2:00PM Water Cooler 1/20/2021 | naked capitalism

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Sadly, not our national bird.


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… If these declines continues through the end of the week, I’m gonna have to conclude we aren’t looking at a reporting effect from the long weekend. Of course, we might get a spike in ten days or so, if people were paryting on MLK day, but with luck it will be a clip. Of course, there are those worrisome variants, so a mood of sunny optimism is not warranted…

Vaccination by region:

The South stumbles. Supply problems?

Case count by United States region:

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

Test positivity:

Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.


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):


“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


Banquo at the feast:

The knitted mittens though!

The nuclear football arrives:

Lady Gaga:

Biden speech:


Schedule for the rest of the day:

* * *

Inauguration hot takes (and I’ve encountered several that I can’t embed because they’ve been deleted):


Lambert here: I’m sure there are many, even at NC, who feel this way. To them, I apologize if I seem unduly sour or blasé. Please understand I’ve been at this a long time. I’m so old I can remember being inspired by Bill Clinton’s “Man from Hope” speech (in 1992, eating Chinese take-out spare ribs, after the Al-Anon meeting in Dorchester, MA). To me, the Biden administration has form: The same people who failed to rise to the occasion in 2009 — “creating the conditions for Trump,” as we say — are in power again. They have form. We must pray they do better with the power granted to them in 2021. Very little in their strategy or tactics from 2017 onward would lead one to believe those prayers would be answered. Nor did the campaign Biden ran. After the Crash, the Democrats took care of their base only:

Adding highlight to the Morning Consult chart I ran this morning, it’s happening again, in this crisis:

Will the liberal Democrats be able to reverse this trend? Do they have any desire to? 1202021 is a palindrome: in the beginning is the end, and in the end, the beginning.



* * *



It is true we don’t export bananas. So there’s that.

* * *

“Beyoncé and Dua Lipa Are Featured on Biden-Harris Inauguration Playlist” [Teen Vogue]. “Although this year’s ceremony will feature a largely virtual celebration, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have unveiled a specially-curated playlist that will bring the festivities to your home. On Friday, January 15, the Presidential Inauguration Committee, along with D-Nice and Raedio, an ‘audio everywhere label’ founded by Issa Rae and Benoni Tagoe, released the official Biden-Harris inauguration playlist, Billboard reports. Featuring 46 tracks, the playlist is intended to reflect feelings of togetherness, collaboration, and unity. In a statement, the Biden-Harris team explained that the selection of tracks “represents the diversity of our nation, and our strength and resilience as we look forward to new leadership and a new era in America.’” • Beyoncé not, however, in the prime time special.

Transition to Biden

“Can Joe Biden Succeed Where Barack Obama Failed?” [David Sirota, Newsweek]. The quote to end all quotes: “” That reverence for the status quo—and deference to Wall Street after the financial crisis and housing meltdown—ultimately helped create the backlash conditions for the rise of Trump. One data point suggested a direct linkage: In one-third of the counties that flipped from Obama to Donald Trump, there had been an increase in the number of residents whose home mortgages were underwater in 2016, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.” • Maybe the Obama Alumni Association learned something from this. Maybe. I doubt it. I have the feeling that the direction of this Administration was set during the transition period, and that direction was little to do with “violence to the social order,” which is the very last thing the Democrat base, the PMC, is all about.

“Biden Should Go Big, Fast, and Simple” [The Atlantic]. Well, I’m still smarting over this one: “The centerpiece of the U.S. rescue will be direct payments worth $2,000 to individuals. (That figure technically includes the $600 already sent to millions of households.) Direct payments are the opposite of the sly paternalism preferred by Obama officials in the 2009 stimulus.” • “Technically,” my Sweet Aunt Fanny! Warnock ran — and won — on campaign advertising with an image of a US government check for $2000 (Two Thousand Dollars). These people are so, so detached. And how is two thousand dollars with an asterisk in any way “big, fast, and simple”?

* * *

“Biden Announces Nation Will Rejoin Paris Hilton Fan Club” (podcast) [The Topical]. “For the first time since 2016, the U.S. will join over 188 other nations in celebrating the career of the esteemed businesswoman-slash-model-slash-singer-slash-actress.”

Obama Legacy

Obama decided Biden would be his Vice-Presidential candidate on August 23, 2008:

So I’m not sure “first” and “best” mean what Obama thinks they mean.

Transition from Trump

Too perfect:

Because I’m not a trusting soul, I searched on “Hit The Road Jack.” The video is doctored, as Russia Today — and nobody else — demonstrates. Not tagged by Twitter as “manipulated media,” for good or ill.

I didn’t know Greta did irony:

I’m genuinely not sure whether this photo has been Photoshopped:

Realignment and Legitimacy

“H.R.1 – For the People Act of 2021” [Congress.gov]. From Subtitle F, Section 1502(a)(2)(A)(i):

(i) Paper ballot requirement.–(I) The voting system shall require the use of an individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballot of the voter’s vote that shall be marked and made available for inspection and verification by the voter before the voter’s vote is cast and counted, and which shall be counted by hand or read by an optical character recognition device or other counting device. For purposes of this subclause, the term `individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballot’ means a paper ballot marked by the voter by hand or a paper ballot marked through the use of a nontabulating or system, so long as the voter shall have the option to mark his or her ballot by hand.

So, paper ballots, but not hand-marked, and not auditable. In other word, election fraud is legal, absent a requirement that proprietary source code can be examined, and perhaos not even then.

“Biden’s Intel Chief Says ‘We Are a Long Ways’ From Returning to Iran Deal” [Antiwar.com]. “Joe Biden’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, said during Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday that the incoming administration is a ‘long ways’ from reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA. Haines said that Biden ‘has indicated that if Iran were to come back into compliance, that he would direct that we do so as well. And I think, frankly, that we are a long ways from that.’”

“To understand Trump’s support, we must think in terms of multiracial Whiteness” [Cristina Beltrán, WaPo]. “What are we to make of … Latino voters inspired by Trump? And what are we to make of unmistakably White mob violence that also includes non-White participants? I call this phenomenon multiracial hiteness — the promise that they, too, can lay claim to the politics of aggression, exclusion and domination.” • Not sure why that final “white” is lower-case. Anyhow, from Philip K. DIck’s The Man in the High Castle:

“Did you hear the Bob Hope show the other night?” she called. “He told this really funny joke, the one where this German major is interviewing some Martians. The Martians can’t provide racial documentation about their grandparents being Aryan, you know. So the German major reports back to Berlin that Mars is populated by Jews. And they’re about one foot tall, and have two heads… you know how Bob Hope goes on.”

(To be clear, I’m not calling Beltrán a Nazi; it’s her… flexibility of mind I’m calling attention to.)

“In Tampa Bay area, 2,000 Republicans switch parties in days after Capitol riot” [Tampa Bay Times]. “Since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, what appears to be an unusual number of Republicans in the three biggest Tampa Bay area counties have switched parties, mostly to no party affiliation, but some becoming Democrats. News reports in Florida and nationwide have noted a similar phenomenon elsewhere, with voters citing anger at President Donald Trump and his supporters. But at least a few Republicans may also be switching out of anger that party leaders haven’t backed Trump strongly enough, including one Hillsborough County Republican Party official. According to figures from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas elections supervisors, 2,025 Republicans in the three counties switched parties from Jan. 6 through Thursday.”


He’s not wrong.

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.

Containers: “December 2020 Sea Container Imports Continue At Record Pace. Exports Decline Year-over-Year.” [Econintersect]. “The import container counts for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach improved month-over-month and ended the year in record territory. Exports continued in contraction and ended the year below last year’s pace…. On top of a trade war and the world pandemic, import container counts continue to surge. There is chaos in container movements with containers in the wrong place and shortages of rail cars to move containers – however, the container situation again improved this month – but there continues a shortage of containers. Simply looking at this month versus last month – exports and exports improved.”

Trucking: “December 2020 Trucking Improved” [Econintersect]. “Headline data for the CASS Freight Index show that truck volumes show volumes grew month-over-month – and the year-over-year growth advanced further in positive territory. The American Trucking Association (ATA) index improved and now is in expansion.”

* * *

Retail: “Gyms will move to a ‘hybrid model’: celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels” [Yahoo Finance]. “From affordable dumbbells and yoga mats to pricey treadmills and stationary bikes, health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled to $2.3 billion from March to October, according to NPD retail data. [Celebrity fitness trainer Jillian Michaels] admits she misses the gym and her classes. ‘So maybe I won’t spend a couple hundred dollars a month on that expensive gym membership, but I will take my favorite yoga teacher’s yoga class, or I will take that one spin class out of the house. And then I’ll probably do a couple workouts at home or around my home. I’ll save money. I’ll save time. I’ll get that social component.’” • Aren’t there workout classes on Zoom?

Retail: “Pandemic-driven cleaning routines boost P&G sales forecast again” [Reuters]. “Procter & Gamble Co raised its full-year sales forecast for a second time on Wednesday as it benefited from sustained coronavirus-driven demand for cleaning products, while also warning that the pace of sales might slow as vaccines roll out.” • A big boost from fomite theory. Sadly.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 68 Greed (previous close: 61 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 70 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 20 at 12:11pm.

The Biosphere

“Humans could move to this floating asteroid belt colony in the next 15 years, astrophysicist says” [LiveScience]. “Now more than ever, space agencies and starry-eyed billionaires have their minds fixed on finding a new home for humanity beyond Earth’s orbit. Mars is an obvious candidate, given its relatively close proximity, 24-hour day/night cycle and CO2-rich atmosphere. However, there’s a school of spacefaring thought that suggests colonizing the surface of another planet — any planet — is more trouble than it’s worth. Now, a new paper published Jan. 6 date to the preprint database arXiv offers a creative counter-proposal: Ditch the Red Planet, and build a gargantuan floating habitat around the dwarf planet Ceres, instead. In the paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, astrophysicist Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki describes his vision of a “megasatellite” of thousands of cylindrical spacecrafts, all linked together inside a disk-shaped frame that permanently orbits Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Each of these cylindrical habitats could accommodate upwards of 50,000 people, support an artificial atmosphere and generate an Earth-like gravity through the centrifugal force of its own rotation, Janhunen wrote.” • I’m reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (hat tip, alert readers Stanley Dundee and Marbles). Wherever you go, there you are.

“Mammalian Aggression” [Sarah Constantin]. “In trying to understand how aggression works, as well as aggressive emotions like anger, I decided to go to the animal literature…. What the mammal literature says about aggression is that it splits neatly into discrete types. Researchers disagree on exactly how many clusters there are, since there are inevitable judgment calls in defining taxonomies. And the pattern is somewhat different depending on species. But one very consistent finding is that there are qualitatively different types of aggression. They are governed by different hormones, activated in different situations, and seem to involve different subjective experiences…. A certain cluster of behaviors in mammals can be called “defensive aggression“, “affective defense,” or “defensive rage”. These behaviors are reactions to pain or immediate threat, whether that threat comes from a member of the same species, a member of a different species, or an inanimate object…. Social aggression, unlike defensive aggression, is directed only at members of one’s own species. It is sometimes called “intermale aggression” or “hormone-dependent aggression” even though it is not exclusive to males, because it is generally more common in males and correlates well to testosterone levels. It also inversely correlates to serotonin levels. Social aggression revolves around competition for scarce resources – mates, territory, or in some species food and water. It generally involves threat displays intended to make an opponent back down without a fight. … Maternal aggression is the propensity of mammalian mothers to become more aggressive in defense of their offspring during pregnancy and while nursing. Predatory aggression is violence against edible prey. It is almost always directed against members of a different species, though some mutations make animals attack conspecifics in ways that resemble predatory aggression…. Mobbing refers to behaviors by groups of prey animals to approach, intently observe, harass, and attack a predator or other large member of another species. Mobbing is common in primates, particularly New World monkeys.”

“Monarch butterfly population moves closer to extinction” [ABC]. ” The number of western monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast has plummeted precipitously to a record low, putting the orange-and-black insects closer to extinction, researchers announced Tuesday. An annual winter count by the Xerces Society recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies, a massive decline from the tens of thousands tallied in recent years and the millions that clustered in trees from Northern California’s Marin County to San Diego County in the south in the 1980s.”

Health Care

“SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 escapes neutralization by South African COVID-19 donor plasma” (preprint) [bioRxiv]. The Abtstract: “SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2, a novel lineage of the coronavirus causing COVID-19, contains multiple mutations within two immunodominant domains of the spike protein. Here we show that this lineage exhibits complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies. Furthermore 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma. These data highlight the prospect of reinfection with antigenically distinct variants and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.” And from the conclusion: “Ultimately, the correlates of protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe COVID-19 disease remain undetermined and rely upon ongoing large-scale clinical trials. Nevertheless, the speed and scope of 501Y.V2 mediated immune escape from pre-existing neutralizing antibodies highlight the urgent requirement for rapidly adaptable vaccine design platforms, and the need to identify less mutable viral targets for incorporation into future immunogens.” • From a thread of commentary:

mRNA, it is to be hoped, is the “rapidly adaptable vaccine design platform” called for in the Abstract. (This morning’s Link on South African variants includes E484K and K417N and not N501Y.)

Police State Watch

Our Famously Free Press

Coordinated inauthentic activity:

There’s a word for this, I know it’ll come to me:

Class Warfare

“Workers like me”:

News of the Wired

“Exploring the role of competitive brain processes in artistic cognition” [MedicalXpress]. “n their paper, Nemeth and his colleagues took a first step toward understanding artistic cognition from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Their main objective was to understand how the human brain deals with art and how an artist’s brain perceives the world, builds representations and uses neural processes related to intuition. In psychology, the term intuition refers to the human ability to understand or examine something instinctively, without consciously reasoning about it…. After reviewing past papers related to artistic cognition, Nemeth and his colleagues introduced the idea that when it comes to producing art, ‘less is more.’ More specifically, they suggested that ‘weaker’ prefrontal circuits, which are related to executive functions (i.e., cognitive processes that allow humans to control their behavior and focus on a task at hand, such as working memory and flexible thinking), can actually lead to more effective artistic cognition. The researchers refer to this phenomenon as the Andras effect. ‘For example, if a photographer can tune down her control functions and access to long-term memories, she can perceive a ‘different world’; a world without expectations or past memories,’ Nemeth said. ‘We can call this intuitive photography.’”

“For the First Time in 200 Years, a New Blue Pigment Is Up for Sale” [Smithsonian]. “In 2009, researchers at Oregon State University discovered YInMn Blue—the first new blue pigment identified in 200 years—while developing materials for use in electronics. Led by chemist Mas Subramanian, the team quickly realized that it had stumbled onto something significant. “People have been looking for a good, durable blue color for a couple of centuries,” Subramanian told NPR’s Gabriel Rosenberg in 2016…. Now that the EPA has given its stamp of approval, the pigment is finally available for commercial use, with paint retailers such as Kremer Pigmente in Germany and Golden in the U.S. offering YInMn Blue products. A dry powder version has yet to be approved for public consumption…. Mark Ryan, a marketing manager for the Shepherd Color Company, a pigment manufacturing business that obtained a license to sell YInMn in 2016, tells Artnet News that ‘[t]he art world likes it because of the color.’ Industrial companies, meanwhile, like ‘it because of what it can do in terms of environmental regulations for building products.’ (The pigment reflects most infrared radiation, keeping it, and by extension the building exteriors it adorns, cool.)”

Blue (1):

Blue (2):

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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 (GD):

GD writes: “Flowers in the Newport Beach wetlands.”

* * *

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