2:00PM Water Cooler 11/14/2022

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Sector La Esperanza, Cartago, Costa Rica

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“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

“Maybe the lunatics are right about Ukraine: Defeating Putin isn’t worth nuclear war” [Salon]. “As one of those ‘woke leftists’ the Trumpists like to complain about, I am generally not in the habit of agreeing with folks like Carlson or McCarthy on quite literally anything. However, as an academic whose research specializes in human extinction — and who is very concerned that the prospect of nuclear war over Ukraine is not being taken nearly seriously enough — I am forced to admit that the conservative lunatics are right. The current administration and popular media outlets have endorsed a course of action in Ukraine that is pushing the world inexorably toward a catastrophe that could not only spell the demise of modern civilization, but could quite possibly put us on the road toward human extinction. The administration is able to pursue this reckless foreign policy, in no small part, because the mainstream media has orchestrated a near-flawless PR campaign on Ukraine’s behalf, casting the conflict as a tale of noble David versus monstrous Goliath. I myself am guilty of contributing to this perception, framing Ukraine as a tragic protagonist in a Slate column earlier this year. The problem is, while all that makes for a good story, it plays fast and loose with the truth — a truth that seemingly only right-wing weirdos, who are always more than willing to be impolite or politically incorrect, seemed to have grasped. In response to the recognition that the U.S. is stumbling toward the nuclear cataclysm, Tucker Carlson has been characteristically blunt: ‘Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?’ he asks. Carlson is both a jerk and a conspiratorial loon, and his phrasing of the question betrays a total lack of basic human sympathy for the people of Ukraine. Yet, however [glassbowl]-ish his wording might be, he identifies an uncomfortable line of inquiry we all need to face: Is saving Ukraine, even in the ghastly event that Russia uses nuclear weapons against its people, worth risking the future of our planet? In my view, the answer is clearly and overwhelmingly no.”


The Senate:

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The House:

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“What would it take for Democrats to keep the House?” [The Hill]. “[O]f the remaining 20 contests, Republicans need just seven more seats to clinch the majority, while Democrats need to notch 14. For Democrats to hit that target, they need to win all of the races they currently lead and a few others where Republicans hold a slight edge. A little more than half of the undecided races are in California, where all active voters are sent mail ballots, creating a more sluggish tabulation process. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon each have two uncalled races, while Alaska, Maine and New York each have one.”

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“As I Have Been Saying All Along” [Atrios, Eschaton]. “One thing I try to point out is complicated outcomes usually don’t have a single cause. There isn’t precisely one reason Dems did better than all the highly paid politics knowers thought. I am not going to claim it is because they finally took my advice and embraced full communism. I don’t even have strong opinions on what they did right. My take is more that maybe people don’t love it all that much when Republicans are assholes, and they haven’t tried much else lately.” • Another way of saying this is that single causes are service offerings from consultants and strategists.

“How a surprising Democratic strategy may have staved off the midterm red wave” [Vox]. “A high-risk Democratic strategy — financially backing far-right, Trump-endorsed Republicans in their primaries — appears to have paid off in the midterms. As NPR reported Friday, six Democratic challengers in races where Democratic organizations donated to extremist Republican candidates have so far won their contests. The question that looms over this tactic has yet to be answered: at what cost?” • Hopefully, at the cost of Democrats never again yammering about fascism. After all, the great and the good of Germany thought they could control Hitler, too. How’d that work out?

The money:

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“There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.” Why not just start with the hand count?

NY: “AOC: The New York State Democratic Party’s Corruption May Have Cost Democrats the House” [The Intercept]. AOC: “[A]nother prime mistake is that in New York State, I think that — Cuomo may be gone, but his entire infrastructure, much of his infrastructure and much of the political machinery that he put in place is still there. And this is a machinery that is disorganized, it is sycophantic. It relies on lobbyists and big money. And it really undercuts the ability for there to be affirming grassroots and state-level organizing across the state. And so when that languishes and there’s very little organizing happening, yeah, I mean, basically, you’re leaving a void for Republicans to walk into. And so I actually think a lot of these Republican games aren’t necessarily as strong as they may seem, I think it’s really from an absence. And it’s a testament to the corruption that has been allowed to continue in the New York State Democratic Party. ‘Cuomo may be gone, but his entire infrastructure, much of his infrastructure and much of the political machinery that he put in place is still there.’ We saw that with India Walton.” • Handy map:

Not a good look.

TX: “Beto’s Lost Year” [Texas Observer]. “O’Rourke’s personal charm, which helped propel him to premature political stardom, was evident even in defeat. The crowd evinced its passion for him as an individual. Yet the showing was a shadow of 2018, when his concession speech was at a packed minor league baseball stadium. Back then—after falling just 2.6 points shy of unseating U.S. Senator Ted Cruz—O’Rourke said: “I’m as hopeful as I’ve ever been in my life,” and it was believable. We all knew then he would run again for something; it was just the beginning. But now, he says he doesn’t know what’s next, he implies he’s done running, and it’s believable.”


“A Biden coalition is (barely) saving democracy. POTUS 46 must run again in ‘24.” [Will Bunch, The Inquirer]. “[Biden’s announcement of his Presidential run on May 18, 2019 in Philadelphia] was the birthdate of what we needed to start calling ‘the Biden coalition.’ They are the less-noisy majority of Americans who believe in counting the votes, in decency, in expanding civil rights instead of curtailing them, and — corny as it sounds to some of the Beltway pundits — in democracy. From college campus to leaf-blown suburbs, from predominantly Black city neighborhoods to Indigenous reservations, these voters proved just enough to rescue America from a disastrous Trump second term in 2020 — and they did it again in Tuesday’s midterms…. This is all very much in keeping with the groundbreaking research by the Harvard political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, the authors of 2018′s How Democracies Die, who showed that the countries that successfully thwarted dictatorships were the ones in which rival factions dropped their ideological differences to instead rally behind a defense of democracy. It wasn’t 100% clear before Tuesday’s midterms, but the Biden coalition — the Democratic base, joined by Gen Z voters who might normally prefer the democratic socialism of a Sen. Bernie Sanders, and white suburban “Never Trumper” ex-Republicans — is beginning to look exactly like what the authors described. This alliance must be preserved at all costs.” • All costs? Because I can think of some costs that Bunch doesn’t mention….

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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First move against the gerontocracy:

Or not–

“Pelosi says Democrats asking her to stay in leadership” [The Hill]. “Pelosi on Sunday said she has not made up her mind on whether she would seek a House leadership position, adding she would make a decision by the end of the month. She added that her focus now is seeing the party through the end of the midterm elections as several House races have yet to be called and neither Democrats nor Republicans have captured a majority in the lower chamber. Democrats have retained their control of the Senate after the midterms. ‘I have a day job,’ Pelosi said. ‘Part of it is to be the political leader and to get us the best possible victory, and then not worrying about my future, but for the future for the American people.’”

Realignment and Legitimacy

“‘Fascism has a Future’: Carlo Ginzburg interviewed by Joseph Confavreux” [Verso (NL)]. Ginzburg: “I think it is necessary to distinguish between the anachronism of questions and the anachronism of answers. Doing history means starting with questions that are related to the present, but which the dialogue with documents and a different society allows us to reformulate. The idea that history teaches us to live cannot be taken literally. Rather, historical knowledge functions as an antidote to poison. I devote a chapter of the book to the analogy proposed by Machiavelli, based on Michelangelo’s David, between founding a republic and modelling a statue. Already, in The Art of War, he had compared the imposition of a form, i.e. of a behaviour, on ‘coarse men’ to the act of creating a beautiful statue from a block of rough marble. For me, this is a problem that has impressive resonances with the present because it touches on the manipulation of the masses. The Mussolini regime has disappeared, but it leaves a legacy that can be reworked by different technologies.” • Well worth a read.

“Showdown Slow Down” [James Howard Kunstler, Clusterf*ck Nation]. “What’s up with dragging out the vote count in Arizona and Nevada, promising to deliver the last 20-percent of the count by a certain hour and then missing their deadline more than once, while dribbling out a few packets of, shall we say, choice cuts, here and there? I’ll tell you what: an organized mind-fuck. The Democrats are aiming to demoralize their adversaries and exhaust them psychologically so that when victory finally comes, the winners will be too emotionally depleted to do their end-zone dances — and the voters will be too dispirited to cheer…. The basic Democratic Party election strategy in recent decades has been to turn the voting public into so many millions of proverbial froggies in the pot of water set to slowly rise to boiling so that the froggies don’t notice they’re getting cooked until it’s too late to jump out of the pot. The Democrat’s Lawfare soldiers have slowly and systematically changed the methods of voting and counting the votes, especially to eliminate accountability for the massive scams and screw-ups that have occurred recently. The changes have been accepted as normal. One insidious change was shutting down the small local precinct polling places in churches and schools, where it was easy to get in, get your signature checked, and vote on-site, and where the precinct captains and workers were known and accountable to voters in the neighborhood. Instead, Lawfare got states to consolidate all the action in huge impersonal voting centers — often sports arenas — where hundreds of election workers churned, and all sorts of frauds went unnoticed in the enormous shuffle of activity.” • In other words, the Democrats are getting rid of the church ladies (as Obama, I have heard, did with many, primarily female, volunteer party workers after 2008). This is plausible, but I see no data. Can readers confirm or deny?

“They Can’t Count Even in Vegas Now? Transcript from “America This Week” [Matt Taibbi, TK News]. Fun stuff:

We can argue about why this is happening — the conventional explanation is a new influx of mail-in ballots, which take longer to count, with both parties blaming each other for why — but editorializing on the subject has been bizarre for another reason. Commercial media both before (see here, here, here, and here) and after (see here, here, here, and here) the midterms has been packed with stories about how it’s totally fine that it now takes forever to count votes in America. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre even declared, ‘That’s how this is supposed to work.’

On the other hand, if counting votes quickly is so essential to instilling confidence in democracy, and ‘democracy itself’ is famously in trouble, why aren’t we trying harder to fix this? Especially in Nevada, a state famous for its counting, the new tolerance for sloth hits the ear like an oar.

Here’s Walter Kirn, broadcasting from Clark County Friday, on the seeming inability of Americans to count things, even in a state where reaching an accurate count every night is a matter of life or death:

Walter Kirn: This is a town in which umpteen-million quarters are dumped into slot machines every night and counted within hours. This is a town that counts for a living. If you’ve seen Casino, you know how it works. A few of those dollars may go into some people’s pockets, or they used to, at least before MGM…

Matt Taibbi: But if you’re off by a couple bucks, you end up in a hole a couple of miles north of the city, don’t you?

Walter Kirn: Exactly. If they counted money the way they’re counting ballots, those people would be in Lake Mead tied to a cinder block. So it’s increasingly hard for me, as at a certain level I’m just the average person, and the average person should not need to have a Jesuitical, theologically precise insight into all the different types of ballots, and all the ways in which they’re delivered, and all the stages at which they’re tabulated. The outsider, the American citizen, has every right to feel that these processes are simple, objective and rapid, and that they can’t have that confidence in that suggests to me that there is a lot to be a dissident about in this country.

The inability to get buy-in from voters, and especially from the losers of these elections, who must have the confidence that they lost fairly, is a systemic and spiritual failure. It can’t be addressed simply by criminalizing complaints or calling people names. It has to be addressed at the root. And there seems to be little prospect that it will be. So who wins and who loses now has become, to me, a secondary consideration. The real consideration is how do they maintain faith in a system that really would not suffice in a grocery store at the end of the day, when they open the till.

And speaking of “election integrity”:

See: “These Are the Ads Russia Bought on Facebook in 2016” [New York Times]. • From 2017, still germane. It’s laughable to imagine that these ads, and the tiny budget so evidently used to create them, had any impact on the 2016 election at all.

“Election Administration at State and Local Levels” [National Conference of State Legislatures]. “The U.S. is characterized by a highly decentralized election administration system. County or municipal officials typically do the rubber-meets-the-road functions of running an election, but the state and federal government each have roles, too. The result is that no two states administer elections in exactly the same way, and quite a bit of variation exists in election administration even within states. Each state’s election administration structure and procedures grew organically over many decades as times changed and administering an election became an increasingly complex task. The diversity of election administration structures between and within states can be seen as a positive or a negative quality, depending on who is looking, and when. Critics say the level of local control can lead to mismanagement and inconsistent application of the law. This often comes into focus in large federal elections especially, when the media and the public focus on how different the voting experience can be depending on where a voter lives. On the other hand, decentralization allows individual jurisdictions to experiment and innovate—to see how elections might best be run for the state and the locality’s particular circumstances. The dispersed responsibility for running elections also makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rig U.S. elections at the national level.” • A useful link with many resources.


Lambert here: I can’t call a winter surge, though we’ll really have to wait for Thanksgiving travel. However, high transmission (CDC), the elevation and continued increase in positivity (Walgreens), and the steady takeover of BQ.1* (CDC; Walgreens) are all a little unsettling (as is the apparent proliferation of variants). Stay safe out there!

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• Query from alert reader RK:

Friends have asked me to bring them home from an airport that is about two hours distant. They will have returned from a two-week stay in Austin, TX. Who knows where and with whom they’ve been during their time away!

To address my discomfort at being cooped up in a car with them for that long, I started looking into small, portable HEPA air filtration devices that would run using an inverter in my car’s cigarette lighter. This, plus masking and outside airflow via my car’s heating/cooling system seems like a decent preventative measure. I’ve seen advertised units on the order of 4″×4″×8″ for use in small rooms that could be accommodated in my car. The device plus inverter would run, say, $125-150.

Mayhaps, commuters in larger cities have already tumbled onto similar measures. Doubtless I have missed any report on such use of an air filtration system in NC. I hope you might direct me to such so that I might benefit from others’ experiences in making my evaluation. Any advice will be gratefully received.

Not only do I not own a car, I don’t recall a relevant study or product review. (I do remember, linked to, and cannot now find, a study that showed the more windows you open in your car the better, but that’s not an option here.) Readers? Especially those with personal experience?

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• “The Latest COVID-19 Variants Can Evade Vaccine Protection, According to New Data” [Time]. n = 88. “Dr. David Ho, director of Columbia University’s Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center (ADARC), and his team reported the results from a set of studies at an ADARC symposium. They showed how well some of the latest variants—BQ.1, BQ.1.1, XBB, and XBB.1, which were all derived from Omicron—are evading both vaccine-derived and infection-derived immunity…. Ho’s group conducted what is likely the most comprehensive look to date at BQ.1, BQ.1.1, XBB, and XBB.1, and how existing immunity—from the original mRNA vaccines, the new Omicron boosters, and natural infections—stands up to them. Scientists took blood sera from 88 people in five groups (below) and exposed it to the four variants in the lab…. The results show that people who had been infected with BA.2, BA.4, or BA.5 generally experienced the smallest drop in neutralizing antibody levels against against BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. But people who had three doses of the original vaccine and one Omicron booster produced only slightly better neutralizing antibody protection against XBB and XBB.1 than those who received three doses of the original vaccine. Public-health experts say that while vaccines may wane in efficacy against newer variants, they continue to protect people from severe COVID-19.” But “severe” does not include neurological or vascular damage from “mild cases,” let along Long Covid, of course, because the public health establishment has been captured by hospitals, and for quite some time, too. More: “‘These new variants are extremely good at evading our antibodies and are very likely to compromise the efficacy of our vaccines,’ says Ho. They may also dodge the available antibody-based treatments for COVID-19, he says.” • Oh.

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• About “living in fear”:

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• Maskstravaganza: “Ontario will urge indoor masking as ‘three-headed monster’ strains hospital resources” [Toronto Star]. “Calls for a return to mandatory masking have been increasing in some medical circles, but a recent poll suggested the population is evenly split for and against — raising questions about how well a return to difficult-to-enforce mask mandates would work. A Forum survey conducted Tuesday for the Star found 53 per cent of respondents strongly or somewhat agree that the province should bring back a mask mandate, and 47 per cent said they disagreed somewhat or strongly. Fully 28 per cent said they would not follow a masking rule and only 16 per cent said they wear masks, according to the interactive voice response poll of 1,007 randomly selected Ontarians over 18. It is considered accurate within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Rates of masking in indoor public places remain low despite encouragement from health officials for people to wear masks when they feel at risk, particularly in crowded situations. On TTC subway cars, for example, the proportion of passengers wearing masks is typically tiny.” • Propaganda worked against masks. Presumably, propaganda would work for them as well (“We have always been at war with Eastasia”).

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• “Covid Depression Is Real. Here’s What You Need to Know” [New York Times]. ” In a 2021 study, more than half of American adults reported symptoms of major depressive disorder after a coronavirus infection. The risk of developing these symptoms — as well as other mental health disorders — remains high up to a year after you’ve recovered…. Health concerns, grief from losing loved ones, social isolation and the disruption of everyday activities were a recipe for distress, especially early on in the pandemic. But compared with those who managed to avoid infection (but also dealt with the difficult impacts of living through a pandemic), people who got sick with Covid-19 seem to be much more vulnerable to a variety of mental health problems. ‘There’s something about the coronavirus that really affects the brain,’ [Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis and the chief of research and development at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System] said. ‘Some people get depression, while other people can have strokes, anxiety, memory disorders and sensory disorders.’ Still others have no neurological or psychiatric conditions at all, he said.” • This article is a bit anodyne. A million dead, and no public recognition or mourning whatever — where’s the Covid quilt on the National Mall? — surely has a greater impact on on the public mind than “social isolation” and “the disruption of everyday activities” (another way of saying “vax only”). To this I would add grief that this country is…. simply not what I thought it was, at the most basic level of interpersonal relations; my revulsion at demands to “smile!” is my way to process this. (Also, I don’t believe for a minute that depression is a function of the brain alone; it is a “whole of body” disease.)

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• ”Long COVID and Me: A True Story” [Leonard H. Calabrese, Healio]. This ran in Links, and it’s worth reading full, but I want to highlight this passage: “Ironically, just as I failed to self-diagnose my acute COVID-19 breakthrough by attributing it to just a bad cold, I was also in denial regarding my long COVID diagnosis.” • These two episodes of denial seem very important to the spread of Covid, both in Calabrese’s case and society-wide. And yet Calabrese merely mentions them, and does not reflect on them (which could be, I suppose, interpreted as a third episode of denial). But what is the mechanism? Are there, as one might say, “social determinants”?

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Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission. (This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.)

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From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published November 12:

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-0.1%. Down.


NOT UPDATED Wastewater data (CDC), November 7:

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Lambert here: Each dot is a sewershed that you can click for data. Since yesterday we found elevated levels in JFK/LGA’s county, Queens, I looked today at ORD’s county, Cook (one of two counties, actually). Not elevated, which is good news, all the more because Illinois ‘runs hot” compared to most other states. UPDATE Holy Lord, the only thing close to real-time information we’ve got on airports, and CDC can’t update the data on a timely basis. How am I supposed to be doing my personal risk assessment?

November 6:

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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.

Variant data, national (Walgreens), published November 11 October 25:

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Lambert here: BQ.1* moving along quite briskly.

Lambert here: Moving to the date at bottom left; the date in the notes section is off, just as the date in the positivity chart was off. The date at bottom left only applies to the box that encloses it, not the entire chart.

Variant data, national (CDC), October 22 (Nowcast off):

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BQ.1* moving along quite briskly. New York/New Jersey (Region 2) numbers are higher:

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NOT UPDATED And as a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization continues to increase, updated November 10:

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Lambert here: Continued rise.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,100,127 – 1,099,856 = 271 (271 * 365 = 98,915, which is 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

Inflation: “United States Consumer Inflation Expectations” [Trading Economics]. “US consumer inflation expectations for the year ahead increased to 5.9 percent in October of 2022 from 5.4 percent in September, after three consecutive months of a slowdown. The median expected change in gas prices rose by 4.3 percentage points to 4.8%, the largest one-month increase on record. Expectations about year-ahead price changes rose by 0.7 percentage point for food (to 7.6%) and 0.1 percentage point for rent (to 9.8%).” • What do readers think? What’s happening on the grocery shelves and at the gas pump?

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Tech: “America’s Ring doorbell camera obsession highlights the scourge of mass surveillance [NBC]. “Blanketing our neighborhoods in surveillance devices that promote a culture of suspicion makes all of us less safe. Devices like Ring and the apps associated with them are made to keep us on constant alert. They ping us with notifications, demanding our attention, and offer “infinite scroll” like Facebook and Instagram, but for neighborhood crime. These devices make watching one another constantly feel acceptable, expected and even addicting. They present surveillance as the new normal, and fear along with it. The Neighbors App, associated with Amazon Ring, boasted more than 10 million users in 2020. Front doors across the U.S. are smothered in millions of similar devices, like Google Nest and Wyze. And tens of millions of people post videos and images from these cameras to neighborhood watch forums like Citizen App (which literally rebranded itself from ‘Vigilante’) and NextDoor. A recent report from nonprofit research organization Data & Society found that homeowners are increasingly using Ring and other networked doorbell cameras to surveil and punish delivery drivers, turning doorsteps into humiliating performance reviews for underpaid gig workers. And, this July, we learned that Amazon infringes on our civil liberties by handing over Ring video to the police without notification or warrants.” • Jeff, good job.

Tech: “Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history” [MIT Technology Review]. I know liberal Democrats, along with their [glassbowl] buddies in the intelligence community, have their knickers in a twist because they’ve lost their power to censor a major platform. Whether their dogpiling translates into, or will produce, a “collapse” is unclear to me. So far as I can tell, exits to competitors number in the tens of thousands. So let’s wait and see. “Part of what makes Twitter’s potential collapse uniquely challenging is that the ‘digital public square’ has been built on the servers of a private company, says O’Connor’s colleague Elise Thomas, senior OSINT analyst with the ISD. It’s a problem we’ll have to deal with many times over the coming decades, she says: ‘This is perhaps the first really big test of that.’ Twitter’s ubiquity, its adoption by nearly a quarter of a billion users in the last 16 years, and its status as a de facto public archive, has made it a gold mine of information, says Thomas. ‘In one sense, this actually represents an enormous opportunity for future historians—we’ve never had the capacity to capture this much data about any previous era in history,’ she explains. But that enormous scale presents a huge storage problem for organizations. For eight years, the US Library of Congress took it upon itself to maintain a public record of all tweets, but it stopped in 2018, instead selecting only a small number of accounts’ posts to capture. ‘It never, ever worked,” says William Kilbride, executive director of the Digital Preservation Coalition. The data the library was expected to store was too vast, the volume coming out of the firehose too great. ‘Let me put that in context: it’s the Library of Congress. They had some of the best expertise on this topic. If the Library of Congress can’t do it, that tells you something quite important,’ he says. That’s problematic, because Twitter is teeming with significant content from the past 16 years that could help tomorrow’s historians understand the world of today.” • I’m not sure I believe this story (which, after all, treats Eliot as a serious source and not a spook). Surely the Twitter “firehose” is a fraction of what NSA has on its servers in Utah? So, two birds, one stone: Requistion Twitter from Musk and make it a public utility. Then wipe the NSA data center — surely mostly domestic surveillance they’ve got no right to have — and put Twitter on it. Problem solved!


I don’t wish to seem unsympathetic to Playbill’s dilemma, but “legitimately decipher[ing] actual news from insidious rhetoric” is, well, a generic problem. It’s not limited to Twitter.

Tech: “The Age of Social Media Is Ending” [The Atlantic]. “A global broadcast network where anyone can say anything to anyone else as often as possible, and where such people have come to think they deserve such a capacity, or even that withholding it amounts to censorship or suppression—that’s just a terrible idea from the outset.” • Commentary:

Tech: “The Atlantic Is A Shitty Propaganda Rag Run By Elitist Wankers” [Caitlin Johnstone]. “Nothing enrages the official authorized commentariat like the common riff raff having access to platforms and audiences. That’s why the official authorized commentariat have been the most vocal voices calling for internet censorship and complaining about the rise of a more democratized information environment. These elitist wankers have been fuming for years about the way the uninitiated rabble have been granted the ability to not just talk, but to talk back…. Of course the imperial narrative managers at The Atlantic would be opposed to normal people getting a voice in public discourse. When your job is to control the narrative, the bigger a monopoly you hold over it the better.”

Tech: Whose social capital is valued, and whose is not:

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 66 Greed (previous close: 66 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 61 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 14 at 12:15 PM EST.

Rapture Index: Closes down one on Wild Weather. “The lack of activity has downgraded this category” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. (Remember that bringing on the Rapture is good.) It seems that 190 is an important psychological barrier.

Guillotine Watch

Class Warfare

“Appendix 1- Coming Full Circle” (podcast) [Mike Duncan, Revolutions]. • In a series of eight Appendices, Duncan sums up his historiography of revolutions. I highly recommend them — as indeed I recommend the entire series, which started in 2013 (!!) with Charles Stuart and ended this year with Nicholas Romanov.

News of the Wired

For subway fans:

But what on earth is a “pad”?

“Keith Levene, guitarist and founding member of the Clash, dies at 65” [Entertainment Weekly]. “Born in London in 1957, Julian Keith Levene got his start in the music industry at age 15 working as a roadie for the prog-rock band Yes during their Close to the Edge tour. At age 16, Levene befriended Mick Jones and the musical duo would go on to create the Clash alongside vocalist Joe Strummer, bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Terry Chimes in 1976….. While Levene departed from the rock group before they had a chance to record any music, he is still credited with co-writing one of their songs: the scorching single “What’s My Name,” which appeared on their eponymous debut record in 1977. In 1978, Levene teamed up with John Lydon — a.k.a the Sex Pistols’ infamous lead singer Johnny Rotten — to form the post-punk group Public Image Ltd. The band, which also included bassist Jah Wobble and drummer Jim Walker, released their debut album, Public Image: First Issue, that same year.” • I bought Metal Box as soon as it came out. It was great.

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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 SV:

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SV writes: “‘Moth on Obedient Plant,’ via our Friend in the Woods.”

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