/2:00PM Water Cooler 4/27/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 4/27/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, this is a bit short. I had a household issue to deal with, and I have a post to finish. Still, I think there’s plenty to discuss!


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart:

The data is the John Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. I have changed to a logarithmic scale for US States and territories.

New York’s growth regresses from 1.0 back to 1.02.

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See Vice, “How to Read the Coronavirus Graphs“:

Quantities that grow exponentially, when depicted on a linear scale, look like curves that bend sharply upward, with the curve getting constantly steeper. On a log scale, exponentially growing values can be depicted with straight diagonal lines.

That’s the beauty of plotting things on log scales. Plots are meant to make things easy to understand, and we humans are much more adept at understanding linear, straight-line behavior. Log plots enable us to grasp exponential behavior by transferring the complexity of constantly steepening curves into the simplicity of an exponentially increasing scale.

On a log scale, we want to constantly be making the line more and more horizontal. The general concept of “flattening” is still a good one, but it’s never going to curve down. And so what we should be looking, and hoping for is a trend toward horizontal.


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

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Biden (D)(1): I’m truly baffled by this video:

What message does this convey other than that Biden can’t function without being propped up by his wife? (Also, “the heart of this nation” is a category. Nations are not sentient beings, any more than governments are households.

Trump (D)(1): “Focus group: Ohio swing voters want Trump to act more like a governor” [Axios]. “Asked for the leadership qualities they admire in other governors around the country managing the crisis, these voters offered words including ‘patience,’ ‘sympathetic’ and ‘sincere’ — and praised leaders who appear to fight ‘passionately’ to protect their constituents. By contrast, they described Trump as ‘lackadaisical’ with his words, not always sounding ‘the most educated,’ and being ‘all over the place.’… These voters hadn’t entirely abandoned Trump — they signaled they wouldn’t blame him for an economic recession triggered by the virus.” • “Lackadaisical.” Ouch.

Trump (D)(2):

Ya know [lambert blushes modestly], I was color coding Obama’s speeches back in 2013 (example). If the Times had put a similar level of effort into doing the same thing back then, this might be a happier, safer, saner world.

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“Brenda Jones Took Illegal Campaign Cash from Donors Doing Business with the City of Detroit” [The Intercept]. “DETROIT CITY COUNCIL President and former U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones accepted campaign contributions that violate state rules against pay-to-play activity, according to a review of campaign finance records and interviews with ethics experts. During her 2017 bid for reelection to city council, Jones accepted $5,500 in campaign contributions from then-First Independence Bank Chair and CEO Barry Clay, and an additional $4,000 in campaign contributions from First Independence Bank board member Douglas Diggs. The donations occurred as First Independence had a contract with the Detroit police and fire pension fund, of which Jones, as president of the city council, is a trustee. First Independence runs a loan program for the pension fund…. Now, Jones is running in a competitive race against incumbent Rep. Rashida Tlaib.” • The Democrats are just trolling us, aren’t they?

Realignment and Legitimacy

“”Believe Science” Is a Bad Response to Denialism” [Kate Aronoff, The New Republic]. “However steady and reassuring their tone of voice, the technocrats in chief liberals are now lusting after don’t offer a path away from right-wing plutocracy. Besting the likes of Mitch McConnell and the Koch apparatus—whether on Covid-19 or the climate—won’t come down to proving them wrong with enough science. It’ll mean calling out and taking on the corporations whose best interests are served by spreading doubt and disinformation—a task the Andrew Cuomos and Angela Merkels of the world have never seemed up to.” • Yup. See The New Yorker article I linked to this morning; “Trust the PMC!” is the unmistakable message. Now, as it happens, following the progress of scientists on #COVID-19, I mostly do (within reason). But in general? Like macro-economics departments? Really? Anyhow, which science? Aronoff is a bit more forthcomine in her tweet:

“Cringe authoritarianism of liberals.” Ouch.

Hertzberg walks it back:

First, Hertzberg very well knows he was being ironic, not “sarcastic.” So we’re dealing with bad faith snark, not a clarification for engaged readers. Second, see Biden immediately below; I would bet that Hertzberg’s tweet is, as it were, “The Talk of the Town,” at least in the Manhattan liberal Democrats circles which Hertzberg frequents and for which he speaks. Third, liberal Democrats have form: What on earth was RussiaGate, from the very beginning, but a soft coup that failed?

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“Biden Steps Up Warnings of Possible Trump Disruption of Election” [New York Times]. “‘Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,’ Mr. Biden said at a fund-raiser, according to a news media pool report. Mr. Trump, he suggested, is ‘trying to let the word out that he’s going to do all he can to make it very hard for people to vote. That’s the only way he thinks he can possibly win.’ And: ‘It very much is reflecting the fear that a lot of people have about how President Trump is going to respond later in the year to this election, especially if he continues to see his polls drop, and if he continues to flail and lash out,’ said Chuck Hagel, who served as defense secretary in the Obama administration and before that as a Republican senator from Nebraska, and who hosted Mr. Biden at a fund-raiser this month.” • Chuck Hagel should know! From Mother Jones, “Diebold’s Political Machine,” back in the stone ages of 2004:

…While Diebold has received the most attention, it actually isn’t the biggest maker of computerized election machines. That honor goes to Omaha-based ES&S, and its Republican roots may be even stronger than Diebold’s.

The firm, which is privately held, began as a company called Data Mark, which was founded in the early 1980s by Bob and Todd Urosevich. In 1984, brothers William and Robert Ahmanson bought a 68 percent stake in Data Mark, and changed the company’s name to American Information Services (AIS). Then, in 1987, McCarthy & Co, an Omaha investment group, acquired a minority share in AIS.

In 1992, investment banker Chuck Hagel, president of McCarthy & Co, became chairman of AIS. Hagel, who had been touted as a possible Senate candidate in 1993, was again on the list of likely GOP contenders heading into the 1996 contest. In January of 1995, while still chairman of ES&S, Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald that he would likely make a decision by mid-March of 1995. On March 15, according to a letter provided by Hagel’s Senate staff, he resigned from the AIS board, noting that he intended to announce his candidacy. A few days later, he did just that.

A little less than eight months after steppind down as director of AIS, Hagel surprised national pundits and defied early polls by defeating Benjamin Nelson, the state’s popular former governor. It was Hagel’s first try for public office. Nebraska elections officials told The Hill that machines made by AIS probably tallied 85 percent of the votes cast in the 1996 vote, although Nelson never drew attention to the connection. Hagel won again in 2002, by a far healthier margin. That vote is still angrily disputed by Hagel’s Democratic opponent, Charlie Matulka, who did try to make Hagel’s ties to ES&S an issue in the race and who asked that state elections officials conduct a hand recount of the vote. That request was rebuffed, because Hagel’s margin of victory was so large.

As might be expected, Hagel has been generously supported by his investment partners at McCarthy & Co. — since he first ran, Hagel has received about $15,000 in campaign contributions from McCarthy & Co. executives. And Hagel still owns more than $1 million in stock in McCarthy & Co., which still owns a quarter of ES&S.

Again, the Democrats are just trolling us. And as always, the question of who counts the votes is paramount — and oddly, never raised in the vote-by-mail discourse.

“Vote by Mail in Wisconsin Helped a Liberal Candidate, Upending Old Theories” [New York Times]. “The liberal candidate in Wisconsin’s hard-fought State Supreme Court race this month prevailed in voting by mail by a significant margin, upending years of study showing little advantage to either party when a state transitions from in-person to mail voting. The gap suggests that Democrats were more organized and proactive in their vote-by-mail efforts in an election conducted under extraordinary circumstances, with voters forced to weigh the health risks of voting in person against the sometimes unreliable option of requesting and mailing in their ballots.” • Note the lack of agency in “forced to weigh,” which carefully airbrushes Biden’s role in encouraging voters to vote in person (40, at least, were likely to have been infected) and then flip flopping immediately afterwards, saying “his gut”, apparently inoperative before the primary, told him that was a bad idea once he had collected his delegates.

“States rush to prepare for huge surge of mail voting” [Politico]. “A huge surge in voting by mail is coming whether states prepare for it or not — and without clear direction from the federal government, states are preparing to muscle through their own changes to get ready for the glut of mail ballots coming their way in November…. But election experts warn that states don’t have time to wait for Congress to appropriate more money for election aid, so secretaries of state have started seeking advice and guidance from counterparts in states that run predominantly mail-in elections, like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

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“It’s George Wallace’s World Now” [Jonathan Rauch, The Atlantic]. “His loyalty is to himself, not to his party or any ideology. He glories in violating political norms. [Excellent invective omitted.] The politician I speak of is, of course, George Corley Wallace…. Today more than ever, Trump’s outrageous style, unprecedented rule-breaking, and sheer weirdness make him seem a radical discontinuity, a bizarre anomaly who came out of nowhere. Although that interpretation is not entirely wrong, it is not really right, either. Equally true, if not more so, is that Trump is a radical continuity, merely the most florid and successful avatar of a white-populist movement that has built strength and solidarity over more than half a century, mostly under elites’ radar. In that sense, Trump’s base—the base that catapulted him from reality TV to the most powerful office in the world—does not really belong to the Republican Party. In fact, it does not even belong to Trump. Rather, he is renting it—or perhaps it is renting him. Either way, he is not the first in the series, and he won’t be the last. ‘We can foresee that unless something changes in American political culture and civil life,’ says Dan Carter, a historian and Wallace biographer, ‘we’re doomed to deal with Trumps, whether they’re this Donald Trump or future Donald Trumps, for the next generation.’ Thank George Wallace for that.” • Unless something changes. As it surely will, in a Biden White House….

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

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The Fed: A useful index?

Makes me wonder what we’d get if we cranked CalPERS transcripts through the same software.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 42 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 41 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Apr 27 at 1:31pm

Rapture Index: Closes up 1 on Oil Supply/Price. “Oil traded with a negative price for the first time ever.” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing.

The Biosphere

“Plate tectonics may have started 400 million years earlier than we thought” [Science News]. “Modern plate tectonics may have gotten under way as early as 3.2 billion years ago, about 400 million years earlier than scientists thought. That, in turn, suggests that the movement of large pieces of Earth’s crust could have played a role in making the planet more hospitable to life… [I]t is clear that plate tectonics is currently closely tied to the biosphere, he added. It promotes chemical reactions between once-buried rocks and the atmosphere that can modulate the planet’s climate over millions to billions of years. “So if [plate tectonics] happened on the early Earth, these processes were likely playing a part in the evolution of life,” Brenner said.”

“The Arctic Ocean May Not Be a Reliable Carbon Sink” [Eos]. “Historically, scientists have believed that the Arctic Ocean will be an important carbon sink in the coming years—ice melt will increase the surface area that’s exposed to the air, facilitating carbon uptake from the atmosphere, and cold Arctic waters can store more carbon dioxide (CO2) than warmer waters. Or at least that’s what was supposed to happen. But scientists have begun to suspect that this might not be the case, and new research suggests that the Arctic Ocean is, in fact, not as reliable a carbon sink as we thought. Using data from three research cruises (in 1994, 2005, and 2015), scientists were able to chart how the physical properties of the Arctic Ocean (including total alkalinity, temperature, and dissolved inorganic carbon) changed over time. Over the course of the past 20 years, the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon in Arctic waters has unexpectedly decreased.”

Health Care

Both these systems approaches are worth reading in full. Frankly, I’m not sure that Federalism, as we understand it, is suitable for handling pandemics.

“America Is Not Set Up For This” [HuffPo]. “America’s political institutions had all the information they needed to avert disaster. So why didn’t they?…. Patrick Roberts, a Rand Corporation researcher and the author of “Disasters and the American State,” pointed out that America’s disaster response infrastructure has always conceived of disasters as local, short-term events… But it’s not just the number and size of disasters that explains America’s sluggish response to the coronavirus. It is their increasing complexity…. Federal disaster relief is split between 17 agencies and 300 programs…. And that’s disaster preparedness in general. Pandemic preparedness is even harder to track due to its intersection with America’s for-profit health care system. As market competitors, hospitals have little reason to collaborate on stockpiles or staff training. Due to the lack of centralized data, federal officials don’t know which clinics have which equipment.” • The Democrat theory of the case is that poor leadership (i.e., Trump) is the problem. I don’t buy it. If the Democrats as an opposition party were capable of forming a functional team to address the crisis, they would already have done so. And I don’t buy that the Democrats bring anything to the table other than better public relations. I mean, Larry Summers. Again. Really?

“Why The Warning That Coronavirus Was On The Move In U.S. Cities Came So Late” [National Public Radio]. “To speed the project along, the CDC’s plan was for cities to piggyback on their well-established flu-tracking programs. Patient samples were already being tested for influenza strains. The agency would provide coronavirus tests for a subset of those patients to see if the coronavirus outbreak was spreading undetected. But that quick start to the project was far from quick in most places. Fully five weeks later — contrary to statements from top CDC officials — only one of those cities had in hand any results from completed coronavirus tests, according to an investigation by NPR. Challenges with the CDC’s coronavirus tests, struggles with logistics, clashes between federal and state officials and even hospitals’ fears of being stigmatized as a source of infection — all cost valuable time in controlling the spread of the coronavirus across the U.S., sources tell NPR.”

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“How Denmark Dumped Medical Malpractice and Improved Patient Safety” [Pro Publica]. “Hamberg, the head liver specialist at Rigshospitalet, the Danish national hospital, soon found something troubling. The hospital’s electronic prescribing system was mistakenly prompting doctors to give the drug, methotrexate, for daily use when it is safely taken only once or twice a week. Patients throughout Denmark were being poisoned, Hamberg learned, thanks to the medical error. At his hospital, Hamberg made sure prescribing protocols were fixed and doctors and patients were informed. The problem quickly abated. Hamberg was able to rapidly see a dangerous pattern because of something that doesn’t exist in the United States: A comprehensive national program to compensate victims of patient harm — and to learn from them by collecting and analyzing the data their experiences provide.” • Yeah, but how would we upcode?



Groves of Academe

Maybe I should have filed this under Guillotine Watch:

Guillotine Watch

“Denver Health Executives Get Bonuses 1 Week After Workers Asked To Take Cuts” [CBS Denver]. “Top executives at Denver Health Medical Center received significant bonuses this month for their performance in 2019, ranging from $50,000 up to $230,000, one week after frontline hospital workers were asked to voluntarily take leave without pay or reduce their hours as the hospital dealt with the financial downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic…. On April 3, Denver Health CEO Robin Wittenstein emailed hospital workers noting ‘the current situation will stress us financially.’” • “Us,” lol.

Class Warfare

“Why Americans Don’t Vote Their Class Anymore” [Eric Levitz, New York Magazine]. “[O]nce workers stop organizing into unions, and stop voting on the basis of class identity, they cease to be “many” in the operative sense. Both major parties become intra-class coalitions in which working people’s interests as workers are either balanced against those of corporate coalition partners (as in the Democratic Party) or ignored (as in the GOP). Meanwhile, absent the concentration of working people into one dominant partisan coalition, America’s veto-point-laden legislative institutions — and the tendency of staggered presidential and midterm elections to produce divided government — render large-scale reform of any kind a Herculean task. Put all these considerations together, and it seems less than coincidental that the decline of class-based voting in the U.S. (and Britain and France) has corresponded with an upsurge in income and wealth inequality. So, the left is right to lament class depolarization. But some left-wing accounts of how this development came about, what implications it has for contemporary electoral politics, and how the working class can be “brought home” are less convincing.” • Interesting read I have to think about. Once again, however, I think that the post mortems for the Sanders defeat, as opposed to the distinct lack of post mortems for the Clinton defeat — I mean serious post mortems, not propaganda exercises like RussiaGate — shows that the political culture of the left is healthier than that of liberals. FWIW, since nobody ever took power on the basis of their heatlhy political culture….

“The Amazon Lockdown: How an Unforgiving Algorithm Drives Suppliers to Favor the E-Commerce Giant Over Other Retailers” [Pro Publica]. “At a time when much of the retail sector is collapsing, Amazon is strengthening its competitive position in ways that could outlast the pandemic — and that could raise antitrust concerns. Increasingly, manufacturers of in-demand products are catering to Amazon, while competing retailers take the leftovers, consultants and brand executives told ProPublica. ‘Amazon has the power to bury sellers and suppliers if they don’t comply,’ said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has been critical of Amazon and other big tech companies. ‘It might be automated through an algorithm, but it’s still the wrath of the monopolist that they are afraid of. … Amazon is able to cut off its competitors’ access to inventory by leveraging its monopoly power.’” • Last I heard, the United States did just fine in the days of the Sears, Roebuck catalog when offices ran on paper. Why don’t we just go into Butlerian Jihad mode and take Beff Bezos’s computers away from him. “But we wouldn’t be able to run our complex global supply chain!” Yes, and?


News of the Wired

Good for him:

This seems to be a sample:

I’ve read a good deal of modern academic, workshopped poetry. This, thankfully, is not that.

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant)
here. Today’s plant (Carla):

Carla writes: “April snow.” Beware!

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