” and the problem with batteries is that they require you to lug around dead weight just to power the vehicle.

But what if you could integrate the battery into the structure of the car so that the cells could serve the dual purpose of powering the vehicle and serving as its skeleton? That is exactly what Tesla and Chinese companies such as BYD and CATL are working on. The new structural designs coming out of these companies stand to not only change the way EVs are produced but increase vehicle ranges while decreasing manufacturing costs.

According to Euan McTurk, a consultant battery electrochemist at Plug Life Consulting, since technologies such as cell-to-pack, cell-to-body, and cell-to-chassis battery construction allow batteries to be more efficiently distributed inside the car, they get us much closer to a hypothetical perfect EV battery. “The ultimate battery pack would be one that consists of 100 percent active material. That is, every part of the battery pack stores and releases energy,” he says.

Traditionally, EV batteries have used cell modules that are then interconnected into packs. BYD pioneered cell-to-pack technology, which does away with the intermediate module stage and puts the cells directly into the pack. According to Richie Frost, the founder and CEO of Sprint Power, “standard modules may fit well within one pack but leave large areas of ‘wasted’ space in another pack. By removing the constraints of a module, the number of cells can be maximized within any enclosure.”

10) Humanities degrees are in freefall:

But something different has been happening with the humanities since the 2008 financial crisis. Five years ago, I argued that the humanities were still near long-term norms in their number of majors. But since then, I’ve been watching the numbers from the Department of Education, and every year, things look worse. Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s. Student majors have dropped, rapidly, at a variety of types of institutions. Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities (with one interesting exception) and related social sciences, they have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom…

The most reliable indicators about the humanities in American colleges are reports that all colleges and universities make to the Department of Education. These run back to about 1950. Since then, the humanities have seen three eras. The first ran from 1955 to 1985. As normal schools around the country, set up to educate teachers, transformed into comprehensive universities, men and women alike poured into English and history majors; then, when the economy soured and the growth of higher education slowed in the 1970s, the boom turned to bust, and humanities majors collapsed nationwide. The second phase began around 1985 and ran to 2008. This was a long period of stability; majors in the four largest (and easiest to track over the long term) humanities majors held steady, with modest fluctuations. Since 2008, the crisis of the humanities has resumed, with percentage drops that are beginning to approach those of 40 years ago. Unlike the drops of the ’70s, though, there’s no preexisting bubble to deflate. And there’s no compelling demographic explanation. Five years ago, it was reasonable to look at these numbers and conclude that the long-term story is all about gender. Men majored in humanities fields at the same rate in the 1990s as they had in the 1950s, while women, seeing more options in the workforce, increasingly turned to majors in business fields. But the drops since the financial crisis can be seen among men and women, across racial groups, and in a wide variety of universities.

11) Good free Yglesias piece from a month ago, “We should expect more — and worse — pandemics to come”

People who like to follow Covid news have started paying attention to wastewater monitoring because it’s a great way to get broad-spectrum information in close to real time.

What we ought to be doing is setting more communities up with routine wastewater monitoring and building systems that don’t just check for a particular virus but all unusual DNA. That way you could find a virus you’re not already looking for. We should be investing in ventilation (which everyone says) but also basic testing of commercially available air purifiers. You should be able to find out easily which one is really the best at clearing out viruses, and that should become a basis for commercial competition.

Recent research indicates that far-ultraviolet light can kill viruses and make indoor space as safe as outdoor space. I’d want to run three or four more rigorous studies on that before I put far-UVC lights everywhere, but we should do that research and, if it pans out, put the lights everywhere. And we should be paying people lots of money to design new kinds of masks that are as effective as KN95s but more comfortable, or equally comfortable but more effective, or ideally both. There ought to be huge prizes for inventing masks like that and advanced purchase commitments to get them from manufacturers.

We also ought to have spacesuit-type supersuits lying around so that we can keep basic social infrastructure up and running in the event of a huge catastrophe.

And finally, we need to put the pedal to the metal on the universal coronavirus vaccine project and then work with equal alacrity on universal vaccines for the other families. Part of the power of the family-wide vaccine concept is it will offer protection against pathogens that don’t yet exist, which is far and away the best hope for getting ahead of engineered pathogens.

None of this — ventilation, special light, better PPE, better vaccines — is exactly existing science and technology. But it’s close, visibly within grasp, just as the possibility of simultaneously releasing dozens of separately engineered viruses is visibly within reach. In the race between the two, the bad actors’ advantage is they don’t need to follow the rules and protocols that slow things down. The good actors’ advantage is that developed world governments have at their disposal enormous financial resources. They just need to be persuaded to actually use them.

12) My teenage son and I have taken to watching pro wrestling as father-son bonding many evenings.  Entirely ironically, of course.  (I sometimes joke with him that his enjoyment sometimes seems to be lacking suitable levels of irony).  Anyway, I was interested to learn more about the new start-up AEW.  It really is just way more entertaining.  

13) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf, “What to Teach Young Kids About Gender: Schools should tell children to be themselves. But some districts say too much—and mistake progressive dogma for established fact.”

To better understand what is actually being taught—or what bans are prohibiting—I turned to Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a public-school system in the Chicago suburbs that is is laudably transparent about posting instructional material online. Last year, I reported on its Black Lives Matter at School curriculum. Its educators also post the lessons that they teach, starting in pre-kindergarten, during the district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month. Gender identity is a major focus of the curriculum—which, I should note, is similar to curricula I’ve seen elsewhere from progressive educators.

The District 65 instructional materials reveal a basic problem. Although American society’s approach to matters of gender identity is clearly still in flux, and reasonable people disagree on how best to engage students on the subject, some educators are writing progressive activists’ views into detailed lessons for young children. An alternative approach might promote inclusion in the broadest, plainest possible terms and reassure children: There’s no wrong way to be you. Instead, District 65 and other systems err on the side of saying too much and mistaking dogma for established fact…

Other lessons in the curriculum stray from affirming the dignity of nonbinary and trans people to teaching contested and in some cases contradictory claims about the nature of gender. One kindergarten lesson calls for teachers to read I Am JazzMy Princess Boy; and Jack (Not Jackie)—all books about trans or genderqueer kids. The following day’s lesson introduces “another important flag that has just 3 colors: light blue, pink and white.” The ensuing script reads, “People who identify as TRANSGENDER have their own ways of dressing, playing & acting that might not be what you expect. They might look to you like a boy, but dress and act like a girl.”

But wait: How does a girl dress and act? By day five of the school district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month, the kindergarteners have been taught that there are no such thing as boys’ toys and girls’ toys, or boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes—any boy can wear a dress and any girl can play with toy trucks. But then, when introducing terms such as trans and nonbinary, the curriculum relies on and arguably reaffirms gender stereotypes. For example, kindergarten students are shown a slide meant to represent a boy, a girl, and a nonbinary person. Its symbols are silhouettes of stereotypical male dress, stereotypical female dress, and a mash-up of the two:..

If you tell 5-year-olds that boys can wear dresses and play with dolls just as much as girls, but also that Michael feels like a girl, so from now on he’s going to wear dresses and play with dolls—act like a girl?—you’ve undercut the message that normative gender stereotypes are bogus.

14) I don’t doubt that these are very good ideas for parenting.  I’ve definitely come up short:

This is how to use ancient traditions to raise awesome kids:

  • To Raise Helpful Kids: Don’t shoo them away to the world of self-indulgent child distraction. Make them valued members of the team with communal activities that benefit the family.
  • To Teach Kids Emotional Regulation: Yes, you feel like you need to shout until your soul starts dribbling out your ears but all they’ll learn is that anger is the solution to life’s problems. Change your narrative, model calm behavior, trigger thought with questions, and touch them to let them know they’re loved.

Let’s step away from the ancient traditions and modern science for a second. I’ve read more books on parenting than any childless guy ever. What have I learned? It’s simple:

Almost all good parenting advice is good people advice.

Or, to put it bluntly: There are no grown-ups. None. Nowhere. Ever. We’re all muddling through. Sometimes we’re all selfish, emotional and out of control. It happens. And it’s okay.

If you apply parenting advice to all your relationships, you’ll be better off. Don’t try to control people. Treat them like adults – especially if they’re not acting like one. Bribes and punishments are not as effective as encouraging cooperation and making people feel like part of a team.

Anger usually just makes things worse with people. If they’re angry, you getting angry just escalates things. To stop being angry change the story in your head: they’re usually not evil, they’re just having a bad day. Encourage their thinky brain to take charge again and focus on a warm, positive connection where they feel supported.

When you stop trying to control or win with others you can focus on getting to that thing which is worth more than anything else is the universe…

Yes, printer ink.

Okay, maybe we should focus on the second most valuable thing in the universe: love. It’s not printer ink but it’s still pretty good.

15) I forget why I came across this, but the illusion of explanatory depth is such a great concept:

What is illusion of explanatory depth?

The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) describes our belief that we understand more about the world than we actually do. It is often not until we are asked to actually explain a concept that we come face to face with our limited understanding of it.

Where this bias occurs

And yet, as the alien takes a seat to listen, you realize you can tell him what a house is, but you can’t explain much about them. How are they built? How did we as civilians come to live in houses? How are their prices determined? What are the laws surrounding them? How long have people lived in houses, and what did they live in before? Perhaps you can answer one or two of these specific questions, but surely the alien will have even more questions you can’t answer. To think that housing is such a simple concept, and that you actually know much less than you’d predicted puzzles you greatly. This is because of the illusion of explanatory depth: having to explain your knowledge brings you to the realization that you actually know much less than you thought you did.

16) Unless it’s going to kill me, I am not giving up my aspartame, damnit. “Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance”

Summary

Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are commonly integrated into human diet and presumed to be inert; however, animal studies suggest that they may impact the microbiome and downstream glycemic responses. We causally assessed NNS impacts in humans and their microbiomes in a randomized-controlled trial encompassing 120 healthy adults, administered saccharinsucraloseaspartame, and stevia sachets for 2 weeks in doses lower than the acceptable daily intake, compared with controls receiving sachet-contained vehicle glucose or no supplement. As groups, each administered NNS distinctly altered stool and oral microbiome and plasma metabolome, whereas saccharin and sucralose significantly impaired glycemic responses. Importantly, gnotobiotic mice conventionalized with microbiomes from multiple top and bottom responders of each of the four NNS-supplemented groups featured glycemic responses largely reflecting those noted in respective human donors, which were preempted by distinct microbial signals, as exemplified by sucralose. Collectively, human NNS consumption may induce person-specific, microbiome-dependent glycemic alterations, necessitating future assessment of clinical implications.

17) Good stuff from Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg, “The Greatest Threat to Democracy Is a Feature of Democracy”

Far more than a bundle of laws, norms and institutions, democracy is an open culture of communication that affords people the right to think, speak and act and allows every possible means of persuasion. That makes every democratic society uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of communication. We may not like it, but something like Jan. 6 is always potentially in the offing.

We ought to avoid the naïveté of liberal fantasy, which imagines we can impose reliable guardrails against dangerous or deceptive speech. Indeed, there’s a whole genre of articles and books arguing that social media is destroying democracy. Because of changes to online platforms around a decade ago, wrote Jonathan Haidt recently, “People could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogeneous tribes.”

But this is precisely what an unwieldy democratic culture looks like. Depending on the communications environment, a democracy can foster reliable, respectful norms, or it can devolve into outrageous propaganda, widespread cynicism and vitriolic partisanship.

And when communications devolve into propaganda and partisanship, a democracy can either end with breathtaking speed, as it did in Myanmar last year, when the military overthrew the democratically elected government, or descend more gradually into chaos and authoritarianism, as Russia did under Vladimir Putin.

Nothing forbids voters in a democracy to support an authoritarian or vote itself out of existence (as the ancient Athenian assembly famously did). The history of democracy is full of demagogues exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to turn people against the very system on which their freedom depends. In France, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte leveraged a celebrity name to run for president on a campaign of restoring order in 1848, only to end the Second Republic with a self-coup to become emperor when his term was up…

The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all manner of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.

Quick hits (are back!) part I

1) Ed Yong with easily the best piece on “brain fog” and Covid that I’ve read:

Although SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID, can enter and infect the central nervous system, it doesn’t do so efficiently, persistently, or frequently, Michelle Monje, a neuro-oncologist at Stanford, told me. Instead, she thinks that in most cases the virus harms the brain without directly infecting it. She and her colleagues recently showed that when mice experience mild bouts of COVID, inflammatory chemicals can travel from the lungs to the brain, where they disrupt cells called microglia. Normally, microglia act as groundskeepers, supporting neurons by pruning unnecessary connections and cleaning unwanted debris. When inflamed, their efforts become overenthusiastic and destructive. In their presence, the hippocampus—a region crucial for memory—produces fewer fresh neurons, while many existing neurons lose their insulating coats, so electric signals now course along these cells more slowly. These are the same changes that Monje sees in cancer patients with “chemo fog.” And although she and her team did their COVID experiments in mice, they found high levels of the same inflammatory chemicals in long-haulers with brain fog.

Monje suspects that neuro-inflammation is “probably the most common way” that COVID results in brain fog, but that there are likely many such routes. COVID could possibly trigger autoimmune problems in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system, or reactivate dormant viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, which has been linked to conditions including ME/CFS and multiple sclerosis. By damaging blood vessels and filling them with small clots, COVID also throttles the brain’s blood supply, depriving this most energetically demanding of organs of oxygen and fuel. This oxygen shortfall isn’t stark enough to kill neurons or send people to an ICU, but “the brain isn’t getting what it needs to fire on all cylinders,” Putrino told me. (The severe oxygen deprivation that forces some people with COVID into critical care causes different cognitive problems than what most long-haulers experience.)

2) This has been covered pretty well in places like Wired and the write-up of my twitter friend Jeremy Chrysler, but Jose-Luis Jimenez, Lindsey Marr, and others bring the academic credentials to the question: “What were the historical reasons for the resistance to recognizing airborne transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The question of whether SARS-CoV-2 is mainly transmitted by droplets or aerosols has been highly controversial. We sought to explain this controversy through a historical analysis of transmission research in other diseases. For most of human history, the dominant paradigm was that many diseases were carried by the air, often over long distances and in a phantasmagorical way. This miasmatic paradigm was challenged in the mid to late 19th century with the rise of germ theory, and as diseases such as cholera, puerperal fever, and malaria were found to actually transmit in other ways. Motivated by his views on the importance of contact/droplet infection, and the resistance he encountered from the remaining influence of miasma theory, prominent public health official Charles Chapin in 1910 helped initiate a successful paradigm shift, deeming airborne transmission most unlikely. This new paradigm became dominant. However, the lack of understanding of aerosols led to systematic errors in the interpretation of research evidence on transmission pathways. For the next five decades, airborne transmission was considered of negligible or minor importance for all major respiratory diseases, until a demonstration of airborne transmission of tuberculosis (which had been mistakenly thought to be transmitted by droplets) in 1962. The contact/droplet paradigm remained dominant, and only a few diseases were widely accepted as airborne before COVID-19: those that were clearly transmitted to people not in the same room. The acceleration of interdisciplinary research inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that airborne transmission is a major mode of transmission for this disease, and is likely to be significant for many respiratory infectious diseases.

3) Can you exercise your way out of Covid?

For decades, scientists have observed that people who are fit and physically active seem to have lower rates of several respiratory tract infections. And when people who work out do get sick, they tend to have less severe disease, said David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, who was not involved in the recent Covid-19 review.

“The risk of severe outcomes and mortality from the common cold, influenza, pneumonia — they’re all knocked down quite a bit,” Dr. Nieman said. “I call it the vaccine-like effect.”

The new meta-analysis, which looked at studies between November 2019 and March 2022, found that this effect extends to Covid-19. People from across the globe who worked out regularly had a 36 percent lower risk of hospitalization and a 43 percent lower risk of death from Covid compared with those who were not active. They also had a lower likelihood of getting Covid at all.

People who followed guidelines recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week seemed to get the most benefit. But even those who exercised less than that were more protected against illness than those who did not work out at all.

I recently spent two hours in a car with someone I am 99% sure was infectious with Covid at the time and I did not get it.  All that exercise?

4) Ezra with a terrific interview on the Ukraine War.  So much fascinating analysis:

What did we get wrong about Russian might?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor

I think we first and foremost got this wrong because we didn’t know that Putin would concoct such a terrible plan. And for me, that’s largely a product of the type of political system that Putin built. This is a highly personalized, authoritarian regime. And I’ve studied a lot of autocracies. My lens on Russia is very much through an authoritarian, kind of comparative politics lens. And the Putin regime ahead of this invasion was by far one of the most centralized autocracies that I have seen.

And in that kind of system, good information does not float to the top, right? They’re based on loyalty, and it’s not in anyone’s career interest to tell the boss bad news. So Putin, for one, was operating with terribly flawed assumptions. And so I think that’s number one for me of why we got it wrong. These personalist dictators make mistakes. So first of all, Putin and Russia misunderstood Ukraine entirely. They hold these very derogatory views of Ukrainians.

And I think the Russians have entirely missed what’s been happening in Ukraine since 2014 — that Ukraine has built up a stronger national identity, that they have had this commitment to moving to the West. You know, Putin believed that they could get to Kyiv, decapitate the regime, and that the whole country would fall like a house of cards. So they fundamentally misunderstood Ukraine. We talked about them — along with the United States, the Russians also obviously underestimated and misunderstood Ukraine’s willingness to fight.

So again, for me, I think we got it wrong because we failed to consider the weaknesses that begin to accumulate in these longtime, personalist autocracies. These countries, they’re inclined to make mistakes, these personalist dictators. And over time, these guys, they run their countries into the ground. And so the plan was bad, and the plan was bad because it was the product of Putin’s personal system. And I think we just didn’t factor that in.

We were wrong about all sorts of things on the Russian military front too. And just quickly, I’ll say corruption was a really big issue. I think we failed to see the rot in the Russian military. We didn’t see just how pervasive it was. So yeah, we overestimated Russian capabilities, but I also think a lot of it was just misunderstanding how terribly wrong and disastrous the decisions that these personalist, authoritarian regimes can make.

5) People should get vaccinated.  And boosted.  This chart from Katelyn Jetelina:

6) Leonhardt on Democrats and Hispanic voters:

In Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, he won the Hispanic vote over Mitt Romney by 40 percentage points — 70 percent to 30 percent, according to Catalist, a political research firm. Four years later, Hillary Clinton did even better, beating Donald Trump by 42 percentage points among Hispanic voters.

But then something changed.

The economy became even stronger at the start of Trump’s presidency than it had been during Obama’s. The Democratic Party moved further to the left than it had been under Obama. Trump turned out to have a macho appeal, especially to some Hispanic men. And some Hispanic voters became frustrated with the long Covid shutdowns.

 

Whatever the full explanation, Hispanic voters have moved to the right over the past several years. As a group, they still prefer Democrats, but the margin has narrowed significantly. In 2020, Joe Biden won the group by only 26 percentage points. And in this year’s midterms, the Democratic lead is nearly identical to Biden’s 2020 margin, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll — a sign that the shift was not just a one-election blip…

The problem for Democrats is that winning the Hispanic vote by only 26 points may not be enough for the party to accomplish its main goals.

“Let’s not forget that 2020 levels of Hispanic support were nearly catastrophic for Democrats,” Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, told me. It helped cost the party House seats in California, Florida and Texas and allowed Republicans to win statewide races comfortably in Florida and Texas. It nearly helped Trump win re-election.

Democrats need to do better with Hispanic voters (or reverse some of their recent losses with white voters) to build solid congressional majorities. The party currently controls the Senate by only a single vote, and Republicans are favored to take control of the House in this year’s midterms.

“The whole theory of Democrats really benefiting from demographic change rests on them winning the Hispanic vote by a wide margin,” Nate says. Without a better showing, Democrats probably cannot flip Florida or Texas, even as they face a growing Republican threat in the Midwest because of the continuing drift of white voters away from Democrats.

7) Great stuff from Nate Cohn on “The Emerging Democratic Majority” at 20:

Today we wish a belated and maybe not-so-Happy 20th Birthday to “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” the book that famously argued Democrats would gain an enduring advantage in a multiracial, postindustrial America.

There are countless explanations for the rise of Donald Trump and the growing dysfunction of American political life. This book does not necessarily rank at the top of that list. But when historians look back on this era, the book’s effect on American politics might be worth a mention.

The thesis that Democrats were on the cusp of a lasting advantage in national politics helped shape the hopes, fears and, ultimately, the conduct of the two major parties — especially once the Obama presidency appeared to confirm the book’s prophecy.

It transformed modest Democratic wins into harbingers of perpetual liberal rule. It fueled conservative anxiety about America’s growing racial diversity, even as it encouraged the Republican establishment to reach out to Hispanic voters and pursue immigration reform. The increasingly popular notion that “demographics are destiny” made it easier for the progressive base to argue against moderation and in favor of mobilizing a new coalition of young and nonwhite voters. All of this helped set the stage for the rise of Mr. Trump…

While the book correctly anticipated Democratic strength in postindustrial metropolitan areas, it failed to appreciate the challenge of holding on to blue-collar white voters at the same time.

The authors said the “key” for Democrats would be in “discovering a strategy that retains support among the white working class, but also builds support among college-educated professionals and others.” But the book did not contain a road map to pulling it off. It said, “They can do both.” The optimism was rooted in the assumption that Clinton-Gore had already solved the problem.

The authors dismiss the Bush victory in 2000, arguing that Al Gore failed “largely because of factors that had nothing to do with the appeal of his politics.”

While the book acknowledged that Mr. Bush was assisted by Mr. Gore’s stances on the environment, coal, abortion and gun control in white working-class areas, it didn’t appear to take these cultural issues as a serious problem for Democrats. At the very least, they weren’t considered serious enough to move West Virginia out of the Democratic column.

Instead, the authors advanced the argument that the strong economy in 2000 was actually part of Mr. Gore’s problem, by allowing working-class whites to vote on cultural issues rather than their economic interest. The Clinton sex scandals were also considered a necessary condition for Republican strength; without Bill Clinton dragging them down, Democrats would rebound. Whatever the merits of these arguments, it isn’t especially credible to argue that the 2000 election — held at a time of peace and prosperity — was anything like a worst-case scenario for Democrats.

In retrospect, gun control and environmental issues were harbingers of one of the major themes of postindustrial politics: White working-class voters were slowly repelled by the policy demands of the secular, diverse, postindustrial voters who were supposed to power a new Democratic majority.

 

8) Fascinating stuff (with lots of super-cool figures) here, “Quantifying hierarchy and dynamics in US faculty hiring and retention”

Faculty hiring and retention determine the composition of the US academic workforce and directly shape educational outcomes1, careers2, the development and spread of ideas3 and research priorities4,5. However, hiring and retention are dynamic, reflecting societal and academic priorities, generational turnover and efforts to diversify the professoriate along gender6,7,8, racial9 and socioeconomic10 lines. A comprehensive study of the structure and dynamics of the US professoriate would elucidate the effects of these efforts and the processes that shape scholarship more broadly. Here we analyse the academic employment and doctoral education of tenure-track faculty at all PhD-granting US universities over the decade 2011–2020, quantifying stark inequalities in faculty production, prestige, retention and gender. Our analyses show universal inequalities in which a small minority of universities supply a large majority of faculty across fields, exacerbated by patterns of attrition and reflecting steep hierarchies of prestige. We identify markedly higher attrition rates among faculty trained outside the United States or employed by their doctoral university. Our results indicate that gains in women’s representation over this decade result from demographic turnover and earlier changes made to hiring, and are unlikely to lead to long-term gender parity in most fields. These analyses quantify the dynamics of US faculty hiring and retention, and will support efforts to improve the organization, composition and scholarship of the US academic workforce.

9) Don’t just walk for exercise… walk faster, apparently:

In a new study, which looks at activity tracker data from 78,500 people, walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes a day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and death, compared with walking a similar number of steps but at a slower pace. These results were recently published in two papers in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology

Researchers found that every 2,000 additional steps a day lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease and cancer by about 10 percent, up to about 10,000 steps per day. When it came to developing dementia, 9,800 steps per day was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk, with a risk reduction of 25 percent starting at about 3,800 steps per day. Above 10,000 steps a day, there just weren’t enough participants with that level of activity to determine whether there were additional benefits…

But then the researchers of this study did something new. When they looked at the step rate, per minute, of the highest 30 minutes of activity a day, they found that participants whose average highest pace was a brisk walk (between 80 and 100 steps per minute) had better health outcomes compared with those who walked a similar amount each day but at a slower pace.

Brisk walkers had a 35 percent lower risk of dying, a 25 percent lower chance of developing heart disease or cancer and a 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those whose average pace was slower.

10) On EMDR:

Trauma shoves a mind into overdrive. The brain tries to block out fragments of disaster: the spray of shattered glass as one car slammed into another, the smell of smoke. People with post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes constrict their lives, avoiding streets or smells or songs that make them think about what they’ve experienced. But memories make themselves known — in nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.

Since PTSD was first included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980, clinicians have identified a handful of therapies that help people cope with traumatic memories. Over the past decade, a seemingly unconventional treatment has wedged its way into mainstream therapy.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, better known as E.M.D.R., might look bizarre to an observer. The practice involves coaxing people to process traumatic memories while simultaneously interacting with images, sounds or sensations that activate both sides of the brain. Patients might flit their eyes back and forth, following a therapist’s finger or stare at bursts of light on alternating sides of a screen. The idea is to anchor the brain in the current moment as a patient recalls the past.

11) Yglesias (free post) with a really good take on racism:

Until the relatively recent past, the United States of America had a de jure racial caste system, and there remain, decades after officially ending that system, significant and obvious racial gaps in material resources and other outcomes. This, Bright argues, creates an inevitable tension: there’s a big gap between the country’s official status as a non-racist society and what everyone can see in practice.

He says this creates a battle between two dueling factions of white people, the Repenters and the Repressers.

  • The Repenters feel very guilty and want to do things to expiate that guilt, “and their form of repentance involves trying to change their interpersonal habits and consumer choices so as to minimize their contribution to the broader social issue, and help the particular black people they interact with. In this way, by doing that sort of self-work, they hope to be able to live in a world that is admittedly unjust while making it that little bit better, and through such efforts be able to honestly maintain a positive self image.”

  • On the other side are the Repressers, who just want to be told that racism ended when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act or Barack Obama was elected president. They acknowledge the country’s history of racism as well as our huge racial disparities in outcomes, but they maintain that this is just an odd coincidence. These are the folks who lost their shit when Obama said “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” because it betrayed the idea that Obama’s mere presence in the White House ended the need to ever discuss such matters.

Of course not everyone is white, and Bright has this rather funny take on how non-white people get sucked into and exploit the white psychodrama:

Of course, the rest of us do not simply sit by and watch the whites duke it out amongst themselves. If nothing else they still have ownership of the stuff and a democratic majority, so most of us are dependent on them for making a living. How then have the PoC intelligensia — people of colour sufficiently engaged in politics to be tapped into the white culture war and the historical narrative underpinning it — responded to the opportunities and challenges presented thereby?

With a dextrous entrepreneurial spirit! Which is to say, by cashing in. In institutions like academia more dominated by the Repenter type there has been the opportunity for mediocre of sharp eyed young PoC intelligentsia to present themselves as bearers of black thinkers’ insight (e.g. Bright 2018). It is considerably harder to pull this off from within academia as an advocate for Represser views. But where there is demand there will be supply. And there is a large audience keen for a black thinker to give voice to an intelligent version of the Represser narrative. Sufficiently talented black thinkers have been happy to oblige (e.g. Loury 2009). Various media organisations and political groups likey provide opportunity for similar pseudo-spokespeople PoC intelligentsia catering to both Repressers and Repenters.

The most-correct move, however, according to Bright, is not to hop on either of these bandwagons but instead to be a Non-Aligned person who focuses on directly addressing the underlying material inequalities:

Hence as long as the material inequalities exist they will keep making racial hierarchy salient whatever the Repressers want, and keep generating reasons for guilt whatever the Repenters want. All of the institutions designed to respond to this culture war — which is essentially all of the epistemic institutions controlled by the white bourgeois, which is to say all of them — are thus fundamentally addressing the wrong questions from the point of view of the Non Aligned person. They are concerned with managing the results of a tension they can never resolve, which the nature of the Repenter and Repressor conflict will not allow them to resolve. They are not arranged to produce information, or set an agenda, that will aid in resolving material in- equality, and in fact will forever be supplied with more culture war flashpoints on which to focus and with which to distract.

This is basically what I think, which is why I’m always trying to remind people that Martin Luther King Jr. was very focused on kitchen-table economic issues and, perhaps even more importantly, that he saw the path forward as forging a political alliance with self-interested low-income white peoplenot cultivating a class of guilt-ridden high-status Repenters.

But I want to emphasize the practical aspects of this and the dilemmas it entails.

Increasing the salience of race is bad

 

In a new paper from Jesper Akesson, Robert Hahn, Robert Metcalfe, and Itzhak Rasooly, the authors share the results of their randomized experiments on race and welfare:

First, 86% of respondents greatly overestimate the share of welfare recipients who are Black, with the average respondent overestimating this by almost a factor of two.

Second, White support for welfare is inversely related to the proportion of welfare recipients who are Black — a causal claim that we establish using treatment assignment as an instrument for beliefs about the racial composition of welfare recipients.

Third, just making White participants think about the racial composition of welfare recipients reduces their support for welfare.

Fourth, providing White respondents with accurate information about the racial composition of welfare recipients (relative to not receiving any information) does not significantly influence their support for welfare

This is new research in the sense that the experiment is novel, but the broad conclusions are recognizable across multiple economic literatures. Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote find, using international comparative data, that “racial animosity in the US makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately black, unappealing to many voters.” And in their excellent book “Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion,” Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam find that among white people, possession of ethnocentric views correlates with hostility to means-tested public assistance programs.

A deep body of scholarship across history, political science, and economics all broadly point toward the conclusion that increasing the salience of race can have harmful results.

12) Jesse Singal, “The University of Washington Is Putting Trans Kids At Risk By Distorting Suicide Research” OMG talk about politicized science.  This stuff is just horrible.  Any half-decent first-year grad student would see the grave methodological flaws.  But, when it fits a popular ideological agenda…

13) Exciting progress on RSV vaccines.  I actually qualified for a trial, but, in the end they wouldn’t let me because I am still technically in the J&J Covid vaccine trial until November (I have a phone call then– that’s it). 

In February 2020, just as a new coronavirus was triggering the global COVID-19 pandemic, structural biologist Jason McLellan and his team published the structure of the key protein it uses to invade human cells1. Immediately, scientists began using that protein’s structure to develop COVID-19 vaccines.

But that wasn’t the first time McLellan, now at the University of Texas at Austin, had solved a structure and spurred on a new wave of vaccines. In 2013, he was focusing on a different killer — respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV2.

RSV causes a respiratory tract infection that affects 64 million people per year worldwide. It hospitalizes 3 million children under 5 years old and approximately 336,000 older adults annually (see ‘Common scourge’). The global health-care costs of RSV-associated infections in young children in 2017 were estimated to be US$5.45 billion3.

Researchers have been trying for decades to develop a vaccine, and have had some particularly devastating failures — including the deaths of two participants in a trial in the 1960s.

Solving the protein structure revived the RSV field. McLellan, then a postdoctoral researcher at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, and his colleagues looked at a protein that the virus uses to fuse with cells and infect them, called the F protein, and found a way to stabilize it in its prefusion form — the shape it adopts when ready to grab on to cells. The structure of the prefusion F protein unveiled the best target for making vaccine-induced antibodies that could prevent the virus from entering human cells.

Now, an effective RSV vaccine is nearly within reach: four candidates and one monoclonal antibody treatment are in late-stage clinical trials.

14) You know I’m a sucker for AI art, “AI Art Is Here and the World Is Already Different How we work — even think — changes when we can instantly command convincing images into existence.”

15) Loved learning that Bill Gates, too, is a wordle addict. 

16) Holy Affective polarization Batman! “A new political divide: Nearly half of college students wouldn’t room with someone who votes differently”

17) Actually, pretty interesting stuff here, “The Sordid Saga of Hunter Biden’s Laptop

Imagine the entirety of your digital existence plotted out before you: your accounts and passwords; your avatars; your contacts; every exchange of written dialogue; the full history of your logged interests, banal and forgettable and closely held; the note where you scrawled once-urgent word fragments that now make zero sense to you; the rabbit holes you fell down or the minor obsession or the thing that connected to the thing that led you to decide to do another thing that became a part of a part of a part of who you are, or a part of who you are to some people, or a part of who you are only to yourself, barely recognizable in the light of day. Your selfies. Your sexts. Your emails. Your calendar. Your to-do list. Your playlists. Your tabs.

Now imagine that you are both the son of a man running for president and a lawyer and lobbyist accustomed to mixing with powerful people and doing business overseas premised on your proximity to those powerful people, and that you are in the throes of a divorce and a midlife catastrophe brought on by the early death of your older brother and that, in your distortion field of grief, on a hell-bent drug-and-alcohol binge, you have been making even more horrible choices, taking up with your brother’s widow and, while in considerable financial debt, hiring prostitutes and zoning out with camgirls and staying awake for days at a time on crack cocaine and generally hurting everyone in your life who is trying to help you with your cruel and idiotic behavior.

And imagine that, in the middle of all of this, you lose control of 217 gigabytes of your personal data: videos in which you have sex; videos in which you smoke crack; bleary-eyed selfies; selfies that document your in-progress dental work; your bank statements; your Venmo transactions; your business emails; your toxic rants at family members; analysis from your psychiatrist; your porn searches; your Social Security number; explicit photos of the many women passing through your bedrooms, photos of your kids, of your father, of life and death, despair and boredom.

Imagine revealing this kaleidoscopic archive of all your different selves to anyone else. Now imagine it’s not just anyone but the same political opposition that has already sought to destroy your father’s candidacy by improperly pressuring a foreign leader to offer up dirt about your (sketchy, for sure) business dealings. Imagine, in a country with toxic and broken politics, how explosive this collection of data might appear to your enemies in the days leading up to a presidential election, and how valuable it might become after their defeat, as they seek to overturn and then undermine the results. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this nebulous cloud of data a “laptop.”

18) Another excellent free Yglesias post, “Russia’s military and economic strategy is failing”

The misunderstood sanctions regime

 

Sanctions are often understood as an effort to deny the sanctioned country export earnings by refusing to buy its products.

And since Russia is such a major energy exporter, there was a lot of skepticism that this was feasible or politically workable. Initial coverage of the sanctions regime often emphasized the fact that Russia had stockpiled large foreign exchange reserves to weather the loss of exports and the fact that the West wasn’t willing to block Russia’s energy exports. Pro-Russian western media often noted that even with sanctions in place Russia’s trade balance was positive, and the official exchange rate of the ruble recovered rapidly from an initial speculative crash.

This all misunderstood the intention of the policy, which was not to block Russian exports but to block Russian imports.

The idea was that the West could keep spending money to give equipment to Ukraine while preventing Russia from spending money on acquiring new equipment for itself, steadily shifting the correlation of forces in Ukraine’s favor. The growing Russian trade surplus was not a failure of the sanctions policy, but the condition of its success. The basic calculation is that the allies collectively have a lot more money than Russia. In terms of pre-war GDP calculated at market exchange rates, Italy had a larger GDP than Russia. So did Canada. And France. And Germany’s GDP is more than twice as big, and Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal combine to be about as big as Russia. So the allies could afford to send a bunch of money to Russia to sit around in a treasury somewhere while Russia loses irreplaceable military equipment.

Now to be fair, it is understandable that people were confused about this because there was a big mania in both the U.S. and Europe at the start of the war to ban imports of Russian oil.

This had very little effect on anything, but oil is a fungible global commodity. I think western officials initially didn’t want to do it because it’s a little bit pointless and a little bit contrary to the main thrust of their strategy. But there was a lot of political enthusiasm for it and, again, it doesn’t have particularly large actual effects, so why not go along with it? But all the attention the oil embargo got made it seem like the allies were trying to deny Russia export earnings, which then made the fact that they kept having high export earnings by selling oil to neutral countries and gas to Europe seem like a big failure.

But the oil saga was a virtue-signaling sideshow. The point of the sanctions was to make Russia’s money useless (which is why a tourist visa ban makes sense), not to prevent Russia from getting money. The hope was that Russian energy exports would keep powering the world economy.

19) Nate Cohn, “Yes, the Polling Warning Signs Are Flashing Again: Democrats are polling well in exactly the places where surveys missed most in 2020.”

That warning sign is flashing again: Democratic Senate candidates are outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016.

Wisconsin is a good example. On paper, the Republican senator Ron Johnson ought to be favored to win re-election. The FiveThirtyEight fundamentals index, for instance, makes him a two-point favorite. Instead, the polls have exceeded the wildest expectations of Democrats. The state’s gold-standard Marquette Law School survey even showed the Democrat Mandela Barnes leading Mr. Johnson by seven percentage points.

But in this case, good for Wisconsin Democrats might be too good to be true. The state was ground zero for survey error in 2020, when pre-election polls proved to be too good to be true for Mr. Biden. In the end, the polls overestimated Mr. Biden by about eight percentage points. Eerily enough, Mr. Barnes is faring better than expected by a similar margin.

The Wisconsin data is just one example of a broader pattern across the battlegrounds: The more the polls overestimated Mr. Biden last time, the better Democrats seem to be doing relative to expectations. And conversely, Democrats are posting less impressive numbers in some of the states where the polls were fairly accurate two years ago, like Georgia.

20) This was a good, but tough, read, “Does My Son Know You? Fatherhood, cancer, and what matters most”

21) “What Makes Your Brain Different From a Neanderthal’s?”

Scientists have discovered a glitch in our DNA that may have helped set the minds of our ancestors apart from those of Neanderthals and other extinct relatives.

The mutation, which arose in the past few hundred thousand years, spurs the development of more neurons in the part of the brain that we use for our most complex forms of thought, according to a new study published in Science on Thursday.

“What we found is one gene that certainly contributes to making us human,” said Wieland Huttner, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and one of the authors of the study.

 

The human brain allows us to do things that other living species cannot, such as using full-blown language and making complicated plans for the future. For decades, scientists have been comparing the anatomy of our brain to that of other mammals to understand how those sophisticated faculties evolved.

22) I have no doubt that SEAL training should be rigorous and weed out all but the most-qualified candidates.  That said, I have significant doubt as to the extreme nature of the current process is actually the way to get the best SEALs. “Navy Orders High-Level Outside Investigation of SEAL Course: The punishing selection course for the Navy’s most elite force has come under new scrutiny after a sailor’s death exposed illicit drug use and other problems.”

23) And this is terrific, “Death in Navy SEAL Training Exposes a Culture of Brutality, Cheating and Drugs: The elite force’s selection course is so punishing that few make it through, and many of those who do resort to illicit tactics.”

The Navy has made hundreds of changes over the years meant to improve safety and increase graduation rates. At the same time, the SEALs who run the course have quietly resisted anything they see as lowering standards. So no matter how much the Navy has tried to make BUD/S easier, it seems to only get harder.

In the 1980s, about 40 percent of candidates graduated. Over the past 25 years, the average has dropped to 26 percent. In 2021, it was just 14 percent, and in Seaman Mullen’s class this year, less than 10 percent.

When Seaman Mullen started BUD/S in January, it was his second attempt. His first try was in August 2021, and he had spent more than a year running, swimming and lifting weights to prepare. He lasted less than a day.

Instructors call the first three weeks of BUD/S the attrition phase, a maw of punishing exercise, frigid water and harassment meant to wash out anyone lacking strength, endurance and mental fortitude — individuals the instructors derisively call “turds.”

That first day, the instructors put candidates through a gantlet of running, crawling, situps and push-ups on the hot sand with no breaks, Seaman Mullen’s mother said. Late in the afternoon, the men were racing in teams, carrying 170-pound inflatable boats over their heads, when Seaman Mullen passed out…

Heatstroke, concussions, fractures, muscle tears and lung issues are common at BUD/S, one Navy medical employee at the SEAL training base in Coronado said, but the injuries are often dealt with internally, which avoids scrutiny from outside the SEALs. Often, the employee said, injured candidates are encouraged to quit the course voluntarily, instead of being pulled out by medical staff, and their injuries are never formally reported to the Navy command that oversees workplace accidents…

In any other job, pushing people to exhaustion while fluid floods their lungs would seem reckless, but it has been happening in Hell Week for so long that the practice has come to seem somewhat normal, according to Mr. Milligan, the historian. He went through Hell Week in 2001 and said a man in his class who had fluid in his lungs was given medication through a nebulizer, a practice Mr. Milligan said was “not uncommon.” A few hours later, while the class was swimming in a human chain in a pool, the man slipped from Mr. Milligan’s grasp, sank to the bottom and died.

24) This seems… not great, “A Dad Took Photos of His Naked Toddler for the Doctor. Google Flagged Him as a Criminal.”

Mark noticed something amiss with his toddler. His son’s penis looked swollen and was hurting him. Mark, a stay-at-home dad in San Francisco, grabbed his Android smartphone and took photos to document the problem so he could track its progression.

It was a Friday night in February 2021. His wife called an advice nurse at their health care provider to schedule an emergency consultation for the next morning, by video because it was a Saturday and there was a pandemic going on. The nurse said to send photos so the doctor could review them in advance.

 

Mark’s wife grabbed her husband’s phone and texted a few high-quality close-ups of their son’s groin area to her iPhone so she could upload them to the health care provider’s messaging system. In one, Mark’s hand was visible, helping to better display the swelling. Mark and his wife gave no thought to the tech giants that made this quick capture and exchange of digital data possible, or what those giants might think of the images.

With help from the photos, the doctor diagnosed the issue and prescribed antibiotics, which quickly cleared it up. But the episode left Mark with a much larger problem, one that would cost him more than a decade of contacts, emails and photos, and make him the target of a police investigation. Mark, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of potential reputational harm, had been caught in an algorithmic net designed to snare people exchanging child sexual abuse material.

Because technology companies routinely capture so much data, they have been pressured to act as sentinels, examining what passes through their servers to detect and prevent criminal behavior. Child advocates say the companies’ cooperation is essential to combat the rampant online spread of sexual abuse imagery. But it can entail peering into private archives, such as digital photo albums — an intrusion users may not expect — that has cast innocent behavior in a sinister light in at least two cases The Times has unearthed…

After setting up a Gmail account in the mid-aughts, Mark, who is in his 40s, came to rely heavily on Google. He synced appointments with his wife on Google Calendar. His Android smartphone camera backed up his photos and videos to the Google cloud. He even had a phone plan with Google Fi.

Two days after taking the photos of his son, Mark’s phone made a blooping notification noise: His account had been disabled because of “harmful content” that was “a severe violation of Google’s policies and might be illegal.” A “learn more” link led to a list of possible reasons, including “child sexual abuse & exploitation.”

Mark was confused at first but then remembered his son’s infection. “Oh, God, Google probably thinks that was child porn,” he thought.

In an unusual twist, Mark had worked as a software engineer on a large technology company’s automated tool for taking down video content flagged by users as problematic. He knew such systems often have a human in the loop to ensure that computers don’t make a mistake, and he assumed his case would be cleared up as soon as it reached that person…

In a statement, Google said, “Child sexual abuse material is abhorrent and we’re committed to preventing the spread of it on our platforms.”

 
A few days after Mark filed the appeal, Google responded that it would not reinstate the account, with no further explanation.

25) We’ll end with a fun one, “His emotional support animal is an alligator. They sleep in the same bed.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) I really wanted to give this one it’s own post, but, too damn busy lately.  Short version: yes, it sucks that politicians lie about each other all the time with impunity.  But, we allow this because it would actually be even worse if we tried to have our court system regularly determining when politicians attacks on each other went too far.  The law in question in NC is clearly unconstitutional for this reason and I don’t get why reporting isn’t just saying so: “A problematic law about political lies threatens to snag NC’s attorney general”

Politicians lie. It’s something voters have even come to expect on the campaign trail, in campaign ads and in office. But what constitutes a lie, and should those lies be punished? Those questions are at the center of a case involving North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and it threatens to throw his office and the 2024 race for governor into chaos.

A grand jury in Wake County decided Monday that the district attorney’s office could pursue charges against Stein and two of his top aides, based on a campaign ad from the 2020 election cycle that called out his opponent, Republican candidate Jim O’Neill. Wake DA Lorrin Freeman said her office will decide as early as next month whether to charge Stein with anything, but Stein did get a victory late Tuesday when the Fourth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction to stop the investigation from moving forward.

The offending advertisement from Stein featured a sexual assault survivor saying that there were more than 1,500 untested rape kits in Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the district attorney. O’Neill said that testing rape kits is the responsibility of Forsyth County’s police departments, not his, then filed a complaint based on a 1931 state law that makes it illegal to knowingly circulate false and “derogatory” reports about candidates.

2) Leanna Wen gets a ton of (mostly unfair) hate, but I think she’s pretty well on-target here, ‘I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.”

It became clear that the goal I’d hoped for — containment of covid-19 — was not reachable. This coronavirus is here to stay.

With this new, indefinite time frame, the benefit-risk calculus of mitigation measures shifted dramatically. I was willing to limit my children’s activities for a year or two but not for their entire childhood.

Given how careful we’d been, it wasn’t easy to change my mind-set to accept covid-19 as a recurring risk. But the high transmissibility of new variants meant that we would have to pay an increasingly high price if our goal was to keep avoiding the virus. I began trying to think of the coronavirus as I do other everyday risks, such as falls, car accidents or drowning. Of course I want to shield my children from injuries, and I take precautions, such as using car seats and teaching them how to swim. By the same logic, I vaccinated them against the coronavirus. But I won’t put their childhood on hold in an effort to eliminate all risk…

I accept the risk that my kids will probably contract covid-19 this school year, just as they could contract the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and other contagious diseases. As for most Americans, covid in our family will almost certainly be mild; and, like most Americans, we’ve made the decision that following precautions strict enough to prevent the highly contagious BA.5 will be very challenging. Masking has harmed our son’s language development, and limiting both kids’ extracurriculars and social interactions would negatively affect their childhood and hinder my and my husband’s ability to work.

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

THERE ARE AT least three critical paths to helping teens, and these build on the different types of agency outlined by psychologist Albert Bandura.

First, teach teens to build personal agency. Personal agency refers to the things an individual can do to exert influence over situations. Teens in our research described curating their social media feeds toward well-being by unfollowing or muting accounts that make them feel bad. They also work toward personal agency by setting their own screen time limits or intentionally putting their phones out of reach when they want to focus on studying. Others strategically segment their online audiences to empower more intentional sharing to particular groups.

Building teens’ personal agency means supporting skills and strategies they can deploy when digital stressors come up. This can mean moving beyond rules that simply impose arbitrary screen time limits. Of course, teens often need support developing healthy screen time habits and curbing unregulated binges. An important aim is helping teens recognize moments when tech use adds to or undercuts their well-being or personal goals. This requires focusing more on what a teen is doing during their screen time and to what end. By modeling intentional digital habits (e.g., “I need to turn off my notifications for a bit, I’m feeling so distracted by my phone today”), we can help teens do the same for themselves. In this spirit, Tom Harrison writes about the value of parents being “thick exemplars” who share with children times when we struggle with our own digital experiences, misstep, or puzzle over how to “do the right thing.” …

Collective agency is when people “provide mutual support and work together to secure what they cannot accomplish on their own.” A signature example: the ways teens form pacts to vet photos of each other before tagging and posting. Even amid dismay about a world in which privacy feels forsaken, some teens find ways to protect and respect each other’s privacy and online public image. Collective agency is also at play when teen girls share intel about guys known to leak girls’ nudes so that they can be on alert and avoid them. Yet another example came up in the descriptions of teens who create online study spaces over Discord or Zoom to help each other maintain focus while keeping other digital distractions in check. Because friends are often poised to make digital life more or less stressful, when teens work together to reshape burdensome norms, everyone stands to win.

Parents can validate efforts that support collective agency, like when friends decide to keep phones in an untouched stack during dinners together. Or when they use location-sharing as part of a group effort to keep friends safe during a night out. Such approaches reflect a “digital mentoring” approach to parental mediation, rather than simply limiting tech access or permitting unlimited access. While younger adolescents need more direct oversight, parents can support personal agency through a gradual release toward more age-appropriate independence and privacy as their children get older.

Proxy agency is where adults most often come in. This mode of agency acknowledges that on their own—and even when they collaborate with others—teens only have so much control over their circumstances. Proxy agents are typically those who hold more power and can wield it on others’ behalf to support their agency. Because adults usually create the rules, policies, and relevant laws (not to mention the very technologies teens use!), we are critical proxy agents in a context of digital opportunities and risks.

 

Parents are perhaps the most obvious figures here, as they make day-to-day decisions that grant and limit teens’ digital access. Those who hold gatekeeping roles make decisions about whether to consider digital artifacts in school admissions, scholarship awards, and hiring. Adults may be the recipients of online receipts with evidence of transgressions. Those who work in education are often tasked with handling cases that unfold among students—where a teen is a target of persistent cyberbullying or where a nude a teen shared with one person was circulated around the entire school. Those who work at tech companies, designers especially, have the power—and the responsibility—to raise questions about whether features will hook and pull teens in at the expense of their well-being. Recognizing our roles as proxy agents means acknowledging our complicity in creating conditions that can unintentionally undercut youth agency.

Whatever roles adults are in, it’s past time to consider: How do our decisions support or compromise young people’s agency and well-being? Where, when, and how should we intervene and disrupt existing devices, apps, norms, policies, and laws? How can we design for more agency? And how can we center considerations about differential susceptibility and equity when we do so?

4) Interesting research: “Why Don’t We Sleep Enough? A Field Experiment Among College Students”

This study investigates the mechanisms affecting sleep choice and explores whether commitment devices and monetary incentives can be used to promote healthier sleep habits. To this end, we conducted a field experiment with college students, providing them incentives to sleep and collecting data from wearable activity trackers, surveys, and time-use diaries. Monetary incentives were effective in increasing sleep duration with some evidence of persistence after the incentive was removed. We uncover evidence of demand for commitment. Our results are consistent with partially sophisticated time-inconsistent preferences and overconfidence, and have implications for the effectiveness of information interventions on sleep choice.

5)  A mother is being prosecuted for helping her teen daughter give herself a medical abortion at 30(!!) weeks.  Yes, the vast majority of 30 week abortions are for a good reason (birth defects, mother’s health, etc.), but, given that’s the case, maybe it is the right thing to prosecute the people in cases like this one.

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

Now Trump’s apparent squirreling away of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and his outrage over the Justice Department’s investigation of that conduct, speaks once more to his vision of his own absolute authority—even after he has departed the presidency. It’s a vision that places Trump himself, rather than the Constitution and the rule of law, as the one true source of legitimate political power.

A great deal remains unclear about the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago—among other things, why and how the material arrived at the estate in the first place instead of remaining in the custody of the National Archives, where it belonged. Reporting, though, suggests that Trump may have understood those documents—material that, under the Presidential Records Act, belongs to the American people—to be his own, to do whatever he liked with. “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” Trump reportedly told several advisers about the misplaced documents. One “Trump adviser” told The Washington Post that “the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term … are now his personal property.” Another adviser to the former president said to the Post, “He didn’t give them the documents because he didn’t want to.”

This childlike logic reflects Trump’s long-running inability to distinguish between the individual president and the institutional presidency, a structure that existed before him and that persists even after he unwillingly departed the White House. In his view, he is the presidency (which … is not what legal scholars typically mean when they talk about the “unitary executive.”) The same logic surfaces in the bizarre arguments made by Trump’s defenders that Trump somehow declassified all the sensitive documents held at Mar-a-Lago before he left office. Under the Constitution, the president does have broad authority over the classification system. But as experts have noted, it makes little sense to imagine a president declassifying information without communicating that decision across the executive branch so that everyone else would know to treat the material in question as no longer classified—unless, that is, you understand presidential power not as an institution of government, but as the projection of a single person’s all-powerful consciousness onto the world.

7) David Brooks on the value of talking to strangers.  Personally, I’m a huge fan, but I’ve become more hesitant to do so when on an airplane because it gets really awkward when you are thinking, but cannot say, “my book is just much more interesting than you.” Or, “you are great to talk to for 20 minutes, but this is a 2 hour flight.”  But, when escape is possible, yeah, I do enjoy it.

One day Nicholas Epley was commuting by train to his office at the University of Chicago. As a behavioral scientist he’s well aware that social connection makes us happier, healthier and more successful and generally contributes to the sweetness of life. Yet he looked around his train car and realized: Nobody is talking to anyone! It was just headphones and newspapers.

Questions popped into his head: What the hell are we all doing here? Why don’t people do the thing that makes them the most happy?

He discovered that one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk to strangers on a train or plane is they don’t think it will be enjoyable. They believe it will be awkward, dull and tiring. In an online survey only 7 percent of people said they would talk to a stranger in a waiting room. Only 24 percent said they would talk to a stranger on a train.

But are these expectations correct? Epley and his team have conducted years of research on this. They ask people to make predictions going into social encounters. Then, afterward, they ask them how it had gone.

They found that most of us are systematically mistaken about how much we will enjoy a social encounter. Commuters expected to have less pleasant rides if they tried to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But their actual experience was precisely the opposite. People randomly assigned to talk with a stranger enjoyed their trips consistently more than those instructed to keep to themselves. Introverts sometimes go into these situations with particularly low expectations, but both introverts and extroverts tended to enjoy conversations more than riding solo.

It turns out many of us wear ridiculously negative antisocial filters. Epley and his team found that people underestimate how positively others will respond when they reach out to express support. Research led by Stav Atir and Kristina Wald showed that most people underestimate how much they will learn from conversations with strangers.

In other research, people underestimated how much they would enjoy longer conversations with new acquaintances. People underestimated how much they’re going to enjoy deeper conversations compared to shallower conversations. They underestimated how much they would like the person. They underestimated how much better their conversation would be if they moved to a more intimate communications media — talking on the phone rather than texting. In settings ranging from public parks to online, people underestimated how positively giving a compliment to another person would make the recipient feel.

We’re an extremely social species, but many of us suffer from what Epley calls undersociality. We see the world in anxiety-drenched ways that cause us to avoid social situations that would be fun, educational and rewarding.

8) Pew with a notable chart:

Chart shows economy remains dominant midterm voting issue, but abortion grows in importance

9) Really enjoyed this Noah Smith, “On the wisdom of the historians: Just as in economics, beware untested theories.”

A lot of people are talking about the history profession this week. There was a kerfuffle when James Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, wrote a rambling and somewhat opaque post criticizing what he felt was his profession’s excessive focus on the politics of the present, and singling out the 1619 Project for criticism. A subset of historians predictably flew into a rage at this, and forced Sweet to issue a stumbling apology.

I’m not particularly interested in the “woke vs. anti-woke” politics of this dispute. But I think a big part of the reason people care so much about the goings-on in history academia is that in recent years, history professors have become some of the most important voices that we look to in order to understand our current political and social troubles. Jay Caspian Kang explained it well in a New York Times column today:

Over the past decade or so, history has become the lingua franca of online political conversation. This is a relatively new phenomenon…[T]he shift has something to do with the centrality of Twitter over the past decade (historical documents and photos make for great screenshots) and, more important, the changes in the country itself. Once Donald Trump became president, it was harder to write about “Breaking Bad” and Taylor Swift in such self-serious tones…

Twitter has also allowed historians to assume a place in the public discourse that would’ve only been available to a select few before the advent of social media…As a result, history does seem to have an unusual amount of weight in the public discourse.

In the wake of the Great Recession, we talked a lot about whether economists and their theories were afforded too much credence, but as far as I can tell there has been no similarly critical public discourse about academic history. But there ought to be. Just as economists became a sort of priestly order that we relied upon to tell us how to achieve prosperity and distribute resources in society, historians have become a sort of priestly order that we rely on to tell us about where our politics are headed and how we should think about our sense of nationhood.

This is not a blanket criticism of the history profession (although some people on Twitter are certain to interpret it as such, and react accordingly). I am not saying that history needs to stay out of politics and go back to the ivory tower. Nor am I saying that our current crop of historians have bad takes on modern politics. All I am saying is that we ought to think about historians’ theories with the same empirically grounded skepticism with which we ought to regard the mathematized models of macroeconomics.

10) Good stuff from McWhorter, “Leveling the racism charge at something like a licensing exam is crude — it flies past issues more nuanced and complex”

The Association of Social Work Boards administers tests typically required for the licensure of social workers. Apparently, this amounts to a kind of racism that must be reckoned with.

There is a Change.org petition circulating saying just that, based on the claim that the association’s clinical exam is biased because from 2018 to 2021 84 percent of white test-takers passed it the first time while only 45 percent of Black test-takers and 65 percent of Latino test-takers did. “These numbers are grossly disproportionate and demonstrate a failure in the exam’s design,” the petition states, adding that an “assertion that the problem lies with test-takers only reinforces the racism inherent to the test.” The petitioners add that the exam is administered only in English and its questions are based on survey responses from a disproportionately white pool of social workers.

But the petition doesn’t sufficiently explain why that makes the test racist. We’re just supposed to accept that it is. The petitioners want states to eliminate requirements that social workers pass the association’s tests, leaving competence for licensure to be demonstrated through degree completion and a period of supervised work.

So: It’s wrong to use a test to evaluate someone’s qualifications to be a social worker? This begins to sound plausible only if you buy into the fashionable ideology of our moment, in which we’re encouraged to think it’s somehow antiracist to excuse Black and brown people from being measured by standardized testing. There have been comparable claims these days with regard to tests for math teachers in Ontario and state bar exams, and, in the past, on behalf of applicants to the New York City Fire Department

This will mean taking a deep breath and asking why it is that in various instances, Black and Latino test-takers disproportionately have trouble with standardized tests. The reason for the deep breath is the implication ever in the air on this subject: that if the test isn’t racist, then the results might suggest that they aren’t as smart as their white peers. That’s an artificially narrowed realm of choices, however. There is more to what shapes how people handle things like standardized tests.

11) I can’t say stories of our criminal justice system like this surprise me.  But they still infuriate me.  This is just not okay.  Seriously, read this twitter thread:

12) I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who don’t have ideas of friendship shaped by toxic masculinity. “Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health”  This Vox piece is all images– I think this one is key:

13) Good stuff from Katherine Wu on the Omicron boosters.

The nation has latched on before to the idea that shots alone can see us through. When vaccines first rolled out, Americans were assured that they’d essentially stamp out transmission, and that the immunized could take off their masks. “I thought we learned our lesson,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University. Apparently we did not. America is still stuck on the notion of what Popescu calls “vaccine absolutism.” And it rests on two very shaky assumptions, perhaps both doomed to fail: that the shots can and should sustainably block infection, and that “people will actually go and get the vaccine,” says Deshira Wallace, a public-health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As fall looms, the U.S. is now poised to expose the fatal paradox in its vaccine-only plan. At a time when the country is more reliant than ever on the power of inoculation, we’re also doing less than ever to set the shots up for success.

14) I’ve long been fascinated by the ongoing technological warfare between car manufacturers and car thieves.  This, from Planet Money was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read on it:

15) Lots and lots of people shared this article with me, “Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury? It’s all fun and games till you strain your Achilles’ tendon, herniate a disc or do a face-plant in the Kitchen.”

16) This is wild… you will metabolize a pill much faster if you take it and lie on your right side than on your left.  Asymmetry, baby! 

17) Another really good post from Noah Smith, “The Elite Overproduction Hypothesis: Did America produce too many frustrated college graduates in the 2000s and 2010s?”

Ben Schmidt has many more interesting data points in his Twitter thread. To me the most striking was that there are now almost as many people majoring in computer science as in all of the humanities put together:

When you look at the data, it becomes very apparent why the shift is happening. College kids increasingly want majors that will lead them directly to secure and/or high-paying jobs. That’s why STEM and medical fields — and to a lesser degree, blue-collar job-focused fields like hospitality — have been on the rise.

But looking back at that big bump of humanities majors in the 2000s and early 2010s (the raw numbers are here), and thinking about the social unrest America has experienced over the last 8 years, makes me think about Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction. Basically, the idea here is that America produced a lot of highly educated people with great expectations for their place in American society, but that our economic and social system was unable to accommodate many of these expectations, causing them to turn to leftist politics and other disruptive actions out of frustration and disappointment.

18) I wrote a whole post on this a long time ago, but, short version, this research shows why being a college professor is the best job in the world.

19) Democrats can only hope our current Lieutenant Governor is the Republican’s gubernatorial nominee in 2024:

Third graders who attend public school in North Carolina learn about the solar system and volcanoes in science class. Fourth graders study fossils.

Social studies at the second grade level teaches students about democracy. In fifth grade, students discuss rights that are protected under the U.S. Constitution.

But according to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, kids shouldn’t be learning about any of that…

“In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” he writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

Inspired by Mississippi-based journalist Sarah Fowler’s brilliant Washington Post story on the folks who changed their baby’s first name — 30,000 in the past five years alone — we asked the Social Security Administration for a list of the most-changed names. They ran the numbers back to 2017.

Apparently, it’s hard to spell after you or your partner have just gone through labor: The two most-changed names are “Issac” and “Chole,” and the two most-adopted names, as you might expect…

Beyond egregious misspellings, the third most-changed and third most-adopted names show another common pattern: People tend to abandon names that are falling rapidly in the ranks of most popular baby names — such as Aiden — and to adopt names that are on the rise, such as Sebastian.

21) This is something else, “The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment.”  Also, a Fresh Air interview

22) OMG the Mensa people are pathetic, “My Week With America’s Smartest* People”

The truth was, I couldn’t quite articulate why I wouldn’t want to join. I certainly had a nice time at the convention. (“I’ve never seen you do this much reporting,” my fiancé said after I informed him I had to spend yet another day there.) The environment reminded me that I take pleasure in a lot of the same nerdy shit Mensans live for: logic games, trivia, and other sorts of puzzles. It was fun learning Set and later, competing in the Wordle tournament.

But I didn’t quite feel like I had found my people. I have never in my life struggled to find smart friends who get my jokes, and my intelligence (or, per my haters, my lack thereof) isn’t something that makes me feel alienated from my peers. It’s not to say that being brainy isn’t important to me — I’m glad I’m engaged to someone who I think is brilliant and likes to play all the stupid little games that I do — but high IQ is not in the top ten or 20 or 100 qualities I look for in a friend or community. I want to be around part of a group of people who are empathetic and funny and intellectually curious and have weird interests. A lot of people I met fit that bill. And I’m happy for all the Mensans who have found a home in their exclusive club and that their IQ has provided them with a way to understand themselves and their place in the world.

But if my time at the Mensa Annual Gathering taught me anything, it’s that being “smart” and doing well on tests have virtually nothing to do with each other.

22) Gallup, “Americans and the Future of Cigarettes, Marijuana, Alcohol”

Gallup has been asking Americans about their attitudes toward cigarettes and alcohol since the 1930s and 1940s, and, in more recent decades, has added similar questions about marijuana. One purpose of these continuing surveys is to update estimates of these substances’ frequency of use.

 

  • Alcohol is by far the most used of the three. About 45% of Americans have had an alcoholic drink within the past week, while another 23% say they use it occasionally. A third are “total abstainers.”

    Alcohol use has remained relatively constant over the years. The average percentage of Americans who have said they are drinkers since 1939 is 63%, quite close to Gallup’s most recent reading of 67%.

 

  • Some 16% of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, while a total of 48% say they have tried it at some point in their lifetime.

    Marijuana use (based on self-reports) has increased dramatically over the past half-century. Only 4% said they had ever tried marijuana in 1969, when the question was first asked. That’s now 48%. Seven percent of Americans said they currently smoke marijuana in 2013, compared with the 16% measured this summer.

 

 

  • Cigarette smoking incidence has dropped steadily over the decades, from a high of 45% in the mid-1950s.

    Today, a new low of 11% of American adults report being smokers. Roughly three in 10 nonsmokers say they used to smoke.

In sum, American adults are significantly more likely to use alcohol than either marijuana or cigarettes. And while alcohol consumption has remained relatively constant over the decades, cigarette use is now less than a fourth of what it was in the 1950s. Americans’ regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward…

Bottom Line

Americans recognize the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes, and smoking has declined significantly over the past half-century and can be expected to continue on this trajectory.

Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union.

The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally. But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use. Why people use alcohol and have continued to use it while recognizing its downsides are complex questions that have engendered a great deal of medical and psychological research over the years. Clearly the social and personal benefits alcohol provides, along with its historical entrenchment in American culture, tend to outweigh consideration of its social and personal costs.

What could change the pattern of alcohol use going forward? Americans are not likely to support any type of ban on alcohol (a 2014 CNN poll showed only 18% of Americans said alcohol should be made illegal in this country), so if alcohol use diminishes in the future, it will most likely result from factors like those that reduced the incidence of smoking. These include an increased emphasis on its personal and social costs, along with, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such steps as increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of places where alcohol is sold, and reducing the hours of sale and general availability of alcohol.

 

(Better than no) Quick Hits

Sorry I’ve let you all down with the limited posting this week.  Been pretty busy getting ready for classes to start this coming week.  Throw in a day off on Friday to visit Wet n Wild with my daughter (soooo fun) and many hours last evening to celebrate the wedding of one of my most loyal readers (who, presumably, will not be reading this Sunday morning), and, tough weekend for quick hits, too. But, I couldn’t give you nothing, so, we’ll see how much I can queue up Saturday post-nuptials…

1) Such a good post from Brian Beutler (he’s good at this!)

All of this raises the question of what Democrats can do as we drift into an information environment that responsible gatekeepers no longer shape, where huge swaths of the population can be made to think that wild conspiracy theories and bizarre nonsense (Colbert-sent reporters???) are the most important stories the Democrat-run media won’t tell you about. What do liberals who hope to persuade people with facts and reason do in a world where an astonishing percentage of young voters get their popular information from social media platforms like TikTok and, also (by pure coincidence, probably) an astonishing percentage of young voters disapprove of Biden. More even than disapproved of Trump.

The answer, I think (and to coin a bunch of tedious Trump apologists) is to take Dark Brandon seriously but not literally. More specifically, it’s to realize that Democrats are already figuring out how to win in this new world without embracing the genuinely dark forces of incitement and totalitarian lying that now define GOP politics. Obama did it in 2012. John Fetterman is doing it today, pairing a high-minded substantive campaign with a meme-driven one aimed at making a mockery of his opponent. He’s crushing Dr. Oz by a greater margin than the other statewide candidates in Pennsylvania are leading their races, or Senate candidates in other battlegrounds are leading theirs.

The January 6 committee has done it in its own way, rendering a substantive and complex investigation of a huge and important scandal into headline-grabbing moments with long shelf lives.  

But the Democratic strategic class remains excessively hidebound to the material school. When House Democrats were about to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who runs the House Democrats’ election committee, appeared on MSNBC and scolded his interviewers for asking him about the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago, and Donald Trump’s theft of highly classified information. “Look, it’s sad and it is serious that we would be in a place where we had a former president keeping classified information in the basement,” he said. “But can I tell you something? We are on the verge of historic legislation right here. So with all due respect, I think you guys are maybe overdoing the relative importance of these two stories. My constituents care a lot more about what’s in their paychecks than what’s in Donald Trump’s basement.”

 
 

Right, when has a candidate having classified information in her basement ever changed the course of an election?

There remain too many Democrats who don’t get that these stories about Trump are opportunities to influence social knowledge about him and the GOP. Republicans don’t miss those moments. They know each Trump scandal impels them to circle wagons and treat Trump like a victim, so that as many people as possible come to see him that way; they know that when their opponents are under criminal investigation, it’s good news for them. Meanwhile it’s been a week and a half since the raid and Democratic leaders have done nothing to influence how people perceive that development and, astonishingly, almost seem to wish it would disappear. 

These are moments candidates like Fetterman (and the January 6 committee and the 2012 Obama campaign and Dark Brandon) wouldn’t miss. Easy opportunities not just to go on the attack but to turn the subject matter underlying the attack into a multi-day earned-media bonanza. Like the one that would ensue if congressional Republicans had to vote on their demand to defund the FBI, or to insulate critical national-security investigations from political meddling. Fetterman has a maestro’s knack for creating online content that makes Oz look ridiculous. But his tweets don’t do the work directly. It’s that they’re funny, and people talk about them, and reporters glom on, and turn them into news stories. If Fetterman had inverted his formula and run an expensive TV ad about Dr. Oz calling vegetables “crudités,” while using his Twitter account to talk about the prescription-drug provisions of the IRA, it would’ve accomplished almost nothing. Instead Pennsylvania political media can’t get enough of how Oz appears to be from outer space

By the same token, Chuck Schumer could do the work of 100 paid ads by one day casually responding to a question about GOP Senate candidates with an arch line about whether the reporter was referring to the one who threatened to kill his wife, the one who actually lives in New Jersey, the one whose intellectual role models are Nazis, or the one who spent 4th of July with Putin and lies about vaccines. Republicans would get mad, and then we’d get a multi-day conversation about how insane the GOP candidates are (couched here and there as a Schumer fact check). And the fundamental vileness of the Republican field would become a piece of social knowledge people shared, irrespective of anyone’s plans to address inflation. 

But it’d require using a different skill set, a willingness to wield message after message in search of the dagger that draws blood. It’d require at least some recognition that materiality and data aren’t destiny. It’d require asking, What Would Dark Brandon Do? 

2) Still very unsure of what to make of this NC Supreme Court decision.  Just because a decision benefits liberals does not mean this is how I want a judicial system to operate.  But, Democrats should also not unilaterally disarm.  

North Carolina’s state legislature was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to the extent that lawmakers may have lacked the authority to claim to represent the people, when they passed new constitutional amendments in 2018, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled Friday.

“Today’s decision sends a watershed message in favor of accountability and North Carolina democracy,” said Deborah Maxwell, president of the North Carolina NAACP, which brought the lawsuit. “Rigging elections by trampling on the rights of Black voters has consequences.”

One of the state constitutional amendments in question required voters to show photo ID to cast a ballot. It has never been used, however, due to this and other lawsuits challenging it. The other banned future politicians from raising the state’s income tax rate above 7%.

Justice Anita Earls’ majority opinion states that “amendments that could change basic tenets of our constitutional system of government warrant heightened scrutiny,” especially when written by “legislators whose claim to represent the people’s will has been disputed.”

3) Yes, I have already messaged my doctor about getting some oral minoxidil.  But, it is kind of crazy to think that we’ve got a great drug for hair loss not being used in the most effective way because there’s not enough profit incentive:

But there is a cheap treatment, he and other dermatologists say, costing pennies a day, that restores hair in many patients. It is minoxidil, an old and well-known hair-loss treatment drug used in a very different way. Rather than being applied directly to the scalp, it is being prescribed in very low-dose pills.

Although a growing group of dermatologists is offering low-dose minoxidil pills, the treatment remains relatively unknown to most patients and many doctors. It has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose and so is prescribed off-label — a common practice in dermatology.

Without a rigorous trial leading to F.D.A. approval, though, the use of minoxidil pills for hair loss remains off-label. And, dermatologists say, it is likely to remain so.

“Oral minoxidil costs pennies a day,” Dr. King said. “There is no incentive to spend tens of millions of dollars to test it in a clinical trial. That study truly is never, ever going to be done.”
Serious question, though, should Pfizer or somebody like that take minoxidil, add a useless molecule to it call it levominoxidil or something and market it as an amazing new baldness cure?  What am I missing?  

4) Great stuff from Chait:

After making the decision to stop challenging Trump’s election lies, it followed that the rest of the party needed to go along. Cheney stubbornly refused. As a result, Republicans stripped her of her leadership post and then began to abandon her as Trump backed a primary challenge.

The party Establishment decided to treat Trump’s coup as a minor detail they could put to the side. Confronting the insurrection would open a damaging schism within the party. They expected the party to work together in an authoritarian-led coalition.

Accordingly, the Establishment Republican view is that Cheney has nobody to blame for her defeat but herself. Cheney might be correct about the 2020 election result, but she should have kept quiet. “In Wyoming, Cheney lost because her constituents saw that she cared more about fighting Trump than fighting Biden. She was more concerned with waging a civil war within the Republican Party than the inflation that is forcing her voters to choose between staples such as gas and food,” argues Marc Thiessen. “Telling truths is important, but we rightly regard people who only ever tell the same one truth all the time as fanatics who have lost perspective,” explains the National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

But of course one completely foreseeable consequence of the party’s decision to cede the argument over 2020 to Trump is that it has allowed Trump to retain his influence. Republicans complain over the personal aspect of Trump’s influence — he has interceded in primaries to endorse unqualified candidates — but his ideological influence is more profound.

If Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen, of course they are going to demand their party nominate candidates who will stop it. Why would they even consider “moving on” from a historical crime so profound? It makes perfect sense that their primary consideration in choosing nominees going forward is a willingness to fight against the future steals they believe will occur.

Yet the party Establishment has persisted in believing Trump’s influence is the result of choices other than their own refusal to confront him. This explains why the Democratic Party tactic of running ads highlighting the extremism of Trumpist primary candidates, and thus to help them win, has become an obsession of anti-anti-Trump Republicans. The tactic may be deplorable, but its effect on the outcome of Republicans primaries is marginal. The greatest determinate by far is the GOP backing off its brief determination to purge Trump. Once they decided they couldn’t win without him, they ceded all the leverage to Trump.

In a just world, the Republican Establishment would pay a dear price for its cowardice. In reality, the price is likely to be bearable. Very few Republicans have any moral compunction against electing extreme or even outright fascistic Republicans to office. Witness the near-total absence of any intraparty resistance to candidates like election denier Kari Lake or Christian nationalist and Nazi ally Doug Mastriano, both of whom have enjoyed full public endorsements from Ron DeSantis, the main hope of the GOP’s non-Trump wing.

5) Lara Bazelon, “The Death Penalty Case That Went Too Far Oklahoma is set to kill Richard Glossip, but he’s almost certainly innocent. Even Republicans are revolting.”

6) If there’s one thing Dall-e 2 is really good at, it is mimicking the style of a particular artist.  Wired on the implications for current artists:

David Oreilly, a digital artist who has been critical of DALL-E, says the idea of using these tools that feed on past work to create new works that make money feels wrong. “They don’t own any of the material they reconstitute,” he says. “It would be like Google Images charging money.”

Jonathan Løw, CEO of Jumpstory, a Danish stock image company, says he doesn’t understand how AI-generated images can be used commercially. “I’m fascinated by the technology but also deeply concerned and skeptical,” he says.

Hannah Wong, a spokesperson for OpenAI, provided a statement saying the company’s image-making service was used by many artists, and that the company had sought feedback from artists during the tool’s development. “Copyright law has adapted to new technology in the past and will need to do the same with AI-generated content,” the statement said. “We continue to seek artists’ perspectives and look forward to working with them and policymakers to help protect the rights of creators.”

Although Guadamuz believes it will be difficult to sue someone for using AI to copy their work, he expects there to be lawsuits. “There will absolutely be all sorts of litigation at some point—I’m sure of it,” he says. He says that infringing trademarks like a brand’s logo, or the image of a character such as Mickey Mouse, could prove more legally fraught.

Other legal experts are less sure that AI generated knock-offs are on solid legal ground. “I could see litigation arising from the artist who says ‘I didn’t give you permission to train your algorithm on my art,’” says Bradford Newman, a partner in the law firm Baker Mckenzie, who specializes in AI. “It is a completely open question as to who would win such a case.”

7) This is great from Don Moynihan, “Republican loyalty to Trump is fueling more radical positions about the role of the state”

8) I’ll admit, I didn’t read the whole thing.  But this is a helluva photo essay very much worth taking a look at (gift link), “Odesa Is Defiant. It’s Also Putin’s Ultimate Target.”

9) Of course, there’s just no political viability in this, but an interesting idea that liberals should stop looking to rehabilitate the Constitution because it’s beyond rehabilitation:

When liberals lose in the Supreme Court — as they increasingly have over the past half-century — they usually say that the justices got the Constitution wrong. But struggling over the Constitution has proved a dead end. The real need is not to reclaim the Constitution, as many would have it, but instead to reclaim America from constitutionalism.

The idea of constitutionalism is that there needs to be some higher law that is more difficult to change than the rest of the legal order. Having a constitution is about setting more sacrosanct rules than the ones the legislature can pass day to day. Our Constitution’s guarantee of two senators to each state is an example. And ever since the American founders were forced to add a Bill of Rights to get their handiwork passed, national constitutions have been associated with some set of basic freedoms and values that transient majorities might otherwise trample.

But constitutions — especially the broken one we have now — inevitably orient us to the past and misdirect the present into a dispute over what people agreed on once upon a time, not on what the present and future demand for and from those who live now. This aids the right, which insists on sticking with what it claims to be the original meaning of the past.

Arming for war over the Constitution concedes in advance that the left must translate its politics into something consistent with the past. But liberals have been attempting to reclaim the Constitution for 50 years — with agonizingly little to show for it. It’s time for them to radically alter the basic rules of the game.

In making calls to regain ownership of our founding charter, progressives have disagreed about strategy and tactics more than about this crucial goal. Proposals to increase the number of justices, strip the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to invalidate federal law or otherwise soften the blow of judicial review frequently come together with the assurance that the problem is not the Constitution; only the Supreme Court’s hijacking of it is. And even when progressives concede that the Constitution is at the root of our situation, typically the call is for some new constitutionalism…

No matter how openly political it may purport to be, reclaiming the Constitution remains a kind of antipolitics. It requires the substitution of claims about the best reading of some centuries-old text or about promises said to be already in our traditions for direct arguments about what fairness or justice demands.

It’s difficult to find a constitutional basis for abortion or labor unions in a document written by largely affluent men more than two centuries ago. It would be far better if liberal legislators could simply make a case for abortion and labor rights on their own merits without having to bother with the Constitution.

By leaving democracy hostage to constraints that are harder to change than the rest of the legal order, constitutionalism of any sort demands extraordinary consensus for meaningful progress. It conditions democracy in which majority rule always must matter most on surviving vetoes from powerful minorities that invoke the constitutional past to obstruct a new future.

After failing to get the Constitution interpreted in an egalitarian way for so long, the way to seek real freedom will be to use procedures consistent with popular rule. It will not be easy, but a new way of fighting within American democracy must start with a more open politics of altering our fundamental law, perhaps in the first place by making the Constitution more amendable than it is now.

10) Of course in a post-Roe world Louisiana is making a woman carry a fetus that will be born without a skull and die.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health said that because of Ms. Davis’s case the department would add acrania to the preliminary list of two dozen fetal conditions explicitly named as examples of conditions that would make a pregnancy “medically futile” and allow for an abortion.

The final guidelines will go into effect 90 days after a public notice, which was expected to be published in the September edition of the state register, said Michelle McCalope, a spokeswoman for the agency, in an email.

Jenny Ma, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has led arguments for plaintiffs challenging the Louisiana law, said that the group was “absolutely horrified” about Ms. Davis’s situation and that it was “absolutely one of the animating reasons for the lawsuit that we brought.” Ms. Ma noted that there was also a lack of clarity about what kind of physicians could sign off on the exemption, and that there was not a guarantee that two doctors would be available or nearby to quickly assess a case, particularly in rural areas.

She added that any list could not account for every situation that could emerge and that the problem was “exacerbated by the chilling effect” on doctors who were facing legal liability.

Sarah Zagorski, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Right to Life, who noted that the organization had fought against an amendment to the ban that allowed for an exception if a fetus had a fatal medical condition, said that in Ms. Davis’s case, the organization would recommend “support for families and perinatal palliative care from the moment of the diagnosis through the duration of the child’s natural life.”

My God these forced-birth-at-all-costs people are just insane.  Who does this to a mother/family?

11) If there’s one thing I didn’t need data to know, but, still, nice to have proof, “Buttons beat touchscreens in cars, and now there’s data to prove it”

I love the Carplay in my Jetta, but I also love that all the climate and basic radio functions are good old-fashioned buttons and knobs.

12) Study– Russians basically made up their efficacy data on the Sputnik vaccine.

13) Really interesting post from Scott Alexander on how and why our skills decay over time:

Why Do Skills Plateau?

 

Economist Philip Frances finds that creative artists, on average, do their best work in their late 30s. Isn’t this strange? However good a writer is at age 35, they should be even better at 55 with twenty more years of practice. Sure, middle age might bring some mild proto-cognitive-impairment, but surely nothing so dire that it cancels out twenty extra years!

A natural objection is that maybe they’ve maxed out their writing ability; further practice won’t help. But this can’t be true; most 35 year old writers aren’t Shakespeare or Dickens, so higher tiers of ability must be possible. But you can’t get there just by practicing more. If acheivement is a function of talent and practice, at some point returns on practice decrease near zero.

The same is true for doctors. Young doctors (under 40) have slightly better cure rates than older doctors (eg 40-49). The linked study doesn’t go any younger (eg under 35, under 30…). However, Goodwin et al find that only first-year doctors suffer from inexperience; by a doctor’s second year, she’s doing about as well as she ever will. Why? Wouldn’t you expect someone who’s practiced medicine for twenty years to be better than someone who’s only done it for two?

We find the same phenomenon in formal education; on a standardized test of book learning for student doctors, there’s a big increase the first year of training, a smaller increase the second year, and by year 4-5 the increase is basically indistinguishable from zero (even though some doctors remain better than others). And here I talk about a slightly different phenomenon: ADHD children given Ritalin study harder and better, but haven’t learned any more vocabulary words at the end of a course (even though they haven’t learned all the vocabulary).

After a lot of looking through the psychological literature, I’ve found two hypotheses which, combined, mostly satisfy my curiosity.

The Decay Hypothesis

 

The first explanation is a “dynamic equilibrium of forgetting”.

Suppose that you forget any fact you haven’t reviewed in X amount of time (X might be shorter or longer depending on your intelligence/memory/talent). And suppose that an average doctor sees 5 diseases ~weekly, another 5 diseases ~monthly, and another 5 diseases ~yearly. A bad doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a week, a mediocre doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a month, and a great doctor might forget anything she sees less than once a year. So the bad doctor will end up knowing about 5 diseases, the mediocre doctor 10, and the great doctor 15. They will master these diseases quickly, and no matter how long they continue practicing medicine, they will never get better…

The Interference Hypothesis

 

An acquaintance relates that, using flashcards, he can learn twenty words of some language (I forget which, let’s say Spanish) per day. If he studies more than twenty, too bad, he’ll only remember twenty.

But if he studies two language (let’s say Spanish and Chinese), he can learn twenty Spanish vocab words plus twenty Chinese vocab words. The cap is per language, not absolute!

This suggests an interference hypothesis: once there are too many similar things in memory, they all kind of blend together and it’s hard to learn new things in the same space. It might still be easy to learn some other topic, though. However fast you can comfortably learn Spanish, you can take a karate class at the same time and learn karate and that won’t interfere.

Something like this feels intuitively true to me. I find remembering the difference between gold and silver easier than remembering the difference between yttrium and ytterbium. In fact, I remember the basics of inorganic chemistry, and the basics of organic chemistry, but not the details of either. Why do I even remember the basics? Why not forget all of it? Why is getting an introductory understanding of twenty fields easier than getting a masterly understanding of one?

Wikipedia has a good summary of experiments showing that memory inteference is a real phenomenon, but I can’t tell if their page is treating it as a curiosity or as the fundamental explanation for why we can’t keep learning a field forever and eventually become as gods by the time we’re 50 or 60. But I think it’s a big part of that.

This feels more convincing after learning about neural nets. The ability of neural nets to consider finely-grained concepts depends on their parameter count; the more parameters, the more distinctions they can draw. A common problem is “catastrophic forgetting”, where too high a learning rate causes a net to overfit to “remember” the most recent example, making it less good at remembering previous examples. Human memory seems to lack this failure mode, but maybe its ordinary forgetting is a tamer subspecies of the same problem.

14) Alex Tabarrok, “Still under-policed and over-imprisoned”

A new paper, The Injustice of Under-Policing, makes a point that I have been emphasizing for many years, namely, relative to other developed countries the United States is under-policed and over-imprisoned.

…the American criminal legal system is characterized by an exceptional kind of under-policing, and a heavy reliance on long prison sentences, compared to other developed nations. In this country, roughly three people are incarcerated per police officer employed. The rest of the developed world strikes a diametrically opposite balance between these twin arms of the penal state, employing roughly three and a half times more police officers than the number of people they incarcerate. We argue that the United States has it backward. Justice and efficiency demand that we strike a balance between policing and incarceration more like that of the rest of the developed world. We call this the “First World Balance.”

First, as is well known, the US  has a very high rate of imprisonment compared to other countries but less well  known is that the US has a relatively low rate of police per capita.

Image

If we focus on rates relative to crime then we get a slightly different but similar perspective. Namely, relative to the number of homicides we have a normal rate of imprisonment but are still surprisingly under-policed.

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As a result, as I argued in What Was Gary Becker’s Biggest Mistake?, we have a low certainty of punishment (measured as arrests per homicide) and then try to make up for that with high punishment levels (prisoners per arrest). The low certainty, high punishment level is especially notably for black Americans.

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Shifting to more police and less imprisonment could reduce crime and improve policing. More police and less imprisonment also has the advantage of being a feasible policy. Large majorities of blacks, hispanics and whites support hiring more police. “Tough on crime” can be interpreted as greater certainty of punishment and with greater certainty of punishment we can safely reduce punishment levels.

15) “All Hooting Aside: Did a Vocal Evolution Give Rise to Language? The loss of certain muscles in the human larynx may have helped give our species a voice, a new study suggests.”

Read this sentence aloud, if you’re able.

As you do, a cascade of motion begins, forcing air from your lungs through two muscles, which vibrate, sculpting sound waves that pass through your mouth and into the world. These muscles are called vocal cords, or vocal folds, and their vibrations form the foundations of the human voice.

They also speak to the emergence and evolution of human language.

For several years, a team of scientists based mainly in Japan used imaging technology to study the physiology of the throats of 43 species of primates, from baboons and orangutans to macaques and chimpanzees, as well as humans. All the species but one had a similar anatomical structure: an extra set of protruding muscles, called vocal membranes or vocal lips, just above the vocal cords. The exception was Homo sapiens.

The researchers also found that the presence of vocal lips destabilized the other primates’ voices, rendering their tone and timbre more chaotic and unpredictable. Animals with vocal lips have a more grating, less controlled baseline of communication, the study found; humans, lacking the extra membranes, can exchange softer, more stable sounds. The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Science.

16) Ecosystems are cool. “Death Valley’s Invasive Donkeys Have Become Cat Food: Feral burros wreck wetlands in the desert national park. But a study found that when mountain lions prey on them, the donkeys may help some terrain thrive.”

Early on a June morning in Death Valley National Park, a wild donkey brought her foal to one of the springs scattered throughout the desert. Two sets of eyes watched the foal pick its way through the brush. One set belonged to a mountain lion, the other to a trail camera.

Footage of the subsequent kill was published last month in the Journal of Animal Ecologyin a study that provided direct evidence of mountain lions hunting donkeys in the western deserts of North America. The attacks don’t just result in donkey scraps and full cougars, researchers argue: They suggest that native carnivores act as an important check on nonnative prey. The study also raises questions about how damaging donkeys are in the wild desert landscapes where they are found, although federal wildlife authorities maintain a goal of eliminating them entirely.

Donkeys originated in North Africa but were introduced to the United States through the mining industry in the late 1800s. Federal agencies were not pleased to see the hardy herbivores establish themselves in Death Valley. In the 1930s, wildlife managers began culling donkeys, arguing that herds of burros trampled vegetation, muddied springs and drove away native wildlife like bighorn sheep. But the donkeys have persisted, and decades later, an estimated 4,000 live in Death Valley, despite National Park Service goals of bringing the population to zero.

Erick Lundgren, a biologist at Aarhus University in Denmark took an interest in the donkeys’ effects on the desert’s wetlands. Initially, he focused on donkeys’ habit of digging wells — sometimes up to five feet deep — to reach water beneath dry stream beds. These wells have often been cited as evidence of ecological damage, Dr. Lundgren said. But he and colleagues found in a 2021 study that donkey wells served as nurseries and oases for native plants and animals.

He also found that donkeys congregating near Death Valley campsites could cause damage.

“They pretty much turn these wetlands into just a warren of trails and trampled ground,” Dr. Lundgren said. While some plant species actually benefit from this kind of grazing, he added, the donkeys wipe out other kinds of vegetation that attract birds and store carbon.

But in more remote spring-fed groves, Dr. Lundgren found, donkeys tended not to linger, and their impact on vegetation was much less drastic. At many of the sites, the researchers found mountain lion caches — the stashed carcasses that are hidden away behind boulders or thickets to prevent theft by scavengers and other cats. Many of the Death Valley caches contained donkey remains, suggesting that donkeys in parts of the park were serving an important ecological function: cat food…

“Our study shows that burros can denude wetlands but only when mountain lions are absent,” Dr. Lundgren said. “This is the case in the most visible springs in Death Valley, which occur at campsites, where mountain lions are fearful to go,” Dr. Lundgren said. He said that the places where wild donkeys do the most damage are “places that are artificially safe because of humans.”

The predators, in other words, were acting as a check on the donkeys, Dr. Lundgren said, moderating their impact on sensitive sites into something ecologically useful — well digging and opening up spring-fed thickets.

17) This is great, “11 Questions About the Dr. Oz Crudités Video”

18) Score this one for twitter.  Jesse Singal tweeted what overlooked movie should he watch on a streaming platform and someone suggested Oxygen on Netflix.  I don’t think Singal watched it, but I’m damn glad I did.  

(Return of) Quick Hits

1) Great week at the beach.  No blogging, obviously, and I tried to cut my daily consumption of reading down by more than 50% and read some more novels and just relax.  Still, a ton of great stuff to share that I’ll be working through for a while.  Here’s our annual self-timer photo from Topsail Island Sound:

2) Among the novels… I was so happy to have a new Dan Chaon novel to read at the beach.  Sleepwalk did not disappoint. 

3) And, I finished reading the supposedly “transphobic” The Men.  It was really good (not great, but very thought-provoking and entertaining).  And the thought that this novel is, any way, “transphobic” just shows how unhinged the gender radicals and their allies are.

4) This! “How Are We Possibly Still Disinfecting Things? America can’t quit hygiene theater.”

A related reason might be that some people who do understand how the virus spreads see no harm in erring overwhelmingly on the side of caution. Though it’s irrational, they feel more secure knowing—or better yet, seeing—that their surroundings have recently been cleaned or that attempted safety protocols are in place. As customers have come to expect a higher level of visible hygiene, some businesses might feel as though they have no choice but to supply the theatrics. They’re left with an inflated standard that they don’t dare to burst…

A related and more nefarious reason hygiene theater persists is that good ventilation and filtration, great measures at cutting back infection, are invisible. For companies aiming to demonstrate their concern about COVID, these practices can have less payoff because they’re harder to flaunt (or at least, they’ll seem to have less payoff until the staff has a COVID outbreak and business stalls out). Instead of a wrapped and sanitized remote control in his hotel, Allen told me, “what I would have loved to have seen was a note on my bed that said they’ve upgraded the filters and increased the ventilation rate. The other stuff is just silly.” Maybe so, but plastic-wrapping a remote is a lot easier and cheaper than installing a suite of HEPA filters and convincing people that they’re there.

And thus, the theater continues. 

5) As mentioned previously, loved Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel.” Here’s a great interview with him.

6) I got off the waitlist and have access to Dall-e.  Here’s a twitter thread of my AI image creations.

7) Here’s a fascinating idea, “Could Your Old Poop Cure You of Future Diseases? Fecal transplants can fix gut diseases, but finding the right donor stool is tricky. The solution, some scientists believe, is to keep a store of your own.” 

But what if patients just used their own poop—or rather, healthy poop from their past? If harvested at a time when the patient was in good health, the bacteria in the sample would likely be well-balanced, perhaps removing the need to test and assure the quality of the donor’s stool.

In June of this year, after numerous requests from families, Amili announced that it would set up a separate bank for people who want to store their own samples for future treatments. Ong explains that individuals can freeze and preserve the “perfect version of their gut microbiome” when they are young and healthy, similar to storing eggs or stem cells, and then have them transplanted back when their health falters. “It removes a little bit of the yuck factor, as well, because you’re receiving something from yourself rather than from someone else,” he says.

Ong is not the only one who’s enthusiastic about the prospect of rejuvenating the gut microbiome using personal stool samples. Last week, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital argued in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine that the concept is worth exploring. They point to the mild temporary adverse effects observed after transplants with donated samples, and also to the potential for disease transmission between donor and recipient, and the fact that the long-term safety of donating fecal matter remains to be studied.

Emerging research and clinical trial data suggest that all of these concerns could be avoided by patients providing their own samples. “We don’t know a lot about why this works, to be truthful, but it does appear that using your own stool is better and safer than using a random donor,” says Scott Weiss, a professor of medicine at Harvard.

But Sarah McGill, an associate professor of medicine who studies the use of fecal transplants at the University of North Carolina, foresees logistical challenges. “Stool banks, which now exist mainly to treat people with C. diff infection, typically hold stool for weeks or months. Holding samples for years or decades would be more expensive,” she says.

8) My son asked me what Democrats should do to find back for democracy.  My short version was: “everything Brian Beutler says to do!”  His summary points (plus an excerpt) from this week (really– read it!)

① Even if Merrick Garland were a relentless insurrection fighter, existing norms governing our criminal-law system would still be a bad match for protecting Americans from a killshot aimed directly at the constitution

② Creating new processes and institutions for rare cases of coup attempts could take a life time, but within the existing ones, we can and should expect our leaders to be creative

③ Unfortunately, they tend to act is if Donald Trump’s relentless depravity can only be met with an equal and opposite demonstration of rectitude…

The central problem is this: In the course of trying to overthrow the Constitution, one might violate any number of criminal statutes. But criminal law doesn’t generally exist as an impenetrable shield against wrongdoing. Our laws against speeding don’t exist to guarantee that nobody ever drives over 70 miles per hour. Our laws against public corruption likewise exist (or existed before John Roberts defanged them, thanks John Roberts) not to make politics free from sin, but to make abuse of office come at a high potential cost, so that most leaders in most instances will act in the public’s interest rather than their own. 

Contrary to what Republicans say in utter bad faith about the futility of gun control, criminal laws haven’t failed in their purposes just because determined individuals nevertheless violate them. They mustn’t work perfectly in order to be said to have real value. That is, with one critical exception: When the crime is a killshot aimed at the republic itself. 

Our institutions of accountability need to foil traitors to the Constitution every time because by definition the legitimate government can’t survive a single successful attempt to overthrow it. 

And yet our Constitution doesn’t make any special distinction between the due process rights of workaday criminals and those of the rare criminals whose singular goal is the illegal seizure of the presidency. It does create special political processes for severing such people’s access to government power, such that threats to the government can be neutralized. People can be barred by the Constitution and the law from seeking federal office. If they have already obtained high office, they can be expelled in various ways. 

But these separate processes of political accountability also create the potential and even a regular incentive for something analogous to jury nullification on behalf of such offenders. America has never impeached and removed a president; it’s impeached and removed, or otherwise expelled, vanishingly few other federal officials leaving many, many clear offenders untouched. It took a civil war for the government to create a process for systematically banning enemies of the union from federal service, but the bar for banning duly nominated major-party candidates, or their official or unofficial leaders, in modern times remains insurmountably high. 

Criminal law might in theory create a failsafe against this kind of political immunity, but in practice that would require neutral prosecutors to aggressively target people like Trump who pose unacceptable danger to the constitutional order, and for normal judicial processes to work in all such cases. In reality, we will seldom have both of these things. Replace Garland with Batman and we’d still have to contend with the fact that someone so well situated to overthrow the government from within will also likely have a cultish sway over enough of the public to nullify actual criminal juries. 

The Way We Do Things leaves us in this perverse predicament where the only practicable forms of redress to a violent coup are coinflip prosecutions, and the hope that public exposure (through congressional oversight or trial evidence) will cause enough political damage to make the culprit too toxic to win back power, even through our minoritarian institutions. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

9) Headlines like this should not exist.  This should not be remotely legal. “4,000 Beagles Are Being Rescued From a Virginia Facility. Now They Need New Homes.”

10) A very good friend of mine– and yes, a reader of this very blog!– swam the English Channel last week.  I loved following along online.  And, I’m going to take .000000001% of the credit since she knew that her cars and house where well taken care of back in Cary, NC with the Greene family in charge :-). 

11) Important on abortion from Jamelle Bouie, “Republicans Are Already Threatening the Right to Travel”

There is nothing in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that would explicitly threaten the right to travel between states. In his concurrence with the majority’s ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh even says that in his view a state may not “bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion.”

But that’s exactly where some Republican-led states want to take the law.

Missouri lawmakers have introduced a “bounty” bill similar to the one now in operation in Texas, which would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident obtain an abortion out of state. Another bill would apply Missouri’s laws to abortions that occur in other states.

Speaking of Texas, a group of State House lawmakers who call themselves the Texas Freedom Caucus hope to “impose additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel,” regardless of where the abortion occurs.

According to The Washington Post, an anti-abortion organization led by Republican state lawmakers has been exploring “model legislation that would restrict people from crossing state lines for abortions.”

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society, told The Post. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”

And in Washington, congressional Republicans have rejected an effort to affirm the right to travel. “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?” asked Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, objecting to a Democratic bill that would bar restrictions on women traveling to another state to get a legal abortion.

There are few, if any, modern precedents for laws that limit the right of Americans to travel between states. To the extent that there is a history here, it lies in the legal conflicts over both fugitive slaves and free Black individuals in the decades before the Civil War.

12) And, OMG, these laws really are insane.  We are absolutely going to start seeing miscarrying women, etc., start dying soon.

My colleagues and I have watched all this in horror. We are worried that this could happen to us, too. A law that recently went into effect in Indiana mandates that doctors, hospitals and abortion clinics report to the state when a patient who has previously had an abortion presents any of dozens of physical or psychological conditions — including anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and uterine perforation — because they could be complications of the previous abortion. Not doing so within 30 days can result in a misdemeanor for the physician who treated the patient, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

The law is written so broadly that a primary care provider who sees a patient with depression, an anesthesiologist whose patient has an allergic reaction to a medication or a radiologist who notes a patient has free fluid in the abdomen could be punished with a fine and jail time if they don’t report these things as possible complications of that person’s prior abortion. Any health care provider so charged could easily become a target of national attention, with attacks against them professionally and personally.

While clinicians are generally required to have malpractice insurance, such coverage does not typically cover expenses related to criminal charges. And while malpractice insurance often covers legal counsel during a malpractice claim, the same is not true for criminal charges. In addition to those tangible repercussions of such charges, physicians are at professional and financial risk that could end their careers and affect their families. Health care systems must not abandon their physicians when they are most at risk, in order to avoid bad press.

Laws like these are too often written by politicians without medical expertise, and too often use medically inaccurate definitions. Lawmakers can claim that the laws aren’t intended to hurt patients, but they instill fear in providers that will have implications for patients nonetheless.

13) On some level, I really just don’t get Joe Manchin.  What’s his game?! He’s better than any Republican (he’s been good on judges, among other things), but he just seems like such a bad actor!

14) Really interesting ideas about therapeutic use of hallucinogens:

That study and several others have found that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are remarkably good at alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety — even in many people who do not respond to currently prescribed medications. They need to be taken only a few times (most clinical trials consist of two or three psychedelic sessions) instead of daily for months or years. Some experts say the therapy could be thought of as a surgery that solves a problem with a single procedure instead of a continuing treatment to manage a chronic condition.

Whether hallucinations like the ones Mr. Fernandez experienced are key to psychedelics’ effectiveness is now a question of great debate among researchers. The answer could determine whether millions of people receive much-needed treatment, and it could provide new insight into how mental health disorders are treated going forward.

Psilocybin is expected to receive approvalfor depression from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the decade, possibly in the next few years. But in its current form, psychedelic therapy will only ever be available for a select few. For one thing, it is not an easy, convenient treatment to undergo. It involves several therapy sessions in addition to the full-day intensive trips, which can be physically and emotionally taxing, not to mention expensive. More concerning, recent reports have emerged of clinicians taking advantage of patients during sessions, when they are in an incredibly vulnerable state. People with a personal or family history of schizophrenia are also currently ineligible for the treatment because of concerns that tripping may exacerbate an underlying risk for psychosis.

In response to these obstacles, some scientists are working to develop molecules based on psychedelics that provide the therapeutic benefits of the drugs but without the hallucinations.

“When you consider the fact that one in five people will suffer from a neuropsychiatric disease at some point in their lifetime, we’re talking a billion people worldwide,” said David Olson, an associate professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of California, Davis. “We need scalable treatments, and for that, I think we really need medicines that are easily administered.”

Dr. Olson and others think that psychedelics’ effects on the brain are what give them their therapeutic properties, not the trip they take people on, and that the subjective experience of the drugs can be removed while their impact on depression remains. Research conducted in rodents and petri dishes over the past few years suggests this may be possible. Several studies published by Dr. Olson and others have identified new molecules that act like psychedelics in the brain and maintain their antidepressant properties without causing rodents to hallucinate.

Other researchers are skeptical that these new compounds will work in humans. To them, the powerful emotional and mystical experiences caused by psychedelics are what lead to people’s therapeutic breakthroughs.

14) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf:

When Semantics Dominate Civics

Every so often, C-SPAN captures the shortcomings of American civic discourse particularly clearly. On Tuesday, during a televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on abortion access and the law, Senator Josh Hawley, a social conservative from Missouri, sparred with the UC Berkeley law professor Khiara M. Bridges, who studies race, class, and reproductive rights. If you follow left-of-center media, you may have heard about the exchange via headlines like these:

HuffPost: “Professor Schools Sen. Josh Hawley for His Transphobic Questions in Abortion Hearing”

Above the Law: “You *Have* to Watch This Law Professor SHUT DOWN Senator Josh Hawley”

New York magazine: “Josh Hawley Called Out as Transphobic in Senate Hearing”

Jezebel: “Berkeley Law Professor Eviscerates Sen. Josh Hawley at Post-Roe Hearing”

Inside a “blue” bubble, it would be easy to assume that Senator Hawley had had a bad day. Yet Hawley, for his part, did his utmost to make sure that same exchange reached as many people as possible. He appeared on the Fox News Channel in prime time to discuss the viral moment, amplified the efforts of numerous right-leaning media figures to publicize it, and tweeted out a video clip to his 894,000 Twitter followers. “The Democrats say what they really think: men can get pregnant and if you disagree, you are ‘transphobic’ and responsible for violence,” he wrote. “For today’s left, disagreement with them = violence. So you must not disagree.” Inside a “red” bubble, it would be easy to assume C-SPAN caught “woke insanity,” as The Daily Wire put it…

Both participants conducted that exchange in ways that were likely to earn praise from their ideological allies and contempt from their opponents while generating far more heat than light. Bridges shifted into attack mode and characterized Hawley as a dangerous bigot, generating praise from media leftists while guaranteeing that Hawley would be seen by many as a victim of an unfair attack. After all, neither evidence nor common sense suggests that questions like Hawley’s––questions attempting to bait a progressive into publicly saying that abortion isn’t a women’s issue––contribute to trans suicides. (What’s more, no research that I’m aware of connects suicides among any group to discourse of this sort, which is to say, general legislative debate as opposed to bullying an individual. If the journalists at HuffPost and beyond who endorsed Bridges’s claims truly believed Hawley’s words here would contribute to suicides, would they really have helped turn them into a viral video clip, taking something that aired on C-SPAN and deliberately exposing it to a much larger audience?) And for all of Hawley’s wrongheaded antagonism to LGBTQ rights, the locution that he is “denying that trans people exist” doesn’t capture his actual position.

I expect both know that Americans have long failed to disentangle sex and gender, and that many people use words like man and womanboy and girl inconsistently, sometimes referring to sex and other times to gender and still other times to a mix, often without thinking the matter through. If you asked me, “Do you think a man can be pregnant?” I’d answer, “If you define a man as someone with a penis, testicles, and a Y chromosome, no. If you define man as an identity that corresponds to an internal sense of felt gender, then yes. Before I can answer in a way that allows us to actually understand one another, I need you to know how you define man.”

Instead of modeling a constructive exchange by clarifying their own terminology, Hawley and Bridges talk past each other––mutually aware all the while that they are talking past each other––portraying each other as bigoted and crazy, respectively, for failing to mirror the other’s statements about men and women, when in large part the disconnect boils down to different definitions. To find agreements, all they have to do is use more words. Can a person with a beard, ovaries, and a uterus get pregnant? Maybe! Can a person with no uterus and one Y chromosome get pregnant? Never. Hawley and Bridges likely agree on all that and more. Their important disagreements on LGBTQ issues concern rights and liberties, not semantics. As for the ostensible subject of the hearing, “abortion access and the law”? Nothing about that went viral.

15) Really good free Yglesias post– just read it, “How Hillary Clinton unleashed the Great Awokening”

16) Katherine Wu on Monkeypox vaccines:

And the vaccines available to combat monkeypox have real drawbacks that many other shots do not. Because ACAM2000 contains an active virus, it may be especially risky for infants or people who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or living with HIV. The shot also comes with a small but notable risk of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, and its documentation warns of other serious side effects, including blindness, spreading the vaccine virus to others, and even death. (Still, the jab is a big improvement over its direct predecessorDryvax—an inoculation that many Americans over the age of 50 have—which Slifka describes as pus “ladled out of a cow.”) “You would really have to make a compelling argument,” Titanji told me, “to convince me to use ACAM as the primary tool.”

A newer alternative, known as MVA (or Jynneos in the United States), built around a weaker version of the vaccine virus, is much safer. But the globe’s MVA stock is low, with most refills months away, and the vaccine has yet to be approved in Europe for use against monkeypox. Experts also lack solid intel on just how well both ACAM2000 and MVA actually work against monkeypox, because the virus—and the vaccinations that fight it—remains rare for most of the world.

17) Scott Alexander, “Nobody Knows How Well Homework Works”

Are there any real randomized studies? Cooper finds six for his review article (page 17), none of which are published or peer-reviewed. Only one is randomized by students, and it contradicts itself about how random it actually was; the other five are cluster-randomized by classroom (which means they have very low effective sample size). Several are bungled in confusing ways. Still, these pretty consistently show a positive effect of homework with medium-to-high effect size. The one that might have been randomized by students (and so might possibly be okay) had an effect size of 0.39. Some of the cluster randomized ones that weren’t bungled too badly had effect sizes in the 0.9 range; the cluster randomization makes it hard to call this significant, but unofficially it seems impressive.

Since Cooper wrote his 2006 review, I was able to find one actually good, individually randomized study of homework, Nawaz and Welbourne. They took 368 students taking algebra classes using a digital platform, and randomly assigned them either 0%, 50%, 100%, or 150% of the ordinary homework load (corresponding to 0, 15, 30, or 45 minutes/night). Results:

The students with more homework did better, p < 0.0001. Looks solid. Probably 9th grade algebra homework is useful. But everyone already expected high school homework to be more useful than elementary school, and math homework to be more useful than other subjects. So it’s unclear if eg 4th grade reading homework would follow the same pattern.

Still, this is the one firm fact about homework which we have managed to produce in several million child-years of assigning it. For everything else, just go with your priors, I guess.

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