/2:00PM Water Cooler 3/8/2021

2:00PM Water Cooler 3/8/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

At reader request, it’s Owl Week at the Naked Capitalism Water Cooler. Here we have an American Barn Owl. This clip was hard to find, because most of the really intriguing sonograms turned out to be night-time insect noise!


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, after I get the rest of the post done.

Vaccination by region:

Patient readers, I must apologize for mistaking a data artifact for data. Alert readers cpm and shrewd wookie pointed out the vaccination decline I was worried about didn’t conform to the data in the New York Times, which showed a steady increase. I had allowed my priors, which include both pessimism and a distrust of the (paywalled) Times and the institutional media generally, to get in the way of double-checking the data. From the 91-DIVOC data log, the Johns Hopkins data was successfully merged over the weekend, meaning that whatever pipes were clogged got unclogged. So I have restored the chart. Thanks again to alert readers cpm and shrewd wookie. The NC commentariat is the best commentariat. However, I still stand by this comment–

Early in February, I said a simple way to compare Biden’s performance to Trump’s on vaccination would be to compare the slopes of the curves. If Biden accelerated vaccine administration, the slopes would get steeper. What I expected was that that the slopes would remain the same; that the fragmented, Federalized, and profit-driven lumbering monstrosity that we laughingly call our “health care” “system” would not respond to “energy in the executive,” but would continue on its inertial path.


Case count by United States regions:

South heads downward again, Northeast flat.

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

Texas drops below New York.

Test positivity:

Jumps in the South.


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? Is this some sort of statistical artifact as well?


“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

More to come. –lambert

Biden Administration

“Building the big one: Behind the scenes of Biden’s $1.9 trillion bet” [Phil Mattingly, CNN]. This is from February 11, but I’m posting it because the reporter seems to have gotten the big things right — granted, for a liberal Democrat’s definition of right — on the relief package, before the sturm und drang began. “For all of Biden’s talk of bipartisanship, Democrats now had the power to move their top priority without a single Republican vote. It was the same situation as 2009, when the Obama administration rushed to pass a relief package during his first month in office. Back then Democrats lowered the size of the plan to garner some Republican support, a decision many of them came to regret during the slow recovery that followed. This time would be different. From the outset, the common goal among Biden’s team was to go big — even if that meant going it alone.” • Let me use this story as a hook for remarks on the relief package. First, it’s remarkable that conventional wisdom has now become that the Obama administrations response to the last Crash was a debacle. Schumer + Biden > Reid + Obama (with Pelosi, I suppose, being an equally pernicious constant throughout). Who knew? Even more remarkable is that “deficits don’t matter” (as Dick Cheney put it) has also become conventional wisdom. Not remarkable at all is that all those who were were wrong are still in power, and that all those who were right — particularly the MMTers, but also the left in general — are not. We saw the same pattern with Iraq. As for the details of the bill, $1.9 trillion can’t help but have a good impact, as did CARES. The childcare provisions are probably good, even if they only last for a year. That said, the bill does, late and partially, what should have been done long ago and universally: Pay Americans for staying home. It’s also noteworthy that the bill carefully reinforces means-testing at every opportunity. The bill also continues the immiseration of the working class because it does not raise the minimum wage. Liberal Democrats gotta liberal Democrat.

Oh, and here’s reporter Mattingly on the famous $2,000:

“If you send Jon and the Reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door,” Biden said during a campaign stop in Atlanta the day before the runoff election.

And in the very next paragraph:

After Warnock and Ossoff both won, Biden’s team made those checks — an additional $1,400 to the $600 already disbursed — a central selling-point for the proposal

Do you know a check that works like that? Not “out the door” and “already one-third out the door” at the very same time? I sure don’t. The double-think is absolutely remarkable, by which I mean perfectly normal.

And speaking of checks, this is important, and Mondaire Jones is a Representative, so I assume he knows whereof he speaks:

Holy moley, what an insane system! Why not — hear me out — just send a check for the same amount to everybody, and claw back later from the rich if you want? Instead of this goofy rigamorale that leaves your rent check depending on whether the IRS processed your return on time or not! But you’ll pry means-testing from liberal Democrats’ cold, dead hands.

Stats Watch

Wholesale Inventories: “United States Wholesale Inventories” [Trading Economics]. “Wholesale inventories in the US increased 1.3 percent month-over-month in January of 2021, in line with preliminary figures, and following an upwardly revised 0.6 percent gain in December. Inventories of durable goods were up 1.2 percent, with those of computer equipment recording the biggest gain.”

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Tech: “How SEO Is Gentrifying the Internet” [Current Affairs]. Hard to excerpt this one, though it’s worth reading to make sense of your crapified search experience. Basically, “Since the 1990s, SEO marketing has been a lucrative pursuit for the world’s most scruple-free douchebags.” But I’m not familiar with any of the techniques. Since Google downranks us for Links, we can’t make SEO our business model, and so nobody at NC writes with SEO in mind. Read with confidence!

Tech: “I haven’t bought new pants for years, why do I have to keep buying new PCs?” [The Register]. “We’ve got pants that have lasted longer than some computers, thanks in part to the excesses of the likes of Apple and Microsoft.” • Due to exigent circumstances, I had to buy another laptop. Reader, I got a bottom-of-the-line iPad, because I didn’t and don’t have time to configure and learn Linux, even an easy version. (Plus, I need Lightroom.) Nevertheless, I had to spend a lot of time removing functionality I didn’t want. For example, I don’t want to be Notified about anything, ever. I don’t want any animation. I don’t want Siri advising me, or indeed knowing anything at all. And so on and on and on. More bloat, maintained by very smart and well-paid people who could be doing something useful with their time.

Tech: “Amazon is filled with fake reviews and it’s getting harder to spot them” [CNBC]. “Since Amazon’s early days, reviews are the one big metric customers have relied on to determine the quality and authenticity of a product. Amazon’s listings often have hundreds or thousands of reviews, instead of the handful found on competing marketplaces. But many of those reviews can’t be trusted. Thousands of fake reviews have flooded Amazon, Walmart, eBay and others, as sales have skyrocketed.” • Of course, Amazon uses some crap AI, because human moderation has yet to be scaled.

The Economy: “Yellen says Biden COVID bill to fuel ‘very strong’ U.S. recovery” [Reuters]. “U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package will provide enough resources to fuel a “very strong” U.S. economic recovery, but will not address longstanding inequality problems. She repeated her expectations that the package would allow the United States to return to pre-pandemic “full employment” levels by next year.” • For perspective:

“The Scariest Job Chart” ran regularly during the last Crash.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 61 Greed (previous close: 51 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 66 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 8 at 12:39pm. Mr. Market came back from the Nineteenth Hole on Sunday no longer in a grey mood.

Rapture Index: Closes up 1 on Oil Supply/Price. “Oil prices have hit a yearly high” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 180. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.) Worth noting we are now at Record Highs. Angst in the Heartland?

Groves of Academe

I should probably file this under Guillotine Watch:

The whole thread is worth reading.

The Agony Column

“MiB: Controlling Your Limbic System Determines Your Financial Success” [Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture]. The advice part: “The human limbic system controls our emotion, behavior and long-term memory (among other functions). ‘To the extent you succeed in finance, you succeed by suppressing the limbic system, your system 1, the very fast-moving emotional system. If you cannot suppress that, you are going to die poor.‘ So says Dr. William J. Bernstein, Ph.D., M.D., retired neurologist, principal in the money management firm Efficient Frontier Advisors, and author of several best-selling books on finance.” The political economy part: “The book focuses on three of our key characterizations: Humans are the Apes that tell stories, imitates others, and seek status. This combination ultimately leads to group dynamics where an entire population can become deeply entrenched in a belief system, that before it is revealed as false, runs amuck. The consequences range can include economic collapse, personal financial ruin, and 1000s of deaths.”

So I’m in class or at work, and an on-demand mental health top-up from an AI is gonna solve whatever problem I’m having:

“There’s a Better Way to Parent: Less Yelling, Less Praise” [The Atlantic]. Yeah, yeah, ancient wisdom from the periphery vouchsafed to bougie traveller. Nevertheless: “In the U.S., when a child calls you a name or smacks you, many parents think that the child is pushing your buttons, that they’re testing boundaries and want to manipulate you. The Inuit parents and elders I interviewed almost laughed when I said that. One woman said something like, ‘She’s a kid—she doesn’t know how to manipulate like that.’ Instead, what they told me is that young children are just these illogical, irrational beings who haven’t matured enough and haven’t acquired understanding or reason yet. So there’s no reason to get upset or argue back—if you do, you’re being just like the child.”

“Reading John Gray in war” [Aeon]. “it was only through [the English philosopher John] Gray that I saw the similarities between the doctrines of Stalinism, Nazi fascism, Al-Qaeda’s paradoxical medieval, technophile fundamentalism, and Bush’s ‘war on terror’. Gray showed that they are all various forms (however incompatible) of utopian thinking that have at their heart the teleological notion of progress from unenlightened times to a future utopia, and a belief that violence is justified to achieve it (indeed, from the Jacobins onwards, violence has had a pedagogical function in this process)….. [S]cientific knowledge and the technologies at our disposal increase over time, but there’s no reason to think that morality or culture will also progress, nor – if it does progress for a period – that this progress is irreversible. Gray points to the re-introduction of torture by the world’s premier liberal democracy during the war on terror as an example of the reversibility of progress. The irreversibility idea emerged directly from a utopian style of thinking that’s based on the notion that the end justifies the means. Such thinking is often accompanied by one of the defining characteristics of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns: hubris.” • I like the framing that violence has “a pedagogical function.”

Zeitgeist Watch

“The Core Message of Meghan and Harry’s Oprah Interview: Racism Drove Us From the Royal Family” [Time]. “It was explicit in perhaps the most shocking allegation: that a member of the royal family came to Harry while Markle was pregnant with their son Archie with “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born.” Meghan is American and identifies as biracial.” • Commentary:

I can’t vouch for this particular podcast, but I’ve had good luck with “You’re Wrong About” on other topics.

News of the Wired

America in the 60s:

America in the 70s:

Far more surreal than anything Warhol ever produced!

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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 (HH):

HH writes: “I waited until today to take these photos, because we wanted to see how our second batch would turn out. Our first batch, while tasty, had some processing issues (cooking for too long, basically — caused some caramelization). In these photos of today´s batch, there is a deep orange, barely translucent color. The first batch was opaque and very dark, and so we are unsure whether it should be called ‘marmalade’ or just ‘candied orange rind.’” Holy moley, look at that glow! (I suppose I should declare processed plants honorary; I think activities like canning, pickling, and drying are to be encouraged. But no plant meals, please; nothing plated.

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