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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
The brass section….
Patient readers, I have started to revise this section, partly to reduce my workload, but partly to focus more as an early warning, if that is possible. Hopefully I will have a variant tracker map soon. In the meantime, I added excess deaths.
The numbers bounce back. (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)
58.5% of the US is fully vaccinated (CDC data, as of November 10. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Turkey in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). We are back to the stately 0.1% rise per day. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the virus…
Case count by United States regions:
I think we’re beyond fiddling and diddling to a very modest upward trend. This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling. That said, I don’t think the past rise is the surge some of us Bears have been waiting for. The rise is, however, at odds with the current Narrative.
Here is today’s version chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the “modest upward trend” of the case data:
Now, it’s fair to say that the modest upward trend in case data within the tolerance of the models; it does not go outside the grey area. It’s also true that where we see an upward trend in the predicted case data (lower right quadrant) it’s much later than where we are now. It’s too early to say that the models are broken; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. But maybe we’ll get lucky, and the problem, if indeed it is a problem, will go a dway before Thanksgiving travel begins. (Speculating freely, the modeling hub enabled school re-opening, and more importantly, supported the general view
Even if hospitalizations and the death rate are going down, that says nothing about Long Covid, the effect on children, etc. So the numbers, in my mind, are still “terrifying”, even if that most-favored word is not in the headlines any more, and one may be, at this point, inured.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.
California and Arizona worse. Arizona better. Nevada and New Mexico less red but more spread. Minnesota looking good. New Hampshire much improved. More isolated pink counites in the Midwest. Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.
Speculating freely: One thing to consider is where the red is. If air travel hubs like New York City or Los Angeles (or Houston or Miami) go red that could mean (a) international travel and (b) the rest of the country goes red, as in April 2020 and following. But — for example — Minnesota is not an international hub on the scale of LAX or JFK/EWR. If Minnesota goes red, who else does? Well, Wisconsin. As we saw. Remember, however, that this chart is about acceleration, not absolute numbers. This map, too, blows the “Blame Bubba” narrative out of the water. Not a (Deliverance-style) banjo to be heard. (Red means getting worse, green means bad but getting better.)
The previous release:
Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):
Death rate (Our World in Data):
780,254. Ticking downward again. But at this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.
Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):
Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).
(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is the United States. Needless to see, this is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment’s duty to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital.)
Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:
Chile, Brazil, and Portugal accelerate once more. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.
“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 Mice de Talleyrand-Périgord
“Congress’ budget gurus may slow down Biden’s Build Back Better plans” [Marketplace]. “For the Build Back Better Act, the CBO score is extremely important. Senate Democrats are contemplating passing the bill through the budget reconciliation process, a procedure that enables Congress to pass certain fiscal and budgetary legislation with a simple majority. But this method comes with additional regulations, Moller said. The ‘CBO score is vital because the Senate parliamentarian is going to have to weigh in on whether or not individual parts of the bill meet the requirements of this special process that they are using,’ Moller said.” • More trick handcuffs….
“Manchin objects to tax credit for union-made EVs in spending package” [The Hill]. “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressed opposition to a provision in Democrats’ climate and social spending bill that would give additional tax credits for union-built electric vehicles…. ‘We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers. If you’re a capitalist economy that we are in society then you let the product speak for itself, and hopefully, we’ll get that, that’ll be corrected,’ he added.” • Lol, “pick winners.”
“Most millionaires could get tax cut under House Dems’ tax plan” [Politico]. “Most millionaires would get a tax cut under House Democrats’ reconciliation plan, according to a new analysis that’s sure to get lawmakers’ attention. About two-thirds of people making more than $1 million would see a tax cut next year averaging $16,800, the Tax Policy Center said Thursday. That’s primarily because Democrats are proposing to lift to $80,000, from $10,000, an annual cap on state and local tax deductions…. Party leaders are caught between demands from colleagues [Gottheimer] representing high-tax states like New Jersey, who are threatening to sink their reconciliation plan if SALT isn’t addressed, and others complaining that will only muddle the party’s mantra of soaking the rich.” • “Mantra,” lol. Nancy, good job.
“Postal Service loss nearly halved” [The Hill]. “The U.S. Postal Service said on Wednesday that its net loss for the 2021 fiscal year was $4.9 billion — close to half of the $9.2 billion it lost during the previous year. The agency also said that its operating revenue for fiscal 2021 was more than 5 percent higher, an increase of $3.9 billion, than one year earlier…. DeJoy told The Wall Street Journal in October that the agency was taking steps to get ready for the busy holiday season, including adding 45 extra facilities to handle packages. Other announced initiatives have included hiring more seasonal workers and adding more than 100 package sorting machines.”
“Hunter Biden’s controversial art gallery show draws fierce critics” [The Hill].
Democrats en Deshabille
Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, the Democrat Party has more working parts than Stoller suggests, and they all reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community. Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all that. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.
And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.
* * *
“Christie’s calculus: Trump is ‘in the rearview mirror’” [Politico]. “Christie stepped up his fire in recent days in media appearances where he has highlighted how Trump lost his reelection and suggested he’s a ‘loser’ for dwelling on 2020. At a Saturday speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Christie was the only one of six potential presidential candidates who dared suggest that looking back at November was a bad idea. None of the other 2024 hopefuls came anywhere near that level of defiance on a subject that Trump continues to obsess over. ‘We can no longer talk about the past and the past elections — no matter where you stand on that issue, no matter where you stand, it is over,’ Christie said Saturday.”
“Why American politics remains haunted by the former guy” [Robert Reich]. “In this way, he turned – and he continues to turn – America into a gargantuan projection of his own pathological narcissism. His entire re-election platform in 2020 was found in his use of the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘them.’ In his mind, ‘we’ were people who love him. ‘They’ hated him. Which is why he took no action as rioters stormed the Capitol. He knew exactly what they were doing. He was repeatedly implored to stop them, but he didn’t because he viewed them as his people, and they were ‘protesting’ what happened to his nation.” • So it comes down to personal characteristics?
Realignment and Legitimacy
“Madison Saw Something in the Constitution We Should Open Our Eyes To” [Jamelle Bouie, New York Times]. This is very good. The scene-setting:
Not content to simply count on the traditional midterm swing against the president’s party, Republicans are set to gerrymander their way to a House majority next year…. It is true that Democrats have pursued their own aggressive gerrymanders in Maryland and Illinois, but it is also true that the Democratic Party is committed, through its voting rights bills, to ending partisan gerrymandering altogether…. The larger context of the Republican Party’s attempt to gerrymander itself into a House majority is its successful effort to gerrymander itself into long-term control of state legislatures across the country. In Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other states, Republicans have built legislative majorities sturdy enough to withstand all but the most crushing ‘blue wave.’ And in the age of Donald Trump, they are using their majorities to seize control of election administration in states all over the country, on the basis of an outlandish but still influential claim that the Constitution gives sovereign power over elections to state legislatures.
Another way of thinking about this is that Republicans are far more serious and strategic in their politics than Democrats. (Bouie says that the Democrat Party is “committed” to voting rights bills, but I haven’t seen anything more than the occasional vague verbal gesture.) And now the “Something” that Madison saw. The “Guarantee Clause”:
In Article IV, Section 4, the Constitution says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”
In this vision of the Guarantee Clause, the touchstone for “a republican form of government” is political equality, and when a state imposes political inequality beyond a certain point, Congress or the federal courts step in to restore the balance…. Still, a broad understanding of the Guarantee Clause might be a potent weapon for Congress if a Democratic majority ever worked up the will to go on the offensive against state legislatures that violated basic principles of political equality.
Let me know how that works out….
“An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy” [Todd Gitlin, Jeffrey C. Isaac, and William Kristol, The Bulwark]. “Liberal democracy depends on free and fair elections, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law, a commitment to truth and tolerance in our public discourse. All of these are now in serious danger. The primary source of this danger is one of our two major national parties, the Republican Party, which remains under the sway of Donald Trump and Trumpist authoritarianism. Unimpeded by Trump’s defeat in 2020 and unfazed by the January 6 insurrection, Trump and his supporters actively work to exploit anxieties and prejudices, to promote reckless hostility to the truth and to Americans who disagree with them, and to discredit the very practice of free and fair elections in which winners and losers respect the peaceful transfer of power.” • If you take Bouie’s article above seriously, this is not true. It takes a long time to take control of state legislatures, and it also takes time to seize control over election administration. Again, it’s not an issue of personality. It’s a party movement that began before Trump, and would continue if (say) Chris Christie ran and won in 2024. Trump lives rent-free in these guys heads, and it’s really damaging. (I’m also unclear how welding the press, a political partuy, and the intelligence community into a political weapon, as the Democrats did under the “state of exception” they granted themselves in election 2016, defends democracy.)
Consumer Sentiment: “United States Michigan Consumer Sentiment” [Trading Economics]. “The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment for the US fell to 66.8 in November of 2021 from 71.7 in October and below market expectations of 72.4, preliminary estimates showed. It was the lowest reading since November 2011 due to an escalating inflation rate and the growing belief among consumers that no effective policies have yet been developed to reduce the damage from surging inflation.” Then again, maybe the survey is completely broken:
The moods of consumers play a central role in how information is processed. Positive moods promote more casual and less detailed information processing, and negative moods promote more formal and deliberate information processing, especially of potentially negative developments. Partisans aligned with the President’s party have adopted very positive moods, and those in the opposing camp very negative moods. As a result, partisan supporters of one or the other presidents either mentioned or ignored rising home and stock values, inflation and income growth rates, or mentioned or ignored employment or unemployment rates, and so forth. The partisan differences in perceptions were not minor, but were large and equal in size.
Employment Situation: “United States Job Openings” [Trading Economics]. “The number of job openings in the US fell by 191,000 from a month earlier to 10.4 million in September of 2021, compared with market expectations of 10.3 million but remaining well above pre-pandemic levels amid the ongoing labor shortage. It was the second straight month of declines in the level of the openings, with fewer positions in state and local government education (-114,000); other services (-104,000); real estate and rental and leasing (-65,000); and educational services (-45,000). Meanwhile, job openings increased in health care and social assistance (+141,000); state and local government excluding education (+114,000); wholesale trade (+51,000); and information (+51,000). The number of job openings was little changed in all four regions.”
* * *
Inflation: “The Main Driver of Inflation Is a Murderous Maniac in Riyadh” [The Intercept]. “In June 2018, heading into the midterms, Trump requested that Saudi Arabia and its cartel, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, lower energy prices by increasing output, and the kingdom complied. Prices bottomed out in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, and usage sank to record lows. Prices surged once the pandemic waned and the economy reopened, and Biden in August 2021 requested that OPEC again increase output. This time MBS refused, angry at having yet to be granted an audience with Biden and contemptuous of the U.S. pullback from the war in Yemen. As one of his first pieces of business, Biden had ordered the end of American support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’s war, though caveated it by barring only the backing of ‘offensive operations.’ Saudi Arabia nevertheless received it as a grievous blow. Ali Shihabi, a Saudi national who is considered a voice for MBS in Washington, made that clear in October, tweeting, ‘Biden has the phone number of who he will have to call if he wants any favours.'”
Inflation: “War On Inflation, Part 1: The Lesson Of World War II” [Forbes]. “The public-private partnership that was ‘Team USA,’ then, thought of everything – literally every link critical to the war-making supply chain. All crucial materials were quickly gathered by our government, all needed new manufacturing facilities were supplied by our government, and a guaranteed market for output was contractually provided by our government. All that private sector industry had to do was aid government instrumentalities in planning production, and then produce. The upshot of this collaboration was an astonishing – and astonishingly rapid – growth in pre-war and wartime production. Roosevelt’s ‘50,000 planes’ request, universally thought insane at the time Roosevelt made it, was massively surpassed. And this was done while counterpart ‘miracles’ were worked in respect of ships, tanks, trucks, jeeps, munitions, and all other essentials in war. America quickly became just what the President had called for – the world’s ‘Arsenal of Democracy.’ And all of this productive capacity, which was sold on the cheap to private sector firms once the war had been won, converted quickly to mass production of commercial airplanes, automobiles, durable goods and consumer goods after the War, making America the world’s factory for decades beyond the war, its GDP accounting for over 60% of world GDP during the postwar era. All this productive capacity not only made Americans the wealthiest people in the world, it also prevented our rapidly growing economy from being derailed by inflation as we switched over to peacetime production – there were just too many goods for ‘too much money’ to ‘chase too few goods.’ Why am I rehashing all of this history, which I bet very few of my readers knew about, now? Easy: Because the US is confronting the same predicaments that it faced both immediately before and immediately after the Second World War now.” • The predicaments may be the same. The US is not the same.
Inflation: A good question:
Finance nerds. Is there inflation gauges/baskets, further broken into income/wealth demographics — ie CPI for working poor, for middle income, for professionals etc. different weighted baskets based on different expenses?
My sense is inflation is impacting groups differently
— Chris Arnade 🐢 (@Chris_arnade) October 19, 2021
No answers on the thread. Readers?
Commodities: “China’s top chipmaker SMIC says top executive, board members quit” [Reuters]. “[Vice-Chairman] Chiang, a former research director at Taiwan’s TSMC, joined SMIC in late December. The company said he had resigned from his vice-chairman position as well as from the board with effect from Thursday in order to spend more time with his family. His departure comes just two months after SMIC’s chairman, Zhou Zixue, also resigned, citing health reasons.” • ”Spend more time with his family.” “Health.” Really?
Commodities: “Apple supplier Foxconn cautious on 2022 revenue outlook” [Reuters]. “Apple supplier Foxconn forecast on Friday that a global chip shortage would run into the second half of 2022 and its fourth-quarter revenue for electronics, including smartphones, would fall more than 15%. Chairman Liu Young-way said during a conference call that Foxconn was cautious about its 2022 revenue outlook, citing uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, inflation, geopolitical tensions and supply chains.”
Commodities: “EU’s Vestager Warns of Chip Subsidy Race as Intel Weighs Plant” [Bloomberg]. “Chipmakers may play off governments ‘against each other’ for subsidies to fix semiconductor shortages, the European Union’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager warned. While such action is tempting for companies in the current circumstances, it ‘risks letting taxpayers –- whether European or American -– pick up the bill, and get little from it,’ she said in a speech in Leuven, Belgium on Friday. Vestager’s words seem targeted at Intel Corp., which is chasing European support to help build more local chip capacity. European leaders have called for more investment to alleviate a supply shortage that’s rippled through several industries.”
Retail: “The Truth About Those Dollar Stores” [Consumer Reports]. “Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree are billion-dollar brands taking over the discount/value retail space, as the category is called, and are sweeping the country. About 75 percent of us live within 5 miles of one of Dollar General’s 17,683 stores, the company says. Only about 60 percent of us live that close to a hospital. Counting just those three brands, dollar stores in this country outnumber Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. And more are coming. Dollar Tree and Family Dollar plan to open 600 new stores by early 2022, the company says. According to Coresight Research, which tracks retail trends, more than 40 percent of announced store openings in the U.S. this year, as of the end of August, are for dollar stores.” • This is a very good overview, well worth a read.
Over the last hundred years every financial crisis has its roots in Floridians being morons about speculative assets with no underlying value. In 1925 they literally sold land in a town that didn't exist, which isn't that different than crypto actually. https://t.co/w13I1GIvIM
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) November 12, 2021
The scam is spreading. https://t.co/lExky0aWgE
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) November 12, 2021
The Bezzle: “MacroTactical Crypto #3: Embrace the Nonsense” (PDF) [Spectra Markets]. Human beings tend to pay attention to round numbers and treat them as special or more important than other numbers. This is good to know for traders because if you are rational, you can position yourself ahead of these round numbers knowing the probability of a fill is higher for a limit order at (for example) 68,998 than at 69,001. There is also a novel (and also irrational) phenomenon in bitcoin and meme stocks where traders find particular numbers funny, and place orders at those levels in order to screenshot and flex or just have a good laugh with the peeps in the Discord chat. The numbers 69 and 420 have become standalone memes at this point and so the approach of bitcoin to the $69k level and the $69,420 level were hotly anticipated. Bitcoin obviously has many serious narratives behind it, but it still has one foot firmly placed in the Nonsensical Timeline.” • For example:
And then come the charts. Interesting post!
Tech: “Notes on Web3” [Robin Sloan]. “It’s possible you have, in recent months, seen people writing with excitement (or curiosity, or consternation) about “Web3”. The term imagines the transition of many internet services to a model built around cryptographic tokens, such that ownership and/or control of those services might be divided between their token-holders, a group that might include their users. The tokens would also have exchange value, so, as a user, you could always: cash out.” But: “I feel like this simple premise is often lost in the haze: the Ethereum Virtual Machine, humming heart of Web3, is a computer that charges you many dollars to execute a very small program very slowly. It does so in an environment with special properties, and in some cases, those properties are worth the expense. In others … it’s like running your website on a TRS-80 with a coin slot.”
Tech: “What Is Web3 and Why Are All the Crypto People Suddenly Talking About It?” [Slate]. “The appeal of Web3 is that it is decentralized, so that instead of users accessing the internet through services mediated by the likes of Google, Apple, or Facebook, it’s the individuals themselves who own and control pieces of the internet. Web3 does not require “permission,” meaning that central authorities don’t dictate who uses what services, nor is there a need for “trust,” referring to the idea that an intermediary does not need to facilitate virtual transactions between two or more parties. Web3 theoretically protects user privacy better as well, because it’s these authorities and intermediaries that are doing most of the data collection…. Meanwhile, a number of large companies and venture capital firms are already investing huge sums to build Web3, and it’s hard to imagine that their involvement wouldn’t amount to some kind of centralized power.” • Or, to put the final claim more strongly, “large companies and venture capital firms” wouldn’t be investing in Web3 unless they could control it. I mean, that they couldn’t do that well was their issue with Web 1.0.
Tech: “Why Zillow Couldn’t Make Algorithmic House Pricing Work” [Wired]. “Zillow believed it had the secret to the iBuying world: the Zestimate. Launched in 2006, the highly touted algorithm had been trained on millions of home valuations across the US before it was put to work estimating the possible price of property Zillow itself bought. In theory, it was a natural confluence of two things: Zillow’s expertise in pricing homes, and a new method of buying properties that relied on accurate estimates. For three years it worked, according to John Wake, who has been a realtor and real estate analyst around Phoenix since 2003. In that time, he’s seen the market collapse several times, including during the 2008–09 financial crisis, set off by the problems with subprime loans. But he’s never seen anything like the past 18 months. Tech firms chose the Phoenix area because of its preponderance of cookie-cutter homes. Unlike Boston or New York, the identikit streets [also suitable for robot cars!] make pricing properties easier…. People in real estate feared the arrival of the iBuyers, says Wake. In early October 2021, Zillow recorded its most active week buying homes in Phoenix, part of its goal to buy 5,000 a month by 2024. Then suddenly it stopped buying. Wake had one question: ‘What the hell happened?’ It became clear a month later. ‘We’ve determined the unpredictability in forecasting home prices far exceeds what we anticipated and continuing to scale Zillow Offers, the company’s home buying program, would result in too much earnings and balance-sheet volatility,’ Zillow cofounder and CEO Rich Barton said when announcing the company’s third-quarter results earlier this month. The company shuttered its iBuying arm and said it would cut 25 percent of its workforce.” • If your algorithm sucks, control your inputs. Ah, well. Nevertheless.
Supply Chain: Another solution. A long thread, from which I plug two segments:
3/ The solution's a simple, efficient process called Dual Transactions: a truck must bring an empty container back to the port, thus freeing up their chassis, and at the same time they pick up a loaded container. This saves hours of waiting time & never causes an unused chassis.
— Steve Wen (@stevehwen) November 2, 2021
After various technical issues, we come to this:
15/ Note: While all chassis are the same & can be used w/ any shipping container, many chassis are contractually only able to pick up/return containers from certain port terminals. Meaning these chassis are just stored & waiting for the corresponding ship to come into port 🤦♂️
— Steve Wen (@stevehwen) November 2, 2021
So, once again, we see that the issue is not the steel out of which chassis are made, but social relations sanctified in the form of contracts (which no doubt also generate fees for the ports).
* * *
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 83 Extreme Greed (previous close: 81 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 85 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 12 at 11:32am.
Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186 (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.) –>
“Gravitational wave treasure trove shows black holes, neutron stars colliding” [Space.com]. “Scientists have released the largest catalog of gravitational wave detections to date, shedding new light on interactions between the most massive objects in the universe, black holes and neutron stars…. The catalog contains 35 new gravitational wave events, ripples in spacetime predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity in 1916. The latest batch of detections, made during a measurement campaign that began in November 2019 and ended abruptly in March 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, brings the total number of gravitational wave events detected so far to 90…. Black holes and neutron stars, which are the collapsed cores of massive supergiant stars, are the densest and most massive objects in the universe. As they come into each other’s gravitational fields, they start orbiting each other, forming a binary system. The powerful gravitational forces involved trigger cosmic ‘earthquakes’ that reverberate through space, distorting the fabric of spacetime. Eventually, these objects collide and merge, forming new, supermassive black holes.”
“An expanding molecular toolbox untangles neural circuits” [Nature]. “Life is full of nervous reactions — a head snaps towards a voice, leg muscles tense at the sound of a starting gun and thirsty mice scamper towards a squirt of water when trained to respond to a certain tone. The mechanisms behind such reward-related behaviours are notoriously difficult to unpick…. Still, researchers are slowly creating the tools to untangle that complexity, harnessing the power of sequencing, optogenetics and protein engineering to trace neuronal connections, record their activity, measure their inputs and outputs and map their networks.” • These Are Things [Humanity] Was Not Meant to Know….
“Something Awful Founder Richard ‘Lowtax’ Kyanka Dies At 45” [Kotaku]. “In 1999, Kyanka created Something Awful, and today, it’s hard to understate the site’s influence. It also spawned endless, classic memes, such as, ‘All your base are belong to us,’ and was even the launching pad for what became 4chan. Our colleagues at Gizmodo listed it at number 89 in the 100 websites that shaped the internet today.”
“Let’s Waive Shifgrethor And Have An Honest Chat About ‘The Left Hand Of Darkness’” (roundtable discussion) [Defector]. Barry Petchesky: “Their journey across the ice was so good. Like, a better description of hardship and endurance and cold than I’ve ever come across, fiction or non-fiction. And weirdly I’ve read an awful lot of books about ice journeys. At one point the text made me literally feel cold, to the point where I turned the heat up in my apartment. But yes it’s almost unfair how many cylinders Le Guin was hitting on here. The ideas are great. The prose is great. The characters are great. It’s almost maddening; one author’s not supposed to be so good at so many different things.” • I’d estimate that all the discussants are in their 40s (Petchesky) so it’s good to see LeGuin making it through to another generation, not merely confined to old codgers like me.
Groves of Academe
“USC Pushed a $115,000 Online Degree. Graduates Got Low Salaries, Huge Debts.” [Wall Street Journal]. “Over the past decade, the University of Southern California has used a for-profit company to help enroll thousands of students in its online social-work master’s program. The nonprofit school used its status-symbol image to attract students across the country, including low-income minority students it targeted for recruitment, often with aggressive tactics. Most students piled on debt to afford the tuition, which last year reached $115,000 for the two-year degree. The majority never set foot on the posh Los Angeles campus but paid the same rate for online classes as in-person students. Recent USC social-work graduates who took out federal loans borrowed a median $112,000. Half of them were earning $52,000 or less annually two years later, a Wall Street Journal analysis of newly released U.S. Education Department data found. Compared with other master’s-degree programs at top-tier U.S. universities, the USC social-work degree had one of the worst combinations of debt and earnings.”
“California college students live in vans and hotels as campus housing plans spark backlash” [Los Angeles Times]. “After months of pandemic isolation, Kris Hotchkiss expected a celebratory return to campus for his senior year at UC Santa Barbara. Instead, he and hundreds of fellow students have found themselves hammered by another crisis: a major housing crunch. Hotchkiss had to endure a leaking roof, soggy bedding and power failure that shut down the ceiling fan, refrigerator and lights for six weeks. He has no shower or toilet. That’s because he lives in a van — the only affordable shelter he could find.” • The background for Munger’s ridiculous building.
Speaking of individual responsibility:
— Vincent Bevins (@Vinncent) November 8, 2021
Labor power shortage:
The labor situation is WILD right now.
Went to a big CVS to get batteries. No batteries. And no aspirin. And no chocolate. Empty shelves.
I asked, “are y’all closing?” He said, “Here’s the deal. This store has two employees, total. I’m one of them… and today is my first day.” pic.twitter.com/Ybxz7gbhLM
— Cabel (@cabel) November 11, 2021
Readers, are things like this happening in your area? If you have similar pictures to share, you can send them to me at the contact address below, but please put “SHORTAGE” in the subject line. And please include your (rough) location…..
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Funny how far capital can reach. Down to streetlight timing:
They've deemed it illegal for picketers to cross the street against the "don't walk" sign. Now they say the "walk" sign only comes up every 5-10 minutes. So cars just pass through freely since picketers can't walk across the road.
— Jonah Furman (@JonahFurman) November 12, 2021
“Walking America: Florence SC” [Chris Arnage, Intellectual Inting]. “Spend a little more time here and you notice how diverse the entire scene is. The Waffle House, McDonald’s, and Cracker Barrel, have as many whites in them as blacks. Same with the discount motels, convenience stores, and shops. The diversity here doesn’t just play out in the way it mostly does in wealthier northern towns, where blacks are serving whites, but in a more balanced way, with both as workers and customers. That is because Florence, like many deep southern towns, is half black and half white, and while the black residents are poorer, the gap between them and whites isn’t as large as it is in New York or DC. Because in Florence what most everyone shares, regardless of skin color, is a lack of fancy college degrees.” • As usual, incredibly evocative photographs that could be taken in no other country.
News of the Wired
“Gorgeous Floral Interpretations of Great Works of Art” (gallery) [Laughing Squid]. “[A]mazing floral arrangements that mimic the original image in shape and color palette.” • Not sure about this genre….
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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi 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 (KE):
KE writes: “Here’s the last of our carrot crop, which was amazing this year. We’re in northern NJ. We have raised beds, nothing special. We got a lot of rain and hot weather this summer, which seems to be great for carrots. We did mulch the beds last fall and put a tarp on them over the winter so maybe that helped.”