2:00PM Water Cooler 3/18/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 3/18/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

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“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson

Biden Adminstration

I’ve gotta take apart Biden’s ventilation policy when I get a chance. It’s pathetically weak:

“Adopt key strategies.” As opposed to what kind of strategies? Irrelevant strategies? Frivolous strategies? Wrong strategies? Lox strategies? Fiegl-Ding is far, far too kind:

Democrats en Déshabillé

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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“The latest supply chain concern: Ballot paper” [Politico]. “Supply chain snags are making it harder for election officials to secure the raw materials they need to put on this year’s primaries: paper and envelopes. Local governments are placing orders months in advance for the supplies they need to print and mail ballots and other materials to make sure they don’t get caught without voting materials. The strain, caused by the same global issues holding up everything from garage doors to computer chips, is stretching already-thin election budgets and making long-term planning more challenging. So far, there hasn’t yet been a repeat of the situation in Texas, which had to limit the number of voter registration forms it gave to organizations ahead of the March primaries — but the 2022 midterms are just getting started, with a slew of statewide primaries approaching in May. Local officials are calling for more funding from Congress to make sure they can meet their needs, and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over voting issues, convened a roundtable on the ‘ballot paper supply shortage’ on Friday with vendors, election officials and others.’” • Lots of trees in Maine. I know we can’t print Bibles, but ballots? What’s next? Toilet paper? Go long bidets, I suppose…

“Democrats link Ukraine’s democracy struggle to one closer to home” [NBC News]. • “Our democracy.” Perceiving one’s self as cosmopolitan while in fact being a member of the most blinkered and provincial governing class in the world….

Democrats en Déshabillé

“At least NINE House Democrats test positive for COVID after party held maskless retreat in Philadelphia” [Daily Mail]. • Closed, close-contact, crowded, lots of talking, probably shouting and singing, no masks. What did they think was going to happen? The outcome they all worked so hard to create; that’s what happened. It’s hard not to suppress the tiniest twinge of schadenfreude. I wonder if there was a superspreader?

Hero Cop Saves Governor:

Please do personalize. It’s the best, indeed the only, way to analyze power relations between states:

Stephen King is a — well, a much-improved writer and a good man who’s done a lot for the state of Maine. So what turned his brain to mush? It’s tragic.


“The New York Times Suddenly Discovers Hunter Biden Laptop and Corruption Investigations Are Real” [Andrew McCarthy, National Review].

Next time President Biden speaks about . . . well, about anything really, remember that he knowingly lied to your face about the Hunter Biden laptop story — which the New York Times confirmed today, and which Joe Biden must have known was entirely true when it was first published in 2020 by the New York Post.

In 2020, Joe Biden responded to Donald Trump bringing up the Post‘s story by saying on live television:.

There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant. Five former heads of the CIA, both parties, say what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes it except his good friend Rudy Giuliani.

This was a lie. Joe Biden is Hunter Biden’s father. He must have known full well that the story wasn’t “a bunch of garbage.” He must have known full well that it wasn’t “a Russian plant.” He must have known full well that Rudy Giuliani wasn’t the only one who believed it. Hell, he knew full well that Hunter Biden himself hadn’t denied the account, and instead had said that the laptop “absolutely” may have been his.

And yet, when pressed, Biden said otherwise, because he assumed that the press and Silicon Valley would back him up in the lie. Which, of course, they did.

Lot of “must haves” there. Still, it’s hard to believe Hunter — dear Hunter — didn’t come clean with Dad before uttering that “absolutely,” isn’t it? And am I the only one who’s wondering what’s on that laptop, and whether any of it is in Ukrainian?

Our Famously Free Press

“What I’ve learned from Mike Allen and Mister Rogers” [Axios]. Logrolling in our time. The ending: “Fred Rogers had this cheesy if wonderful ritual he would encourage others to do: Close your eyes for one minute and picture all the people who helped you get where you are today.” • On the one hand, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen are at the pinnacle of the Washington press corps. Mr. Rogers is not the first character to come to mind when considering that context. On the other hand, the sentiment is rather beautiful, and could be a good exercise. On the third hand, I think a sociologist like Bourdieu would get a lot of satisfaction from teasing out the class formation derived from that chronological list of influencers.

“The media’s reckless “no-fly zone” coverage” [Eric Boehlert, Press Run]. “The media inquiries are usually framed as President Joe Biden not doing enough to help Ukrainians; that he represents ‘restraint’ in the face of human suffering. After piling on Biden following the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Beltway media — echoing GOP talking points — seem anxious to put the White House on the defensive, again…. A subsequent CBS poll found that ‘Support for a no-fly zone … drops off considerably when people are asked if it meant U.S. forces might have to engage Russian aircraft, and be considered an act of war by Russia.’ U.S support for the move dropped from 59 percent to 38 percent, once people were given proper context. We don’t know how big the drop would be if CBS had specifically spelled out that a no-fly zone could lead to nuclear annihilation. The no-fly zone isn’t going to happen, and for valid reasons. The press needs to stop playing gotcha with the White House.” • So, the Beltway press is dumber and lazier than the average American? Since they have every opportunity to learn what an NFZ is, and have not? That’s the charitable interpretation.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Some GOP states seek new police units for election probes” [Associated Press]. “The efforts to establish law enforcement units dedicated to investigating election crimes come as Republican lawmakers and governors move to satisfy the millions of voters in their party who believe former President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud cost him reelection in 2020. In Florida, Republican lawmakers passed an election police bill pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, who justified its need by citing unspecified cases of fraud. Similar legislation in Georgia would allow the state Bureau of Investigation to examine election fraud claims without invitations from other officials. Republicans say the special police powers are needed to restore confidence in elections and uncover instances of fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say the new layer of law enforcement would be redundant, given that local and state authorities already identify and prosecute potential fraud cases, and could be leveraged for partisan purposes.” • Combine these with hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in pubilc, and you’d have a system where the police could actually detect any crimes. Anybody remember the old Maytag repairman ads (“the loneliest man in town”), a lifetime ago? Like that.


Case count by United States regions:

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Fellow tapewatchers will note that “up like a rocket, down like a stick” phase is done with, and the case count is now leveling down. At a level that, a year ago, was considered a crisis, but we’re “over” Covid now, so I suppose not. I have added a Fauci Line.

NOTE I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. For these reasons, case counts — known to be underestimated, due to home test kits — deserve to stand alone as a number to be tracked, no matter how much the political operatives in CDC leadership would like to obfuscate it.

The official narrative is “Covid is Over.” In the fall, the official narrative was “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher). That narrative was completely exploded. What a surprise! This time, it may be different. But who knows?

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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The MRWA is divided into two sections, North and South. Both have started rising, and now the rise has visibly affected this chart, which aggregates them. The aggregate of the enormous Omicron spike conceals change, but change there is. Of course, it’s a very small rise. Maybe this time the movie will end differently.

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

From CDC Community Profile Reports (PDFs), “Rapid Riser” counties:

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Every so often I think of doing away with this chart. Then something like Nevada happens. Remember that these are rapid riser counties. A county that moves from red to green is not covid-free; the case count just isnt, well, rising rapidly.

The previous release:

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NOT UPDATED The site is hosed. Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission from yesterday:

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Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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Farewell, sea of green! It’s curious how peripheral islands like Guam, the Northern Marianas, or the Virgin Islands keep having outbreaks. From the point of view of our hospital-centric health care system, green everywhere means the emergency is over (and to be fair, this is reinforced by case count and wastewater). However, community transmission is still pervasive, which means that long Covid, plus continuing vascular damage, are not over. (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 996,072 994,739. Heading slowly downward. I have added an anti-triumphalist Fauci Line.

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

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The excess deaths chart appears weekly, on Friday:

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Look at the qualifications in that drop-down. And the ginormous typo, helpfully highlighted, has been there for weeks. CDC, if you’re reading this, please send a signal by getting this fixed. And then throw some documents over the transom. In complete confidentiality! Obviously, nobody at CDC is checking the excess deaths chart. One can only wonder why.

Stats Watch

There are no official statistics of interest.

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Tech: “BIG sabotage: Famous npm package deletes files to protest Ukraine war” [Bleeping Computer]. “Select versions (10.1.1 and 10.1.2) of the massively popular ‘node-ipc’ package were caught containing malicious code that would overwrite or delete arbitrary files on a system for users based in Russia and Belarus. These versions are tracked under CVE-2022-23812. On March 8th, developer Brandon Nozaki Miller, aka RIAEvangelist released open source software packages called peacenotwar and oneday-test on both npm and GitHub. The packages appear to have been originally created by the developer as a means of peaceful protest, as they mainly add a ‘message of peace’ on the Desktop of any user installing the packages. ‘This code serves as a non-destructive example of why controlling your node modules is important,’ explains RIAEvangelist. ‘It also serves as a non-violent protest against Russia’s aggression that threatens the world right now.’ But, chaos unfolded when select npm versions of the famous ‘node-ipc’ library—also maintained by RIAEvangelist, were seen launching a destructive payload to delete all data by overwriting files of users installing the package. Interestingly, the malicious code, committed as early as March 7th by the dev, would read the system’s external IP address and only delete data by overwriting files for users based in Russia and Belarus.” • Well, so much for the open source ecosystem, as soon as other developers start following this developers lead on other issues. Once again, it turns out that American IP is pure power projection, nothing or less.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 35 Fear (previous close: 26 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 15 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 18 at 1:20pm. Hmm.


One game developer’s imagery over time:

Amazing to me that there’s this art form exising out there — to me — inaccessible, in a medium I know nothing of, on platforms I do not use, and to which there are significant barriers to entry. Millions enjoy and appreciate it; I know nothing of it. I don’t know if there’s ever been a cultural phenomenon like this. At some point it must emerge into politics, but how and when?

Photo Book

“Photography is not Objective, Art is a Set of Choices” [Aaron Hertzmann]. “Photography is not objective truth. Photography and painting both result from deliberate choices of depiction, and there is no dividing line between them. In two previous posts, I wrote about perspective and tonal choices in representational pictures, whether in photography or painting. These choices determine what a picture looks like, and, largely, how people interpret it. Even though photography arises from mechanically recording light, artistic and technical choices determine how recorded of light gets displayed. Different choices lead to different photographs or paintings, which give a viewer different perceptions, and none is objectively “correct.” These same kinds of choices are made in each, even though the process for making these choices are different. Pictures are like stories, told with light rather than words. Perception is interpretation, and visual art is a construction made for perception.” And: “It’s worth appreciating just how impossible it is to try to capture real visual experience with a photograph. For those of us with mostly-normal (corrected) vision, our two eyes receive light from a wide horizontal and visual field that doesn’t map onto a flat plane. Each eye sees a different part of the world, which our brains use to get a sense of shape. Different parts of the world are blurry or sharp as our eyes refocus. We can interpret light in a broad range of intensities, from dim nighttime indoors, to bright sunlight. At any instant, we perceive extremely fine details in one direction (the foveal direction), with much coarser information in peripheral vision. Projecting all this information onto a low-resolution, flat, static, planar array of pixels or pigments naturally throws most of the information away. It only captures one tiny slice of the light in the world. No conventional photograph or painting can capture the full richness of what we experience at any given instantaneous moment of real life. And this is to say nothing of directly conveying concepts or emotions visually. Hence, pictures cannot fully convey real experience. At most they can only represent aspects of it.” • So perhaps my very poor eyesight makes me a better photographer? (I just processed a photo where a sleeping cat ended up exactly on a Rule of Thirds node — and I hadn’t even seen the cat, even though I work from a big iPad, not a tiny viewfinder. Or perhaps my unconscious mind was helping me with the composition?)

The Gallery

“Magritte’s Prophetic Surrealism” [Boston Review]. “Studying Magritte’s life and work forces you to stop and notice. Contemporary U.S. life is surreal, but, at least to me, it doesn’t look like a Salvador Dalí painting or even the work of latter-day descendants such as David Lynch and Haruki Murakami. It looks like Magritte, with its weightless, endlessly reproduced photographs and logos that make everywhere feel like everywhere else (i.e., nowhere). It puzzles in the same placid, teasing way that Magritte puzzles; it seems utterly random and utterly repetitive, at once too obscure and too obvious, creating the illusion that everything will make sense if only you stay and puzzle a little longer. Contemporary U.S. life—like an apple in a café, like many of the figures in Magritte’s paintings, like Magritte himself—is hiding in plain sight….” • Well worth a read, if only to situate Magritte in your mind. Magritte’s painting is better than it looks?

But where are the dogs:

(I believe — time presses — from one of the Nabis.) How on earth did the painter compress space that way?

Good kitty:

Manet’s Olymphia was in 1863….

News of the Wired

“Living with cholera”:

Take personal responsibility! Boil your water!

Turns out the Sumerian dog joke is NSFW, but can somebody clue me in on the cultural reference here? If indeed there is one?

Fascinating thread. I have lived in foreign countries for extended periods, and I always like not being able to understand people around me; it means their voices aren’t in my head. Reading this thread is like that, except apparently the language is MIllennial memage?

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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. Via (SC):

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Above: the plug trays.

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Above: DIY humidity dome.

SC writes a lovely long report:

Spring is coming and I’m in the midst of starting things indoors. Space is at a premium and I’m relying on high density plug trays this year; will pot up to conventional 36-per-flat inserts later in March when it starts to get warm enough overnight to contemplate hardening off the starts. I apologize for the darkness of the first photo; my point and shoot mis-focused when the grow lights were on, and the flash is too dim for the wide angle shot, but it gives an idea. There are four 1020 watering flats pictured, two with 200-plug trays and one with mini-6-packs. There is a pathetic- looking tomato vine cutting barely hanging on in the 4th flat. The two upper trays are Thyme starts, about 4 and a half weeks old. The lower left tray is Dutch White Clover (seed pre-inoculated with species-appropriate Rhizobium). It’s a bit silly to start a broadcastable plant like Clover in growing medium, but doing this indoors presumably will give me bigger plants earlier which I can place among my veggie plantings. This setup is underneath my potting bench, which shades the trays from the south windows; there are two shop lights and two LED grow lights arranged to illuminate the trays. The shop lights are supported by concrete blocks and the LED lights are clipped to the potting bench top. The 3 flats with cells have about 400 plants in them. This is a compact way of getting a lot started in a small space, but at the cost of significant later effort to pot up into larger packs or pots.

The Thyme will mostly be given away; a local community garden will have a public “Scarborough Fair” event to distribute herbs to neighbors and volunteers; this will be the Thyme component. Thyme can serve as an edible ground cover and bees like it when in bloom. I have a good bit of “Mother of Thyme” creeping thyme already in the backyard nursery area; when treading on that, one gets the sensation of poking one’s head into an Italian kitchen.

The 2nd photo is of sunflower seeds germinating in a DIY mini humidity dome. These seeds have been in the dome less than 96 hours; I think they are germinating quite quickly. I find this method of germination helpful for conserving seed, growing medium and starter tray space, since it allows one to ensure that there is a viable plant in every starting cell. It has a significant time cost in that it adds repotting steps that would be avoided if one simply started the seeds in growing medium.

The elements of the mini-greenhouse are apparent: a sealable flat container with transparent or translucent lid, folded paper towel for water reservoir, and coffee filter for damp germination substrate.

I’ll let the emerging radicles on these get a bit longer before repotting. but not too much longer; I’ve been warned that this species does not like the disturbance of transplantation. (A couple of years ago, I lost hundreds of Echinacea purpurea when transplanting from a humidome to growing medium. The radicles all died. So from now on those are started in growing medium; it appears that after the roots are established, Echinacea can tolerate the handling of transplantation.) These sunflowers will go into growing medium in peat pots so that they can later be set in soil without root disturbance.

I hope this is useful. I am quite excited about this year’s gardening. I have 200 purple milkweed seeds cold treating and I hope to find a way to get them to consistently bloom in the first year so I can weed out the ones that have hybridized with Common MW. I think my back yard will be overrun with butterflies this year. If I can get a colony of genetically pure Purple MW established, and a way of evaluating new grown-from-seed plants, I could start distributing plants to local people who want to ‘curate’ this threatened species. Purple MW is kind of hard to find, and expensive when one does find it, so I think it will not be hard to recruit people to adopt these plants gratis.

These are dark times. That’s why we need grow lamps. I heartily encourage readers to consider gardening, even if not on SC’s scale — a seedling in a dixie cup on a windowsill will do — as an antidote. It’s always good to have a living entity about that’s driving relentlessly toward to the light. And here’s hoping on the butterflies!

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

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If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

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