2:00PM Water Cooler 5/4/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 5/4/2023 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I had a ProtonMail outage right in the middle of production. So there will be more orts and scraps than usual, some actually important! So please check back –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

European Starling, Famosa Slough, San Diego, California, United States. “Flock on wire.”

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“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

Biden Administration

“FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Promote Responsible AI Innovation that Protects Americans’ Rights and Safety” [White House]. “The Administration is announcing an independent [lol] commitment from leading AI developers, including Anthropic, Google, Hugging Face, Microsoft, NVIDIA, OpenAI, and Stability AI, to participate in a public evaluation of AI systems, consistent with responsible disclosure principles—on an evaluation platform developed by Scale AI—at the AI Village at DEFCON 31.” Good to see the Screen Writers Guild involved in this so-called “evaluation,” since their livelihoods are directly affected. Oh, wait… More: “This will allow these models to be evaluated thoroughly by thousands of community partners and AI experts to explore how the models align with the principles and practices outlined in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and AI Risk Management Framework.” • Let’s ask the foxes about henhouse design! (Clearly, I have to put on my yellow waders for this one. Dear Lord.)

Republican Funhouse

“The (Republican) Party’s Over” [Michael Tomasky, The New Republic]. “New Republic editor Michael Tomasky gathered four close observers of the party’s decline and fall via Zoom in early March to discuss the current and future state of the Republican Party: Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011; Juleanna Glover, who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft; Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist and author of The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right; and Nicolle Wallace, who was President George W. Bush’s communications director and senior adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign and now hosts MSNBC’s Deadline: White House.” More:

MICHAEL TOMASKY: My first question is a really simple one. Is the Republican Party as currently constituted salvageable?


(general laughter)

There’s probably a joke to be made about Ionesco and RINOs, but I must hustle along…

“Kevin & The 20: A Love-ish Story” [Puck]. “Perhaps most terrifying for Democrats, as Biden prepares to confront Republican leaders at the White House next week, is the prospect that the House G.O.P. comity holds. Indeed, when I recently spoke with sources connected to the so-called Taliban 20—the group of far-right representatives who took McCarthy’s speakership hostage in exchange for a power-sharing agreement earlier this year—they expressed something I have frankly never heard from any of them: admiration for McCarthy and trust that the man they once considered the ultimate RINO can deliver for them. “McCarthy’s coalition government is more stable than either the media or the Biden administration would like to believe,” a source close to The Twenty told me.” • Let’s wait and see.

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:

The Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

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“I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.” –William Lloyd Garrison

Resources, United States (National): Transmission (CDC); Wastewater (CDC, Biobot; includes many counties); Variants (CDC; Walgreens); “Iowa COVID-19 Tracker” (in IA, but national data).

Lambert here: Readers, thanks for the collective effort. We are now up to 50/50 states (100%). This is really great! (It occurs to me that there are uses to which this data might be put, beyond helping people with “personal risk assessments” appropriate to their state. For example, thinking pessimistically, we might maintain the list and see which states go dark and when. We might also tabulate the properties of each site and look for differences and commonalities, for example the use of GIS (an exercise in Federalism). I do not that CA remains a little sketchy; it feels a little odd that there’s no statewide site, but I’ve never been able to find one. Also, my working assumption was that each state would have one site. That’s turned out not to be true; see e.g. ID. Trivially, it means I need to punctuate this list properly. Less trivially, there may be more local sites that should be added. NY city in NY state springs to mind, but I’m sure there are others. FL also springs to mind as a special case, because DeSantis will most probably be a Presidental candidate, and IIRC there was some foofra about their state dashboard. Thanks again!

Resources, United States (Local): AK (dashboard); AL (dashboard); AR (dashboard); AZ (dashboard); CA (dashboard; Marin); CO (dashboard; wastewater); CT (dashboard); DE (dashboard); FL (wastewater); GA (wastewater); HI (dashboard); IA (wastewater reports); ID (dashboard, Boise; dashboard, wastewater, Central Idaho; wastewater, Coeur d’Alene; dashboard, Spokane County); IL (wastewater); IN (dashboard); KS (dashboard; wastewater, Lawrence); KY (dashboard, Louisville); LA (dashboard); MA (wastewater); MD (dashboard); ME (dashboard); MI (wastewater; wastewater); MN (dashboard); MO (wastewater); MS (dashboard); MT (dashboard); NC (dashboard); ND (dashboard; wastewater); NE (dashboard); NH (wastewater); NJ (dashboard); NM (dashboard); NV (dashboard; wastewater, Southern NV); NY (dashboard); OH (dashboard); OK (dashboard); OR (dashboard); PA (dashboard); RI (dashboard); SC (dashboard); SD (dashboard); TN (dashboard); TX (dashboard); UT (wastewater); VA (dashboard); VT (dashboard); WA (dashboard; dashboard); WI (wastewater); WV (wastewater); WY (wastewater).

Resources, Canada (National): Wastewater (Government of Canada).

Resources, Canada (Provincial): ON (wastewater); QC (les eaux usées); BC, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: Art_DogCT, B24S, CanCyn, ChiGal, Chuck L, Festoonic, FM, FreeMarketApologist (4), Gumbo, hop2it, JB, JEHR, JF, JL Joe, John, JM (9), JW, KatieBird, LL, Michael King, KF, LaRuse, mrsyk, MT, otisyves, Petal (5), RK (2), RL, RM, Rod, square coats (11), tennesseewaltzer, Utah, Bob White (3).

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I should probably file this under Zeitgeist watch:

I thought deru kui wa utareru was only for that famously group-oriented and conformist culture, Japan. Guess not.


“Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance for Early Detection of New SARS-CoV-2 Variants” [CDC]. “Travelers are an important population to consider when tracking new and emerging infectious diseases. Travelers move from place to place quickly and can get and spread infectious diseases. U.S. airports are visited by more than 1 billion travelers each year and can serve as the front line for public health officials to detect variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in arriving international travelers…. The Traveler Genomic Surveillance program (TGS), run by the Travelers’ Health Branch at CDC in partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks and XpresCheck, plays an important role in U.S. national surveillance by testing travelers to detect new variants entering the country and fill gaps in global surveillance… As part of the TGS program, arriving international travelers volunteer to participate and provide nasal swabs that get batched into pools (5–25 swabs per pool) at the airport. These pooled samples are sent to Gingko’s lab network for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing. All positives undergo genomic sequencing. Pooled sampling is a unique and valuable approach that allows the detection of multiple variants while conserving resources. Select samples from TGS are shared with CDC’s lab for viral characterization which can help provide information on a variant’s transmissibility, virulence, and response to current treatments or vaccines.” • Oh, it’s voluntary. So does CDC think that travelers who know or even suspect they’re infected are going to self-select into their testing program? What a farce!


“Assessment of COVID-19 as the Underlying Cause of Death Among Children and Young People Aged 0 to 19 Years in the US” [JAMA]. “The findings of this study suggest that COVID-19 was a leading cause of death in [children and young people (CYP)]. It caused substantially more deaths in CYP annually than any vaccine-preventable disease historically in the recent period before vaccines became available. Various factors, including underreporting and not accounting for COVID-19’s role as a contributing cause of death from other diseases, mean that these estimates may understate the true mortality burden of COVID-19.” • Remember when children weren’t supposed to get Covid at all? Good times.

Elite Maleficence

“Meet Mary Wakefield, the Nurse Administrator Tasked With Revamping the CDC” [KFF Health News]. From September 6, 2022. Whatever Wakefield has been doing, she’s been keeping awfully quiet about it.

I’m not the only one after scalps from Infection Control:

Prather’s no lightweight, and did great work on aerosols.

The missing element in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is, of course, elite gaslighting and misinformation. There’s nothing spontaneous about the transformation:

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Lambert here: I’m getting the feeling that the “Something Awful” might be a sawtooth pattern — variant after variant — that averages out to a permanently high plateau. Lots of exceptionally nasty sequelae, most likely deriving from immune dysregulation (says this layperson).

Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data from May 1:

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Lambert here: Unless the United States is completely, er, exceptional, we should be seeing an increase here soon. UPDATE Indeed, a slight uptick. Let’s wait and see. A chart of past peaks:

For now, I’m going to use this national wastewater data as the best proxy for case data (ignoring the clinical case data portion of this chart, which in my view “goes bad” after March 2022, for reasons as yet unexplained). At least we can spot trends, and compare current levels to equivalent past levels.

• Another way to think about “waves”:


NOT UPDATED From CDC, April 29, 2023. Here we go again:

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Lambert here: Looks like XBB.1.16 is rolling right along. Though XBB 1.9.1 is in the race as well.

Covid Emergency Room Visits

From CDC NCIRD Surveillance, from April 29:

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NOTE “Charts and data provided by CDC, updates Wednesday by 8am. For the past year, using a rolling 52-week period.” So not the entire pandemic, FFS (the implicit message here being that Covid is “just like the flu,” which is why the seasonal “rolling 52-week period” is appropriate for bothMR SUBLIMINAL I hate these people so much. Anyhow, I added a grey “Fauci line” just to show that Covid wasn’t “over” when they started saying it was, and it’s not over now. Notice also that this chart shows, at least for its time period, that Covid is not seasonal, even though CDC is trying to get us to believe that it is, presumably so they can piggyback on the existing institutional apparatus for injections.


A kind reader discovered that Walgreens had reduced its frequency to once a week. No updates, however, since April 11.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Lambert here: So this data feed, er, came alive again.

Total: 1,161,935 – 1,161,387 = 548 (548 * 365 = 200,020 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

Excess Deaths

NOT UPDATED Excess deaths (The Economist), published April 23:

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Lambert here: Based on a machine-learning model. (The CDC has an excess estimate too, but since it ran forever with a massive typo in the Legend, I figured nobody was really looking at it, so I got rid it. )

• “COVID-19 Mortality Working Group – Excess mortality continues in January 2023, but with less non-COVID excess mortality than in 2022” [Actuaries Digital]. “Total excess mortality for the month of January 2023 is 8% (+1,100 deaths) i.e. there were 1,100 more deaths than would have been expected if the pandemic had not happened. Two-thirds of the excess mortality is due to deaths from COVID-19 (+760 deaths), with another +230 COVID-19 related deaths, and the remaining excess of +150 had no mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate. The proportion of excess deaths that are not from or related to COVID-19 was lower in January 2023 (13%) than we saw across 2022 (33%).” • Hmm. I’m not an excess deaths maven. Can readers comment?

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose by 13 thousand to 242 thousand on the week ending April 29th, surpassing market expectations of 240 thousand. The result compounded recent data that points to a marked softening of the US job market, caving to a prolonged series of aggressive interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve.”

Employment Situation: “United States Challenger Job Cuts” [Trading Economics]. “US-based employers announced 66.995K job cuts in April of 2023, the least so far this year, and 25% less than in March.”

Labor Market: “United States Nonfarm Unit Labour Cost” [Trading Economics]. “Unit labor costs in the US nonfarm business sector rose an annualized 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2023, accelerating from an upwardly revised 3.3 percent increase in the previous period and above market expectations of a 5.5 percent gain, preliminary data showed. It reflects a 3.4 percent increase in hourly compensation and a 2.7 percent decrease in productivity.” • Hmm. Can’t have that.

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Banks: “Europeans drain billions from banks, fed up with shrinking savings” [Reuters]. “European savers are pulling more of their money from banks, looking for a better deal as lenders resist paying up to hold on to deposits some feel they can currently live without. The trend emerged as some of the region’s biggest lenders outlined a profitable start to the year in results that also offered a glimpse of a phenomenon dubbed a “bank walk” – a slow but notable outflow of customer cash. Lenders wasted little time in charging more for loans when interest rates rapidly rose from an almost 15-year slumber around zero last year, but most have dragged their feet on boosting deposit rates paid to millions of their customers. That has boosted profits at many major banks beyond many analysts’ expectations but left savers disgruntled, raising fresh questions over the longer-term stability of the sector.” • The article doesn’t say, but I wonder if the numbers differ for France, especially. Those protests don’t look likely to stop, and perhaps people want to hang onto their cash?

Tech: “How aspiring influencers are forced to fight the algorithm” [MIT Technology Review]. “How often are creators thinking about the possibility of being censored or having their content not reach their audience because of algorithmic suppression or moderation practices?I think it fundamentally structures their content creation process and also their content promotion process. These algorithms change at whim; there’s no insight. There’s no direct communication from the platforms, in many cases. And this completely, fundamentally impacts not just your experience, but your income. They would invest so much time and labor in these grassroots experiments and would talk about ‘I would do the same kind of content, but I would vary this thing one day. I would wear this kind of outfit one day, and another kind the next.’ Or they’d try different sets of hashtags. People would say they have both online and offline interactions with their creator community, and they would talk about how to game the algorithm, what’s okay to say, what can potentially be flagged. There are some important forms of collective organization that may not look like what we would traditionally think of as organized workers but are still powerful ways for creators to band together and kind of challenge the top-down systems of power.” • “Creators.” “Influencers.” Platform talk.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 52 Neutral (previous close: 51 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 58 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 4 at 1:17 PM ET.

Class Warfare

“AI is Just Someone Else’s Intelligence” [Zdziarski]. “It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in the field of ML (or what some call AI), and we’ve come a long way from simple language classification with Bayes and neural nets to what’s being casually called generative AI today. While technology has made a lot of advances, the concepts of machine learning have remained much the same over time: a training set is provided as input into a system, which identifies patterns to create models (traditionally using weighted methods and statistics).” And: “The danger of this type of ML is not that it will take jobs (it definitely will, and already is), but why it will take jobs. It will take jobs not because the computer is replacing the thinking of one worker. It will take jobs because the computer is using the thinking of a million other workers – how can any one worker compete with that? Training material is, at a deconstructed level, the critical patterns of other people’s thoughts, ideas, writings, music, theology, facts, opinions, poetry, and so on. ML has proven wildly successful at identifying these critical patterns and gluing them back together in some different way that delivers the desired result, but at the end of the day all of its intelligence indeed belongs to the other people whose content was used to train it, almost always without their permission. In the end, generative AI takes from the world’s best artists, musicians, philosophers, and other thinkers – erasing their identities, and reassigns credit to its output. Without the proper restraints, it will produce the master forgeries of our generation, and blur the lines between what we view as human ideas and synthesized ones.” • In other words, AI is theft on a previously unheard of scale. The author seems to believe that “proper restraints” are possible. Under capitalism? Really? In any case, the whole piece is worth a read.

“As inflation chews up worker pay, top CEOs got 7.7% raise last year” [CBS News]. “For nearly two years, worker pay in the U.S. has fallen short of crushing increases in the cost of living. But a handful of the highest-paid CEOs have comfortably stayed ahead of inflation. Average pay for top chief executives last year rose 7.7%, according to a report from Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. That raise comfortably beat out inflation, which was 6.4% in December.”

“This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense” [HuffPo]. “Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.”

“Institutional Courage: An Antidote to Institutional Betrayal and Broken Trust” (abstract only) [Nurse Leader]. “An emerging area of interest is how institutional betrayal among nurses might lead to issues of nurse well-being, such as burnout and turnover. In this phenomenon, the organization, whether by explicit actions or the abstract ethos of the work environment, can become a contributing factor to psychological well-being. Within health care, the systemization and corporatization of medical services has contributed to a more institutional identity. Institutional actions that defy the expectation for safety and violate relationships between individual and institution are termed institutional betrayal. In any case or among any population of nurses, the key element of institutional betrayal is a violation of trust. If trust is lacking and the relationship with the organization is broken, then the person would feel a psychological weight or some sort of strain on their ethos that wears on their resilience. For nurses, this fractured relationship then makes patient care feel more like work than caring, which then cascades to burnout. In a system depleted of institutional trust, nurses might feel useless and wasted in the churn of the “system,” so they become depersonalized and bitter. Building back institutional trust becomes a pivotal way to counteract the trauma of betrayal. Rebuilding trust takes acts of courage. It is not easy for an organization or institution to admit it harmed people, and likely even more difficult as public relations and brand image become critical factors in health care business practices. But to admit these faults and take bold action is an act of institutional courage, one that can help heal the wounds experienced by nurses and larger society.” • All true. But “institutional courage” seems sorely lacking, especially in the upper reaches of the public health establishment and hospital administration. Perhaps the profit motive is not conducive to it.

News of the Wired

“4 reasons why you should read old, classic books” [Big Think]. “[D]on’t approach older books the way we did in school. These aren’t burdens you need to bear to become educated or cultured or pass some hidden life exam. There is no grade to be had. Instead, wait until a particular classic calls to you. If you’re not ready for the philosophies of Plato, try the plays of William Shakespeare or the Romantic poetry of John Keats. If neither of those speaks to you, the Victorian era has some fantastic mysteries and ghost stories to get lost in (both favorites of mine). Humanity’s collective library is vast, more than anyone can read in a lifetime. You’ll find something if you look…. These works have waited a long time, in some cases centuries, to reach your bookshelf. What’s a few more years of waiting? Just as long as we give them the chance and are receptive when that time finally arrives to take them off the shelf.” •

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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. From AM:

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AM writes: “6:57 pm on Pier 26 along the Hudson River in TriBeCa , NYC. Nice to have daylight on my evening walk and the beginnings of leaves on the birch trees. The white flowers on the bushes are not something I have seen before.”

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