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2:00PM Water Cooler 8/5/2022

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Plain Martin, Lake Awassa, Ethiopia. “Two call types, higher-pitched alarm call and normal gravelly call” (which sounds more like a duck).

* * *

Politics

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

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

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

Abortion

“The Kansas Abortion Message” [Wall Street Journal]. “The press corps is making a big deal of the defeat of the Kansas abortion referendum on Tuesday, and for once they’re right. The 20-or-so point rout of the effort to strip abortion protections from the state constitution is a message to Republicans and the anti-abortion movement that a total ban isn’t popular even in a right-leaning state…. One message is that voters are wary of extremes on either side of the abortion issue. A majority of the public supports a right to abortion at least up to several weeks of pregnancy. This is disappointing to those who believe life begins at conception, but it means the pro-life side has persuading to do if it wants to win the abortion debate. That’s the burden of democracy, which is what the Supreme Court allowed to return on abortion in overturning Roe. Urging Congress to pass a national abortion ban, as some on the right want, looks like a certain loser—in addition to likely being unconstitutional. Abortion is an issue for the states to decide.”

Biden Administration

“How the Taiwan lobby helped pave the way for Pelosi’s trip” [Responsible Statecraft]. “[M]any of the nation’s top think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, and the Hudson Institute have all received funding from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the United States. These same think tanks often push for expanded arms sales and trade agreements with Taiwan ‘without widely disclosing their high-level funding from TECRO,’ according to Clifton. More recently, scholars at some think tanks that have received TECRO funding have downplayed concerns about Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to Taiwan…. TECRO has claimed it does ‘not influence what experts publish; nor do we base funding decisions on what experts choose to write on,’ yet, there’s a pattern of the think tanks it funds being supportive of greater U.S. ties with Taiwan. It’s also clear that Taiwan’s registered foreign agents have helped to increase U.S. military and economic ties with Taiwan. This week their efforts culminated by helping to pave the way for Pelosi’s risky trip to Taiwan. This alone should merit greater attention on the impacts this small, but clearly powerful, influence operation is having on U.S. foreign policy.”

2024

Dick Cheney on Donald Trump:

This from a guy who declared he was the Fourth Branch of government, back in the days of Bush The Younger:

“[T[here has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump. He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him. He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters. He lost his election and he lost big. I know it, he knows it, and deep down, I think most Republicans know it.

I like how Cheney swaps in “our republic” for “our democracy.”

“The Press is Already Working Overtime to Elect Trump Again” [Matt Taibbi, TK News]. “[Trump] won because he had the most consistent disapproval of an increasingly hated Washington political establishment…. Suppressing the fringe became harder when it grew and started winning primaries. The distinguishing feature of Trump’s 2016 run was extraordinary media attention, which most analysts (including me, at one point) incorrectly assumed gave him an edge by allowing him to get his message out for free. But Trump’s candidacy only really took off when the press attention went sharply negative…. The legacy press is still in denial about these coverage strategies. They also still ignore evidence of a similarly impotent showing in the 2020 Democratic race. Efforts by outlets like Vanity Fair and New York to hype elite-approved candidates from Kamala Harris to Beto O’Rourke to Pete Buttigieg to Kamala again to Amy Klobuchar to Mike freaking Bloomberg all flatlined, as in zero-point-zero levels of voter response… Trump and Sanders both surged in 2016 when they described a country divided into a small corrupt establishment and everyone else, and declared themselves on the side of everyone else. The journalistic priesthood that’s spent the last 6-7 years denouncing these people and their voters has done the opposite, proudly aligning itself with the hated inside, celebrating credentialism, and worst of all, cheering a censorship movement that’s now proven to be an abject failure. That story is among the biggest taboos in media now.”

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.

* * *

“Progressives”:

Realignment and Legitimacy

The quote’s from Jim Garrison. Nevertheless:

Interesting heuristic….

#COVID19

“The Origins of Covid-19 Are More Complicated Than Once Thought” [Wired]. Review of the Science article on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market (linked to at NC here). Interesting argument: “There were actually two strains of Covid circulating in Wuhan in late 2019: Lineage A and Lineage B, which are just two letters apart in their genetic code… [M]ultiple introductions damage the lab leak hypothesis.”

“How long does coronavirus stay in the air after someone with COVID leaves the room?” [San Franscisco Chronicle]. “How fast air leaves a room depends on how quickly outdoor air can enter and mix with the indoor air. According to the FAQ, a 95% replacement can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours in a residence, 12 minutes to two hours in a public building, and as little as five minutes in a highly ventilated area of a hospital, like an isolation ward. The decline is marked by three factors, or what is known as ‘sinks’ in the indoor air quality field: ventilation (the provision of fresh air in a room), filtration (the capture of air particles by filters) and deposition (the process in which aerosol particles collect or deposit themselves on indoor surfaces).” • There’s no set number, which I would think implies caution. (It’s nice, however, to see that reporters are developing sources in the field of “indoor air quality” and that Corsi is one of them.)

* * *

“The politics and science of the monkeypox pandemic” [WSWS]. “Monkeypox testing is labor-intensive, requiring lab workers to swab the lesions, a risky procedure, then extract the virus DNA through multiple steps and amplify the genetic material through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to obtain a result. The slow process takes two to three days for results while the patient waits. Additionally, such tests require a physician’s order.” And: “As for postexposure treatment, the vaccination of a person known to have been exposed to someone with a confirmed monkeypox infection must be carried out within three days of the exposure.” And so: “With the narrow clinical window in treating the exposed and delays inherent in confirmatory testing, a vaccination-only strategy is doomed to failure. Only implementing a broad-based contact tracing and isolation initiative, which must include the isolation of secondary contacts and an expanded ring vaccination program, which means the number needed to vaccinate grows exponentially to cover secondary contacts, can achieve the aim of eradication.” • Wheee!

* * *

If you missed it, here’s a post on my queasiness with CDC numbers, especially case count, which I (still) consider most important, despite what Walensky’s psychos at CDC who invented “community levels” think. But these are the numbers we have.

* * *

Case Count

Case count for the United States:

Lambert here: I am but a humble tapewatcher, but this the first time in a long time I’ve seen a lot of indicators improve simultaneously (and federalism + private data work against manipulating everything). Good news. But also modified rapture. Let’s focus on the case data, specifically at points A) and B) on the chart above, and at the “fiddling and diddling” (as I call it) delineated by the red boxes. At A), I remember having the sensation of Omicron going around the house, banging on doors, trying to get in. It did, then “up like a rocket, down like a stick”. At B), we have a pattern I’ve called “sawtooth,” not flat like A), but flat enough. Of course, we can’t see the real curves because our data is so bad (see discussion of the “Biden Line”). But if we make the assumption that the curves for actual cases are the same as for reported cases, the sawtooth pattern has been very persistent (note that deaths, which lag cases, have the same pattern). Now, if I were the sort of policy maker who believed in herd immunity and the Great Barrington Declaration and “everyone’s going to get it,” I might be rubbing my hands and congratulating myself right now, on having achieved a consistent and politically acceptable level of suffering and death that can continue indefinitely; I might even think that BA.5 had been very good to me. (The great lesson of the Covid pandemic would be that elites can slaughter a million people without civil resistance. They can even get people to slaughter themselves in the name of “freedom,” etc. Good to know!) We will see in the coming days and weeks.

• ”Covid has settled into a persistent pattern — and remains damaging. It may not change anytime soon” [STAT]. “Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that many experts don’t foresee much change anytime soon. While there will be ups and downs, some forecasts project 100,000 annual Covid deaths, if not more, for the next several years. Ignoring seasonal variation, that’s some 275 deaths a day. ‘It’s hard for me to see, barring any massive change in the way we’re treating the virus right now or trying to manage it, that anything inherent to the virus is really going to change much,’ said Stephen Kissler, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. ‘We’re going to continue to see the emergence of variants, we’re going to continue to see spread outside the winter months, we’re probably going to see more spread in winter months in temperate regions — basically any time people are crowding indoors. What that means, Kissler said, is that going forward, Covid could generate two to three bad flu seasons’ worth of deaths each year.” • Here’s a second source recognizing the “sawtooth” pattern.

Remember that cases are undercounted, one source saying by a factor of six, Gottlieb thinking we only pick up one in seven or eight.) Hence, I take the case count and multiply it by six to approximate the real level of cases, and draw the DNC-blue “Biden Line” at that point. The previous count was ~116,500 Today, it’s ~115,000 and 115,000 * 6 = a Biden line at 690,000. per day. That’s rather a lot of cases per day, when you think about it. (Remember these data points are weekly averages, so daily fluctuations are smoothed out.) The black “Fauci Line” is a counter to triumphalism, since it compares current levels to past crises. At least we have confirmation that the extraordinary mass of case anecdotes we’ve seen have a basis in reality. I’m not seeing the volume of anecdotes I did on the Twitter. What are readers experiencing?

Regional case count for four weeks:

The South:

It has not escaped my notice that big states are driving the national case count, and that DeSantis (Florida) and Newsom (California) are both Presidential timber, and Abbbot might consider himself so. However, we have other indicators than cases. In any case, Texas and Florida remind me of this Marx Brothers sketch:

The South (minus Texas and Florida):

The West:

California’s data underwent significant revisions, downward, from yesterday.

Cases say one thing, wastewater another. What do California readers think?

Positivity

From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, August 3:

-0.1%. (I wonder if there’s a Keynesian Beauty Contest effect, here; that is, if people encounter a sympotomatic person, whether in their social circle or in normal activity, they are more likely to get a test, because they believe, correctly, that it’s more likely they will be infected.) Starting to look like positivity has peaked, at least for Walgreen’s test population.

Transmission

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. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal. Use the community transmission immediately below.

Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission. This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you. For July 21, 2020:

Some blue in flyover.

Rapid Riser data, by county (CDC), August 3:

Improvements everywhere (except New Hampshire. Tourism?).

Previous Rapid Riser data:

Hospitalization data, by state (CDC), August 3:

Volatile.

Variants

Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. I looked for more charts: California doesn’t to a BA.4/BA.5 breakdown. New York does but it, too, is on a molasses-like two-week cycle. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? Additional sources from readers welcome [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk].

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), July 21:

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), July 16 (Nowcast off):

BA.5 moving along nicely. NOTE CDC restored the previous layout it had been using, so I used it. But the data remains the same.

Wastewater

Wastewater data (CDC), August 1:

Red dots improved.

Deaths

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 1,057,811 – 1,057,239 = 572 (1264 * 572 = 723,008; the new normal). Quite a pop. I have added an anti-triumphalist Fauci Line. It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

• Mission accomplished:

NOTE Readers, I introduced a new piece of arithmetic: The level of death that the CDC and the political class generally would like us to become accustomed to.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Unemployment Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The US unemployment rate decreased to 3.5% in July 2022, the lowest since February 2020, from 3.6% in the previous period, while analysts expected it to be unchanged. The number of unemployed persons edged down to 5.7 million. Meanwhile, the labor force participation rate, at 62.1 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 60.0 percent, were little changed over the month.” • A lot of excitement about this:

* * *

Energy: “France to Curb Nuclear Output as Europe’s Energy Crisis Worsens” [Bloomberg]. “Electricite de France SA said it’s likely to extend cuts to nuclear generation as scorching weather pushes up river temperatures, bringing the energy crisis in the European Union’s second-largest economy into sharp focus… A heat wave is pushing up river temperatures, restricting the utility’s ability to cool the plants. The reductions threaten to further push up power prices, which are already near record levels in France and Germany.” • Well, I’m sure this was all priced in years ago. Ha.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 50 Neutral (previous close: 47 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 41 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 5 at 1:39 PM EDT.

Sports Desk

“The Bill Russell I Knew for 60 Years” [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Atlantic]. “In 1967, when I was 20 years old, the football legend turned Hollywood actor Jim Brown asked me to join what became known as the Cleveland Summit. We were a group of mostly Black athletes—including Bill Russell, Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter, and John Wooten—tasked with determining the sincerity of Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted by the U.S. Army based on his religious views as a Muslim. Several of the group were ex-military and did not look sympathetically on Ali’s stance. Bill was the most famous member of the summit, other than Jim Brown and Ali, but he never tried to leverage that to influence the rest of us. His approach was logical and dispassionate, encouraging us to listen with open minds to what Ali had to say. That reasonable approach proved to be much more effective than trying to sway us. He knew that Ali could speak eloquently and passionately for himself, and that if we were open, we would see the truth in what he said. That was a huge lesson in humility and leadership that guided me for many years after. The Bill Russell of the Cleveland Summit was who I wanted to be when I grew up. In fact, the Bill Russell of the Cleveland Summit made me grow up right then and there.” • Well worth a read, and a portrait of a vanished time. My father was a big Celtics watcher, because of Bill Russell.

The Conservatory

“The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project” [Half Man Half Biscuit]. • Following through on HMHB from yesterday: What a labor of love (and who needs all the cruft that happened to the Intertubes when JavaScript came in). Normally, I don’t put in full albums, but I love the title of this one, so here goes:

The Gallery

I don’t know if I would have seen the imperial subtext; now I do:

I also think that Bierstadt, as it were, “used the wrong lens.” When I’ve seen the Rockies, they always seemed of a different scale to the human entirely, even far away.

Zeitgeist Watch

“TikTok and Twitch Streamers Are Trading Sleep for Cash” [Wired]. “Every second Saturday between the hours of midnight and 4:20 am, 26-year-old Mikkel Nielsen is tortured with loud noises, flashing lights, and electric shocks. With a camera pointed at his cartoon bedding, the Dane tries to sleep while around 1,000 people watch live on Twitch. Typically, around a hundred of these viewers donate money during the stream—the amount donated affects Nielson’s environment. For $1, viewers can type a message that a bot will read aloud to Nielson, waking him up. For $95, they can zap him via a shock bracelet wrapped around his wrist.” • There are times when I think social media doesn’t bring out the best in people.

“Jordan Peterson’s Christian Problem” [The American Conservative]. “Unless you die in God’s mercy, your ark won’t help you in the lake of fire.” • Meant seriously and literally.

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“Black elders saved this couple’s Mississippi farm. Now they’re harvesting ancestral techniques—and tomatoes” [Scalawag]. Sorry for the length of the extract, but: “Now five years into stewarding their farm—dubbed TKO Farming, an acronym for Teresa and Kevin’s Oasis—they’re still just as awe-struck by what they’ve built by hand. As self-described city folks who met in July 2013 while working on criminal-justice reform in Miami, the couple never envisioned living on, much less operating, a farm. Now, they can’t imagine anything different than their lives on the 73 acres of flat, open fields surrounded by ponds and piney woods, peppered with mini-row crops. Their farmland is only accessible via dirt roads in McCool, Mississippi, a 118-person town about two hours northeast of Jackson…. The farm was once one of the central Mississippi farms that were stewarded jointly by Black families, formed out of necessity to share resources and know-how in the first half of the 20th century. Cooperatives have a long history for Black farmers in Mississippi of helping Black sharecroppers evolve into owning land and farms. In spite of systemic barriers, Black co-ops began to prosper and proliferate along the Mississippi Delta. Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Farm Cooperative spearheaded them into the mainstream civil rights movement. ‘Each family owned hundreds of acres, there was really no need to go outside of the community, maybe only a couple times a year to get anything because the whole community supported each other,’ Teresa said. Some families raised cows and hogs, others grew produce; a few craftsmen like farriers made the rounds; and the whole community thrived together. From stories and photos passed down, Teresa said, ‘It was majestic.’ Within a week of moving to Mississippi, they connected with their local farm cooperative at the insistence of a local state extension agent, one of Mississippi State University’s agriculture specialists who offer informal farming education in all 82 counties. In 1985, building off the progress of earlier co-ops, a group of Black farmers formed The Winston County Self Help Cooperative to help formalize local knowledge sharing and community support. In the midst of increasing Black land loss and broken USDA promises to support small farmers, similar local co-ops popped up across the country. At his very first meeting in March 2017, Kevin uttered only a few words to this group: ‘We don’t know nothing and we need your help.’ That first week, they had to clear space on the overgrown plot for new growth. Kevin raked up 80 piles of leaves, then began cleaning up the ditches with a walk-behind push mower—their first farm purchase which drained the $200 they had to their name when they arrived in Mississippi. The co-op farmers, all community elders, also spent hours on the Springs’ property, bringing over tractors to till their first garden plot, helping install irrigation systems, and putting up fencing.” • It’s hard work being a peasant. It’s also risky. What is clear from this article is how co-operatives make the work easier and take away some of the risk.

Class Warfare

Playing with FIRE:

Amusing thread.

“Flood” (podcast) [Trillbillies Workers Party]. • Whiteburg, KY, where several of the Trillbillies live, was one of the centers of the flood. Twenty feet of water downtown:

Tarrance Ray compares the 2022 flooding to Katrina. In terms of state abandonment, that’s certainly true. Not a lot of coverage in the media, either.

News of the Wired

“Why do Rich People Love Quiet” [The Atlantic]. ” It took me years to understand that, in demanding my friends and I quiet down, these students were implying that their comfort superseded our joy. And in acquiescing, I accepted that.” • What a weird example of question begging. Who said joy couldn’t be quiet? Or that quiet was mere comfort? I’m of two minds on this. I don’t see why, if I’m sitting at my garden desk, I should have my concentration shattered by loud music (unless it’s a holiday or Friday night or something). However, when I’ve walked through Cambridge north of Harvard Square, or suburban Wellesley, the stillness is so absolute as to be unnerving. It clear that I’m not meant to be there (and being a pedestrian doesn’t help).

* * *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 LawnDart:

Lawndart writes:

These are a lot of work to harvest, but here in North-central flyover, it’s peak raspberry season right now, with blackberries quickly following behind. The wild raspberries are tiny, maybe 1/2-1/3 the size of supermarket berries. The largest are found in thickets along wood-cuts, on slopes and hillsides near marsh, and on ground exposed to full to partial sunlight.

These are delicate berries, and need to be removed with a gentle touch. It’s best to move slowly through the thorny brush of a berry patch, stopping every few steps to squat down and look around, as you’ll find berries whose weight has dropped branches to near ground-level, plus it gives ample time for the rattlesnakes to move along out of your way (they’d rather slither-away than fight, if given the chance).

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