/2:00PM Water Cooler 3/5/2021

2:00PM Water Cooler 3/5/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, Water Cooler was a little out of balance today, because there was more interesting business news than usual (a sign of shifts in the zeitgeist, perhaps). I will add more material here and there shortly.

Bird Song of the Day

From Buenos Aires, Argentina. Alert readers Flora and A Different Chris commented yesterday that they emjoyed the Bird Song of the Day. I too enjoy beginning writing on, er, a positive note. Thanks also to Doc Octogon, Amfortas the hippie, Patrick, and ambrit for discussing the habits of this interesting creature.

This concludes a week of mockingbird songs (which has nothing to do with Operation Mockingbird). Readers, if you want to me look into a species or locale at Macaulay — the archive is quite large — do feel free to write me at the email address in the Plant section.


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

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?

I’m holding the vaccination chart in abeyance until I look at data issues at DIVOC-19 and/or Johns Hopkins, if not today, then Monday. Thanks to readers for alerting me.

Case count by United States region:

A little uptick in the South, with the Northeast flattening.

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

New York and Texas now in parallel.

Test positivity:

Decline is flattening across the board. Weather? Variants? Regional averages approach 3%, which is what we want to see.


Hospitalization is 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 (plus deaths):

That fatality rate in the West (red) is rising still, which is what worries me. Now it’s at it’s highest in over a year. It’s not going vertical, which is what I feared. Is the reason nobody else is worrying about this is that it’s not really a problem?


“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

Biden Administration

“U.S. Senate Democrats to offer plan to alter jobless benefits in COVID-19 aid bill” [Reuters]. By “alter,” we mean “cut.” “Liberal and moderate Democrats reached a deal that would scale back federal unemployment benefits in a COVID-19 aid bill to $300 per week, from the proposed $400, a Senate Democratic aide said on Friday.” • A deal? What did the “moderate Democrats” want? $200? $0? A negative number? This bill just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Biden’s Deputy DOT Pick Promises to Prioritize NJ-NY Rail Tunnel” [Bloomberg]. “”Gateway is going to be a priority,’ Polly Trottenberg, who served recently as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, said during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. ‘It is truly a project of national significance, and as you say, one that really would have just a massive rippling impact if we were to see those over-100-year-old tunnels under the Hudson River for some reason need to be shut down.’”

Democrats en deshabille

$15 minimum wage goes down to defeat:

Seems appropriate:

I don’t so much blame the Senators, who were revolving weasels who wanted to avoid any flack in their home states, Biden’s campaign promises be damned (looking at you, Angus King). I blame the Biden administration for not whipping them.

“White House weighs minimum wage negotiations with Republicans” [Politico]. “The White House is weighing whether to engage in talks with Republicans on a minimum wage hike once Congress passes its Covid relief bill, two sources with knowledge of their strategic thinking say. White House aides said they believe there’s room to bring Republicans into the fold because raising the minimum wage is popular across ideological grounds. They pointed to the recent $15-an-hour wage increase passed in Florida, a state that voted for Donald Trump, as evidence that the issue has widespread support. In a sign that the White House is looking to broaden the coalition behind a wage hike, administration officials reached out to trade groups last week to gauge their willingness to support legislation, according to two people familiar with the matter. Negotiations with Republicans would be another step entirely. And it would likely frustrate progressives and raise alarms among labor and advocacy groups who are looking to Biden to make good on his promise to deliver a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Progressives argue that a phased-in $15 floor over five years is already a compromise and would likely oppose any deal that would go significantly lower.” • Because obviously the minimum wage should be set to whatever the lowest state sets it at.

“Poll: Majority of West Virginians support $15 federal minimum wage” [WDTV]. But and: “On Thursday, a group of lawmakers, including West Virginia’s Senator Shelly Moore-Capito came out in favor of a phased in $10 federal wage increase. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin says he would support an $11 minimum wage. ‘I think that everybody that gets up in the morning and goes to work for 40 hours and goes to work 50 weeks out of the year should be above the poverty line,’ Senator Manchin said.’”

Republican Funhouse

“Top Pa. senator appoints colleague’s wife to lucrative Gaming Control Board seat” [Spotlight PA]. ” The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate has quietly appointed the spouse of a colleague to a coveted spot on the state’s Gaming Control Board, raising questions anew about whether the regulatory panel has become a lucrative landing ground for the politically connected. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) named Frances “Fran” Regan to serve a two-year term on the board, a plum appointment in Harrisburg circles because, at a $145,000 annual salary, it is one of the higher-paid positions in state government…. Unlike with several previous appointments, there was no press release announcing her selection — her name simply appeared on the board’s website. When asked for Regan’s resume, board officials initially said they did not have one.” • Lol, just imagine, I thought corruption only happened in Philly.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“The Betrayal At The Heart of Sanders, AOC and Corbyn’s Refusal To Use Power” [Ian Welsh]. “Here’s a rule: power everyone knows you won’t use, you don’t have…. Left-wingers are not credible because they never use their power. We saw this with Corbyn in Britain when he repeatedly refused to throw out MPs who challenged him or allow MPs to be re-selected (primaried, in effect.) There was nothing they couldn’t do to his cause or him that would get him to retaliate… I’m going to return to this and the reasons, which go beyond a misunderstanding of how to use power or cowardice (Corbyn is not in any way a coward) , because it’s important. I like Bernie and AOC, and I admire Corbyn, but their refusal to use power is a betrayal, and I use that word deliberately, of the people they represent and who trust them.” • Contrasting Corbyn to Johnson, who immediately purged his enemies.

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.

Employment Situation: “February 2021 BLS Jobs Situation – Job Gains Excellent” [Econintersect]. “The headline seasonally adjusted BLS job growth was significant and well above expectations, with the unemployment rate improving from 6.3 % to 6.2 %…. Very good growth and last month’s poor employment gain was revised upward…. Very good growth and last month’s poor employment gain was revised upward.” • But modified rapture:

Employment Situation: “United States Non Farm Payrolls1939” [Trading Economics]. “The US economy added 379K jobs in February of 2021, following an upwardly revised 166K rise in January and compared to market expectations of 182K amid easing business restrictions, falling coronavirus infection rates, a fast vaccine rollout and continued support from the government. Most of the job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, with smaller gains in temporary help services, health care and social assistance, retail trade, and manufacturing. Employment declined in state and local government education, construction, and mining. However, that leaves the economy about 9.5 million jobs short of the peak in February of 2020, as the labour market still has a long way to go before fully recovering from the pandemic shock.” • For education specifically:

And here is the 25-year Labor Force Participation Rate, per Trading Economics:

source: tradingeconomics.com

Oof (even without a zero baseline). Note that continued fall under Obama. Note the discernible rise under Trump. Interesting!

Trade: “January 2021 Trade Data Continues To Show Recovery” [Econintersect]. “Trade data headlines show the trade balance continues to worsen with imports growing faster than exports…. The data in this series wobbles and the 3-month rolling averages are the best way to look at this series. The 3-month average rate of growth improved for imports and exports Econintersect uses the import trade data as a factor in determining the acceleration or deceleration of the economy – but does not believe the negative trade balance per se is an economic issue.”

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Money: “Cash and COVID-19: The Effects of Lifting Containment Measures on Cash Demand and Use” [Bank of Canada]. “More than half of Canadians used cash as a form of payment during the July survey period, which was somewhat less than the proportion using debit and credit methods. So while electronic methods continued to dominate, a large percentage of Canadians also used cash for payments, and that share increased from the spring into the summer. A large majority of Canadians continue to report that they have no plans to go cashless in the next five years.” • Good.

Banking: “In serving the Amish, Lancaster County bankers find ‘make-a-difference’ work” [Banking Dive]. “Having a strong mobile banking platform that delivers services to customers whenever and wherever they need it is considered a necessity for banks operating in today’s competitive financial services landscape. Bank of Bird-in-Hand’s mobile banking operation not only includes a digital app but a literal fleet of banks on wheels, and stands as one example of the innovative ways lenders serve the largest Amish settlement in the U.S.” • Not such a bad model.

Housing: “‘This Is Unprecedented’: Why America’s Housing Market Has Never Been Weirder” [The Atlantic]. “In the last year, a lot of middle- and high-income households took advantage of the pandemic to accelerate their plans to buy first homes, second homes, and vacation homes. The typical 2020 homebuyer made nearly $100,000, a significantly higher income than the average homebuyer had in past years…. As the COVID-inspired flight to larger houses boosted home prices, the pandemic took a sledgehammer to urban amenities, and downtown rents fell. Restaurants, bars, and museums have closed, and remote work has made living close to the office less valuable…. All of this has crushed demand for rented apartments in cities. But something else has accentuated this historic divergence between downtown rents and suburban housing prices: the quirky habits of the Millennial generation…. In some ways, the massive rent-own divergence in 2020 highlighted one of the fundamental tragedies of the pandemic, which has so adeptly exposed America’s preexisting social inequalities. The plague disproportionately infected and impoverished minority and low-income hourly workers. But for some rich households, it created the perfect opportunity to spring for that Florida vacation house, or that suburban lot with the south-facing pool.”

Retail: “Popular flea collar linked to almost 1,700 pet deaths. The EPA has issued no warning.” [Investigate Midwest]. “Seresto, one of the most popular flea and tick collars in the country, has been linked to hundreds of pet deaths, tens of thousands of injured animals and hundreds of harmed humans, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents show. Yet the EPA has done nothing to inform the public of the risks. Seresto, developed by Bayer and now sold by Elanco, works by releasing small amounts of pesticide onto the animal for months at a time. The pesticide is supposed to kill fleas, ticks and other pests but be safe for cats and dogs…. Since Seresto flea and tick collars were introduced in 2012, the EPA has received incident reports of at least 1,698 related pet deaths. Overall, through June 2020, the agency has received more than 75,000 incident reports related to the collars, including nearly 1,000 involving human harm. The EPA is in charge of regulating products that contain pesticides. The agency has known about these incidents for years but has not informed the public of the potential risks associated with this product, said Karen McCormack, a retired EPA employee who worked as both a scientist and communications officer.”

Tech: “World’s highest-capacity’ solid-state battery developed in Japan” [Nikkei Asian Review]. “With a lower risk of fires and more enhanced energy efficiency than conventional lithium-ion batteries, solid-state batteries are considered to be the next-generation power source. Leading manufacturers in solid-state technology include Japanese peers Toyota Motor and Murata Manufacturing, but they have yet to tackle such challenges as increasing capacity and trimming costs. Hitachi Zosen sees demand for use in such harsh conditions as space and for industrial equipment operated in atypical environments. With plans to double the battery’s capacity by 2025, the infrastructure and plant builder has begun small-scale production of a prototype and seeks to work with a partner on commercialization.” • Technology to keep an eye on.

Tech: “Google’s FLoC Is a Terrible Idea” [Electronic Frontier Foundation (Ian)]. This is an excellent and readable long-form article on one of Google’s concepts for a cookie replacement, coming soon to a browser uncomfortably near you. I picked out this: “The power to target is the power to discriminate. By definition, targeted ads allow advertisers to reach some kinds of people while excluding others. A targeting system may be used to decide who gets to see job postings or loan offers just as easily as it is to advertise shoes. Over the years, the machinery of targeted advertising has frequently been used for exploitation, discrimination, and harm. The ability to target people based on ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or ability allows discriminatory ads for jobs, housing, and credit. Targeting based on credit history—or characteristics systematically associated with it— enables predatory ads for high-interest loans. Targeting based on demographics, location, and political affiliation helps purveyors of politically motivated disinformation and voter suppression. All kinds of behavioral targeting increase the risk of convincing scams.” I can think of some examples… Concluding: “We emphatically reject the future of FLoC. That is not the world we want, nor the one users deserve. Google needs to learn the correct lessons from the era of third-party tracking and design its browser to work for users, not for advertisers.” • But that’s not what Google needs at all. It’s what we need.

Tech: “Inside Twitter’s Plan to Fact-Check Tweets” [Bloomberg]. “Twitter Inc. formally announced an effort called ‘Birdwatch,’ or what it refers to as a ‘community-based approach to misinformation.’ The concept is this: Users will add notes to tweets that are misleading or inaccurate, and then the most useful of those notes will “travel with” the tweet so that other people can see them side by side…. But there are lots of things that need to go right for Birdwatch before that happens. For starters, people need to participate, and actually contribute well-researched notes when they see tweets that need added context. History tells us social media is more about consumption than contribution.” • I’m picturing KHive fact-checking Tweets on Kamala…. Or whatever operation Brock would set up.

Tech: “Here Is the Article You Can Send to People When They Say ‘But the Environmental Issues With Cryptoart Will Be Solved Soon, Right?’” [Everest Pipkin]. “Cryptoart is a piece of metadata (including, generally- an image or link to an image/file, the creator of that file, datestamps, associated contracts or text, and the purchaser of the piece) which is attached to a “token” (which has monetary value on a marketplace) and stored in a blockchain. An individual piece of cryptoart is called an NFT. You can think of each NFT as a trading card or a collectible with an individual value that is also affected by the general market value of NFTs as a concept, the Ethereum network and cryptocurrency in general. Like beanie babies without the beans…. Numbers vary, but minting artwork on the blockchain uses somewhere between weeks, months, years, (and in rare instances decades) of an average EU or US citizen’s energy consumption. During unprecedented temperature increases, sea level rise, the total loss of permanent sea ice, widespread species extinction, countless severe weather events, and all the other hallmarks of total climate collapse, this kind of gleeful wastefulness is, and I am not being hyperbolic, a crime against humanity…. And lest you think we are dealing in long-term abstractions- this devastation has tangible, externalized cost; a recent study out of the University of New Mexico estimated that in 2018 every $1 of Bitcoin value was responsible for $0.49 in health and climate damages in the US, costs that are borne by those who will, for the most part, never see any return from cryptocurrency mining whatsoever.”

Manufacturing: “Global semiconductor shortage spurs run on vintage chipmaking tools” [Reuters]. “Minnesota-based Polar Semiconductor makes chips for automakers and is booked beyond capacity. But expanding production lines to help solve a chip shortage that is shutting down car factories around the world is not feasible – in part due to the scarcity of older-style chipmaking machinery. Chip factories like Polar use these tools to make chips on 200-millimeter silicon wafers, which were state-of-the-art two decades ago. Now, advanced chips are made using much larger wafers, but there is still a lot of demand for simpler, older chips. The demand has been supercharged by a combination of the COVID-19-driven boom in computer gear and unexpected strength in auto sales that resulted in shortages. …Automakers use a range of chips in cars. Some, such as those in infotainment systems, are made in the same cutting-edge chip factories that make smartphone chips. But other chips in braking and engine systems are made using older, proven technologies that meet automakers’ durability and reliability requirements. But the machines to make those older chips can take six to nine months to find, said Surya Iyer, vice president of operations and quality at Polar.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 54 Neutral (previous close: 48 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 48 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 5 at 12:27pm. Everything is grey (Neutral). Mud season for Mr. Market?

Our Famously Free Press

Following weeks of smears, Zaid Jilani resigns from Center for American Progress to take new job Mondoweiss


Black Injustice Tipping Point

““White Privilege” and “Black Lives Matter”: Examples of How Black Activism Failed” [Ghion Journal]. “The only people who profit from these campaigns of grievance and woe-is-me victimhood are the very charlatans who are sitting in the lap of comfort and leading lives of true privilege. The establishment reward demagogues who incite passions and lead us in the wrong direction. There is a reason, after all, the Obamas were compensated to the tune of $60 million and why Ta-Nehisi Coates keeps landing on the New York Times bestsellers list. The fastest way to make a buck and get leg up is to sell your own people down the river in order to be invited into the whites’ house. The leaders of Black Lives Matter have perfected the art of the shakedown in ways that puts Jessie Jackson to shame; they have made more money in our names and using our pains than any black organization since the NAACP. What do we have to show for the hundreds of millions they have collected since Ferguson? Email or DM me if you know the answer because I have been searching for that answer since Michael Brown was assassinated. Far from being freedom fighters, Black Lives Matter is a co-op of fee collectors who hear cash registers ringing each time a “black” man or woman gets killed by a cop.” • Yikes! And: “People who have it bad don’t have a license to insult and disparage others who have it marginally better.” That’s an interesting moral principle. I’m hard-pressed to think of a Biblical parable the supports it, but the intuition seems correct, on the assumption that (a) there are others who have it significantly better, which (b) causes the “crabs in a bucket” phenomenon described. That’s the world we live in, of course (as it was the world of First Century Palestine. So maybe the parable exists and I’m missing it).

Class Warfare

“Do we care about who cares?” [The Lancet]. “The domestic, emotional, and caring labour and lower status essential work that keep families and households together, also known as reproductive labour, is essential to health. Maintaining hygiene and safety, such as by cooking, cleaning, feeding, and “doing the dirty work”, is mostly done by women, and particularly women of colour. As a result, such women form the bedrock of our economy and societies. COVID-19 has exposed the ways in which women’s low-value work has been taken for granted and the discrimination and lack of status it is given. Health-promoting domestic work is largely ignored by health systems and economic estimates. Silvia Federici, a scholar in domestic labour, comments: ‘Domestic labour is a form of gendered economic oppression and an exploitation upon which all of capitalism rests.’ Better wages and conditions and inclusion of this labour in gross domestic product (GDP) are needed to properly value this work. Taking an intersectional lens to gender here will be crucial.” • Nodding my head at Federici — in the Lancet! — taken aback at “intersectional lens.” Be that as it may, despite my fulminations at the PMC, we should never forget that there are in fact good faith efforts by professionals to uphold the principles of, I suppose, their guilds (and some of them read NC).

“Congressional delegation heads to Alabama amid growing support for Amazon workers” [Reuters]. “A group of U.S. lawmakers visited an Amazon.com Inc facility in Alabama on Friday, lending their support to a growing push to unionize workers at the e-commerce firm… The congressional delegation includes U.S. Representatives Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Terri Sewell, and Nikema Williams. Workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to become the first Amazon employees in the United States to join a union. The visit comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s recent message where he defended workers’ rights to form unions. While he did not mention Amazon, he referenced ‘workers in Alabama.’”

“Breach of Fiduciary Responsibility & Shareholder Lawsuits” (PDF) [Robert W. McGeem, SSRN]. “Refusing to do business with individuals or organizations solely because some small group of corporate executives does not approve of those individuals or organizations, results in causing harm to the vast majority of the shareholders they are supposed to represent. It is a classic case of the agent not working in the best interest of the principal, which is inherently immoral. Some smart lawyers might see these breaches of fiduciary duties as an opportunity to launch class action lawsuits against these executives, and perhaps pierce the corporate veil, which would make them personally liable. Such lawsuits would remind the top management at these corporations that they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, which is a good thing. ” • Novel theory.

News of the Wired

“How the ‘Ecstatic Joy of Nature’ Unites Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney” [Smithsonian]. • Wallpaper’s wallpaper, amiright? [ducks].

“Multimodal Neurons in Artificial Neural Networks” [OpenAI]. “We’ve discovered neurons in CLIP that respond to the same concept whether presented literally, symbolically, or conceptually…. One such neuron, for example, is a “Spider-Man” neuron (bearing a remarkable resemblance to the ‘Halle Berry’ neuron) that responds to an image of a spider, an image of the text ‘spider,’ and the comic book character ‘Spider-Man’ either in costume or illustrated.” • Cool. We’ve gotten AI to confuse the signfiier with the thing signified. I’m sure that won’t cause any problems:

Commodity fetishism (which may, or may not, be related to the tweet above):

“FAA Files Reveal a Surprising Threat to Airline Safety: the U.S. Military’s GPS Tests” [IEEE Spectrum]. “Early one morning last May, a commercial airliner was approaching El Paso International Airport, in West Texas, when a warning popped up in the cockpit: ‘GPS Position Lost.; The pilot contacted the airline’s operations center and received a report that the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, in South Central New Mexico, was disrupting the GPS signal. ‘We knew then that it was not an aircraft GPS fault,’ the pilot wrote later. The pilot missed an approach on one runway due to high winds, then came around to try again. ;’We were forced to Runway 04 with a predawn landing with no access to [an instrument landing] with vertical guidance,’ the pilot wrote. ‘Runway 04…has a high CFIT threat due to the climbing terrain in the local area.’ CFIT stands for ‘controlled flight into terrain,’ and it is exactly as serious as it sounds. The pilot considered diverting to Albuquerque, 370 kilometers away, but eventually bit the bullet and tackled Runway 04 using only visual aids. The plane made it safely to the ground, but the pilot later logged the experience on NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, a forum where pilots can anonymously share near misses and safety tips…. Previously undisclosed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data for a few months in 2017 and 2018 detail hundreds of aircraft losing GPS reception in the vicinity of military tests…. The military is jamming GPS signals to develop its own defenses against GPS jamming. Ironically, though, the Pentagon’s efforts to safeguard its own troops and systems are putting the lives of civilian pilots, passengers, and crew at risk.” • What could go wrong?

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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 (expat2Uruguay):

expat2Uruguay writes: “One of the creative things they do here in Uruguay is to plant different plant species together. Here are hydrangea and what looks like hellebore in combination.”

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