2:00PM Water Cooler 11/22/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 11/22/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Thrush Nightingale, Moscow, Russia. No, that’s not an editorial comment. Very pretty indeed!

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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

“The White House girds for combat” [Politico]. “Outside the White House, Democratic operatives in close coordination with the president’s team are drawing up binders of research on the would-be 2024 opponents and beginning to plot top staff acquisitions. And as the GOP cattle calls begin in earnest, including one event over the weekend in Nevada, Democrats are moving to monitor and attack GOP contenders as they make their swings through various states. Asked about the approach to the former president, a person close to the White House pointed to the rapid-response style videos released by Biden designed to undercut Trump’s term in office and bolster his own. The videos looked at Biden’s push to pass a sweeping infrastructure law compared with Trump’s unfulfilled effort; along with Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election.”


“Democrats Have Some Solid Options If Biden Doesn’t Run in 2024” [Ross Barkan, New York Magazine]. A situation where one prefers solids to liquids. I suppose. Anyhow, the rising stars: Jared Polis (Governor CO), Gretchen Whitmer (Governor MI), Raphael Warnock (Senator GA, maybe), Josh Shapiro (Governor PA), John Fetterman (Senator PA). “If Biden decides to run, the nomination is his. None of these Democrats would dare challenge him. And Harris would surely be the front-runner in the event Biden ever decides, on the advice of his inner circle, to step away after one term. But that shouldn’t be a coronation for the vice-president, either — not with the sheer number of battle-tested senators and governors who stand ready to contend with DeSantis or Trump. The Democrats, for once, have built a political army for tomorrow.” • I have to say, this list can’t be serious if Fetterman’s on it, not because of his stroke (and one hopes continuing recovery) but because he has no experience on the national stage. I’m surprised Stacey Abrams isn’t on it. Or Beto.

“Hunter Biden’s Laptop Is Still Real” [The American Conservative]. “CBS News investigation concluded that Hunter Biden’s “laptop from hell” is authentic. No, this isn’t a time capsule from October 2020. It is a news story from Monday, November 21, 2022, more than two years after the New York Post first reported on the laptop—and for the trouble faced bans on social media and accusations of peddling Russian disinformation…. Politico’s Natasha Bertrand uncritically regurgitated a letter, signed by more than 50 former intelligence officials who falsely claimed, on the basis of exactly zero evidence, that the Post’s reporting was Kremlin-hatched disinformation. This was not the idle speculation of a few ex-spooks. It served to justify in real time what perhaps was the most chilling episode of state-directed private-sector censorship in U.S. history. NPR didn’t even bother to look into the story, with managing editor for news Terence Samuels telling the taxpayer-funded outlet’s public editor that “we don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories.’” • All these people need to be punished, the spooks especially, and I hope the House Republicans have the stones to do it.

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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Realignment and Legitimacy

“But Seriously, How Do We Make an Entrepreneurial State?” [American Affairs]. “The book is at its strongest when describing the evolution and transformation of various “innovation bureaucracies” across time and around the world. While digging into historical examples like the original Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, the authors surface certain themes that repeat across case studies: the need for flexible hiring rules, the importance of attracting a nation’s best and brightest into public service, and the significance of overarching ‘missions’ to focus the public sector. A unifying theme discussed throughout the book is the idea of ‘agile stability’ for state bureaucracies: the tension between ensuring stability in the core functions that they provide to the public while also maintaining the flexibility to evolve and add new capabilities over time. Nevertheless, the book is frustrating in its lack of practical detail as to how agencies can embed agility into their functions or how to structurally enable bureaucratic actors to take risks. But the fundamental question is an essential one for our current moment, and the book can help point us in the right direction. So, how does one actually make an entrepreneurial state? There is no single correct model, and in fact, an essential element of entrepreneurship is the ability to correct course and revise plans in real time to accomplish overarching goals. With that in mind, some recent attempts at rebuilding state capacity and fostering agile stability within the U.S. federal government can shed some light on the “how” of making an entrepreneurial state.” • No mention of Operation Warp Speed, oddly. Must be a different flavor of conservative?


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! (As far as Thanksgiving travel goes, lacking CDC’s “Rapid Riser” counties feature, the best we can do, I think, is follow the news and look at wastewater. I would order risk from highest to lowest at JFK/LGA (New York), LAX (Los Angeles), ATL (Atlanta), and ORD (Chicago). Since New York — as of this writing, and of course all the data is delayed, making personal risk assessment an effort in delusion, but I digress — is a BQ.1* hotbed, I’d try to use EWR (Newark) not JFK/LGA. My $0.02!

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• ”A tripledemic hurricane is making landfall. We need masks, not just tent hospitals” [STAT]. I am, perhaps, remiss to track only one pandemic:

A viral hurricane is making landfall on health care systems battered by three pandemic years. With the official start of winter still weeks away, pediatric hospitals are facing crushing caseloads of children sick with RSV and other viral illnesses. Schools that promised a ‘return to normal’ now report widespread absences and even closures from RSV and flu in many parts of the country, contributing to parents missing work in record numbers. With this year’s flu season beginning some six weeks early, the CDC has already declared a flu epidemic as hospitalizations for influenza soared to the highest point in more than a decade.

A storm of these proportions should demand not only crisis clinical measures, but also community prevention efforts. Yet instead of deploying public health strategies to weather the storm, the U.S. is abandoning them.

Of course. Everything’s going according to plan.

Even before the arrival of the so-called tripledemic, U.S. health systems were on the brink. But as the fall surge of illness threatens to capsize teetering hospitals, the will to deploy public health measures has also collapsed. Pediatricians are declaring ‘This is our March 2020‘ and issuing pleas for help while public health efforts to flatten the curve and reduce transmission rates of Covid-19 — or any infectious disease — have effectively evaporated. Unmanageable patient volumes are seen as inevitable, or billed as the predictable outcome of an ‘immunity debt,’ despite considerable uncertainty surrounding the scientific underpinnings and practical utility of this concept.

The Covid-19 pandemic should have left us better prepared for this moment. It helped the public to understand that respiratory viruses primarily spread through shared indoor air.

CDC may, like the public, “understand” this but (see below) if so their messaging is disinformatilon.

Public health practices to stop the spread of Covid-19 — such as masking, moving activities outdoors, and limiting large gatherings during surges — were incorporated into the daily routines of many Americans. RSV and flu are also much less transmissible than Covid-19, making them easier to control with common-sense public health practices.

Instead of dialing up those first-line practices as pediatric ICUs overflow and classrooms close, though, the U.S. is relying on its precious and fragile last lines of defense to combat the tripledemic: health care professionals and medical facilities.

Not to worry. Those who can afford world-class care will do fine, just fine.

• “Thousands of public health experts are losing their jobs at a critical time” [CNN]. “As covid-19 raged, roughly 4,000 highly skilled epidemiologists, communication specialists, and public health nurses were hired by a nonprofit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plug the holes at battered public health departments on the front lines. But over the past few months, the majority of the CDC Foundation’s contracts for those public health workers at local and state departments have ended as the group has spent nearly all of its almost $289 million in covid relief funding. The CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports the CDC’s work, anticipates that no more than about 800 of its 4,000 hires will ultimately staff those jurisdictions, spokesperson Pierce Nelson said. That has left many local and state health departments facing staffing shortages as the nation eyes a possible winter uptick in covid cases and grapples with the ongoing threat of monkeypox, exploding caseloads of sexually transmitted infections, and other public health issues. The public health workforce in the U.S. has been underfunded for decades — just before the start of the pandemic, only 28% of local health departments had an epidemiologist or statistician, a 2020 Associated Press-KHN investigation found. Then, after the pandemic began, public health officials left in droves as they were lambasted for instituting covid rules, blamed for the economic downturn, and grappled with burnout. And even if funding were available to retain all 4,000 foundation employees, that would not have met public health staffing needs, according to new research in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.” • I don’t understand why public health officials “left in droves.” Surely the Biden administration came vociferously to their defense? (I don’t much like this non-profit, either. Billionaires pulling funding because with a tripledemic we should let ‘er rip?)

* * *

• As usual, the sociopaths in the White House continue the vax-only message:

• As usual, the sociopaths at CDC suppress both aerosols and masking:

Droplet dogma. Can nothing kill it? (Amazing, too, the subliminal message that the common cold and viruses are comparable.)

Pay no attention to the people coughing on the plane! (And not a word about ventilation, let alone masking.)

• “Stay informed”:

Bitterly ironic, since the CDC’s “community transmission”data (the “red map,” shown below, not the deceptive “community levels” green map) is obfuscated on the CDC site, so much so that CDC phone support people can’t even find it.

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“Health + Long Covid” (PDF) [Department of Health and Human Services]. “With between five and 30% of people developing Long COVID after a COVID-19 infection, this report is a call to act with urgency to design and implement solutions for people with Long COVID. While we may not yet have the science to understand why Long COVID happens, we can act now to create what people with Long COVID want and need to improve their health and live a higher quality of life.”

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• Masks and air quality:


When did this country become so all-fired officiious. Were we always like this, and I never noticed?

* * *

• ”Receptive to an authoritative voice? Experimental evidence on how patronizing language and stressing institutional sources affect public receptivity to nutrition information” [Population Health]. “Importantly, therefore, while our results show that the dominant health-communication strategies do not increase receptivity either, their use will probably not have a negative effect on the general public and so do not need to be discarded.” • Well, that’s a little disappointing.

• A fun thread:

And it’s more than ten…


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 21:

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1.4%. Up.


Wastewater data (CDC), November 16:

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November 14:

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• Queens County (JFK/LGA) is elevated (orange) again, just in time for holiday travel:

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Cook County (ORD) remains elevated.


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), November 6:

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Lambert here: BQ.1* moving along quite briskly, though lower than CDC. XBB present here, not in CDC.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), October 29 (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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• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated November 19:

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Lambert here: Looks like it’s leveling out, for the moment.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,102,915 – 1,101,843 = 1072 (1072 * 365 = 391,280 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

Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Manufacturing Activity Index in the US fifth district edged higher to -9 in November of 2022 from -10 in October which was the lowest reading since May of 2020, but continued to point to softening conditions for manufacturing firms.”

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Retail: “How deep of a banking threat is Walmart’s One?” [Banking Dive]. “Walmart’s plans to provide banking services to its 1.6 million U.S. employees and more than 100 million weekly shoppers should make bankers uneasy, said David Donovan, executive vice president of financial services for the Americas at digital consulting company Publicis Sapient…’They don’t need to go acquire customers, they already have them,’ said Donovan, whose company worked to build Goldman Sachs’ consumer bank, Marcus. ‘They just have to roll that service out and make it really easy and simple. It’s like, build it, and they’ll come.’ The cost of acquiring a banking customer is typically between $100 and $200, according to a study by Oliver Wyman. ‘Acquisition costs are a lot. It’s a lot to get a new customer when you’re not an established brand,’ Donovan said. It’s not clear what that cost will be for an entity like Walmart, a household name with an established bricks-and-mortar presence, but all the retailer may need to do to find success in banking is to launch a simple, easy-to-use product, Donovan said.”

Tech: “Cable company’s accidental email to rival discusses plan to block competition” [Ars Technica]. “‘Challenging publicly funded overbuilds is becoming one of the most important tasks we do as a company,’ Cable One Assistant General Counsel Patrick Caron wrote in the email. ‘Overbuild’ is a term cable and telecom companies use to describe what is more commonly known as ‘competition.’ But in the case of East Carroll Parish, the grant was awarded because of evidence that homes in the area are unserved or underserved. US broadband maps are often inaccurate, but the existing data shows East Carroll Parish needs more and better broadband, [Conexon’s Jonathan] Chambers said. ‘My market is the places where nobody’s built networks. I’m not even trying to go into areas that are already served,’ he said. Cable One challenged the East Carroll Parish grant after it was awarded, claiming that Cable One already serves the area where Conexon would build. Cable One lost that initial protest and was chided by the state broadband office for not providing evidence to back up its claims. But the company is appealing, so it isn’t clear when or if Conexon can start installing fiber. he purpose of Caron’s misdirected email was to set up a meeting to discuss similar challenges the company can make in other states. Besides Chambers, the email went to several Cable One executives. ‘We have to get together and determine strategy around Arkansas and Missouri challenges immediately,’ Caron wrote.” • Cable scum. The very last thing broadband in this country is, is “overbuilt.” I hope Cable One gets indicted. And convicted, naturally.

Tech: “GM Dealers Have Been Quietly Repairing Teslas For Over a Year” [Jalopnik (Re Silc)]. “Speaking at GM’s Investor Day 2022, GM President Mark Reuss might have surprised some when he revealed that a small number of GM dealers have been doing repairs on thousands of Teslas for over a year. Since 2021, GM dealers across the country have repaired 11,180 Teslas in total…. This is a big deal for GM as well as Tesla customers. Not only does it give GM a chance to look inside at the intervals of a rival automaker’s product and learn from that, it also gives Tesla customers easier access to service that’s sometimes hard to find. Reuss pointed out in the presentation, more than 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a GM dealership. Because of this, Tesla may be on the offensive. Reuss says that Tesla is now investing millions to build more of its Tesla repair facilities near GM dealerships, likely in a move to try to keep its customers going to Tesla facilities. It’s also a win for Tesla customers because of how crappy Tesla’s own service can be.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 63 Greed (previous close: 62 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 67 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 22 at 12:34 PM EST.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [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.

The Gallery

Gustave Moiré:

Zeitgeist Watch

Innocent times:

Innocent production values….

“Column: It takes only one to tango? The revolutionary clarity of the ‘Ejaculate Responsibly’ movement” [Los Angeles Times]. “‘Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion’ [is] a modest but extensively footnoted little book that places blame for unwanted pregnancies squarely on men…. [Gabrielle Blair] argument is deceptively simplistic, but it makes sense. If sperm does not meet egg, pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, cannot occur. At this point, writes Blair, ‘men have two options for birth control — condoms and vasectomies. Both are easier, cheaper, more convenient and safer than birth control options for women.’” • Blair is right on the merits. Waiting for the public health campaign on this.

Feral Hog Watch

“Bankman-Fried’s FTX, senior staff, parents bought Bahamas property worth $300 mln” [Reuters]. “The documents for another home with beach access in Old Fort Bay — a gated community that was once home to a British colonial fort built in the 1700s to protect against pirates — show Bankman-Fried’s parents, Stanford University law professors Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried, as signatories. The property, one of the documents dated June 15 said, is for use as a ‘vacation home.’ When asked by Reuters why the couple decided to buy a vacation home in the Bahamas and how it was paid for — whether in cash, with a mortgage or by a third party such as FTX — a spokesman for the professors said only that Bankman and Fried had been trying to return the property to FTX. ‘Since before the bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Bankman and Ms. Fried have been seeking to return the deed to the company and are awaiting further instructions,’ the spokesperson said, declining to elaborate.” • Of course, of cours. I like the “pirate bay” angle. Must have amused Mom and Dad.

Class Warfare

Social capital:

A parable of how social capital (“weak ties” being one form) works:

Not a bad thing! Although, if you transposed the conversation from professor/parking lot attendant to banker/regulator….

“The Rise of Influencer Capital” [New York Magazine]. “In his 1910 book, Finance Capital, the Austrian-born economist Rudolf Hilferding introduced the idea of “promoter’s profit.” Unlike an industrial capitalist, the promoter harvests their gains not from the sale of a widget at a price above its cost but from the sale of promises — of claims to future profits. Hilferding saw the promoter as being particularly useful for selling stocks, to the benefit of big banks and others that managed those sales, and he predicted that corporate dividends would dwindle as the financiers captured an increasing profit share for themselves. For a promoter, being famous clearly helped…. Convincing people to buy something regardless of its underlying value is the job description of our era’s version of the celebrity spokesperson: the influencer. In “influencer marketing,” firms hire — or, on the lower end, offer freebies to — popular social-media users to post about a product or service…. [I]f being a company founder is about influencing the capital markets more than it is about running a business, then it makes sense to get the most influential founder you can.” • And if the founder is playing League of Legends during his pitch, so much the better!

* * *

“Inside an Amazon rocked by news of 10,000 planned layoffs, employees are livid that there has been no official communication from executives” [Business Insider] • Always a hellhole, and not just for the warehouse workers.

“HR Director Reminds Employees That Any Crying Done At Office Must Be Work-Related” [The Onion]. • From 2015, still germane.

Kill it with fire:

Gonna be handy for union-busting.

News of the Wired

Tufte’s “power of small multiples“:

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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 JJD:

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JJD writes: “Amorphophallus bulbifer. A true botanical oddity that produces corms on the leaf veins. Do not plant near a door or window, The inflorescence smells like rotting squirrel.” My heavens! I wonder if one of the platforms would flag this….

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