2:00PM Water Cooler 1/25/2021 | naked capitalism

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

After last week, I searched on “most beautiful bird song” and ended up with the Wood Thrush. Readers? Lots of modern-day dino action in State Game Lands 285!


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

Noah Smith writes: “And in another bit of good news, COVID cases are plummeting. Apparently people are staying home and refusing to take risks while they wait for the vaccine.” • Readers will have heard me [lambert preens] clearing my throat about this fall last week. And today’s charts confirm this, with exceptions noted below.

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Lambert here: Well, I said “If these declines continue through the end of the week, I’m gonna have to conclude we’re looking at a genuine fall in the numbers — not the current narrative, I might add — and that we are not looking at a reporting effect from the long weekend.” So I have to conclude we’re looking at a genuine fall in the numbers.

We are also not seeing an explosion from travel over the holidays, now well in the rear-view mirror. We might get a spike in ten days or so, if people were partying on MLK day, but with luck it will be small. Of course, there are those worrisome variants, so a mood of sunny optimism is not warranted.

Amplifying the variants issue: I am looking at aggregated regional and national data. That doesn’t preclude the idea that there are individual “hot spots” that are doing very badly. And if those hot spots are due to the new variants, and one or more of the variants is either resistant to the vaccine, or eludes current treatment protocols, we could see another rendition of the “stair step” pattern that we’ve already seen in cases. Unfortunately, our data collection is so bad that we have no way of tracing viral lineage in anything like near-real time, so we can’t tell where the variants are hitting. (Cities with direct flights to the UK or South Africa would be places to watch.) We might keep in the back of our minds that the first sign of a tsunami is water withdrawing from the shore — like the decline we are seeing now. It never hurts to have an extra mask or two around the house, or sacks of rice and beans, say I.

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching…. (A reader asked the source of the data: Johns Hopkins CSSE. DIVOC-91 does allow other data sets to be used, like Our World in Data and The Atlantic, and where they provide visualizations similar to those below, a cursory comparison shows that the shape of the curves is the same.)

Vaccination by region:

Case count by United States region:

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

Test positivity:

Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.


Note: The increase in hospitalizations, due to a slight uptick in the West, and a leap in the Northeast. But look back at the Northeast, and you’ll see a similarly-sized leap, followed by a fall. Of course, the pessimistic scenario is that the Northeast is Boston, and Boston is flights from Ireland, infecting families with B117. Something to watch.

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):

Note: The blip in deaths, from the West and South.


“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

Capitol Seizure

“A son reported his father to the FBI weeks before the Capitol siege. He says his father, now charged in the riot, ‘would always tell me that he’s going to do something big.” [Yahoo News]. On the one hand, the father’s clearly a loonie. So I have sympathy for the son. On the other, is a nation of informers a happy nation?

Transition to Biden

“Biden seeks to reinforce ‘Made in America’ approach favoured by Trump” [Channel News Asia]. ” President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Monday (Jan 25) giving priority to US companies and products in contracts with the federal government, pushing a ‘Made in America’ approach favoured by predecessor Donald Trump. The order, senior White House officials said, aims to boost national production and save industrial jobs by increasing investments in manufacturing industries and workers in order to ‘Build Back Better.’”

“Lawmakers in both parties lobby White House for a more targeted relief bill” [WaPo]. “‘This isn’t Monopoly money,’ King said. ‘Every dollar that we’re talking about here is being borrowed from our grandchildren. We have a responsibility to be stewards.’” • No, it’s not. And your responsibility is to be stewards of the country. We might remember the last time an administration played small ball during an economic crisis (although to the fair, Obama did protect the PMC and the rich. So there’s that). Flawless execution of “Lucy and the Football” from the Biden Team:

“Biden Admonishes Reporter for Questioning Whether Vaccine Goal Is Ambitious Enough: ‘Give Me a Break’” [Yahoo News]. Where would you like it? [rimshot, laughter]. “However, the seven-day rolling average for coronavirus vaccine doses administered to Americans currently sits at 912,000, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. (On Wednesday alone, 1.6 million doses were administered.) This indicates that the Biden administration is not far from its goal of vaccinating one million Americans per day. On Thursday, Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller asked Biden if the vaccination goal was ‘high enough,’ since ‘that’s basically where the U.S. is right now.’ ‘When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man,’ Biden responded. ‘It’s a good start, a hundred million.’” • My usual perspective: The Biden administration may be good. But is it good enough? The virus is no repspecter of good starts.

“Biden tells appointees ‘I will fire you on the spot’ for showing disrespect to colleagues” (transcript) [Yahoo News]. Biden: “But I’m not joking when I say this. If you’re ever working with me, and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts. Everybody, everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way in the last four years.” • It’s an interesting transcript. That “A,A” construct — “everybody, everybody” — is prominent within it.



“‘Dark Money’ Helped Pave Joe Biden’s Path to the White House” [Bloomberg]. “President Joe Biden benefited from a record-breaking amount of donations from anonymous donors to outside groups backing him, meaning the public will never have a full accounting of who helped him win the White House. Biden’s winning campaign was backed by $145 million in so-called dark money donations, a type of fundraising Democrats have decried for years. Those fundraising streams augmented Biden’s $1.5 billion haul, in itself a record for a challenger to an incumbent president. That amount of dark money dwarfs the $28.4 million spent on behalf of his rival, former President Donald Trump. And it tops the previous record of $113 million in anonymous donations backing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012…. Overall, Democrats in this election cycle benefited from $326 million in dark money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was more than twice the $148 million that supported Republican groups. Some of the Democratic groups that relied on dark money in whole or in part spent heavily on early ads attacking Trump in critical battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The groups started spending while Biden’s relatively cash-poor campaign was struggling to raise money for the primaries.” • It’s gonna be a problem for the Harris people when they go the 25th Amendment route; I think Biden believes that he was elected President due to his own efforts, his excellence as a human being and a candidate.

Our Famously Free Press

From the people who brought you Russian bounties, RussiaGate, Iraq WMDs….

To be fair, the press’s slobbering sycophancy seems to have dried up after only a few days; very much unlike under the Obama administration in 2009.

Democrats en deshabille

Incest is nicest:

Transition from Trump

“Supreme Court dismisses emoluments lawsuits against Trump as moot” [The Hill]. “The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a pair of emoluments lawsuits against former President Trump, ruling that the cases are moot now that he has left office… The high court’s decision on Monday not to review the cases will ensure that the emoluments clauses continue to go dormant, leaving little clarity on whether Trump’s private business interests were constitutional.” • Roberts neatly sidesteps another tangle of cases…


“The GOP’s looming impeachment strategy: Focus on the Constitution, not Trump” [WaPo]. • Not such a bad thing, perhaps, even if honored more in the breach than the observance. Article I, Section 2:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers;and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

And Section 3:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

I don’t see anything in the text that says a former President cannot be impeached; they would a “Person.” And I don’t think “shall not extend further then” rules out the possibility of “disqualification” without “removal from office.” It’s not exactly an ISO standard we’re looking at, here; there’s no definion. That said, impeaching somebody who’s left office seems a bit Third World-y, to me. It could be habit-forming, too.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“In 2009, Pundits Predicted a New Progressive Era. It Never Came.” [Jacobin]. “A look back at the media consensus that prevailed around this time during the very first months of the previous Democratic administration underscores the danger of making bold predictions of a new dawning era of liberalism…,, very little about the media consensus at the time of Obama’s victory, and continuing for a while following his inauguration, was actually borne out in practice. Far from bringing back vigorous activist government, the administration would forgo a large scale overhaul of the financial sector in favor of perfunctory leak-plugging that left the basic contours of Clinton era deregulation intact.” • And so on. Looking back — and this was a long time ago — it only took around six months for the bloom to come off the Obama rose. (IIRC, the meme “He’s only been President ___ months. Give him a chance!” never made it to seven.) I think the bloom will come off the Biden rose even faster. For example:

More Third World stuff:

Of course, it helps to work for Microsoft.

“Comportmental guideposts”:

Greenwald: “The grip that [elites have] had for so long, on how information is disseminated, on how consensus is formed, on what orthodoxies are off limits from questioning, is being eroded, is slipping out of their hands.” So, naturally they are doubling down. One might imagine that the platforms will be allowed to continue as monopolies if they censor the right people….

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.

There are no official statistics of note today.

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Shipping: “Crew Abandoned for 11 Months Calls for Action Staging a Hunger Strike” [Maritime Executive]. “The crew of a bulk carrier abandoned by its owner and flag state is staging a hunger strike to call attention to their plight according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Desperate to get their back wages and return home the crew turned to this drastic action. The crew, which consists of Indian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Bangladeshi seafarers, has been stuck on the ship, the Ula, abandoned for the past 11 months at the port of Shuaiba, Kuwait. According to the ITF, the hunger strike began on January 7 in their effort to get off the ship and recover more than $400,000 in wages owed to them.” • The chew change crisis (see NC here) is not resolved, I see.

Banks: “Pandemic-Era Central Banking Is Creating Bubbles Everywhere” [Bloomberg]. “Cheap money, gushing in from the world’s major central banks, inflated assets and reshaped how we save, invest, and spend. And that’s not the end of it. Unlike past recoveries, when investors had no clarity on when the monetary taps would be tightened, this time officials have explicitly said they’re going to stick to their loose policies well into a post-Covid recovery….. The strategy is clear and deliberate: Snuff out volatility from the bond market and make debt the cheapest it’s ever been to deter saving and encourage investment. The hope: Cheap cash leads companies to invest and hire as rising asset prices make people more confident and ready to spend. The inevitable side effect: More volatility for assets (apart from bonds) as investors chase returns around the world. And, of course, the risk: Bloated asset prices pop, undermining financial stability before the real economy can benefit from all that cash.” • Just what the world needs: More stupid money.

Manufacturing: “The Story of How TSMC Came to Dominate the World” (podcast) [Odd Lots, Bloomberg]. “In every conversation about computer chips, it always comes back to the dominant player: TSMC Founded in the 1980s, [TSMC] far and away the biggest and most advanced manufacturer. And, as our guest points out, it’s virtually impossible to find any piece of consumer tech hardware that Taiwan Semi hasn’t touched in some way.” • The blurb doesn’t have a spoiler for the thesis, sadly. But Odd Lots is a good podcast. It does seem a little odd that top chipmakers have ended up in China’s Near Abroad.

Mr. Market: “A bear’s guide to Maruchan Ramen Flavors.” [r/wallstreetbets, Reddit]. “As we go into tech earnings, some of you bears will be homeless or in prison soon. Here is a ranking guide to the different flavors of ramen to keep you until the next round of commissary or eviction notice comes in.” • The rating themselves are pretty crude, as befits a trader, but the premise is great!

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 64 Greed (previous close: 60 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 60 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 25 at 12:08pm.

Rapture Index: Closes up 1 on Globalism. “The Biden admin is all for globalism.” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.

The Biosphere

“BP’s oil exploration team swept aside in climate revolution” [Reuters]. “[BP’s] geologists, engineers and scientists have been cut to less than 100 from a peak of more than 700 a few years ago, company sources told Reuters, part of a climate change-driven overhaul triggered last year by CEO Bernard Looney. ‘The winds have turned very chilly in the exploration team since Looney’s arrival. This is happening incredibly fast,’ a senior member of the team told Reuters. Hundreds have left the oil exploration team in recent months, either transferred to help develop new low-carbon activities or laid off, current and former employees said. The exodus is the starkest sign yet from inside the company of its rapid shift away from oil and gas, which will nevertheless be its main source of cash to finance a switch to renewables for at least the next decade.”

“The Evolutionary Origins of Friendship” [Scientific American]. “The evolution of friendships relied on the ability to recognize the unique benefits other people have on offer. Benefits can include the usual suspects of prestige, status and attractiveness, but there are myriad reasons why you might value another person: they are of the same political party, they like the same kinds of foods, they like to golf, surf or play chess, or they enjoy talking endlessly about Star Wars. Friendships tend to begin when one individual perceives value in another and performs a beneficent act: “You can borrow my phone if you need to make a call”; “Can I help you carry that?” These actions serve as a fishing line, cast out to see if the target individual might be in the market for a new friend. Signals of their gratitude are promising indicators of a bite; anger and annoyance are indicators of a lost lure. What begins as a mere platitude, though, can snowball into a deep engagement. If I demonstrate that I value you, then, all else equal, it pays for you to value me in return. Your increased valuation of me can then lead me to care more about you, and so forth. To the extent we can make ourselves valuable to each other, we will have a vested interest in keeping each other around, which comes in handy during times of misfortune. The talk of value and benefits on offer sounds calculated and coldhearted. It is. But this jargon refers to the rationale behind why the thoughts and feelings we experience exist. You do not consciously calculate the likelihood that a person values you or the downstream benefits that could result from a relationship—instead the algorithms doing these calculations generate outputs, which percolate up from the unconscious as ‘liking.’” • Hmm. I would be interested to hear theories on the origins of friendship that comes from time and place not quite as transactional as our own. For example, altruism is also adaptive, and yet it’s not mentioned in the article.

Health Care

“Coronavirus vaccine passports aren’t available yet, but could be an investment for the future” [CNBC]. • Just when we got through imposing RealID, we need another ID.


Guillotine Watch

“High School Grades Could Be Worth $100,000. Time to Tell Your Child?” [New York Times]. • No, it is not. Your child is a child, ffs. What’s wrong with these people? (Anyhow, $100,000 could be wiped out in one fell swoop with a surprise billing incident, or even a major illness. So why stress over it?

Class Warfare

“Chicago Teachers Union votes to defy district’s reopening plans over coronavirus concerns” [The Hill]. “The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to defy Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) reopening plans for teachers and staff due to coronavirus concerns, the union announced on Sunday. The teachers union for the nation’s third-largest school district decided to allow all educators to conduct work remotely starting on Monday, the day that kindergarten through eighth grade staff were expected to return in person. The CTU reported that 86 percent of its 25,000 members participated in the electronic vote on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Seventy-one percent of voting members decided to deny the district’s current plan to come back to in-person learning. ‘So what does this mean?’ a CTU release read. ‘It means the overwhelming majority of you have chosen safety. CPS did everything possible to divide us by instilling fear through threats of retaliation, but you still chose unity, solidarity and to collectively act as one.’”

“Street Food Vendor Permits to Expand by Thousands as Council Readies Vote” [The City]. “After a two-year wait, the City Council is expected to soon pass a fiercely debated bill that would more than double the number of street vendor permits over a decade. The measure would create 4,000 new sidewalk and street food-selling permits by 2032, in addition to 3,000 currently issued by the city’s health department. While would-be vendors hope to move off a years-long waiting list, struggling restaurant owners say the change would further undercut their pandemic-slammed businesses. The latest version of the bill aims to end widespread subletting of scarce permits at sharply inflated prices by requiring that all new permits be held by someone present and working in the cart or truck. Existing permits must transition over to that new system within 10 years.” • I think this is good for the city because it will make the streets more lively and engaging. I’m not sure I buy the restaurateur’s complaint. Does sit-down for a half hour or an hour compete with eat standing up in minutes?

“Employment Hysteresis from the Great Recession” (PDF) [NBER]. From the Abstract: “This paper uses U.S. local areas as a laboratory to test whether the Great Recession depressed 2015 employment. In full-population longitudinal data, I find that exposure to a 1-percentage-point-larger 2007-2009 local unemployment shock caused working-age individuals to be 0.4 percentage points less likely to be employed at all in 2015, evidently via labor force exit. These shocks also increased 2015 income inequality. General human capital decay and persistently low labor demand each rationalize the findings better than lost job-specific rents, lost firm-specific human capital, or reduced migration. Simple extrapolation suggests the recession caused most of the 2007-2015 age-adjusted employment decline.”

“Breaking Up With White Supremacy Was Always The End Game” [Tressie McMillan Cottom]. “If you follow all the prescriptions of checking your privilege, unpacking your invisible knapsack, centering the marginalized, excavating your deeply held white supremacist notions and not becoming a Karen, you will absolutely positively have to break up with actual white people…. You will love many of those white people. You will be related to some of them. You will be married to them. You will, one day, be faced with pulling ‘whiteness’ down out of the clouds and seeing it not in ideas but in people, written on bodies you have touched, scattered across relationships that have sustained you. You will see it in your family photographs and in the age spots of hands that reach for you. You will, one day, look across a table at the kindest sociopaths you have ever loved.” •

News of the Wired

“How to make ginger wine” [Guardian]. “Ginger wine is a rather old-fashioned drink and my grandmother, born in the 1880s, enjoyed a long affection for the stuff. The history of ginger wine predates even her, with an Elizabethan reference to it costing a penny-farthing a bottle and recipes appearing at the beginning of the 18th century. It might cost a bit more to make now, but not much. I made a batch in December so it is not really ready yet, but nevertheless it tastes good, if still a little cloudy. And the flavour? No surprises here; it’s gingery.” • Nice winter project?

“Death by 1,000 Tabs: Confessions of a Tab Hoarder” [Vice]. “But at least those tabs are gone, right? Well, not quite, I must confess. Before I closed them, I bookmarked them in a bunch of folders. They are there with the other times I’ve had to save some tabs, as an unorganized mess. The name of that top folder, where I hide my shame? ‘Temp,’ of course. There’s a Greek proverb my father once told me: nothing is more permanent than the temporary.”

“Andy Warhol’s Defiant Hopes for Queer Art” [hyperallergic]. NSFW. “Roy Lichtenstein, Warhol’s colleague-in-Pop, remembered how their new movement was born of a desire to shock, in a buzzing art world where that had become all but impossible: “It was hard to get a painting that was despicable enough so that no one would hang it — everybody was hanging everything. … The one thing everyone hated was commercial art.” So that, of course, is what Warhol and his peers built their revolution around. Yet the one thing “everyone” hated even more than commercialism — hated so much that its shock value was too great to be safely incorporated into the latest vanguard of American art — was gay culture.” • I dunno. I think Warhol’s screenprints are for the ages. The artwork here, not so much. “You wait here, and I’ll bring the etchings down.”

Speaking of commercial art:

“Who Watches the Watchmen: A Review of Subjective Approaches for Sybil-resistance in Proof of Personhood Protocols” (PDF) [Divya Siddarth, Sergey Ivliev, Santiago Siri, Paula Berman]. “ (Weber 1919), Consolidated credential mechanisms today all verify humans by implementing practices that require the disclosure of personal and private information to an identifier. Eventually, this wealth of information accrues into credential monopolies, which are a prominent force in the perilous drift toward democratic deconsolidation now threatening Western democracies. While there is significant space for action in advancing effective public policies that contemplate those threats, approving and enforcing them is often extremely challenging in the face of the powerful market forces they stand against. In that sense, the alternative technological paradigms that may arise from Proof of Personhood systems could provide a relevant path towards guaranteeing privacy and participation rights. Further, surveillance capitalism bears a worldview that downgrades human value and dignity in favor of machine learning systems. Proof of Personhood systems counter that logic by creating the building blocks of a human-centered economy, where individuals directly control and have governance rights over the networks, communities, and organizations they belong to. These systems invert the current logic of capitalism, creating the base for solidarity economies that can safeguard and elevate the role of human consciousness, choice, and agency.” • A “credential monopoloy” is exactly what I encountered with Apple. I paid Apple a princely sum for an iPad, but when I misplaced my password, I had to wait two weeks before regaining control of the machine I paid for, and then had to give them my phone number, which I had successful avoided doing for years.

“Diagnosing Pseudoscience – by Getting Rid of The Demarcation Problem” (PDF) [Boudry, Maarten, Diagnosing Pseudoscience]. “The current proposal, however, while nothing like a silver bullet, does allow us to save some time and effort in diagnosing each new pseudoscience. If we see proponents of a belief system systematically engage in evasive behavior and spurious moves, we may suspect that there is something rotten about that theory, even if we have not investigated all the relevant evidence. Indeed, if the argument developed in this paper is correct, the symptomatic demarcation criterion is general and can be applied across the board: whatever the subject matter, pseudosciences in all fields of inquiry will exhibit the immunizing tactics described above. Any pseudoscience that does not in some way engage in evasive tactics will be too vulnerable to criticism and will fail to achieve any cultural success.” • This sounds like parallel evolution to Taleb’s “skin in the game.”

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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 (IM):

IM writes: “An iPhone photo of a mature amanita muscaria. Nice gills! For a year when it has felt like we have all been breathing underwater….” Classified as poisonous, also like last year, so don’t try this at home.

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