2:00PM Water Cooler 2/15/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/15/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

In honor of the tool-using Cockatoo:

White Cockatoo, Julio Enrique Monaga, Bayamón, Puerto Rico. This cockatoo attempts to be melodious and then gives up the unequal struggle.

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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

“How the temperature of US politics came down” [Financial Times]. It did? Anyhow: “A few things are helping to turn an acute condition chronic. One is Biden himself. White, old, non-Ivy League and, with apologies to his hometown of Scranton, non-metropolitan, no Democratic president since Jimmy Carter has been so superficially digestible for conservatives. He also deals in the big-government populism that Donald Trump invoked in the abstract without enacting in law…. At 80, Biden can only be a fleeting balm. A more lasting one is China. The US has the unifying external rival now that it has missed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yes, Republicans fault Biden for taking his time to down a Chinese balloon over terra Americana. But such tactical bickering is pro forma. The point is that both parties face the same way on, bar climate change, the largest question of the century. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, is untribal when China is the subject. Partisanship feeds on low stakes. The Newt Gingrich congressional Republicans, the strident turn in cable news: it all started when the US had nothing exterior to detain it in the 1990s. So, we have a personal factor (Biden) and a structural one (China).”

“In Trump probe, US seeks to pierce attorney-client privilege” [Associated Press]. “The privilege protects lawyers from having to tell prosecutors about confidential conversations their clients have with them. But prosecutors can get around that privilege if they can convince a judge that the communications they want information about were made in furtherance of a crime — a principle known as the crime-fraud exception.” • What could go wrong?


“Who should lead? Democrats, Republicans struggle to decide” [Associated Press]. “While President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, are preparing for a possible rematch in 2024, a new poll finds a notable lack of enthusiasm within the parties for either man as his party’s leader and a clear opening for new standard-bearers. About a third of both Democrats and Republicans are unsure of who they want leading their party, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. No single Democrat captures significant support when asked who should be their party’s leader; instead, Democrats sprinkle their attention across more than a dozen politicians. Yet they also feel more hopeful than dejected about their party. Some Republicans, meanwhile, coalesce around a couple of individuals — Trump included. But a majority remain uncommitted to him despite his grip on the party, and Republicans have grown somewhat more pessimistic about the GOP’s future. The findings reflect a deep sense of uncertainty about the future of the nation’s political parties and the challenges both face in tethering their frayed — and perhaps disenchanted — coalitions.” • Good. Great!

“Five reasons DeSantis may not be another Jeb Bush” [The Hill]. • His charm of character? Not so bad, actually. This: “Unlike Bush, who had been out of public office for nearly a decade by the time he announced his 2016 presidential run, DeSantis still has the bully pulpit of the Florida governor’s mansion behind him — and he’s taking full advantage of it.”

CA: “California Sen. Feinstein says she won’t run for reelection” [Associated Press]. • Finally. Poor woman overstayed her welcome just a little.

NC: “NC Democratic Party ousts Richardson and shakes party leadership” [Local Today (TW)]. “Members of North Carolina’s Democratic Party ousted their chairman, first vice chairman and second vice chairman on Saturday, instead voting to select new candidates for the top four leadership positions. The overhaul comes three months after the party failed to win a single national race in the midterm elections. And two months after Meredith Cuomo, who had been the party’s executive director since 2019, announced her resignation. The party’s executive committee selected campaign organizer Anderson Clayton, 25, to succeed incumbent leader Bobbie Richardson, who was seeking a second term after his election in 2021. The victory of Clayton, chairman of Person County’s Democratic Party, is seen as a big surprise. Richardson, 73, ran for re-election with the support of the party’s top elected officials, including Governor Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein and US Rep. Wiley Nickel, among others. Nonetheless, Richardson became the first sitting party leader to lose a re-election bid in at least a decade.” • Good. Great!

NY: The balloon hadn’t popped yet:

Republican Funhouse

“Pence Asserts Novel Constitutional Claim to Avoid Testifying Before Grand Jury” [Jonathan Turley]. “Former Vice President Mike Pence is making a novel constitutional argument in opposing the recent grand jury subpoena for testimony from Special Counsel Jack Smith. He is claiming that, as President of the Senate, he falls under the protections of the “Speech and Debate Clause” like members of Congress. It is an unresolved question and he could ultimately prevail…. The challenge could force greater clarity on the bifurcated role of a vice president as a member of both branches. As President of the Senate, Pence does vote and engage in legislative business. That certainly included the deliberations on January 6th when some members were opposing certification — a move that Pence correctly opposed.” • Dick Cheney, in the good old days, actually thought he was a fourth branch of government, due to the same “bifurcated role.”

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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If the knobs are already at eleven in 2023, what will happen in 2024 [shudder]?

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This one seems to be targeting geeks…

Realignment and Legitimacy

“The Temptations of Carl Schmitt” [The Upheaval]. Fascinating article, well worth a read. This factoid caught me eye. “Under martial law, Bavaria proved a hotbed of political turmoil, with powerful local socialist and communist factions generating a constantly looming threat of civil disorder. Given his legal training, it was young Schmitt to whom the general staff, in 1915, gave the assignment of preemptively coming up with a legal justification for why the military executive should be granted an extension of exceptional powers even after the war was over (‘Me of all people! What else may providence have in store for me,’ he wondered in his diary at the time). By 1916 he had duly done as asked, delivering a lecture on the precedents for ‘dictatorship and the state of siege.’ In 1917 he was released from service and appointed as a civilian member of the military government, heading a unit surveilling socialists and other troublemakers.”


Looks like “leveling off to a high plateau” across the board. (I still think “Something Awful” is coming, however. I mean, besides what we already know about.) Stay safe out there!

Lambert here: Last Friday, I reconfigured Covid coverage (at least temporarily; we may need to adjust to another surge). I’ve always thought of this section as providing readers with not only trend data, but early warning about locations (to the county level) particularly in travel season. But now the data is simply too slow and too bad, unsurprisingly, since “Covid is over.” So I will revert to three charts only: national Case Data (Biobot), state Positivity (Walgreens), and national Deaths (Our World in Data). I also feel that the top of the #COVID19 section has not been sufficiently structured, and I’m going to create some buckets, like “Indoor Air,” or “Masks” (and “Variants,” if I encounter a good link). This reconfiguration is not a “step back,” as Dima would say; but I do think I can use the freed-up time to beef up other sections, like Politics and especially Stats. Reader comment welcome!

Resources (National): Transmission (CDC); Wastewater (CDC); Variants (CDC; Walgreens).

Resources (Local): NC (Dashboard).

Readers, since the national data systems are being vandalized, let’s start collecting links state data, too. If readers would send me links (see Plant below) to their favorite State and local dashboards/wastewater sites, that would be great. Or leave a link in Comments. Hat tip to JB for the NC dashboard.

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Look for the Helpers

“Covid Meetups” [COVID MEETUPS (JM)]. “A free service to find individuals, families and local businesses/services who take COVID precautions in your area.” • I played around with it some. It seems to be Facebook-driven, sadly, but you can use the Directory without logging in. I get rational hits from the U.S., but not from London, UK, FWIW.


“A Crucial Group of Covid Drugs Has Stopped Working” [Wired]. “The problem with these existing monoclonal antibodies is that they bind to a very small piece of the virus known as the receptor binding domain, part of the spike protein. Throughout the pandemic, this part has constantly mutated, giving way to new variants and subvariants that current monoclonal antibodies can no longer recognize and neutralize…. [P]eople who don’t mount a good immune response following vaccination are now virtually unprotected against the virus… The Vanderbilt team and others are continuing the search for powerful antibodies that could be turned into new drugs, including preventive ones like Evusheld. But it’s a constant game of viral whack-a-mole. ‘The virus has changed so rapidly that antibody discovery efforts get stopped mid-track,’ [Robert Carnahan, associate director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center] says. ‘Variants are changing now on a three-month time scale.’ His group would find an antibody that was effective against a current variant, only for it to be rendered useless by a new variant a few months later.” • Yikes.


“Long COVID Now Looks like a Neurological Disease, Helping Doctors to Focus Treatments” [Scientific American]. “The most common, persistent and disabling symptoms of long COVID are neurological…. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is new, but postviral syndromes are not. Research on other viruses, and on neurological damage from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in particular, is guiding work on long COVID. And the recognition that the syndrome may cause its many effects through the brain and the nervous system is beginning to shape approaches to medical treatment. ‘I now think of COVID as a neurological disease as much as I think of it as a pulmonary disease, and that’s definitely true in long COVID,’ says William Pittman, a physician at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, who treats Ghormley and many similar patients. Although 16 million U.S. sufferers is a reasonable estimate of the condition’s toll, there are other, more dire assessments. A meta-analysis of 41 studies conducted in 2021 concluded that worldwide, 43 percent of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 may develop long COVID, with about 30 percent—translating to approximately 30 million people—affected in the U.S.”

Elite Malfeasance

“Doctors will be encouraged to issue fewer sick notes and instead help employees carry on working in bid to reverse the rise in workers who stay home due to long-term ailments” [Daily Mail]. “Help”? “A Government source told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The mental health benefits of work are well-established. We want to do all we can to encourage as many people as possible to stay in work with the relevant support in place.’” • Dude, you’re a Tory.

“Elite” being a relative term:

Feelings, nothing more than feelings:

Of course, Covid is asymptomatic. It follows that clinicians should wear masks at all times.

The Jackpot

“The Antonine Plague and a clue to the future” [Nate Bear, ¡Do Not Panic!]. “Not since 1959 and the great famine in China has global life expectancy fallen for two years in a row. Up until 2020, global life expectancy had dropped one year only twice since the mid 1960s…. Like those dips, the cause of this more-than-a-dip is also a virus. It’s covid. There is no other candidate…. You wouldn’t know it from media coverage of collapsing life expectancy, which is covered as a curiosity, rather than as a clue to the future, but we are at a civilisational waypoint…. You wouldn’t know it from media coverage of collapsing life expectancy, which is covered as a curiosity, rather than as a clue to the future, but we are at a civilisational waypoint… Ancient Rome in 165 AD was at its peak. Roman power was spread to its farthest reaches under the reign of the last so-called Good Emperor, the warrior-philosopher Marcus Aurelius…. From the East the soldiers brought back many of the spoils of war – and also smallpox. Many historians see the Antonine Plague as having created the conditions for the decline and subsequent end of the Roman Empire. There were no more Good Emperors after Marcus Aurelius and with the Roman Army decimated by disease, conscription was introduced, rattling Roman society. Two years after the first wave of plague, Germanic tribes (who hadn’t suffered nearly as much from the outbreak) defeated the Roman army and crossed the Rhine for the first time in more than 200 years. Tax income declined as the population fell, the death of artisans disrupted local economies and food shortages became more frequent as skilled farmers died. Spirituality and religiousness grew as a cathartic response to mass death, creating the conditions for the spread of monotheistic religions, such as Mithraism and Christianity. A virus played a big role in ending an empire. Like Ancient Rome, this plague is hitting the US empire particularly hard.”

“The Antonine Plague and the decline of the Roman Empire” (abstract only; translated) [Le Infezioni in Medicina]. “The extent of the epidemic has been extensively debated: the majority of authors agree that the impact of the plague was severe, influencing military conscription, the agricultural and urban economy, and depleting the coffers of the State. The Antonine plague affected ancient Roman traditions, also leaving a mark on artistic expression; a renewal of spirituality and religiousness was recorded. These events created the conditions for the spread of monotheistic religions, such as Mithraism and Christianity. This period, characterized by health, social and economic crises, paved the way for the entry into the Empire of neighbouring barbarian tribes and the recruitment of barbarian troops into the Roman army; these events particularly favoured the cultural and political growth of these populations. The Antonine Plague may well have created the conditions for the decline of the Roman Empire and, afterwards, for its fall in the West in the fifth century AD.” • Here is the original, for those of you who can read Italian.

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Case Data

NOT UPDATED BioBot wastewater data from February 13:

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For now, I’m going to use this national wastewater data as the best proxy for case data (ignoring the clinical case data portion of this chart, which in my view “goes bad” after March 2022, for reasons as yet unexplained). At least we can spot trends, and compare current levels to equivalent past levels.


From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published February 14:

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0.2%. Still on the high plateau, equal to previous peaks.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,140,401 – 1,140,209 – 1,140,017 = 192 (192 * 365 = 70,080 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). 192 again, I did doublecheck. What are the odds?

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. (Though CDC may be jiggering the numbers soon. Lower, naturally.)

• The lucky country:

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States NY Empire State Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The NY Empire State Manufacturing Index climbed 27.1 points from a month earlier to -5.8 in February 2023, easily beating market expectations of -18.0 and suggesting business activity in New York State contracted at a softer pace.”

Manufacturing: “United States Industrial Production” [Trading Economics]. “Industrial Production in the United States increased 0.8% year-on-year in January of 2023, the smallest increase since the pandemic recovery started in March of 2021.”

Capacity: “United States Capacity Utilization” [Trading Economics]. “Capacity utilization in rate in the US fell to 78.3% in January of 2023 from a downwardly revised 78.4% in December and well below forecasts of 79%. It is the lowest rate since September of 2021 and 1.3 percentage points below its long-run average.”

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The Bezzle: “GSK was warned repeatedly about Zantac impurity but played down risks: Bloomberg” [Fierce Pharma]. “Facing tens of thousands of lawsuits over cancer risks on the popular heartburn drug Zantac, GSK has argued there’s ‘no consistent or reliable evidence’ that the medicine causes any cancer. But a new report in Bloomberg Businessweek says GSK’s own scientists have long known about the risks. Wednesday, the publication reported that over the span of multiple decades, GSK was warned by its own scientists and independent researchers about potential cancer-causing impurities in the drug. Over the years, GSK supported “flawed research” aimed at downplaying risks, and it opted against making any changes to its supply chain or storage procedures that might’ve mitigated the issue, Businessweek reports. The team reviewed “thousands of pages,” including court filings and studies, to report the story.” • Just like climate.

Tech: “Are we racing toward AI catastrophe?” [Vox]. “”It’s important *NOT* to ‘move fast and break things’ for tech as important as AI,” [DeepMind founder and leader Demis Hassabis] wrote on Twitter in September. The usual Silicon Valley spirit — try things, see how they fail, try again — has brought us some incredibly cool consumer technology and fun websites. But it’s not how you’d build a skyscraper or a manned rocket, and powerful AI systems are much more in the latter category, where you want robust engineering for reliability.”

Tech: “TikTok’s Talks With U.S. Have an Unofficial Player: China” [Wall Street Journal]. “Beijing has increasingly signaled its desire to protect Chinese technology. It recently proposed to amend a regulation restricting the export of Chinese-created content-recommendation algorithms, which lawyers say is a reminder that Beijing has a hand to play in any deal. TikTok is at a crossroads, as U.S. concerns about its Chinese ownership grow. Some officials have explored the idea of forcing a sale to a U.S. company. In 2020, when the Trump administration pushed for a sale of TikTok’s American operations, China added the algorithms into an export-control list. ByteDance at the time said any sale would need approval from Chinese authorities, which it sought but never received, official records show. The idea of a sale eventually fell by the wayside.” • Why not just outlaw recommendation algorithms entirely? On every social media platform I’m familiar with — Twitter, YouTube, Facebook — the recommendation algorithm is a clickbait-infested, i.e. revenue-generating, cesspit. Content from accounts I subscribe to, in reverse chronological order. So far as I know, the very first example of social media, the blogosphere, did exactly that (as does it’s ally and comrade, RSS). None of the social pathologies of “the platforms” have, to my recollection, ever been attributed to the blogosphere. Why? No recommendation algorithm.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 73 Greed (previous close: 73 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 73 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 15 at 1:21 PM EST.

The Gallery

She started painting at the age of 78:

Zeitgeist Watch

Yeah, whatever happened to that?

Our Famously Free Press

“It’s True What They Say About the NYT” [RealClearPolitics]. “This examination, undertaken by Jeff Gerth, a decorated investigative journalist formerly with the Times, was published by Columbia Journalism Review. It’s a tour de force! Having taken a year and a half to research and write, and at a length of 24,000 words in four installments, Gerth utterly destroys whatever is left of the lie that Trump was in league with the Russians, and of the extraordinary lengths the media went to spread that smear…. there is the shock of Columbia Journalism Review as the publisher. This small circulation magazine, published by the Columbia Journalism School, operates at the heart of the media establishment. More than this, both CJR and the journalism school have many ties with the Times. The current chairman of CJR, for instance, was until recently the deputy managing editor of the Times. That CJR’s editor/publisher, Kyle Pope, would agree to publish such a study elevates him to a kind of hero status that few editors or publishers have attained. … [G]iven that neither the Washington Post nor the Times have publicly addressed the gaping hole Gerth’s reporting has torn in their credibility – and the muted reaction of most of the rest of the corporate media to Gerth’s exposé, we seem to have entered a new era. In today’s brave new journalism world, objectivity and even truth have been abandoned in favor of a journalism that simply reflects whatever political or ideological narrative is prevalent at the time.” • Yep. Although I would say “hegemonic” rather than “prevalent,” and add that hegemony, like bread, must be made.

“The rise of the Trump-Russia revisionists” [Vox]. “[In CJR, Jeff] Gerth argued that major news outlets’ Trump-Russia coverage “includes serious flaws” and proceeded to lay out what he claimed those flaws were. Trump-Russia revisionism is on the rise.” I guess “revisionism” is what we call reporting these days. Heck, though, maybe it’ll catch on! More: “the Russian government really did intervene in the 2016 election by hacking leading Democrats’ emails and having them leaked.” This is very sloppy writing, and this Prokop dude should take some lessons from Gerth. who writes: “(The Justice Department, in 2018, charged twelve GRU officials for the Podesta and DNC hacks, but the charges have never been litigated.” Prokop, of course, links to a Vox article, no doubt not choosing to engage Gerth directly, a wise move. A sad excuse for a hit job!

Class Warfare

“The plateauing of cognitive ability among top earners” [European Sociological Review]. “[A]long an important dimension of merit—cognitive ability—we find no evidence that those with top jobs that pay extraordinary wages are more deserving than those who earn only half those wages. The main takeaway of our analysis is thus the identification, both theoretically and empirically, of two regimes of stratification in the labour market. The bulk of citizens earn normal salaries that are clearly responsive to individual cognitive capabilities. Above a threshold level of wage, cognitive-ability levels are above average but play no role in differentiating wages. With relative incomes of top earners steadily growing in Western countries (Alvaredo et al., 2017), an increasing share of aggregate earnings may be allocated under the latter regime.”

News of the Wired

“Why is the Oldest Book in Europe a Work of Music Criticism? (Part 1 of 2)” [Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker]. “A key argument of this book is that the shape of Western society even today is the result of a battle in worldviews that took place 2,500 years ago. On the one side, you had the proponents of logic, rationality, and philosophy, and they defeated their opponents who put their faith in songs. It seems like an unfair battle. How can music ever be more powerful than logic? But Plato—and the other leading ancients who laid the groundwork for our rational and algorithmic society—feared music for a good reason. They saw the hypnotic effect of the epic and lyric singers on the masses. For centuries, people learned life skills from songs. They preserved history, culture, and the entire mythos with songs. They tapped into their own deepest emotions with songs. They celebrated every life milestone and ritual with songs. They reached out to the gods themselves with songs. Above all, they used this music to secure personal autonomy and what today we would call human rights. So we should not be surprised that Plato, Aristotle and the other originators of Western rationalism had to displace this dominant worldview of their ancestors—mythic, magical, musical—in order for them to create a more rigorous, disciplined, and analytical society. They won that battle, and we live with the consequences today in our algorithm-driven culture. As a result the richest and most influential musicology in the history of human society has been mostly forgotten. The Derveni papyrus and the tradition it represents is never taught or even mentioned at music schools. But this alternative musicology—which we need more today than ever—hasn’t disappeared completely. Far from it. As we shall see, it still exerts a surprising impact in almost every sphere of human life, but in hidden ways.” • 

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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 Angie Neer:

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Angie Neer writes: ‘In real life these are about 1/4″ in diameter.’

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