2:00PM Water Cooler 5/10/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

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#COVID19

At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching. All the charts are becoming dull — approaching nominal, if you accept the “new normal” of cases, for example.

Vaccination by region:

Case count by United States regions:

The Midwest in detail:

Continued good news. But Michigan’s decrease is agonizingly slow.

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

Continued good news.

Test positivity:

Down, except for the West, now flat.

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Politics

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

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

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

Biden Administration

HHS tries to put Fauci’s toothpaste back in the tube:

“Bernie Sanders skeptical of the Biden White House’s dealmaking plan” [Axios]. “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) indicated to “Axios on HBO” he’s already impatient with the White House’s quest for Republican support for President Biden’s infrastructure package, saying. ‘The American people want results’ and don’t care if these results are achieved with bipartisan votes… [F]rankly, when people got a, you know [ha*], $1,400 check or $5,600 check for their family, they didn’t say, ‘Oh, I can’t cash this check because it was done without any Republican votes.’… Sanders believes the lesson of the Obama era — in which the former president held out hope of getting Republicans to support the Affordable Care Act — is that it’s foolish to let Republicans slow-walk the Democratic agenda. ‘Congress takes breaks and it’s easy to obstruct,’ Sanders said. ‘The Senate is a very slow-moving process. … I would begin, you know, starting this work immediately. If Republicans want to come on board, seriously, great. If not, we’re going to do it alone.'” • Sanders is obviously right, so much as to make me question the good faith of liberal Democrats who seem to think otherwise; I can’t think what would motivate them other than something outside the scope of their Congressional duties. NOTE * Sanders checks himself from saying “$2,000.” Joe Biden owes me six hundred bucks.

Lambert here: Coverage of the infrastructure bill seems to have stalled (along with the bill itself; Psaki (above) says “progress by Memorial Day”). The same goes for a lot of other Biden administration initiatives, like WTO patent waives for vaccines, withdrawal from Yemen; basically everything except the Covid relief bill, which the entire political class agreed had to be passed (just like the CARES Act). If this were the Trump Administration, the yammering about what wasn’t getting done, and the incompetence and malevolence of the non-doers, would be on blast (though to be fair, Trump would have been stirring the pot). Now, it seems that whenever Biden announces something will get done, the press moves on to something else, confident that something, at least, will get done. Perhaps they’re all at brunch now. Or perhaps newsrooms are even leaner than before, now that the clicks from Trump’s constant churn aren’t boosting revenues. Or perhaps the press just won’t criticize someone they see as representing them, as a class. Whatever the reason, if one after-effect of Covid is brain fog, one effect of the Biden administration is Biden Fog; it’s extremely difficult to see what, if anything, the administration is actually doing . Biden Fog makes me very uneasy, more uneasy than the Obama administrations smooth manipulativeness. Do others share my concern?

Democrats en Deshabille

“Scott Stringer, #MeToo, and What’s Next for the Left” [Ross Barkan, Political Currents]. “The standard set from the Stringer incident is that one allegation made by one person, no matter the time elapsed or the amount of evidence presented, is sufficient. And perhaps, they would argue, that is how politics should be conducted from 2021 onwards. Women should be believed. Once they speak out, that’s enough. At least, with Cuomo, there are many allegations, and some of the calls for his resignation have stemmed from a potential cover-up of nursing home deaths and a scandalous pandemic response. Some of the women stepping forward against Cuomo accuse him of harassing them as recently as last year. Kim’s allegation, having taken place 20 years ago, cannot be substantiated in such a way. It is notable, too, that many long-time Stringer allies were willing to ditch his mayoral campaign entirely even though no man or woman has come forward to tell the media that Kim related the incident to them in 2001. For investigations into claims of harassment and assault, this is the initial bar of evidence that usually needs to be cleared. If one allegation, with shaky evidence, is enough to short-circuit a political career, a new playbook is opened up, one left-leaning Democrats must take into account when embarking on future campaigns. Last year, a popular 31-year-old progressive running for Congress in Massachusetts, Alex Morse, was accused of engaging in improper sexual conduct with younger men when he was a college instructor. Morse, who had been mayor of the town of Holyoke at the time, insisted all relationships he had were consensual. No one accused him of dating men younger than the age of consent. The allegations, the Intercept later reported, were a farce. The College Democrats at the University of Massachusetts Amherst had plotted in 2019 about ways to ensnare Morse, a young gay man, in scandal. They were all supporters of Morse’s establishment opponent, Richard Neal. In the end, the scheme worked….. If Stringer remains viable and manages to come close to capturing the Democratic nomination, it will be a further indictment of the nonprofit left organizations and the elected officials aligned with them.”

“New York attorney general expanding Cuomo investigation: report” [The Hill]. “Several people familiar with the investigation told the [Wall Street Journal] that the AG’s office has interviewed at least three people who were contacted after the initial allegations against Cuomo were reported publicly. The three people said a former top adviser tasked with overseeing the state’s vaccination program had contacted them to gauge loyalty to the governor.”

“Cuomo’s communications director resigns; Chief advisor to replace him” [State of Politics]. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s communications director, Peter Ajemian, has resigned from his position and his last day was on Friday…. At least nine former aides have left the administration over the past few months. This includes Gareth Rhodes, who was part of Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force, Caitlin Girouard, Cuomo’s press secretary and most recently, Jack Sterne, a Cuomo spokesman… Dana Carotenuto has now been appointed Cuomo’s chief of staff, leaving her position as deputy secretary for legislative affairs and policy in the administration. She also formerly served as chief of staff for the Senate Independent Democratic Conference.” • The IDC having kept the Republicans in power in the New York State Senate for many years, lol.

Republican Funhouse

“California And The Incoherence Of The American Right” [The American Conservative]. “California has been the aspirational national microcosm and is now the dystopian future. A close reading of Jenner’s monologue shows that in the funhouse mirror of the 21st century it’s hard to see the reasons the center couldn’t hold and things fell apart. All is incoherent, no connection seen between transcending limits in ourselves and the unsustainable policy choices that got us here.” • Hmm. I was using “funhouse” first!

2020

“Warren says she will run for reelection in 2024” [Politico]. “Warren’s ‘plans’-based approach enthralled many college-educated voters but did not catch on with much of the Democratic base. She still feels releasing the 81 plans was the right thing to do but wrestles with why voters didn’t reward her. ‘I often wondered why other candidates didn’t have detailed plans for the future,’ she writes in her book. ‘Maybe the more puzzling question is why people running for office so rarely campaign on plans — and why that’s apparently okay with millions of voters.'” • Stupid voters. Everybody’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth. –Mike Tyson (apocryphal). Warren’s book:

Come on, man.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“What Happens When Republicans Simply Refuse to Certify Democratic Wins?” [David Atkins, Washington Monthly]. “The Big Lie that Trump really won the election is now canon among a majority of Republican voters. Any Republicans who refuses to toe the line is branded a heretic, and elections officials who dared to certify Biden’s win are being censured or stripped of their power.” • What happens? I would imagine liberal Democrats use their allies in the press and the intelligence community to deal with the matter, as in 2016 (presumably having war-gamed things out, as in 2020). National beats regional. (I find this line of discussion extremely tiresome, because RussiaGate was just as bad a Big Lie as Trump’s claim that he won; moreso if you take into account that Russia is a nuclear power.) Best for Democrats to concentrate on winning voters rather than hypotheticals:

“Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ imperils Republicans who don’t embrace it” [Associated Press]. “Allegiance to a lie has become a test of loyalty to Donald Trump and a means of self-preservation for Republicans…. Republicans are expected to believe the falsehoods, pretend they do or at bare minimum not let it be known that they don’t. State Republican leaders from Georgia to Arizona have been flamed by Trump or his followers for standing against the lies.” • Exactly as with RussiaGate. One of the saddest spectacles of 2020 was Sanders buying into it, because “he has to say that.”

“EXCLUSIVE: How corporate PACs are plotting to ‘move beyond’ January 6” [Popular Information]. “On March 2, NABPAC hosted a webinar called “Where Do We Go From Here.” The event featured Michael DuHaime, a prominent Republican operative and crisis communications consultant. During the event, DuHaime and others provided strategic and messaging advice about how to restart political donations — including donations to the 147 Republicans who voted not to certify the Electoral College results based on Trump’s lies. The event was attended by about 80 representatives of corporate PACs, including major companies like Delta, Dow, Altria, Northrup Grumman, New York Life, Lincoln Financial, and Boston Scientific. NABPAC board members include representatives from Microsoft, Kraft Heinz, Eli Lilly, Home Depot, and Cigna. In the webinar, DuHaime encouraged companies not to be pressured to withhold donations from Republicans who voted to overturn the election. Instead, DuHaime said corporations should ‘do what’s right for your organization’ and ‘deal with the fallout.’ He predicted that resuming contributions to Republican objectors “most likely… would be a one day story and most likely you are not going to lose customer share over it.'”

Stats Watch

Inflation Expectations: “United States Consumer Inflation Expectations” [Trading Economics]. “Median year-ahead inflation expectations in the US increased to 3.4 percent in April 2021, the highest level since September 2013, amid mounting concerns over rising price pressure as the economy further re-opens. Home and rent price growth expectations increased to new series highs, while households’ year-ahead spending growth outlook remained elevated.”

* * *

Commodities: “Biden Declares Emergency Waiver While Colonial Pipeline Is Down” [Zero Day]. “The source who works for the midstream oil company told Zero Day that one reason Colonial might still be keeping the pipelines offline — in addition to needing to add security measures to it — is because ‘something they need for [restarting] the pipeline is ransomed.’ He thinks this could be the automated ticketing system for billing customers, which is on the corporate IT network that was hit with the ransomware. If that system is locked, Colonial can’t invoice customers automatically, he said. Colonial’s operational network controls the flow of oil product from the pipeline to distributors, then passes information to the ticketing system — located on the IT network — about how much each distributor received so the ticketing system can invoice them. If that system is locked and the pipeline is still flowing, Colonial would have to manually collect information about how much fuel is flowing to each customer, then manually process invoices. If Colonial didn’t already have a plan for doing this manually, it may keep the pipelines down until it can determine an efficient way to invoice customers this way or until it can restore the automated ticketing system.” • lol.

Commmodities: “Tyson launches plant-based burgers and sausages to compete with Beyond Meat” [The Dairy Site]. “Tyson Foods Inc is launching plant-based hamburgers and sausages ahead of the US summer grilling season, increasing competition for Beyond Meat as it releases an updated version of its own faux burger…. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods aim to meet consumer demands for more climate-friendly diets, but sales of some of their products have slowed more recently as the plant-based trend cools…. Tyson is making another attempt at an alternative burger after phasing out a patty last year that was a blend of beef and plants.”

Shipping: “Shipyards in China’s Repair Hub Ban Arrivals from India” [gCaptain]. “Shipyards in the Chinese coastal city of Zhoushan have banned vessels that called at or changed crews in India in the last three months, citing concerns over rising infections in the South Asian nation. Restrictions on vessels from India as well as Bangladesh are now in place, prohibiting their arrival for maintenance and repair work, said a spokesperson from shipping and logistics firm Wilhelmsen Group. The company was informed of the ban by a shipyard operating in the city, the spokesperson said. Details were confirmed by an official from Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard Co. Several shipyards in Zhoushan ranked among the world’s top 10 repairers in terms of 2019 business volume.”

Retail: “The secret tricks hidden inside restaurant menus” [BBC]. “There is now an entire industry known as “menu engineering”, dedicated to designing menus that convey certain messages to customers, encouraging them to spend more and make them want to come back for a second helping…. The words used to describe a food, however, may do far more than make them sound enticing – they can make our mouths water. A study from the University of Cologne in Germany last year showed that by cleverly naming dishes with words that mimic the mouth movements when eating, restaurants could increase the palatability of the food. They found words that move from the front to the back of the mouth were more effective – such as the made up word ‘bodok.’ The effect seems to even work when reading silently, perhaps because the brain still stimulates the motor movements required to produce speech when reading. This masticatory effect, the authors suggest, gets our saliva glands working.” • And much else. I wonder if these concepts are used in political communication. Anyhow, there’s such a thing as a “menu engineer.”

Tech: “Aircraft will soon be voice-controlled in the next step towards self-flying planes — here’s how engineers are actively working to make it reality” [Business Insider]. “Engineers and researchers at Honeywell Aerospace are currently working on new cockpit systems that will allow pilots to control their planes with voice commands. It’s the latest effort that seeks to reduce pilot workload by increasing automation in the cockpit. The idea is that pilots can give simple commands like tuning to a radio frequency or turning to a heading, while also spending less time on tedious and time-consuming tasks like researching weather.” • I know nothing about human factors engineering, but it seems to me that adding a whole new mode of communication would increase complexity, not decrease it. As for example–

Tech:

Tech: “Musicians Say Streaming Doesn’t Pay. Can the Industry Change?” [New York Times (CL). “The artists’ demands are threaded with anger and anxiety over the degradation of creative labor. But the musicians face long odds. Despite solidarity among many older and independent artists, the most successful current pop acts have largely been silent on the issue. And while many musicians paint Spotify as the enemy, the shift to streaming over the last decade has returned the industry to growth after years of financial decline…. The heart of musicians’ critique is how that money is distributed. Major record labels, after contracting painfully for much of the 2000s, are now posting huge profits. Yet not enough of streaming’s bounty has made its way to musicians, the activists say, and the major platforms’ model tends to over-reward stars at the expense of everybody else. With more music being released than ever before, they say, it has become nearly impossible for any artist who is not a star to earn a living wage.” • Winner take all….

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 56 Greed (previous close: 55 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 54 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 10 at 12:20pm.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 187 (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.)

The Biosphere

“There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically)” [Eukaryote Writes Blog]. “So you’ve heard about how fish aren’t a monophyletic group? You’ve heard about carcinization, the process by which ocean arthropods convergently evolve into crabs? You say you get it now? Sit down. Sit down. Shut up. Listen. You don’t know nothing yet. ‘Trees’ are not a coherent phylogenetic category. On the evolutionary tree of plants, trees are regularly interspersed with things that are absolutely, 100% not trees. This means that, for instance, either: The common ancestor of a maple and a mulberry tree was not a tree; the common ancestor of a stinging nettle and a strawberry plant was a tree; and this is true for most trees or non-trees that you can think of. I thought I had a pretty good guess at this, but the situation is far worse than I could have imagined.”

“Eleven Ways of Smelling a Tree” [Emergence Magazine]. “In your hand: a highball glass, beaded with cool moisture. In your nose: the aromatic embodiment of globalized trade. The spikey, herbal odor of European juniper berries. A tang of lime juice from a tree descended from wild progenitors in the foothills of the Himalayas. Bitter quinine, from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, spritzed into your nostrils by the pop of sparkling tonic water.”

“Population turnover facilitates cultural selection for efficiency in birds” [Cell]. The Abstract:

Culture, defined as socially transmitted information and behaviors that are shared in groups and persist over time, is increasingly accepted to occur across a wide range of taxa and behavioral domains.1 While persistent, cultural traits are not necessarily static, and their distribution can change in frequency and type in response to selective pressures, analogous to that of genetic alleles. This has led to the treatment of culture as an evolutionary process, with cultural evolutionary theory arguing that culture exhibits the three fundamental components of Darwinian evolution: variation, competition, and inheritance.2, 3, 4, 5 Selection for more efficient behaviors over alternatives is a crucial component of cumulative cultural evolution,6 yet our understanding of how and when such cultural selection occurs in non-human animals is limited. We performed a cultural diffusion experiment using 18 captive populations of wild-caught great tits (Parus major) to ask whether more efficient foraging traditions are selected for, and whether this process is affected by a fundamental demographic process—population turnover. Our results showed that gradual replacement of individuals with naive immigrants greatly increased the probability that a more efficient behavior invaded a population’s cultural repertoire and outcompeted an established inefficient behavior. Fine-scale, automated behavioral tracking revealed that turnover did not increase innovation rates, but instead acted on adoption rates, as immigrants disproportionately sampled novel, efficient behaviors relative to available social information. These results provide strong evidence for cultural selection for efficiency in animals, and highlight the mechanism that links population turnover to this process.

So today’s dinosaurs have culture. I wonder if the dinosaurs of the Mesozoic did?

“45,000 apply for 12 spots to shoot Grand Canyon bison” [The Hill]. “The agency invited skilled shooters to enter a lottery to win one of a dozen spots to kill bison at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The NPS authorized the removal of bison at the Grand Canyon because according to the agency, the fast growing population has been grazing and trampling on water, vegetation, soils and archaeological sites. Additionally, the animals are harming visitor experience and wilderness character, the agency says.” • I don’t see the attraction.

Water

“How ‘sustainable’ is California’s groundwater sustainability act?” [High Country News]. “[T]here’s the issue of SGMA’s breadth. The law actually leaves out quite a lot of water. It applies to ‘alluvial’ basins — water stored in deposits of sediment, in other words. But it does not apply to brackish groundwater, which often sits below alluvial basins and can be treated and used. It also doesn’t govern water stored in fractured hard-rock and volcanic aquifers, since they are not alluvial basins. This a problem, because these forms of storage hold the majority of the state’s groundwater, and this leaves 40% of its wells unregulated and vulnerable to over-pumping, according to a study by The Nature Conservancy and Stanford University’s Water in the West Center. ‘Because SGMA says that it regulates ‘all groundwater basins in the state,’ most of the public reasonably assumes that the problem of groundwater management in California has been solved,’ the study states. ‘Unfortunately, this is not the case.'”

Naked Capitalism Cooking Community™

“Depression-Era Foods That Are Weirdly Making A Comeback” [Mashed]. “The Great Depression lasted a decade, but its effects changed a generation. Echoing events of 2020, the Depression caused widespread unemployment and food shortages of meat, milk, and other pantry staples. Cooks during the unprecedented economic downturn learned eating simple meals without waste could stretch their dollar. The popularity of home gardens, foraging for food, and alternative recipes emerged as a way to work around high food costs of fresh produce, meat, and dairy products. Although 2020, fortunately, didn’t see the same long-term impacts as the 1930s, home cooking doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and Depression-era foods are making a comeback.  During the height of the pandemic, The New York Times reported empty shelves across the country and the inability of grocers to keep staple pantry items and fresh produce in stock. Essentials such as beans, rice, pasta, and peanut butter became hot commodities. Hot dog sales also spiked. Thanks to modern food shortages — and farmers being forced to destroy food — pared-down cooking habits are once again being embraced. Home cooks are turning to Depression-era foods made with affordable and shelf-stable ingredients to feed the whole family.” • I thought these recipes would be awful, but they don’t seem so to me. My parents grew up in the Depression, hence beans-and-franks and meatloaf are familiar. Not, however, “Water Pie”!

Under the Influence

“Kim Kardashian tied to allegedly looted art in debacle highlighting a frustrating reality” [NBC]. “The difficulty in verifying the provenance of ancient works of art is a loophole that can be exploited easily by unscrupulous sellers…. This brings us to the sculpture sculpture linked to Kardashian West. According to the complaint, it was offered for sale with the following provenance: ‘Old German collection, bought before 1980.’ At first, this may sound reassuring. But it also raises questions: Whose collection, exactly? How old is ‘old’ (is ‘before 1980’ now ‘old’)? And most importantly, where did this information come from? Is it based on documentation, publications or someone’s recollections? How can a buyer be reasonably sure this information is true?”

Book Nook

“Why Won’t George Let George Finish ‘Winds of Winter’?” [The Ringer]. “Most of the latter-day discourse surrounding Winds stems from such fresh affronts as Martin commenting about the book—admittedly, often at the public’s prompting—or devoting his time to other tasks. ‘Work on Winds of Winter continues, and remains my top priority,’ Martin blogged in June 2018. ‘It is ridiculous to think otherwise.’ Rightly or wrongly, though, it’s actually easy to think otherwise, because Martin has been busy writing or consulting on so many projects other than the one he says is foremost on his mind….. Martin stands to make a vast sum of money for finishing Winds, but people are already paying him handsomely not to.”

On the Lord of the Rings:

Guillotine Watch

“Gwyneth Paltrow Reveals She Went ‘Totally Off the Rails’ Over Quarantine, Ate Bread” [Jezebel]. Paltrow: “I love whiskey and I make this fantastic drink called the Buster Paltrow, which I named after my grandfather who loved whiskey sours… And it’s this great quinoa whiskey from this distillery in Tennessee with maple syrup and lemon juice. It’s just heaven. I would have two of those every night of quarantine.”

Class Warfare

“What’s the Best Thing You Bought This Year to Make WFH Bearable?” [New York Magazine]. New York Magazine’s “The Strategist” (“Shopping the Internet Smartly”) is one of my guilty pleasures. So: “Below, some 27 working professionals share the furniture, lighting, electronics, comfort items, and even kitchen items that improved their work days during the pandemic.” • It’s worth noting that these consumers are, by definition, not “essential workers,” probably none of whom could have afforded such “comfort items” (“Krewe Howard Blue Light Glasses,” $ 285).

“Prostitution and the Limits of Economic Reasoning” [Christian Scholar’s Review]. A debate with Scott Cunnningham. “[T]here might be a particular problem with the fact that prostitution involves an exchange of money. Many scholars, including some Christians, have argued that there are goods that are diminished or destroyed by market exchange. You cannot buy friendship or disciples. Sex is often named in such a list. Kevin Brown wrote a nice paper on the topic in CSR, available here. In this view, prostitution is a problem because the exchange of money for sex, if it becomes normal, undermines the good of sex…. What is immediately noticeable to me is that if I operate completely within my vocabulary as an economist, I cannot make the above moral case against prostitution. Economists are not very good at theorizing about situations where people are prone to make choices that are not good for them. We don’t have a thick account of families or faithfulness. We are not good at thinking about virtue or character. We are also not very good at thinking about the evolution of norms and culture. All that is to say, I believe that there is a moral and a pragmatic case against legal prostitution, but you won’t find it in the economics discipline.” • Cunningham’s response. Not unrelated–

“Covid Destroyed the Illusion of the Restaurant Industry” [The Flashpoint]. “The people I talked to who aren’t returning to the industry said the help from the government was a major motivator in getting time and space to make those decisions.” • See the comments on the tweet introducing the article:

Lots of anecdotes here and elsewhere to the effect that restaurant customers were more obnoxious than usual during the pandemic.

“Worker Resistance Continues as Maine Dollar General Employees Walk Off the Job” [The Flashpoint]. “Citing disrespectful treatment and low wages, all but one of the employees of the Dollar General store in the small town of Eliot, Maine walked off the job on Monday and Tuesday.” • Signage:

On organizing:

News of the Wired

I am not feeling wired today.

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JD writes: “A lot of citrus around but this is a neighbor’s cherry (?) tree.”

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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.

109 comments

  1. NotTimothyGeithner

    . Do others share my concern?

    With the reported news about Biden’s “intellectual curiostiy”, one problem is Biden is functionally new at every issue. He has to learn on the job. The jobs’ numbers weren’t good, and we need months of great news to get back. I suspect everyone in the political class understood “reopening” to simply mean everything is back on track. As we are now 120 days into Biden’s presidency and infrastructure week hoopla has curiously gone silent. One week Pete is talking about tearing down highways that were built in the 50’s and then the next week he’s going on about high speed rail between major urban areas not within. Getting rid of the highways would be great, but there needs to be a way to transit based on where people live now.

    Biden has agreed to find a process to maybe deal with the TRIPS wire, but that only took 110 days. Biden has gone from calling Putin a killer and denouncing China’s human rights record to asking if they would pretend his conference wasn’t a huge waste of time.

    I would say the Biden Presdiency is basically over. He won’t use sticks against “centrists”, so what does he have?

    Not dealing with how bad Obama was is a real issue, and I suspect everyday people are going into work realizing how little has been done since Clinton, even before.

    1. Cocomaan

      I would say the Biden Presdiency is basically over. He won’t use sticks against “centrists”, so what does he have?

      I agree wholeheartedly. Last year I was saying to anyone within hearing that whoever took 2020 would be facing gridlock and division. The democrats did not win with a mandate, not even close, and the country is facing a whole slew of stubborn problems. Evictions haven’t even really hit yet! We could have Hoovervilles by next year. A military family member mentioned how they’re wargaming Taiwan in his unit. Huge stubborn issue.

      As I have said here already, just this morning, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan. Nothing else. He used all his political capital, not much to begin with. He’s going to need to shake his pen a few times the next time a bill is put in front of him: ink will be dried out.

      Was talking to a PA political insider about 2022 races. They are heating up fast. They are also extreme: good chance PA will have two extreme candidates with one a wacko Qanon truthers and a radical left wing gun banner.

      Nobody is going to want to sign onto a failing “centrist” administration any time soon.

      1. JBird4049

        >>>Hoovervilles by next year.

        We already have smallish Hoovervilles, and which is why the New Build Back Better Kabuki Show is all the rage…

        >>>they’re wargaming Taiwan in his unit.

        with the Old Security Theater still very popular.

        Or the Democrats/Republicans will bring up gunzzz and the invading hordes of migrants instead of spending money on the Deplorable Poor.

      2. upstater

        “wargaming Taiwan”…

        Well that would solve climate change with nuclear winter. And reduce population considerably.

        1. Pocopius

          I haven’t seen them saying so in the MSM, but obviously some of the neocons like Bolton, Nuland, Robert Kagan, Max Boot, Thomas Friedman, etc., think the Chinese would be chicken to use their nukes even in response to ours. They also seem to believe that nukes are just big bombs and the stories about their effects and fallout were all lies to keep control over the sheeple during the Cold War. Given the amount of lies we’ve always been subject to, maybe they’re right, but I don’t think so and don’t want to find out. Strangely, Liz Cheney doesn’t seem to be in that crowd. Maybe her daddy taught her something those others don’t want to know.

    2. Procopius

      Actually, just investment in repairing and improving the railway roadbeds would help. A lot. Few people are aware of how much oil is being moved on our rickety railroads or how many accidents there are with those trains. The freight rail system is insufficiently profitable, but is vital to our national security and our economy. It doesn’t seem at this point that it would be helpful to nationalize them, but maybe making them public utilities regulated by the Feds would work. High speed rail is not beneficial at distances greater than about 600 miles, so it probably should not be an immediate priority, but urban public transportation is an immediate need, and most cities have too many conflicts of interest and insufficient revenue to do it right.

  2. hunkerdown

    re: Population turnover facilitates cultural selection for efficiency in birds

    Why am I not surprised to see Max Planck’s name all over the institutes involved? “Bird culture advances one cat at a time.”

  3. Wukchumni

    “Musicians Say Streaming Doesn’t Pay. Can the Industry Change?” [New York Times (CL)
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    When I was a kid, rock & roll stars were the richest people anybody knew, with some having a penchant for wrecking hotel rooms…

    Now the richest people in the country are a talentless mob from a music standpoint, with a penchant for wrecking the economy.

    1. Mikel

      I’ve seen some of the best musicians on YouTube…ultimately selling everything but music. (Well, lacking the benefit of those sales).
      And they can’t tour now…so that BS mantra about they can make it back on touring…which had already been dying a long death for all but the most established artists.

      1. tegnost

        If you write a great song you give money to someone else. I’m with gillian welch, if there’s something that you want to hear, sing it yourself…

        1. Wukchumni

          About 20 years ago we were camped @ Lonely Lake in Sequoia NP, which used to be just another nameless lake on the topo map, that is until a backcountry skier named Bob left the Pear Lake ski hut one day in the 1980’s and never returned.

          It was thought that he ended up sleeping on the frozen lake in the midst of a powerful storm and died sometime on his last ski, and somebody noticed a red sleeping bag in the lake later that summer, and when trail crew showed up to fish it out, parts of Bob came off as they brought him up from his watery grave, earning the body of water the unwanted nickname of ‘Bits of Bob Lake’, so Lonely Lake it became.

          The lake is fabulous, with the look of an infinity pool, here’s a photo:

          https://www.nps.gov/articles/monitoring-lakes-in-sierra-nevada-network-parks.htm

          We came up with this ditty to the tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and once finished, all flung a toast of Lagavulin into the lake in his honor…

          Hippy Bob was skiing on a cold winter’s day
          Up across the Tablelands and then went astray
          Up to Lonely Lake he did go
          And then a big storm came up
          You might say he was fvcked
          He bivy’d down for all eternity
          It’s Bits of Bob Lake now to you and me

          Covered in snow, asphyxiated
          Hard way to go, hope he was sleeping
          With the spring flaw people found bits and pieces of him
          He bivy’d down for all eternity
          It’s Bits of Bob Lake now to you and me.

          Now people are writing stories & songs about him
          He bivy’d down for all eternity
          It’s Bits of Bob Lake now to you and me.

    2. petal

      Life’s Been Good (2nd try)
      Some Joe Walsh for this afternoon. My college bf’s dad wrote the insurance on “the mansion” back in the day. It’s in Saxtons River, VT. Always laugh when I hear the song now.

    3. Dr. John Carpenter

      I guarantee the management and business people were richer. The game has always been rigged against the artists. Some were just able to make it up in bulk. The others, well, that’s what the Behind the Music documentaries are for.

      Probably the same kind of people wrecking the economy back then too. They just didn’t feel the need to complete with the rockstars for attention like they do now.

    4. PHLDenizen

      I spent much of my late teens and early 20s touring a bit with a couple of bands as the bass player. Definitely none you’ve ever heard of and, like most hardscrabble enterprises, lost to the sands of time among so much other detritus. Every so often we’d get feelers from indie labels, but, relative to my band members, I knew a fair amount about label deals and how you end up playing for tips unless you break massively on a national level. I made it very clear I would never, ever sign a recording contract and if they were adamant about that direction, I would have quit with no regret or guilty.

      Record deals are structured as debt instruments. Advances for studio time, gear, touring support, marketing, catering, pressing CDs, management, legal, taking your friends out to dinner on the label’s dime, petty cash for drugs and booze, strip clubs, all the things you splurge on because you’re “now rich” all go on your tab and the labels always, always pays themselves first to recoup. There’s little to nothing left to pay the band. Most bands are never, ever able to pay back in full. If your band fails to launch, you’re doomed.

      The A&R guys lie to you shamelessly. Then you sign and lose creative control. They’ll foist upon a you one of their high-priced producers who comes out of your advance, as well as getting points on your record. They’ll micromanage your production and mixing, they’ll tell how you need to focus on creating hits. Instead of growing artists as they used to back in the 70s, 80s, even 90s, they’ll drop you after a single album if it fails to be a stupendous success.

      If you own your publishing, that helps immensely. Owning the master better still: you have all rights w.r.t. what can and can’t be done with a song. You have final day.

      Bands can no longer count on sales of music to support any of their work. It’s all merch and touring. And relentless touring is miserable without album sales to fall back on during fallow periods. Albums are basically dead. 3 minutes max for songs. Hook at the front. No room to breathe. Almost all of them are built on the same 4 chord cycles and claps for snares. Homogenized. No dynamics. Boring. Niche genres like metal have a sustainable model, but for the most part it’s all forgettable commodities.

      So the rockstars who were “rich” only looked that way because they were high leveraged and burning through cash before they’d see how little was left after labels got done with their blood sucking funnels

      The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S. Thompson

      1. Mikel

        Alot of times the high profile producer isn’t foisted on them – A good number of artists “signed to labels” are actually signed to production deals. The production company is the one with relationship with the distributing label.
        The production company/label then signs with the bigger label for distribution.
        Production companies have largely taken over the hands on role of artist development, but on the flip side that’s another layer of middlemen with their own contracts with the artist.

      2. Ook

        @PHLDenizen, what do you think of bandcamp.com?
        What you say resonates. I remember being shocked when, several years ago, I was at a party, talking to the guitarist of a band that had recently had a few top 40 hits, and the guy was telling me they had been better off financially as a bar band.

  4. Randall Flagg

    “Biden fog” Yes, I do share your concerns that it has afflicted the major media…
    It won’t be pretty in the end.

  5. John Siman

    Lambert poses this question: “[I]f one after-effect of Covid is brain fog, one effect of the Biden administration is Biden Fog; it’s extremely difficult to see what, if anything, the administration is actually doing. Biden Fog makes me very uneasy, more uneasy than the Obama administrations smooth manipulativeness. Do others share my concern?”

    I for one am very uneasy, very creeped out, especially by how much Biden sounds so eerily like George W. Bush to me whenever I hear his voice unaccompanied by visuals. Is anyone else experiencing this? So so much like the W. of 2003, though perhaps even a little more fake-populist in intonation and anti-intellectual in attitude.

    1. John

      The certain cure is to stop listening to presidents, senators, representatives, et al. Read their words; sift the substance, if any, from the b— s—; saves time and angst.

      In foreign policy so far, Biden differs little if at all from his predecessors. I have read his words as to what he is going to do. I await his actions.

      Here is the land of the once more or less free and occasionally brave, words are grand. Actions are better.

      1. Procopius

        Well, the first thing I saw was Blinken ruling out any chance of returning to the JCPOA. I have to believe this is either at Biden’s direction or with his approval. As nearly as I can figure from what Blinken says, doing the obvious thing, returning the US to compliance first would “make us look weak.” I guess because revoking the sanctions Trump imposed and complying with the agreement to lift the sanctions Obama failed to lift would … ? You would think undoing a stupid mistake and doing the right thing would be seen as the action of a powerful, fearless nation, but no.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Biden Fog? It makes it sound like he is reducing politics in America to his own personal level – that of a person with the onset symptoms of dementia.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      Even more so like Bush with the visuals. He’s got that fake cowboy squint going, although in Biden’s case it’s probably because he can’t see the teleprompter. Still makes me want to put my fist through either of their faces every time I see it.

  6. km

    A Tesla can be had for $45K?

    Did not know, hadn’t exactly been shopping for one.

    UPDATE: I just looked it up. #gofigure #ialreadyhaveenoughproblems

    1. RMO

      The Model 3 was hyped to the stratosphere as being the first Tesla that would be available at a price around the median new car price. The initial promise was a $35,000 car. They almost managed that. Interestingly, here in Canada the incentives for electric vehicles are restricted to ones where the base model is offered at under $45,000 (Canadian dollars of course). Looking at the Tesla Canada website I couldn’t see a Model 3 that was available for that price and yet they were promoting the EV incentive as applying to the 3. Digging around deeply into the site I finally found an option for a sub-$45K Model 3. The range is restricted by software and in order to buy it you had to visit or telephone a showroom. It was obvious this was only offered in order to make the rest of the 3 line eligible for the federal incentive – they really, really didn’t want anyone to actually buy it. Just recently the government noticed this chicanery and at lest made Tesla put the under-$45K one on the main website – though it’s still a little shady as you have to click a box under the standard model that says “limit to 151KM range est.” to make it show up. Even then it now comes up as $46,389 but Tesla still says you get the $5K federal incentive on all Model 3’s… Sort of like how the plans for the bypass that was going to go through Arthur Dent’s house were “On Display”

      For some reason it seems like the new EVs from the major manufacturers are following Tesla when it come to the interior, controls and displays – which I absolutely hate. Using a touch screen to adjust the wipers, mirrors or open the freaking glovebox are brain-dead ideas right out of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

      1. Phillip Cross

        Have you seen the new Ioniq5 from Hyundai?

        Looks a bit like a Lancia Integrale came back from the future.

        If they can get the price right, surely Tesla’s moat is in danger of evaporating.

      2. Procopius

        Is the touch screen still in the middle of the dashboard? What an invitation to disaster as people take their attention off the road (and whatever the autopilot is doing) to find the spot on the screen they have to touch.

  7. Wukchumni

    “How ‘sustainable’ is California’s groundwater sustainability act?” [High Country News].
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Driving around the CVBB the past year, i’ve noticed oh so many new fruit & nut trees popping up in formerly vacant fields, and I think the rationale is that if farmers get them grandfathered into existence, they’ll surely be able to utilize groundwater under the new aegis to come.

    The same thing happened after 2014 when the new groundwater act was enacted, all of the sudden there were new orchards everywhere in the worst stage of our 5 year drought.

    1. The Rev Kev

      If any of the other political candidates go in for a meeting with Warren in 2024, they had better make sure that they set their mobile for voice record. Otherwise they may meet the same accusations that Sanders had leveled against him by Warren. It wasn’t just the Bernie supporters that saw what Warren was all about back then – and it showed in her numbers afterwards.

      1. Michael Ismoe

        She is going to have a hard time winning re-nomination. A small red-haired ex-Congressman with a magical name may soon realize that he primaried the wrong senator.

    1. CanCyn

      You have to rotate. My sister had a job where she worked longer days and got 1 day off every other week. The staff rotated through days off, first Monday, next time Tuesday, next time Wednesday etc. so no one could ‘hog’ weekends. Not sure how that works with people only in the office 3 days in every week but a schedule that ensures everyone gets a long ‘weekend’ now and then could no doubt be created.
      What I’d like to see is an end to the idea of Saturday/Sunday weekends. Let’s go full on 7 days a week. Everyone works 3 or 4 days. More employed. More time off. Why do hospital testing centres and surgeries sit empty except for emergencies on weekends or evenings for example? We should have figured this out a long time ago.

  8. Henry Moon Pie

    Great tits and culture–

    Parus major and culture–

    So just in the last couple of days, we’ve had cultured birds, self-aware dogs and cats with illusory-contour perception. Can anyone draw me a bright line between these animals and us?

    It’s looking more and more like…

    The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.

    Thomas Berry.

    Now if we could just “follow the Science” and act like that was the case.

    1. tegnost

      I just finished aldous huxley “island” and it echoed this and had some other weird parallels as well to our perpetually stagnant myths

  9. fresno dan

    “Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ imperils Republicans who don’t embrace it” [Associated Press].
    …. • Exactly as with RussiaGate. One of the saddest spectacles of 2020 was Sanders buying into it, because “he has to say that.”
    =========================================
    Yet, ironically, our two parties are both correct about the reality of our government and our country – our elections are corrupt and give us illegitimate results. But not because the vote counts are incorrect, but because the issues raised (or more accurately, ignored) and the candidates chosen are designed to ignore and thwart the will of the majority (i.e., only do the bidding of the wealthiest).
    Neither party seems particularly concerned with, or motivated to, appeal to most Americans. The two parties do seem very good at pre-emption and co-opting the other party. You say the Russians helped the repubs steal the election, we say the dems stole the election without assistance.

    1. km

      Good point. Goodthinkers act as if Liz Cheney were some kind of Profile In Courage, but they don’t say the same thing about Tulsi Gabbard.

      1. fresno dan

        km
        May 10, 2021 at 4:25 pm
        https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/shed-no-tears-for-liz-cheney/
        A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—i.e. 12 years ago—Cheney would have been portrayed in the media as a genocidal warlord. She’s an unreconstructed apologist for all the basest barbarisms of the Bush era. She’s defended waterboarding and the war on terror’s “enhanced interrogation” program. She’s opposed any serious attempt to reform FISA and rein in the government’s broad surveillance powers. Her PAC ran a comically fearmongering ad denouncing the Obama DOJ as the “Department of Jihad” because it employed lawyers who had dared to represent Guantanamo detainees. She’s railed against any attempt to withdraw American troops from anywhere, from Afghanistan to Syria to Germany. She’s continued to defend the Iraq war and even maintained that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

        Yet lately she’s also expressed annoyance with Trump. And because the deafening churn of social media prevents anyone from remembering what happened more than two days ago*, Cheney has been recast as a stovepipe-hatted, small-r republican moralist. Once upon a time, the mainstream press sighs, there was a more decent and virtuous conservatism that also occasionally tortured people in dungeons. This persuasion is exemplified by Cheney, yet now it’s is on its way out, overrun by the Trump cultists.
        ===============================================
        Its funny how the differences between Cheney and Trump are never clearly delineated. I get the impression its because its in Cheney’s, Trump’s, and the Media’s interest not to discuss things in detail. For example, Trump was against the Iraq war (?before, during, after?), but in the same breath he was willing to bomb them all to the stone age. Cheney is consistent. And the media can’t have their principled repub be an unreconstructed warmonger….

        * I’m looking at you CNN, which made quite a big deal about John Brennan lying to the senate, but now PAYS him to lie on CNN….

        1. The Rev Kev

          Don’t you find it ironic that in the old days, that the CIA had to organize Operation Mockingbird so that they could have their “own” journalists working in the main stream media. But that nowadays that the main stream media will just up and pay them good money to appear on and MSNBC and CNN to spread their lies direct on TV? People like McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, etc. And let us not forget the CIA infiltration of the Columbia School of Journalism as well.

          https://dailycaller.com/2019/08/23/cnn-msnbc-15-spooks-mccabe/

          1. fresno dan

            The Rev Kev
            May 10, 2021 at 7:23 pm
            I agree.
            I would only quibble with the use of the word irony only in so far that I no longer believe that the media is an independent 4th branch of government, and I no longer believe that it ever was, so that the media openly hiring CIA lackeys is not ironic, but just the inevitable evolution of the process.

  10. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    Democrats en Deshabille: Actually that first bit about Sanders being dismayed by Biden’s eagerness to get a deal with Republicans. Sanders knows this game: ‘Seek a Grand bargain’ with the opposition until the clock runs out. Then when the election comes around blame it on them and they’ll blame it on you. Win/Win/Kaching.

  11. Terry Flynn

    Re Tolkien etc. I kinda suspect The Rev Kev will pipe up on this topic too and his views are always interesting. Here are mine. I think both Le Guin and Martin have valid points on LOTR. As I got older and read stuff from NC I increasingly asked awkward questions about how Aragorn really subdued all enemies and the minutiae of “making Gondor great again” – MGGA sounds like an orc battle cry……

    Ultimately I think Tolkien knew of “complexity” but never intended to “go there”. Le Guin “gets this”. Martin knows of “complexity” and wants to “go there”. However, he very obviously has got side tracked and a multitude of YouTubers have weighed in – usually concluding that he’ll never finish the book series before he dies. As usual, South Park “got it right”. See their “Black Friday” trilogy of episodes. It’s hilarious how they cricitise him. Whilst his “b**bs not wieners defence” may well be true, the fact he got bogged down in this ridiculous debate just proves the point that he is more interested in the fame and interaction than finishing the story.

    I’m just glad I never bothered with Game of Thrones. It, and Harry Potter, both passed me by and I’m glad I never wasted time on them. For fans of sci-fi and related genres that “made it to mass consumption media” check out things with Ethan Hawke in. Gattaca was a brilliant movie that has become a cult classic. Predestination (along with Primer) is perhaps the only time travel movie that I can’t find fault with. Ethan Hawke was in that too and it was Sarah Snook’s breakout role. She truly was amazing. Unsurprisingly, this was an adaptation of a story from one of the “masters” – Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein and Dick adaptations always get my attention.

    1. cocomaan

      I’ve been a huge fan of Martin for a long time, grew up with his books. They’re more or less fantasy soap operas, with people dying, hidden identities, and so on. They’re a lot of fun. There’s a lot of good questions about the value of honor, what you do for family, the course of history, how frustrating it is to be a Cassandra, and so on.

      I do really like Le Guin’s take. To me, one of Tolkein’s most human characters is Faramir, who fails many times over, almost to death.

      Got to agree with you on Predestination, that was a fantastic movie. Did not know what was coming and it blew my mind.

        1. cocomaan

          It’s definitely one I cannot get anyone to watch! Terry is right, Snook is excellent. Great for fans of clever sci fi.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Thanks. One warning to Jeremy – DON’T WATCH THE TRAILER. It doesn’t give the game away but IMHO it’s better to go into the movie completely “blind”.

            1. Jeremy Grimm

              Thanks for the warning. But, I do not watch trailers in most cases. They seldom reveal the essence of a movie and most commonly either lead astray or reveal too many of the too few moments of badly executed movie.

        2. GF

          Jeremy

          Neither Gattaca nor Predestination show up when I search Netflix for them?? Also, searching for Ethan Hawke doesn’t produce either of the movies.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Netflix is not the same in all countries…..for example in UK lots of stuff is there that US Netflix doesn’t show because the “film owner/distributor” in USA already has a North-America-Only streaming service.

            So HBO stuff appears on HBOMax in USA. That doesn’t exist in UK so their stuff appears on other platforms like Sky and “Uk Netflix”.

      1. Terry Flynn

        Agreed re Faramir. I’m not one of those nitpickers about Peter Jackson’s LOTR but there is one thing I really think he got wrong – Faramir. Tolkein really showed his skills in writing with Faramir – just perfect.

        Predestination blew my mind too – plus once I saw Sarah Snook I instantly went searching for her on IMDB. I am not generally an “actor” fan type but she broke my rule. Succession is her latest tour de force.

    2. David

      I think LeGuin realises that, as Tolkien pointed out on many, many, occasions, LOTR is an allegory about the corrupting effects of power. Nobody in the book is inherently evil (“Sauron was good once” says Gandalf at one point) but the distinction is between those characters who have been corrupted by the lust for power and those who have not (if Tolkien was not strictly an anarchist, he certainly distrusted power). The “good” characters are those who have managed to avoid corruption, but this doesn’t make them inherently morally better or superior. Indeed, the central problem at the start of the book is that those who might logically be best fitted to carry the Ring (ie to assume power), that is Gandalf and Aragorn, are well aware that they risk being tempted to use it for nefarious ends. Frodo, the quiet, shy, hobbit with no aspirations to power is thus the ideal ring-bearer, although even he is tempted at the very end. As LeGuin almost says, Frodo is the Unfallen version of Gollum, and it’s not an accident that, at the end of the story, Frodo almost falls, literally, into the dark world of Mordor.

      It’s also important to understand that Tolkien was quite consciously writing epic fantasy, not a historical novel. You have to accept the rules of whichever literary mode you are reading. We accept when we read or see Hamlet that characters in real life don’t speak in blank verse. We also understand (or should) that it’s pointless to pose questions like, how did Fortinbras reorganise Denmark after the carnage at the end of the play: indeed it’s a category error to do so. From my limited acquaintance with Martin, I think he doesn’t realise this, or at least not as much. He’s actually working in the tradition of the nineteenth century historical novel where, like Dumas, you could continue writing effectively the same story forever.

      1. Terry Flynn

        Wow. Don’t think I am capable of matching that level of critique (which I agree with BTW).

      2. ChrisPacific

        Yes, I feel I can agree with Martin without thinking that Tolkien should have written the book differently. The questions Martin asked are interesting questions. I think he could write a book on them that would very likely be worth reading. But fully exploring it would require stepping outside the epic fantasy archetype, and as you noted, that’s not something Tolkien was interested in doing (in fact he wrote the canonical epic fantasy).

        The orcs are an interesting point, and I think Martin is right to focus on them. In a sense they are an exception to Le Guin’s light/dark dichotomy. They aren’t even like children that were raised by drug dealers and gang members and spent their teens in and out of juvenile detention. Perhaps the original race was like that, but the Uruk-hai were essentially bioengineered by Saruman to be killing machines. Nowhere in the story is it suggested that they have light and dark sides, or are capable of redemption. Martin’s point is that one of the ways power corrupts in wartime is the requirement to divide the world into good and bad guys, and designate the bad guys as enemies to be defeated or killed by any means possible, when in reality they’re just following their own leaders who have applied the same framing to you. Once the war is over, it can be difficult to transition out of that mental framework, or to bring the people with you if you manage it yourself. Orcs may be portrayed as irredeemably evil, but they do have speaking parts on occasion, and they have enough humanlike characteristics that exterminating them like vermin following the war could very easily have morally injurious consequences for the victor.

        However, as you say, Tolkien’s big edge over Martin as an author is that he knows the stories you don’t write are as important as the ones you do. Martin’s questions may be good questions, but if the price of exploring them was that LOTR would end up like a Martin story, then I think I’d rather keep my Tolkien as it is. At least it had a conclusion.

      3. Jeremy Grimm

        I treasure that which is well-written. I added your comment above to my catalog of writing I aspire to, for its content, expressiveness, clarity, and insight. I do not always agree with your comments but I envy and work toward their clarity, depth, and insight of expression.

    3. aleph_0

      Just to hop in late with recommendations, for the gamers amongst us, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is probably the best epic scifi I’ve engaged with in any format for years. Story heavy time loop stuff, but it all feels extremely fresh as the story unfolds. It’s very, very human at its heart, which the Japanese excel at weaving plots from.

      PS4 only for now. Just bringing it up because it got insanely slept on last year.

    4. The Rev Kev

      Late in commenting here. I think that what has to be kept in mind with the differences between Tolkien and Martin is their personal histories. Tolkien was a combat vet of WW1 and saw humanity at its worse. He was at the Somme and while he was on leave, his battalion was almost wiped out-

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien#First_World_War

      Maybe for him, the Orcs is what people could be reduced to in wartime. His description of Frodo and his friends sounds like at time the description of good-natured British “squaddies” from WW1. Martin on the other hand came from a sedate background of journalism, teaching and scifi. Nothing like Tolkien’s at all. And I think that his inspiration for Game of Thrones was the English War of the Roses which I can well believe-

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._R._Martin#Teaching

      But for Game of Thrones, I will let the Critical Drinker suggest a different ending that it could have had to make it better (some language)-

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVGHjB_c0Ok (15:29 mins)

      But before I forget, I totally agree with your idea that “Gattaca” is a brilliant move and is one that I will always recommend. As for “Predestination”, I well and truly remember the Heinlein story that that movie was based on – “All You Zombies” – and it was a head spinner trying to keep up with. And you never saw the end coming.

      1. Terry Flynn

        Thanks! Critical Drinker gives “mixed” vibes to me these days. Loved his initial take on things but believe he’s been a bit more hit and miss now. On the plus side I really love his obvious devotion to “old school” ideas of writing, plotting, and characterisation properly. His early critiques of the “virtue signalling” by Hollywood were spot on.

        I’ve become a little worried that, like so many YouTubers, he has felt the need to “up the ante” and dial it up to 11 to keep the followers and grow his brand. Whilst I don’t think Captain Marvel was a great movie, it doesn’t deserve the hatred it gets – just because its star is (IMO) very bad at making points that deserve at least some attention. (Believe me I’m no friend of “wokeness”.)

        He now has entered the YouTube echo-chamber and his appearances on the dreaded 3 hour round-table discussions are invariably with all the “usual suspects” who frankly are not as erudite as him in criticising what is wrong with today’s media but who, if you see their personal videos, show their true colours – which generally aren’t pretty and display little awareness of the key issues that REALLY matter and which are routinely discussed on places like NC. I refuse to subscribe to any of those channels but just take a look every now and then.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Well, different strokes for different strokes. I kinda like what he says as even if I disagree with it, challenges me to think why exactly I disagree with it. I can only imagine what an interview with him and Ricky Gervais would be like. :)

          He has a second channel called “Critical Drinker After Hours” which has video clips ranging from a few minute to a few hours. It’s an acquired taste – like the BOFH. Here is the link for his second channel which I think is the one that you are talking about-

          https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5ckqMQFqpqVbGJNiHhNE7Q/videos

          1. Terry Flynn

            Yeah don’t get me wrong, I still think he’s one of the better YouTubers. I just wonder why he, as a published novellist, hangs around with some of the dross there.

            (Maybe income from such publications is getting to be as bad as it has always been for those of us who published an academic textbook!)

      2. Procopius

        I can’t resist chiming in recommending a serious criticism of the historicity of combat in both LOTR and GOT. At the blog called A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, Dr. Bret Deveraux presents fascinating essays on historical topics (e.g., why the Spartans were lousy soldiers and horrible people). His essays on some of the military campaigns in LOTR and GOT (mostly the cinematic/TV versions, but with reference to the ways the books differ) are great intriductions to why logistics matter so much and how armies actually moved and fought before firearms. He also has articles about how people actually grew and processed food and other raw materials (did you ever think about how much time peasants had to spend making cloth to clothe themselves?), and he discusses the ways in which some games misrepresent historical development. According to him Tolkien stands up better than Martin, and the TV version of GOT is really terrible in its presentations of war. To find his discussions of the campaigns go to the section titled Resources for World Builders and then scroll down to Armies and Logistics.

  12. IMOR

    re: Barkan, “Me Too, the Left, and What’s Next”
    “If one allegation, with shaky evidence, is enough to short-circuit a political career, a new playbook is opened up, one left-leaning Democrats must take into account when embarking on future campaigns.”
    Observers on the left and in the mainstream both have wondered aloud what happened to create the ‘missing generation’ of potential/actual officeholders among those currently 50-62, but 35 to 47 or so back when they first started worrying about it. Why were the relatively small group in that cohort shot through with so many oddballs, extreme family values types, capitalism/money and nothing else people?
    It’s because except for a two-week window to ‘confess, go and sin no more’ right after Doug Ginzberg truthfully testified at his confirmation hearing that, hell, yes, he inhaled, a single unsupported – or of course any supported– allegation of DRUG USE (horrors!) was enough to destroy or self-censor a candidacy, yet drug use was completely common and mainstream among nearly all high achievers of the era and especially so among those interested in doing something with the country that didn’t resemble a cross between a caricature of the 1950s and The Handmaid’s Tale.
    For all the excesses Me Too and ‘believe the women’ can engender, such approaches, intimidation, and rapes do actual harm to another. The War on Drugs bullcrap, its destruction of civil liberties and its focus on personal life rather than public life lived neatly excised a couple political generations’ worth of candidates and government workers who would otherwise have provided balance, realism, and/ or shift leftward for exactly NOTHING.

  13. Wukchumni

    Southern California Edison sent me a notice that power will be off for 7 hours here on this Thursday, and they included something interesting in the letter, in that I can get 30 pounds of bagged ice from Rite-Aid or Smart & Final with the coupon enclosed-which is a nice touch, seeing as we’re going back to the future with ‘iceboxes’ ha ha.

    1. Mantid

      When I lived in France, in the day, each apartment had a galvanized tin box, mounted in the kitchen wall, that jutted out into the courtyard which was often in the shade. It was quite effective in keeping food, milk, veggies, butter, etc. cool. I’d say about 40 ish degrees. It was an exceptional idea, and used no electricity. I’m actually old enough to remember going to the ice man (store) and getting a hunk of ice for the “frigo”. Eschew convenience.

    2. Nce

      I live without a refrigerator or cooler, so when I read the NC Cooking Community post on Depression-era foods, I had to give one a go. The “wacky” cake would’ve turned out great if I hadn’t overloaded my little vacuum tube solar cooker. These things are more than hot dog heaters or kids’ toys- I’ve made pasty, bread, cakes- but DON’T overload one if you don’t want a total mess, ruined food, or possibly a cracked vacuum tube due to pressure buildup. Eh, at least my depression-era solar wacky cake is edible, and that’s satisfying in and of itself.

  14. marym

    Realignment and Legitimacy
    Election laws moving through Republican state legislatures now include both making it more difficult to register and vote, and transferring authority from state and local election officials to state legislators.

    This is a coordinated effort.

    Heritage, according to internal documents obtained by the New York Times, is spending $24 million and working with ALEC to “produce model legislation for state legislatures to adopt” and hire lobbyists in “crucial states.” The typical model legislation …attacks voters and local election officials by swooping in to limit absentee voting and ballot drop boxes, make voter registration harder, purge voters, and cut back on early voting.

    …strikingly, these bills are also uniform in undermining the power of local officials to attack real problems, stripping them of the budgets and resources they need to run accessible elections.

    (Link)

    Decades of fear-mongering about voter fraud and Trump’s claims about it through his entire presidency have paved the way for this. Republican political elites and the Trumpist rank and file can’t have made it any clearer who they think should be allowed to vote, count the vote, and have their votes counted.

    I generally thought the Russiagate investigation (by a lifelong Republican) and the impeachments (with a Republican Senate) were performance by the Democrats to distract from their disinterest in doing any productive work.

    Maybe Republicans are also performing and don’t intend to use the authority in the new legislation to overturn the vote and pick another slate of electors if voter suppression/intimidation doesn’t produce the results they prefer. However, though Republicans aren’t interested in doing anything productive for the people either, they’re pretty serious when it comes to gaining and holding on to power.

  15. Keith

    Regarding gaining GOP support, perhaps that is because the Dems don’t have it in their Caucus and face a revolt. Not from the Progressives, mind you- they seem happy to whine on social media while gathering more in campaign dollars. I am leaning towards the moderates. Senate is obvious, Manchin, Kelly, other AZ (can’t recall her name off the top of my head) among a revolving door of others.

    But you also have the SALT repeal in the House, which is claiming, and may have the backbone, to tank legislation unless they get their way. It is not take many to dethrone Boenor and to give McConnell a headache, and the Pelosi/Schumer team may not to want to have to deal with that. So the better messaging is to embrace bi-partisanship and then blame the GOP for obstructionism. That way they do not face any embarrassing defeats and have a foil ready in case Progressive complain- (see above about them being spineless).

  16. Wukchumni

    “California And The Incoherence Of The American Right” [The American Conservative].
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Aside from the tag team of Devin y Kevin, the Donkey Show here has really nothing to show for it in terms of national politics effecting the state.

    It wasn’t as if some lefty Big Smoke politician was going to garner 1/5th of a billion in Covid funds to fix the Friant-Kern Canal for instance, as the duo did last December.

    That said, their brand of far out right politics isn’t anything anybody outside of the CVBB wants or desires. Heck, Devin is still prattling on about the dangers of Socialism, while drinking monetary nectar from all of us, oblivious to being a hypocrite’s hypocrite.

  17. Lee

    “45,000 apply for 12 spots to shoot Grand Canyon bison” [The Hill].

    Yeah, but when are they going to address this problem: Rock Squirrels Are The Most Dangerous Wild Animals At The Grand Canyon.

    As for controlling the bison population in the Grand Canyon, I have the impression that there are neither grizzlies or wolves there any more, and I don’t imagine that mountain lions are capable of taking anything other than the occasional calf.

    1. Copeland

      How does one extract a dead bison from the Grand Canyon, and what condition might the carcass be in, by the time it is extracted?

  18. Wukchumni

    Eleven Ways of Smelling a Tree” [Emergence Magazine].
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    If you stick your nose close to a Ponderosa pine it smells like vanilla, but the signature smell in the forest for the trees around these parts is a low lying shrub common on the western slopes of the Sierra, and the odor is that of witch hazel, and you don’t have to get close to it to take a whiff, the smell is a little overpowering, especially if it is a hot day.

    White settlers called it ‘Mountain Misery’ which I feel is a bit tough on the shrub, I prefer the Native American name: Kit-Kit-Dizze. It has some amazing properties, of which we’ve completely disregarded.

    Chamaebatia foliolosa is a species of aromatic evergreen shrub in the rose family known by the common names mountain misery and bearclover. It is endemic to the mountains of California, where it grows in coniferous forests. The Miwok tribe’s name for the plant was kit-kit-dizze. It was used as an herbal remedy for colds, coughs, rheumatism, chicken pox, measles, smallpox and other diseases.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamaebatia_foliolosa

    1. Lee

      “It has some amazing properties, of which we’ve completely disregarded.”

      Speaking of old time remedies: Anglo-Saxon remedy kills hospital superbug MRSA[ New Scientist]

      Radiolab did an informative and entertaining piece on this along with the effects of blinking lights on amyloid plaque removal in the brain.

      “Then, what happens when you combine an axe-wielding microbiologist and a disease-obsessed historian? A strange brew that’s hard to resist, even for a modern day microbe. In the war on devilish microbes, our weapons are starting to fail us. The antibiotics we once wielded like miraculous flaming swords seem more like lukewarm butter knives. But today we follow an odd couple to a storied land of elves and dragons. There, they uncover a 1000-year-old secret that makes us reconsider our most basic assumptions about human progress and wonder: What if the only way forward is backward?”

      1. Alfred

        The so-called “Thieves Oil” of differing ingredients is based on what the corpse robbers of Plague times used –they hung ropes of garlic, cloves, etc. around their necks, and never got infected. Rosemary, geranium and oregano, along with lemon oils have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. I have used them for thirty years, but damned if I ever will talk about it for fear of being burned at the stake.

    2. Terry Flynn

      Mitchell and Webb did best ever “tree odour” joke. What’s more it’s true. But I can’t refer to it here…. I only ask – did you Yanks deliberately do that to us?

      (Hint -it’s the Linden Tree) aka c*m tree

  19. Robert Hahl

    Quinoa whisky. There is really only one good whisky, scotch, bourbon, etc. in the world and that is Jameson. There are at least two good vodkas, both made from rye. Don’t bother with anything else.

    1. Basil Pesto

      There is really only one good whisky, scotch, bourbon, etc. in the world and that is Jameson.

      🤔

      actually, you’re wrong about the vodka too. There’s a distillery in Tasmania that makes vodka with sheep whey and it’s astonishingly good.

  20. Otis B Driftwood

    “45,000 apply for 12 spots to shoot Grand Canyon bison”

    So now we know. The US has at least 45,000 assholes.

    1. Michael Ismoe

      They should open a new lottery that allows the other 44,988 to shoot the 12 who get permits.

    2. Wukchumni

      It all fun & games until they declare open season on Buffalo, with a dozen spots to shoot up Nickel City…

  21. Brunches with Cats

    The spikey, herbal odor of European juniper berries. A tang of lime juice from a tree descended from wild progenitors in the foothills of the Himalayas …

    Oh, STOP! Now I want to run to the liquor cabinet, and it’s not even 5 pm.

    Then, that didn’t stop the Queen Mum. I read speculation some years ago that she lived to 101 by skipping 4 o’clock tea and going straight for the gin. And while that might support the author’s “smell of colonialism” narrative, Native Americans knew of juniper’s healing powers well before the Europeans showed up.

    In fact, European gin, with all the “botanicals,” don’t appeal to me. I prefer a U.S. brand, distilled in Bend, OR, with high desert juniper and nothing else. Adulterating it with tonic water widely available in U.S. supermarkets, all sweetened with HFCS, would be sacrilege, although fresh lime is a must.

    1. Wukchumni

      There’s a Juniper tree in Mineral King way off trail, that i’ve named ‘the Giant Juniper’ as the trunk is about 10 feet wide. It’s around 50 feet tall and has the look of a Medusa up top, with branches that resemble snakes.

    1. eg

      I see your baked beans (my wife was horrified when she came to my parents for dinner and was served a plate of baked beans and nothing else) and raise you grease toast

  22. Carla

    Re: “menu engineer” — I know a “food stylist.” Those delicious-looking photographs we see that entice us to make a new recipe are taken of under-cooked or raw food sometimes garnished with completely inedible food-look-likes and illuminated with Hollywood quality lighting. That’s why the dishes we spend hours making, slavishly following the recipes, hardly ever look anything like the photos in the cookbook or magazine. Thoroughly cooked food doesn’t always look enticing.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Thanks for the insight. I wish there were some way to compare the taste and texture of my attempts against an ideal realization … but I will henceforth give no weight to glossy visuals. Taste, fragrance, texture, color and the numinous give well-made food its true beauty and worth.

    2. Mantid

      Hi Carla, Did you ever see the example plates of food (displays) in the Japanese restaurant windows on Geary St. In San Fransisco? Impressive, amazing art.

      1. lb

        There’s a company that specializes in exactly this. It’s really neat to see/learn about.

        There are fake food (model food) artisans, in fact, and have been for decades. I saw a whole documentary on it at some point, but this is the best I can find at the moment.

    3. The Rev Kev

      Yeah, those images of baked ham that look so glossy is because they were sprayed it with hair spray to make them appear so. And those images of croutons floating on top of soup? They put segments of carrots at the bottom and stuck toothpicks into them. They then stuck those croutons on the top on those toothpicks and filled the soup in that container to just below the level of the croutons. That is why no housewives could repeat that look. Got that from a hilarious book called “From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor” by Jerry Della Femina.

  23. ddt

    Regarding prostitution, I captured this back in 2019 – I think it was here at NC.

    “Having sex with your wife doesn’t count toward GDP but with a prostitute it does” – Icelandic poet

  24. aleph_0

    By the reasoning of the third Cunnningham article, I’d like to see him argue that there probably shouldn’t be labor markets either, based on the fact that modern jobs profane the divine activity of expressing the will of the creator (just normal human action).

    No? Oh well.

    The second rebuttal article was interesting as it was the first time in a while I’ve seen good, serious arguments about the consequences of wielding state power from a Christian perspective. Nice to see in an era where the church seems more and more punitive, and people like Rod Dreher make explicit arguments about using state power to outlaw minoritarian positions on moral grounds.

  25. Wukchumni

    Book Tip:

    Apollo 11 is my Rosebud, for it occurred at just the right age to be able to understand what was happening and yet still have the wonderment of a child, mighty sled that it was.

    Like many, I lost interest in outer space pretty much after Apollo 13 as it was all old hat, I was more concerned with my inner space…

    Michael Collins died a week ago and in his obit was such praise for his tome from 1974: Carrying The Fire that I ordered a copy and can confirm, Roger that.

    I devoured it in one sitting…

  26. Jason

    Thank you for the wide-ranging interview with Jane McAlevey. She touches on all things union, both historical and contemporary. She’s passionate, and you can understand why: in a capitalist system the only mechanism we ultimately have is to withdraw our labor. She said this is going to come to the forefront given the makeup of the supreme court, which will strike down any small gains we might make through the legislature.

    Briahna Joy Gray and Virgil Texas work well together. I enjoy following Briahna’s thought processes on the issues that divide. She illustrates the divisions well and then does a nice job seeking to understand and to mediate.

  27. The Rev Kev

    “Aircraft will soon be voice-controlled in the next step towards self-flying planes — here’s how engineers are actively working to make it reality”

    Only in Silicon valley would this be regarded as a good idea. The bulk majority of a pilot’s time in the air is one of general boredom. The last bit makes up the bit where really they really earn their pay. If they think that this is a good idea, then they should go into an honest simulator or better yet, have a pilot take them up into the air and throw them a few problems. I can think of one.

    Tell them that to avoid an imminent mid-air collision, that they have to cut their throttle back, pull up the aircraft and make a hard right turn all at the same time. See how long it takes to get their plane to do all that while the anti-collision sound is going through the cabin and any other commands that they might get from the aircraft warning systems.

    If they can’t get self-driving cars working that don’t get their drivers killed from time to time, what makes them think that the will be able to do it with aircraft? And Tesla wreckage generally does not fall from the sky on who knows where. Hopefully that software won’t be from Microsoft. Can you imagine? “Are you sure that you want to pull up?”

  28. John Anthony La Pietra

    “There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically)” [Eukaryote Writes Blog].

    Is it just me, or does anyone else think this article is so woody it’s practically tinny?

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