/2:00PM Water Cooler 9/9/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 9/9/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I had a bout of the slows today, and I also need to do a pantry clearout of various horrid bright shiny objects I collected over the weekend. Please stay tuned. –lambert


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

Because of the stories about Sturgis, I thought I’d look at South Dakota, where Sturgis is located, and the states that surround it (on the theory that riders would stop along the way). Here are South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota:

And positivity:

Sturgis does show up in South Dakota; Iowa’s simultaneous spike, however, looks like schools and prisons.

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“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

The electoral map. July 17: Georgia, Ohio, ME-2 move from Leans Republican to Toss-up. Continued yikes. On July 7, the tossup were 86. Only July 17, they were 56. Now they are 91. This puts Biden at 278, i.e. over 270. August 18: Still no changes. August 31: Indiana moves from Likely to Safe Republican. Despite the sturm and drang, and the polls, the consensus on the electoral college remains the same: Biden ahead, Trump within striking distance.

So, taking the consensus as a given, 270 (total) – 204 (Trump’s) = 66. Trump must win 66 from the states in play: AZ (11), FL (29), MI (16), NC (15), PA (20), and WI (10) plus 1 to win not tie = 102. 102 – 66 = 36. So if Trump wins FL, MI, NC, and PA (29 + 16 + 15 + 20 = 80), he wins. That’s a heavy lift. I think I’ve got the math right this time!

Time to restore the election countdown:


Biden (D)(1): Deploying the big guns after Labor Day (A):

Biden (D)(2): Deploying the big guns after Labor Day (B):

Biden (D)(3): “Biden campaign pulls out all the stops to woo young voters” [WaPo]. “Joe Biden, upon first meeting his current campaign pollster John Della Volpe at a gala dinner in 2018, started taking notes from their conversation about the student debt crisis and gun violence on the back of a name placard at the table between speeches honoring former secretary of state Colin Powell. Biden made it clear that the issues facing young people were deeply personal to him, well before he announced his run for president, said Della Volpe, who last month took leave as director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics to start officially advising the Biden campaign on the youth vote. Biden spoke about helping pay off student loans taken on by his youngest daughter, Ashley, now 39, as ‘the kinds of things you do for your kids,’ Della Volpe said.” • Liberal Democrats really do have the memory of goldfish, don’t they? More: “The empathy these generations have for other, often voiceless Americans — that’s the same empathy that Biden has,” said Della Volpe, who jumped on Biden’s polling team as it expands in the final months. The campaign is betting that young voters, hit hardest by the economic crisis as the novel coronavirus derails life on college campuses and job prospects for many recent graduates, will identify with Biden’s personal story once they get to know him. ‘It’s powerful when young voters understand his story, his empathy — and how the challenges and trauma in his life have shaped his political views,’ Della Volpe said. “All of that makes him a genuinely kind person, but it has much more meaning in a political context — especially with younger people who remind me that they are living through two recessions and in a dystopia at the same time.’” • Well, maybe we are all rubes. Liberal Democrats certainly think we are. I don’t know, I don’t know…

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Realignment and Legitimacy

“America’s ‘elites’ are failing in the COVID-19 pandemic and that’s pushing U.S. voters towards right-wing populism” [Shawn Rosenberg, MarketWatch]. “[T]he liberal democracy Americans know, with its abstract principles, complex institutional arrangements and conflicted, deliberative practices, is difficult for most people to understand and embrace…. Most politically significant now are right-wing populist movements. Their vision resonates with the kind of understandings most people naturally construct. Here, social and political problems have clear and simple causes and can be readily addressed with direct, concrete action. This in turn requires a strong leader and a hierarchically structured government that facilitates the leader’s ability to do what is necessary.” • Since conventional liberal Democrat wisdom focuses on leadership failures at the top, which involve rejection of “expertise” (see Thomas Frank), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that requiring “a strong leader and a hierarchically structured government” is a consensus across the political class. A conclusion that has obvious implications for the cries of “fascism!”

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.

Employment Situation: “Adjusting the Unemployment Thermometer” [Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco]. “Stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of COVID-19 may have severely distorted labor market statistics, notably the official unemployment rate. A method to correct the survey biases associated with the pandemic indicates that the true unemployment rate was substantially higher than the official rate in April and May. However, the biases appeared to fade thereafter, making the drop in June even more dramatic than implied by the official data.” • Hmm.

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Mr. Market: “Dow jumps over 500 points as stocks aim for rebound, Nasdaq up 2.8%” [MarketWatch]. “U.S. stocks traded higher Wednesday at midday, rebounding after a three-day selloff led by tech shares that drove the Nasdaq Composite into a correction after reaching a record high last week…. Market watchers saw little in the way of a clear catalyst for Wednesday’s bounce. The tech-led rout came after a rally that some analysts argued had become euphoric, leaving the market vulnerable to a near-term pullback and more volatile trade. ‘Those gains didn’t make a lot of sense,’ said Donald Calcagni, chief investment officer with Mercer Advisors, in an interview with MarketWatch. ‘I think the correction is perhaps the market just coming to its senses a bit. When you have Amazon trading at 120 times earnings and the economy is contracting 32%, that just doesn’t make sense.’”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 65 Greed (previous close: 55 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 77 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Sep 9 at 12:13pm. Whoa, neutral there for a moment!

The Biosphere

“On the correlation between solar activity and large earthquakes worldwide” [Nature]. This is astonishing: “This paper gives the first, strongly statistically significant, evidence for a high correlation between large worldwide earthquakes and the proton density near the magnetosphere, due to the solar wind. This result is extremely important for seismological research and for possible future implications on earthquake forecast. In fact, although the non-poissonian character, and hence the correlation among large scale, worldwide earthquakes was known since several decades, this could be in principle explained by several mechanisms. In this paper, we demonstrate that it can likely be due to the effect of solar wind, modulating the proton density and hence the electrical potential between the ionosphere and the Earth. Although a quantitative analysis of a particular, specific model for our observations is beyond the scope of this paper, we believe that a possible, likely physical mechanism explaining our statistical observations, is the stress/strain pulse caused by reverse piezoelectric effects. Such pulses would be generated by large electrical discharges channeled in the large faults, due to their high conductivity because of fractured and water saturated fault gauge.” • This is like science fiction, in the “sense of wonder” created.

“The Oysters That Knew What Time It Was” [Wired]. “Brown concluded that the organisms were sensitive to external geophysical factors, perhaps minute fluctuations in gravity, or even subtle forces that hadn’t yet been discovered. In his rivals’ experiments, supposedly proving the existence of independent clocks, Brown argued that the subjects weren’t cut off from the environment after all. They were bathed in—and influenced by—subtle, rhythmic fields that varied as the Earth turned.” • Some of which cause earthquakes!

“Hundreds of Americans Planted ‘Chinese Mystery Seeds’” [Vice]. “Since the seed story originally broke, I have been obsessed with learning more. To do this, I filed 52 freedom of information requests; one with each of the departments of agriculture (or their state-level equivalent) in all 50 states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico. I also filed requests with the USDA and several of its labs. Thousands of pages of emails, spreadsheets, reports, and documents, as well as audio voicemail recordings, have been trickling in for the last month, and they have been enlightening in many ways. Based on documents I’ve read, the scale of the mystery seed operation was much larger than I had originally suspected and than was originally reported. Conservatively, it is safe to say that tens of thousands of Americans received what they perceived to be Chinese mystery seeds in July.” And: “The “brushing” idea is still what USDA and other agencies are saying, but, at least in the emails I’ve reviewed there’s very little talk about how the scam worked or why it happened. This campaign also seems to be much larger than any other known brushing campaign or any other seed mailing campaign.” • I was skeptical of the “brushing” explanation for exactly that reason: scale. More: “One thing is clear to me, from reading these documents. American people do not seem particularly well-prepared for scams of this nature. The emails between public officials and scientists, who were dealing with a difficult situation, seem efficient, professional, and appropriately cautious. But communication from the general public is concerning…. We know that the FBI, CBP, and USDA are all still investigating.” • “Report back to me when, ah … I don’t know, when it makes sense.”

“Fungal mycelium and shutting down phytophthora in peppers” [John Kempf]. “A bell pepper field had phytophthora problems severe enough to cost the entire crop. Ridomil Gold treatments were known to be completely ineffective. Instead of anti-biotics, we applied pro-biotics, microbial inoculants of mycorrhizal fungi, a range of bacterial species, and biostimulants through the drip irrigation system. Within weeks the soil is filled with these thick strands of mycelium/plant roots and the crop recovered completely. The phytophthora symptoms disappeared. What have you seen something similar to this in the soil? What do you think this might be?” • Check out the horrid pictures!

Health Care

“”Effect of Calcifediol Treatment and best Available Therapy versus best Available Therapy on Intensive Care Unit Admission and Mortality Among Patients Hospitalized for COVID-19: A Pilot Randomized Clinical study” [Science Direct] (I should hat tip an NC reader for this, but can’t find the link. Whoever you are, take a bow!) The main focus of the article is Vitamin D, but get this! From the Procedures:

All hospitalized patients received as best available therapy the same standard care, (per hospital protocol), of a combination of hydroxychloroquine (400 mg every 12 hours on the first day, and 200 mg every 12 hours for the following 5 days), azithromycin (500 mg orally for 5 days. Eligible patients were allocated at a 2 calcifediol:1 no calcifediol ratio through electronic randomization on the day of admission to take oral calcifediol (0.532 mg), or not. Patients in the calcifediol treatment group continued with oral calcifediol (0.266 mg) on day 3 and 7, and then weekly until discharge or ICU admission. Outcomes of effectiveness included rate of ICU admission and deaths.

How is it that I only find out that hydroxychloroquine is in the standard protocol for treatment in Spain by reading a reasonably obscure science paper? It’s not our standard protocol, if it exists, is anything to boast about. Compare our deaths-per-day with Spain’s:

The chart at least shows — assuming the data to be comparable — that Spain and the US looked very much the same, until Spain doing something right, whatever that was. I do try not to let what I conceive to be realism shade over to cynicism and thence to nihilism, but it looks to me like Taibbi is not exaggerating at all: “[R]ooting for a drug to not work in the middle of a historic pandemic [is] the clear subtext of nearly every news story on [hydroxycholoroquine] dating back to March.” That does not bode well, at all, for coverage of vaccines, where the same team spirit and rooting incentives apply, except orders of magnitude more intensely. (Note also that the hydroxycholoroquine coverage is not only the responsibility of the press, but of the, er, experts they quoted.)

“Why an approved coronavirus vaccine may not end the pandemic quickly” [MarketWatch]. “But one reason for the market’s swagger, at least until September, was the work from multiple companies on a coronavirus vaccine. Evercore ISI hosted a call on this subject, and the takeaway was sobering. Speaking before the news that AstraZeneca halted its COVID-19 trial because of an illness, analyst Josh Schimmer pointed out that in most vaccines, pharmaceutical companies settle for lower rates of immunity in exchange for better tolerability. Now, he said, companies are pushing the protective profile to go for maximum effect, knowing it may come with more side effects. He put greater than 50/50 odds that the first vaccines will work well — which he defined as either 90% reduction in event rates, or a strong benefit for severe cases…. But the next most likely scenario is they work but not great, like the flu vaccine, in which case, the impact on alleviating the pandemic would be limited. ‘I don’t know if a 60% efficacy COVID vaccine gets us out of this mess quickly,’ he said. (The minimum effectiveness is 50%). In that scenario, the hope would be that the second wave of vaccines work better, to “switch vaccine horses midstream if better ones come along.’ There is a lower chance the vaccines don’t work, or make infections worse, or have problematic side effects, he added.”


“Modern Monetary Theory Is Bunk And Would Lead To Disaster” [The American Conservative]. “Economic agents demand money for reasons other than paying taxes, mainly as a medium of exchange to buy goods and services and as a store of value in which to save part of their income. Were these agents to perceive that a particular government were recklessly spending via money-financed deficits, the demand for its currency would collapse due to a loss of confidence in the issuer. This in turn would result in a hyperinflationary episode similar to the one that has recently taken place in Venezuela.” • It seems that belief structures are as hard to eradicate as kudzu.

Groves of Academe

It had to happen:

“Listen to science, my fellow Democrats: Diversity training does not cure bias and racism” [USA Today]. “But my team has its own blind spots about science, too. And if you think otherwise, just Google “diversity training” and “evidence.” You’ll find a long set of studies suggesting that these trainings don’t work, or even make things worse. But we keep touting the idea, science be damned. … Analyzing more than 800 companies that used diversity trainings over three decades, sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev found that improvements fostered by the trainings were rare and short-lived. More commonly, diversity training reinforced precisely the negative behaviors it was designed to reduce.” • Well, if you’re a PMC consultant who’s got kids to send to college, that’s a pretty good model!

Guillotine Watch

We are ruled by Harkonnens:

Class Warfare

“Amazon’s Leadership Principles Interview: What To Expect And How To Prepare” [Interview Steps]. “Amazon’s leadership principles establish the framework for how everything operates at Amazon. They were written by Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, and are recognized as the values that motivate Amazon employees and are a driving force behind Amazon’s success. Amazon is known for having a passionate and confrontational culture where employees are constantly challenged and customers always come first…. Many Amazon employees quit before their second year. The type of work and challenges that Amazon employees confront on a day-to-day basis requires a special type of workforce. In order for Amazon to continue being the “everything store” and one of the world’s most innovative companies, Amazon strives to hire employees who live and breathe Amazon’s 14 leadership principles.” • “Leadership principles”…. That reminds me of something, if I could just put my finger on it… Anyhow, here’s a snippet from one of the 14: “They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.” Yeah, through bootstrapping the company by not paying state sales taxes, regulatory arbitrage, stealing product ideas, fake products, etc., etc., etc…..

“The Philosopher Redefining Equality” [The New Yorker]. “[Philospher Elizabeth] Anderson’s democratic model shifted the remit of egalitarianism from the idea of equalizing wealth to the idea that people should be equally free, regardless of their differences. A society in which everyone had the same material benefits could still be unequal, in this crucial sense; democratic equality, being predicated on equal respect, wasn’t something you could simply tax into existence.” • I keep thinking the New Yorker will peak, but it always exceeds my expectations.

News of the Wired

“Global patterns of ecologically unequal exchange: Implications for sustainability in the 21st century” [Science Direct]. “Ecologically unequal exchange theory posits asymmetric net flows of biophysical resources from poorer to richer countries. To date, empirical evidence to support this theoretical notion as a systemic aspect of the global economy is largely lacking. Through environmentally-extended multi-regional input-output modelling, we provide empirical evidence for ecologically unequal exchange as a persistent feature of the global economy from 1990 to 2015. We identify the regions of origin and final consumption for four resource groups: materials, energy, land, and labor. By comparing the monetary exchange value of resources embodied in trade, we find significant international disparities in how resource provision is compensated. Value added per ton of raw material embodied in exports is 11 times higher in high-income countries than in those with the lowest income, and 28 times higher per unit of embodied labor. With the exception of embodied land for China and India, all other world regions serve as net exporters of all types of embodied resources to high-income countries across the 1990–2015 time period. On aggregate, ecologically unequal exchange allows high-income countries to simultaneously appropriate resources and to generate a monetary surplus through international trade. ”

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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 (SV):

SV writes: “Our Hydrangea this time of year has bees, wasps, and flies of every description.” Encouraging!

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