2:00PM Water Cooler 8/28/2017

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Patient readers, some personal notes on comments:

First, we know that many of you value the comments section, and we regret the necessity of turning them off. However, Yves has been moderating comments daily for 10 years; I’ve been moderating them daily for 13; and if we say we’ve reached our limit, then we have, and if we are pressed beyond our limits, then the blog will cease to function, and nobody (presumably) wants that. Note that we also brought on Outis, with whose work we are very happy, but that hasn’t been enough.

Next, you should know that we three (Yves, Outis, and I) spend a great deal of time discussing comments as part of our moderation function. This labor doesn’t show, unlike posts and our own comments, but it’s a very heavy workload. This discussion has continued even with comments turned off, but it’s been refocused on what, if anything, we can do, managerially and/or technically, to make the comments section viable again. (Adding: It’s really not going to help to mail Yves about this, especially if your mail amounts to assigning work, which is against site policy.)

Finally, Andrew Sullivan wrote the following, which may help you understand the intensity with which we three as moderators must cope:

[Freddie DeBoer] explained why he had drastically culled his online content: “I wanted to look past what we once called ideology: I wanted to see the ways in which my internet-mediated intellectual life was dominated by assumptions that did not recognize themselves as assumptions, to understand how the perspective that did not understand itself to be a perspective had distorted my vision of the world. I wanted to better see the water in which my school of fish swims.” So he tried to find a new perspective, but still failed. He realized what I once saw. You cannot edit this stream. It edits you in the end. This is self-knowledge: “[T]he fact that so many people like me write the professional internet, the fact that the creators of the idioms and attitudes of our newsmedia and cultural industry almost universally come from a very thin slice of the American populace, is genuinely dangerous.”

It is — and getting more so. I just want to say this to my friend: You have checked yourself in not because you are insane, but because you tried to retain your sanity. It is America that is going nuts; and the internet is one reason why [note lack of agency].

I said “the intensity” wittingly, because while I empathize with DeBoer’s (and Sullivan’s) feeling of disempowerment and even despair, I disagree with Sullivan in almost every other respect. (I will not go into my views on Sullivan as a person and a blogger, save to say that I regard Naked Capitalism as a far superior blog to anything Sullivan has produced, both for impact and for quality). That said… [I have to press the Submit button. Please return or refresh shortly. UPDATE: 2:39PM done.]

Continuing, Lambert here: Sullivan, as befits a rightist pundit, focuses resolutely on the individual (“it edits you”) and makes only vague gestures toward systemic thinking. I mean, “the internet” as a causal factor? Really? I expect to see “The Internet Is [e.g.] THIRSTING…” in the pages of Teen Vogue, but not in the Daily Intelligencer section of New York Magazine. So let’s unpack Sullivan’s “stream” metaphor just a bit (“You cannot edit this stream. It edits you in the end”). The stream of content we, as moderators, process is not a natural stream; it’s a lot more like a canal or an aqueduct, engineered for a purpose, rather like the water projects engineered by hydraulic empires. In these hydraulic empires, controlling the flow of water translated directly to political power. And so with controlling the flow of data and content (“the Internet”) today, eh? For reasons of their own, the powers-that-be — and this applies to most of the political class, including the leadership of both major political parties, and most of the press, in whatever medium — have decided to cope with an ongoing crisis in the legitimacy of the neoliberal dispensation by opening the floodgates to bad data: Multiple and conflicting campaigns of gaslighting, propaganda, warmongering, McCarthy-ite tactics, smears generally, “hiring one half the working class to kill the other,” all producing a plethora, not to say a superfluity, of bright shiny objects. The zeitgeist is extremely choppy, and it is to be expected that the frail bark of the NC comments section would be tossed about. It’s only human, for example, that “lukewarm takes” would be served up from the enormous amount of bad faith stupid generated by the powers-that-be, as for example comments that treat women as biologically inferior, or tout the idea that the Confederate states didn’t secede over slavery. These are opinions, to be sure, but they are not informed opinions, and the NC comments section — unlike Reddit or Facebook — is all about informed opinion. The NC comments section is not about the stupid.

Since, at least in my view, the current state of volatility in the zeitgeist is likely to continue for the forseeable future, it behooves us to consider how to make the frail bark of the NC comments section more seaworthy. We’re giving serious consideration to the systems issues involved with this, but we are very serious when we say that we have reached our limit, and things cannot continue as they have.

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“Donald Trump presidential campaign key staff and advisors, 2020” [BallotPedia]. Trump didn’t redecorate the Oval Office because he was planning to leave it.

“Trump is mapping out a fall fundraising tour that is expected to fill his campaign bank account with tens of millions of dollars. His team has tracked dozens of potential Democratic rivals, a list of names that ranges from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And his administration has received political advice from a top campaign pollster from his 2016 campaign, who has urged the president to keep up his attacks on the mainstream media” [Politico]. “On Tuesday, Trump heads to the swing state of Arizona for a campaign-style rally organized by his political operation.” Hence the Arpaio dog-whistle, or, Trump being Trump… Well, I can’t come up with a metaphor, but I think it should involve “trumpet.”

“This language, along with a strategy focused on criticizing the media, makes it clear that Trump is far more interested in winning than governing, and that his road map to winning basically entails escalating the holy war with Democrats, liberals, and the press. It worked for him in 2016, and it may work again in 2020, but it dooms the rest of us to having an ineffectual president operating fighting a public relations war of attrition for the next three years. It’s going to be awful” [Paste Magazine]. I don’t quite agree. This means that no legislation will be passed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; no legislation also means no Grand Bargain, for example; note the bipartisan H.R. 3423. (The four co-sponsors are: “John Delaney (D-MD), Scott Peters (D-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK) and David Trott (R-MI); of the four, only one is a member of the centrist “Problem Solvers” caucus; I thought there would have been more). However, Trump is by no means an “ineffectual President” when you look at what he’s doing in (or to) the Executive Branch, for example to State and the EPA, not to mention his policies on policing. Meanwhile, liberal Democrats are focused like a laser beam on maintaining their firewall, and since those issues don’t advance that effort, they are ignored.

“Donald Trump is emulating Harry Truman’s crusade against the ‘do-nothing Congress’ of 1948 [ha], except that in Truman’s case, he was attacking a Congress controlled by the opposition party” [RealClearPolitics]. “Trump’s broadsides against his fellow Republicans are not solely the thoughtless rantings of a petulant amateur. They are strategic and purposeful. Paul Kane of The Washington Post notes that some of Trump’s ‘advisers believe that dysfunction on Capitol Hill is likely to continue and that the further away Trump is positioned from the gridlock, the better his political standing will be heading toward his own re-election campaign in 2020.’ It’s advice Trump has taken.” And: “Both parties are unsettled and in flux. Neither will fight in the midterm elections fully unified. The question is which party can best contain its divisions in the short run.” Yep.

“Donald Trump’s White House may take a page from the Karl Rove playbook” [Politico]. “The administration has been in talks to put conservative initiatives on the ballot in 2018 midterm battleground states in hopes of energizing base voters dispirited by the performance of Republican-controlled Washington. The strategy is similar to the one Rove used in 2004. The George W. Bush political guru helped engineer a slate of anti-gay marriage amendments that year to boost GOP turnout in swing states such as Ohio, an approach that many are convinced helped pave the way for Bush’s reelection. (Rove has denied accounts that he orchestrated the 11-state effort.)”


“If there is a silver lining for Republicans, it’s that it is hard to see how Democrats pick up the three seats they need to win the majority. Even if they hold all 25 of their own seats, which is hardly a foregone conclusion, and they win both Arizona and Nevada, where does the third seat come from? Alabama? Maybe, but it’s a big reach today? Texas? There isn’t much evidence that Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is a serious to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, at least not yet. A sleeper so obscure that it’s unfathomable at the moment or a scandal that has yet to break? Neither seems within the realm of possibility today” [Cook Political Report]. “Still, if the 52-seat majority frustrates Trump, a 51-seat majority or a tied Senate would be a lot less palatable. A Democratic majority would render Trump ineffective for the remainder of his term. And what about Senate Democrats? They are quietly cheering him on because everything Trump has done related to 2018 Senate races has been to their benefit.”

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Voter Registration in the Age of Voter ID” [Medium]. “Voter ID laws have, in effect, negated mail in voter registration. So voter registration drives will have to go back to organizing voter registration events. Some location will have to be found, a church, sympathetic law office, or some other location where citizens would be invited to come to register to vote. You would need music, food, drinks (non-alcoholic), voter registration forms, and, above all, a copier so that people could make copies of their ID.” If there were any money this for consultants, the Democrats would already be doing it. But n-o-o-o-o-o!

“Antifa, riding a vastly larger anti-Trump wave, will probably grow. So does the potential for armed clashes, especially in open-carry states. If the police do not act astutely, armed showdowns could develop” [Todd Gitlin, New York Times]

“Why Did UVa Allow Banned Torches During White-Supremacist Rally?” [Chronicle of Higher Education]. “A little-known policy from 2013 forbids the use of an ‘open flame’ on campus. The policy, posted on the university’s website, is this: ‘A person shall not kindle or maintain or authorize to be kindled or maintained any open burning,’ unless they receive a special approval from the university’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety or Medical Center Fire Protection Inspector’s Office…. But UVa’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, has publicly suggested the college didn’t have the power to simply extinguish the flames, because, she said, university policy ‘does not generally prohibit open flames in outdoor spaces or outline approval processes for using open flames in public places.’ Ms. Sullivan became president in 2010, so she was in charge when the ban on open flames was approved…” More:

A university library employee, Tyler D.R. Magill, suffered a stroke that may be related to injuries he suffered during the on-campus clash with white supremacists…. “The very great success of Friday night led directly to the carnage of Saturday,” he said. “If they had been shut down, they certainly would not have been as emboldened on Saturday. I sincerely believe that. But they were not shut down, they were allowed to try to kill 30 or 35 people in front of the eyes of the police. They acted with total impunity, in front of the eyes of the University of Virginia police. So of course they were whooped up for Saturday.”

More on the NOLA DSA brakelight-fixing project:

Concrete material benefits, including not being arrested!

Stats Watch

Dallas Fed Manufacturing Survey, August 2017: “Dallas Fed rounds out yet another strong month for regional manufacturing surveys, posting a 17.0 for the general activity index which hits Econoday’s high estimate” [Econoday]. “Regional reports, based on small voluntary samples, have been showing unusual strength though national factory data from the government have been little better than mixed.” And: “This survey declined but remained well into positive territory with both new orders and unfilled orders also declining and remaining in positive territory” [Econintersect]. And: “Based on these regional surveys, it seems likely the ISM manufacturing index will increase in August compared to July (to be released Friday, Sept 1st). The consensus is for the ISM index to increase to 56.6 in August from 56.3 in July” [Calculated Risk].

International Trade in Goods, July 2017 (preliminary): “Third-quarter GDP is off to a slow start” [Econoday]. “Exports fell 1.3 percent and were pulled down by a sharp fall in vehicles and also consumer goods which are two weak categories for the US. Helping to ease the effect of exports was a 0.3 percent decline in imports where foreign vehicles, which are usually in strong demand, fell 2.8 percent while industrial supplies were down 1.7 percent.”

Wholesale Inventories, July 2017 (preliminary): “rose a preliminary 0.4 percent” [Econoday].

Retail Inventories, July 2017 (preliminary): “fell a preliminary 0.2 percent” [Econoday].

Retail: “Without insurance, some vendors balk at stocking Sears’ shelves” [Reuters]. “U.S. department store operator Sears Holdings Corp is having trouble stocking shelves, as some vendors have fled while others are demanding stricter payment terms because of difficulties hedging against default risk. The strain in Sears’ supply chain is exacerbated by the scarcity and high cost of a type of vendor insurance known as accounts receivable puts, which ensure a supplier will be paid even if the retailer files for bankruptcy, according to interviews with Sears’ vendors and insurance brokers.”

Retail: “How Stüssy Foresaw the Future of Fashion” [Another Man]. “While the brand was not an overnight success, by the end of the 80s it had come to be adopted on both coasts of the US, with knowing nods being exchanged between strangers wearing one of the brand’s pieces. The curatorial aspect to Stüssy’s designs was key, often using t-shirts as a canvas to deliver an eclectic mix of graphics and counter-cultural cues. That in itself was a radical act – at that point, no brand had ever considered appealing to the otherness of teenagers.” More:

It was not simply Shawn Stüssy’s visionary design outlook which endures today, the brand – under the guidance of its founder – also pre-empted “influencer marketing”. Except, rather than #sponsored #ad bloggers, he created a global network of friends and confidants – a mixture of DJs, club kids and sharp dressers – who would ultimately spread the word about Stüssy in their respective cities of Tokyo, New York and London. This loose group of affiliates was dubbed the International Stüssy Tribe (IST) and, like Stüssy’s Chanel-homage, continues to influence fashion to this day.

This is William Gibson territory (both Tne Bridge and Blue Ant trilogies). This little slice of history also makes me think there’s a chicken-or-egg question to be asked about the relation between fashion and identity politics, as mediated by brands.

Commodities: “As of Sunday, nearly 2.2 million barrels a day of refinery capacity in Texas had been shut down, nearly half of the state’s total 4.94 million barrels a day of capacity. After waiting to see how the storm developed, refiners on Sunday began shutting down their Houston operations” [247 Wall Street]. “In addition to the refineries, about 22% of offshore production — nearly 380,000 barrels a day — has been shut in as has about 830 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas production — just over 25% of usual daily production. According to Platts, hundreds or even thousands of wells in the onshore Eagle Ford shale play in south Texas are located in Harvey’s path. The region produces about 1.34 million barrels a day of oil. As of Sunday, Exxon had shut in all operations in Harvey’s path in its Eagle Ford operations. BHP Billiton has shut in about 99,000 barrels a day of oil and gas production, and Murphy has shut in 46,000 barrels a day of production. ConocoPhillips has shut in 161,000 barrels of daily oil and gas production and shut down its six rigs in the Eagle Ford. Statoil also shut down its two rigs in the region.Pipelines are not escaping the shutdowns. Magellan Midstream shut two of its lines that transport some 675,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Permian Basin in West Texas to the Gulf Coast. Two Kinder Morgan pipelines have suspended some operations, citing force majeure.”

Shipping: “Despite fewer vessel calls, the port said loaded container volume is up 2 percent in 2017. If that pace holds, Oakland could set a cargo record for the second straight year” [Logistics Management]. “The port said the phenomenon of more cargo but fewer ships reflects an industry-wide trend. Shipping lines are consolidating container volumes to cut costs, the port explained. With fewer voyages, they reduce fuel and other operating expenses.”

The Bezzle: “[Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt] said that ‘we’re nowhere near close’ a level of full autonomous driving, labeled as ‘Level 5’ by the SAE. Pratt, over and over, couched that the company has no idea when we’ll be reaching full autonomous driving” [TechCrunch]. (For an explanation of the levels, see NC here.) “‘Historically human beings have shown zero tolerance for injury or death caused by flaws in a machine,’ Pratt said. ‘As wonderful as AI is, AI systems are inevitably flawed… We’re not even close to Level 5. It’ll take many years and many more miles, in simulated and real world testing, to achieve the perfection required for level 5 autonomy.'”

The Bezzle: “Win for ex-Grubhub driver in pending trial may profoundly impact ‘gig economy’ [Ars Technica]. ” If Grubhub must treat its drivers as employees, the employees would be entitled to all kinds of benefits, including unemployment, insurance, and reimbursement for various expenses, like gas and employee phone bills. In short, treating workers as employees could cost companies like Grubhub millions of dollars. The case, known as Lawson v. Grubhub, which was first filed back in 2015, is one of a slew of ongoing cases filed against so-called “gig economy” firms.”

The Bezzle: “One of the most controversial Kickstarter campaigns in history is dead — here’s the product that actually got made” [Business Insider]. “Kickstarter is littered with the remains of failed product launches — enticing pitches that attracted boatloads of supporters, only to fizzle out after hitting a fundraising goal. Sometimes the people behind a failed campaign had no real plan for getting their product out to large numbers of people; in other cases, the product was a sham… Unlike other dead Kickstarters, the glowing-plant saga never quite ended. Eventually, it led to an entirely new product that rolled out in August: genetically-modified scented moss.” That’s either genius, or the greatest bait-and-switch since the so-called public option.

The Bezzle: “As Coding Boot Camps Close, the Field Faces a Reality Check” [New York Times]. “In the last five years, dozens of schools have popped up offering an unusual promise: Even humanities graduates can learn how to code in a few months and join the high-paying digital economy. Students and their hopeful parents shelled out as much as $26,000 seeking to jump-start a career.” That’s insulting and wrong. First, musicians — music being one of the humanities — often make excellent software engineers; they tend to be both detail-oriented and global in their thinking. Second, there is actually such a thing as computing in the humanites.

Honey for the Bears: “With each data release [durable goods, auto] it seems more likely to me that the deceleration in the growth of borrowing from the banks is reflecting a drop in aggregate demand” [Mosler Economics].

Rapture Index: Closes up 2 on “wild weather.” “Harvey was the strongest hurricane to strike the US in over a decade” [Rapture Ready].

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 30 Fear (previous close: 27, Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 15 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 28 at 11:57am. Dialing back on the fear. A contrarian would say: Be afraid, be very afraid!

Guillotine Watch

No flooding here:

Class Warfare

“Towards a History of the Professional: On the Class Composition of the Research University” [Viewpoint Magazine]. From 2013, but it still looks interesting.

By arrogating more power to the top layers of academic administrative elite, some in the academic profession saw the possibility of imbricating themselves into the same social class as capitalists, rather than simply serving them. Federal, state, and local laws changed to make students into consumers; courts ruled that public, non-profit universities could patent and own intellectual property; a new type of capital, venture capital, was developed to accelerate the transmission of research into products; and a sub-class of faculty, the adjunct, was formulated to teach the dregs of the expanding university system – those composing the massive undergraduate base, forced into higher education as a college degree became a de facto requirement for admission into any of the professions, and many other occupations. Graduate students and adjuncts took on the bulk of the teaching, freeing star faculty from the responsibility of lecturing to dullards for whom their words would be proverbial pearls before swine.

News of the Wired

“Deadhead Trivia” [Internet Archive]. This is a 1989 HyperCard stack, now available on the Internet. I loved HyperCard…

“A Redditor Archived Nearly 2 Million Gigabytes of Porn to Test Amazon’s ‘Unlimited’ Cloud Storage” [Motherboard]. Tell me it’s not a great country…

“Bubble Sort: An Archaeological Algorithmic Analysis” [Owen Astrachan, Duke University]. I would bet the history of any algo would show similar levels of randomness and dysfunction.

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NOTE Some readers have expressed a desire for a small meetup in the Bangor area. My dance card for September is pretty full, but Friday, September 15 would work for me. (I realize I’d be “outing” myself to any locals who haven’t made the connection, but at this point my online identity is sufficiently gauzy — certainly to a professional — that it probably doesn’t matter much anyhow.) If anybody wishes to contact me on this topic, here’s my email: lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com; I’ll go by responses to see whether it’s worth doing. I think attendance of one or two would be discouraging, so there would be no point going ahead, but if we ended up with five or six, as in Portland, that would be great.

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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 are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please put it in the subject line. Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (SV):

SV writes (from Arkansas): “Local Mountain Mint: Pycnanthemum.”

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Readers: Do feel free to use the dropdown and click the hat to make a contribution today or any day. Here is why: Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of small donations helps me with expenses, and I factor that trickle in when setting fundraising goals. So if you see something you especially appreciate, do feel free to click the hat! (Don’t go overboard, though :-)


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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.