/2:00PM Water Cooler 12/22/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 12/22/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

The sound on this a bit low, but it really reminds me of the prairie.


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:

Resuming the upward climb, though at a lesser slope. Looks like the Midwest did it, from the regional data, with now a little help from the Northeast. I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching, because I don’t think the peak is coming in the next days, or even weeks. Is the virus gathering itself for another leap?

California’s neighbors and the West Coast:

California, Arizona, and Nevada all track together until seven to ten days ago. Cascadia follows its own path.

Test positivity by region:

A wild swing in the West. Again.

Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.

Hospitalization by region:

Distinct flattening, thanks to the Midwest and the West. 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; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.

Case fatality rate by region:

Resuming the upward climb. I don’t much care for that gradual increase in the fatality rate and wonder what’s behind it.


“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


“Bernie Sanders says Democrats pushed working class supporters to Trump” [Independent]. “In a record year for turnout, the incumbent won some 74 million votes compared with just under 63 million in 2016…. Mr Trump increased his support in deprived communities, where unemployment and poverty are high. And according to Mr Sanders, many of those voters supported the president because they did not like what they saw from the Democrats. ‘This is a reflection of the Democratic Party,’ said the left-wing lawmaker in a Friday interview with SiriusXM radio host Dean Obeidallah. ‘I think if you talk to many of those … working class people who voted for Trump, they’ll say, ‘Look, of course we know he’s a liar. We know he’s full of shit. But at least he does this; he does that.’ Something the Democrats don’t do.’” • If Sanders had “gone militant” and explicitly put himself and his movement at the head of the strike wave in Summer 2020… Before Black Lives Matter emerged…. “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Why It’s Good To Push Politicians To Do The Right Thing (Even When They Probably Won’t)” [Caitlin Johnstone]. “There’s a misconception which spans almost the entire US political spectrum, and that is the idea that some part of the system serves the people. Progressives believe they can use the electoral process to obtain economic justice for Americans. Trumpers believe the judicial system is going to overturn Biden’s win any minute now. Liberals believed Mueller was going to drag the entire Trump camp out of the White House in chains. And that’s just not the case. There is no part of the US political system which is anything other than innately oppositional to economic justice. There is no part of the US judicial system which would ever act to reverse widespread establishment electoral fraud. There was no part of the Special Counsel which was separate from the same unifying power structure that Trump serves to remove him from office over corruption or anything else. Ever since 2016 people have been predicting massive upheavals which radically shift power from one mainstream faction to the other, but it never happens; the imperial machine keeps chugging along with all its parts working in well-oiled harmony. And that’s all the US governmental system exists for: ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of the imperial machine.” • James Madison did his work well. More: “But that doesn’t mean there’s no value in pushing for officials to do the right thing. You don’t push politicians to do the right thing because you think they will, you do it to show everyone else that they won’t…. Human behavior only changes when there’s an expansion of consciousness, whether you’re talking about individuals or a collective of any size.” • Hmm.

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.

Manufacturing: “December 2020 Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey Improved” [Econintersect]. “Of the four regional Federal Reserve manufacturing surveys released to date, all are in expansion… The important Richmond Fed subcategories (new orders and unfilled orders) are well into expansion and improved this month. We consider this survey better than last month.”

Consumer Confidence: “December 2020 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Again Declined” [Econintersect]. “Consumer confidence had been steady for the previous two years – but the coronavirus killed the upswing. Consumer confidence is as low as seen in 2014.”

GDP: “Third Estimate 3Q2020 GDP Improves Marginally to 33.4%. Corporate Profits Improve” [Econintersect]. “The third estimate of third-quarter 2020 Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) improved from the second estimate’s positive 33.1 % to 33.4 %… The coronavirus recovery is the reason for the improvement from the previous quarter – and pushed GDP quarter-over-quarter growth to record levels. I am not a fan of quarter-over-quarter exaggerated method of measuring GDP – but the recovery from the pandemic is not over as the year-over-year GDP growth remains in contraction.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 60 Greed (previous close: 63 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 69 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 22 at 1:38pm. Sorry I missed the transition to mere greed!

The Biosphere

“Wildfire smoke, a potential infectious agent” [Science]. “Wildland fire is a source for bioaerosols that differ in composition and concentration from those found under background conditions, and most of these microbes in smoke are viable (1, 2). Bioaerosols, composed of fungal and bacterial cells and their metabolic by-products, are known to affect human health (3). At the same time, respiratory allergic and inflammatory diseases, including asthma and bronchitis, are exacerbated by exposure to wildfire smoke (4). However, the risk of infection to the upper and lower respiratory tract after exposure to wildfire smoke is frequently overlooked (5). Smoke-related immunologic deficits and inflammatory responses may exacerbate the effects of inhalation of airborne microbial particulates and toxicants in smoke.” • Hmm. Speculating freely, I wonder if the California wildfires are a partial explanation for California’s Covid oddities, and those neighboring states downwind from it?

“Permit granted for Wyoming coal mine, 1st in decades” [Wyoming Tribune Eagle]. “An independent council has upheld a decision by Wyoming environmental regulators to grant a mining permit to a coal technology company, making it the state’s first new coal mine to open in decades. The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council affirmed the permit extension on Wednesday, allowing Ramaco Carbon to dig for coal at a former mine site near Sheridan, The Casper Star-Tribune reported.” • Jawbs. The permitting process held off the mine for a decade, so at least opponents cost the company some money. Still.

“Will Rising Temperatures Make Superweeds Even Stronger?” [Wired (Re Silc)]. “mounting evidence suggests that temperatures of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above can make some herbicide-resistant weeds even more resistant, and cause other weeds to be less sensitive to certain chemicals. Some farmers say they know high temperatures can mess with some herbicides, so they try to avoid spraying in the heat of the day. “A good rule of thumb is if it’s 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, just don’t spray,” says Curt Gottschalk, a farm manager in Hays, Kansas.” • Whoops. So I guess the answer is to go back into the lab and come up with some new formulations…..

“Evidence of “modified gravity” in 150 galaxies strengthens dark matter alternative” [New Atlas]. “[O]bservations continue to support the idea of dark matter. But one major piece of the puzzle is still missing – finding the stuff itself. Plenty of experiments have tried to detect particles of the elusive dark matter, or even create them, but so far none have been successful. Perhaps that’s because it’s not really there after all, and instead it might be that our models of gravity and physics need some tweaking. This class of hypotheses is known as modified gravity, and now astronomers claim to have found evidence supporting one particular model, known as Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND). First proposed in 1982 by physicist Mordehai Milgrom, MOND suggests that at low accelerations, gravity’s effects are stronger than Newton’s laws describe. A side effect of this is that the motions of objects would depend not just on their own mass, but all other masses in their neighborhood. This phenomenon is known as the external field effect (EFE). And now, researchers on the new study say they’ve observed the EFE in action in 153 different galaxies.” • Neat! Gravity would be relational!

Will Rising Temperatures Make Superweeds Even Stronger? Wired

Health Care

“Anti-vaxxers Think This Is Their Moment” [The Atlantic]. “The misleading claims Americans will soon hear about the newly released COVID-19 vaccines are nearly identical to claims made about smallpox immunizations 120 years ago: The ingredients are toxic and unnatural; the vaccines are insufficiently tested; the scientists who produce them are quacks and profiteers; the cell cultures involved in some shots are an affront to the religious; the authorities working to protect public health are guilty of tyrannical overreach. In the British Medical Journal in that period, a Dr. Francis T. Bond frets about what to do about his era’s anti-vaxxers and their arguments, which have since become well-trod canards because they are effective in frightening people. Today’s anti-vaccine activists, however, enjoy a speed, scale, and reach far greater than those of Dr. Bond’s day. Bottom-up networked activism is driving the spread of anti-vaccine COVID-19 propaganda. Americans are about to see a deluge of tweets, posts, and snarky memes that will attempt to erode trust in the vaccine rollouts.” • All this is true. Nevertheless, “what we’ve got here is failure to communicate” (a.k.a. “respect mah authoritah”) hasn’t worked, and shaming and fingerwagging haven’t worked either. The author recommends a “whole-of-society approach.”

“COVID-19 testing: One size does not fit all” [Science]. “Similar to home pregnancy tests, screening tests should be easy to obtain and administer, fast, and cheap. Like diagnostic tests, these tests must produce very low false-positive rates. If a screening test does not achieve high-enough specificity (e.g., >99.9%), screening programs can be paired with secondary confirmatory testing. Unlike diagnostic tests, however, the sensitivity of screening tests should not be determined based on their ability to diagnose patients but rather by their ability to accurately identify people who are most at risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2. Such individuals tend to have higher viral loads, which makes the virus easier to detect. A focus on identifying infectious people means that frequency and abundance of tests should be prioritized above achieving high analytical sensitivity. Indeed, loss in sensitivity of individual tests, within reason, can be compensated for by frequency of testing and wider dissemination of tests. In addition, public health messaging should ensure appropriate expectations of screening, particularly around sensitivity and specificity so that false negatives and false positives do not erode public trust. Tests for public health screening require rapid, decentralized solutions that can be scaled for frequent screening of large numbers of asymptomatic individuals.” • Lot of detail. Well worth a read for testing mavens.

“What the Chaos in Hospitals Is Doing to Doctors” [The Atlantic]. “Article after article outlined a series of awful questions: If and when New York hospitals ran out of ventilators, should the machines be allotted on a first-come, first-served basis? Based on who was sickest? Based on who was most likely to survive? Based on who, if they survived, had the most years left to live? Based on some randomized lottery system? As it happens, the job of answering these questions is still frequently left to committees. But today, “the lawyer, the housewife, the banker, the minister” have been supplemented by bioethicists.” • I don’t think that’s a good thing at all. I mean, Zeke Emanuel is a bio-ethicist,

Our Famously Free Press

“How Civil Society Can Combat Misinformation and Hate Speech Without Making It Worse” [The Media Manipulation Casebook]. Here is a handy diagram:

A cynic might say that looks like a self-licking ice cream cone. A Buddhist might say it looks like the karmic wheel. A realist might say “‘Twas ever thus!” My problem with such goo goo efforts is that the notion of “civil society” goes unexamined. What if civil society itself is based on frameworks of deception and illusion, like RussiaGate? Or mainstream macro?


It seems that Kelton’s book is doing well:

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“Living With Karens A white woman calls the police on her Black neighbors. Six months later, they still share a property line.” [New York Magazine]. Final paragraph: “Sometimes, well, often, when he’s standing in his house, looking out over the fence, he sees Schulz in her yard, or even just the empty yard, and it hits him. Just for an instant. Maybe it was silly or naïve or too optimistic, but there was an expectation that in Montclair he could be aware of the reality of being Black in America without having to confront it or acknowledge it in his daily life. But now, ‘we do actively acknowledge it,’ he said. ‘It’s just a reminder of that reality.’” • From Montclair, NJ.

Class Warfare

“Uber and Lyft’s Gig Work Law Could Expand Beyond California” [Wired]. “Now New York, a less-than-traditional gig market in many ways, is set to be among the first states where a post-Proposition 22 battle might play out. A constellation of gig companies and allies on Monday introduced the New York Coalition for Independent Work, which describes its mission as “protecting self-employed, app-based contractors’ independence and flexibility while also working to provide them with needed benefits.” But the state’s relatively labor-friendly climate means that gig companies will have to tread carefully—and that a pitched battle is likely ahead…. In statements, spokespeople for Uber, Instacart, and DoorDash said the companies would work with legislators to protect flexible work schedules for their gig workers, something they have said would be impossible if they were forced to treat the workers as employees. DoorDash vice president of communications and policy Liz Jarvis-Shean said the company wants to work with state and federal lawmakers ‘to help create a new portable, proportional, and flexible framework that embraces today’s modern workforce.’ Uber spokesperson Matthew Wing said the company supports state laws to require ‘all gig economy companies—including ours—to provide new benefits and protections to all independent workers.’”

“Hidden Foster Care: All of the Responsibility, None of the Resources” [The Appeal]. “Removing children from their parents and placing them with relatives is a common occurrence in Texas, and around the country, as child welfare authorities intervene in situations like Sophie’s. But unlike the traditional foster care system, no court case is initiated, and no lawyers are present to advise either parents or caregivers of their rights. Legal advocates say these arrangements lead to confusion around custody rights, are ripe for coercion of the parent, and leave caregivers without any support in caring for children. The phenomenon has been termed ‘shadow foster care’ or ‘hidden foster care’ by legal researchers, who estimate that these informal arrangements are made at a rate on par with the traditional foster care system. In fiscal year 2014 in Texas, there were just over 30,000 children placed in the foster care system, with CPS cases in the courts overseen by judges; that year, the state made 34,000 informal placements of children with relatives as a result of a CPS investigation, which had no court cases attached. That number seems to be declining, according to recent data acquired from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. This year, DFPS reported about 12,000 children currently in such placements; more than 1,000 of these arrangements have been closed each year for the last five years with the child’s relatives still caring for them, without a custody order in place.”

“The Battle for Waterloo” [Pro Publica]. “As the [he Peoples Community Health Clinic] staff tended to the sick, a chilling pattern emerged: 99% of the patients either worked at the local Tyson Foods meatpacking plant or lived with someone who did. Some patients said they’d come from a town two hours away where an outbreak had shut down another Tyson plant… Meanwhile, a lawsuit would later allege, top Tyson managers in Waterloo were directing interpreters to downplay the threat of infection at the plant, while privately making winner-take-all bets on how many workers would test positive. (Seven managers were fired last week).” • A must-read, I can’t adequately excerpt. To be read in conjunction with–

“How the History of Waterloo, Iowa, Explains How Meatpacking Plants Became Hotbeds of COVID-19” [Pro Publica]. • An excellent timeline, 1891 – 2020.

News of the Wired

“Aphorisms on programming language design” [Michael Arntzenius]. “3. The measure of a language is not what is possible in it, but what it makes easy.” • Human languages are not programming languages. That said, what English does not make easy is pointing to and classifying sets with fuzzy edges or overlaps. Sets like “Black,” “women,” “working class.” We have awkward bolt-ons like “some” or “all,” or “most” but nothing in core, as it were. I wonder if there is some obscure language that does better?

“Bos Taurus” [The Last Word on Nothing]. “One of my favorite bull stories, The Story of Ferdinand, is about a young Spanish bull who does not enjoy fighting, but prefers to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers. The simple power of Ferdinand’s story, I think, is that it unravels the old conflation of male strength and violence, revealing such macho projections for what they really are: bullshit. (Disliking what he deemed its pacifist message, Hitler ordered the book to be burned.)”

“Historic Auction of Iconic East Village Institutional Items” [Gem Spa]. “To illustrate the vital importance of its illustrious history, Gem Spa is featured on the back cover of the first album by the New York Dolls. Poets Allen Ginsberg and Ted Berrigan both mentioned the stand in their works, where Robert Mapplethorpe bought Patti Smith her first egg cream, Madonna shot Desperately Seeking Susan there in 1984, Lou Reed loved to get egg creams there, Jean-Michel Basquiat paid homage to Gem Spa in a 1982 painting. In 1966, The Village Voice called it the ‘official oasis of the East Village;. Abbie Hoffman gathered people for his 1967 protest at the New York Stock Exchange at Gem Spa. it was known as a ‘hippie hangout’. In the late 60s, it was midway between two other iconic venues, the Fillmore East and the Electric Circus, now gone forever.”

This sign, apparently, features an egg cream. Whatever that is…

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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 (RM):

RM writes: “While on a hike in the hills in eastern Montana I came across this outcrop of scoria covered in lichen. The scoria is made by coal layers that catch on fire and burn underground for many years. The heat bakes the overlaying clay and makes it like pottery.” Wow!

Readers, I could use more photos from readers who have not contributed before! Thank you!

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