2:00PM Water Cooler 12/23/2021

2:00PM Water Cooler 12/23/2021 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, I will be running open threads from tomorrow (Christmas Eve) to the first business day of the New Year, January 23. I’ll still run Bird Song of the Day, the plant, a Covid chart (probably US cases), and possibly a conversation started or too. If my brain were a Corsi box, I would definitely need to change the grey and gunked-up filters that processing the zeitgeist has given me. I need a breather.

I also plan to do a little refocusing on structure. In production, I always do the Politics section last, exactly because it’s my favorite, but that means in practice I give it short shrift. So I plan to beef that up, and triage some other stuff. This is important because I expect 2022 to be a doozy. If you have comments on refocusing you can mail me at the address given in contact information near the plant. Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Io, Saturnalia, etc. –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

Another migratory bird. From the Media Notes: “Flight calls from 10 pairs, engaging in chasing behavior and feet-clutching/spiralling; some nests were noted in the southern field.” From Behaviors: “Courtship, Display, or Copulation, Flight Song, Flying.” Very Lurtsema-like!

* * *


Vaccination by region:

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Either exhortations aren’t working, or there are data problems. Or both.

61.7% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, such as it is, as of December 22. The stately 0.1% rise per day returns. We have broken the important 61% psychological barrier! Mediocre by world standards, being just below Hungary, and just above Turkey in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday).

Case count by United States regions:

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Hearing toward vertical. I have added an anti-triumphalist “Fauci Line.” I wrote: “As happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for no other reason.” Here we are.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). Here is the current version of the chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the case data discussed above:

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Case data (black dotted line) has been within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but has stayed within aggregated predictions (the grey area).

I wrote: “It’s too early to say ‘Dammit, CDC, your models were broken’; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. The case data still looks like it’s trying to break out of the grey area. We shall see.” The case data has now broken out of the grey area (see at “Oopsie!”). Since the models are aggregated conventional wisdom, it’s not fair to call them propaganda, exactly. Nevertheless. conventional wisdom is looking a little shaky, and anybody who relied on them to predict that we would be “back to normal” by early next year should be taking another look at their assumptions. And this is — I assume — before Omicron!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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I wrote: “We’ll see if gets choppy again, or not.” Yes, we’ve got some choppiness (!).

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

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Ventura and Los Angeles now red. Boston to New York bad. More flecks of red in the South. Maine better Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

The previous release:

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Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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This is the part of the tsunami where the water moves far away from the beach. I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 833,029 830,990. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s. NOT UPDATED:

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):

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Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

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Gauteng goes to the beach or up-country; the UK goes to the pub. This is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.


“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

Biden Administration

“Sanders and the Squad Knew Manchin Couldn’t Be Trusted” [John Nichols, The Nation]. “Manchin couldn’t be trusted. The right strategy was to build a grassroots movement in West Virginia to pressure him to do the right thing, as the Rev. William Barber II and the Poor People’s Campaign proposed. Barber—like Sanders and the Squad—recognized, even if top Democrats did not, that it was going to take more than backroom negotiations to move Manchin.” • Really? First, who would build the movement? The NGOs, so it’s doomed. Second, any such movement needs to be organic to West Virginia. Third, the timetable is off. The legislative calendar is slow, but building a movement is even slower.

“The Democrats Are Trying To Lose” [David Sirota, The Daily Poster]. “On the one hand, we see congressional Democrats casting themselves as the heroes of a West Wing episode, rightly screaming about all the web of connections between the January 6th rioters, right-wing news outlets, and top Trump officials, who appear to have been entertaining plans for an actual coup. On the other hand, we see Democrats fully leaning into a likely 2022 disaster. They are going far beyond merely refusing to give Americans an affirmative reason to vote for them; in sabotaging their own purported agenda, they seem to be deliberately trying to lose to the very fascists they claim to oppose, going out of their way to insult and harm as many voters as possible before their likely collapse.” • It’s hard to think of a historical parallel for this level of idiocy.

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, 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 that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.

And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…

A second example of the PMC’s inability to govern comes under the rubric of “our democracy.” Of the various components of the Democrat party, NGOs, miscellaneous mercenaries, assets in the press, and the intelligence community all believe — or at least repeat vociferously — that “our democracy” is under threat, whether from election integrity issues, or from fascism. But other components — funders, vendors, apparatchiks, and electeds — don’t believe this at all. On election integrity, HR 1 has not passed. Gerrymandering continues apace (also a sign that Republicans take their politics much more seriously than Democrats do). On fascism, I suppose we have Pelosi’s January 6 Commission. But nothing unlawful took place, or we would have Merrick Garland’s January Investigation. The combination of hysterical yammering from some Democrats and blithe indifference from others is extremely unsettling. (This leaves aside the question of whether Democrats, as a party, have the standing to whinge about either the erosion of democracy or the imminence of fascism. I say no.) Of course, there is a solution to the problems with “our democracy”:

It is said, I believe by Thomas Frank, that the Democrats are the Party of Betrayal. Certainly the “Build Back Better” debacle provides many examples of combinatorial betrayal. Manchin betrayed Biden (by lying to Biden at his house). Biden betrayed everybody (by believing, I am persuaded, and acting as if he had Manchin’s vote in his pocket*). Schumer betrayed everybody (by keeping Manchin’s written request a secret). Pelosi betrayed Jayapal (by splitting BIF and BBB into two bills and by relying on Republican votes). The Democrat leadership betrayed the Progressive Caucus (by explicitly and verbally making the face-to-face promise that BBB would be passed, and then not delivering). And, though this is harsh, Sanders betrayed his voters with his 2020 turn toward electoralism (by personally liking Biden, and relying on his deal-making ability, now shown to be a sham). I don’t think the Squad betrayed anybody, unless you regard participating in the process as a betrayal, so there’s that. NOTE * I believe Biden’s top line was Manchin’s from the beginning, and nowhere near Sanders’.

* * *

“Let’s Go Manchin” [Eoin Higgins, The Flashpoint]. “Democrats could deal with this problem by enforcing party discipline, but they appear unwilling to use their power. It’s past time they start fighting back.” • The notion of “party discipline” is alien to theDemocrat Party institutionally; see above. It’s comprised of “funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.” You don’t “discipline” a structure like that; “herding cats” is indeed an appropriate metaphor. The Democrat Party hive mind* may in fact come to a collective decision — as it did when declaring a state of exception during RussiaGate — but that’s not at all the same thing as party discipline as a whip among the electeds might conceive it (and not even then, really; look at Sinema). Recall that the Democrat Party is not a membership organization; you can’t pay yearly dues of twenty bucks and get a party card, as you could with the Labour Party in the UK. There, it’s theoretically possible to enforce party discipline by revoking membership. But not in the United States. Higgins’ article is an enormous category error. NOTE * “Hive mind” is a sloppy concept that I should replace.

Who doesn’t love a cop?

Republican Funhouse

“McConnell to Manchin: We’d Love to Have You, Joe” [New York Times]. • Worth a shot!

“Virginia Governor-Elect Taps Former MUFG Americas CEO as Finance Chief” [Bloomberg]. “Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin named Stephen Cummings a former president and CEO of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in the Americas as the state’s secretary of finance. In February, Cummings announced that he was retiring from the company. MUFG has the biggest overseas operations among Japanese banks, with offices and subsidiaries in more than 50 countries. Cummings oversaw the bank’s sprawling businesses in the Americas, including MUFG Union Bank and MUFG Securities Americas. ‘Lowering taxes and restoring fiscal responsibility in Richmond is a primary focus of our Day One Game Plan, and Steve’s experience and expertise will help make sure we deliver real results for Virginians, ‘Youngkin said in an emailed statement Wednesday.” • Presidential timber?

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I think if Youngkin were really Presidential material — as opposed to heavyweights like Abbott or DeSantis or Romney — the photographer would have managed to get a halo effect round Youngkin’s head (or Youngkin’s staff would have carefully created the opportunity).

“Former MUFG Americas head tapped as next Va. finance sec [Virginia Business]. “Cummings has a long resume in the area of investment banking, having also served as managing director and chairman of UBS’ American investment banking branch, Wachovia Corp.’s global head of corporate and investment banking, and chairman and CEO of Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co. A graduate of Columbia Business School and Maine’s Colby College, Cummings was the first non-Japanese CEO for Mitsubishi’s American market upon his hiring in 2015, and he oversaw the U.S. businesses held by the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, as well as serving as a member of MUFG Union Bank’s board of directors. He has been based in New York.”

Trump Legacy


This doesn’t look good. On the other hand, as the cases chart shows, the Biden administration has done a pretty good job on “Let ‘er rip,” albeit with a different set of people in charge. So I fail to get all huffy and excited. Am I jaded?

NSFW! “Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump” [Philosopher’s Magazine]. From 2016, still germane. “James begins the work by recapping the definition of the asshole he developed in his first book. On this view, the asshole has three essential features: First, he – James notes that assholes are mostly men – “allows himself special advantages in social relationships in a systematic way”; second, he is “motivated by an entrenched (and mistaken) sense of entitlement”; and third, he is “immunized against the complaints of other people”. Although James presents these as three separate yet equal features of the asshole, the entrenched sense of entitlement seems to be the causal mechanism behind the asshole’s systematic privileging of himself as well as his immunity to the criticisms of others. So understood, an asshole might simply be someone with an entrenched sense of entitlement. Although there are good reasons for thinking that Trump is an asshole so defined, two aspects of James’ analysis seem to conflict with this generally agreed upon premise. First, despite the common term “ass”, ass-clowns and assholes appear to be distinct and mutually exclusive types. Whereas the asshole’s immunity to criticism implies that he has little concern for the opinion of others, the ass-clown seeks the affection of others and so seems to lack the asshole’s innate sense that he is something special. Second, James eventually backpedals on his promise – implicit in the title – to offer “a theory of Donald Trump”. Because Trump is so many things – showman, bullshitter, racist, sexist, civically oblivious, authoritarian, demagogue – James concludes that there is no “real” Trump. But if there is no “real” Trump, Trump cannot really be an asshole. In contrast, the various aspects of Trump’s person that James identifies seem to be explained by a single fact: he really is an asshole!”

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits remained unchanged from last week’s upwardly revised level at 205 thousand in the week that ended December 18th, in line with market expectations and remaining below pre-pandemic levels.”

Personal Income: “United States Personal Income” [Trading Economics]. “Personal income in the United States increased 0.4 percent from a month earlier in November 2021, following a 0.5 percent growth in October and matching market expectations as most companies increased wages to attract and keep workers and in spite of waning federal stimulus. Wages and salaries rose 0.5 percent, slowing from a 0.8 percent gain in October while personal income receipts on assets grew 0.3 percent also slowing from 0.8 percent a month earlier.”

Personal Consumption: “United States Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index” [Trading Economics]. “The personal consumption expenditure price index in the US increased 5.7 percent from a year earlier in November, the most in 39 years, reflecting increases in both goods and services. Energy prices were up 34 percent while food prices increased 5.6 percent. Excluding food and energy, the index was up 4.7 percent.”

Consumer Sentiment: “United States Michigan Consumer Sentiment” [Trading Economics]. “The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment for the US rose to 70.6 in December of 2021, from 67.4 last month and above preliminary estimates of 70.4 points.”

Durable Goods: “United States Durable Goods Orders” [Trading Economics]. “New orders for US manufactured durable goods rose 2.5 percent month-over-month in November of 2021, extending gains from a revised 0.1 percent increase in October and compared to market expectations of a 1.6 percent increase.”

* * *

Manufacturing: “U.S. FAA backs inspections, strengthening key part for Boeing 777-200 engines” [Reuters]. “The FAA issued three proposed airworthiness directives, a move that will allow Boeing 777-200 airplanes equipped with PW4000 engines to return to service as soon as early 2022. A fan blade failure prompted an engine to fail on a United Airlines (UAL.O) 777-200 bound for Honolulu after takeoff from Denver on Feb. 20. The incident showered debris over nearby cities, but no one was injured and the plane safely returned to the airport. The FAA said it was calling for strengthening engine cowlings, enhanced engine fan-blade inspection and inspection of other systems and components. The directives will require corrective action based on inspection results.” •

The Bezzle: “The Purdue Bankruptcy Didn’t Work” [Bloomberg]. “The value of Purdue/Knoa is perhaps a couple of billion dollars, several orders of magnitude less than the claims against it. As a general matter, this is sometimes a thing that happens: Sometimes there is a company, and it makes a product, and people like the product and buy it and it generates profits, and then the product turns out to do some huge harm, and the harm is many times greater than the profits, and someone else bears the loss. The company’s existence was a net negative: It generated some good and much more bad, and handing the good parts of the company over to the victims of the bad stuff cannot come close to compensating them. But there is also a more specific problem here, which is that the Sackler family extracted many billions of dollars of profits from Purdue over the years in the form of dividends, and if they hand over Purdue to its creditors (1) the creditors will not get very much out of it but (2) the Sacklers will remain very rich.” • So what’s the issue?

The Bezzle: “NHTSA probing Tesla after reports that drivers can play video games in motion” [ABC]. “U.S. traffic safety regulators have launched a formal probe into certain Tesla vehicles after reports emerged that drivers can play video games on the car’s touchscreen while in motion. A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed to ABC News on Wednesday that the agency has opened a preliminary evaluation into certain Tesla vehicles, including the Model 3, S, X and Y, that were produced between 2017 and 2022. The investigation seeks to ‘evaluate the driver distraction potential of Tesla ‘Passenger Play,” the spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.” • Tesla’s just incorrigible.

Tech: “Tasty TV: Japanese professor creates flavourful screen” [Reuters]. • No.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 42 Fear (previous close: 35 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 31 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 23 at 12:45pm.

The Biosphere

“Could crushed rocks absorb enough carbon to curb global warming?” [National Geographic]. “The goal of ocean alkalinity enhancement is to accelerate the carbon-absorbing weathering of rock, which naturally occurs as rainfall washes over land into waterways and eventually the ocean. Similar action happens through the gradual erosion of coastlines through wave action. ‘It’s continuously happening,’ says Ulf Riebesell, a marine biologist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, who is leading the EU-funded team of 35 researchers. ‘The rock reacts with water, and during that reaction takes up CO2 from the atmosphere. The question is, can we significantly speed up that natural process? That’s what we’re simulating.’ ‘It’s a voyage into the unknown,’ says Riebesell. ‘There’s so much we don’t yet know. But what’s certain is that alkalinity enhancement has enormous potential. And we need to test it now, because we’re running out of time to save the planet.’”

“Seaweed discovery could help slow methane emissions” [Al Mayadeen]. “A Canadian farmer by the name of Joe Dorgan, who produces and distributes seaweed, stumbled upon a fresh discovery that may help reduce the impact of methane on global warming around the world. The seaweeds he harvested were previously used for livestock feed and as a fertilizer. According to CBS, Dorgan sent samples to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia to test for organic certification. Through that, it was discovered that the high uptake of natural vitamins and minerals in seaweed drove up reproduction and milk production in cows. Dorgan then knew that seaweed would be healthy for cows, but research revealed an unintended consequence: seaweed made cows less gassy.”

“Beaver Dams Mean No Love Lost for Canada’s Emblematic Animal” [New York Times]. “Some communities in Alberta offer bounties on beavers’ tails. A mayor in Quebec has called for them to be “eradicated.” Fingers of blame frequently point their way, rightly or wrongly, for highway washouts, including some with fatal consequences. Farmers look on with despair as their land vanishes beneath a beaver pond. For the second time in the past 15 years, Colleen Watson watched this summer as beavers flooded a 100-acre woodlot in the Atlantic province of New Brunswick that her grandfather, a blacksmith, took as payment from a customer during the Great Depression. ‘I love to see the nature, right? You can watch it do its thing,’ Mrs. Watson said in a tone more of exasperation than anger with the animal. ‘The hate is what it’s done to my property.’” • I think we should give priority to the beavers and compensate humans as needed.

“Species richness stabilizes productivity via asynchrony and drought-tolerance diversity in a large-scale tree biodiversity experiment” [Science]. “Tree species richness improved community stability by increasing asynchrony. That is, at higher species richness, interannual variation in productivity among tree species buffered the community against stress-related productivity declines. This effect was positively related to variation in stomatal control and resistance-acquisition strategies among species, but not to the community-weighted means of these trait syndromes. The identified mechanisms by which tree species richness stabilizes forest productivity emphasize the importance of diverse, mixed-species forests to adapt to climate change.”

“Two Red Hill spills could be linked with one much larger than reported” [Hawaii News]. “‘The fuel should not sit on top of our aquifer while the Navy tries to figure out what is going wrong and what it can do to fix it,’ said Wade Hargrove, Deputy Attorney General.” • Wowsers, good thinking, US Navy.

Health Care

“US population growth at lowest rate in pandemic’s 1st year” [Associated Press]. • Good job!

“Beneath a Covid Vaccine Debacle, 30 Years of Government Culpability” [New York Times]. • Until…. Operation Warp Speed.


The 420


Class Warfare

“State efforts to curb porch theft has another potential victim: delivery workers” [Fast Company]. “Through interviews with 17 delivery drivers on various delivery platforms including Amazon Flex, Uber Eats, Instacart, Shipt, and DoorDash as part of a project on worker surveillance, we found that fear of being blamed for stolen or lost packages is universal. Drivers believe that, if a customer accuses them of stealing, the company will take the customer’s word over their own. As one Amazon Flex driver told us, ‘No matter what, it’s the driver’s fault. That’s Amazon’s philosophy, it’s the driver’s fault [and] the driver will get in trouble for it.’ This concern is not unfounded as retail companies have long treated employees with almost presumptive suspicion of theft, to the extent that they maintain a database of workers who have been suspected (but not convicted) of theft. This database is a permanent record that follows workers and can lock them out of future employment.” • Has anyone ever seen a good study on “porch theft”? Or is it just a marketing ploy for Amazon Ring?

“No, Large-Scale Societies Don’t Need Massive Inequalities” (interview) [Jacobin]. On The Dawn of Everything by the late David Graeber and David Wengrow. Wengrow: “There was an important paper published last year in the Journal of Human Evolution that went back and looked at the demographic realities of modern hunter-gatherer societies in Australia, Africa, and elsewhere. It found that their families were a bit like our families, where your blood relatives are often people you cannot get along with at all. And you’ll go to extraordinary lengths to move away and distance yourself from them. Their families were a bit like our families, where your blood relatives are often people you cannot get along with at all. [Merry Xmas!] But hunter-gatherers had sophisticated ways of doing this. They set up hospitality systems spanning continents so that, far from living in small-scale societies, they had a social world where you could potentially interact with many thousands of people. In reality, you wouldn’t do that. But those relationships existed in the same way that you’ll never meet most Americans but all of you still call yourselves American. They’re what Ben Anderson termed ‘imaginary communities.’” • One more goddamned book to read…

News of the Wired

Mr. Hi Hat:

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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. Today’s plant (SC):

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SC writes:

The attached photo is a shipment of six young Camellia sinesis — Tea — that arrived yesterday from a nursery called ‘Camellia Forest. The plants are not fully unpacked in this photo, which shows the careful attention of the shipper. I am impressed with the good condition of the plants in spite of the primitive and inexpensive means employed to protect them in transit.

The variety, ‘Korea’, is claimed to tolerate Winter outdoors to Zone 7a. In colder climes, there are some limitations on where they can be planted with respect to local shade; apparently morning sun exposure is not good for them.

I tried to grow tea at home about 20 years ago and all the plants were eaten by grazers, probably rabbits. My thumbs have changed from a deep brown to a pale green hue over that interval and I’m trying again this year. Containers on benches may preserve these plants until they are large and tough enough to survive the rabbits.

My original thought back then was that I could simply, at need, take mature leaves from the shrubs and brew up hot tea, a neat form of edible landscaping. I’m less ignorant these days and I’ve learned that ‘that’s not how tea works.’ One is supposed to harvest from new growth and then process the leaves for storage. That sounds like a bit of a headache, but the plants are still neat landscape features and if I am still here when they are large enough for harvest, a few years from now, we’ll see whether my enthusiasm has waned. And if tea brewed from fresh mature leaves is not too harsh or otherwise undesirable, I may revert to the original low-effort harvest concept.

A wonderful project!

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