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2:00PM Water Cooler 11/25/2020

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2:00PM Water Cooler 11/25/2020

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

For Turkey Day, my favorite holiday!

#COVID19

At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

Case count by United States region:

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There’s a drawing back from the vertical and an actual fall in the Midwest, perhaps somehow related to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

The Midwest in detail:

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Perceptible drops in the Midwest, for whatever reason.

Test positivity by region:

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Nowhere near 3%, though.

Hospitalization by region:

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Hospitalization seems to have plateaued in the South, nearly. And we see the curve in the Midwest has turned down. I suppose we could use this chart as a rough and ready guide to capacity, on the theory that “what we have done, that we can do.” (That assumes that hospital workers can handle it; maybe not.) On that theory, no region but the Midwest approaches its previous peak, and this is really the first time through for them.

Case fatality rate by region:

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Deaths (purple dotted) heading toward vertical, as they will for awhile, although they should drop (or at least dip) where the case count does, with the two-week lag.

Politics

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

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

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

Transition to Biden

“‘People are pissed’: Tensions rise amid scramble for Biden jobs” [Politico]. “‘The Obama staffers are now cutting out the people who got Biden elected,’ said a senior Biden official channeling the feelings of the old guard of the Biden campaign, who requested anonymity for the obvious reason. ‘None of these people found the courage to help the VP when he was running and now they are elevating their friends over the Biden people. It’s f—– up.’” • The Obama Alumni Association? Surely not. It’s a damn shame.

Confidence builder:

Liberalgasm Jouissance (1): “…And Universal Darkness buries All“:

(Re: some Jake or other’s remarks on a “boring” Biden administration, presumed to be forthcoming…)

Liberalgasm Jouissance (2):

Liberalgasm Jouissance (3):

No wonder the gullible think these national security goons are “superheroes.” when they get staging like that:

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Granted, the costumes are different…

Transition from Trump

Boring once more:

Realignment and Legitimacy

“The Double Agent” [Commonweal]. “It’s not clear whether McCarrick acted on the FBI’s proposal, but what the rest of the report makes clear is that the FBI, the KGB, and the Vatican all recognized something in McCarrick that made him a natural for either spycraft or the clerical culture of the Catholic hierarchy. Those two worlds could be remarkably similar. Indeed, the report often reads like a George Smiley Soviet-era spy novel (a comparison Villanova theologian Massimo Faggioli often makes). There is a sprawling cast of characters engaged in plots and sub-plots, developing networks of informants, sending secret missives, and delivering envelopes of cash. Gossip is a double-edged sword that can cut your opponents but also be turned against you. There are wheels within wheels, betrayals and secret alliances, and running through it all is McCarrick’s remarkable talent for survival.” • And we wonder why we in the United States so often have trust issues…

“The Silenced Majority” [Harpers]. “Instead of seeking lessons from twentieth-century Germany, we should look back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of the Anglo-American complex. That will remind us that most of the phenomena we label fascist—nationalist fictions of ethnic supremacy, mass disenfranchisement, censorship—are fully compatible with free-market capitalism. In the seventeenth century, England was an emerging superpower. Supremacy would come from its invention of a world principle of property. This principle was developed following contact with the Americas, where it became possible to conjure vast new English properties ‘out of nothing’—in a way that was impracticable, for instance, in the militarized, mercantile societies of India. Such properties were created by a legal definition of ownership designed so that it could be applied only to the invaders. ‘As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of,’ John Locke wrote in 1689, ‘so much is his property.’ When combined with other new legal categories such as ‘the savage’ and ‘the state of nature,’ this principle of property engendered societies such as Carolina, where Locke’s patron, the first earl of Shaftesbury, was a lord proprietor…. Obviously, such a system could take no account of the general opinion, and the right to vote and hold political office was restricted to men with property. All women and 90 percent of men were therefore excluded. Democratic conspiracy, meanwhile—which always had two interdependent causes: the expansion of suffrage, and the organization of workers—could be punished with exile to the penal colonies.” • This sounds like a very fruitful approach to me. Well worth a read.

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

Employment Situation: “21 November 2020 Initial Unemployment Claims Rolling Average Worsens” [Econintersect]. “Market expectations for weekly initial unemployment claims (from Econoday) were 700 K to 780 K (consensus 730 K), and the Department of Labor reported 778,000 new claims. The more important (because of the volatility in the weekly reported claims and seasonality errors in adjusting the data) 4 week moving average moved from 743,500 (reported last week as 742,000) to 748,500.”

Durable Goods: “Headline Durable Goods New Orders Improved Again In October 2020” [Econintersect]. “The headlines say the durable goods new orders improved for the sixth consecutive month. Our analysis shows the rolling averages improved. The data this month was within expectations – and, the previous month was revised up. In the adjusted data, the improvement was driven by aircraft and motor vehicles.”

Consumer Sentiment: “Final November 2020 Michigan Consumer Sentiment Significantly Declines Due To Republican Consumers” [Econintersect]. “Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments: ‘Consumer sentiment was unchanged in late November–a difference of just 0.1 points from mid-month–although there was a significant decline in the Expectations component which was offset by more favorable assessments of current economic conditions. Importantly, the November data were less optimistic than last month due to the resurgence in covid infections and deaths as well as partisan shifts due to the outcome of the presidential election. For the first time since Trump entered office, Democrats rather than Republicans held a more optimistic economic outlook (see the chart). The steep rise in covid infections had a greater impact on Democrats as 59% of Democrats reported that the coronavirus had changed their lives to a great extent compared with just 36% among Republicans. In the months ahead, if infections and deaths rise as anticipated, further declines in optimism are likely. The anticipated declines, however, will be tempered by the approval of several vaccines by the end of the year.’”

Personal Income and Expenditures: “October 2020 Real Expenditures Improved” [Econintersect]. “The data continues to be affected by the pandemic. Expenditures improved year-over-year (but is in contraction year-over-year) whilst income also improved year-over-year (but is in expansion)…. The real issue with personal income and expenditures is that it jumps around because of backward revisions – and one cannot take any single month as fixed or gospel. This should be considered a worse report than last month.”

Housing: “October 2020 Headline New Home Sales Slow But Sales Are Stronger Than Any Year Since 2006” [Econintersect]. “The headlines say new home sales slowed month-over-month. Still, overall sales-to-date in 2020 is now better than any other year since 2006 – and this index has not been affected by the coronavirus. This month the backward revisions were upward. Because of weather and other factors, the rolling averages are the way to view this series. The rolling averages significantly improved. Even with the slowing this month, sales again remained strong this month demonstrating the resilience of the new home market. Growth in 2020 to-date still exceeds every year since 2006.” • I don’t understand how this can be…

GDP: “Second Estimate 3Q2020 GDP Growth Unchanged But Remains Deep In Contraction Year-over-Year” [Econintersect]. “The second estimate of third-quarter 2020 Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was unchanged from the advance estimate’s positive 31.1%…. The coronavirus recovery is the reason for the improvement from the previous quarter – and pushed GDP quarter-over-quarter growth to record levels. I am not a fan of quarter-over-quarter exaggerated method of measuring GDP – but the recovery from the pandemic is not over as the year-over-year GDP growth remains in contraction.”

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Retail: “Twice abandoned for dead, RadioShack may have a new lease on life” [MarketWatch]. “The plan, in short, is to build a vast online marketplace on top of the RadioShack brand. Trust in that name will get consumers to the site, where the quality and variety of merchandise will dictate whether or not shoppers click the “Buy” button, they say.” • I know its just a firm, but I loved RadioShack in all its incarnations. I don’t know how a website duplicates the feeling of going into that crowded space of gear, and knowing that what you want is somewhere, in some drawer. A brand is more than a logo, and a retail experience is more than bits on a screen. I guess we’ll find out!

Tech: “Amazon Web Services suffers amid widespread issues with online applications” [MarketWatch]. “Multiple attempts to contact Amazon for comment have yet to be returned.” • I’ll bet. It’ not fair to call AWS a single point of failure, since there are competitive clouds, but it’s certainly one of not-very-many points of failure.

Manufacturing: “Europe sets in motion January end to Boeing 737 MAX safety ban” [Reuters]. “The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) set out conditions for putting the grounded jets back into service, including new training and updating MCAS software implicated in the crashes that killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019. … How long it takes for flights to resume in Europe depends on pilot training and the amount of time airlines need to upgrade MCAS software and carry out other actions mandated by EASA. U.S. flights are due to resume on Dec. 29, some six weeks after Boeing’s main regulator, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, lifted its own ban on Nov. 18.”

Mr. Market: “Dow set to pull back slightly from 30,000 ahead of Thanksgiving holiday” [MarketWatch]. “U.S. stocks pointed to a mixed open on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average likely to retreat somewhat from its historic close above a milestone at 30,000 on the day before the Thanksgiving holiday. Markets will be closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving and will shutter early on Friday. Due to the holiday, investors will digest a full slate of U.S. economic reports Wednesday, including weekly jobless benefit claims, a report on new-home sales, and an account of the Federal Reserve’s most recent rate-setting meeting.” • So homeless encampments are a bullish sign. Good to know…

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 91 Extreme Greed (previous close: 88 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 63 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 25 at 12:37pm.

The Biosphere

“Medicinal Plant May Have Evolved Camouflage to Evade Humans” [Smithsonian]. “A highly sought after plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved camouflage to make itself harder for humans to spot and collect… The plant, Fritillaria delavayi, grows on the rocky alpine slopes of China’s Hengduan Mountains, and for more than 2,000 years its dried bulbs have been used to treat heart and lung ailments. Historically, the plant was not hard to find—a bright sprig of green amid a sea of gray scree—but demand for the powder made from its bulbs has made it rarer and more expensive…. But just as many animals have evolved camouflage to better evade predators, human harvesting behaviors have spurred many Fritillaria plants to shift from loud greens to the muted grays and browns of the rocks they grow between… The researchers also found that this effect is especially pronounced in areas where the plants are most heavily pursued by people looking to pluck them.” • Evolution in historical time!

“Indigenous Peoples’ Victory: Largest Dam Removal in the World” [Popular Resistance]. “After nearly two decades, Indigenous Peoples win an agreement for the largest dam removal in the world. Four of the six dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon will be taken down, allowing the water to flow freely again and the salmon to spawn. This is a powerful story of how four tribes put aside their past conflicts to work together and environmental groups participated in an indigenous-led campaign that took on two of the wealthiest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. And this is an example of why, if we want to succeed in restoring our relationship with the earth, Indigenous Peoples must be at the forefront.”

Health Care

The other day I speculated that a fan would be useful at Thanksgiving to keep the air moving, diluting the virus (if present). Someone agrees:

“Oxford/AZ Vaccine Efficacy Data” [Derek Lowe, “In The Pipeline,” Science]. “Overall, I would have to think that Oxford and AZ are disappointed with the results from the two-full-dose regime and will be actively trying to track down the reason for the better performance in the the half/full dosing, which one would expect to be the way the vaccine is eventually used. How many of the other trials that are being run are using that protocol, one wonders? This could still be an effective weapon in the pandemic, but the stories are starting to differentiate. Pfizer (very effective, tough distribution and storage), Moderna (very effective, easier distribution/storage than Pfizer, but perhaps stronger safety reactions), and now Oxford/AZ (widely varying efficacy depending on dosing, easier distribution/storage, safety details TBD). The next vaccine effort to report efficacy will be J&J, another adenovirus vector, and this time with a one-shot dose. The landscape is starting to fill in a bit!” • Lowe is always worth a read; this post also includes a clear explanation of the mRNA “platforms.” And speaking of Oxford/AZ–

“The AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine Data Isn’t Up to Snuff” [Hilda Bastian, Wired]. This is quite the takedown: “The problems start with the fact that Monday’s announcement did not present results from a single, large-scale, Phase 3 clinical trial, as was the case for earlier bulletins about the BNT-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Instead, Oxford-AstraZeneca’s data came out of two separate studies: one in the UK that began in May, and another in Brazil, which got started at the end of June. These two studies were substantially different from one another: They didn’t have standardized dosing schemes across the trials, for one thing, nor did they provide the same “control” injections to volunteers who were not getting the experimental Covid vaccine. The fact that they may have had to combine data from two trials in order to get a strong enough result raises the first red flag…. Consider that leading vaccine makers—including AstraZeneca—issued a scientific-rigor-and-integrity pledge back in September, in which they promised to submit their products for approval or emergency use authorization only “after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.” Note the wording here: These companies did not suggest that they might claim to have demonstrated efficacy through multiple, distinct clinical studies, combined together to get enough data. They said they would use a Phase 3 study—as in, one big one.” • Yikes. There’s more, much more.

“Health care is going digital and that could make it ‘almost free,’ says tech investor Tim Draper” [CNBC]. “Draper said artificial intelligence and data will help to create a ‘really good AI doctor’ and design drugs that are unique to the person who is taking it. He pointed to CloudMedx, a health tech company that Draper Associates invested in, which uses medical data to ‘do a better job of diagnosing your disease than the average doctor.’ The firm announced last year that its clinical AI assistant outperformed human doctors on a modified version of the United States Medical Licensing Exam in 2019.” • Classic. VC optimizes AI for a written examination and thinks that’s the same as a medical examination.

Our Famously Free Press

“Meet the Censored: Andre Damon” (interview) [Matt Taibbi, TK]. Damon: “In August 2017, the WSWS sent Google executives an open letter demanding ‘that the anti-democratic changes to the Google search result rankings and its search algorithm since April be reversed.’ In January 2018, we called for the formation of an “international coalition to fight Internet censorship.’ In response to our letters, Google flatly denied it was carrying out political censorship. But this makes its admission this month that it is censoring the WSWS so significant. When Senator Mike Lee asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai, ‘Can you name for me one high profile person or entity from a liberal ideology who you have censored,’ Pichai replied that ‘We have had compliance issues with the World Socialist Review [sic], which is a left-leaning publication.’ This was a confirmation of every claim made by the WSWS in its campaign against internet censorship.” Oh, and naturally: “The actions by Google were the outcome of a campaign, largely bipartisan but led by the Democrats and their affiliated news outlets, to claim that domestic social opposition was the product of interference by foreign countries, particularly Russia.” • The Democrats were viciously McCarthyite when they didn’t control the Presidency, so it will be interesting to see what Biden does…

“Penguin Random House Staff Confront Publisher About New Jordan Peterson Book” [Vice]. “During a tense town hall, staff cried and expressed dismay with the publishing giant’s decision to publish ‘Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.’” • Dear Lord. If the staff wants to control what’s published, then they should form their own publishing house, ideally a co-op. Meanwhile, I’m sure none of them ever edited a book they found distasteful, say one by a war criminal (Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, or Obama’s Promised Land). Weeping staff!

The 420

“In Heavyweight Move for Cannabis, Weedmaps Sponsors Mike Tyson’s Return to the Ring” [AdWeek]. “In one of its most significant marketing moves to date, Weedmaps is sponsoring former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson’s return to the ring on Saturday, breaking ground for the cannabis industry in the high-stakes world of pro-level sports…. For Weedmaps, the partnership means more than putting its logo on the mat. The brand has created an original piece of content, narrated by Nas and celebrating cannabis pioneers, that will air during the event.” • I would have thought most cannabis pioneers are anonymous and still in jail. Perhaps not.

Games

“Head Of Xbox Calls Out Toxic, Console War ‘Tribalism’” [Kotaku]. “Xbox boss Phil Spencer said in a new interview that if there was anything that could make him quit the video game industry altogether, it would be the ongoing toxic fandom around consoles….” • Is this new or different? “Mac vs. PC” was quite a thing, back in the day…

Class Warfare

“DoorDash to pay $2.5 million for allegedly misusing worker tips” [CBS]. “DoorDash will pay $2.5 million to resolve allegations that it misled consumers in the District of Columbia and misused tips intended for workers. A lawsuit filed against DoorDash by Karl Racine, attorney general for the District, last year alleged that between 2017 and 2019 the company let consumers believe their tips were for workers, when in fact DoorDash was using part of that compensation to fund their operations. DoorDash will pay $1.5 million in relief to delivery workers, $750,000 to the District of Columbia and $250,000 to two local charities. The company also will be required to maintain a system that ensures tips go to workers without lowering their base pay, Racine’s office said in a news release.”

“University of the Arts faculty in Philadelphia have voted to unionize” [Inquirer]. “Faculty members at the University of the Arts, who are mostly adjuncts without access to health-care benefits or job security, have voted to unionize with United Academics of Philadelphia (UAP). The vote was 255-2. About 350 instructors were eligible to vote in the election, conducted by mail and administered by the National Labor Relations Board, UAP said. The size of the bargaining unit is still to be determined between the union and the school.”

“The Winner of The Federalist’s NLRB Saga? Public Rights.” [Labor Law Lite]. “Late Monday night, the National Labor Relations Board released a one-page decision holding that publisher Ben Domenech of The Federalist, a far-right web magazine, unlawfully interfered with his employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act by tweeting, in response to reported strike activity by employees of another online publication, “first one of you tries to unionize I swear I’ll send you back to the salt mine”. Two Trump appointees contributed to the unanimous ruling.” • Good!

“NewsGuild Staff Shakeup as Questions Linger about Violent Intimidation, Racism & Sexual Misconduct” [Payday Report]. “On Thursday, Payday Report confirmed that NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss dismissed the long-time NewsGuild staff director, Tim Schick, from his role as the administrative director of the NewsGuild… Schleuss’s refusal to speak publicly is part of a troubling pattern, one where he refuses to speak about everything from the cover-up of sexual misconduct within his union to the refusal of his union to join their rival union in calling for the expulsion of police unions from the AFL-CIO… Schleuss even kept silent after NewsGuild officer, Zach Tanner, elbowed and punched me in my ribs on tape while I tried to ask him about a sexual misconduct cover-up in our union at a NewsGuild rally at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year on September 25. While Schleuss knew that he was being recorded on camera, he watched as Tanner repeatedly punched and hit me. He did nothing to stop the attack. Later, Tanner and a group of three other men including one wearing a CWA union shirt surrounded me, shoved me into one another, and threatened to beat me up on tape if I attempted to approach Schleuss again to ask him more questions about sexual misconduct. Schleuss simply watched the assault and physical threats as I attempted to do my job as a reporter.” • “Questions linger….”

News of the Wired

The power of the Almighty Signifier:

Very on-brand for 2020 so far:

(The diver does make it back up!)

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (ChiGal):

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ChiGal writes: “On a recent walk I saw this rather stumpy sylvan spirit with a lovely white lacy cloak drawn about her: a beauty again as in youth. Would that we could all achieve this!” As a sort-of animist, I am quite taken with the idea of spirits that live in trees.

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