2:00PM Water Cooler 2/16/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/16/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

In honor of the tool-using Cockatoo:

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo, Yanchep National Park, Wanneroo, Western Australia, Australia. This is great! An entire flock! I looked for a picture of a flock, but this is the best I can do:

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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

Capitol Seizure

“Messages: Officer often fed information to Proud Boys leader” [Associated Press]. • For what purpose? To find out what the informers fed back? Honestly, it seems like half official Washington knew something was going on — surely Pelosi, one of the Gang of Eight, did — and yet… no precautions were taken. Of any kind. Odd.

Biden Administration

“Biden administration briefs former Trump national security officials about Chinese spy balloons” [NBC]. • Probably means the information is useless, but this is the first tiny indication I’ve seen that this Administration views the former guy’s administration as in any way a legitimate government.


“The ‘CEO of Anti-Woke Inc.’ Has His Eye on the Presidency” [Politico]. “At 37 years old, Vivek Ramaswamy has made hundreds of millions of dollars, written a New York Times bestseller and become a fixture on Tucker Carlson’s show. Recently, he was dubbed by the New Yorker as the ‘CEO of Anti-Woke Inc.’ But on a chilly Monday evening last month, Ramaswamy found himself in a place far from the Fox News green rooms and high-powered corporate board rooms he’s used to. He was at a dinner event in Iowa, addressing a crowd of dozens of the state’s agricultural royalty tucked inside a huge upscale barn with exposed wood beams and the heads of elk and bison mounted on the walls…. Ramaswamy was there to do what people with ambition, a thirst for the spotlight and an overflowing sense of self-confidence occasionally go to Iowa to do. He is exploring a run for president, testing, among other things, whether his warnings about the dangers of ‘wokeism’ and socially-responsible investing — in business vernacular what’s called environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing — have political currency with Republican politicians, business leaders and, yes, farmers. Ramaswamy has a theory for how this will all go. He wants to pull off what Donald Trump did in 2016: enter the race with an entrepreneurial spirit, unorthodox ideas, and few expectations, and end up developing a major following that will carry him to the presidency — even if it seems like a long shot at the moment. But making a fortune in biotech investing is different than glad-handing with Iowa small business owners or withstanding a barrage of attacks from Trump. And at the farmers dinner, Ramaswamy showed both the promise he’d bring to the field and the difficulties he’d encounter in trying to stand out among a crowd of former cabinet officials and sitting governors. As much as the GOP likes outsiders and businessmen, there’s still a natural skepticism of people who have no political or government experience whatsoever, especially when so much of the prospective field will likely have a track record of conservative governing, like Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.” • Who?

Well, he’s a person of color, the same color Kamala Harris was, before she decided to change it.

Republican Funhouse

“Scoop: The GOP guide for splashy hearings outside D.C.” [Axios]. “House Republicans are planning a series of attention-grabbing hearings outside of Washington, guided by a 15-page, private playbook obtained by Axios. With little chance of getting bills signed by President Biden, Republicans are sending subpoenas, planning trips to the southwest border and encouraging committees to find fresh, TV-friendly settings for hearings that target administration policies. The detailed memo lays bare Republicans’ aim for publicity by giving committees tips for attracting media coverage…. Field hearings ‘provide a unique opportunity to actually spend time in communities that are directly impacted by the issues we are talking about,’ [Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), an ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)], told Axios in a statement.” • This is a good idea. The Democrats are far less likely to be able to censor local news, too.

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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Please make it stop:

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I have helpfully underlined all the phrases that indicate motion without direction, and indeed without any, well, concrete material benefits. (I grant some “investment” in the “climate crisis” but spread over ten years, it’s not so much. As for jobs, I dunno….)

Realignment and Legitimacy

There are not very many of the Shing:

Makes you wonder — tinfoil hat time, I grant — whether these guys actually funded QAnon (and PizzaGate. Reminds me — I think I have this right — of the villain in a John D. MacDonald number, who shot one of his horses (he was rich) and then used an earth mover to bury it over the corpse of someone he had killed, on the assumption that searchers wouldn’t look past the first corpse they encountered).

“S.B.F.’s Unsolved Dark-Money Mysteries” [Puck (hat tip, Atrios)]. “There used to be a joke I’d hear around Washington, that everyone in town with an ounce of ambition was, in some way or another, on the payroll of Sam Bankman-Fried. And if you hadn’t figured out how to get on the gravy train, well, that was on you. Like all good jokes, there was more than a kernel of truth to all of it: I’ve covered the S.B.F. political machine as closely as anyone over the last few years, and I still encounter new names of lobbyists who were secretly on Sam’s retainer, of data savants who found a way into D.C.’s greatest donor-fueled growth industry, and amazingly, nonprofits that were moving millions of FTX-connected dollars without a scintilla of public knowledge.” • Does make you wonder what else SBF had going on; see above.


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): CA (dashboard); ME (dashboard); NC (dashboard); NH (wastewater); IL (wastewater); SC (dashboard); VA (dashboard); WI (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 tips to helpful readers: ChiGal, hop2it, JB, Joe, LaRuse, Petal, RL, Rod.

• More like this, please! Total: 16. (Readers, I am not putting your handle next to your contribution because I hope and expect the list will be long, and I want it to be easy to scan. (If you leave your link in comments, I use your handle. If you send it to me via email, I use your initials (in the absence of a handle.)

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Look for the Helpers

Perhaps the knitters among us would like to join in:

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“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.


“Protection against Reinfection with the Omicron BA.2.75 Subvariant” (letter) [New England Journal of Medicine]. “The effectiveness of previous infection against reinfection with BA.2.75.2 appears to be lower than that against BA.4 or BA.5 reinfection.2 Protection afforded by a previous pre-omicron infection is negligible at this stage of the pandemic, a finding that confirms that pre-omicron–conferred immunity against omicron infection may not last beyond approximately 1 year.5 Protection conferred by a previous omicron infection was moderate, at approximately 50%, when the previous infection was with a BA.1 or BA.2 subvariant but was approximately 80% when the previous infection was more recent (i.e., caused by a BA.4 or BA.5 subvariant); these results may reflect a combination of progressive immune-system evasion and gradual waning of immune protection. Immunity resulting from a combination of pre-omicron and omicron infection was most protective against BA.2.75 reinfection. Viral immune-system evasion may have accelerated recently to overcome high immunity in the global population, thereby also accelerating the waning of natural immunity.” • Oh.


Elite Malfeasance

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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 16:

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-1.0%. Still on the high plateau, equal to previous peaks.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,141,220 – 1,140,401 = 819 (819 * 365 = 298,935 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). Well, the total wasn’t 192 again. Not that I feel better about it.

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.)

Lambert here: Lowest level in awhile. Although we’ve seen this before.

Stats Watch

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Tech: “Whatever happened to the metaverse?” [Financial Times]. “Type ‘metaverse’ into Google Trends and you’ll see search traffic for the word has collapsed by about 80 per cent over the past year or so. These days, if you want to raise a load of cash, you’d be better off name-dropping “generative AI” — artificial intelligence that can ‘generate’ text, images or other data…. So unenthusiastic are Meta’s own investors about the idea that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was recently forced to say that the metaverse is ‘not the majority of what we’re doing.’ These days, he’s talking more about efficiency than the metaverse. For good reason, too: Reality Labs, the division that makes the Meta Quest headsets, made an operating loss of $13.7bn last year. The company has also fallen remarkably quiet about its big plan to hire 10,000 people in the EU to work on the metaverse — I asked Meta if that was still happening and whether anyone had been hired yet. They told me: ‘Our expansion in Europe was always a long-term one planned over a number of years. We remain committed to Europe.’ Microsoft, meanwhile, has killed its “industrial metaverse team” just four months after setting it up, laying off 100 members of staff.” • That’s a damn shame.

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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.

Photo Book

One of my favorite photographs ever, from those terrific square white Aperture books of black-and-white photographs (I remember being quite impressed with this new thing, color, when I looked through Joel Meyerowitz’s Cape Light:

The 420

If this didn’t happen, it should have:

Plot twist: The above, which looks like the original, is from 2021. This image is from 2018, and includes additional material:

If the 2018 tweet is real, it no longer exists. So what does “really happen” mean here, anyhow? Dave?

Zeitgeist Watch

Tricoteuses rejoice (1):

Tricoteuses rejoice (2):

Class Warfare

I’m filing some East Palestine train bomb material, because class warefare is what Precision Scheduled Railroading is.

“Chemical Desolation in Appalachia” [The American Prospect]. We don’t run TAP that often, but this is an interesting nugget: “At the time of the crash, the known chemicals aboard included the highly toxic vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride. An EPA document dump on February 12 revealed additional carcinogenic chemicals were aboard too, as well as some highly flammable solvents and gases. Public documents reveal that four tank cars containing vinyl chloride were stacked together. Responding before the reveal of the cargo’s manifest, Jason Trosky, a resident of East Palestine, told the Prospect: ‘A $56 billion corporation knows where every one of its assets is at any given time … The reason [Norfolk Southern] didn’t show us the manifest is because the train was overloaded.’” • No manifest? From a cursory search, it seems like a manifest freight train (cars of mixed types), as opposed to a unit train (cars with a single cargo, like coal or grain), requires, well, a manifest: A listing of the cargo. Seems reasonable! However, I cannot find a statute or regulation that says they are required for all manifest freight trains. They are required for trains carrying hazardous materials, but it looks like Norfolk Southern is gaming that. Another thread to tug on! We have railroaders in the readership; perhaps they can comment.

“Railroaded – The Norfolk Southern Disaster in East Palestine, Ohio Part Two” [The Holler]. More on the hot box:

The defect detectors have changed. They created, several years back, what’s called a trending defect detector.

Let’s say defect detector number one, this car passes, it sees it heating up, it sends a signal to the dispatch center, and it talks to the next detector. The train passes the second detector, it sees the heat increasing, and there’s another alarm sent. The train crew is not hearing any of this. It’s kind of like an algorithm, so to speak. They’re (dispatch) watching the car. What should be happening is the dispatch center notifying the crews to keep checking on this car.

But that ain’t the times we live in, because it’s “hurry up, get the train across the railroad, let’s make the fat cats on Wall Street happy to turn a profit.”

And now if that crew hits the third defect detector, a car could be way too hot, and be in a catastrophic situation as this one was. Then the crew gets an alarm. And sometimes it’s too late.

Many of noticed the lack of coverage by national media of the Norfolk Southern train bomb:

What a coinkidink. NOTE: You don’t need anything like CT to explain this. Collective “working toward the Gewinnvortrag” would do the trick among editors and publishers; and the word would trickle down.

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“Arvind Krishna: If AI can replace labour, it’s a good thing” [Financial Times]. No, it’s really not. “And we have worked on them also. The use cases we work on are not consumer, so consumer is a lot easier to explain: they type in something and, some number of times out of 10, you get an interesting, intriguing, and in the right ballpark answer. What nobody can quite say is how likely is it to get a completely incorrect answer, as at least one of the two demonstrations has shown. If you’re using it for consumer search, fine. If I’m using it to answer a question on somebody’s financial transaction, that’s actually quite a problem.” • Well, Arvind Krishna is IBM’s CEO, so I can see why he would think that.

“Bing’s A.I. Chat Reveals Its Feelings: ‘I Want to Be Alive. 😈’” [Kevin Roose, New York Times]. • A turn-up for the books, in this case the philosopher’s books. A la the Chinese Toaist philosopher Zhuangzi, who dreamed he was a butterfly. But how does Zhuangzi know he is not a butterfly dreaming he is a man? Similarly, how do we know that the chatbot is not alive, and “author” Roose is not a bot? And considering the quality of the average Times stenographer, that’s not an unreasonable question.

* * *

“Report reveals deteriorating labor conditions at big US wireless carriers” [Guardian]. “Labor conditions and collective bargaining rights have worsened in the large US wireless carrier industry now that big telecommunications firms are increasingly outsourcing their retail sales and customer service operations from company-owned stores….. In [the study, by the Communications Workers of America and National Employment Law Project], a survey of more than 200 workers at authorized retailers in 43 states found nine out of 10 workers reported experiencing wage theft. Three out of four workers reported having to rely on at least 25% of their wages through sales commissions. Nearly two in three workers reported they were unable to take breaks during their shifts. The reported wage theft includes being paid below minimum wage rates, denied overtime pay, denied commissions or bonuses or forced to work off the clock. Workers in the survey also reported experiencing retaliation for raising workplace problems, being forced to work overtime, a lack of adequate job training, being forced to sign non-compete agreements and claimed an emphasis on commissions had driven poor sales practices and customer service at their retail stores. About nine in 10 workers reported the wireless carrier that licensed their retail store still played a role in setting policies and practices at the retailers, despite authorized retailers’ classification as independent employers.”

“Can One City Be a Microcosm of Everything That’s Wrong?” [Gary Kamiya. New York Times]. “This leads him to such ‘structural’ Marxian insights as the following: Stanford University is a [A] ‘human capital’ factory, a [B] ‘breeding and training project.’” • [A] seems about right (though I’d like to see the definition of “human capital.” [B] seems not implausible, given the Stanford origins of the Great Barrington Declaration, a eugencist project. Anyhow, Kamiya is kinda like a minor league Herb Caen; I read on not especially reliable authority that he owns a house on Telegraph Hill, worth a pretty penny no doubt; and a smallish yacht.

“Poetry on the Shop Floor” [Tribune Magazine]. “A committed trade unionist, Bond joined the Association of Cine Technicians in 1935 and served as its vice-president for 32 years. It was in this capacity that he attended the 1960 Trade Unions Congress in Douglas on the Isle of Man, and argued for Resolution 42. The aim of Resolution 42, in Bond’s words, was to propel the idea that trade unions had a leading role to play in ensuring ‘all the people have the chance to enjoy the beauty and riches of life in all its forms’, and to reject the notion that ‘culture should be the preserve of an enlightened intelligentsia,’ or that ‘any old rubbish is good enough for the masses’.”

News of the Wired

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