2:00PM Water Cooler 1/9/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 1/9/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Eastern Kingbird, Burke, North Dakota, United States. “Dawn +0.0hrs; species cut number 17 BNA: Compound Vocalization “chatter-zeer”.mf. Other Behaviors: Advertise. Habitat: Grassland, Thicket/Brush.” Tyrannus tyrannus (!).

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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

“Biden marks Jan. 6 anniversary with emotional tributes, stark warnings” [Politico]. “Marking the second anniversary of one of the nation’s darkest days, President Joe Biden paid tribute Friday to the heroism displayed on Jan. 6, 2021, while also warning that the forces that fueled the violence at the U.S. Capitol still lurk.” • I should really put on my yellow waders for this speech, but I don’t know if I have the strength.

Republican Funhouse

“Pfizer gives $1 million to Republican Party of Kentucky to expand its headquarters” [Kentucky Lantern]. “A report filed by Republican Party of Kentucky Building Fund last week with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance listed the $1 million from Pfizer along with five other big corporation contributions in the final quarter of 2022 totalling $1.65 million. That is an extraordinarily large haul for the fund which had raised only $6,000 during the first three quarters of 2022.” • That’s nice. Hey, maybe Mitch McConnell is running for President!

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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IMNSHO, Frank is correct:

#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 The rapid rise of XBB in the Northeast is very concerning. The effects of all our holiday travel should be playing out in the next two weeks, and we are one week in.

Stay safe out there!

• “Why ‘herd immunity’ is as outdated as ‘the earth is flat’ when it comes to COVID: Opinion” [Courier-Journal]. Very good: “There is no such thing as “Herd Immunity” for COVID-19. In this context it is a concept as antiquated as the ‘Earth is Flat’. The theory was based upon the work of William Farr in 1840 who proposed a bell-shaped curve which illustrated the body’s ability to mount a lasting response to an unchanging pathogen.” Holy moley, even defuncter than droplet dogma! More: “This concept was formulated before science knew what viruses and mutations were. In actuality, many biological systems are highly dynamic and constantly adapting. This is eloquently described in Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson’s book the Perfect Predator. This work describes the biological dance between viral phages and their bacterial prey, each one adapting and reengaging in a duel, the outcome of which is uncertain. With the exception of smallpox, no pathogen has ever been eradicated from the earth and with smallpox, eradication was achieved with a highly effective long-lasting vaccine. But with mutating RNA viruses, ‘herd immunity’ is an extinct construct. Even surges of the common cold and the seasonal flu finally subside because of changing seasons. And unlike the relatively stable DNA virus of smallpox, RNA viruses have a much higher mutation rate. If one looks at the SARS-CoV-2’s (the virus which causes COVID-19) epidemiological curve for our nation, it is a colliding roller coaster and nowhere near a bell curve. We have been hit with variant after variant, Delta infections transitioned to Omicron and now we are struck by a soup of variants, composed of pathogens harboring a plethora of different immune-avoiding mutations, making the concept of ‘Herd Immunity’ next to useless. Unfortunately, SARS-CoV-2 appears to be the most adaptive and dynamic foe we have ever faced and hoping that the antiquated concept of ‘Herd Immunity’ will save the day, causing SARS-CoV-2 to ‘miraculously (go) away‘, is just pure fantasy.” • Commentary:

The whole thread is worth a read.

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• “🌋Alarm is appropriate, the volcano is erupting🔥” [Teams Human]. “People respond to crisis with alarm — which leads people to take appropriate actions. Humans are generally actually good about reacting appropriately to disasters — it’s the elites who succumb to what disaster researchers call ‘elite panic‘ and behave counter-productively, putting a higher priority on controlling people over controlling the problem. There are countless stories of people escaping disasters and other calamities because they were ‘alarmists’ — and also wrenching stories about people perishing because they did not or could not take timely action in a crisis. The story of Pompeii is riveting. One may be led to think initially that the people frozen in place by the volcano were merely caught unaware. But only about 2,000 [1,150] people out of around 20,000 [11,000] actually stayed behind in Pompeii to get pyroclasted into a grim posterity. The vast majority were alarmists who fled the city — in abject fear of the volcano… and escaped in time and therefore lived out the rest of their lives. What led that minority to stay behind? Normalcy bias? Propaganda? I wonder if perhaps elites convinced some essential workers that they needed to stay behind and keep the economy going. Perhaps some felt they had no other good option and just hoped for the best. We will never know the exact stories. But we’re seeing ours play out. Somehow those people were convinced staying behind was okay. What we don’t ask in retrospect, notice, is why did people flee? We know why and we understand they were right to do so. We also don’t ridicule them for having been scared into leaving Pompeii – possibly with fear mongering?” • To me, Pompeii is an excellent riposte to that incredibly stupid and insulting “living in fear” talking point. (Of course, our society is different; it’s easier to simply flee a city than to live in what amounts to a form of internal exile; but one may hope that, one way or another, the exile is temporary.)

“Science denial, overconfidence, and persuasion” [Science-based Medicine]. “As [Steve Novella] noted in his post, for most people other than experts in relevant fields, a very good ‘first approximation of what is most likely to be true is to understand and follow the consensus of expert scientific opinion.’” • Translating to Kuhnian language, “normal science is good science.” All very well, until science demands a paradigm shift, as it most certainly did in the case of Covid’s airborne transmission. I have great sympathy for people who’ve spent their lives fighting flat-earthers and creationists, as well as devotees of Andrew Wakefield, and I do note the appropriately careful phrasing of “first approximation.” However, in the case of the continuing Covid pandemic, better heuristics than “consensus of expert scientific opinion” were and are sorely needed.

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• “Novel indicator for the spread of new coronavirus disease 2019 and its association with human mobility in Japan” [Nature]. “The Japanese government adopted policies to control human mobility in 2020 to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The present study examined the impact of human mobility on COVID-19 cases at the prefectural level in Japan by devising an indicator to have a relationship between the number of infected people and on human mobility. We calculated origin–destination travel mobility within prefectures in Japan from March 1st to December 31st, 2020, using mobile phone data…. the [Infection Acceleration Indicator (IAI)] and human mobility during the COVID-19 pandemic were useful for predicting infection status. The number of COVID-19 cases was associated with human mobility at the prefectural level in Japan in 2020. Controlling human mobility could help control infectious diseases in a pandemic, especially prior to starting vaccination.” • As Taleb said from the beginning for air travel, but for all mobility. (“Stay in your bubble” was early advice, and I still think there’s something to be said for it, despite your vociferous anti-masking Uncle or Aunt.) So, go long digital communications (or continue going long).

• And speaking of travel, Jerome Adams picked up the Audacy link we ran a few days ago:

“This ends debate on utility of N95 use during air travel.” Feel free to circulate widely.

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• The current “vaccine soup” makes the WHO naming convention poor scientific communication, what a surprise. Hence, “kraken”:

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• “Efficacy of Do-It-Yourself air filtration units in reducing exposure to simulated respiratory aerosols” [Science Direct]. “Our study used a speaker-audience model to examine the efficacy of two popular types of DIY air filtration units, the Corsi-Rosenthal cube and a modified Ford air filtration unit, in reducing exposure to simulated respiratory aerosols within a mock classroom. Experiments were conducted using four breathing simulators at different locations in the room, one acting as the respiratory aerosol source and three as recipients. Optical particle spectrometers monitored simulated respiratory aerosol particles (0.3–3 μm) as they dispersed throughout the room. Using two DIY cubes (in the front and back of the room) increased the air change rate as much as 12.4 over room ventilation, depending on filter thickness and fan airflow. Using multiple linear regression, each unit increase of air change reduced exposure by 10%. Increasing the number of filters, filter thickness, and fan airflow significantly enhanced the air change rate, which resulted in exposure reductions of up to 73%. Our results show DIY air filtration units can be an effective means of reducing aerosol exposure. However, they also show performance of DIY units can vary considerably depending upon their design, construction, and positioning, and users should be mindful of these limitations.” • This is a NIOSH study, therefore not the CDC study above. (So NIOSH did the study and got into print far more rapidly than CDC, in the midst of a pandemic. Typical.

• CDC tests Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, years too late:

• Improving Corsi-Rosenthal boxes with PC fans?

Definitely worth a read.

• Four hours until a room is safe? A thread:

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• “Health Experts Warily Eye XBB.1.5, the Latest Omicron Subvariant” [New York Times]. “A young version, known as XBB.1.5, has quickly been spreading in the United States over the past few weeks. As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that it made up 72 percent of new cases in the Northeast and 27.6 percent of cases across the country. The new subvariant, first sampled in the fall in New York State, has a potent array of mutations that appear to help it evade immune defenses and improve its ability to invade cells. ‘It is the most transmissible variant that has been detected yet,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization, said at a news conference on Wednesday.’” And here’s the buried lead: “Sequencing efforts have declined so much worldwide that the discovery of the next generation of XBB.1.5 may be delayed. “As sequencing becomes less and less available at a global level, it’s difficult for us to track each of the subvariants of Omicron,” Dr. Van Kerkhove said.” • Mass infection is the policy, as I keep saying. Eugenics is the policy goal.

• I want to be a part of it, New York, New York:

• “COVID in California: FDA warns crucial drug may not work against XBB.1.5” [San Francisco Chronicle]. “”Evusheld may not provide protection against developing COVID-19 for individuals who have received Evusheld and are later exposed to XBB.1.5,” the FDA said in its bulletin. ‘However, we are awaiting additional data to verify that Evusheld is not active against XBB.1.5. We will provide further updates as new information becomes available.” AstraZeneca’s Evusheld is primarily used as a preventive therapy for people with compomised immune systems. Last month, physicians at UCSF were told to stop prescribing Evusheld and another monoclonal antibody treatment, bebtelovimab, because they are no longer effective against aggressive virus strains. ‘With new subvariants, these agents are no longer effective,’ said Bob Wachter, UCSF’s chief of medicine.” • Well, that’s awful.

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• From June 2022, but still appalling:

Well, at least our sociopathic individualism is diverse. There’s that.

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Cases

With Walgreen’s positivity, MWRA wastewater, and Manhattan hospitalization all down, I thought I’d look at the wastewater proxy for case data (i.e., wastewater as such (blue) not clinical cases (green). From Biobot national data:

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As readers will observe, we’re basically where we were in all previous surges, good job (with the exception of Biden’s enormous Omicron jouissance). So, not encouraging. NOTE: I don’t present BioBot data regularly because I don’t like the frequent backward revisions. Also, the divergence between clinical case data and wastewater data in mid-March 2022 screams out for investigation. I say “propaganda,” but I haven’t written the post yet. Readers are free to introduce supporting evidence in comments 🙂

Transmission

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map,” which 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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At least Alabama isn’t all blue anymore.

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 9:

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-2.1.%. Weird to see the whole country flash to green, although the rate of increase was slowing.

Wastewater

NOT UPDATED Wastewater data (CDC), January 2:

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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, January 5:

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Lambert here: Both North and South are down. However, 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 17 (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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Holy moley, XBB.1.5! (Makes clear that Region 2 (New England) varies greatly from the national average. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we ended up with different variants dominating different parts of the country.

• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated January 5:

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A retreat from the steady rise I have found so concerning.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 31:

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I don’t know whether this is a genuine jump or a backward revisions, but I’ve been waiting for Queens to move after the holidays, because (I assume) a lot of LGA/JFK workers live there, or at least commute through there.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,121,097 – 1,120,804 = 293 (293 * 365 = 106,945 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.

Stats Watch

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Shipping: “Flexport CEO Says a ‘Great Recession’ Is Here for Global Shipping” (podcast) [Odd Lots]. “Back in early 2021, Ryan Petersen was one of the first people we spoke to on the Odd Lots podcast about supply chain snarls and high shipping costs. The founder and co-CEO of Flexport has since gone on to become a go-to name in the world of logistics, making headlines after he tweeted about what could be done to fix congestion at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. (A Bloomberg Opinion columnist called it the “tweetstorm that saved Christmas.”) But fast forward two years and it seems like we’re on the verge of a sharp reversal for the shipping industry, with freight rates now plunging and container traffic to the US down almost 20% last month.” • Petersen was the guy who drove around the Port of Los Angeles in his boat and found that literally no containers were moving, at the height of the shipping congestion crisis.

The Bezzle:

It’s almost like there’s some sorta playbook….

Tech:

Depending on the implementation, I think long-form Tweets could be a good thing. What’s wrong with a blogosphere in a universal, global address space?

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 45 Neutral (previous close: 43 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 37 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 6 at 1:27 PM EST.

Under the Influence

You’re not gonna see @dril decamping to Mastodon:

Groves of Academe

This is a jape, but it should be real:

The Gallery

Somewhere, in one of those lavish and horrid houses featured on Friday Night Zillow, there’s a squillionaire doing this right now:

Detail shot:

The Screening Room

“Braying Through History” [The Nation]. “Now, at age 84 and still as willful as a toddler, [Jerzy Skolimowski] has reworked one of the most revered movies ever made, Robert Bresson’s 1966 Au Hasard Balthazar…. As in Balthazar, the eponymous protagonist of EO is a donkey—named for his bray by the young circus performer Kasandra (Sandra Dryzmalska) who loves and loses him. As a character, Eo is generally placid, patient, and largely reactive; as a movie, EO is loud, jagged, and kinetic… six donkeys shared the title role (and none, nor any other animals, were harmed in the course of filming). The beasts give EO an authenticity beyond human acting, without the trappings of rational meaning. Behind the veil of Skolimowski’s bravura technique, life simply is.” • Not to go all tribalist, but next in The Nation, an elephant?

Our Famously Free Press

“Walgreens executive says ‘maybe we cried too much last year’ about theft” [CNBC]. “A top Walgreens executive on Thursday acknowledged the company may have overblown concerns about thefts in their stores after shrinkage stabilized over the last year…. Over the last two years, Walgreens has been raising the alarm about increased theft. As a result, it hired private security guards and locked up merchandise so it can’t be accessed without a store associate. … “We’ve put in incremental security in the stores in the first quarter. Actually, probably we put in too much. We might step back a little bit from that,” said Kehoe. The company is using more law enforcement as opposed to private security, [CFO James Kehoe] added.” • But I bet Amazon sold a lot of spyware. So all things work together for good.

Zeitgeist Watch

Please, stay in Vegas:

“To the Republic for Which Wyoming Stands” [The American Conservative]. “I have started to think, in my time here, to quote Elsa Dutton in Season 1, Episode 5, of 1883, that ‘cities have weakened us as a species. Step into the streets without looking and the carriage merely stops or swerves; the only consequence an angry driver. But here? There can be no mistakes. Because here doesn’t care.’ Wyoming is a place where human frailty is daily self-evident and nature’s rules reign. It is a place whose landscape invites introspection and contemplation rather than escape into an online universe. And it is a place where reality cannot be denied, only reckoned with. ” • “Here doesn’t care.” The author seems not to have encountered the health care system most of us must use. Or any other system.

Class Warfare

It’s good to have a warning:

News of the Wired

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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 EMM:

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EMM writes: “A bit of moss.” Indeed!

Readers, please send me more plants!

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