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2:00PM Water Cooler 12/4/2020

Breaking News

2:00PM Water Cooler 12/4/2020


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

The background noise is a (mountain?) stream. 5:30AM, yikes!


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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Returning to the upward trend.

I thought I’d look at some big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California) instead of the Midwest:

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I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching, but it’s interesting that the big states all moving more-or-less in tandem now; perhaps spread was nationalized with colleges and universities opening and closing? The correlation seems to happen around 63 days ago (October 1).

Test positivity by region:

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The post-Thanksgiving data has now resumed its upward trend at the same slope as before.

Nowhere near 3%, though.

Hospitalization by region:

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The post-Thanksgiving data has now resumed its upward trend at the same slope as before. (We should also take into account that hospitalization is also discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity.)

Case fatality rate by region:

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The post-Thanksgiving data has now resumed its upward trend at the same slope as before. Deaths (purple line) dropping starting on Thanksgiving Day sure looks like a reporting issue to me. And the consistent behavior of all the series but cases give some confidence that our data collection is reasonably responsive and reliable; if wrong, at least not randomly wrong….


“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

2020 Democrats in Disarray

“The Beltway Left Is Normalizing Corruption And Corporatism” [David Sirota, The Daily Poster]. “Pretending Tanden’s nomination is laudable because at least she’s not Reed is like pretending Darth Vader is a decent administrator because hey, at least he’s not Emperor Palpatine…. None of this to argue that Kerry, Deese, Tanden or any of Biden’s other nominees so far are anomalously bad — they are standard-issue functionaries whose distinguishing quality is that they have no distinguishing qualities other than their affiliation with the Washington bog. But at a moment of ecological and economic cataclysm, run-of-the-mill swamp creatures should at least be cast as controversial by what passes for a left in America — in the name of at least trying to create a countervailing force that presses the government for something more than run-of-the-mill swampiness. Liberal groups, pundits and politicians are doing the opposite. They are normalizing these swamp creatures, signaling that in the face of disaster, even the left believes it is absolutely fine for nothing to fundamentally change.”


Transition from Trump

“How Dozens of Trump’s Political Appointees Will Stay in Government After Biden Takes Over” [ProPublica]. “32 political appointees whom the administration has sought to hire into civil service positions in the first three quarters of this year, a phenomenon known as “burrowing” that occurs at the end of every administration. Congress requires the Office of Personnel Management to provide summaries of such requests, since career jobs hold over from one administration to the next and generally have more protections against partisan attempts at removal. Burrowing has a history that traces back to civil service reforms of the late 1880s, when Congress passed a law to try to ensure that jobs were awarded on merit rather than patronage. The number of hires sought under Trump is so far roughly similar to the tally of other recent administrations.” • Oh.


Realignment and Legitimacy

“The China Challenge Can Help America Avert Decline” [Foreign Affairs]. “For the United States, decline is less a condition than a choice. The downward path runs through the country’s polarized political system, with an incoming Democratic president facing a deadlocked or narrowly Republican Senate. The path away from decline, meanwhile, may run through a rare area susceptible to bipartisan consensus: the need for the United States to rise to the China challenge…. American anxieties about decline have a rich history, punctuating even the supposedly sunny American Century with interludes of deep self-doubt…. The United States is now in its fifth wave of declinism—one that began with the global financial crisis in 2008 and accelerated through Trump’s norm-breaking presidency. American decline is ‘out in the open,’ observes Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith, arguing that absent domestic reform, ‘the U.S. will resemble a developing nation in a few decades.’ The United States could devolve into a ‘deindustrialized, English-speaking version of a Latin American republic,’ warns Professor Michael Lind of the University of Texas at Austin, with an economy based in ‘commodities, real estate, tourism, and perhaps transnational tax evasion,’ as China absconds with the country’s high-tech industries and curtails the United States’ global leadership….They may also underestimate the power of the United States’ appeal. American openness attracts the allies that sustain the global liberal order, the immigrants who fuel American growth, and the capital that sustains dollar dominance. U.S. soft power flows from the country’s open society and civic creed, not from the state.” • “[R]esemble a developing nation in a few decades“? What part of “uniquitous homeless encampments” do these national security himbos not understand?

Party of the working class:

As I keep saying, it’s going to be a neat trick for Republicans to appeal to the working class without actually empowering them (and they’ll also have to dump the racism, because otherwise the math is very hard to make work).

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: “November 2020 BLS Jobs Situation – Employment Grew 245,000 But Still Down 7,847,000 Year-to-Date” [Econintersect]. “The headline seasonally adjusted BLS job growth continues to show decent job gains but was only half of expectations, with the unemployment rate improving from 6.9% to 6.7%….” • And:

Services: “November 2020 ISM and Markit Services Surveys Remain Modestly In Expansion” [Econintersect]. “The ISM services survey is and the Markit Services index show modest growth. I have a hard time believing services are in expansion with many restaurants, bars, and gyms running nowhere near full potential.”

Rail: “Rail Week Ending 28 November 2020 – November Up 3.1% Year-over-Year” [Econintersect]. “Week 48 of 2020 shows same week total rail traffic (from the same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Total rail traffic has been mostly in contraction for over one year – and now is slowly recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Trade: “October 2020 Trade Data Continues To Show Modest Recovery” [Econintersect]. “Trade data headlines show the trade balance modestly worsened with both imports and exports increasing…. The data in this series wobbles and the 3-month rolling averages are the best way to look at this series. The 3-month average rate of growth improved for imports and exports – but remains in contraction.”

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Retail: “Wienerschnitzel Finds the Consumer Shift to Its Liking” [Restaurant Business]. “Wienerschnitzel was made for a moment like this. When the pandemic led to broad shutdowns of dine-in service back in March, the Irvine, Calif.-based chain saw its sales drop, just like everyone else. That lasted a week. ‘We’ve been up every week since,’ CEO Cindy Culpepper said in an interview. Same-store sales at the 340-unit chain are up 22% on average since then. The reason, Culpepper said, is fairly simple: Drive-thrus and hot dogs. Both of them have been in demand during the pandemic, which has fueled the company’s sales. Drive-thrus have been a pandemic hero for both consumers and restaurants, playing right into Wienerschnitzel’s strength as a largely drive-thru concept.”

Shipping: I had always thought the Port of Los Angeles was, well, big:

Tech: “Hacker Lexicon: What Is the Signal Encryption Protocol?” [Wired]. “So why have the tech giants of the world all chosen Signal as their go-to crypto protocol? Its standout feature, says Johns Hopkins computer science professor and cryptographer Matthew Green, is how it implements what’s known as ‘perfect forward secrecy.’… “Every time you send a message, your key is updated,” Green says. ‘That means if your phone gets stolen at time X, any message you send before time X should still be safe.’ That assurance is lacking, Green notes, in Apple’s iMessage, another popular messaging app that uses end-to-end encryption but doesn’t offer perfect forward secrecy.” • 

Concentration: “Comcast’s New Data Fees Follow $1 Billion In Public Subsidies” [David Sirota and Julia Rock, The Daily Poster]. Because of course they do: “At issue is Comcast’s move on Monday that caps home internet usage at 1.2TB of data per month for its customers in 12 additional states, and charging customers up to $100 per month if they exceed the cap. Comcast’s move was flagged by Stop The Cap, which discovered that the company had quietly updated language on its website. The new limits, which will take effect in March, are being imposed in states that have given Comcast and its subsidiaries more than $738 million in tax subsidies in the last few decades. Those states include New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, where state and local governments have given Comcast and its subsidiaries $484 million, $132 million, and $79 million in tax subsidies, respectively, according to data from Good Jobs First. In all, Comcast and its subsidiaries — which include NBC and MSNBC — have received nearly $1 billion in state and local subsidies. Additionally, Comcast received $861 million in federal tax subsidies during the first year of the Trump tax cuts, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 86 Extreme Greed (previous close: 85 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 91 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 4 at 12:22pm.

Health Care

“Whose turn is it anyway? Latency and the organization of turn-taking in video-mediated interaction” [Journal of Pragmatics]. The conclusion: “Immediacy is a taken for granted background assumption of communication. We have demonstrated in this paper that in video-mediated interaction, time and again latency disrupts the structural organization of the interaction. These problems also happen in face-to-face and other forms of synchronous, instantaneous interaction. Indeed, it is precisely because these problems are familiar, that they are not easily recognized as technological problems: there is no way for participants to distinguish between silence that indicates a withheld response, and silence that indicates a delayed response. All silences sound the same. That participants manage to overcome these problems at all is then a testament to the robustness of the turn-taking system. No matter how significant the impact of latency is on the interaction, participants manage to resume normal turn-taking at some point, even if it takes some effort and frustration.” • No doubt of interest to telemedicine practitioners.

The Biosphere

“Human sight can be traced back to a visual system that evolved in the brains of the very first primates on Earth 55 million years ago” [Daily Mail]. “In experiments using an optical brain scanner, geometrical shapes representing lines of various orientations were presented to lemurs and the activity of neurons imaged. The repetition of such measurements gradually allowed the researchers to determine the size of the brain unit processing form information….. Surprisingly, the basic processing unit was almost identical in size in the mouse lemur, as it was in larger primates. These included monkeys such as macaques weighing more than a stone, or even bigger primates — such as humans. Unit arrangement across the brain was also totally indistinguishable, following the same rules with mathematical precision. And the number of nerve cells were equal. Paper author Fred Wolf — of the Max Planck Institute in Gottingen, Germany — predicted universal mathematical principles would govern visual system evolution a decade ago, yet even he said he was amazed by the degree of invariance found.” • Fascinating article!


“In praise of Dungeons and Dragons” [Ryan Cooper, The Week]. “When it first came out, D&D was the subject of intense social stigma. It’s hard for modern audiences to really understand on a visceral level, but nerdy fantasy stuff like this was deeply uncool or even feared back in those days, mocked and shamed by the hegemonic culture. It was collateral damage in the 1980s Satanic panic — blamed for suicides or murders by irresponsible journalists caught up in a moralistic feeding frenzy. (A 1985 60 Minutes segment on the topic is hilariously unhinged.) Even in the 1990s and 2000s, it was still considered low-status compared to sports or even marching band. Since then, of course, nerd culture has completely conquered the globe…. But D&D, while a modest sales success as it has always been, is still a relative backwater compared to, say, The Avengers or Grand Theft Auto.” • Not only have I never played a video game, I missed Dungeons & Dragons by at least a decade. Is D&D meaningful to any readers?


“COVID-19: Office Christmas party ‘dead for now’ with staff opting for ‘cash instead’, survey finds” [Sky News]. • That’s a damn shame.

Guillotine Watch

“Angry billionaires make disturbing neighbours” [Financial Times]. “So there will continue to be entertainment value in the neighbourly fights of billionaires. Take someone who is used to winning at all costs, focus them on a domestic resentment and you get some very odd behaviour. [Financier Bill Gross], for example, was accused of spraying fart smells around his former marital home in a 2018 divorce battle. ‘I went to a drugstore and found smelly shit. I don’t know why I did that,’ he reflected to the FT. Well, search me. Suffice it to say that the qualities that create great fortunes can also make terrible neighbours.” • I didn’t know you could buy fart smells in a drugstore. What department? Is it over the counter? Or by prescription only?

“Ex-Tesla Factory Worker to Pay $400,000 Over Feud With Musk” [Bloomberg]. “A former Tesla Inc. employee who locked horns with Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has agreed to pay the company $400,000 for telling reporters about production delays at its Gigafactory in Nevada, according to a court filing. The payment is part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit Tesla filed in 2018 that accused Martin Tripp of illegally divulging trade secrets about the production of Tesla’s Model 3. As part of the accord, Tripp admitted to violating trade secret laws and confidentiality agreements. He also owes Tesla an additional $25,000 for previously revealing information about the company, despite being ordered to stop by a judge. Tripp was a process technician at Tesla’s Gigafactory from 2017 to 2018. While still at the company, he sent emails to reporters saying that it would be unable to reach Musk’s publicly stated goal of producing 5,000 Model 3s a week. Tesla fired Tripp when the company found out he was the source of the information. Subsequently, he and Musk publicly traded insults. Tripp countersued Musk for defamation, but the federal judge handling the case threw it out, ruling that the technician had failed to show that the CEO had acted with actual malice.” • Musk? Malice?

Class Warfare

Stoller asks a good question:

And I’m not sure Reed answers it–

“Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left” [Adolph Reed, Dialectical Anthropology]. “New Orleans provides a useful illustration of the limitations of contemporary antiracism as a politics. Antiracist political critique failed abysmally after Katrina to mobilize significant opposition to elimination of low-income public housing or to the ongoing destruction of public schools. That politics, which posits an abstract “black community” against an equally abstract “racism,” could not provide persuasive responses to the blend of underclass ideology that stigmatizes public housing as an incubator of a degraded population (Reed 2016a, b: 264–269). Nevertheless, race-reductionist argument continues to dominate the political imagination of those who would challenge structures of inequality…. Antiracist activism and scholarship proceed from the view that statistical disparities in the distribution by race of goods and bads in the society in which blacks appear worse off categorically (e.g., less wealth, higher rates of unemployment, greater incidence of hypertensive and cardiovascular disease) amount to evidence that “race” remains fundamentally determinative of black Americans’ lives. As Merlin Chowkwanyun and I argue, however, disparity is an outcome, not an explanation, and deducing cause simplistically from outcome (e.g., treating racially disparate outcomes as ipso facto evidence of racially invidious causation) seems sufficient only if one has already stacked the interpretive deck in favor of a particular causal account (Reed and Chowkwanyun 2012, 167–168). We also discuss a garbage in, garbage out effect in studies that rely on large-scale aggregate data analysis; gross categories like race may mask significant micro-level dynamics that could present more complex and nuanced understandings of causality. Put another way, if you go out looking for racial effects in data sets that are organized by race as gross categories, you will be likely to find them, but that will not necessarily lead to sound interpretations of the factors that actually produce the inequalities.”

“White Accountability Group” [Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity, University of North Texas (via)]. “The UNT White Accountability Group is an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that aims to create a more intentionally inclusive and equitable environment through our actions. To promote allyship, accompliceship, and anti-racism among white employees for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) at UNT, this group focuses on three main areas of work… ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse and inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. ERGs are a critical piece of an organization’s diversity and inclusion strategy. The University of North Texas, through the Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity, supports the work of ERGs in the development, support and retention of employees.” • Hmm. “Voluntary” groups that are at the same time strategically “critical” with respect to “employee retention.” I’m from the academic world; I know how academic politics works, and how to read this language. And from the About page: “Members of the White Accountability ERG will hold fellow white employees accountable for oppressive behaviors and the systems in which those behaviors are tolerated.” • “Never be too proud to be present!” –C.P. Snow, Corridors of Power

“State denies Holyoke’s bid for direct cash to struggling families” [Daily Hampshire Gazette]. “In Holyoke, city leaders were hopeful about a program they expected to launch to address those costs — using federal COVID-19 stimulus money for direct cash transfers to families with young children in the city’s public schools, who have had to adapt their home and professional lives to at-home learning. However, the state has declined to approve the program, citing a federal Treasury Department FAQ that says ‘a per capita payment to residents of a particular jurisdiction without an assessment of individual need’ is not eligible for funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. And with a Dec. 30 deadline approaching for municipalities to spend those federal dollars, Holyoke must now look to use the money elsewhere. ‘We’re trying to be as creative as possible and as helpful as possible to the people of Holyoke,’ Mayor Alex Morse said. ‘We thought this would be the most powerful way to help residents currently. Unfortunately, the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, and employees there, are not being supportive of moving this along.’ The Executive Office for Administration and Finance did not make Heath Fahle, the state’s special director for federal funds, available for an interview. In a letter to the city, Fahle wrote that the project was denied because the city did not establish an application process to verify the need of recipients and it did not tie assistance to a specific remedy for that need.” • (1) You will pry means-testing from the cold, dead hands of liberal Democrats, and (2) “Dear Alex Morse: [Family blog] you. Sincerely, the Massachusetts Democrat Party.”

“America Has Central Planners. We Just Call Them ‘Venture Capitalists.’” [Eric Levitz, New York Magazine]. “If you want to see a close-knit cabal of self-styled experts picking our economy’s winners and losers by subsidizing their favorite unprofitable firms, which then drive more efficient competitors out of business by selling products at a loss — all while substituting their judgement for the judgments of millions of investors, making decisions without proper vetting, embracing fads, spending promiscuously, ignoring warnings from impartial experts, and handing economic power to charismatic liars — don’t look to Washington, D.C., in the age of Obama, but to Silicon Valley in the age of Adam Neumann.” • Or Uber, as Hubert Horan has exhaustively shown.

“Trump administration sues Facebook over alleged favoritism for immigrant workers” [CNN]. • Party of the working class….

News of the Wired

Shot, chaser:

“Email Lessons from Napoleon Bonaparte” [The Sweet Setup]. From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Napoleon, or The Man of the World: “”He directed [his secretary] Bourrienne to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself and no longer required an answer.”

Basquiat art bot continues to deliver:

The “keep frozen” caption? Voice balloon? could be read as topical for the cold chain, but no, I just like the look of it.

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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 (KE):

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KE writes: “Trees in a neighbor’s yard here in NJ outside of NYC.”

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