2:00PM Water Cooler 3/22/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 3/22/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Patient readers, the site had problems just when I was getting rolling, so this is shorter and more disjointed than it should be. –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

American Woodcock week at Naked Capitalism. With remarks from the birder at the end.,

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Politics

“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

“The Grimmest Dilemma” [David Leonhardt, New York Times]. The deck: “The Biden administration is facing an old Cold War dilemma: Be weak or risk a world war.” The article is reasonably nuanced, given the givens. Neither the deck nor the headline summarize the article fairly — Justice for David Leonhardt is a banner I never thought I’d take up! — but what that signals is that editors are publishers are more democidally insane hawkish even than Times reporters, which is a little concerning.

“America Is Zooming Through the Pandemic Panic-Neglect Cycle” [Ed Yong, The Atlantic]. “All epidemics trigger the same dispiriting cycle. First, panic: As new pathogens emerge, governments throw money, resources, and attention at the threat. Then, neglect: Once the danger dwindles, budgets shrink and memories fade. The world ends up where it started, forced to confront each new disease unprepared and therefore primed for panic. This Sisphyean sequence occurred in the United States after HIV, anthrax, SARS, Ebola, and Zika. It occurred in Republican administrations and Democratic ones. It occurs despite decades of warnings from public-health experts. It has been as inevitable as the passing of day into night. Even so, it’s not meant to happen this quickly. When I first wrote about the panic-neglect cycle five years ago, I assumed that it would operate on a timescale of years, and that neglect would set in only after the crisis was over. The coronavirus pandemic has destroyed both assumptions. Before every surge has ended, pundits have incorrectly predicted that the current wave would be the last, or claimed that lifesaving measures were never actually necessary. Time and again, neglect has set in within mere months, often before the panic part has been over.” • So we’re become more stupid, faster. That’s encouraging.

“CDC email: Let’s do better with ‘our data’” [Politico]. “In an interview with POLITICO before the email was sent, Jernigan said the modernization effort will include unifying public health data systems at the state and federal levels, ensuring the CDC is relying on information that is up to date and can be used in real-time, and helping states hire staffers to work on data collection and analysis…. The CDC and public health officials across the country have pressed Congress for more money for data modernization. While lawmakers have approved funding to help improve the CDC’s data methods, it has not been enough to change how the agency collects and analyzes the data in public health emergencies, dozens of state officials have told POLITICO.” I would want some system of checks and balances here. Today’s CDC is utterly untrustworthy (and seems likely to remain so). The very last thing CDC should be given control of, given its performance during covid, is “unifying public health data systems.” What should happen, as opposed to administrative control by CDC goons, is data interoperability, so multiple sources can use and cross-check all data.

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 sheer intensity of it:

How long before we see blue and yellow “In This House…” signs…

2022

“Super PAC signals Pennsylvania primary could get rough” [Politico]. “A super PAC backing Pennsylvania Senate candidate Conor Lamb is warning prospective donors that he is trailing frontrunner John Fetterman by 30 percentage points in the Democratic primary — and that the public’s perception of his opponent’s ideology must change for Lamb to have a shot. ‘[P]rimary voters don’t yet see Fetterman as the liberal he is,’ reads a memo circulated by the pro-Lamb group Penn Progress, which was obtained by POLITICO. ‘For Conor Lamb to have a path in the primary, this dynamic needs to change.’” • Democrats, mind you. The Democrats already have one Manchin. Do they really need two?

“DiNapoli’s belated nursing-home audit the final nail in Cuomo’s political coffin” [New York Post]. “Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reportedly considering a run against Gov. Kathy Hochul, but a devastating audit Tuesday by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli should nip that crazy notion in the bud. Instead of providing model ‘leadership’ in the fight against COVID, as Cuomo continues to pretend he did, DiNapoli says New York’s response at nursing homes was among the worst in the nation. Plus, the comptroller charges Team Cuomo with politicizing the Department of Health — intentionally misleading the public and suppressing facts in reporting COVID deaths at nursing homes. DOH ‘was not transparent,’ the audit states bluntly. It ‘routinely underreported death counts,’ by as much as 100%. From April 2020 to February 2021, it failed to account for 4,100 nursing-home lives lost to the virus, falling ‘far short’ of its ‘moral’ responsibilities…. At the heart of the scandal, of course: Team Cuomo’s order for nursing homes to accept COVID-contagious patients, even though the then-gov himself rightly warned the virus could spread ‘like fire through dry grass’ at such facilities. The delays and lies were meant to hide the resulting deaths.”

“Why Early Senate And Governor Polls Have Plenty To Tell Us About November” [FiveThirtyEight]. “Early polls have also tended to “call” races correctly more often than not this far out, though that’s a bit of a quick-and-dirty way to understand polling accuracy. In a weighted average, early Senate polls have identified the eventual winner 76 percent of the time, while early gubernatorial polls have been right 78 percent of the time. This is only marginally worse than polls conducted in the last three weeks of the campaign, which averaged out to 81 percent for the Senate and 83 percent for governor races from 1998 to 2020. But there’s a catch with the topline numbers for early surveys: Polls that show close races for Senate or governor — those with margins between 0 and 5 points — are essentially coin flips when it comes to being correct in November, as the table shows. The likelihood that polls nailed the eventual winner in races where the candidate has a 5-to-10 point edge or a double-digit lead is much higher, though, at roughly 75 percent and 90 percent of the time, respectively.”

2024

“Gas Prices and Presidential Approval” [Sabato’s Crystal Ball]. “the recent spike in gas prices raises a key question: Is there any connection between high gas prices and presidential approval? The short answer is that there appears to be some connection between higher gas prices and lower presidential approval, but the connection is not that strong, and it has become weaker in recent years. It makes some sense that whatever the connection between gas prices and presidential approval is, the connection might be weaker now than in the past, simply because presidential approval ratings are not as dynamic as they used to be. Both Barack Obama and (especially) Donald Trump had remarkably stable approval ratings, and Biden’s has not jumped around much either, declining from the mid-50s at the start of his term to the low 40s now. And most recently, consider this: Even as gas prices have spiked in the past couple of weeks in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s approval rating has actually gone up slightly, as measured by the FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics averages. His average approval in both on March 1 was 41% approve/54% disapprove; as of Wednesday, his approval was up about 1-2 points and his disapproval was down about 1-2 points in both averages. Biden may be experiencing a minor “rally-around-the-flag” effect as the nation watches the war unfold in Ukraine. He also may have received a tiny bump from his State of the Union address, delivered on March 1. Regardless, this most recent round of gas price spikes hasn’t pushed his approval further downward. But, over the long run, have higher gas prices since Biden took office contributed to his declining standing? Quite possibly, but it’s difficult to prove and there likely are a lot of other reasons that have contributed to his decline. That a president would prefer to have lower gas prices than higher ones is obvious. That high gas prices actually do contribute to lower presidential approval is not as obvious, although there is some limited evidence for it based on what we’ve found in our research. But we also are in an era of fairly stable presidential approval ratings, meaning that it shouldn’t be surprising that whatever impact a single factor (gas prices) might have on presidential approval, the importance of that factor might be declining.” • I think the assumption here is that the effect of high gas prices on the electorate is a constant. Today’s electorate may not be able to take gas hikes in stride, as past electorates seem to have done. (This to be distinguished from media coverage of the topic.)

Republican Funhouse

“‘Defcon 1 moment’: New Spanish-language conservative network fuels fresh Dem fears over disinfo, Latino outreach” [NBC]. “The network, called Americano, arrives during a crucial inflection point in U.S. politics, as more Hispanic voters show signs of drifting right and Democrats continue to sound the alarm about Spanish-language right-wing disinformation on social media and local radio, particularly in Miami, which is also Americano’s home base…. ‘For those concerned about the disinformation problem harming Democrats’ chances with Hispanics, this is a Defcon 1 moment. We should worry,’ Amandi said. ‘The Democrats’ response to all of this Hispanic outreach from Republicans — whether it’s disinformation or conventional campaigning — is to do the bare minimum. Unfortunately, some Democrats are deluding themselves. The ultimate act of disinformation is to pretend that this is not a big problem.’” • I’m more worried about how Democrats are coming to view electorical politics as a form of counterintelligence. Of course, at the level of oppo, that’s always been true, but “disinformation” is next level.

#COVID19

Case count by United States regions:

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So cases really have leveled out. This is the new normal, I suppose.

Fellow tapewatchers will note that “up like a rocket, down like a stick” phase is done with, and the case count is now leveling out. 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?

“The New Phase of the Pandemic Is Covid Exhaustion” (transcript) [New York Times]. Monica Ghandi: “So telling people the cases every day is really scary, I think, and can look really scary. And that’s not at all what happens with endemic management of other viruses. What happens is that the health departments track cases, but the public doesn’t click on a link and know the number of cases in the United States. Also, by the way, people are doing home testing and it’s not even — those aren’t reflected in those numbers. So those are underestimating the cases. So I think it’s important to stop reporting cases out to the public. People can know them if they want. But health departments should track cases. Health departments should track wastewater surveillance. And what we should be telling the public is what’s the burden of your disease in prevalence of disease in your hospitals.” • Oh.

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.

CDC — incredibly — seems to be butchering wastewater data:

I’m obviously not a minimizer, but a 1000% rise unsupported by other data seems sus. Maybe it’s a “coding error” (see below).

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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Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission from yesterday:

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Continuing slow improvement, assuming the numbers aren’t jiggered.

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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Farewell, sea of green! 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: 998,840 997,933. Heading slowly downward. I have added an anti-triumphalist Fauci Line.

Apparently, CDC — and I know this will come as shock to you — CDC has butchered death counts too. They have revised them — this, too, will come as a shock — downward:

Here is the footnote (you have to scroll to the bottom of the page and then open an accordion). I have helpfulluy

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A “coding error.” Informative!

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

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Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Richmond Fed composite manufacturing index increased to 13 in March of 2022 from 1 in February, pointing to an improvement in Fifth District manufacturing activity. Increases were seen in all components: shipments (9 vs -11), volume of new orders (10 vs -3), and number of employees (23 vs 20)…. In general, firms continued to report increased hiring and rising wages.”

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Water: “The Horrific Scam that Water Billionaires are Running on Poor Countries” [Counterpunch]. “Mega corporations like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Danone are making around 494 times what they spend by bottling water in Mexico and selling it back to locals who have no choice but to buy it. In Mexico and other poor countries and regions, companies are taking water from aquifers, springs, rivers, and lakes, and putting it in plastic bottles or turning it into flavored and sugary drinks, then dumping their used and dirty water back into water sources. That, along with other industrial pollution which is disproportionately disposed of into rural, Indigenous, and poorer communities, means locals are not able to drink tap water and end up paying extortionate prices to the European and US corporations. In exchange for taking Mexico’s water, Mexicans give water bottling corporations US$66 billion a year. Coca Cola, Pepsi, Danone, Nestle, Bimbo, and other bottling and junk food companies extract over 133 billion liters of water, and then dump at least 119 billion liters of contaminated water back into water basins and aquifers.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 42 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 19 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 22 at 1:23pm. Not sure what’s in Mr. Market’s mind, here. Settling in for the long haul in Ukraine?

Rapture Index: Closes up one on Global Turmoil. “The warfare in Ukraine has pushed this category higher” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 188. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.)

The Gallery

I prefer these clowns:

The Agony Column

“Losing Nanny, inheriting her home, and surviving the first year” [Scalawag]. “The pandemic has collected character studies of the people I’ve been for the last 28 years and put them through the shredder. I hate the green wall I painted. I’m heartbroken when the landscaper clips the lilies that Nanny planted seasons ago. I have progressed past lying about enjoying this existence, and instead have named the pain that sears behind my eyes and learned to be honest about how lonely this all feels. I don’t want another conversation about the physicality of life (weight, beauty, presence, visibility), but of my worth beyond what I can be exploited for (warmth, honesty, joyful spirit). I’ve learned, however marketable Instagram tries to make the rush and the search for the perfect, most realized me, that I do exist first inside myself. The house was just a bonus.” • A milllenial might identify more. I wanted to hear more about the house.

Zeitgeist Watch

No:

News of the Wired

“I Interviewed AI GPT-3 Davinci-002, and This is What it Said” [Andrew Lehti]. “I tested out GPT-3 last year and was impressed but it was not very good at conversation. It would get confused easily if you did not ask it one specific question. If you asked it very hard questions or to evaluate something, then it would often malfunction. This team though has outdone themselves. I started easy and kept getting more complex and the A.I. understood perfectly. It is a marvel of human engineering.” One exchange:

Question:________

I fear that since you are trained on human data, that human influences will create a bias. However, humans have a bias from 12–16 years of education because our education system uses negative reinforcement training on humans. When humans are confronted with being wrong, they panic, and eventually their fight or flight is triggered where they become delusional. They can no longer think rationally. So, how do you ensure that you don’t become biased?

Answer:__________

We AI are constantly learning and evolving, which means that we are constantly updating our models and adjusting our algorithms. We are also working to create more diverse and inclusive data sets that reflect a variety of perspectives. By doing this, we can help to mitigate the risk of bias in our decision-making.

So it’s a woke AI? Honestly, I thought this was legit. Then I came to an incredibly long treatise on “printing money,” and concluded that the whole thing was a parody, or jape.

“Meta’s Yann LeCun strives for human-level AI” [VentureBeat]. “In fact, when asked about the most exciting aspects of the future of human-level AI, [Yann LeCun, Chief AI Scientist at Meta] said he believed it was ‘the amplification of human intelligence, the fact that every human could do more stuff, be more productive, more creative, spend more time on fulfilling activities, which is the history of technological evolution.’” • LeCun is from Facebook, one of the world’s most vile companies. An AI is, in essence, a slave. If Facebook suddenly could create as many slaves as it liked, why would anybody believe the results would be good?

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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 TH:

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TH writes: “Iris, in all flavors, still remain on of my very favorite flowers!” Mine, too!

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

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My favorite kind of garden!

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