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2:00PM Water Cooler 2/8/2021

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2:00PM Water Cooler 2/8/2021


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Some city birds.


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

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching…. (A reader asked the source of the data: Johns Hopkins CSSE. DIVOC-91 does allow other data sets to be used, like Our World in Data and The Atlantic, and where they provide visualizations similar to those below, a cursory comparison shows that the shape of the curves is the same.)

Vaccination by region:

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Snow makes the Northeast what it is, but at least the other regions aren’t dropping.

Here is vaccination in the (US Census-defined) South:

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Log view to unbunch the curves, and also to make the slopes easier to compare.

At some point, say by the third week in February*, we’re going to need to see these curves going more vertical, or else we can conclude that the vaccination rate is basically a function of our extraordinarily [family-blogged] health care system, and “competence” and “leadership” operate only at the margin. Needless to say, I’d like to see the curves going more vertical. NOTE * “He’s only been President ___ weeks, give him time.”

Case count by United States region:

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At some point I should try to find a chart of city case counts, and see what the cities with direct flights from the UK are doing, to get a reading on B117. The calm before the storm?

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

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Texas going down again. That’s a relief.

Test positivity:

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The Northeast falls off a cliff, again I assume due to snow.

Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.


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Hospitalization is discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.

Case fatality rate (plus deaths):

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Deaths plateau, and should really be starting to fall at some point. Plus, the case fatality rate has markedly increased, albeit slowly. I don’t like that at all.


“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


“Trump trial set to consume Capitol” [The Hill]. “Forty-five out of 50 Senate Republicans have already voted to advance a motion to dismiss the trial on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, making it extremely unlikely that 17 Republicans will join Democrats this week to convict.”

“Trump’s lawyers argue in pretrial brief that his January 6 rally speech ‘was not and could not be construed to encourage acts of violence’ at the Capitol” [Business Insider]. “In their pretrial brief, Trump’s defense lawyers said he had only ‘used the word ‘fight’ a little more than a handful of times and each time in the figurative sense.’” • Just like Democrats, then? More: “‘It was not and could not be construed to encourage acts of violence,’ they wrote. The brief went on to say that ‘the real truth is that the people who criminally breached the Capitol did so of their own accord and for their own reasons, and they are being criminally prosecuted.’ • Throwing the rioters under the bus. More: ‘Democrats cannot pretend that they were confused by the word ‘fight’ in the context President Trump used it in his speech,’ the brief said. ‘Speaker Pelosi has used this word multiple times herself in the context of election security, and the well-known nonprofit started by rising Democratic darling Stacey Abrams and endorsed by none other than Speaker Pelosi is literally called ‘Fair Fight,’ and it asks people to join the ‘fight for free and fair elections.’” • Yeah, but everbody khows Democrats don’t mean it; “fight for” is always just puffery. Anyhow, here is the brief (PDF), which also argues: “Absent an imminent threat, therefore, it is expressly within the First Amendment to advocate for the use of force; similarly, it is protected speech to advocate for violating the law; and as Mr. Trump did neither of these things, his speech at all times fell well within First Amendment protections. He thus cannot be subject to conviction by the Senate under well-established First Amendment jurisprudence.” • Not that liberal Democrats care about the First Amendment, of course.


I am here for Butter Gritty:

Obama Legacy

“The Obamanauts” [Corey Robin, Dissent]. Re-upping from 2019. “[This was the] third element of Obama’s public philosophy: a moral minimalism that rendered him not so much ill-prepared for a fight with the Republicans as ideologically indisposed to the very idea of a fight. … ‘The true genius of America,’ he told the DNC in 2004, is ‘an insistence on small miracles; that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm.’ No one-off, that turn to the slight but simple truth of children being safe was a recurring theme of Obama’s presidency, arguably its epistemological ground. ‘There’s only one thing we can be sure of,’ he said after Sandy Hook, ‘and that is the love that we have for our children. . . . The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.’ These were not just comforting words to a grief-stricken nation. They emanated from the idiom of bare life, the wariness of deep foundations that had come to characterize liberalism in the wake of the New Deal order and the end of the Cold War. In retrospect, it seems obvious that such a smallness of vision could never withstand the largeness of the right. But, for Obama, opposing largeness with smallness was the point.” • I’m wondering whether this applies to Biden, or not.

Realignment and Legitimacy

DSA take note:

So the question becomes: Is the United States as weak as Czarist Russia, say after the Battle of Tsushima?

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.

There are no official statistics of note today.

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Commodities: “Supply and demand fundamentals are turning around in oil markets. Crude prices have pushed to their highest levels since near the start of the coronavirus pandemic … as production curbs among big exporters collide with recovering demand and a faster-than-forecast drawdown in stockpiles” [Wall Street Journal]. “Global appetite for oil remains below pre-pandemic levels, but the rising crude prices are reaching transportation markets. Average diesel fuel prices across the U.S. hit their highest level in nearly a year at the beginning of February

Shipping: “Port of Long Beach has best January on record” [Freight Waves]. “The Port of Long Beach began 2021 the same way it ended 2020 — by setting records. The port reported this week it just had its best January on record, moving 764,006 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), a 21.9% jump from the same month last year. It was the first time the nation’s second-busiest seaport handled more than 700,000 TEUs in the month of January, surpassing the previous record set in January 2018 by a whopping 106,176 TEUs. …. The port attributed the strong January to the ongoing rise in American consumers’ online spending. Imports were up 17.5% year-over-year to 364,255 TEUs. Exports were up too, an increase of 7% year-over-year to 116,254 TEUs.”

Shipping: “The hiring binge at U.S. logistics operations appears to be hitting a wall, at least for now. Parcel-delivery, warehousing and trucking companies lost a combined 34,000 jobs last month, by government measures… in an abrupt halt to a hiring boom among companies tied to surging e-commerce demand” [Wall Street Journal]. “The pullback comes as businesses are weighing how much of the digital shopping upswing will outlast the pandemic. The logistics sector typically has a hiring hangover after the holidays, and January’s loss of 17,400 jobs by warehousing and storage companies followed five straight months of gains when that sector’s payrolls grew by 129,700 jobs. But broader numbers in the overall jobs report suggest near-term economic demand remains a concern.”

Tech: “Overhauling Twitter” [Scott Galloway, No Mercy / No Malice]. “Twitter has let toxic content run amok because doing so is in its interest: The company depends on the engagement it generates…. Anyone who has been on Twitter will recognize the compulsion to refresh the page just one more time and get that dopamine hit, hate-reading enemies and enjoying the glorious dunks on everyone else. The algorithm knows it, too: It learns from our every tap and dials up the doom. Even if an ad-based model did not produce this kind of digital exhaust, it would still be destined to fail by Twitter’s insufficient scale. While the company’s reach is large compared to that of traditional media, it is dwarfed by that of Google and Facebook, which dominate digital advertising. Choking on the dust of a duopoly is a difficult position from which to build a business. Twitter needs to move from an ad model to a subscription model, with subscription fees for accounts of a certain size. The platform would still be free for the majority of users, but accounts over 200K followers (or even 50K followers) should pay for the audience that Twitter provides them with. This would lead to better financial results because recurring revenue is reliable, profitable, and earns a higher multiple than transaction revenue.” And then there’s the CEO: “Mr. Dorsey’s insistence on managing (or not) Twitter from far-flung retreats should alone make the case for his removal as CEO. I can’t believe I even have to say this: We should remove a part-time CEO. Twitter’s management, enabled by legacy board members, has demonstrated an alarming disregard for the commonwealth, weak strategic thinking, and an inability to create a fraction of the shareholder value that is possible for the platform. Twitter’s financial weakness gives it a chance for redemption. It’s time.” • I have managed to detach from Twitter’s toxicity, but for me it remains the closest parallel to the old blogosphere, because anyone can talk to anyone, very much unlike [ick] Facebook. Twitter is often genuinely funny, again like the old blogosphere, and very much unlike Facebook. So, I would like it to be fixed, and Galloway’s suggestions seem sensible to me.

Manufacturing: “How will ‘chipageddon’ affect you?” [BBC]. “[J]ust before Christmas, it emerged the resurgent car industry was facing what one insider called ‘chipageddon’. New cars often include more than 100 microprocessors – and manufacturers were quite simply unable to source them all. Since then, one technology company after another has warned they too face constraints. Samsung is struggling to fulfil orders for the memory chips it makes for its own and others’ products.” • Hard to extract because the implications are so diverse across industries and markets. And then there are geopolitical concerns (Taiwan, Korea). Worth reading in full, and contemplating. Good thing we moved our chip manufacturing out of this country into small countries next to China, good job elites.

Manufacturing: “The new jet aimed at getting Boeing’s supply chains moving again has become the manufacturer’s latest big problem. Development of the 777X has been stretched out and the bet on the updated version of the twin-engine wide-body is souring… complicating Boeing’s bid to navigate an aerospace market ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic” [Wall Street Journal]. “The company’s 777X woes aren’t directly related to apparent design missteps or quality lapses in other programs but from the pandemic’s hit to travel and broader market fallout, as well as stiffer regulatory oversight the company faces because of problems in the 737 MAX program.” • The “other programs” being the 737 and the 787, neither of which I would fly.

Manufacturing: Why some techies are obsessed with mechanical computer keyboards — and how I learned to build my own” [CNBC]. “Earlier this year an Indian company called Market Research Future predicted that the mechanical keyboard market would grow to $1.36 billion by 2023, up from $705 million in 2017.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 53 Neutral (previous close: 53 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 39 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 5 at 12:36pm. Last updated Feb 8 at 11:57am.

Rapture Index: Closes down one on Global Turmoil. “The lack of activity has downgraded this category” [really?] [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 185. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.

The Biosphere

“Why embracing the Nordic concept of ‘friluftsliv’ could be the secret to better mental health during lockdown 3.0” [Stylist]. From the UK. “[Friluftsliv], which translates roughly to ‘open-air living,’ is widely popular across the Nordic countries where, despite freezing temperatures and very few hours of sunlight throughout the winter months, getting outside and embracing the outdoors is part of life all year around…. Not only does embracing friluftsliv mean more time spent getting active and therefore staying healthy, but it also means spending more time surrounded by nature – a habit which has been proven to benefit our mental health…. Whether or not you’re a typically ‘outdoorsy’ person, it seems making the outdoors a priority and subscribing to the idea of friluftsliv – even if it’s initially just for the next four weeks – could help us all to make the most of our lives during lockdown 3.0. With daily exercise still allowed and plenty of places to explore, why not invest in a thick winter coat and get exploring?” • Well, I don’t know about exploring; that’s next door to adventure. But I do think getting out and moving is a good idea, if only for a walk to and from the store. And be sure to look up in the air, not down at your feet (modulo ice).

“This Teenager Helped Launch Seed Libraries in Every State” [Modern Farmer]. “[Alicia] Serratos, who is just 14, came up with the idea to start 3 Sisters Seed Box in 2019. Her goal: Send out enough starter kits to have at least two seed libraries in all 50 states. It started out as a Girl Scout project and turned into a nationwide movement. Seed Savers Exchange donated heirloom seeds for the project and the Community Seed Network mapped all of the seed library locations. Since she started her campaign, requests have flooded in via social media from communities eager to start their own seed libraries. The first 3 Sisters Seed Box was installed in Pennsylvania in April 2020 and the last, installed in Auburn, New Hampshire, was shipped in January 2021. To date, Serratos has shipped 108 seed library starter kits to communities nationwide. Although seed libraries are not new—a librarian in New York established a seed library in 2004 and Serratos established seed libraries at three elementary schools near her home in Orange County, California, seven years ago—the concept has exploded during the pandemic. ‘[The seed libraries] have expanded so much because people are gardening during quarantine,’ Serratos says. Seed libraries are free and open to the public, and no membership is required. Gardeners are encouraged to save seeds and contribute them to the library so others can access them. Not everyone who takes seeds will save them and add them, so ‘stewards’—who manage seed libraries—often purchase seeds or request donations from seed companies to keep the libraries stocked.” • Yes, managing a seed library can be problematic, but they are still wonderful. Which reminds me! It’s not too late to order your seed catalogs! (See NC here and here.) Planning a garden can be a real antidote to the darkness and gloom of February — this February, especially. And if you over-order, which I always do, you can give the surplus to a seed library!

“Biodynamics’ dirty secret: ecofascism, karmic racism and the Nazis” [Word on the Grapevine]. • I never liked biodynamics woo woo. Now I know why.

“Company Behind NC Pipeline Spill Inspected Less Than 50% In 2019, Improperly Kept Records” [Robbie Jaeger]. • The article is good, but can this picture possibly be real:

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An above-ground pipeline supported by stacks of wood? Really?

Health Care

“Putin’s Once-Scorned Vaccine Now Favorite in Pandemic Fight” [Joe Weistenthal, Bloomberg]. “President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in August that Russia had cleared the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine for use before it even completed safety trials sparked skepticism worldwide. Now he may reap diplomatic dividends as Russia basks in arguably its biggest scientific breakthrough since the Soviet era. Countries are lining up for supplies of Sputnik V after peer-reviewed results published in The Lancet medical journal this week showed the Russian vaccine protects against the deadly virus about as well as U.S. and European shots, and far more effectively than Chinese rivals. At least 20 countries have approved the inoculation for use, including European Union member-state Hungary, while key markets such as Brazil and India are close to authorizing it. Now Russia is setting its sights on the prized EU market as the bloc struggles with its vaccination program amid supply shortage…. Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Sputnik V can be stored in a fridge rather than a freezer, making it easier to transport and distribute in poorer and hotter countries. At around $20 for a two-shot vaccination, it’s also cheaper than most Western alternatives. While more expensive than AstraZeneca, the Russian inoculation has shown higher efficacy than the U.K. vaccine.”

“Science Not Politics: How Dr. Rochelle Walensky is Saving the CDC” [Vogue]. “She cries as she gets the vaccine.” And the hagiography goes on from there. If you want to believe that Walensky is absolutely the wrong person to head the CDC, read this. The CDC is a sclerotic institution that has repeatedly failed in central-to-mission efforts: The test kits, aerosols, and its Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). Of these three, only aerosols are even arguably caused by [shudder] “politics.” Wakensky’s scientific skills and warm personality will not be enough to fix a broken institution: Walensky’s position at Mass General was of insufficient scale and scope to give her the skills, even the bureaucratic knife-fighting skills, required. See Yves here.

Don’t “Trust the Science,” Trust Science While You Hone Your Critical Thinking Skills“:

Whoops. To my shame, I fell for this; but I did self-correct. Unlike many, and not just maskless deplorables!


The 420

Sports Desk

“Tampa mayor frustrated by maskless fans after Super Bowl” [Associated Press]. ” So much for the mayor’s order requiring masks at Super Bowl parties. Throngs of mostly maskless fans took to the streets and packed sports bars as the clock inside Raymond James Stadium ticked down on a hometown Super Bowl win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ‘It is a little frustrating because we have worked so hard,’ Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said during a Monday morning news conference with the Super Bowl Host Committee. ‘At this point in dealing with COVID-19, there is a level of frustration when you see that.’ Some 200,000 masks were handed out ahead of the game, and ‘a majority’ of people and businesses followed the rules, she said. To meet coronavirus protocols, the NFL capped the crowd at under 25,000 in a stadium that normally holds some 66,000 fans, and required masks. But outside the stadium, crowds of fans who weren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing could be seen celebrating the Buccaneers’ 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. Folks cheered, crammed into bars and hugged in several hotspots around the city — and swarmed the streets — all without masks. In hopes of curbing so-called super-spreader events, Castor had signed a largely voluntary executive order requiring people wear face coverings during the Super Bowl festivities, even while they’re outdoors. She pleaded with people to celebrate safely, noting the city could issue fines of up to $500. It wasn’t clear on Monday how many citations the city handed out, if any.” • Another Half-Assed Lockdown. “In Florida, the scientists estimate that more than 4% of cases are now caused by B117. The national figure may be 1% or 2%, according to his team’s calculations,” #1 in the United States (even if our data is lousy). Well done, all.

Groves of Academe

“Harvard issues report on sexual harassment” [Harvard Gazette]. “The committee’s report is incredibly thorough, and I would encourage community members to read it in its entirety. It clearly outlines several cultural and organizational factors that allowed [Jorge] Domínguez to escape accountability for so long, and suggests concrete, actionable steps that Harvard can take to create an environment free from harassment and discrimination. These recommendations include: fostering greater “psychological safety” across our Schools and units, better communicating processes for reporting misconduct, achieving greater faculty gender balance, establishing standardized processes for vetting candidates, improving transparency around investigations and sanctions, monitoring employees with past infractions, and accelerating progress toward a culture that is intolerant of sexual and gender-based harassment, broadly. Some of these things we have been working on already. Other recommendations will be the foundation for new initiatives.” DeLong comments: “I confess that I am so effing naïve. Jorge Dominguez’s harassment of Terry Karl came to light in 1983: he told her ‘come across or your tenure case is toast.’ I assumed that things thereafter would be under control.” • Whoops.

Class Warfare

“Why Memes Will Never Be Monetized” [Jacobin]. “Another striking example of the disconnect between corporate advertisers and the cultural trend they try to employ is the ‘Such HealthCare.gov’ meme campaign, launched by the US Department of Health and Human Services. This utilized another popular meme depicting a Shiba Inu dog (“Doge”) and its internal monologue, filled with incorrect and infantile English expressions. The campaigners failed to understand the ironic nature of the meme and used it to promote Obamacare — to the bemusement of the younger audience it was targeting.” • Oy. “Memes resist traditional marketing tactics because of their unique linguistic structure: they convey messages through allegories, and so cannot be understood in isolation from the digital and sociocultural environment from which they originated. This makes memes a form of cultural expression that is inherently unprofitable, because it negates two paradigms of modern capitalist markets: intellectual property and control over access. Memes do not have creators or owners; they also, in their spontaneous articulations and ramifications, do not strive to be understood by any one target audience. Memes, like art, exist only because there is an urge to communicate something and, as such, escape the logic of profit.”

News of the Wired

Hard to imagine maps like these in the West:

It isn’t, that’s the point:

Kill the “arm-like protrusions” with fire:

Everything was going great, until Spot put the turkey in the crib and the baby in the oven.

Colorless grey ideas sleep furiously:

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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 (IM):

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IM writes: “From deepest darkest British Columbia, a broody assemblage of green rendered in black and white. I had no tripod and this is a 1/30 second exposure to get the depth of field I wanted. Kept it steady!”

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