/2:00PM Water Cooler 11/12/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/12/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Continuing the 2020 pantry clearout… More to come! –lambert

Bird Song of the Day


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

Case count by United States region:

Slight decrease in slope. Could be was noise.

Test positivity by region:

I don’t understand why the sudden dip around a week ago, in every region except the (organge) Northeast (and why does the Northeast keep being the exception?)

Case fatality rate by region:

The Northeast (orange) really stands out. We’ll need to watch this to see if it changes with the increased case count.

Hospitalization by region:

It’s odd that the Northeast hospitalization rate is so low. If the third wave is due to returning students, why is the Northeast seemingly not affected, since it’s such a college-heavy area? Do Northeastern college kids not party? Also, the Northeast (green) stands out for its enormous spikes.


“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

Election Legitimacy

“What you need to know about when states finalize their election results” [Politico]. “The most tightly contested battlegrounds have deadlines looming in the next 10 to 20 days to officially conclude the vote count and declare the winner, which would put an end to Trump’s legal complaints.” • With a good state-by-state summary.

MI (1): “The Trump campaign has released 234 pages of affidavits regarding alleged voting regularities in Michigan. Here’s what they say.” [The Blaze]. Finally the full set of affidavits (PDF). “By my count, the 234 pages contain affidavits from 101 individuals. The majority of them appear to be handwritten impressions of the counting process… This list constitutes the entire body of potential actual fraud allegations raised in the affidavits. The testimony contained in these affidavits clearly pertains to fewer than 1,000 total ballots…” • Not impressive.

MI (2): “This list constitutes the entire body of potential actual fraud allegations raised in the affidavits. The testimony contained in these affidavits clearly pertains to fewer than 1,000 total ballots” [The Hill]. “The newest suit, which targets the Democratic stronghold of Wayne County and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), contains additional affidavits that allege irregularities in the tabulation of votes. Observers claim in the affidavits that they were unable to get close enough to watch votes being tabulated and claim Republican observers were improperly harassed.” • See above.

“No, Dominion voting machines did not cause widespread voting problems.” [New York Times]. “Dominion, originally a Canadian company that now has its effective headquarters in Denver, makes machines for voters to cast ballots and for poll workers to count them, as well as software that helps government officials organize and keep track of election results.” • Our electronic voting machines are perfect. Perfect! [puts head in hands].

“Less than 0.4% of Kentucky absentee ballots were rejected this election. Here’s why” [Courier-Journal]. “For the general election, the State Board of Elections established a robust cure process which mandated county clerks’ offices to reach out to a voter to “cure all absentee ballot irregularities,” if there were any present, up until Monday evening. Ballot irregularities include missing or mismatched signatures and not including all components — the individual ballots, envelopes, flaps — when submitting. According to the State Board of Elections, 3,946 voters were contacted about curing their ballots after irregularities were identified, and more than 1,500 of those voters ended up doing so. Dearing said his staff is still working to assign voter credit and estimated the number of cures counted will increase by a few hundred.”

It’s possible to create a horrid UI/UX on paper, too:

Do we have any New Jersey voters who can explain how this works?

Epistemological crises:

I presented the figures for Democrats on RussiaGate yesterday; they’re similar.

2020 Democrats in Disarray

“Democrats need to stop worrying and get behind legal pot” [Ryan Cooper, The Week]. “here was one bright spot in the 2020 election results that has thus far gotten buried in all the usual Donald Trump madness: legal marijuana. This was on the ballot in four states — Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Jersey — and passed in every one, by large margins. It was closest in conservative South Dakota, and still passed there by over nine points. And yet much of the Democratic elite, including President-elect Joe Biden, is dragging its feet on endorsing fully legal, regulated weed. This is both bad policy and political malpractice — wedge issues as perfect as this one do not come along very often.”

“‘A Loss Is A Loss’: Democratic Senators Frustrated After Party Falls Short” [HuffPo]. “The party had hopes of winning a dozen Republican-held seats on Election Day after spending hundreds of millions of dollars of both grassroots and big-donor money to put the GOP on defense. Instead, Republicans have swept most of the competitive races, and Democrats have only netted a single seat after losing incumbent Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama and ousting Republicans in Colorado and Arizona… Murphy said he was hoping to refocus small-dollar donor energy and cash toward ‘building permanent political infrastructures in every state rather than just channeling it toward the flavor-of-the-week candidate.’” • Remember when Obama and Rahm Emmanuel dismantled Howard Dean’s 50-state-strategy immediately in 2009? And then proceeded to lose 1000 seats? Good times.

Biden Transition

“Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to be frozen out of Biden cabinet, report says” [The Independent]. “Left-wing politicians Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are reportedly set to be frozen out of president-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet amid concerns the party could lose more seats in upcoming elections.”

“Marijuana Reform Omitted From Biden Transition Plan On Racial Equity Despite Campaign Pledges” [Marijuana Moment]. “Marijuana reform advocates have been looking for signs that an incoming president-elect Joe Biden will make good on his campaign pledge to pursue cannabis policy changes since the former vice president has been projected to win the election. But they didn’t get any such sign in a new racial equity plan his transition team has put forward. While Biden emphasized on the campaign trail that cannabis decriminalization and expungements would be part of his racial justice agenda, the plan released over the weekend omits any specific mention of marijuana reform. Many of the proposals are broadly described, however, and it’s possible that a policy like decriminalization could be folded into broader commitments to eliminate “racial disparities and ensuring fair sentences,” for example.” • Let the walkbacks begin!

Once again:


Trump (R)(1): “Will Trump quit? A chess master, pro poker player, boxing coach and Monopoly champ on the art of throwing in the towel” [MarketWatch]. “Assessing whether a fighter still has a chance can be difficult. One reason for that is what [Ryan O’Leary, boxing coach, former member of the board of directors for USA Boxing] calls the ‘puncher’s chance.’ ‘I had a guy, he was outboxed in the first two rounds, completely outclassed, but the kid he was fighting had no punch at all, he wasn’t hurting my guy. My guy was getting outboxed, and I was pretty sure he was going to continue to get outboxed. But my guy was a hard puncher, so he had a puncher’s chance. If he landed the right punch at the right time, he probably could have taken out this prospect. We lost practically every round, but he was in the fight the whole time.’ When asked whether or not Trump still has a puncher’s chance in the 2020 election fight, O’Leary said: ‘Do I think he can pull this out? There’s no way at this point. It’s time for him to just throw in the towel; he doesn’t have a puncher’s chance. He’s defeated now.’”

Trump (R)(2): “No, the ‘Hail Mary’ plan for Trump isn’t going to work” [Greg Sargent, WaPo]. “What happens if, say, the GOP legislature in Pennsylvania goes rogue and appoints a separate pro-Trump slate of electors for the electoral college, in defiance of the state’s popular vote? The attorney general of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, has shot down this idea. In a statement, he flatly noted that ‘there is no legal mechanism” for the state legislature “to act alone and appoint electors. None.’… [N]ote that GOP state legislators themselves have recently been saying that they have no role in this process. And it’s true: By state law, they do not.” • If Sargent is damping this down, it really is hysteria.

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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.

Unemployment: 31 October 2020 Initial Unemployment Claims Continue To Improve” [Econintersect]. “Market expectations for weekly initial unemployment claims (from Econoday) were 725 K to 765 K (consensus 745 K), and the Department of Labor reported 709,000 new claims. The more important (because of the volatility in the weekly reported claims and seasonality errors in adjusting the data) 4 week moving average moved from 788,500 (reported last week as 787,000) to 755,250.”

Inflation: “Last updated Nov 12 at 12:06pm” [Econintersect]. “According to the BLS, the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) year-over-year inflation rate was 1.2 % year-over-year (down from the reported 1.4 % last month). The year-over-year core inflation (excludes energy and food) rate improved from 1.7 % to 1.6 %…. The indices for medical and energy were the primary reasons for the month-over-month increase of the CPI-U. Medical care services cost inflation changed from 4.9 % to 3.7 % year-over-year.”

Marketing: “Portland Bookseller Reminds the World That ‘Amazon’s Gonna Be Fine, Folks’” [AdWeek]. Powells perfume. “The idea is: if you can’t shop there in person, you can at least get a whiff of Powell’s when you receive your online order. ‘Everybody talks about the smell going to Powell’s,” remarked [Rob] Palmer…. ‘It was one of those first ideas that we came across. And it’s ridiculous, but it never went away. One for the copywriters, the deliciously eccentric copy (from the Archie McPhee school) instructs people on how to wear it: ‘This scent contains the lives of countless heroes and heroines. Apply to the pulse points when seeking sensory succor or a brush with immortality.’ ‘The right idea for Powell’s needed to help move the needle from a sales perspective without sacrificing creativity,’ said Emma Siolka, who wrote the perfume copy. ‘And beyond being clever and (so far) effective, Powell’s by Powell’s is a solid reminder that physical places and experiences are what make Portland, Portland.’ The one-ounce, limited-edition bottle retails online for $24.99 and is described as having notes of wood, violet and Biblichor (which refers to the smell of old books, though we stand by that Dead comment).”

The Bezzle: “Virgin Hyperloop Has Invented The World’s Crappiest High-Speed Rail” [Defector]. “Shocking news! In an incredible breakthrough for American mass-transit engineering, the transportation technology company Virgin Hyperloop this past weekend successfully moved two people 500 meters across the barren Las Vegas desert at a top speed of just over 100 mph, setting a new world record for the absolute most pitiful thing anyone not named ‘Elon Musk’ has ever tried to pass off as ‘high-speed rail.’” • That’s the lead. It gets more fun.

Tech: “Is AI finally closing in on human intelligence?” [Financial Times]. “Thanks to recent advances in machine learning, language generation systems are becoming increasingly commonplace. Narrative Science’s Quill can ingest data on the performance of a portfolio of stocks and write summaries for investors, for example. But for sheer adaptability none can match GPT-3, unveiled in May by OpenAI, a San Francisco-based research company. At an estimated cost of $12m, the model contains 175 billion language parameters, 100 times more than the previous prototype. It is, to adapt a phrase of the pioneering British computer scientist Alan Turing, the most impressive ‘imitation’ machine yet built…. Founded in 2015 with a $1bn funding commitment from several leading West Coast entrepreneurs and tech companies, OpenAI boasts the madly ambitious mission of developing [Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)] for the benefit of all humanity. Its earliest billionaire backers included Elon Musk, the mercurial founder of Tesla and SpaceX (who has since stepped back from OpenAI), Reid Hoffman, the venture capitalist and founder of LinkedIn, and Peter Thiel, the early investor in Facebook and Palantir.” • Well, with leadership like this…

Travel: “New United Ultra Economy Class Tickets Lets Passengers Get Dragged Behind Plane By Giant Rope” (podcast) [The Topical].

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 61 Greed (previous close: 65 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 39 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 12 at 12:06pm. Tooling along nicely now.

The Biosphere

“Evolution favors new diseases of ‘intermediate’ severity” [Phys.org]. “New epidemic diseases have an evolutionary advantage if they are of “intermediate” severity, research shows. Scientists tested the theory that pathogens (disease-causing organisms) that inflict intermediate levels of harm on their host are the most evolutionarily successful. The study, by the University of Exeter, Arizona State University and Auburn University, found that natural selection favors pathogens of intermediate virulence (how much harm a pathogen causes) at the point the disease emerges in a new host species. This occurs because virulence and transmission are linked, with virulence arising because pathogens need to exploit hosts to persist, replicate and transmit. While too-low virulence will be detrimental for pathogens if they cannot transmit, virulence that is too high will also be a disadvantage if infection kills hosts so fast that the pathogen does not have time to transmit.”

“San Francisco Bans Natural Gas Use in New Buildings” [Bloomberg]. “San Francisco will ban the use of natural gas in new buildings starting next year, becoming the latest city in California to clamp down on the heating and cooking fuel because of climate concerns. The measure will require all-electric construction for buildings — with exceptions for restaurants — starting in June 2021… California towns and cities remain at the forefront of a push to phase out the use of gas in homes and buildings as a means to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. At least 38 municipalities, including San Francisco, have passed measures that will restrict gas hookups.”

“The Universe Is Getting Hotter, Scientists Say” [Independent]. “The universe is getting hotter as it gets older, scientists have said.” I know what they mean!

Health Care

“Wrong Masks and ‘Missing’ Ventilators: NYC’s Billion-Dollar COVID Gear Bungle” [The City]. Oops:

DCAS records, internal emails and recordings of virtual staff meetings obtained by THE CITY paint a portrait of taxpayer-funded chaos:

  • City taxpayers paid for millions of surgical masks that turned out to be non-surgical masks. By April, unopened boxes of masks hospitals didn’t want began to stack up in DCAS’ mammoth 300,000-square-foot Queens warehouse.
  • At one point, DCAS lost track of 100 ventilators. “I don’t know how someone could misplace 100 of these items,” an agency supervisor said during a meeting.
  • Millions of dollars of medical equipment wound up collecting dust in the storehouse long after the need for the devices had passed — including machines that could have been repurposed as ventilators.
  • Boxes of equipment got lost in the shuffle, going missing within the storehouse or getting shipped out without anyone recording what was in them.
  • One supplier of masks that didn’t meet surgical standards as promised was an electronics company headed by a major donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaigns. De Blasio appointed the donor earlier this year to the board of the city Economic Development Corp.

To date, DCAS has awarded $1.4 billion in contracts for COVID-related emergency goods — far more than any other city agency, records show.

Class Warfare

“Can the Bank of Solidarity smash payday lenders?” [Alice Marshall]. “After Bernie withdrew from the Presidential race I began to look for ways I could make a difference. I remain convinced that electoral activism is part of how we take America back; but for the immediate future all meaningful progress will come out of direct action. I have started to get active with the DC Tenants Union and Stomp Out Slumlords, because it is clear that our elected leaders have no plan to cope with the coming eviction crisis. However, eviction resistance was not enough for me, so I decided to join DC Mutual Aid. You have to fill out a form and be approved, to prevent law enforcement from infiltrating the group. DC Mutual Aid grew out of the local Black Lives Matter organization. Every mutual aid group will reflect the community that created it…. Once a week people are allowed to post requests for cash. (the Cash App, Pay Pal, Venmo, or whatever they are using). Usually they are short of their electricity bill or have some other emergency where you really need cash. It seems there is some controversy about this, traditionally Mutual Aid does not involve cash. But speaking for myself, I am glad for it, because otherwise I would not be able to participate in the work of the group. Every Friday I give what little I can spare and feel a little less helpless…. The more I thought about it the more I realized how important the Friday cash requests are to the movement. When someone is in a bind what choice do they have? Too often it is go to a Pay Day Lender. When they come to Mutual Aid we can take care of their need and deprive Pay Day lenders of a victim. Could we build up the group enough to smash the local Pay Day lenders? I don’t know, but it is worth a try.”

“Non-Competes and Other Contracts of Dispossession” [SSRN]. “Employers have used non-compete clauses to deprive tens of millions of workers of the freedom to change jobs or start their own businesses. In occupations ranging from home health aide to journalist and sandwich shop worker, employers have used this legal power to their great benefit. Non-compete clauses reduce worker mobility, help employers keep wages and wage growth down, deter small business formation, entrench potentially abusive, discriminatory, or hostile work environments, and fortify market power to the detriment of workers, rivals, consumers, and broader society…. Non-competes are merely one example of abusive contractual terms that the legal system has condoned or tolerated. Other terms, such as mandatory arbitration, class action waivers, confessions of judgment, and unilateral modification, reflect a ubiquitous economic and political problem. Corporations use these contractual terms to unilaterally rob consumers, suppliers, and workers of a wide range of constitutional and statutory rights. Like non-competes, these contractual terms are established in an environment of radical inequality between a corporation and a worker, consumer, or small business and are often contingent and non-salient to the person or business who must accept them. The result of these contracts of dispossession is the loss of legal recourse for wrongdoing, loss of possessions, and the imposition of unaccountable private governments.”

Averages conceal:

“Susan B. Anthony appealed to white supremacists, sure we’d make up for it later. When?” [Kansas City Star]. “After the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned for the women’s vote with the support of their huckster ally George Train, whose unambiguous slogan was ‘Woman First and Negro Last.’ In 1869, Stanton argued, ‘Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws’ for their female betters. They often blamed immigrants for their setbacks. And to win crucial support, Susan B. Anthony and other white suffragists sold Southerners on the idea that the votes of highly educated women — mostly white, of course — would guarantee the future of white supremacy. (Maybe that’s why President Donald Trump just pardoned Anthony, who voted illegally in 1872?)”

News of the Wired

“Inside the Secret Math Society Known Simply as Nicolas Bourbaki” [Quanta]. “Antoine Chambert-Loir’s initiation into one of math’s oldest secret societies began with a phone call…. The group is known as “Nicolas Bourbaki” and is usually referred to as just Bourbaki. The name is a collective pseudonym borrowed from a real-life 19th-century French general who never had anything to do with mathematics…. Whatever their motivation, the founders of Bourbaki began to write. Yet instead of writing textbooks, they ended up creating something completely novel: free-standing books that explained advanced mathematics without reference to any outside sources.”

“A vindication of the right to see women naked: the statue for Mary Wollstonecraft has set us back centuries” [Independent]. “People are baffled as to why the mother of feminism, whose words would go on to inspire the fight for women’s enfranchisement some 100 years later, has been commemorated with a naked woman, especially when the woman it is designed to honour wrote so passionately about how female objectification belittled women, making them ‘literally speaking, slaves to their bodies”, and how ‘men endeavour to sink us lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a moment’. To add insult to injury, the woman in the statue embodies all the damaging beauty standards that have been thrust upon us for millennia. More than just naked, the statue appears to have a personal trainer or at least to have purchased a Peloton bike during lockdown. She has abs, not of bronze, but steel, perfectly toned and with a miraculously perfect thigh gap to boot.” • (The sculptor is a woman.) I looked at the Wollstonecraft staute; I put it in the same bucket as Michelangelo’s figleaf-free David. Neither are especially alluring to me, but both embody power.

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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 (EH):

EH writes: “Shepherd’s Purse and Venus’s Looking Glass —two pretty weeds —growing in a crack in the sidewalk on our Brooklyn street.”

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