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2:00PM Water Cooler 5/20/2020


2:00PM Water Cooler 5/20/2020


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart:

2:00PM Water Cooler 5/20/2020 2

The data is the John Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. I have changed to a logarithmic scale for US States and territories.

Here is the state COVID cases by day in linear form. If I were the governoir of Florida (or Georgia) I might indeed take the view that “one of these things is not like the others,” especially if I were business-oriented. The nest ten days to two weeks will tell. Readers?

“As Florida begins to reopen state businesses, data shows no significant drop in COVID-19 case numbers” [ABC]. “As more Florida businesses and services reopen across the state this week, health data has shown that the number of coronavirus cases has continued to rise at a relatively stable rate…. Health department representatives said the state’s Rapid Emergency Support Team, which is comprised of local sheriffs and health professionals, is being deployed to long-term care facilities to ensure residents are tested and properly treated. The Florida National Guard will assist local counties with testing services, the health department said.” • More:

And from the same thread:

But would Taleb say that “worry” comes too late?

* * *

See Vice, “How to Read the Coronavirus Graphs“:

Quantities that grow exponentially, when depicted on a linear scale, look like curves that bend sharply upward, with the curve getting constantly steeper. On a log scale, exponentially growing values can be depicted with straight diagonal lines.

That’s the beauty of plotting things on log scales. Plots are meant to make things easy to understand, and we humans are much more adept at understanding linear, straight-line behavior. Log plots enable us to grasp exponential behavior by transferring the complexity of constantly steepening curves into the simplicity of an exponentially increasing scale.

On a log scale, we want to constantly be making the line more and more horizontal. The general concept of “flattening” is still a good one, but it’s never going to curve down. And so what we should be looking, and hoping for is a trend toward horizontal.


“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

* * *


Biden (D)(1): “Joe Biden Is Pivoting to the Left. What? Why?” [Slate]. “Joe Biden ran as the most centrist candidate in the Democratic primary. Ultimately, despite the egghead objections of out-of-touch left-liberal bloggers, this strategy worked, and he recovered from a strong early push by Bernie Sanders to (presumptively) win the nomination…. Having solidified his hold over his party, he is offering something to the younger and more economically insecure voters who were skeptical of him during the primary under the cover of associating himself, during a historic crisis, with the president who won WWII and pulled the country out of the Great Depression. It’s a win-win, except for the superrich, but they’ll get plenty of chances to talk Biden out of all this communist stuff if he actually gets elected. This is still America, after all.” • Run to the left in the primary, pivot right in the general. Oldest play in the book. Interesting on how Biden may see himself, however.

Sanders (D)(1): “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: The Collapse of the Sanders Campaign and the “Fusionist” Left” [Michael Tracey and Angela Nagel, American Affairs].Well worth reading in full. A taste: “why would the portion of Democratic primary voters animated by this suite of issues—impeachment, Ukraine, Russian interference, and so forth—be inclined to vote for Sanders in the first place? They had plenty of other options (Warren especially) who were more in keeping with their affluent liberal proclivities. But in fruitlessly catering to this demographic, Sanders jettisoned another quality that gave his campaign an aura of excitement in 2016, when he exuded the sense of being distinct from the rest of the mainstream Democratic Party. Four years later, there he was, participating in the obligatory anti-Trump sweepstakes—competing with the other can­didates over who could inveigh the most vociferously against Trump. While Sanders never lost what always came across as a gen­uinely felt populist fervor against the billionaire class, he often sound­ed like he was half-heartedly reading from the script of a liberal afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome when he would go through the mo­tions of listing Trump’s various crimes: racism, sexism, homo­phobia, xenophobia, etc., etc., etc. After four exhausting years of this from all liberal quarters, many of those who chose Bernie over Hillary last time were neither convinced nor impressed.” • I think the most interesting data point is right at the beginning: Sanders lost rural Iowa. That’s absurd, for 2016 Sanders. In 2020, Buttigieg won it.

Warren (D)(1): Shockingly, Warren backtracks on #MedicareForAll again:

Those words might as well have been crafted by Pelosi.

* * *

“Will 2020 Be Another Blue Wave Election Year?” [FiveThirtyEight]. • This is just an interesing, fun discussion.

And speaking of Allan Lichtman’s famous (and successfully predictive) keys, from Lichtman’s Facebook page (sigh) on May 1:

I am officially changing Key 4. Third party: “There is no significant third party or independent campaign,” from TRUE to UNDECIDED, based on Justin Amash’s likely candidacy. That leaves us currently with 4 Keys down and 5 undecided. See the pinned post on this page for where the Keys stand today. Let’s be really clear, I have NOT made an official prediction yet. You need 6 Keys down for that and there are 4 Keys down and 5 undecided.

But now Armash is not running. So I’m guessing that is 5 keys down, so by Lichtman’s system, the election is still too close to call. Which is pretty amazing, considering a pandemic and a Depression.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Dems Aim To Subsidize the Opponents of Progressives Change” [Andrew Perez, Too Much Information]. “[The Democrats’ stimulus bill] would reserve 25 percent of existing PPP funds for nonprofits, and set aside half of the money for nonprofits with less than 500 employees, which House Democrats described as ‘small nonprofits.’… After the Democratic Policy Center and a few independent media outlets spotlighted this giveaway late last week, House Democrats did make some changes to the provision. They added language barring PPP loans to 501(c)(4) groups that make political expenditures, which are generally known as dark money groups. That’s a good move. They also included perfunctory language blocking lobbyists’ compensation from being covered by PPP loans, but this is fairly meaningless, given the entire purpose of D.C. trade associations is to influence policy. Big lobbying groups still get free money. None of the changes negate the underlying point — Democrats are intent on using the coronavirus crisis as a justification for siphoning money from mom-and-pop small businesses and giving it to Washington lobby groups whose political action committees have delivered more than $191 million to current Members of Congress in the last two decades.” • Yes, the Center for American Progress is a non-profit. So, if you feel good about bailing out Neera Tanden, vote for the bill! (I have thought a lot what the institutional structure of the Democrat Party really is, and I think NGOs are part of the party, much as the outer moat and walls of a castle are part of the castle; I lkeep saying “Euthanize the NGOs” for a reason. (The oddly unanimous abandonment of #MeToo by Democrat NGOs in the case of Joe Biden is telling in that regard. I mean, come on, man.) So, in my view, the Democrat Party would in essence be bailing itself out with PPP, which is pretty shameless, when you think about it.

“Why the Government Keeps Screwing Up On Coronavirus So Badly” [Vice]. Deck: “Believe it or not, they’re not trying to get us killed.” Well….From the UK: “It is not that the government is trying to get us all killed. To the contrary, despite spectacular failures, it is trying to get the disease under control. And unlike some US Republicans, it doesn’t dare ask us to die for capitalism. But it is a capitalist party above all. It exists to conserve an economy that had to be shut down, and now needs to be overhauled. That’s why it was so late to act in the first place, why its ‘biosecurity’ plans are so insipid and why it is making this unforced error of prematurely sending us back to work.” • It doesn’t?

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. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

No statistics of interest today.

* * *

“On the Spotify-Joe Rogan Deal and the Coming Death of Independent Podcasting” [Matt Stoller, BIG]. “To explain Spotify’s strategy, I analogized the current podcast market to the web in the mid-2000s. As the web used to be, today podcasting is an open market, with advertising, podcasting, and distribution mostly separated from one another. Distribution happens through an open standard called RSS, and there’s very little behavioral ad targeting. I’m asked on fun weird podcasts all the time; podcasting feels like the web prior to the roll-up of power by Google and Facebook, with a lot of new voices, some very successful and most marginal, but quite authentic. So what is Spotify trying to do? First, Spotify is gaining power over podcast distribution by forcing customers to use its app to listen to must-have content, by either buying production directly or striking exclusive deals, as it did with Rogan. This is a tying or bundling strategy. Once Spotify has a gatekeeping power over distribution, it can eliminate the open standard rival RSS, and control which podcasts get access to listeners. The final stage is monetization through data collection and ad targeting. Once Spotify has gatekeeping power over distribution and a large ad targeting business, it will also be able to control who can monetize podcasts, because advertisers will increasingly just want to hit specific audience members, as opposed to advertise on specific shows.” • Ugh.

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 52 Neutral (previous close: 48 Neutra;) [CNN]. One week ago: 39 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 20 at 12:29pm.

The Biosphere

“Cold War satellites inadvertently tracked species declines” [Science]. “When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit in 1957, the United States responded with its own spy satellites. The espionage program, known as Corona, sought to locate Soviet missile sites, but its Google Earth–like photography captured something unintended: snapshots of animals and their habitats frozen in time. Now, by comparing these images with modern data, scientists have found a way to track the decline of biodiversity in regions that lack historic records.” • In this article, marmots. Nice!

Health Care

“Why do some COVID-19 patients infect many others, whereas most don’t spread the virus at all?” [Science]. “Most of the discussion around the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has concentrated on the average number of new infections caused by each patient. Without social distancing, this reproduction number (R) is about three. But in real life, some people infect many others and others don’t spread the disease at all. In fact, the latter is the norm, Lloyd-Smith says: “The consistent pattern is that the most common number is zero. Most people do not transmit.’ That’s why in addition to R, scientists use a value called the dispersion factor (k), which describes how much a disease clusters. The lower k is, the more transmission comes from a small number of people. … Estimates of k for SARS-CoV-2 vary…. But in a recent preprint, Adam Kucharski of LSHTM estimated that k for COVID-19 is as low as 0.1. “Probably about 10% of cases lead to 80% of the spread,” Kucharski says…. If k is really 0.1, then most chains of infection die out by themselves and SARS-CoV-2 needs to be introduced undetected into a new country at least four times to have an even chance of establishing itself… .Meatpacking plants are likely vulnerable because many people work closely together in spaces where low temperature helps the virus survive. But it may also be relevant that they tend to be loud places, Knight says. The report about the choir in Washington made her realize that one thing links numerous clusters: They happened in places where people shout or sing. And although Zumba classes have been connected to outbreaks, Pilates classes, which are not as intense, have not, Knight notes. “Maybe slow, gentle breathing is not a risk factor, but heavy, deep, or rapid breathing and shouting is.” • Must read. (I had thought of nursing homes as quiet, however. Does understaffing lead to shouting?)

“Early data show Moderna Covid-19 vaccine generates immune response” [STAT]. “[C]andidate vaccine for Covid-19 developed by the drug maker Moderna appears to generate an immune response similar to the response seen in people who have been infected by the virus and recovered, the company said Monday….. The data were limited and from only a small number of participants in the trial, led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But they are still likely to be seen as encouraging.” • Especially by Mr. Market, at least temporarily.

“Leaked Pentagon memo warns of ‘real possibility’ of COVID-19 resurgence, vaccine not coming until summer 2021” [Task & Purpose]. “The Defense Department should prepare to operate in a “globally-persistent” novel coronavirus (COVID-19) environment without an effective vaccine until “at least the summer of 2021,” according to a draft Pentagon memo obtained by Task & Purpose. ‘We have a long path ahead, with the real possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19,’ reads the memo, authored for Secretary of Defense Mark Esper but not yet bearing his signature. ‘Therefore, we must now re-focus our attention on resuming critical missions, increasing levels of activity, and making necessary preparations should a significant resurgence of COVID-19 occur later this year.’”

Failed State

“Michigan sheriff says Gov. Whitmer’s stay-at-home order is akin to mass arrest” [Mlive]. “Riffing on the location, Leaf called Owosso barber Karl Manke, who opened despite the governor’s order, a ‘little version of Rosa Parks,’ and asked the crowd to imagine what would’ve happened if Parks never sat in the front of the bus. The two-and-a-half hour rally protesting the stay-at-home order to curb the COVID-19 pandemic was peaceful and filled with musical interludes between speakers. Among the crowd members was a man hawking Trump 2020 flags, a woman dressed as Whitmer but with an Adolf Hitler mustache penciled on and a person holding a sign of Bill Gates with a syringe that reads him as saying, ‘Your body, my choice.’” • That’s a clean shot at Bill Gates, I must admit. (It’s also a clean shot of what it means to have a body under capitalism if you don’t have any capital, not that the fun house mirror of right-wing pollitics reflects that idea, particularly.

Class Warfare

Zeitgeist Watch

“The Worst Is Yet to Come” [Farhad Manjoo, New York Times]. “For as long as I can remember, I have identified as an optimist. Like a seedling reaching toward the golden sun, I’m innately tuned to seek out the bright side…. The coronavirus and our disastrous national response to it has smashed optimists like me in the head. If there is a silver lining, we’ll have to work hard to find it…. To do that, we should spend more time considering the real possibility that every problem we face will get much worse than we ever imagined. The coronavirus is like a heat-seeking missile designed to frustrate progress in almost every corner of society, from politics to the economy to the environment…. It is all these things and something more fundamental: a startling lack of leadership on identifying the worst consequences of this crisis and marshaling a united front against them. Indeed, division and chaos might now be the permanent order of the day.” • I think many readers were expressing the “smashed in the head” feeling the other day; for me, the idea that I need to treat anybody within six feet of me as potentially lethal is hard to take. But I think Manjoo is mis-identifying the “more fundamental” problem as “leadership.” If you want a splendid example of bad leadership, look at McClellan in the Civil War. But despite McClellan, there was no doubt that the Union had the operational capability to win the war. Does the United States have the operational capability to crash #COVID19, as First World countries like South Korea and Taiwan have done? I’m dubious. And that, for me, is the most disorienting feeling of all. I’m an American. Americans are supposed to be able to do things.

News of the Wired

“Losing Touch: Another Drawback of the COVID-19 Pandemic” [The Scientist]. “It had been seven weeks since I’d touched another human being…. “Touch is the most powerful safety signal of togetherness,” says Steve Cole, a psychiatrist and biobehavioral scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles…. ‘When we get lonely and isolated our brainstem recognizes that suddenly we are in insecure territory and flips on a bunch of fight-or-flight stress responses without us even knowing it,’ Cole says. ‘There’s all sorts of things in our social world that lead us to calculate that we are either safe or unsafe. You can think of physical touch, supportive and affectionate touch, as the most fundamental signal that you’re with somebody who cares about you . . . a fundamental signal of safety and well-being.’” • If only Silicon Valley could somehow intermediate touch!

* * *
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):

2:00PM Water Cooler 5/20/2020 3

IM writes: “As the sun swings around to the northwest, we get these sunsets from time to time. It’s hard to say if this photo privileges the plant or the sunset more…readers?”

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