By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day~
I believe I am hearing a crow, running water, and a woodpecker!
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 28, 2021
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.
“Nearly half of Americans have at least one vaccine shot as Covid case counts fall further” [CNBC]. “CDC data shows 49.9% of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine shot, with 40% having completed a full vaccination program.” • That’s really not very much, and nowhere close to any of the goalposts for herd immunity Fauci kept moving. So I don’t see how, on its own, vaccination can give an account for the steadily and majestically decreasing case count (see next chart). Perhaps Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions were far more effective than they get credit for being? Perhaps many, many, many more Americans than we thought can “trust their immune system” because they have already recovered from it? Summer weather? Or all combined….
“How do I get cash prizes from California’s $116-million COVID vaccine lottery?” [Los Angeles Times]. From part of the rules: “The California Department of Public Health will try to contact you by phone. If they can’t reach you on the first try, they will try again, repeatedly, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. But if you can’t be reached within 96 hours after the first attempt at contact, they may drop you and move on to the next eligible prospective winner.” Oh, only during working hours. Good, good. We’ve often linked to stories that show that the largest percentage of the unvaccinated is not the “vaccine-hesitant” (as if it were a psychological problem) but working class people who can’t take time off for the jab, and can’t risk losing days of work to side effects. Do the doofuses who are in love with the lottery fad really think working class families optimize for breadwinners who skip work to win the lottery? Again, as we have seen from the very beginning, Rule #1 of the United States response to Covid has been: Do not interfere with the wage relation!!! Paid time off for the jab? Fuggedaboutit!!!!!
Case count by United States regions:
Continued good news. I must confess that temperamentally I am ill-equipped to cope with such an extended run of good news. I fall back on the good old New England response, when faced with a beautiful summer day: “We’ll pay for this!” (And since New England still has a winter, we do, we do…).
Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):
Continued good news.
More good news.
DIVOC-91 no longer updates hospitalization and death so I went and found some substitutes; neither provide regional data.
More good news.
Deaths (Our World in Data):
A little uptick.
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?
“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
“So Much For “Transformational” Joe Biden” [Matt Taibbi, TK News]. ” Just a few weeks ago, we were being told in headline after headline that Biden was a ‘transformational’ president who’d heroically abandoned fruitless efforts at bipartisanship and moreover had conquered the fear of deficit spending that kept Barack Obama from fulfilling his own ‘transformative‘ destiny. Insiders regaled us with tales about how this administration exiled the Clintonian tricksters like Larry Summers who robbed Obama of his legacy by whispering false worries about inflation….. Then a few weeks ago, on Meet The Press, Yellen reverted to form and said that Joe Biden ‘has made clear that permanent increases in spending should be paid for, and I agree,’ adding that ‘over the long run, deficits need to be contained.’ After that came the Post story and word that the administration had backed off a host of plans, including a proposal to lower prescription drug costs, while also engaging with seeming seriousness in ‘bipartisan’ negotiations on an infrastructure/jobs bill…. Translation: Biden is worried about deficits, and having Republicans on whom they can pin lower budgetary outlays is once again politically useful. Therefore, bipartisanship is back, fiscal restraint is back, maybe even austerity is back. Good times! Whatever one’s feeling about the appropriateness of any of these policies, it’s clear the messaging surrounding them has undergone a near-complete turnaround almost overnight, which would normally prompt at least a raised eyebrow or two in media. But all that’s happened is that the moment the Biden administration stopped talking about being ‘transformative,’ the White House press quietly did the same, in silent recognition that they’ll all be selling a different product for while. Joe Biden’s journey to ‘transformational’ status and back has been an expert political PR campaign. It took a year, and Biden’s camp never had to break a sweat.” • Normally I don’t like to run Substack excerpts, but this is spot on. To be fair to the press, brunch awaits, and after that a nice long nap!
“Senate Republicans Propose Cuts to Rural Broadband Plan” [Brick House]. “In its infrastructure plan, the Biden administration initially proposed $2 trillion in spending over eight years, containing a $100 billion investment to reach 100% broadband coverage and access. The White House’s fact sheet pledged that the plan, which is currently being negotiated with Senate Republicans, would bring broadband to the more than 35% of rural Americans who lack high-speed internet access. Biden’s plan prioritized investing in municipally-owned local networks of the kind that cable industry lobbyists have battled for years. Laws that prohibit government-funded broadband are in-place in at least 17 states, some of the industry’s anti-competitive practices that have resulted in internet access that’s both pricey and spotty. Powerful telecom incumbents have long lobbied against competition and under-invested in rural areas, leaving the country with a digital divide that caused even greater problems during the coronavirus pandemic, with its heightened need for remote learning and work. Last month, Senate Republicans countered Biden’s infrastructure plan with a proposal for a $568 billion package with a smaller broadband investment of $65 billion. President Biden agreed last week to meet Republicans at that level to demonstrate his willingness to compromise, even though Mitch McConnell stands adamantly opposed to spending even a dollar more than the GOP proposal.” • How Rooseveltian. 2022 is a mortal lock for Democrats, fer sure.
“Democrats are falling for Republicans’ fake negotiations again” [The Week]. “Let’s be real: Republicans obviously don’t want Biden to pass anything. They want to string him along with fake promises of bipartisanship, running out the clock on the Democratic majority, until they get a chance at taking control of Congress in the 2022 midterms. If that happens, they will try to strangle the economy by demanding massive austerity every time the government needs to pass a budget or raise the debt limit — trying to create a recession that Biden will be blamed for, so that the Republican nominee (probably Donald Trump) will be elected in 2024. This is exactly what Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley did the last time Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency — promise an illusory bipartisan compromise to make proposals worse and eat up time, then vote against them anyways.” • If Biden were truly Rooseveltian, this stuff would be rammed through already, as I’m sure reader know. It boggles the mind that whatever we are to call this system is so resilient.
“US tells Russia it won’t rejoin Open Skies arms control pact” [Associated Press]. • Another continuity with Trump.
Personal Income: “United States Personal Income” [Trading Economics]. “Personal income in the US decreased 13.1 percent month-over-month in April of 2021, compared to market expectations of a 14.1 percent drop and after jumping by a revised 20.9 percent in March when most Americans received $1,400 checks as part of Covid-19 stimulus. Within government social benefits, “other” social benefits decreased as economic impact payments made to individuals from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 continued, but at a lower level than in March. Unemployment insurance also was down, led by decreases in payments from the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.” • Joe Biden owes me six hundred bucks.
Consumer Sentiment: “United States Consumer Sentiment” [Trading Economics]. “The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment for the US was revised slightly higher to 82.9 in May of 2021 from a preliminary 82.8, matching market forecasts. The reading still pointed to the lowest consumer confidence level in 3 months, amid falls in both current conditions and expectations. Meanwhile, inflation expectations remained elevated for the year ahead.:
Inflation: “April 2021 Real Income And Expenditures – Inflation Now Impacting” [Econintersect]. “The data continues to be affected by the pandemic, comparisons to the recession one year ago, and now inflation. Inflation is now seriously impacting growth… The note from the BEA says it all: ‘The estimate for April personal income and outlays was impacted by the continued government response to COVID-19. Economic impact payments associated with the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (which was enacted on March 11, 2021) continued but were at a lower level than in March. The full economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be quantified in the personal income and outlays estimate because the impacts are generally embedded in source data and cannot be separately identified.'”
Manufacturing: “United States Chicago PMI” [Trading Economics]. “The MNI Chicago Business Barometer in the US increased to 75.2 in May of 2021 from 72.1 in March, the highest level since November 1973 and above market expectations of 75.2. Demand provided a boost to business activity, but supply chain constraints remain…. Companies continuously noted delivery delays due to transportation issues and material shortages.”
Rail: “Rail Week Ending 22 May 2021 – Strong Year-over-Year Growth” [Econintersect]. “Total rail traffic – which has been in contraction for over one year – is now surging as it is being compared to the pandemic lockdown period one year ago.”
Retail: “Dick’s Sporting Goods gets serious about golf boom” [Yahoo News]. “The golf boom is continuing this year as people look for during the pandemic. And that has caused executives at Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) to reach into their cash coffers to upgrade the shopping experience at their important Golf Galaxy stores so they keep pace with rivals such as the PGA Superstore. Somewhat under the radar, Dick’s said on an earnings call Wednesday it would spend $20 million to bolster its Golf Galaxy stores in a bid to capture market share in the red-hot golf equipment market.” • So, social distancing means go long golf. Easy to see, once stated!
Shipping: Covid will be screwing up tightly coupled supply chains for some time:
Here’s what the Yantian port and the nearby area look like right now as a growing number of #containerships are waiting to enter the port’s terminal.
The Chinese port has temporarily suspended the entrance of heavy export containers, after a few more #covid19 cases reported there pic.twitter.com/RU9ysWWiFV
— MarineTraffic (@MarineTraffic) May 28, 2021
The Bezzle: “Tesla reportedly scrambling for IC supply” [DIgitimes Asia]. “In the first quarter of 2021, there were reports saying that Tesla had already piled up enough IC parts for its target production of 500,000 EVs. However, speculations have emerged recently indicating the firm is short of semiconductor parts, and it has even admitted that it has been feeling the pinch. . Some reports have even claimed that Telsa is not ruling out the possibility of buying foundry houses as alternatives. It is doubtful for such an effort in terms of technological and geopolitical concerns, said the sources.” • Big if true!
Manufacturing: “Boeing puts off 787 deliveries again to provide more information to the F.A.A.” [New York Times]. “The current delay… stems from the same issue that caused the previous disruption: a concern with used where parts of the plane’s fuselage come together. Boeing used a statistical analysis to identify where inspections are needed, but the F.A.A. remains unconvinced that the approach is sufficient.” • Boeing does love them their shims, ’cause that’s what you use when your parts don’t really fit. See this post from 2020 for a round-up of Boeing’s manufacturing and quality assurance issues with shims (the other word to watch for being “dimple”). Although all the stories make light of it, this is not a small problem, and could affect the structural integrity of the 787 tailfin. (Incidentally, Google is just horrible on this topic. My search for “787 shim faa inspection” in the past week turned up posts from 2020 and 2012 (!).
Infrastructure: “U.S. says $11.6 billion NYC-area tunnel project reaches milestones” [Reuters]. “Two U.S. agencies on Friday said a planned $11.6 billion project to reconstruct and add a new tunnel between New York City and New Jersey reached two key milestones that will allow it to advance and receive federal funding. The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration jointly issued the final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Hudson Tunnel Project, key steps for the project that is a crucial economic link in the U.S. Northeast….. The Hudson Tunnel Project is one component of the Gateway Program, a major project to overhaul much of the aging rail infrastructure in the New York City area.” • Here is the Hudson Tunnel permitting dashboard. I don’t know whether Buttigieg just announced this, or accomplished it. My guess is the former.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 40 Fear (previous close: 36 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 34 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 28 at 12:09pm.
“Caution to the Wind” [Mother Jones]. “[W]hen they turned on the ionizers in their own stainless steel chamber, the two engineers couldn’t detect any meaningful change in air quality. At first they thought the devices must not be working. After consulting the manual and running the tests again, they got the same results. Both researchers cautioned that their experiments were informal and confined to the two specific devices they tested. But the conclusions were unambiguous: ‘Installing this unit in a classroom’s HVAC was as good as putting a brick in a duct,” Novoselac wrote in an email to another researcher.'” • Pass this along to your school board, assuming the ionizer scam artists haven’t already bought them all steak dinners.
“We Need To Get Real About How the Pandemic Will End” [Zeynep Tufecki, Insight]. “The B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India, looks to be substantially more transmissible compared with even B.1.1.7, which was bad enough. The data is preliminary, and I really hope that the final estimate ends up as low as possible. But coupled with what we are observing in India and in Nepal, where it is rampant, I fear that the variant is a genuine threat. In practical terms, to put it bluntly, it means that the odds that the pandemic will end because enough people have immunity via getting infected rather than being vaccinated just went way up. We seem to be holding onto the comforting fiction that we will eventually get around to vaccinating people in countries that have so far either had success keeping out the pandemic completely, or have had small outbreaks before, while they just keep up mitigating a little longer. I do not believe that the story we tell ourselves is realistic. First, these countries can only hold the virus at bay for so long. Even quarantining all people arriving, and greatly limiting who comes in can only work for so long. See what’s happening in Taiwan: it takes only one slip-up plus a few amplifying events for a country to see its case load quickly rise. Second, if a variant is more transmissible, all our “non-pharmaceutical” interventions will be much less able to hold them at the same level. Something even more transmissible than B.1.1.7 may be very, very hard to stop outside of vaccination (or, yes, immunity through mass infection). Three, some places have already been keeping out the virus for more than a year–that success can’t last forever. Four, those countries which lack both widespread prior immunity from previous outbreaks (like us!) and widespread vaccination (also like us!) are sitting ducks. Something like this variant can burn through such populations like a firestorm.” • Making the Biden administration’s lethargy all the more reprehensible, whether the terms be moral or realpolitik.
“How Mass Incarceration Makes Us All Sick” [Health Affairs]. “The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an unusually stark illustration of the long-standing harms of America’s policing and incarceration practices. There are few better infectious disease incubators than US carceral facilities, where there have been at least 661,000 COVID-19 cases. Due to political refusals to adequately address overcrowding, poor health care, and poor living conditions, incarcerated people in jails and prisons have been at 5.5 times greater documented risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and 3.0 times the risk of death relative to those in the general population. But these figures are almost certainly considerable underestimates. No one knows the real number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in jails and prisons because there exists no reliable system for collecting data, ensuring proper testing protocols, or supervising conditions inside a system well-known for human rights abuses, perverse incentives, and coverups. What we do know is that for every COVID-19 case inside, there are many times more in surrounding communities as a consequence of spread from outbreaks at jails, prisons, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Carceral institutions are highly porous with the commuter flow of more than 405,000 guards and 30,000 people who are released from jails and prisons each day. In 2019, local jails alone featured 10.3 million annual admission-release cycles. Jails and prisons are not like Vegas: What happens there does not stay there. ”
“Three Exxon refineries top the list of U.S. polluters” [Reuters]. “Exxon Mobil’s U.S. oil refineries pump out far more lung-damaging soot than similarly-sized facilities operated by rivals, according to regulatory documents and a Reuters analysis of pollution test results. The three Exxon refineries together averaged emissions of 80 pounds per hour, eight times the average rate of the seven other refineries on the top-ten list, some of which are larger than Exxon’s plants, the analysis shows. The top polluter, Exxon’s Baton Rouge refinery, averaged 138 pounds per hour. The performance reflects the firm’s inadequate spending to cut emissions, said Wilma Subra, a Louisiana-based scientist who formerly served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.”
“Deep sub-surface “microbial dark matter” hasn’t evolved since Pangea” [Massive Science]. “At two miles below ground, the sun last touched the buried rock when carbon dioxide filled the sky, before the days of Earth’s oxygen. Drops of water formed time capsules for early microbial life to survive the deep sub-surface, their methods and madness hidden from Earth’s surface for millions of years. Despite accounting for about 10 percent of the planet’s total biomass, we know little of these organisms, which scientists have called ‘microbial dark matter.’…. One species was Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator, or CDA, a sulfur-breathing microbe that has spent the last several hundred million years in total isolation, its only companion the radioactivity spilling from its rocky confines…. Scientists originally discovered CDA in a South African gold mine, and later in both North America and Eurasia. This geographic separation let researchers study how CDA evolved after millions of years. The team used DNA sequencing tools to read the genomes from individual cells. Strikingly, the CDA genomes from all three continents were nearly identical. While cross-contamination was obvious initial explanation, the team found no evidence of CDA spreading by air, land, or sea. Nor did the microbes stall as spores. All were actively respiring and replicating. After ruling out all of these possible reasons for their results, the researchers concluded that as the supercontinent Pangea split, between 55-165 million years ago, these microbes hit pause on evolution. CDA is a living fossil, subverting evolutionary change yet surviving millions of years of changes to our planet, including a mass extinction.” • Remarkable! The crocodile seems to have evolved little in 200 million years, but that’s an eyeblink in time compared to CDA.
“River Runner” [Sam Learner]. “Click to drop a raindrop anywhere in the contiguous United States and watch where it ends up.” I spent far too long playing with this. It’s an animated flyover!
Our Famously Free Press
Nobody told him:
Had an unwelcome visitor try to crawl into my live shot earlier. pic.twitter.com/Pu68z0cWSN
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 27, 2021
“The flailing Washington Post gets a new leader, with no time to lose” [Press Watch]. • The greatness that was Marty Baron, that putz. How on earth does a newspaper backed by the world’s richest man “flail”? Maybe if they installed a heliport? Maybe this is how…
“Bezos Weaponizes The Washington Post Homepage” [David Sirota, The Daily Poster]. “A few years after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, he said it was because it ‘is the newspaper in the capital city of the most important country in the world’ and ‘has an incredibly important role to play in this democracy.’ Now, with more and more legislators scrutinizing his company’s business practices, his newspaper is playing that role — as an advertising platform in defense of Amazon. On Tuesday, hours after the Washington Post reported that the D.C. attorney general is bringing an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, the front page of the Post’s website was festooned with native ads from Amazon portraying itself as a devoted supporter of a higher federal minimum wage. The Post ads, which appeared almost like editorial content, are part of a broader campaign by Amazon highlighting its support for a $15 minimum wage. Left unsaid: Amazon only begrudgingly agreed to a higher wage for its own workers after serious public shaming.” • “[T]his democracy” not “our democracy”….
“Mike Tyson says psychedelics saved his life, now he hopes they can change the world” [Channel News Asia]. During his reign as heavyweight champion of the world, no one was more feared than Mike Tyson, who obliterated opponents with ruthless efficiency. But all the while, the troubled superstar was at war with himself, battling an abusive voice in his battered head that led ‘Iron Mike’ to the brink of suicide. He said that all changed when he began taking psilocybin mushrooms, more commonly known as ‘magic mushrooms,’ and other similar consciousness-altering substances. Now the boxing prodigy from Brooklyn is experiencing a career renaissance that he said is the result of psilocybin-powered mental and spiritual exploration. ‘Everyone thought I was crazy, I bit this guy’s ear off,’ an upbeat Tyson told Reuters, referring to his infamous 1997 fight against Evander Holyfield. ‘.” To be sure, many people have had negative experiences with psilocybin, which can cause disturbing hallucinations, anxiety and panic. Medical professionals studying them warn against self-medicating or using them outside of an approved medical framework. But Tyson, who turns 55 next month, and impressed in his November exhibition bout against Roy Jones Jr, said he has never felt better. ‘It’s scary to even say that,’ said Tyson, who is also a cannabis entrepreneur and podcast host. ‘To think where I was – almost suicidal – to this now. Isn’t life a trip, man? It’s amazing medicine, and people don’t look at it from that perspective.'” • I think this is just great, and good for Tyson.
Euthanize the NGOs. A long thread, starting:
Found something I wrote w @_emilybass_ & Milly Katana many years ago now. It was about AIDS. It's about #COVID19. We said then: "NGOs in developed countries, often unwittingly end up working against the social, economic & political changes necessary…to combat the epidemic." 1/
— Gregg Gonsalves (@gregggonsalves) May 28, 2021
Except not everybody gets a vaccine. In fact, very few get a vaccine. Today, @gavi and others crowed about the success of COVAX. It's slightly grotesque and macabre when so few have been vaccinated and so few are on schedule to get them. 10/
— Gregg Gonsalves (@gregggonsalves) May 28, 2021
If the United States had, in fact, pulled out of WHO, that would have left the Gates Foundation as the largest donor. Not a confidence builder.
News of the Wired
As long as the neighbors can’t see:
ICYMI Benjamin Franklin liked to take cold air baths (ie, open the windows when it was frigid out) when he traveled.
— Zephyr Teachout (@ZephyrTeachout) May 27, 2021
Also see “The Air Bath” (PDF), from Gerald B. Webb, M.D., Colorado Springs, CO (undated). A testimonial:
DR. ESTES NICHOLS, Portland, Me.: I was surprised that Dr. Webb didn’t refer to the experiment of Joe Knowles, who lived in the open without any clothes to see whether he could live. The most striking part of that experiment was that when he trapped a bear he was able to kill that bear without a stone. The demonstration was disputed by various newspaper men, who said that it was impossible, but he showed the bear in Portland, and I wouldn’t have wanted to get near it. It did prove one thing-that it did increase muscular strength.
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 (Teton Time):
Teton Time writes: “I also included a rainbow we saw today on the Highway through the Teton National Forest in the Snake River Canyon. It has been explained to me that the high altitude – at this point about 7000 feet – causes the light to refract differently – making the rainbows very bright, very huge and very colorful. It is truly amazing to see these mountains decked out with rainbows.” Readers, there are some trees in this photo, so I’m following the letter of the law, but I felt we could all use the sight of a rainbow (cf. Genesis 9:13).
Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:
Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.
If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!