/2:00PM Water Cooler 12/8/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 12/8/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Another chorus!


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:

Returning to the upward trend. I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching, here, and I hate to see the upward rise, because I don’t think the peak is coming in the next days, or even weeks. As an aerosol believer, I think we should all pay great attention to the flow and condition of air indoors, but I confess I have no concrete suggestions; it’s hard (and costly) to open the windows in the winter. Apparently, low humidity makes it easier for the virus to spread, so if you have radiators, be sure to put a pan of water on top of each one. If anybody has thought through a winter system for covid, I’m sure readers would love to hear it. I don’t think the “six feet aoart” mantra is enough; we need to think about air flow.

I thought I’d look at some big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California) instead of the Midwest:

The big states all moving more-or-less in tandem now; perhaps spread was nationalized with colleges and universities opening and closing? The correlation seems to happen around 63 days ago (October 1).

Test positivity by region:

Nowhere near 3%, though.

Hospitalization by region:

We should also take into account that hospitalization is also discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity.

Case fatality rate by region:


“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

“Brian Kemp Unveils Specially Trained Hogs That Can Root Out Voter Fraud” [The Topical]. •

Democrats in Disarray

“Maloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine ‘stuck in the past’” [The Hill]. “To move the party into the future, Maloney is vowing to listen to younger progressives when it comes to social media and digital outreach; to shift away from “stuffy old traditional crappy polling” and adopt community-based focus groups; and to reject the idea that big fundraising hauls are synonymous with election success — a formula that didn’t play out this year, when Democrats raised historic amounts of campaign cash but still lost House seats. ‘When I look at the amount of money that the major committees on both sides and independent groups deployed this cycle, I think there must be a big room in Washington somewhere where they bring big bags of money and burn it. Because I don’t know what the hell anybody got out of it,’ Maloney said.” • I wonder what the five or six Democrat consultants who actually burn that money think about that. And Holy [Family Blog]:

Same as Amy McGrath. Wherever you look, you find mindboggling capital allocation problems, don’t you?

“Where Iowa Democrats go from here: Thoughts for the next party chair” [J.D. Scholten, Bleeding Heartland]. “After starting from absolute scratch and raising more than $6 million dollars over two cycles as the fourth Congressional district nominee, I have not had the Iowa Democratic Party, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, or any party organization contact me about our campaign. No one has asked what we learned, what we did right, what we did wrong, or about our data, or anything else. The state party should do post-election analysis with candidates and their staff.” And: “Democrats have a massive consultant issue. This complaint is more directed at the party nationally, rather than toward the Iowa Democratic Party. There are far too many consultants making decisions who have never been to Iowa or have no idea what’s happening here. They don’t realize that what’s happening in Des Moines is a far cry from what’s happening in the rest of the state.” • I remember, back in the day, Democrat consultants from out-of-state who thought Bangor was a big city because it was a biggish circle on Route 95 when you looked at a map. Yes, they lost their referendum.

Master legislator:

From “’60 Minutes’ Questions Whether Pelosi Traded Stock On Inside Information” [CBS]. “Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and her husband have participated in at least eight IPOs. One of those came in 2008, from Visa, just as a troublesome piece of legislation that would have hurt credit card companies, began making its way through the House. Undisturbed by a potential conflict of interest the Pelosis purchased 5,000 shares of Visa at the initial price of $44. Two days later it was trading at $64. The credit card legislation never made it to the floor of the House.” • Those ice cream freezers don’t buy themselves, you know.



What’s not to like?

“What’s Gone Wrong with the Democratic Party & How to Fix it” (podcast) [David Shor, Hidden Forces]. •

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Tacking” [Interfluidity]. “The electorate has spent decades swapping political parties and moving away from what, on average, it has wanted. The social extremity of the Trump coalition can be understood less as a discontinuity, and more as part of a reaction to the post-2008 discrediting of elite economic preferences…. Both parties’ elites shared an interest in polarizing the countries across a social and cultural terrain, while de-emphasizing economics. But Trump turned Washington’s gurus into sorcerers’ apprentices, as their usually calibrated tweaking of social resentments gave way to a figure they increasingly cannot control, and of whose governance no sane American should approve…. I do hope a new administration understands the stakes. You can’t not give the public what it wants over a period of decades and expect democratic forms and norms to go unscathed. In order to bring down the temperature of social polarization in the United States (which, perhaps marking me as a squish sell-out, I desperately hope we manage), elites will have to reverse their 2016 mistake, and give ground to the left on economics while trying to talk the country down (‘unify’) from the social polarization that they themselves, in my view, quite cynically engendered.” • “Nothing would fundamentally change.” –Joe Biden.

“What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks & Romans” (interview) [Thomas E. Ricks, Hidden Forces]. Another excellent podcast. Here, podcaster Demetri Kofinas interviews Taibbi on election 2020.

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.

Productivity: “3Q2020 Final Headline Productivity Improved” [Econintersect]. “A simple summary of the headlines for this release is that labor costs are growing slower than productivity on a quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis…. Please note [that] doing a productivity analysis during a major recession or recovery period is a waste of time as productivity is obscured by government interventions.”

Debt: “September 2020 Loan Performance: Serious Delinquencies Leveled Off for the First Time Since Start of Pandemic” [Econintersect]. “The Loan Performance Insights Report for September 2020 shows an a national level, 6.3% of mortgages were in some stage of delinquency (30 days or more past due, including those in foreclosure). This represents a 2.5-percentage point increase in the overall delinquency rate compared to September 2019, when it was 3.8%.”

Small Business Optimism: “November 2020 Small Business Optimism Declined, Owners Remain Uncertain After Election” [Econintersect]. “The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index declined 2.6 points in November to 101.4 but remain well above the 47-year historical average reading of 98. Six of the 10 Index components declined and four increased. The NFIB Uncertainty Index decreased 8 points to 90, still a historically high reading. Owners expecting better business conditions over the next 6 months declined 19 points to a net 8%.”:

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Tech: “Outages at Interactive Brokers, Robinhood Leave Stock Traders Furious” [Bloomberg]. “Interactive Brokers Group Inc. apologized to clients in a letter Monday evening, after an outage left some users unable to trade for hours while markets were open. The brokerage said its issues, which drew fury from customers, stemmed from a “high availability” data system provided by another company, which it didn’t name.” • AWS? More: “Interactive Brokers’ issue is the latest in a series of disruptions at firms large and small that have received more scrutiny amid a boom in retail trading during the pandemic.” • Hmm.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 83 Extreme Greed (previous close: 88 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 85 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 8 at 12:55pm.

Health Care

“FDA scientists endorse ‘highly effective’ Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine ahead of key panel” [STAT]. “cientists at the Food and Drug Administration endorsed the efficacy and safety of the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in detailed documents released Tuesday, setting the stage for an emergency authorization as early as this week. The documents are a prelude to a Thursday meeting of outside experts, which is likely the final step before the FDA grants an emergency use authorization, or EUA. The FDA reviewers state that the two-dose vaccine was “highly effective” in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and that the data “suggest a favorable safety profile, with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA.” The data also suggest that the two-dose vaccine may begin preventing some Covid-19 cases after the first dose. But the document dump — 53 pages of documents from FDA reviewers and another 92 from Pfizer and BioNTech — also provides new information about the side effects of the vaccine (most patients have sore arms and headaches). And it sets up topics for discussion about the vaccine’s efficacy, including what potential rare side effects regulators and the manufacturers should watch for, and how well the vaccine protects against severe Covid-19.” • Here is a link to the document dump; this is Pfizer-BioNTech’s briefing document. Have at it!

“New Vaccine Data Is Coming: Watch Out for These 3 Claims” [Hilda Bastian, Wired]. “This week, the real data deluge will begin. The Food and Drug Administration has been analyzing thousands of pages of data for BioNtech-Pfizer’s vaccine, in preparation for an all-day meeting on December 10 to decide whether to authorize its emergency use—and detailed summaries of that data could be released as soon as Tuesday. Then the agency will repeat the process next week for the Moderna vaccine. The first publications of the vaccines’ efficacy data in medical journals should be coming out soon too.” Bastian says to watch out for:

Misleading Claim 1: The trials were so humongous, all the results must be iron-clad. Or else, The trials included so few people who actually got sick, the results must be unreliable….

Misleading Claim 2: Now we know that claims of “95 percent efficacy” were hype….

Misleading Claim 3: The vaccine was well tolerated, and side effects were mostly mild or moderate

Note that these claims are misleading, which doesn’t equate to mis- or disinformation. Lazy journalism can mislead. These are not gotchas, but guideposts for close and careful reading.

“Coronavirus: Indonesia says not yet able to determine Sinovac vaccine efficacy” [South China Morning Post]. “In a statement, Bio Farma said the interim report from the Phase III trial is expected to be available in January. Bambang Heriyanto, an official at Bio Farma, said efficacy cannot be determined at this time, and it was necessary to wait for complete data. Bio Farma had said earlier on Tuesday that clinical trial results showed the vaccine has 97 per cent efficacy. Sinovac said last month that 97 per cent of healthy adults receiving lower dosage taking part in its Phase 1-2 trial showed antibody-related immune response after taking its Covid-19 vaccine CoronaVac.”

“The COVID-19 herd immunity threshold is not low: A re-analysis of European data from spring of 2020” [medRxiv]. “The recent publication of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), which calls for relaxing all public health interventions on young, healthy individuals, has brought the question of herd immunity to the forefront of COVID-19 policy discussions, and is partially based on unpublished research that suggests low herd immunity thresholds (HITs) of 10-20%. We re-evaluate these findings and correct a flawed assumption leading to COVID-19 HIT estimates of 60-80%. If policymakers were to adopt a herd immunity strategy, in which the virus is allowed to spread relatively unimpeded, we project that cumulative COVID-19 deaths would be five times higher than the initial estimates suggest. Our re-estimates of the COVID-19 HIT corroborate strong signals in the data and compelling arguments that most of the globe remains far from herd immunity, and suggest that abandoning community mitigation efforts would jeopardize the welfare of communities and integrity of healthcare systems.” • Oopsie.

“Cracking the meat-allergy mystery with the tick-bite link” [Nature]. • I can’t excerpt this adequately, but readers who have allergies and are tick-adjacent may find this article of interest.

This sounds like the sort of thing Taleb would have a view on, but I don’t know what it would be:

The Biosphere

“Surplus and stress control autumn timing” [Science]. “The presence of leaves on deciduous trees not only marks the changing of the seasons, but also defines the period of time in which trees store carbon from the air in leaves, wood, and roots. Warming winters causing earlier spring-leaf emergence is a widespread pattern of climate-change impacts across temperate tree species and their locations (1). Much more idiosyncratic is the timing of leaf senescence (deterioration), which offers no clear indication of whether future warming will cause an extended autumn growing season that leads to greater carbon-storage potential (2). On page 1066 of this issue, Zani et al. (3) demonstrate that there might be limits to how much carbon a tree can use or store in a single year. Further, if all carbon needs are met, leaves might senesce earlier rather than later in the autumn.”

“In surprising sign of resilience, some corals can survive long heat waves” [Science]. “Starting in May 2015, the temperature rose about 1°C within 2 months. As expected, corals that housed heat-sensitive algae bleached sooner than those that housed the heat-tolerant genus of algae. And as the water continued to warm, even heat-tolerant algae were ejected. Also, no surprise. The ‘jaw dropper’ on Kiritimati, Baum says, was that many brain and star corals recovered from bleaching while the water was still unusually warm. Up until now, marine biologists had only seen bleached corals recover once water had cooled to its normal temperature. The unexpected recovery on Kiritimati provides new hope, Baum says, ‘because it means that even under prolonged heat waves, there’s a path forward for some of them.’ An unusual feature of the recovery is that brain coral that started out with heat-sensitive algae had a higher survival rate (82%) than coral that began with heat-tolerant algae (25%), the team reports today in Nature Communications. That finding is surprising and ‘superinteresting,’ says Madeleine Van Oppen, a coral geneticist at the University of Melbourne, who was not involved with the work. The expectation was that heat-tolerant algae would be better suited for helping coral survive a heat wave, Baum says. But during a longer heat wave, it might be more advantageous to start with a heat-sensitive alga, says lead author Danielle Claar, now a postdoc at the University of Washington, Seattle. That’s because these algae supply the coral host with more food than do heat-tolerant algae, thereby providing them with greater reserves to survive bleaching. Water quality could influence the choice of algal partner.”

Our Famously Free Press

Groves of Academe

In my post on the death of the universities, I mentioned teaching and scholarship, and claimed that faculty could be both rigorous and popular with students. Here are two podcasts that show this:

“The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877” (lecture) [David Blight, Open Yale Courses]. • A series, really excellent (I’ve recommended it several times, and I believe it was first recommended by alert reader Bunk McNulty).

“Politics in Academia: A Case Study” [Psychology Today]. “Consider this post exactly what Clay suggested. Here, after years of efforts from our team to publish a study of political values among academics, is, in full, that paper, titled as such: Politics and Academic Values in Higher Education: Just How Much Does Political Orientation Drive the Values of the Ivory Tower? Ironically, this paper, now easily self-published thanks to the magic of cloud technology, officially should be cited as an unpublished manuscript. This said, the full APA citation is found in the references below and it is perfectly appropriate to cite in academic papers (the fact that it is “unpublished” clearly lets the reader know that it did not pass the process of peer review, for whatever reason; I figure people can do whatever they want with that information).”

Guillotine Watch

No aristocracy in this country, not at all:

Class Warfare

“Are people with dark personality traits more likely to succeed?” [Psyche]. “We know that approximately 1-2 per cent of individuals in the general population display extremely dark personality features – enough to meet the clinical threshold for a personality disorder – and about 10-20 per cent of individuals have moderately elevated levels. We know that even people with moderate levels of dark traits can wreak havoc: they are more likely to lie and cheat, show racist attitudes, and be violent towards others. As researchers, we have studied these traits ourselves. But in a bid to balance out the extensive literature on dark traits, we have recently started to focus on the light side of human personality instead – the ‘everyday saints’ among us. These people are genuinely interested in others and treat them well without question, not as a means to an end. They applaud the success of others, believe in the fundamental goodness of humans, and respect the dignity of everyone. Our recent study of more than 36,000 adults suggests that these traits are common: around 30-50 per cent of people show prominent light personality trait profiles, depending on world region, and these traits are particularly common in women…. So far, we have made it seem as though people fall into one of two binary groups: dark or light. But in reality, there’s a third group: we found that about 40 per cent of individuals show a balance of dark and light traits. People in this mixed group are similar to the light group when it comes to critical variables involving empathy and social connectedness, but they still show some dark tendencies – hampering their relationships to some degree with deceitful, self-absorbed or hurtful behaviour toward others”

News of the Wired

Amazon Web Services is a single point of failure:

“Reasons We’ve Loved New York A send-off to the many places, big and small, that closed in 2020” [Curbed]. “500 Good-bye An honor roll — from the earliest founded to the most recently opened — of the many lost businesses that were, at least in their own corners of the city, essential.” • Peter Daou comments:

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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 (LR):

LR writes: “Springtime in Uruguay; trees with parasitic plants on them.”

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