2:00PM Water Cooler 1/20/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 1/20/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

The notes say “continuing flock.” They certainly are voluble!

* * *

Politics

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson

Biden Adminstration

And still the one-year retropsectives pour in:

“Op-Ed: One year into his presidency, Biden’s accomplishments have been short-changed” [Los Angeles Times]. “For decades, we’ve heard the familiar refrain, “it’s the economy, stupid.” So, let’s look at the economy under Biden: Jobless claims are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. The 2021 job increases were the largest on record. Unemployment dipped below 4%, a historic drop from the 6.2% rate Biden inherited just a year ago. The S&P 500, the metric the last guy used to measure success, hit new record highs 70 times, finishing up 29%. The Dow Jones and Nasdaq were up 19% and 21% respectively. Economists are predicting that the growth will continue at the fastest pace since 1984. Of course, inflation is concerning, but the way the media is framing things, you would think that our economy is mired in a Great Depression, when we’ve come through the biggest job creation in a year in the country’s history.”

“Biden’s Disappointing First Year” [Bloomberg]. “When he took office one year ago, President Joe Biden faced extraordinary challenges. He had to contend with a global pandemic that had crushed the economy and confounded the experts. He had to repair shattered alliances and restore American credibility after four years of President Donald Trump. More pointedly, he was taking charge of a country left bitterly divided — with trust in government plummeting, Republicans disinclined to cooperate, and Democrats commanding only the barest majorities in Congress. At the outset of a new administration, things have rarely looked so bad…. The gravest threat is not Covid-19 but the possibility that America’s creaking machinery of government might break down altogether. The president’s most important job was to restore some semblance of national unity and persuade Democrats and Republicans to work together. If he ever tried, it wasn’t hard enough. Lately he seems to be calculating, no less than Trump did, that disunity will advance his political goals. From the outset, Biden has deferred to the progressive left of his party — its most energetic wing, but one that is badly out of touch with much of the country and sees any kind of compromise as capitulation. This alliance delayed and almost killed a much-needed infrastructure bill that had bipartisan support. It also impeded sensible tweaks to the American Rescue Plan that passed in March. As now seems clear, that $1.9 trillion measure helped fuel excess demand and push the inflation rate to 7% in December — confronting the Federal Reserve with the challenge of tightening monetary policy without crushing the recovery.” • Never spend money to help working people! (Recall also from yesterday that pricing pressure is coming from only two sectors: Automobiles and energy. I’m hard-pressed to see how the Fed can fix either. And why all the frothing and stamping instead of targeted analysis of the actual problem? I’ve almost getting to the point of viewing the entire discourse as tendentious…

The Ratchet Effect in action:

“Fact check: A look at Biden’s first year in false claims” [CNN]. “Biden’s imaginary or embellished stories about his own history were the most memorable falsehoods of his first year in office. They were not, however, the only ones. The President also made multiple false claims about important policy matters, notably including three subjects that occupied much of his time: the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic. And Biden was incorrect on numerous occasions when ad-libbing about a wide assortment of facts and figures — sometimes in a way that appeared inadvertent, but other times in a way that helped him make a political point. Unlike his uniquely dishonest predecessor, Biden did not bury fact-checkers in a daily avalanche of serial falseness. Biden never came close to making a dozen false claims in a single speech, let alone five dozen false claims in one address, as Trump once did. In fact, the total number of Biden false claims so far is in the dozens, while Trump delivered well over 1,000 total false claims in his own first year and more than 3,000 the next year.

So Biden is no Trump. With that said, dozens of false claims from the President of the United States is not nothing.” • Surely simply counting the claims without weighting them is a foolish methodology? For example — and for your reference, I don’t love Trump — Bush’s lies about WMDs were far, far more consequential than any of Trump’s lies — a single cannonball does a lot more damage than a blizzard of feathers. (And who ever believed Trump about anything anyhow? The worst lies come from those one trusts, not from carnival barkers or New York real estate sakesman.)

Democrats en Déshabillé

I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:

The Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

NEW Here is a passage from Bordieu’s Forms of Capital, which is not, I think, central to his argument, but may find contemporary resonance, and besides, introduces a new word! From pp 33-4:

You can see the difficulty that arises in this description: the analysis cannot avoid becoming purposive [or, as I like to say, the yarn in the yarn diagram is drawn too tight. –lambert] We [as sociologists –lambert] should not say: ‘they wanted this,’ ‘they fought for that,’ ‘it’s a revolution,’ ‘they belong to a category that is dominated from one angle but dominated from another, and have seized power through the revolution of imposing an order of merit.’ No, we should talk in terms of what I call allodoxia [oh, come on! –lambert, marginal note], after Plato’s Thaeaeteus. We see someone in the distance, and we ask, ‘Who is it? Is it Thaeaeteus?’ ‘No, it was Socrates’; we mistake one thing for another. The interest of this concept is to indicate that the mistake has been made in good faith. It is an error of perception linked to the categories of perception of the person who employs them: they have insufficient powers of discrimination and they confuse things someone endowed with greater visual acuity would discriminate. Allodoxia designates what happens to people who perceive things for which they lack categories, and often they lack categories because it is not in their interest to have them. [Paging Upton Sinclair. –lambert]…. This is a very general social law; we do not desire what we cannot attain, we cannot attain what we do not desire [TINA –lambert]. Each contributor perpetrates his own little individual act quite innocently, but nonetheless plays his part… If they were petty, cynical manouevres…. they would lose much of their efficacy. Whence the expression allodoxia: In doxa there is belief. They believe in it, poor things.

The loanable funds theory would be an example of allodoxia. Or the idea that Federal taxes fund Federal spending. I haven’t had so much fun reading a sociologist since I read Erving Goffman! (The root allo- is interesting too.) Another example:

See also today’s “Zeitgeist Watch.”

* * *

“Schumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates” [The Hill]. • Democrats abolish the filibuster just in time to lose the Senate. Hilarity ensues.

“Why Biden Had No Other Choice on Voting Rights” [The Atlantic]. • Funders.

Would this were so:

Manchin was strongly supported by the DSCC. DSCC staffers actually ran Sinema’s campaign. The Democrat electeds are the elected the Democrat Party chose. And here we are!

2022

* * *

“DNC torn over Biden messaging as midterms loom” [The Hill]. “Democratic National Committee (DNC) insiders are debating how to handle the disappointments of President Biden’s biggest legislative fallouts, adding to the already mounting sense of despair in a party searching for a 2022 comeback. As Biden passes the one-year mark of his inauguration, some involved with the party committee say the ground game phase leading up to his first midterm is already challenging, with little or mixed guidance about how to prop up an administration that has so far failed to deliver on basic promises. While officials desperately want to keep Democrats in power, some sources say there’s a lack of consensus about how to do that from outside the White House. And the thought that things could go downhill is further depressing those supportive of the president’s agenda who want to see him succeed. ‘We’ve never been consulted on them, about how to frame them, about what impact we’ve had,’ said one DNC member in touch with leadership about how to message around the chance that a voting rights bill and Build Back Better could both collapse completely. ‘Talking points are written by people who we don’t even know who they are,’ the member said. ‘You’ve got people on the DNC — from state chairs, to elected national committee people, to union leaders — who ought to be consulted about these things, who aren’t.’” • Idea: Have the DNC and the CDC swap personnel! Walensky could head the DNC; Jaime Harrison (whoever he is) could head the CDC. Could things get worse?

“Five Warning Signs for Biden as He Marks First Anniversary in Office” [Rasmussen]. One of a long-established genre of Republicans helpfully explaining to Democrats how to win: “1. Biden’s overall job approval has stagnated…. 2. Biden is having trouble with key subgroups…. 3. Republicans are gaining strength… 4. Inflation has led to political turbulence in the past… 5. … and the public sees an administration not focused on its top concerns.” • IMNSHO, Biden had one job: End Covid. As he himself said: “I will end this.” He had one job, and he blew it. Simple as that.

2024

Trump Legacy

“Trump Deal Faced Widespread Investor Doubt Before Raising $1 Billion” [New York Times]. • And so… One billion is bad? What would the number be if investors were enthusiastic? Ten?

“145 Things Donald Trump Did in His First Year as the Most Consequential Former President Ever” [Politico]. “Trump, so unabashedly unlike any other former president, simply has refused to let people not have to think about him, and what he’s doing, and what he’s saying, and what it might mean. To reengage with the reams of news coverage of Trump from the course of the last 12 months, to read and reread his statements in chronological order, is to get a visceral, dizzying reminder of the persistence, of the manic relentlessness with which he has done this and is doing it. Biden, the man who beat him, has ushered through Congress trillions of dollars of legislation, and might manage to persuade lawmakers to spend trillions more, no small record of accomplishment in spite of setbacks and stalemates in a historically challenging time. And yet there remains a sense that it is not the current but the former (and the next?) occupant of the Oval Office who is somehow the one who is imposing his will, still, on the body politic and the national discourse. ‘Even Andrew Jackson in 1825, when he lost under shady circumstances in the House, did not pretend he was actually president,’ Jen Mercieca, a professor of political rhetoric and the author of a book about ‘the rhetorical genius’ of Trump, told me. ‘Trump,’ she said, ‘is a genius at making everything about him. He polarized our politics around him. That was the strategy in 2016 and it worked.’” • They want him back so bad.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Senate President Stuart Adams tested positive for COVID twice Tuesday before publicly announcing he was negative” [The Salt Lake Tribune]. “After testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Senate President Stuart Adams opened the 2022 session unmasked, conducting business as normal and trying to reassure senators and the public he was fully recovered. In his opening comments to Tuesday, Adams initially said he’d tested positive twice for COVID-19 since yesterday but backtracked seconds later. ‘I tested negative twice,’ he said, joking that he’d misspoken to make sure people were listening. In reality, the senator had indeed tested positive twice Tuesday morning.” • Adams staff defends him by saying that the second of two tests only had a faint line, but come on. Assuming the error to have been in good faith, that simply shows that Adams should have been masked, as an added layer of defense. Again, doing the minimum when, in a pandemic, that’s just not sensible.

#COVID19

Case count by United States regions:

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A smallish bounce up, smallish by comparison with the rest of this wave. If you look at previous peaks, you’ll see we’ve had declines, followed by rises, followed by final declines.That said, it would sure be nice if “rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick” applied, but we can’t know that yet. Previous peaks — how small the early ones look now — have been roughly symmetrical on either side. But the scale of this peak, and the penetration into the population, is unprecendented. I broke down the national aggregates into regional numbers, to see if I saw a pattern:

The official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) was completely exploded. What a surprise!

* * *

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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Continues encouraging.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

From CDC Community Profile Reports (PDFs), “Rapid Riser” counties:

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Good news in the Midwest, bad news in the Carolinas, no news from Tennessee, who decided to do reports only weekly. (Remember that these are rapid riser counties. A county that moves from red to green is not covid-free; the case count just isnt, well, rising rapidly.

The previous release:

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Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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Very encouraging. I added green for the states trending down. (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 880,976 877,240.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

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Good news here too. For the time being.

The excess deaths charts will appear weekly, on Friday.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 55 thousand from the previous period to 286 thousand in the week ending January 15th, the highest level since mid-October and well above market expectations of 220 thousand. It was also the largest weekly increase in claims since mid-July, as a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant disrupted business activity and as employers continued to have difficulty retaining workers amid record rises in job quits.”

Manufacturing: “United States Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index in the US increased to 23.2 in January of 2022 from a 1-year low of 15.4 in December and above market expectations of 20. The survey’s indicators for general activity, shipments, and new orders posted modest increases after falling sharply last month. The employment index remained positive but decreased. The price indexes remained elevated. Responding firms remained generally optimistic about growth over the next six months.”

* * *

Concentration: “How Microsoft bailed out Activision Blizzard’s greed” [The Week]. “A good window into Activision Blizzard’s problems is World of Warcraft, long one of its primary cash cows. This is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO for short) which first launched in 2004. In its initial form, Warcraft players had to fork over money for the base game, plus more for each expansion, then play an additional subscription fee each month. Like any MMO, Warcraft was designed around fairly grubby psychological tricks to get people hooked and keep them playing — a constant drip feed of items and rewards, a near-endless progression treadmill, and extremely difficult end bosses that take large groups and dozens of attempts to defeat. This is an attractive business proposition, but MMOs are hard to launch because the technology is difficult and a key attractive element is a large existing playerbase — the easiest way to be successful is to already be a hit. But Warcraft was a huge success, and subscriptions soared to over 12 million by 2010. That meant perhaps $150 million in revenue each month from subscriptions to a single game, and all Blizzard had to do was keep trickling out fresh content every few months and full expansions every couple years. Enter Bobby Kotick. Previously in charge of Activision, then a separate company, he personally pushed through a merger with Blizzard, creating a new company with himself as CEO in 2010. The new company added ever more exploitative monetization schemes to Warcraft. Even before Kotick, there had been cosmetic items you could buy, but under his leadership Warcraft added a paid “character boost” in 2013 that allowed players to skip the process of building their character’s skills and power through gameplay and go right to the end game. Worse, in 2015 they added a “WoW token” as an in-game item to buy with real cash which provided one month of game time and could be sold in the game’s auction house. Both of these features directly undermined Warcraft’s entire value proposition. With the character boost, players were paying to get the game, paying a monthly fee to keep playing, and now paying even more to … avoid most of the content. With the token, the company was openly allowing people to buy top-quality game items for real money — a practice it had previously punished harshly when players managed it through third-party sellers because it cheapens the gameplay to let people buy their way to success. As Warcraft became less about cultivating a community of dedicated fans and more about wringing out every last possible cent, players gradually soured on the game.” • In other words, the WoW became much more realistic?

The Bezzle: “Delaware Chancery Court Judge Joseph Slights III set to retire” [Reuters]. “Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III, who was presiding over two lawsuits by Tesla Inc. shareholders against CEO Elon Musk, will end his 12-year term six years early by retiring, according to a Thursday court filing.” • Oh.

The Bezzle: “The Worrisome Rise of NFTs” [Nautilus]. “Already there’s been a lot of grumbling about the extraordinary energy demands of cryptocurrencies. Now there’s grumbling about the absurd growth in the market for NFTs. This is because both commodities use a robust system for tamper-proof bookkeeping: the blockchain. Blockchain technology is purposefully burdensome and computationally distributed, making it notoriously energy intensive. Estimates put the energy used to create and trade a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin on a par with the total consumption of a country like Sweden. And that’s without accounting for the environmental footprint of the physical computer hardware. It’s possible to see a purpose for cryptocurrencies, but NFTs are (for now) almost comically bereft of anything most of us would associate with social or cultural value.” • I see NFT ads all the time on Twitter, and the artwork is uniformly paintings-on-velvet cheesy. The two living artists whose accounts I follow, Scott Benson (Sid and Fern’s staff) and Simon Stålenhag, both digital, hate them.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 59 Greed (previous close: 61 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 51 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 20 at 1:26pm.

The 420

“Drug-laced beer may have forged ancient Peruvian empire” [Science]. “Between 500 and 1100 C.E., the highlands of Peru were home to a far-reaching empire known as the Wari. Like the Inca after them, the Wari managed to spread their culture over the vast distances and rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains. Now, new finds from a small site in Peru suggest the Wari may have forged political alliances by serving drug-laced beer to local elites at periodic parties, extending their empire one trippy feast at a time…..Around 900 C.E., after just a few decades, the Quilcapampa settlement was abandoned. Breakdowns in long-distance trade meant the Wari there were cut off from their supply chains, and Jennings thinks their efforts to win over the locals eventually failed. The goodbye party was a rager, though. In one last, massive blowout, residents of the compounds spread smashed pottery, burned food, and left offerings on the clean floors of their houses. Then they blocked off doorways and abandoned the site, in a signature Wari farewell.” • The whole article is worth reading. Thumbs up to the archeologists!

“British Psychedelic-Drug Firm Eleusis Plans $450 Million SPAC Deal” [Bloomberg]. “The fresh capital is expected to support development of Eleusis’s lead drug candidate, an IV formulation that delivers the active ingredient in psilocybin.” • I’m glad to see all that stupid money sloshing about is doing something. That said, if you want the active ingredient of psilocybin, why not — hear me out — just take psilocybin? The thrill of inserting the IV?

Zeitgeist Watch

880,976 really ought to be making more waves in the zeitgeist than it is (though I suspect the general rise in assholery is linked to it):

There is, of course, an Ursula Leguin bot:

“Night thoughts” [Stop Me Before I Vote Again]. ” So before it happens one would like to make a few gestures; to tell the kids what a joy they always were – mostly; to acknowledge the saintly forbearance of lovers and spouses, and apologize sincerely for all one’s assholery. To thank whoever arranged it for one’s having seen the stars and breathed the air; to have watched the Moon come up over the open sea during a night passage through the Gulf of Maine. For that whale who came to visit the next morning, and eyed me with his big wise eye. For J S Bach and G F Handel. So much; it all crowds to mind. To put on record, in short, how amazingly lucky one has been, even with all the discontents and sorrows and regrets that dog every human track through the chances and changes of life. Say it now, I’m thinking; because when the time comes there may not be time. So I’m saying it now.” • An old-school blogger I had though defunct and who is not!

“What Happens When We Die” [The Marginalian]. Quoting poetic physicist Alan Lightman: “Released from their temporary confinement, her atoms slowly spread out and diffused through the atmosphere. In sixty days’ time, they could be found in every handful of air on the planet. In one hundred days, some of her atoms, the vaporous water, had condensed into liquid and returned to the surface as rain, to be drunk and ingested by animals and plants. Some of her atoms were absorbed by light-utilizing organisms and transformed into tissues and tubules and leaves. Some were breathed in by oxygen creatures, incorporated into organs and bone.”

That undiscovered country:

Groves of Academe

Wowsers:

How much you wanna bet the adminstrators also took out “dead peasants” insurance on her?

Class Warfare

Onward to the immortal overclass!

Psychos.

News of the Wired

“Likely energy source behind first life on Earth found ‘hiding in plain sight’” [Frontiers Science News]. “What are the sources of chemical energy in the reactions of metabolism itself, the reactions that make amino acids, bases and co-factors from H2, CO2 and ammonia? The standard answer from a textbook standpoint would be ATP, adenosine triphosphate, the universal energy currency in all cells. ATP helps sluggish reactions in metabolism to go forward. But ATP is not a primordial metabolic compound, rather it is highly derived. In other words, ATP is a product of metabolism, not its starting point. We found that only 80 of the 400 reactions at the heart of biosynthetic metabolism require ATP, the other 320 do not. What drives those 320 reactions forward? They go forward all by themselves because they release energy…. The reaction goes forward because it releases energy. This underscores the principle that the chemical reactions of metabolism are older than the proteins that catalyze them and that minerals preceded proteins as catalysts in evolution. Taken together, such findings help to explain how something as complicated as metabolism could have evolved. The new findings uncover a natural tendency of metabolism to unfold under the environmental conditions of H2 producing submarine hydrothermal vents. No light or other source of radiation was required. Just H2 and CO2 in the dark.” • The article is dense but the language and argument are lucid. Well worth a read. Science is popping!

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) 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 (CV):

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CV writes: “Not a plant, but ice crystals on glass.” True. I’m publishing this under The Bylaws: “Because I want to.”

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