By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Readers, if you celebrate Christmas, please have a lovely Christmas Eve. Otherwise, Io Saturnalia (or, I suppose, Festivus).
“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
Here is a second counter for the Iowa Caucus, which is obviously just around the corner:
Alert reader dk (not to be confused with DK) is in the process of developing the following interactive chart.
Nationally, we have our first poll after the Xmas debate, and it’s Morning Consult with a nice big sample as of 12/24/2019, 11:00 AM EST. The pattern of Biden first, Sanders strong second, then Warren and Buttigeig is stable. On to Iowa!
And the numbers:
And here is the same polling, represented in small multiple form:
It does look like Sanders is slowly closing on Biden, that Warren is continuing her slow decay — while performing her essential functions of splitting the left and unselling voters on #MedicareForAll — and that Bloomberg is buying his way out of the cellar.
CAVEAT I think we have to track the polls because so much of the horse-race coverage is generated by them; and at least with these charts we’re insulating ourselves against getting excited about any one poll. That said, we should remember that the polling in 2016, as it turned out, was more about narrative than about sampling, and that this year is, if anything, even more so. In fact, one is entitled to ask, with the latest Buttigieg boomlet (bubble? (bezzle?)) which came first: The narrative, or the poll? One hears of push polling, to be sure, but not of collective push polling by herding pollsters. We should also worry about state polls with very small sample sizes and big gaps in coverage. And that’s before we get to the issues with cellphones (as well as whether voters in very small, very early states game their answers). So we are indeed following a horse-race, but the horses don’t stay in their lanes, some of the horses are not in it to win but to interfere with the others, the track is very muddy, and the mud has splattered our binoculars, such that it’s very hard to see what’s going on from the stands. Also, the track owners are crooked and the stewards are on the take. Everything’s fine.
I think dk has started a really neat project, and in the near future we’ll seek your feedback (within reason) for the tool “live.”
* * *
Bloomberg (D)(1): “Mike Bloomberg Exploited Prison Labor to Make 2020 Presidential Campaign Phone Calls” [The Intercept]. “FORMER NEW YORK CITY mayor and multibillionaire Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg used prison labor to make campaign calls. Through a third-party vendor, the Mike Bloomberg 2020 campaign contracted New Jersey-based call center company ProCom, which runs calls centers in New Jersey and Oklahoma. Two of the call centers in Oklahoma are operated out of state prisons. In at least one of the two prisons, incarcerated people were contracted to make calls on behalf of the Bloomberg campaign…. The campaign then ended the relationship on Monday and said it has asked vendors to do a better job of vetting subcontractors in the future.” • Very on-brand!
Buttigieg (D)(1): “Buttigieg Blames Private Equity Firms for Surprise Billing. One of His Bundlers, a Blackstone Exec, Is Linked to the Problem” [The Intercept]. “Buttigieg’s health care plan takes on the predatory practice of surprise medical billing… In his Medicare for All Who Want It plan, the Democratic presidential candidate pledges to ban the practice, also known as balance billing, which he astutely describes as ‘a deliberate business strategy fueled by profit-driven firms in private equity.’ But Buttigieg is also getting major fundraising help from billionaire Hamilton ‘Tony’ James, executive vice chair at Blackstone, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. Blackstone is an owner of TeamHealth, a hospital staffing company that researchers found to be a key culprit in manufacturing surprise billing schemes.”
"It's not enough to just say you don't like Trump… We've got to know what you're for, and I always know what Bernie is for." pic.twitter.com/BcTqrJpA35
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 21, 2019
When Bernie said this at the debate my dad said “hell yeah.” https://t.co/mggujBB13o
— Gregory Hardin II 🌹🤘🏾 (@GregoryHardinII) December 20, 2019
And spending hours on the phone…
Sanders (D)(3): “AOC, Cruz make all-Spanish case for Sanders” [Nevada Current]. “This weekend, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign held several events in Nevada including an all-Spanish language town hall featuring one of the most high-profile Latinas in Congress, New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The town hall was held entirely in Spanish, but the meaning of the event was clear in any language: Sanders wants to claim the Latino vote in Nevada. ‘Thank you for your patience, this is my first speech in Spanish. This is a personal project for me because I want to develop my Spanish and improve my Spanish,’ said Ocasio-Cortez in her second language…. Ocasio-Cortez pitched Sanders as an ally with a deep understanding of issues affecting the Latino community and a candidate with a bold vision for healthcare, education, climate change, and immigration reform.”
Sanders (D)(4): “Bernie Sanders Holds Secret Campaign Meeting With 15,000 Working-Class Democratic Donors” [The Onion]. • Earned media!
Sanders (D)(5): “Get Antagonistic” [Medium]. “Every institution of power is aligned against Bernard and looking for fissures to exploit. When controversial issues arise, that Sanders must respond to, resist the urge to concern-troll and trust that he maybe knows a thing or two about how to run his campaign. Should we feel the temptation to ‘push Sanders left’ remember that Bernard’s transformative reforms weren’t even imaginable five years ago. We won’t have another window to win them, if we don’t summon an unbreakable resolve and discipline to will Sanders to victory now. It also means ruthlessly differentiating Bernard from the neoliberal pack. As illustrated above, there is no second-best option to help avert disaster. Warren’s ten months of lying about her support for M4A, only to cave at first sign of heat, should have taught us that.”
Sanders (D)(6): “Too Close for Comfort” [Jewish Currents]. “At a time of cascading political and ecological crises, as the postwar certainties that gave rise to official American Judaism appear to be unraveling, many young American Jews have found in Sanders’s older, subversive Jewishness a way back into politics, and with it, a source of hope. But what draws younger voters, and particularly younger Jews, to Sanders’s candidacy is precisely what repels older voters—even, or perhaps especially, older Jewish left-wingers. What for young Jews are sources of identification and pride—Sanders’s proletarian Jewishness, his agonistic politics—are, for many of their senior-citizen counterparts, reminders of political disappointments and quashed revolutionary hopes. Older Jews ‘have lived through periods when there was huge backlash’ against Jewish socialism and countercultural radicalism, explained Marjorie Feld, a professor of Jewish history at Babson College. With those memories still so close at hand, she said, the heightened visibility of Jewish leftism ‘can feel almost dangerous.'” • Hmm.
Trump (R)(1): “‘It’s killing us’: midwestern workers savaged by Trump’s trade wars” [Guardian]. “Layoffs in manufacturing have become common throughout the midwest even as the overall job market has remained strong. Trump campaigned on promises to bring back jobs, particularly to communities in the midwest that have been devastated from the decline of industry. But manufacturing has continued to suffer…. Most states throughout the US have experienced steady job growth since the economic recession in 2008 and 2009, but growth in the midwest has lagged behind the rest of the country since December 2016, as sectors of manufacturing and agriculture the region relies on have taken hits due to Trump’s trade war.”
Warren (D)(1): “Warren embraced the high-dollar fundraiser circuit for years — until just before her presidential campaign” [WaPo]. “Chase Williams grinned broadly as he stood for a photo next to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, chatting briefly with the senator from Massachusetts before moving on so someone else could have their turn…. The events were part of a high-dollar fundraising program that Warren had embraced her entire political career, from her first Senate run in 2011 through her reelection last year. Warren was so successful at it that she was able to transfer $10 million of her Senate cash to help launch her presidential bid…. ‘I am frustrated because she said, ‘I don’t do this. This isn’t something I do.’ And two years ago she very much did do that, and I was in the room,’ said Williams, who had a photo taken after writing a $500 check….
* * *
“Why New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew Ditched the Democrats and Sided With Trump” [New York Magazine]. “The hope for Van Drew is that his embrace of Trump will help convince voters that his party switch was motivated by a crisis of conscience, rather than a crisis of polling, and ease any bitterness. But it is a big risk for the freshman congressman who represents Atlantic City — a community that’s had bad experiences betting on Trump in the past.”
Maybe this is not the kind of medical coding we need:
A NH voter gave this to me. It should be on the front page of the NYT. This is apparently a list of all the reasons Tufts, a private insurance company in NH, will deny a claim. This is why we need @BernieSanders and Medicare for All. pic.twitter.com/l4MccCAS83
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) December 21, 2019
Our Famously Free Press
Sad, since the Los Angeles Times unionized:
No headlines of LA event in the LA Times. No article. No picture.
— Jenny Wong 王儷蓉 (@JennyTheAuditor) December 22, 2019
“Letters to the Editor: Thousands were at a Bernie Sanders rally in Venice. Where was the L.A. Times?” [Los Angeles Times]. • Oddly, the Los Angeles Times seems to think the final letter is on point.
Retail: “The Man Who’s Going to Save Your Neighborhood Grocery Store” [LongReads]. “Harvest Market is the anti-Amazon. It’s designed to excel at what e-commerce can’t do: convene people over the mouth-watering appeal of prize ingredients and freshly prepared food. The proportion of groceries sold online is expected to swell over the next five or six years, but Harvest is a bet that behavioral psychology, spatial design, and narrative panache can get people excited about supermarkets again. Kelley isn’t asking grocers to be more like Jeff Bezos or Sam Walton. He’s not asking them to be ruthless, race-to-the-bottom merchants. In fact, he thinks that grocery stores can be something far greater than we ever imagined — a place where farmers and their urban customers can meet, a crucial link between the city and the country.”
Shipping: “Shopping trends have made an especially tight holiday calendar even more frantic for carriers. Preliminary data show store traffic has been off sharply this season while Adobe Analytics estimates online sales rose 13.6% to $125.6 billion from Nov. 1 through Dec. 19” [Wall Street Journal]. “ShipMatrix says delivery companies have caught up from early delays in many regions, with on-time delivery rates rising in the second week of December, while carriers say they expect the high volumes to continue into early January.”
Shipping: “Road, aviation, waterborne and rail transportation put together now account for 24% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency, and 34% in the U.S. Environmental policies so far have tended to focus on passenger transport, but almost half of transportation emissions now come from freight” [Wall Street Journal]. “That leaves the cargo shipping world facing possibly more aggressive anti-pollution efforts in the coming years, with higher taxes and hard limits on operations potentially in the cards.”
Tech: “Uncovering the Disqus data machine” [Martin Gundersen, Thread Reader]. “@disqus shared the personal data of tens of millions of users without them or the websites knowing about it. thread.”
The Bezzle: “‘Wow, You’re Using The Kitchen Again’: The Irritations, Perks Of Longer Airbnb Stays” [NPR]. “Long-term stays are a growing part of Airbnb, which is better known for offering short stays in someone else’s home. In August, Airbnb announced it was buying Urbandoor, which helps people find apartments for extended stays. And the company says these long-term stays are a big part of its future.” • Awesome. I never thought to tenancy-at-will as being innovative, but maybe so!
Tech: ‘I am going to say quiet words in your face just like I did with Trump’: a conversation with the Zuckerbot [Guardian]. “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg won’t talk to the Guardian. So we fed everything he says into an algorithm, built a Zuckerbot, and interviewed it.” • I’m not sure whether this should be dated April 1 or not.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 92 Extreme Greed (previous close: 92 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 85 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 24 at 11:58am.
Rapture Index: Closes down one on Israel. “Israel Has been generally quiet the past few weeks” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 182. Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing. I would expect the Rapture Index to jump if evangelicals thought impeachment was likely to hurt Trump. So it looks to me like this index is delivering a verdict on impeachment as well.
“‘Lost crops’ could have fed as many as maize” [Phys.org]. “Make some room in the garden, you storied three sisters: the winter squash, climbing beans and the vegetable we know as corn. Grown together, newly examined “lost crops” could have produced enough seed to feed as many indigenous people as traditionally grown maize, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis… Growing goosefoot (Chenopodium, sp.) and erect knotweed (Polygonum erectum) together is more productive than growing either one alone, Mueller discovered. Planted in tandem, along with the other known lost crops, they could have fed thousands.”
“Spreading the seeds of Indigenous knowledge” [Phys.org]. “University of Queensland ethnobotanist Dr Boyd Wright has been working with the Kiwirrkurra people in Western Australia’s Gibson Desert, investigating the seed of the native tree, warrilyu (Eucalyptus pachyphylla)…. Dr Wright said that while the skills required to harvest and process the seeds were slowly being lost, warrilyu seed was set for a comeback, thanks to some impressive nutritional qualities. ‘It’s truly remarkable – it has the highest levels of magnesium that I’ve ever seen in a seed, it’s extremely dense in calories and its fatty acid profile is also rather impressive,’ he said.”
“Lawyers are going to court to stop climate change. And it might just work” [The Correspondent]. “[C]ourt cases involving climate change were rare until midway through the 2000s. Since then, dozens of cases have been initiated revolving around climate change, with new cases peaking in 2017. In most cases, the targets are governments, but companies, banks and investors are also being summoned to account for the inadequacy of their climate policy. The legal principles invoked by climate cases are essentially universal in (western) legal systems: the polluter pays; it is forbidden to unnecessarily endanger others; high-risk activities require adequate preventive measures. What’s new is that the law is now being used as a potential tool to break through political deadlock and entrenched interests to tackle climate change.” • See NC here on Juliana v. United States.
“The sun keeps getting stranger, dive-bombing solar probe shows” [National Geographic]. “Perhaps most stunning among the initial observations are dramatic magnetic waves that sweep through the solar atmosphere, instantly increasing wind speeds by as much as 300,000 miles an hour and, in some cases, causing a complete reversal of the local magnetic field. ‘The wind is moving so fast, and this thing that’s shooting past us is so violent, it actually flips the magnetic field 180 degrees around in under a second,’ Kasper says. ‘Our first question was, What on Earth are these?'” • Astonishing numbers!
“Board Games Are Getting Really, Really Popular” [Wired]. “The rise of such [board game cafes] is a testmant to the growing popularity of board games. Sales quadrupled between 2013 and 2016, and the annual Gen Con convention now attracts over 70,000 attendees… [Board gamer Jonathan Kay] enjoys the laid back atmosphere among the mostly quiet, bookish gamers. ‘Introverts are actually usually very careful about their social interactions, because they know that if there’s conflict that emerges, they won’t know how to manage it,’ he says. ‘So as a result there’s a heightened sense of politeness and consideration at these places.'”
“The man who made the ‘worst’ video game in history” [The Hustle]. Sounds familiar: “When Raiders of the Lost Ark saw success, Atari’s culture shifted from one led by engineers to one dominated by sales and marketing employees tasked with rushing games to the market.”
Groves of Academe
“Dollars for Profs” [Pro Publica]. “This unique database allows you to search records from multiple state universities and the National Institutes of Health for outside income and conflicts of interest of professors, researchers and staff…. We’ve accumulated by far the largest collection of university faculty staff conflict of interest reports available anywhere, with more than 29,000 disclosures from state schools, which you can see in our new Dollars for Profs database. But there are tens of thousands that we haven’t been able to get from other public universities, and countless more from private universities.”
“Radical Academics for the Status Quo” [Jacobin]. “In the 1990s, Butler was so iconic there was even a fanzine dedicated to her (Judy!). At the time, many Marxist intellectuals distrusted postmodern critical theory as a flight into the purely “cultural” realm, away from the material. … But [Butler’s] Kamala Harris donation suggests that the grouchy old-school Marxists were probably right all along to note a lack of materialism grounding her politics. Sad! Donna Haraway, another postmodern feminist theorist — who, like Butler, was best known in the 1990s but still widely read — also made donations to Harris this year.” • Sigh.
“It was the year of ‘OK boomer,’ and the generations were at each other’s throats” [WaPo]. • By design.
I don’t like to think of myself as a Scrooge, but Xmas makes me cranky.
“A Florida man who once spent Christmas without gas just paid off the past dues for 36 families at risk of losing their electricity” [CNN]. • This is one of those heartwarming stories. Good for the Florida man and his karma. But what about all the other families who didn’t luck out?
“‘Blue Christmas’ Services Offer Refuge From Holiday Cheer” [NPR]. “The format of Blue Christmas services vary church to church. But the common theme is dropping the usual merry and bright, and recognizing the hard stuff. People offer prayers and light candles, and open up to the sadness they’re carrying. About loss, relationships, addiction.” • And hopefully don’t have to carry so much afterward. Those fixed smiles suck up a lot of energy!
“Fake snow is in high demand. Just don’t ask how it’s made” [Los Angeles Times]. “The white puffs drifting to the ground are basically soap suds, shot into the sky by powerful air blowers stationed on the roofs of nearby buildings. The wintry effect has become a must-have holiday feature for malls, zoos, theme parks and tourist attractions across sunny Southern California. The snow-making entrepreneurs enjoying the surging demand for fake snow are tight-lipped about the ingredients, the ratio of water to soapy additive and the equipment used to spread it.”
And in 2020….
“Ho ho ho, I’m Civil War Santa! What’s your name, little boy?”
“What would you like this year, Abe?”
“An attacking general.”
“Who isn’t drunk or crazy.”
“And if Clement Vallandigham fell into a bear pit, I wouldn’t complain.”
“I’ll see what I can do …” pic.twitter.com/LsbXLJ22VG
— Civil War Humor (@CivilWarHumor) December 24, 2019
(Clement Vallandigham was a Copperhead, exiled to the Confederacy in 1863.)
Bit cheeky, bit topical. pic.twitter.com/6gp1uYZiIa
— Michael Moran (@TheMichaelMoran) December 21, 2019
“Superyachts Betray Where Billionaires Are Spending Christmas” [Bloomberg]. • Oddly, the article mentions that St. Maartens is #6 on the yacht leaderboard, but doesn’t say who’s #1. Handy map:
“How The Vogue Editors Are Spending Christmas This Year” [Vogue]. One of the captions: “From left to right: Hunza G bikini, £155, available at Mytheresa.com, Jil Sander sandals, avaiable at Jilsander.com, Loewe dress, £2,600, available at Loewe.com, Loewe belt, £395, available at Loewe.com, Taffin ring, price on request, available at Taffin.com, Carmen D’Apollonio lamp, price on request, available at Carmendapollonio.com, Carolina Herrera Jackie carafe, £268, available at Cabanamagazine.com.” • Gruesome. I’m not against luxury, certainly not against beauty. I just think both should be far more widely distributed than they are.
“Who Killed Tulum?” [New York Magazine]. • From February, also gruesome. Makes me think there’s a case for nuclear weapons after all.
“Most dangerous time to work in Amazon warehouses? Right about now” [CBS]. “Workers at Amazon facilities are twice as likely to be injured on the job as others in the warehousing industry, and those sprains, strains and worse are especially prevalent during the holiday shopping season, according to a report by labor advocates. For every 100 workers at Amazon facilities, nearly 11 were injured on the job in 2018, making it three times as dangerous as employment across the private sector, and twice as dangerous as warehouse work in general, according to the study from a coalition of more than 40 groups, including the National Employment Law Center and United for Respect.” •
“Lazy Poor Person Has Never Earned Passive Income From Stock Dividends A Day In His Life” [The Onion]. •
“Three Theories for Why You Have No Time” [The Atlantic]. “Let’s return to the original question: Why don’t Americans have more free time? In my experience, the debate over labor and leisure is often fought between the Self-Helpers and the Socialists. The Self-Helpers say that individuals have agency to solve their problems and can reduce their anxiety through new habits and values. The Socialists say that this individualist ethos is a dangerous myth. Instead, they insist that almost all modern anxieties arise from structural inequalities that require structural solutions, like a dramatic reconfiguration of the economy and stronger labor laws to protect worker rights. The history of American housework suggests that both sides have a point. Americans tend to use new productivity and technology to buy a better life rather than to enjoy more downtime in inferior conditions. And when material concerns are mostly met, Americans fixate on their status and class, and that of their children, and work tirelessly to preserve and grow it. But most Americans don’t have the economic or political power to negotiate a better deal for themselves. Their working hours and income are shaped by higher powers, like bosses, federal laws, and societal expectations.” •
“An Extract From Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life” [The Quietus]. This is extremely long and circuitous, and starts with a long explication of a British TV series, Sapphire And Steel. But Fisher is always interesting, and this is interesting: ” The other explanation for the link between late capitalism and retrospection centres on production. . In the UK, the postwar welfare state and higher education maintenance grants constituted an indirect source of funding for most of the experiments in popular culture between the 1960s and the 80s. The subsequent ideological and practical attack on public services meant that one of the spaces where artists could be sheltered from the pressure to produce something that was immediately successful was severely circumscribed. As public service broadcasting became ‘marketized’, there was an increased tendency to turn out cultural productions that resembled what was already successful. The result of all of this is that the social time available for withdrawing from work and immersing oneself in cultural production drastically declined. If there’s one factor above all else which contributes to cultural conservatism, it is the vast inflation in the cost of rent and mortgages.” • Maybe a reader who has the cultural references mastered can make more of this than I can.
News of the Wired
“Should the notion of “statistical significance” be abolished?” [Quartz]. “Rule-based thinking is the biggest problem with statistical significance, according to Amrhein, Greenland, and McShane. “The trouble is human and cognitive more than it is statistical: bucketing results into ‘statistically significant’ and ‘statistically non-significant’ makes people think that the items assigned in that way are categorically different,” they write. It is silly, they argue, to consider a result that had a 4% chance of occurring by chance to be real, while a result with a 6% chance to be unreal.”
America is a strange and terrible country. Thread:
Today we drove up into the wilds of Northern PA today, in part to check out the wide-awake nightmare that is Scripture Rocks. pic.twitter.com/gODumM3CWq
— Fairytale Of NY [CLEAN VER] (@bombsfall) October 25, 2019
There’s still time to whip this up in the kitchen:
— Pulp Librarian (@PulpLibrarian) December 21, 2019
Word of the day:
If the weather is FLINKERING, then it is snowing only lightly. pic.twitter.com/9zwi0Ehsuv
— Haggard Hawks 📚🦅 (@HaggardHawks) December 24, 2019
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 (AM):
AM writes: “Maple and a spruce tree, I think, along the Parkman Mountain carriage road in Acadia National Park, with granite guard stones that look like teeth.”
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