2:00PM Water Cooler 1/5/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 1/5/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Oriole Warbler, Outamba-Kilimi National Park, Northern, Sierra Leone. “First cut natural, second after playback of first. Duetting pair. Habitat: Forest, Evergreen Forest, Deciduous Forest.”

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Politics

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

“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

Biden Administration

This is really good (Stoller approves):

So I can’t understand why the Biden Administration is letting it happen.

Republican Funhouse

“The GOP Is More Ungovernable Than Ever Before” [Eric Levitz, New York Magazine]. • I take issue with the word “ungovernable.” Madison writes: ” In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” A political party is not the State; it is “governable” no more or less than any other association of citizens. Then again, if you’re in a party that’s systematically dissolving all checks and balances — see the merger of party, intelligence community, and content moderation in the Twitter files — perhaps the word rings true.

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

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.

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“Remarkable” indeed:

But not in the way Acela Corridor creature Jong-Fast believes. What this image shows is how deeply embubbled the Democrat Party is.

#COVID19

Lambert here: I am but a humble tapewatcher, but unlike Eric Topol, I’m not calling a surge, because the last peak was Biden’s Omicron debacle, and after an Everest like that, what’s left? Topol’s view is the establishment view: Hospital-centric. Mine is infection-centric. I do not see the universal acceleration or doubling in cases that I would expect to see based on past surges.

I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet (but see here for immune system dysregulation, which is looking pretty awful). Wastewater has taken off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, right on time, two weeks after Thanksgiving. Those are not only in themselves large cities, they are all the sites of international airports (reminiscent of the initial surge in spring 2020, which emanated, via air travel, from New York). Wastewater is a leading indicator for cases, which in turn lead hospitalization (and death). In addition, positivity has reached its highest level ever, at least at Walgreens, and BQ.1* has taken over, closely followed by XBB, and both are immunue escape variants. UPDATE Walgreen’s positivity, Boston MWRA data going vertical, and the rapid rise of XBB in the Northeast are all very concerning. The effects of all our holiday travel should be playing out in the next two weeks. Readers, please feel free to add holiday anecdotes.

Stay safe out there!

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• “The Case for Covid Gaslighting Forever (01/05/23)” (podcast) [Death Panel, SoundCloud]. This is a version that runs in the browser. “We discuss a recent piece in the New Yorker called ‘The Case for Wearing Masks Forever’ which presents itself as a profile of the group The People’s CDC but instead, we argue, is a veritable hit piece on the idea of covid advocacy itself.” • A massive takedown of Emma Greens horrid article (see NC here and here).

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• “COVID-19 Forecasts: Hospitalizations” [CDC]. “This week’s national ensemble predicts that the number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions will remain stable or have an uncertain trend, with 2,400 to 13,200 new confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions likely reported on January 27, 2023.” • Handy chart:

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Of course, since CDC’s modeling hub totally blew it on Omicron, I don’t bother with them. But they’re still churning away!

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• Air circulation. Really interesting thread:

I suppose the basic concept is “How to spot a dangerous room.” Perhaps HVAC mavens in the readership can comment.

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• “As 2023 Begins, Americans Are Largely Comfortable With Domestic Travel, Socializing and Moviegoing” [Morning Consult]. “A lot can — and did — change in a year, according to a measurement of consumer comfort via Morning Consult’s Return to Normal tracker. As 2023 begins, we took stock of how Americans feel about a wide range of activities as the world ponders whether the coronavirus pandemic is ‘over,’ or just entering another phase. Comfort with several activities, including flying domestically and moviegoing, has reached highs since Morning Consult began tracking. And a clear majority of Americans are now comfortable with several other activities, perhaps signaling a year of growth for key industries.” • There’s a “Return to Normal” tracker. Help me. From the tracker:

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Clearly, “comfort,” like “convenience,” is a totally unproblematic classification for one’s experiences (“feel OK”). As the anesthesia mask is gently lowered over the face of a prostrate body politic…. NOTE Incidentally, if 60% of the population is “comfortable” flying, 40% is not. I wonder why? Because 40% seems like a rather large number, to me.

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• “Credibility debt”:

Harsh, but fair.

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• A long thread citing many studies on Covid and the mouth. This seems relevant:

I’m sticking with Povidone Iodine, but it’s worth noting that came out of the dental community.

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• “Clinical and epidemiologic features of SARS-CoV-2 in dogs and cats compiled through national surveillance in the United States” [American Veterinary Medical Association]. n = 204 companion animals with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections between March 2020 and December 2021. “Among dogs and cats identified through passive surveillance, 94% (n = 87) had reported exposure to a person with COVID-19 before infection…. Results of the present study supported that cats and dogs primarily become infected with SARS-CoV-2 following exposure to a person with COVID-19, most often their owners. Case investigation and surveillance that include both people and animals are necessary to understand transmission dynamics and viral evolution of zoonotic diseases like SARS-CoV-2.”

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Transmission

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map”). (This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.) The map is said to update Monday-Friday by 8 pm:

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The previous map:

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NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.

Positivity

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published January 5:

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0.2%. Decreasing rate of increase, but still the highest ever.

Wastewater

Wastewater data (CDC), January 1 (Happy New Year, wastewater stans):

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Too much red (even with Illinois offline). JFK/LGA (Queens County, NY), SFO (San Francisco, CA), LAX (Los Angeles) are all red. ATL (Cobb County, GA) no longer. ORD (Cook County, IL) is offline.

December 27:

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And MWRA data, December 29:

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Lambert here: Still yikes. Going vertical. (North is up; South is very slightly down.) And certainly not all the students are back; BU classes begin January 19; Harvard’s January 22.

Variants

Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), December 23:

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Lambert here: BQ.1* dominates, XBB moving up fast. Note all the BQ subvariants; it’s almost like something’s encouraging them, like maybe a policy of mass infection. Sure hope none of ’em get lucky, like XBB.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), December 10 (Nowcast off):

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BQ.1* takes first place. XBB coming up fast. (For BQ.1/XBB and vaccine escape, see here.) Here is Region 2, the Northeast, where both BQ.1* and XBB are said to be higher, and are:

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• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated December 31:

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Quite a jump, this time. Of all the charts, I find this steady rise the most worrisome, because it doesn’t fit into any of the narratives.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 31:

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We’ll see what is hospitalization is like about two weeks into January, after holiday travel has ended.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,120,040 – 1,118,757 = 1283 (1283 * 365 = 468,295 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

• I think we’ve learned a very important lesson here today:

Elites in the United States have learned — on a bipartisan basis — that you can slaughter a million people with no riots or, indeed, any discernible political reaction.

Stats Watch

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The Bezzle: “€390M fine strikes blow to Meta’s ad-fueled business model” [Politico]. “In decisions on Wednesday targeting its Facebook and Instagram platforms, Meta is not only on the hook for fines totaling nearly €400 million, but it must also — quickly — find a new legal basis for its sprawling targeted advertising empire. According to Meta’s lead regulatory authority in Ireland, Meta has three months to legalize its data-targeting model after European Union regulators found that the current legal basis for advertising that Facebook and Instagram use is invalid. The orders heap yet more pressure on Meta’s revenue streams — just as the EU is finalizing a new rulebook that tightens the screws even further on internet advertising. The decisions stem from complaints filed by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems on the eve of the EU’s strict privacy code, the General Data Protection Regulation, in 2018. These accused the company of lacking proper legal grounds to process millions of Europeans’ data. The decisions rebuke Meta’s claim that it could hoover up users’ data as part of a contract to provide them with personalized ads, and leave the tech giant scratching around for another legal route to target people with advertising.”

The Bezzle: “Bankruptcy judge rules that Earn account assets belong to Celsius” [Axios]. “Celsius Network’s bankruptcy might have just set a precedent in determining what crypto assets belong to whom when stored on a centralized platform. The judge in a 45-page written decision on Wednesday concluded that the deposits in the lender’s yield-bearing Earn accounts belong to the estate — that is Celsius — and not the individual holders of those accounts. Celsius had 600,000 accounts in its Earn program when it filed for Chapter 11 mid-2022, which collectively held roughly $4.2 billion in assets as of July 2022. Part of that included stablecoins then-valued at around $20 million. All of that is property of the estate, or Celsius. Investors with Earn accounts have been and remain creditors of Celsius. That means Celsius still owes them. Exactly how much they’ll recover, is the unknown. Crypto platforms’ Terms of Service could be central to how other bankruptcy proceedings shake out.”

Tech: “Microsoft and OpenAI Working on ChatGPT-Powered Bing in Challenge to Google” [The Information]. “icrosoft could soon get a return on its $1 billion investment in OpenAI, creator of the ChatGPT chatbot, which gives humanlike text answers to questions. Microsoft is preparing to launch a version of its Bing search engine that uses the artificial intelligence behind ChatGPT to answer some search queries rather than just showing a list of links, according to two people with direct knowledge of the plans. Microsoft hopes the new feature, which could launch before the end of March, will help it outflank Google, its much bigger search rival.” • Search could hardly get worse. I wonder what the SEO folks will do to game it.

Tech: “The cashless future is here. So is Big Brother.” [The Hill]. “Three-fifths of wealthier Americans, those with six-figure household incomes, told Pew pollsters they used no cash in a typical week in 2022. More than half of the under-50 demographic told Pew they no longer worry about carrying cash. ” But they never do anyhow. They have people for that. More: “[A] digital dollar would also give the government ‘direct control over citizens’ bank accounts.’, [David Waugh, managing editor at the American Institute for Economic Research] writes.” • What could go wrong? (In fact, from the Canadian truckers, we already know.)

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 41 Fear (previous close: 36 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 31 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 4 at 1:05 PM EST.

The Gallery

Monet (1):

Monet (2):

All that is solid melts into air:

Class Warfare

“There is no long term without socialism” [Carl Beijer]. “Within the ruling class we’ve seen the ascent of so-called ‘Longtermism’ — a new style of politics focused on massive, big-picture threats to human civilization. Threats that even liberal capitalism, we are told, just can’t handle. History, by their account, hasn’t ended; it has only just begun, and if we’re in it for the long haul we need to make some dramatic changes to our politics…. If you haven’t heard of Longtermism, this probably speaks well of you: though it’s become remarkably influential among the ruling class, it still occupies a fringe position in academic philosophy. The premise is simple enough. Humans must prioritize the survival of our species above everything else, and that before we take care of smaller problems, our politics need to focus on ‘existential risks’ that could wipe our species out entirely. Understood this way, Longtermism sounds less like a philosophy than a common-sense call for risk management…. Longtermism doesn’t just mean technological development. It means a very particular path towards technological development with ‘accumulating resources’ for Musk and austerity for everyone else. As Émile Torres argues, that last point is particularly sinister and goes well beyond simple austerity: in theory, this utilitarian rhetoric about ensuring the survival of the species can be wielded to justify just about any atrocity imaginable…. Managerial efficiency isn’t the only reason why Longtermists typically prefer a dictatorship. Both Thiel and Masters have also cited as inspiration writers like Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Curtis Yarvin, two unabashed monarchists who both ground their politics in a belief in ‘natural elites’. We are now very far away from the innocuous sounding Longtermism that simply valued risk management; beneath the Saganesque rhetoric about ‘extending the light of consciousness to the stars,’ the Longtermists are giving us something that looks a whole lot like textbook fascism. There just isn’t anything subtle about a tiny political faction insisting that the demands of lebensraum and destiny place them beyond conventional morality in their fight for absolute power.” • Yikes. Of course, in the short run, we are all alive. So let’s make the most of it! (See NC here on the odious Hans-Hermann Hoppe.)

“Why Capitalism Needs Sick People” [New York Magazine]. “Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant, the co-hosts of the Death Panel podcast, approach public health with an emphasis on the ‘public,’ joining a straightforward left-wing-policy analysis with uncompromising rhetoric and a for-us-by-us sense of sick solidarity. ‘STAY ALIVE ANOTHER WEEK,’ reads one hat for sale in the Death Panel merch store, a portion of the pod’s sign-off message. Fed up with the consumerist approach to health, they’ve struck a nerve. When the lefty publisher Verso released their book Health Communism in October, the first printing sold out immediately. Along with co-hosts Vince Patti and Philip Rocco, Adler-Bolton and Vierkant launched Death Panel in late 2018. Covid-19 made clear the frailties of the American health-care system, but it would be a mistake to see their success as a pandemic phenomena; Health Communism even goes so far as to ignore the topic. ‘This omission is intentional,’ they write. ‘For all the horrors of the pandemic, we are aware of no actions taken during it by states or private industry that are not explained in full by the preexisting health-capitalist framework.’ For Adler-Bolton and Vierkant, these questions are all political in a personal sense. The couple completed an uncommon journey of radicalization from fine art to medicine as Adler-Bolton struggled with a rare and worsening autoimmune condition. There are no greater experts on the realities of the American health-care system than the many sick people who go to battle every day with an apparatus that, depending on the fulfillment of arcane bureaucratic requirements, may withhold or remit life-saving drugs and services. For them, Death Panel provides practical advice as well as policy analysis and theoretical context.” • For one Death Panel podcast, see the Covid section.s

“Here’s how much money it takes to be considered middle class in 20 major U.S. cities” [CNBC]. Many of the reasons I consider the term ‘middle class” useless at best, obfuscatory and malignant at worst. “The latest data from 2021 shows the share of the population in the middle class continues to hover around 50%, around where it has been since 2011. Prior to that year, the share of middle class Americans had been consistently shrinking since a peak of 61% in 1971.” And: “Pew defines ‘middle class’ as those earning between two-thirds and twice the median American household income.” So, super-skewed upward from the middle (which, if “middle class” is primarily aspirational, I suppose you would expect.” More: “American households earning as little as $47,189 and up to $141,568 are technically in the middle class.” Oh, “technically.” That’s just a ridiculously broad range.

News of the Wired

“Beware Flavored Software” [Every]. “The older I get, the more I appreciate the merits of vanilla software. There is money to be made in boring. Software that attempts to be different in a way that creates temporary excitement, but doesn’t create lasting value, is what I call “flavored software.” Of course, no one thinks this is what they’re building. They think their unique twist is a revolution, and that everyone will adopt their innovation in the future. But sadly, more often than not, they’ve invented the software equivalent of balsamic strawberry ice cream…. There is a lot of joy (and cash) to be had by selling balsamic strawberry ice cream, as long as you keep your costs low and don’t raise money from investors who are expecting you to disrupt vanilla.” • Interesting.

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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. From Lunker Walleye:

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Lunker Walleye writes: “This photo of a window in our home was taken when the temperature was minus 9F.
It reminds me of ferns or feathers.” I see green, so I guess I’m looking at chlorophyll….

Patient readers, I am still running very short on plant pictures, so if you could send me more, that would be great. New readers welcome! Plants covered in ice and snow are fine, but so are field reports on yield from fall gardens. Thank you! Your contributions are greatly appreciated!

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If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

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