2:00PM Water Cooler 5/25/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Down under.

UPDATE “Deciphering the ‘caw-caw-caw’ of crows: biologists study bird talk” [CBC (Re Silc)]. “Researchers said the birds make different noises if they sense they are being recorded. ‘We found in recording crows, previously, that if we are present while we were making the recordings, if we are pointing a microphone at crows, they will make different types of calls just because we are there,’ [biologist and lead researcher Douglas Wacker] said. So researchers resorted to stealth and eavesdropping instead. Although they have no concrete evidence yet, Wacker said he is convinced the caws have deeper meaning. ‘They wouldn’t take the time or spend the energy to make all those vocalizations unless they serve some purpose,’ he said… Whatever the crows are communicating, the researchers plan to continue eavesdropping until they have answers. ‘They are incredibly charismatic and they are right at our back door,’ he said. ‘Who wouldn’t be fascinated by this other intelligent creature that kind of lives alongside humans?'” • Hmm. I wonder if the Hawthorne Effect applies to crows?

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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:

Still upward movement.

Case count by United States regions:

Continued good news. I have added an anti-triumphalist black line. National case count is now where the Northeast’s case count was when New York was an enormous crisis.

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

Continued good news.

Test positivity:

More good news.

DIVOC-91 no longer updates hospitalization and death so I went and found some substitutes; neither provide regional data.

Hospitalization (CDC):

More good news.

Deaths (Our World in Data):

More good news.

Covid cases worldwide:

I think it makes more sense to look at all regions rather than individual countries (even if we know, for example, that WHO’s Southeast Asia is mostly India by sheer weight of numbers, even though many individual countries are having issues). And why is Africa such an enormous outlier? Readers?

* * *

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

Capitol Seizure

UPDATE “The mob made me do it: Rioters claim Jan. 6 crowd at fault” [Associated Press]. “Christopher Grider said he came to Washington on Jan. 6 with no intention of rioting. But he got caught up in the mob of angry supporters of then-President Donald Trump as they surged into the U.S. Capitol, breaking through police barriers and smashing through doors. It wasn’t his fault, he said, that he ended up inside the building with a yellow ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag around his neck as lawmakers ran for their lives. Grider, 39, a winery owner and former school teacher in Texas is among at least a dozen Capitol riot defendants identified by The Associated Press who have claimed their presence in the building was a result of being “caught up” in the hysteria of the crowd or that they were pushed inside by sheer force… Judges typically don’t let defendants assert at trial that outside influences, be it drugs or peer pressure, made them act as they did. Most judges would reject efforts by rioters’ lawyers to use any iteration of a blame-the-crowd defense, legal experts say.”

Biden Administration

“Biden to meet George Floyd’s family on anniversary of his murder – live” [Guardian]. • Live? Really? Well, we’ve got the performative part right, if nothing else.

UPDATE ‘Where does that leave us?’: Biden confronts the limits of his unity talk” [Politico]. “Joe Biden campaigned for president as the consummate dealmaker — the type of backslapping lawmaker who could forge consensus with even the most hardened cynic. But barring an 11th hour turnaround, his most promising hope for a major bipartisan policy breakthrough — a massive infrastructure deal — could end up slipping through his fingers. It raises questions about how much longer Biden will be committed to reaching out to Republicans in Congress and whether his agenda would be better served if he just abandoned the effort altogether. White House officials say the president is not quite ready to end talks and begin the process of moving ahead with a Democrat-only bill…. But on Monday, even members of his own party on the Hill were showing signs of moving on to an all-Democratic approach to infrastructure.” • What a waste of time that was. I don’t even think it was a clever feint to show how unreasonable Republicans are; they genuinely believed it.

Democrats en Deshabille

“If Democracy Is Dying, Why Are Democrats So Complacent?” [The Atlantic]. • That’s “our democracy.”

UPDATE “GOP Megadonors Fund Andrew Yang Super PAC” [ReadSludge]. “The super PAC supporting Democrat Andrew Yang’s mayoral campaign in New York City has been funded almost exclusively by finance industry executives who have donated tens of millions of dollars to super PACs that supported President Trump and other national Republicans, according to records from the New York Board of Elections. While nearly all of the leading Democratic mayoral candidates are participating in the New York City public campaign financing program, including Yang, super PACs are still allowed to spend independently in support of their campaigns. Ahead of the June 22 primary, the pro-Yang Comeback PAC released its first ad today. The super PAC’s first contributor was right-wing billionaire Jeff Yass, co-founder of investment firm Susquehanna International Group, who donated $500,000 on May 7. Yass told Politico he is backing Yang for the candidate’s support of charter schools.” • I had never considered Yang actively malevolent. Oh well. Perhaps he’s a quick study.

UPDATE “Scoop: Pelosi doesn’t deliver matching donations” [Axios]. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s campaign committee has repeatedly promised her donors she would personally match their financial contributions, but as of the last reporting period she hadn’t provided a dime of her own money, records show. Why it matters: Deceptive political fundraising tactics are under scrutiny, and few are more popular than donation-matching pledges. Pelosi’s campaign has gone a step further than most — promising that she herself would put up those matching funds. It hasn’t reported any such contributions.” • Maybe kissing off her donors is a sign she’s on her way out?

UPDATE Why not vote for a real Republican:

Republican Funhouse

UPDATE “The Future Could Actually Be Bright for Republicans” [Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine]. “A byproduct of the surprisingly strong showing of downballot Republicans in 2020 is that even the smallest midterm wave will give them control of the House. An analysis from Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball projects that even without taking redistricting into account, Republicans are expected to flip nine seats in 2022 and enjoy roughly the same narrow but very real majority Democrats have now. And thanks to a dramatic underperformance by Democrats in 2020 state legislative races, redistricting of congressional districts will add to the high odds of a GOP House. The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman suggests Republicans might pick up the five seats they need for control of the House via redistricting decisions in just four states (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas)… As my colleague Eric Levitz has pointed out, since World War II the president’s party has lost an average of 27 House seats in midterm elections. Last time Democrats controlled the White House, they lost 63 House seats in the first midterm. It won’t be that bad in 2022, but suffice it to say that any remotely controversial legislation Biden hopes to enact in his first term better be on his desk by the end of 2022…. The bottom line is that anyone who assumes Republicans are in irreversible decline in presidential elections really hasn’t been paying attention…. To be clear, I am not predicting that happy days will soon be here again for the Republican Party. But by the debased just win, baby! standards of the Trump era, and given an ossified partisan environment they have helped engineer, they aren’t too far from controlling the country, and have very little to lose by pursuing the most ruthless measures to claw back lost offices. It’s no time to pity them for their inability to get rid of Trump, or mock them for their fecklessness. They’re not going away.”

Trump Legacy

“U.S. aluminum tariffs have led to investment, jobs -think tank study” [Reuters]. “U.S. tariffs on aluminum imports imposed by former president Donald Trump and continued by President Joe Biden have led to increased output, employment and capital investment by domestic producers, a new study from a left-leaning think tank showed on Tuesday. The Economic Policy Institute said the 10% aluminum tariffs, imposed in March 2018 under the “Section 232″ national security section of a Cold War-era trade law, have led to $6 billion in 57 downstream aluminum product manufacturing projects that will employ over 4,500 additional workers.” • Autarchy is good, actually.

UPDATE “Why Prosecutors Need to Prepare the Country for Donald Trump’s Trial” [New York Magazine]. “The American people need to be prepared for the fairly likely possibility that the former president will be prosecuted.” • They do?

2024

UPDATE “If Biden-Harris falters, who would be the strongest Democrat for 2024?” [The Hill]. The writer worked in the Bush administration, which at this point, I suppose, makes him a liberal Democrat. “A number of Democrats might be willing to admit in private that the optics for the Biden-Harris administration are starting to look shaky to downright worrisome…. If the trend continues or worsens, the Democratic leadership will start to search for someone to save the 2024 presidential election. Should that happen, it can be argued that one person might fit the bill: former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.” • Aaargh! My eyes!!!!

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Trump Voters After Trump” [Andrew Bacevich, The American Conservative (fresno dan)]. “While denied reelection, Trump hauled in a whopping 74,222,958 votes, the second highest total of any U.S. presidential candidate ever. The significance of that figure, which exceeds Hillary Clinton’s 2016 popular vote by nearly ten million, can scarcely be overstated. It expresses the essential meaning of the Trump moment: What he did or did not do in office will soon be forgotten, but by tapping into and unleashing long dormant forces, Trump transformed the landscape of national politics. Observers hastening to enshrine the Biden presidency as a welcome return to normalcy are not keen to reflect on what the 74 million signify, implicitly dismissing them as retrograde yahoos or “deplorables,” in Mrs. Clinton’s notorious formulation. Note that to do so amounts to writing off approximately half of the nation’s politically active population. …. The American Century, the era of ostensible U.S. global primacy dating from World War II, is gone for good, as is the post–Cold War reverie that did so much to hasten its demise. Consigning the American Century to the past is a precondition for restoring some sense of relevance and integrity to national politics. Pretending to resuscitate it, as the Biden administration appears intent on doing with the president’s endless assurances that “America is back,” is to perpetrate a fraud. To say aloud that the American Century has ended is to clear away an accumulated debris of lies and deceptions of far greater consequence than any of Trump’s outrages. Doing so will make honesty in the arena of national politics possible.”

“Street Violence as a Political Tool” [Lee Smith, Tablet]. “The Democratic Party has had a problem. It’s a small, incoherent, and privileged clique funded by billionaire oligarchs to push policies that even mainstream Democratic voters oppose. How to bridge the gap? The solution they chose, which party officials made clear this week, was simple: the way third-world elites always do—by using street violence to keep their clients in line. This week, pro-Palestinian demonstrators auditioned for the chance to join already established Democratic Party militias antifa and Black Lives Matter by attacking Jews in New York and Los Angeles. Apologists for the violence reason that the demonstrators are angry about the deaths of innocent Palestinian babies under Israeli fire in Gaza so they’re taking their frustrations—admittedly misplaced!—out on American Jews. That is not what’s happening. Who knows how many of the activists waving the Palestinian flag as they beat Jews and detonate fireworks in front of Jewish-owned businesses are genuinely Palestinian Americans?” • Well, er.

UPDATE “COVID-19, cults, and the anti-vax movement” (letter) [The Lancet]. “Lessons from studying cults (which are less pejoratively called new religious movements, describing movements that emerged in the late 20th century) can inform approaches to the anti-vax movement. A cult has come to mean a non-conforming ideology, or a religion that is disliked, with beliefs that are unacceptable to mainstream society. Just as cults are grouped together as sinister, bad, or wrong, the discourse surrounding anti-vaxxers in both academic and popular circles can be dismissive and derogatory.” • I don’t think this is a very useful view of cults. It does seem clear that there is rather a lot of cultish behavior about, across the political spectrum. From the part of that spectrum I know the best, I would call the blind faith in Mueller cultish (people naming their dogs after him). Ditto Fauci. Ecce homo, who will disentangle the yarn diagram and validate our tightly coupled reasoning! But I don’t feel I have a good definition of the term, or how cultishness differs from fandom on the one hand, and partisanship on the other. And of course I can’t see behind myself, so for all I know some cult has fastened its sucking mandibles on the back of my neck, and is busily injecting memes and talking points into my brain fluids.

UPDATE “Believers in QAnon and other conspiracy theories reveal how they climbed out of the rabbit hole” [ABC]. “For hours each day, Mr Jadeja devoured cryptic predictions shared by an anonymous online poster called Q on the imageboard website 4chan. Mr Jadeja clung to the shadowy figure’s updates until he started noticing that Q was getting things wrong — a lot. In early 2018 for instance, an anonymous poster on 8chan (now known as 8kun) requested Q to ask Mr Trump to say ‘tip top tippy top’ as a shout-out to the QAnon community. Four months after the post, Mr Trump mentioned the phrase in his Easter Egg Roll speech at the White House. The coincidence was almost enough to lay Mr Jadeja’s doubts to rest, but if Q had really told Mr Trump to say the phrase, why did it take him four months to mention it? ‘I thought, if this can be debunked, then that’s it,’ says Mr Jadeja, who lives in Sydney. It only took a quick Google search to find a YouTube video showing clips of Mr Trump saying the phrase on several other occasions. In minutes, Mr Jadeja realised that he had spent two years being led down a rabbit hole of false information.” • ”Belief is the wound that knowledge heals.” –Ursula LeGuin

Stats Watch

Housing: “S and P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20 City Home Price Index March 2021 Year-over-Year Growth Continues” [Econintersect]. “The non-seasonally adjusted S and P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index (20 cities) year-over-year rate of home price growth is now 13.3 %. The index authors stated, ‘The March gain is the largest since December 2005 and is also one of the largest in the index’s 30-year history.’…. All home price indices are now showing home price growth is continuing year-over-year. At this point, the pandemic has little affected home prices (or sales for that matter).”

Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Manufacturing Activity Index in the US fifth district including the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and most of West Virginia inched up to 18 in May of 2021 from 17 in each of the previous two months. It was the highest reading since December 2020, reflecting growth in all three component indexes: shipments (12 vs 16), new orders (18 vs 16), and employment (25 vs 19). Survey results indicated that many firms increased employment and wages in May. However, they struggled to find workers with the necessary skills, as this index dropped to its lowest value on record.”

* * *

Housing: “Contorted Housing Numbers Can Sound Impressive” [Miller Samuel Inc.] “The housing industry we know today was built on a foundation of racism by the federal government and racial covenants. No wonder why there is essentially no diversity in the appraisal profession… These BLS numbers for 400 occupations show an incredible lack of diversity within the appraisal profession. In fact, U.S. appraisers were ranked dead last for diversity in the list of 400 occupations tracked by BLS with white appraisers comprising 96.5% of the industry…. While The Appraisal Foundation [TAF] was created and enabled by Congress to maintain appraisal standards (ASB) and minimum qualifications (AQB) for entry into the appraisal profession, it was also created to protect the public trust. The Appraisal Foundation’s attempt to address diversity has largely been in the form of “checking a box” to be able to say they are working on it. … Since TAF has not been able to see the problem for more than three decades until outsiders pointed it out and they have continued to make decisions that demonstrate their disconnect, TAF leadership is essentially the starting point to resolve the lack of industry diversity problem. Top-down is how this gets fixed if the stakeholders in the industry actually want it fixed.”

Retail: “One third of honey in international trade is adulterated or 100% false” (PDF brochure) [Honey Authenticity Project]. “Multiple findings of mass adulteration of “honey” of Asian origin exported to Europe and the U.S. have been documented. One third of exported honey is from China. The price of Chinese honey is around half the international average price, against what the rationality of the markets suggests…. A peer reviewed article published in 2015 shows that low honey prices are the main threat for honey bees, even above pesticides and pests. Although beekeepers lose hives because of pesticides or other threats, if honey has a good price, they work hard and recover lost hives. If the price falls to a level that is no longer attractive, producers go out of business and hives cannot survive on their own.” • Why don’t we just forget about “the rationality of the markets,” treat honey bees as a public good, and fund them like a public utility. How expensive could this be, especially given the stakes?

Retail: “Fast-Food Chains Expect a Gradual Return of Dine-In Business” [Restaurant Business]. “That said, the customers are only coming in gradually. [Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor] said that Wendy’s restaurants with dining rooms open are getting 10% of their sales through those areas. That’s ‘a long ways away from where we were pre-COVID at about one-third of our mix being through the dining room,’ he said.” • Very sensible of customers, and one of those behavioral changes that is preventing infections but probably doesn’t show up in stats anywhere. (My concept is that restaurants should get with the program on ventilation, and then develop an industry-wide “Fresh Air” sticker program to show compliance. Ancillary benefits for fast food eateries is that they might not smell so much of cooking odors.)

Retail: “How the all-you-can-eat buffet explains the pandemic” [Politico]. “When federal and local guidelines forced Golden Corral to close all its restaurants in March 2020 (a move [President and CEO Lance Trenary] felt was unfair, due to what he called the chain’s ‘good safety and sanitation’ measures), the company started deferring franchisees’ royalty payments, working with suppliers to bring down costs, and immediately started to reimagine the future of buffet dining.” • No, that’s hygiene theatre. Think ventilation, and see above. “To adapt, Golden Corral has become a little more unfamiliar to its core audience, the 35 percent of customers who eat at the restaurant 70 times or more a year. To-go and curbside pick-up. A la carte entrée options. The testing of alcohol options. Trenary believes limited alcohol offerings will be a part of the future of the company, while still attempting to maintain a family atmosphere. Golden Corral recently partnered with Icee for a frozen Jack and Coke drink. Maintaining the spirit of the chain is something ‘we literally talk about every day,’ Trenary said. ‘We do believe that we have to evolve. We do believe we have to innovate and disrupt. Dining habits are going to be forever changed,’ he said. ‘But that does not mean that we give up our DNA.'” • Since fomite transmission is insignificant, the buffet as such — plexiglass shields and all! — is no less safe than any other restaurant. Some aerosol advocate really needs to get the restaurant industry’s attention.

Commodities: “The World Economy Is Suddenly Running Low on Everything” [Bloomberg]. “Mattress producers to car manufacturers to aluminum foil makers are buying more material than they need to survive the breakneck speed at which demand for goods is recovering and assuage that primal fear of running out. The frenzy is pushing supply chains to the brink of seizing up. Shortages, transportation bottlenecks and price spikes are nearing the highest levels in recent memory, raising concern that a supercharged global economy will stoke inflation… Copper, iron ore and steel. Corn, coffee, wheat and soybeans. Lumber, semiconductors, plastic and cardboard for packaging. The world is seemingly low on all of it. “You name it, and we have a shortage on it,” Tom Linebarger, chairman and chief executive of engine and generator manufacturer Cummins Inc., said on a call this month. Clients are “trying to get everything they can because they see high demand,” Jennifer Rumsey, the Columbus, Indiana-based company’s president, said. ‘They think it’s going to extend into next year.’ The difference between the big crunch of 2021 and past supply disruptions is the sheer magnitude of it, and the fact that there is — as far as anyone can tell — no clear end in sight. Big or small, few businesses are spared.”

Commodities: “Exclusive: Biden looks abroad for electric vehicle metals, in blow to U.S. miners” [Reuters]. “U.S. President Joe Biden will rely on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build electric vehicles and focus on processing them domestically into battery parts, part of a strategy designed to placate environmentalists, two administration officials with direct knowledge told Reuters. The plans will be a blow to U.S. miners who had hoped Biden would rely primarily on domestically sourced metals, as his campaign had signaled last autumn, to help fulfill his ambitions for a less carbon-intensive economy. Rather than focus on permitting more U.S. mines, Biden’s team is more focused on creating jobs that process minerals domestically into electric vehicle (EV) battery parts, according to the people. Such a plan would help cut U.S. reliance on industry leader China for EV materials while also enticing unions with manufacturing work and, in theory, reduce pandemic-fueled unemployment.

Shipping: A chart that shows very clearly what materials we as a country export (raw materials) and what we import (consumer goods), and who does it:

(The rankings are left to right, top to bottom, for those who were visually confused, as I was, by the layout),

The Bezzle: A note to Christies regarding their auction of Warhol’s “five original drawings” on the NFT blockchain:

It’s as if Christie’s was trying to sell a Rembrandt painting and a Rembrandt etching as the same artwork, given that the subject matter is the same, even though materially the works are completely different. Apparently, in addition to everything else, NFTs given you brainworms.

The Bezzle: “New Orleans Airbnb Touts Location In Heart Of Historic Airbnb Quarter” [The Onion]. • Ninth Ward greatly improved after Katrina, I see!

The Bezzle: “A Picturesque Cabin In The Woods Was Listed On Airbnb. The Catch? No COVID-Vaccinated Guests Allowed” [Buzzfeed]. Based on the theory that people who have been vaccinated with mRNA technology shed proteins through their skin or breath. “”It’s not just a 60-minute video that somebody produced, or a tweet that someone wrote, but you’re browsing weekend getaways in western Montana and you come across this potentially dangerous misinformation about COVID.”

Tech: “Apple is happy to diss the desktop – it knows who’s got the most to lose” [The Register]. “In the ever-enthralling Epic Games versus Apple court case, the latter’s software supremo Craig Federighi trash-talked his own operating system. MacOS was sub-par for security, couldn’t hold a match to iOS’s mighty walls. A more wretched hive of scum and villainy you could not find. Apple said this? In court? Game over, surely. Not so fast. Earlier in the same case, an expert witness wheeled in by Epic, Professor James Mickens of Harvard, said that there really wasn’t much difference between the inherent security in iOS and its App Store, the Android ecosystem, or indeed MacOS. With only a few minutes spent on human evaluation of iOS apps at Apple, he said, and those used on a tick-list of five areas mostly taken care of by the OS’s own features anyway, how could it be otherwise?”

Manufacturing: “Nissan, Suzuki Motor to curtail production in June due to chip shortage – sources” [Reuters]. A global chip shortage is forcing Nissan Motor Co and Suzuki Motor Corp to temporarily halt production at some plants in June, sources with direct knowledge of the plans told Reuters on Friday. Nissan Motor Co will idle its factory in Kyushu, southern Japan, for three days on June 24, 25 and 28, while making production adjustments during the month at its Tochigi and Oppama plants in Japan, three sources said. Nissan will also temporarily halt production of some of its models at its Mexico plant, they said, declining to be identified because the plan is not public… Suzuki Motor will idle its three plants in Shizuoka prefecture from three to nine days…. Elsewhere, Mitsubishi Motors will reduce production by 30,000 vehicles in total in June at five plants in Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 34 Fear (previous close: 35 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 38 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 25 at 11:59am.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 188 (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.)

Health Care

“AMA publishes framework to highlight value of virtual care” [Health Care IT News]. “The American Medical Association, in partnership with the professional services firm Manatt Health, published a framework this week aimed at examining the benefits generated by virtual care. According to the organizations, the Return on Health initiative is aimed at understanding the value of digitally enabled care beyond dollars and cents alone.” • So we’ve got the dollars and cents part figured out, and now we’re moving on to less important matters? Including packaging?

Our Famously Free Press

“How Twitter Gamifies Communication” (PDF) [ResearchGate]. From the Abstract: “Twitter makes conversation into something like a game. It scores our communication, giving us vivid and quantified feedback, via Likes, Retweets, and Follower counts. But this gamification doesn’t just increase our motivation to communicate; it changes the very nature of the activity. Games are more satisfying than ordinary life precisely because game-goals are simpler, cleaner, and easier to apply. Twitter is thrilling precisely because its goals have been artificially clarified and narrowed. When we buy into Twitter’s gamification, then our values shift from the complex and pluralistic values of communication, to the narrower quest for popularity and virality. Twitter’s gamification bears some resemblance with the phenomena of echo chambers and moral outrage porn. In all these phenomena, we are instrumentalizing our ends for hedonistic reasons. We have shifted our aims in an activity, not because the new aims are more valuable, but in exchange for extra pleasure.” • 

“Media Competition and News Diets” [SSRN]. “We construct a novel dataset of U.S. newspapers’ economic performance and content choices from 1944 to 1964 and exploit quasi-random variation in the rollout of television to show that this new technology was a negative shock in both the readership and advertising markets for newspapers. Newspapers responded by providing less content, particularly local news. We tie this change towards increasingly nationalized news diets to a decrease in split-ticket voting across Congressional and Presidential elections.”

Gunz

“Deadly New Jersey birthday party shooting was a ‘targeted attack’: Officials” [ABC]. “[A]t least the third time in 47 days that multiple people have been shot at birthday parties.” • First, gender reveal debacles. Now this. America is back, baby!

“Texas lawmakers ready to let residents carry handguns without permits” [NBC]. • Why not? It’s not like they’re dangerous.

Sports Desk

“Phil Mickelson Earned His Fairytale Ending” [Defector]. “Golf is the sport where failure always feels the most within reach. It’s a game where even the greats struggle to consistently succeed—world Nos. 1 and 2 Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas didn’t even make the cut at the PGA Championship this weekend. For a fan, watching the tensest moments can feel more like praying for guys not to screw it up than urging on moments of pure brilliance. To digress before this blog even gets going—this is because golf starts you with a perfect score, and every action you take makes it worse and worse. No shot can be objectively advantageous; it can only be less worse than everyone else’s.” • Well, now I have more sympathy for golfers and less hate for golf (though to be fair, I love P.G. Wodehouse’s golfing stories).

The Agony Column

“The last frontier in modern romance is money” [Vox]. A comic book-style rendition. I scanned until I came to the term “financial wellness.” Then I stopped.

Zeitgeist Watch

“Selfies, Surgeries And Self-Loathing: Inside The Facetune Epidemic” [HuffPo]. “Cosmetic surgeons who spoke to HuffPost said they now regularly have patients come in with photos of themselves that have been so heavily Facetuned they would be anatomically impossible to replicate: jaws so slim teeth would need to be pulled, facial structures so warped eyeballs would need to be repositioned, legs so long femurs would need to be stretched, heads so narrow skulls would need to be reshaped, waists so cinched ribs and internal organs would need to be removed. ‘Apps like Facetune give individuals this totally false impression of what they can look like,’ said Dr. Philip Miller, a surgeon at Gotham Plastic Surgery in Manhattan. ‘I get patients who aren’t even requesting a procedure, they’re requesting a result — they’re saying, ‘Do whatever you need to do to make me look like this.’ And it’s like, ‘Great, let me crack open your head, take out your teeth and reposition your bones.’ HuffPost spoke with young women across the country who downloaded Facetune hoping to vanquish their insecurities, only to find that using the app has left them feeling more insecure than ever. Several said they edit their selfies so much that they feel anxious about seeing their followers in-person, but still aren’t willing to stop Facetuning. Since posting that photo of herself last February, Lane, who’s now 22 and works at Starbucks in Jacksonville, Florida, has gotten lip fillers and Botox. She wants a nose job to make her already-small nasal tip more refined, more Botox to remove the fine lines on her forehead and liposuction or cryolipolysis, a nonsurgical fat reduction treatment. ‘If I could just look like my pictures,’ Lane said, ‘I wouldn’t need to Facetune anymore.'” • Hmm.

“Build It and They Will Pay” [The Baffler]. From 2002, still germane. “In 1997, the Basque city of Bilbao ceased simply to be a depressed industrial town with a terrorism problem and became synonymous with a miraculous new building, architect Frank Gehry’s Spanish outpost of the Guggenheim Museum. This glittering edifice, clad in titanium scales, promised not only that the Basques had embraced tourism as a way out of their political and economic troubles, but also that a new day was dawning for architecture and urbanism…. No sooner was the thing built, however, than the Basques started to learn what Gehry’s vision was costing them. In his book Chronicle of a Seduction: The Guggenheim Bilbao, Joseba Zulaika dissects the deal under which the museum was built. It’s a story of uneven power relations, mortgaged urban futures, and fiscal chicanery, most of which cannot be told by official sources because their agreement contains a clause forbidding public disclosure. But it seems that after a year of secret negotiations, the Guggenheim stuck the city—which lost 40,000 jobs with the demise of its largest steel plant, and which still struggles with 25 percent unemployment—with a stiff bill. By 2000, Zulaika writes, the Basques were in for $250 million—that’s $700 for each Bilbao resident. On top of that, the local government is committed to a perpetual public subsidy of $7 to $14 million a year.” • So not only does Gehry’s architecture exemplifies the cray cray workings of the inner minds of our elites, it exemplifies their financial dealings as well.

Personally, I prefer Midwest Modern to Gehry:

Though granted there are styles I prefer to Midwest Modern!

Do we have a word for excessively bloated vehicles? Like every so-called truck made these days?

Bluck? For “bloated truck”?

L’Affaire Joffrey Epstein

Um:

Hard to see why Epstein would cut a check to Larry Summers for $100K. Maybe Larry really needed the money?

Class Warfare

“Why Has the US Economy Recovered So Consistently from Every Recession in the Past 70 Years?” [NBER]. From the Abtract: “It is a remarkable fact about the historical US business cycle that, after unemployment reached its peak in a recession, and a recovery began, the annual reduction in the unemployment rate was stable at around 0.55 percentage points per year. The economy seems to have had an irresistible force toward restoring full employment. There was high variation in monetary and fiscal policy, and in productivity and labor-force growth, but little variation in the rate of decline of unemployment.” • So the labor market is everything, and “policy” is just pressing elevator buttons that aren’t connected to anything? The Bearded One would be proud.

“5 Ways Officials Have Cracked Down on Protests Since the Floyd Uprisings” [Teen Vogue]. “[A] sample of the repressive measures officials have taken in the year since the Floyd uprisings: Enacting curfews that make protesting an arrestable offense; Deploying the National Guard; Using surveillance tools to monitor protesters; Increasing police budgets; Pushing harsh state laws and pretrial detention.” • Lots of linky goodness, and more excellent work from Teen Vogue. Tiger Beat this is not.

“A knee on our necks” [Dodge County Independent]. “I ask, what has local law enforcement done to support the people of Dodge County? Fighting back against installation of the 11th and 12th swine factory farms in a three-mile radius, my family has faced repeated harassment and intimidation following initiation of legal action against Dodge County officials and area swine contract growers. Manure-stained blue farm booties purposely blemish the township road leading from a nearby swine factory farm to our family farm—another reminder that industry giants are large and in charge. Bullet holes shot in the stop sign a few hours after my brother and I pulled weeds from the fi eld a few feet away, constant garbage dumped in our roadside ditches and driveway, a large piece of metal hidden in the tall grass that damaged our mower, pure Roundup sprayed on the corn field and caused thousands of dollars of damage, false telephone calls by industry folks to the sheriff ’s department (not to report some illegal activity but to put the heat on my family and get us to shut up), harassing late night phone calls to my elderly father, including such comments as ‘Have you changed yet?’ and other harassing tactics. The tactics employed against my family are consistent with the tactics employed against other frontline families across the Midwest fighting installation of a factory farm next door. Serving as a watchdog for powerful industry giants, local law enforcement immediately responds to calls from area swine operators for assistance, including requests to identify a black SUV near our farm and report back to the industry. The culprit—a KSTP news truck.” •

News of the Wired

“Hide-My-Windows Laser Tripwire” [Github]. “Daytripper is a laser tripwire that can, upon triggering: Hide all your windows;

Lock your computer; Execute a custom script to do whatever you want!” • Like a script to nuke the hard disk… Looks neat!

Science fiction stuff:

Twenty minutes? Piker.

Nobody’s perfect:

Innocent little birds, cheeping in the forest:

Aliens to Earth: “We’ll keep Gilligan’s Island. Lose the rest.”

A tesselation:

* * *

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 (TH):

TH writes: “A stalk began to grow from the center of our Blue Agave in February. The ones near the base of the plant only began opening this month. It’s quite tall—I’m poor with measurements so won’t try to guess, but this is a close-up of some of its blooms.”

* * *

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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.

95 comments

  1. petal

    I think someone on here recently used the term “penis extender” for the bloated, souped-up trucks. I have to vote for it.

    1. fresno dan

      petal
      May 25, 2021 at 2:20 pm
      I’ve always had a mid-size truck, and felt its more important how you use it than how big it is…

      1. Mark Gisleson

        If the truck bed is spotless, unscratched and doesn’t appear to have ever been used, you should compliment the owner on having a ‘virgin’ truck.

        1. fresno dan

          Mark Gisleson
          May 25, 2021 at 2:33 pm
          In Hollywood, you can get your truck recertified as ‘virgin’ if you haven’t dumped a load in 30 minutes. New York city is 2 hours. Fresno, still California, but still Fresno, if you haven’t unloaded in 6 months you can be recertified. Alas, its been so long my truck could be recertified in Utah…

          1. Old Sarum

            Truck doings:

            Doing the necessary (on a daily basis, first thing for most men), is what came to mind when I read “dumped a load”: therefore am confused about the frequency and certification.

            The monster truck looks big enough to have a john accessible from the cab.

            Pip pip!

            ps That would be a “ute” here in Australia, from “utility” and not from Ute Lemper as I first imagined.

    2. QuicksilverMessenger

      I think it’s a Grand Rectumador 350- for the world’s biggest a**holes

    3. jefemt

      Eco-warriors used to mildly monkey wrench, affixing bumper stickers to logger pickups, in No. Cali, OR, and WA

      You’d drive a truck this big, too, if your pecker was as small as mine.

      Apparently used a ‘bomber’ adhesive. I saw it in a collection of ‘logging war’ humor. Hamburger helper boxes:
      Spotted Owl Helper, Bald Eagle Helper, Marbled Murrelet Helper.

      We are a funny critter, indeed.

    4. Arizona Slim

      Permit me to add that old adage, size matters.

      It’s especially important when hauling 4′ x 8′ sheets home from the lumber yard. Most of these newfangled trucks don’t have enough bed space to allow the lumber to lay flat.

      1. alfred

        respectfully, unless you are in the trade, you can have it delivered for far less than ownership

          1. Alfred

            I was responding to the concept that you need a big truck at all to haul plywood sheets (unless it is work-related).

      2. Lemmy Caution

        5′ x 10′ trailers are dirt cheap and are light enough to be towed by mid-size SUVs or large sedans, for chrissakes. Hook it up, grab a load of drywall or plywood and presto, you’ve got the capacity of a pickup truck.

    5. km

      In honor of the NC tendency to post puns and song lyrics:

      “Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
      smells like a steak and seats thirty-five..
      Canyonero! Canyonero!
      Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
      It’s the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!
      Canyonero! (Yah!) Canyonero!
      [Krusty:] Hey Hey
      The Federal Highway commission has ruled the
      Canyonero unsafe for highway or city driving.
      Canyonero!
      12 yards long, 2 lanes wide,
      65 tons of American Pride!
      Canyonero! Canyonero!
      Top of the line in utility sports,
      Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!
      Canyonero! Canyonero! (Yah!)
      She blinds everybody with her super high beams,
      She’s a squirrel crushing, deer smacking, driving machine!
      Canyonero!-oh woah, Canyonero! (Yah!)
      Drive Canyonero!
      Woah Canyonero!
      Woah!”

      1. ObjectiveFunction

        Suddenly ahead of me
        Across the mountainside
        A gleaming alloy air car
        Shoots towards me, two lanes wide
        I spin around with shrieking tires
        To run the deadly race
        Go screaming through the valley
        As another joins the chase

        The Rush song “Red Barchetta” was inspired by a dystopian 1970s short story in which cars are required to become so ‘safe’ they are basically tanks. So cuz America, drivers go out and get their jollies by crushing noncompliant cars. Almost as fun as a birthday party mass shooting!

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        I remember when the Times Arts Section thought the Simpsons was a sign of the end of civilization. Perhaps they were right, but not in the way that they thought:

    6. Greg

      As a frequent pedestrian and potty mouth, I’d suggest an oversized truck can be safely referred to as an O-truck

    7. Raymond Sim

      “Pecker trucks” is what the dairy farmer I worked for used to call them. That was circa 1975, we both thought it would be a passing craze.

      1. petal

        I like that one. As Lambert and others have said before, the NC commentariat is the best!

        I have to confess, though, that I used to drive one of those big Dodge Rams through the orchards during harvest, and my mother had a Silverado I’d drive sometimes, but we had livestock and needed it to carry hay and feed.

  2. fresno dan

    “If Democracy Is Dying, Why Are Democrats So Complacent?” [The Atlantic]. • That’s “our democracy.”
    So in this morning’s links KatnissEverdeen had a link about how a senate bill with 62 cosponsors (the military sexual assault bill) can be thwarted by one senator. And of course, as I have mentioned many times, Ca has two senators while it has a population that is greater than the population of 26 states COMBINED, effectively diminishing the influence of millions of Americans, and completely negating one person one vote. The people who designed our system were pretty open about not trusting the mob, i.e., the majority.
    AND
    https://represent.us/action/no-the-problem/
    Professors Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin I. Page (Northwestern University) looked at more than 20 years worth of data to answer a simple question: Does the government represent the people?

    Their study took data from nearly 2000 public opinion surveys and compared it to the policies that ended up becoming law. In other words, they compared what the public wanted to what the government actually did. What they found was extremely unsettling: The opinions of 90% of Americans have essentially no impact at all.
    =============================================
    When I was young, in the air force, and naïve, I met a young woman who was an emigre from the Soviet Union and I asked her what it was like to live in a system where the people have no influence over what the government does. Her reply was that living in the US didn’t seem all that different than living in the USSR. I was astounded.
    I am still astounded – at how stupid I was then.

    1. John

      In re:the Senate
      The senate as you know was meant to represent the states and not their people, hence appointment by the state legislature. The idea of senators actually representing their states is itself pretty much a dead letter. Direct election of senators flies in the face of all ideas of what the purpose and function of the senate was to be. Now that senators run as independent agents loosely affiliated with one party or the other exactly who do they represent. I am sure you could name them off as the Senator for the industry or that lobby, but they certainly do not represent either states or people.

      If senators are to represent population proportionately then we have a second and quite unnecessary House of Representatives. England has emasculated the House of Lords. Maybe we need to look into emasculating, metaphorically of course,the senate.

      I do not see an answer to your complaint that does not radically restructure the entire legislative branch.

    2. Nikkikat

      Don’t beat yourself up. We have always been the most propagandized society on the earth. As John Lennon said “just give me some truth…..all I want is some truth.

    3. freebird

      Every time a new Congress convenes, it is free to change the rules under which it operates. And every time, they leave creaky old weirdness in place, because they like playing their power games. And the ignorant public (can’t call it a citizenry any more) never does anything about it.

    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The people who designed our system were pretty open about not trusting the mob, i.e., the majority.

      The Constitution was designed to avoid tyranny, not achieve democracy. Now it seems to have succeeded in doing either, although 2011 – 1787 = 211 years is a pretty good run as these things go; longer than Athens.

  3. Darthbobber

    “It is a remarkable fact about the historical US business cycle that, after unemployment reached its peak in a recession, and a recovery began, the annual reduction in the unemployment rate was stable at around 0.55 percentage points per year.”

    It is also a fact that a constant annual reduction of .55% no matter where unemployment peaked means a great variability in how many years passed before “normal” was reached again. Also that normal labor conditions could be significantly different under the new normal than under the status quo ante.

    Given the timeframe chosen, I don’t really find the result that remarkable, since rhetoric aside no government responded by DIRECTLY prioritizing full employment.

  4. Carolinian

    re Golden Corral–they have them around here and they seem to be quite popular with plenty of “blucks” in the parking lot. There’s some bloat going on inside as well as the attraction seems to be not only the food (not terrible by buffet standards) but most especially that “all you can eat.” While the chain may get past the covid epidemic the obesity epidemic is their, er, bread and butter.

    1. Alfred

      I have never been as ill as I was after having to attend a buffet at a Golden Corral in the 90’s. I suspect the effects were long lasting. It was closed down 6 mo after due to rat and mouse infestation.

      1. Carolinian

        Now you tell me. I wind up going there, like, once a year and not at all since covid. Lambert’s excerpt says they are franchises so results may vary but there have been worse versions of these places in the past.

        All of which is to say: Dixie–sahara of the culinary arts for sure. Newly new urbanized bits like mine are developing more sophisticated choices however. Barbecue always a given.

        And speaking of those other arts and totally off topic, PBS last friday did a show about the Metropolitan Museum in NYC and their struggles with covid. Many twinges of nostalgia. I think the Met is the only reason i would want to revisit NYC where I lived for awhile. Art museums, even the lame ones, are catnip.

    2. Milton

      Yup. And every truck in the parking lot has been backed in to the space as if to prove that their masculinity is indeed intact.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > And every truck in the parking lot has been backed in to the space as if to prove that their masculinity is indeed intact.

        I don’t understand the logic of this comment. “As if to prove” how?

    3. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      I love buffets and Golden Corral is pretty good IMO.

      Now Chinese Buffets…those are my favorite!

      Graduated University?

      Chinese buffet!

      Graduated Basic Training?

      Chin…errr KOREAN buffet! Lol

      1. Nce

        It’s common for people where I live to shop in Reno, NV. I haven’t done a buffet in decades, but the casinos used to give good discounts if you had a “club” card. They’re a small step up from Golden Corral, but is that a good thing? (I say as someone who can’t put down the calories anymore.)

  5. QuicksilverMessenger

    re Golf (Mickelson article). I always suggest to golf haters that the game’s origin are a bit of a mystery, and like to recommend Michael Murphy’s (co-founder of Esalen way back) ‘Golf in the Kingdom’. I think it’s somewhat based on his time with Aurobindo. What golf has become now? Ugh, but, of course, why not reclaim it?

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

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Galaxy Quest is great:

      Gwen DeMarco: They’re not ALL “historical documents.” Surely, you don’t think Gilligan’s Island is a…

      [All the Thermians moan in despair]

      Mathesar: Those poor people.

      Sadly I don’t have the dialog memorized. I am not a true fan [sobs]!

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        I think Lee Smith has the yarn drawn a little too tight; it’s warping his diagram…. Still, the article was interesting in exemplifying a mode of thought.

        Whatever antifa is, they’re not a Democrat Party militia. Granted, they are full of cops, but even so…. n

  6. zagonostra

    U.S. aluminum tariffs have led to investment, jobs -think tank study – [Reuters].

    Hey Michael Hudson does this mean you lost the bet you made with Lori Wallach? You made a bet on DemocracyNow! on whether Trump’s tariffs was going to bring back jobs and capital investment to the U.S. back in 2018.

    https://youtu.be/_BGIk52hNkI

    1. Michael Hudson

      I think I won. Look at steel employment since the tariff — down, down.
      The gainers are aluminum MANUFACTURERS, not producers. Aluminum is made out of electricity (and clay/bauxite), which prices America out.

      1. zagonostra

        I thought when I read that Section 232 10% aluminum tariffs led (directly or indirectly) to 4,500 additional workers that that settled the bet. I guess the casual reader might be forgiven for missing the the distinction between “Manufacturers” and “Producers.”

        Anyway, I hope you and Lori have another go at it, somebody needs to be on the hook for a free lunch.

  7. John

    If Biden-Harris falters… Terry McAuliffe? Is that a serious proposal? It is not that I see other possibilities. I see no “presidential timber” in either party. The Democrats are as weak of will and spine as ever. Their ploys are too cute for words. The Republicans have the will to win by any means and to stay in office by any means.

    If we can be content with unprepared opportunists, the field is bountifully supplied in both parties.

      1. Michael Ismoe

        A dead Donald Trump could beat a live Terry McAuliffe.

        I wanna do my part to keep crazy out of the Oval Office but no one should ever vote for Terry McAuliffe EVER.

  8. Alfred

    ” if we are pointing a microphone at crows, they will make different types of calls just because we are there,”

    Ha! I happen to know that the crows and ravens around me in the woods talk about me. I don’t take it personally. I have been here for a long time, and they keep tabs on me. It makes me feel like they are taking care of me.

    1. Alfred

      And, I want to say to these ornithologists or whoever: just effing stop going into Earth beings’ habitats and pretending you are superior because you have an effing grant.

  9. cocomaan

    But barring an 11th hour turnaround, his most promising hope for a major bipartisan policy breakthrough — a massive infrastructure deal — could end up slipping through his fingers.

    Weird imagery given that Biden proposed something that had no chance of passing in the first place. Things slip through your fingers if you refuse to grasp them and Biden didn’t bother to try.

    This article was instructive on the state of things: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/24/democrats-brace-for-heated-legislative-summer-490184

    This summer will be the furthest thing from a vacation for congressional Democrats. President Joe Biden’s party is gearing up to sprint through Washington’s sweltering season, trying to squeeze through a long list of top legislative priorities in barely two months. With Biden’s sprawling infrastructure plan stuck in bipartisan talks, a voting rights bill mired in the Senate and the fate of police reform hanging in the air, Democrats acknowledge that time is not necessarily on their side.

    Does not seem optimistic. Have to love this bit from PA Senator Casey.

    A “slow, simple summer,” quipped Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who warned of a to-do list so crowded after Memorial Day that having “a full August break is probably unlikely” — rank-and-file lawmakers’ least favorite threat.

    He is the absolute worst. Spineless simpleton. I remember when he wrote me a long letter justifying torture.

  10. curlydan

    I like the thought of Twitter and gamification. Just a couple weeks ago, I was thinking how Twitter was like the terribly named game, Smear the Queer, my friends and I played with a football at recess. The game’s point: Pound the football holder into submission unless and until he/she (basically he) throws the football to the next person who then proceeds to run around at full speed until hopefully throwing the ball to someone else before getting smeared.

    That’s Twitter for ya

    1. cpm

      Keep away… boys vs girls…..4th thru 6th grade…girls were often bigger and faster than boys
      Great hilarious exhilarating fun.
      No real goal, no winner.
      It’s over when the nun rings the recess bell.

    2. pricklyone

      In my town, simply known as “kill the guy with the ball”. Never heard it named.
      Evading the attackers, and passing the “hot potato” is a skill, of sorts, I suppose.
      To not catch the ball, would be to admit you are a weakling, of course…

      1. eg

        Same terminology here, as a break from British Bulldog which was the usual recess favourite

  11. XXYY

    But I don’t feel I have a good definition of the term [“cult”], or how cultishness differs from fandom on the one hand, and partisanship on the other.

    IMO it’s just a term of abuse, like “radical” or “socialist” or “conspiracy theory”. One applies the word to label something as outside the pale. It’s a useful term in this sense, but has no objective meaning.

    Once people who thought the world was a sphere were a cult. Now people who think it’s flat are a cult.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > IMO it’s just a term of abuse, like “radical” or “socialist” or “conspiracy theory”

      But all those terms do have meaning. I would argue that any word can become a term of abuse, given a level of effort.

  12. jsn

    Rule of thumb: Cults kill their own following; Religions kill the followings of others.

    By this ruberic, the PMC Democrats are definitely a Cult, wiping out a generation of black (ostensibly their voters) wealth in the last cycle, wiping out urban minorities lives, particularly the elderly (ostensibly their voters) in this one.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Rule of thumb: Cults kill their own following; Religions kill the followings of others.

      Interesting! “Drinking the Kool-Aid” was indeed an often-used trope, but in the day. Now it’s quite rare. Perhaps because everybody has already drunk their own particular flavor.

  13. doug

    Tripwire:
    ‘Like a script to nuke the hard disk…’

    You might want to wait on that. The manual mentions false positives…

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I thought that video seemed a little sketchy.

      I think, however, that the thrust of both articles is different. Blumenthal is doing a media critique; Smith is doing an institutional critique.

  14. Socal Rhino

    From my days navigating Evangelical waters, I think one good way to identify cultish behavior is “fortress mentality.” Members believe that they have been given access to the truth, and that enemies of truth will attempt to deceive them and lead them astray. They are therefore impervious to persuasion. Any attempts to convince them otherwise only serve to reinforce their belief.

    LOTS of cult like behavior on display these days, in my opinion.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Members believe that they have been given access to the truth, and that enemies of truth will attempt to deceive them and lead them astray

      I’ve always liked this from R. Crumb.

      I wonder if a political culture saturated with propaganda precipitates cults.

  15. Watt4Bob

    About Crow language.

    Many years ago, I spent a few months in the woods of northern Minnesota.

    I often worked in a small lean-to shed that sat under some large White Pines.

    My work was quiet, and so, not likely to disturb wild-life near my location.

    One day I heard a very strange conversation going on outside the open door of the lean-to, it sounded for all the world like a couple of infants talking baby talk, but very young baby talk, sort of melodic gurgling, but definitely ‘real’ language.

    I got up slowly, and stepped outside and looked up, and there on a branch were two crows, talking away face to face.

    They caught site of me, and gave my a raucous scolding in loud ‘normal’ crow voices, then flew off.

    It was very clear they were angry as opposed to scared.

    That’s my experience with crow language, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

  16. Tom Stone

    Lambert, I’m surprised to see that Texas is following Vermont’s ( And 20 other states) in passing a “Constitutional Carry” law.
    it’s not an approach I favor, my preference would be for a “Shall Issue” law that requires proof of a basic understanding of the State laws regarding the use of force and a simple demonstration of proficiency and safe gun handling.
    It hasn’t been a problem in Vermont or anywhere else, I’d simply feel better knowing that the blue haired lady in line at the grocery had a clue about the potential consequences of pulling out her Glock.

    1. rowlf

      Watching the Atlanta over-the-air news last night I was bummed that the National Firearms Act restricted destructive devices. If the patriots in the US (Like the NFAC) had access to what militias around the world have, such as rocket propelled grenades and recoilless rifles, the lingering blight on the side of Stone Mountain could be eliminated in a fun mad minute.

  17. Terry Flynn

    “Highest voter total ever” for a presidential candidate (USA) or party (UK) really annoys me. Such statistics don’t account for population growth. Whilst we must make some “cutoff” to define the “modern era” (in terms of something approximating “universal suffrage”) recent (post 1960sish) elections are definitively AWFUL in terms of proportion of the public ELIGIBLE TO VOTE who actually VOTE.*

    USA people are now very familiar with the phenomenon whereby the winner of the popular vote for President means squat. You must win the Electoral College. Likewise in the UK, the winning Party (or coalition of parties) must have a majority in the House of Commons. Their “popular vote” is irrelevant. Ironically, the phenomenon of “winning but losing the popular vote” is more established in the UK than the USA. The most infamous example was 1951. Clement Attlee – the UK’s best PM (IMHO) called a 2nd election, after his 1950 election gave him a tiny majority that would disappear once a few old Members of Parliament died off.

    The Conservatives, under wily Churchill, scented blood. They targetted the “right” Parliamentary seats. Plus one of the two wings of the (already dying) Liberal Party collapsed entirely, with most of its supporters going to the Tories. Churchill won the election, gaining an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons and “triumphantly” returning to power. However, he LOST the popular vote. Not only that, since turnout was the HIGHEST in the entire post-war period (i.e. VERY FEW people eligible to vote did not vote), the ACTUAL percentage of ELIGIBLE voters who voted Labour under Attlee was the highest percentage that it has EVER been in the modern era. IIRC both main parties got over 40% of all ELIGIBLE voters to actively cast a ballot for them. However, Labour’s was higher. It has NEVER been exceeded – by EITHER party.

    So, the “big numerical win” under the Tories in the 90s, the huge Parliamentary win for Blair, all mean NOTHING in terms of “getting the country behind you”. Clement Attlee in 1951 was the best person EVER to achieve that in the modern era of universal suffrage. Yet he lost. Churchill reaped the benefits of the end of rationing, more cash from the USA and ushered in an era that arguably might never have happened had Attlee continued in power. Keir Starmer here in the UK should be thinking very carefully about this.

    * I am defining the “modern era” to be the post-WW2 era. In the UK (and perhaps a lesser extent the USA due to Jim Crow stuff that had to wait until LBJ) whilst “eligibility to vote” is not the same as 2021, 1945 certainly marks for many countries a point at which “most people could vote” and subsequent changes tended to be at the margins (lowering minimum age by a few years etc).

  18. Hana M

    Yes, but what is added here are the critical data that from 2012-2019 link in temporal sequence: the cave,the detailed clinical assessment of the miners’ respiratory disease, the supervisory roles of key players both in the WIV and the Chinese CDC, the samples sent to WIV and the discrepancies between the much later published reports and the two theses now translated into English..

    Lyman, I am not arguing for/against a purely zoonotic infection pathway, nor are Latham and Wilson. Nor am I arguing for/against a de nuovo Cov-2 lab creation story. This is just another link in a likely and well worth investigating chain of transmission in which human mistake might well have played a horrible part that might be averted in the future..

    1. lyman alpha blob

      I completely agree – I only posted the link earlier to supplement the excellent one you posted. I hadn’t seen any other news bringing up that 2012 cave incident since the NY Mag article, so glad to see there’s been some follow up!

  19. Geoffrey Dewan

    I heard the $100K from Epstein to Summers was the commission on the Dershowitz account…

  20. The Rev Kev

    “GOP Megadonors Fund Andrew Yang Super PAC”

    Maybe it is just as well that Yang blew himself up by sending out a tweet supporting Israel while they were bombing & killing civilians in the Gaza Strip. That certainly went down like a lead balloon and will always be used against him-

    Andrew Yang🧢🗽🇺🇸
    @AndrewYang
    May 11
    I’m standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists. The people of NYC will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.’

    https://twitter.com/andrewyang/status/1391897869137887234?lang=en

  21. The Rev Kev

    “The reach of Earth’s radio signals in space”

    The idea certainly sounds romantic. There was an early science fiction story where an alien civilization beams back our own early TV transmissions in trying to contact us. One was of Hitler giving a speech back during the ’36 Olympics so they knew about him. Turns out unfortunately that the signals degrade before they even leave the solar system so that in space it would just be part of the background static. In trying to find the name of that science fiction story, I did however find another entertaining one-

    https://creepypasta.fandom.com/wiki/Radio_Silence

      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for that. It must have been Carl Sagan’s book “Contact” which I read and which became this movie.

        1. LifelongLib

          My understanding is that a powerful military radar signal would be detectable at interstellar distances, but there’s only a low chance that it would happen to be pointed at someone that has a receiver (assuming ET exists at all)…

  22. cnchal

    > “Mattress producers to car manufacturers to aluminum foil makers are buying more material than they need to survive the breakneck speed at which demand for goods is recovering and assuage that primal fear of running out . . .

    Be prepared for a big sale or huge cut back on orders of material. The seeds of the bust are right there.

    By overbuying inputs to be rational at the individual level, we are insane at the collective level.

  23. Wukchumni

    Notes on a scarecard:

    I’m quite fond of natural springs, it doesn’t matter if it hot as hades outside, the water is icy cold from the bowels of the Earth and so refreshing~

    Drove by our favorite on Mineral King road, where somebody had inserted a metal pipe into the rocks where it emanates out of for convenience, and you could always fill a liter Nalgene bottle in about 10 seconds-the flow was so good…

    …it was completely dry this morning-not a drop

  24. allan

    Estimating infectiousness throughout SARS-CoV-2 infection course [Science]

    Summary

    Our results indicate that PAMS [Pre-, A- and Mildly-Symptomatic] subjects in apparently-healthy groups can be expected to be as infectious as hospitalised patients at the time of detection. The relative levels of expected infectious virus shedding of PAMS subjects (including children) is of high importance because these people are circulating in the community and it is clear that they can trigger and fuel outbreaks (56). … Our understanding of the timing and magnitude of change in viral load and infectiousness, including the impact of influencing factors, will continue to improve as data from large studies accumulate and are analyzed. A major ongoing challenge is to connect what we learn about estimated infectiousness from these clinical parameters to highly context-dependent in vivo transmission. Based on our estimates of infectiousness of PAMS subjects and the higher viral load found in subjects infected with the B.1.1.7 variant, we can safely assume that non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing and mask wearing have been key in preventing many additional outbreaks. Such measures should be employed in all social settings and across all age groups, wherever the virus is present.

    The summer and fall will be interesting.

  25. The Rev Kev

    Breaking news: Cenk Uyger lets off one to muddy the Israeli-Palestinian issues when he says-

    ‘Cenk Uygur
    Israelis & Palestinians kill each other over which Sky God they pretend to speak to and it’s politically incorrect to point out there is no Human God, let alone one that favors Jews or Muslims. All this violence over the equivalent of which character they like better in the MCU.’

    Hilarity ensues-

    https://www.rt.com/usa/524760-cenk-uygur-god-israel-palestine/

  26. Synoia

    Pelosi: but as of the last reporting period she hadn’t provided a dime of her own money, records show

    Perhaps she matched funds with her doners in other, somewhat indirect, ways?

  27. VietnamVet

    The world is upside down. The media just ignores it. I can’t imagine what it is like to be a state public health official, in debt from student loans for a PhD or MD, vilified and ignored, in the neoliberal West, because democracy is dead and governments are incapable of doing the public good anymore.

    The DarkSide Hack gasoline shortages remain on the East Coast and the American assembly of automobiles is grinding to a halt due to chip shortages. If old fashion Petro-transportation is not working, how can it be turned on its head to be run with electricity? Will Texas after three warnings winterize its electrical system and expand it to meet future demand while its children are still paying for last freeze in higher electricity bills as grownups?

    On the other hand, with a few clicks on the keyboard, Larry Summers earns $100,000 and Janet Yellen $7 million.

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