/2:00PM Water Cooler 11/23/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/23/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

I hope that white noise in the background is the sea…


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:

There’s a drawing back from the vertical, perhaps somehow related to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

To break it down a little, here’s the Midwest:

Certainly an improvement in the Dakotas, and elsewhere.

Test positivity by region:

Positivity (blue) seems to have plateaued in the Midwest. Still the giant drop in the South (green). Nowhere near 3%, though.

Hospitalization by region:

Hospitalization seems to have plateaued in the South. Nearly.

Case fatality rate by region:

Deaths (purple dotted) heading toward vertical, as they will for until the surge in cases works its way through the pipeline (ugh, what a way to think, it’s like being a World War One general).


“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

Trump (R)(1): “Sidney Powell Not Part of Trump’s Legal Team, Says Rudy Giuliani” [WSJ]. • That was fast. Woo woo.


Biden (D)(1): “House of Cards” [Mother Jones (nippersmom)]. “But the most controversial item on the banks’ agenda, and the one that would require the most legwork from Biden, was bankruptcy reform…. A 2008 study published in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal found that “credit card companies saved billions because of reduced loan loss rates,” but that none of those savings benefited consumers. Because interest rates and late fees continued to tick upward, ‘the cost to credit card customers increased 5% to 17%.’ And even before the recession hit, Credit Suisse found that the bankruptcy law had ‘a profound impact on subprime borrowers’ and made it more likely that borrowers would fail on their bankruptcy payment plans. ‘Before that law was passed you could file a chapter 7 bankruptcy for seven, eight, nine-hundred dollars, including attorney’s fees and filing fees, and that’s gone up to more like $2,000,’ Sommer said. “It’s made bankruptcy much more expensive, difficult, burdensome, and less effective.’ The number of personal bankruptcy filings has fallen by half in 15 years.” • This is a long and very detailed exposé of the state of Delaware, whiffy out of all proportion to its size, and Biden’s role in servicing the credit card companies and banks located there. It’s worth grabbing a cup of coffee and reading in full, becuase it shows the kind of politics that Biden would regard as successful. Even moral.

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“In Election Litigation, An Ominous Sign” [Washington Monthly]. “One of their arguments was that the state court had violated the U.S. Constitution by applying the Pennsylvania Constitution at all. This, they said, violated the ‘elections clause,’ Article I § 4, which provides that ‘[t]he times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof’ unless Congress passes a law governing those things. Here’s the core of the argument: the provision, they argued, says, ‘legislatures.’ It does not say ‘legislatures and state courts.’ It does not say ‘legislatures, state courts, and state constitutions.’ …. Read that way, the U.S. Constitution, which supersedes any state law or constitution, gives the state legislatures a federal function ‘independent’ of its function in the state. So, Republicans argued, the people of the state could not guarantee themselves a right to vote in federal elections, whatever they might put in their state constitution…. This is the “independent state legislature doctrine.’” • I don’t know who invented the “independent state legislature doctrine.” My guess would be John C. Calhoun.

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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Shipping: “Reefer capacity tapped out prior to vaccine release” [Freight Waves]. “The national reefer — industry slang for temperature-controlled trailers — rejection index (ROTRI) topped 48% for the first time since the index’s creation this week, which could move even higher once the vaccine for COVID-19 begins being distributed in the coming months. This means that shippers that utilize temperature-controlled equipment should be prepared to continue paying premiums for this service for the foreseeable future… While the tight capacity may not be a direct concern for vaccine distribution efforts, it should be for shippers that move freight on temperature-controlled equipment. The vaccine will be largely moved on smaller equipment than the 53-foot trailers that the reefer rejection index measures, but that also means fewer alternatives for shippers who rely on that distribution channel. Transportation providers know vaccine distribution is the highest priority and they will be well compensated for its transport, which means other commodities will be pushed down the already tall priority ladder. This will also impact dry van capacity as shippers can utilize reefer backhaul lanes at a discount sometimes, meaning some of them will lose their providers if they already haven’t.” • Pelosi better stock up on ice cream.

Shipping: “Opinion: Australia’s New Crew Change Policy is Neat, Plausible… And Wrong” [gCaptain]. • See NC on crew change policy here. Normally, I’m not a fan of arguments against “the heavy hand of regulation” and so forth. But in this case, it does seem that Australia’s getting it wrong. “However, that does not change the fact that within the last month, there have been three consecutive sets of legal rules governing crew changes in Western Australia. How, therefore, can it sensibly be said that shipping companies can “adjust” and “develop new plans for seafarer repatriation” under such impossible circumstances and such fast-changing rules?”

Commodities: “‘Very stressful’: COVID-19 surge slices U.S. demand for big Thanksgiving turkeys” [Reuters]. “[A]s surging COVID-19 cases prompted U.S. cities and states to urge Americans to stay home just weeks before the holiday, customers swapped out orders for whole birds for smaller turkey breasts. As a last-minute shift toward small-scale celebrations upends demand for the star of Thanksgiving tables, turkey producers and retailers are scrambling to fill orders for lightweight birds and partial cuts…. Suppliers need to be nimble as about half of Americans plan to alter or skip traditional festivities due to local health advisories against big gatherings, according to market research firm Nielson. About 70% are planning a Thanksgiving with fewer than six people, compared with 48% last year.”

Commodities: “World’s top surgical glove maker shuts factories due to coronavirus” [Agence France Presse]. “A Malaysian company that is the world’s biggest manufacturer of surgical gloves will close over half of its factories [28] after a surge in coronavirus cases among workers, authorities said Monday…. here has been a cluster of virus outbreaks among Top Glove employees — many of whom are low-paid migrant workers — at factories in an industrial area near the capital, Kuala Lumpur. More than 1,000 cases were recorded Monday, prompting the government to order the plants to close.” • 28 factories!

Debt: “America’s Zombie Companies Have Racked Up $1.4 Trillion of Debt” [Bloomberg]. “From Boeing Co., Carnival Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. to Exxon Mobil Corp. and Macy’s Inc., many of the nation’s most iconic companies aren’t earning enough to cover their interest expenses (a key criterion, as most market experts define it, for zombie status). Almost 200 corporations have joined the ranks of so-called zombie firms since the onset of the pandemic, according to a Bloomberg analysis of financial data from 3,000 of the country’s largest publicly-traded companies. In fact, zombies now account for nearly 20% of those firms. Even more stark, they’ve added almost $1 trillion of debt to their balance sheets in the span, bringing total obligations to $1.36 trillion. That’s more than double the roughly $500 billion zombie companies owed at the peak of the financial crisis.”

Manufacturing: “GM to recall 7M vehicles globally to replace Takata air bags” [Associated Press]. “General Motors will recall about 7 million big pickup trucks and SUVs worldwide to replace potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators… Exploding Takata inflators caused the largest series of auto recalls in U.S. history, with at least 63 million inflators recalled. The U.S. government says that as of September, more than 11.1 million had not been fixed. About 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide. Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to fill air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate when exposed to heat and humidity, and they can explode with too much pressure, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel. Twenty-seven people have been killed worldwide by the exploding inflators, including 18 in the U.S.” • Cost: “An estimated $1.2 billion, about one third of its net income so far this year.”

Capital: “Wealthy Europeans Join SPAC Club in Record Year for Listings” [Bloomberg]. “The allure of blank check companies is spreading beyond the U.S., with a host of European business tycoons now plotting deals. Listing a so-called special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, has been the go-to method for wealthy Americans to raise money for takeovers this year. SPACs have raised more than $60 billion to pursue targets in 2020, a record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The U.S. accounts for almost all of that figure. Now, Europeans are joining the hunt.” • Private equity just wasn’t predatory enough, I guess.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 72 Greed (previous close: 63 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 69 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 23 at 12:28pm.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 182. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.) I would have expected “Beast Government” to be popping with Biden’s election.

The Biosphere

“Organized crime in the fisheries sector threatens a sustainable ocean economy” [Nature]. “Here we present the current state of knowledge on organized crime in the fisheries sector. We show how the many facets of organized crime in this sector, including fraud, drug trafficking and forced labour, hinder progress towards the development of a sustainable ocean economy. With reference to worldwide promising practices, we highlight practical opportunities for action to address the problem. We emphasize the need for a shared understanding of the challenge and for the implementation of intelligence-led, skills-based cooperative law enforcement action at a global level and a community-based approach for targeting organized crime in the supply chain of organized criminal networks at a local level, facilitated by legislative frameworks and increased transparency.”

Health Care

“Thanksgiving Harm-Reduction Steps for Those Who Will Travel or Gather Anyway” [Zeynep Tufecki, Insight]. “I love virologist Ian Mackay’s conceptualization of the swiss cheese defense against the pandemic. The more layers, the better. Some layers are shared responsibilities, some are personal. The more we can all do, the better everyone—not just ourselves—will be protected.” • Here is the Swiss Cheese:

And some methods:

Even within a household, virus transmission is not inevitable. There are examples where people in the same household as a symptomatic person never get infected. Wear masks, especially indoors. Consider wearing them outdoors as well—especially if there is anyone high-risk in the group. Sit outside as much as possible. Hang out around a fire pit. Open windows as much as possible. Use a HEPA filter and run it at its highest setting. Continue to socially distance, especially indoors. Sanitize high-touch surfaces, especially if they are non-porous, like stainless steel fridge doors and door knobs.

There’s increasing evidence that humidity helps lower transmission. Keeping the house at 40-60% relative humidity is great, not just for this coronavirus but other viruses as well. Also, too much humidity can encourage mold growth.This virus may also survive better at high-humidity, as its reaction appears to be U-shaped. Purchase a humidity reader (available for less than $10) and keep the house at mid-range humidity levels.

Finally, give the best masks to high-risk people: the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and the immuno-compromised.

Finally, some practical suggestions on ventilation as opposed to shaming and fingerwagging! (My only question would be whether it would be useful to add a fan to the mix, no matter the climate. I think moving air is best, for the dilution factor. Readers?)

“Why Oxford’s positive COVID vaccine results are puzzling scientists” [Nature]. “But the [Oxford/AstraZeneca] analysis found a striking difference in efficacy, depending on the amount of vaccine delivered to a participant. A regimen consisting of two full doses given a month apart looked to be just 62% effective. But, surprisingly, participants who received a lower amount of the vaccine in a first dose and then the full amount in the second dose were 90% less likely to develop COVID, compared with participants in the placebo arm… A top priority for researchers is understanding why the vaccine seems to have performed so much better with a lower first dose. One explanation could lie in the data: the trial might not have been big enough to gauge the difference between the two regimens, and the differences will vanish once more cases of COVID-19 are detected…. Another potential explanation is the immune system’s response against the chimpanzee virus. The vaccine triggers an immune response not only to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, but also to components of the viral vector. It’s possible that the full first dose blunted this reaction, says Ewer. She plans to look at antibody responses against the chimpanzee virus to help address this question.”

“Can dogs smell COVID? Here’s what the science says” [Science]. “Groups need to boost their sample sizes before the wider scientific community can evaluate how useful the dogs might be, agrees James Logan, an infectious-disease researcher at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who is training and studying COVID-19 dogs… ‘It’s important not to go out too early with grand claims and small data sets,’ he says.” • Well, at least sniffer dogs have made their way into the pages of Nature. And there are several studies underway.

Guillotine Watch

“George Clooney apparently gave his 14 closest friends a million dollars and people are speechless” [Independent]. “[Clooney told GQ] he wanted to share his wealth with his friends, saying: ‘I thought, what I do have are these guys who’ve all, over a period of 35 years, helped me in one way or another. I’ve slept on their couches when I was broke.’” • I dunno. This would seem to throw those relations a little out of whack.

Class Warfare

“Blood, Breastmilk, and Dirt: Silvia Federici and Feminist Materialism in International Law” [The Hampton Institute]. “In this post, I argue that Federici’s work offers a rich resource for redressing the conspicuous absence of a gendered perspective within academic scholarship on materialist approaches to international law. Materialist analyses of systematic inequalities within the international legal field are as relevant now as they ever were, yet the sidelining of gender and feminism within both traditional and new materialism has long been cause for concern. A gendered materialism in international law, which casts light on the logic of capitalist socialization and which affords the social reproductive sphere equal analytical status, allows us to access a clearer picture of the links between global and local exploitation at the intersections of gender, race, and nationality, and provides new conceptual tools to understand the emergence and function of international legal mechanisms as strategies of dominance, expansion, and accumulation.” • I grant this is the sort of post you will like, if you like this sort of post, but it’s a very lucid history of the tortured relations between Marxism and feminism. Also, Silvia Federici is great (see NC here).

One way to nuke meritocracy, or at least inherited meritocracy, which is what we have today with legacy adminssion and other class advantages:

“The Revenge of the Yankees” [Michael Lind, Tablet]. “The New Deal revolution of the 1930s is badly misunderstood, both politically and culturally, when it is treated as a left-wing rebellion against right-wing capitalism. Fundamentally it represented the partial overthrow of Yankee Protestant hegemony in American society by a coalition of outsiders, chiefly provincial Southern and Western whites and European-American immigrants in the North, many of them Catholic…. To break this neocolonial pattern of Northeastern economic domination, New Deal Democrats used federal state capitalism to industrialize and modernize the Southern and Western periphery, by means of rural electrification cooperatives, the Tennessee Valley Authority and other hydropower projects, defense production plants assigned to the South and West during World War II, and the interstate highway system (a favorite project of FDR which was only enacted under Eisenhower). In short, Southern and Western politicians and their Northern white ethnic allies who dominated the federal government in the New Deal era deployed federal state capitalism to do an end run around unsympathetic Yankee capitalists, not to advance toward socialism or social democracy.” • This is a fun read, and if you believe history is made by elites, you may even find it persuasive. And speaking of elites–

“Race Consciousness: Fascism and Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’” [Los Angeles Review of Books]. “Dune was initially received as a countercultural parable warning against ecological devastation and autocratic rule, but geek fascists see the novel as a blueprint for the future…. In the fascist reading of the novel, space colonization has scattered the human species, but what Herbert calls a “race consciousness” moves them to unite under Paul, who sweeps away all opposition in a jihad that kills 60,000,000,000. For the alt-right, Paul stands as the ideal of a sovereign ruler who violently overthrows a decadent regime to bring together “Europid” peoples into a single imperium or ethnostate. Dune ranks as one of Richard Spencer’s favorite novels; although Spencer styles himself as a prep these days, he got his start in geek culture…. Beyond a shared affinity for space-age aristocrats, Faye and Herbert see the sovereign as one who is capable of disciplined foresight. Drawing on the Austrian School economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, many thinkers on the alt-right believe that only men from genetically superior populations are capable of delaying gratification and working toward long-term goals. ” Fortunately for us all, that’s a terrible reading of Herbert’s novel: “Herbert’s book is often deeply conservative, but by the fascists’ own admission it presents a syncretic vision of the future in which cultures and populations have clearly intermingled over time. Paul’s army of desert guerillas, the Fremen, clearly owe something to Arabic and Islamic cultures, and Paul’s own genealogy defies the fascist demand for racial purity. The alt-right has tried to wrestle Islamophobic and Antisemitic messages from the book but they are stymied by its refusal to map existing ethnic categories onto the characters. Fascist commentators also overlook that their long-awaited sovereign Paul begins the series as a tragic character but ends it as a grotesque one. Herbert himself saw the series as a critique of authoritarianism demonstrating for his readers that ‘superheroes are disastrous for humankind.’” •

News of the Wired

“The iPad is too powerful to not get the Linux treatment” [iPad Linux]. “Linux on the iPad isn’t a reality yet, at least not like on a desktop platform. With hardware becoming more and more powerful every year, obsolete iPads (according to Apple) should be allowed to continue to serve a purpose. Obsolete iPads could be affordable personal computers and useful for project builds. We believe Linux is the key to bring new life to these devices.” • They don’t have a full iOS, but they do have the linux shell. I wonder if I could run Lynx on the iPad. That would be awesome! My very first mailer….

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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 (ChetG):

ChetG writes: “The sumac fruit could have been in a better depth-of-field position, I suppose, but I don’t recall seeing any sumac in Water Cooler. It’s not a favorite bird food, but as we drift into winter, chickadees, bluebirds, and others rely on sumac.” I agree on the depth of field, but the colors! I have very happy memories of sumac after Labor Day in the Midwest…

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