By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
The other species in the Darwin finch genus. Not a lot of chatter, though.
“Tanager of the Year” [Indignity]. • The author describes how they discovered a new species, in Peru.
Because what we laughingly call our government does not deem a pandemic sufficient cause to collect or process data over a long holiday weekend, all these charts are really screwed up, and some haven’t been updated at all. It will take a few days to return to form, such as it is. –lambert
“Thanksgiving impeded detection of Omicron, warns genomics giant” [Financial Times]. “The race to confirm the first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the US was dealt a setback by laboratory closures over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the chief executive of the world’s largest gene sequencing company. Francis deSouza, chief executive of Illumina, told the Financial Times: ‘As labs come back after Thanksgiving, we are likely to see the presence of Omicron in the US, but ideally there should be a 24/7 sequencing operation.’ The holiday slowdown was the latest sign that the US is lagging several developed nations in its ability to use genomic sequencing to identify and track variants of the disease.”
Rebounding from Thanksgiving data problems.
59.3% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, as of November 29. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Thailand in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). Big jump as we catch up with the long weekend data. No change from last week, but I assume that’s a holiday data issue.
Case count by United States regions:
Reboudning after an enormous drop, just like the enormous drop and rebound starting 368 days ago 26 November 2020, a Thursday.
At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)
One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). Here is the current version of the 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 current 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 case data discussed above. Still not updated:
(Note that the highlighted case data is running behind the Johns Hopkins data presented first.) Now, it’s fair to say that the upward trend in case data (black dotted line) is still within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within the grey area (aggregated predictions) 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 “Dammit, CDC, your models were broken”; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. The case data still looks like it’s trying to break out of the grey area. We shall see.
MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, still not updated:
Looks like all the students left for Thanksgiving. Bringing their viral load with them?
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.
This would be remarkably good news, if true. I think it’s a reporting artifact.
The previous release:
Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile), also November 29:
This is too would be remarkably good news, if true. I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. Note that Massachusetts is vertical. We detected a rise first in wastewater data, then in case data, now in hospitalizations. So there are times when the data is good. Just not all the time!
Death rate (Our World in Data):
799,414. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.
Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid), still not updated:
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:
Adding South Africa. 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
“Harris, Buttigieg to promote infrastructure law in Charlotte” [The Hill]. • Somebody has to say it: The Bimbo and the Himbo.
“Biden’s Big Bet on Family Care Risks Payoff Long After Elections” [Bloomberg].
“Dems want Biden to start swinging at Republicans. Allies aren’t sure he can.” [Politico]. “During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden had a mantra: He could create consensus across the two parties. And he’s held tight to that idea during his 10 months in office. ‘He doesn’t have to get down in the ditches or throw red meat,’ said Robert Wolf, the former chief executive of UBS Americas and an Obama economic adviser. ‘He can talk about what he’s done for everyone in America from vaccinations, to the Cares Act to the infrastructure bill.’ Over the summer, Biden’s counselor, Steve Ricchetti, told Hill Democrats that Biden and the party would benefit politically by securing a bipartisan deal. And recently, Mike Donilon, a senior adviser to Biden, said in an interview with POLITICO that the infrastructure bill, which garnered support from 32 Republicans, ‘was important partly just to have a bipartisan agreement that in and of itself had meaning.'” • It does? To whom?
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!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party 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. (Note that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. 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.
For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.
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.
NEW Weirdly, however, the PMC seems unable to expand its scope of operations. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.
* * *
“Omicron is a reminder of how little we’re doing on pandemic prevention” [Matt Yglesias, Slow Boring]. “In January of 2021, the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense issued a proposal for an ambitious Apollo Program for Biodefense. The Biden administration largely embraced this vision and released a call for a $65 billion pandemic prevention initiative, but that turned into a $30 billion budget request as part of the original White House version of the Build Back Better proposal, which dwindled to a mere $2.7 billion in funding as BBB made its way through Congress.
I’m a parent and a scientist. The fact that we had a White House summit yesterday on the toy supply chain but not on the testing supply chain, & that NPR gave it significant airtime vs nothing on virus testing & sequencing tells you all you need to know about our priorities.
— Jerome Adams (@JeromeAdamsMD) November 30, 2021
“Trump’s Capacity to Steal the 2024 Election Is Only Growing” [Vanity Fair]. “American democracy narrowly passed the stress test Trump put it through in 2020. But his relentless, multi-pronged pressure campaign also underscored major vulnerabilities in the system. Among them: That system is highly dependent on officials up and down the line performing their jobs in good faith…. Trump, who is making louder and louder noises about a 2024 bid, seems to be supporting challengers who have no such limits. ‘This is a great big flashing red warning sign,’ as former Michigan Republican Party chair Jeff Timmer, a critic of the former president, put it to the Post. ‘The officials who fulfilled their legal duty after the election are now being replaced by people who are pledging to throw a wrench in the gears of the next election. It tells you that they are planning nothing but chaos and that they have a strategy to disrupt the certification of the next election.'”
“GOP courts anti-vaxxers with jobless aid” [Axios]. “Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits. Driving the news: Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have changed their unemployment insurance rules to allow workers who are fired or quit over vaccine mandates to receive benefits. Extending unemployment benefits to the unvaccinated is just the latest in a series of proposals aligning the GOP with people who won’t get a COVID shot.”
Realignment and Legitimacy
“The inside story of the Pfizer vaccine: ‘a once-in-an-epoch windfall'” [Financial Times]. • This is riveting, a must-read. What I notice is how neatly the vax-only policy of the Administration — shared by the Democrat base — aligns with Pfizer’s corporate interests. The other thing I notice is that credit goes to Pfizer, the business entity, not to Pfizer scientists and (apparently brilliant) logistics and manufacturing people. The real assets of the company, that is, could be nationalized…..
Housing: “United States Case Shiller Home Price Index YoY” [Trading Economics]. “The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index in the US rose 19.1% year-on-year in September, below a 19.6% growth in August, missing market expectations of 19.3% but still remaining near records.”
Manufacturing: “United States Chicago PMI” [Trading Economics]. “The Chicago Business Barometer fell to 61.8 in November 2021, from 68.4 in the previous month and below market expectations of 67.0. It was the lowest reading since February, suggesting there was a slowdown in activity in the Chicago region.”
Real Estate: “For sale: God, guns and separatism in the American Redoubt” [Montana Free Press]. “But even in Montana’s more remote corners, property is selling quickly. Gail Enger, a longtime broker in Thompson Falls, said that a few years ago Sanders County — a remote community with about 11,400 residents pinned against the Idaho border — would have dozens of properties for sale at any given time. Now there might be fewer than 12. And when a property is listed, it goes quickly…. For years, Enger said, many of the people who moved to Sanders County were retirees looking for a quieter place to enjoy their golden years. But another type of buyer has emerged from California, Washington and elsewhere looking to live in a more conservative community that matches their political values. Enger said that type of buyer has increased considerably since the election of President Joe Biden. ‘They want to be among like-minded people,’ she said. The firm Enger works for doesn’t specifically market to buyers motivated by political considerations — its website highlights the scenic wonders, recreational opportunities and quietude on offer in that part of the state more than anything. But other real estate agents are catering to precisely the conservative demographic — specifically, people looking to relocate to what’s been dubbed ‘the American Redoubt.'” • Because freedom, of course.
The Bezzle: “Dead-End SF Street Plagued With Confused Waymo Cars Trying To Turn Around ‘Every 5 Minutes’” [CBS SF Bay Area]. “A normally quiet neighborhood in San Francisco is buzzing about a sudden explosion of traffic. Neighbors say their Richmond District dead-end street has suddenly become crowded with Waymo vehicles…. They come all day, right to the end of 15th Avenue, where there’s nothing else to do but make some kind of multi-point turn and head out the way they came in. Not long after that car is gone, there will be another, which will make the same turn and leave, before another car shows up and does the exact same thing. And while there are some pauses, it never really stops…. At several points this Tuesday, they showed up on top of each other. The cars, packed with technology, stop in a queue as if they are completely baffled by the dead end.” • They’re trapped! Can we kill them with fire?
The Bezzle: “PwC between a rock and a hard place with JPMorgan-Tesla dispute” [Francine McKenna, The Dig]. “JPMorgan Chase filed a federal lawsuit for breach of contract against its client Tesla on November 15, seeking to recover over $162 million dollars JPM says is ‘immediately due and payable by Tesla’ for a deal the two companies entered into back in 2014. The lawsuit recounts the transactions Tesla entered into with several banks including JPM, which required Tesla to deliver either shares of its stock or cash to JPMorgan if, at the time the warrants expired, Tesla’s share price was above the contractual ‘strike price.’ The warrants expired in June and July 2021, when Tesla’s stock price was well above both the original and adjusted strike prices. JPM demanded the shares or cash due, but Tesla has ignored what JPM says is a clear contractual obligation to pay the bank in full.” • Can’t they both lose?
The Bezzle: “A Normie’s Guide to Becoming a Crypto Person” [New York Magazine]. • When the shoeshine boy starts giving you stock tips….
Tech: “Will Twitter Become an Ocean of Suck?” (excerpt) [Matt Taibbi, TK News]. “Twitter under Dorsey suffered from working too well. Specifically, society responded to Donald Trump’s Tweet-driven 2016 presidential campaign as if it revealed a defect in the platform that needed fixing when actually Trump’s election was proof that Twitter was working much as intended. Our political establishment just wasn’t looking for that sort of functionality. The original concept of Twitter was egalitarian, flattening, and iconoclastic: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas, instantly, without barriers.” That mantra fit with then-CEO Dick Costolo’s 2010 claim that ‘We’re the free speech wing of the free speech party.’ Prior to 2016, elite mouthpieces bragged about acting as gatekeepers to political power. Someone like then-ABC writer Mark Halperin could write boastful pieces about how a ‘Gang of 500’ in Washington really decided the presidency. These were ‘campaign consultants, strategists, pollsters, pundits, and journalists who make up the modern-day political establishment,’ as the New Yorker put it. When political debates were held, a handful of analysts on television told you who won. We, reporters, told you who was ‘electable’ and who wasn’t, and people mostly listened, even if ‘electability’ was a crock that mostly measured levels of corporate donor approval. Then came 2016…. Trump didn’t need the news media to amplify his message. He was expressing himself in a way that defied contextualization, on a Twitter account that essentially became the country’s most-followed media network.”
Tech: “Dorsey’s Twitter Resignation Sparks Fears Of More Internet Censorship” [Caitlin Johnstone]. “Still, Twitter has been a free speech paradise compared to other major platforms like Facebook or YouTube, largely because unlike those outlets it doesn’t tend to participate in the large-scale algorithmic suppression of unauthorized perspectives and the artificial uplifting of authorized ones. And we are seeing some indication that that may be one of the changes we’ll see in the platform going forward…. . [Former CTO, new CEO Parag] Agrawal’s notion that it is Twitter’s place to ‘recommend content’ and implement ‘recommendation systems’ sounds far too similar to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s comments earlier this year when she admitted at a World Economic Forum summit that the platform had been elevating mainstream news sources on important political issues and hiding ‘borderline’ content.” “• Yech. Please. All I ask is a timeline composed of Tweets from accounts I follow, in reverse chronological order. Why don’t you all the programmers writing recommendation engines, and give me that?
Tech: “Google: Former employees sue tech giant for allegedly breaching ‘don’t be evil’ pledge” [Sky News]. “Three former Google software engineers have sued the tech giant, alleging it breached employee contracts by not honouring its “don’t be evil” pledge…. Google, whose parent company is Alphabet Inc, has promoted the pledge ‘don’t be evil’ as a core value for more than 20 years, and it remains a part of the firm’s official employee code of conduct…. The trio had raised concerns at town halls and other forums inside Google about the company potentially selling cloud technology to immigration authorities in the United States, which at the time were engaging in detention tactics considered inhumane by activists.” • And nobody even talks about open borders anymore…
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 28 Greed (previous close: 40 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 64 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 30 at 12:44pm.
“Oil-Guzzling Shipping Still Falls Short on Decarbonization After Climate Talks” [Bloomberg]. “The main outcome from talks hosted by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization was agreement to revise, in 2023, its decarbonization strategy — and that wasn’t really new. A non-binding proposal on zero emissions didn’t get official approval. And a plan for a small charge on fuel to raise money for research and development into cleaner shipping was deferred to a future meeting. sShipping’s current 2050 target falls well short of what’s required to align the sector with the Paris Agreement’s ambitions on limiting temperature rises. Yet the IMO has yet to set solid rules — or even a target — that would get the industry on track.” • In a year of record profits…
“Another Way to Protect against COVID beyond Masking and Social Distancing” [Scientific American]. “It is obvious that in winter, indoor heating causes a difference between indoor and outdoor temperature. But what we are increasingly coming to understand is that by heating our buildings we are causing a reduction in the level of indoor relative humidity (RH), which has a significant impact on disease spread…. [W]hen cold outdoor air with little moisture to start with is brought indoors and warmed to a temperature range of 20 to 24 degrees Celsius (68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) indoor relative humidity plummets. This comparatively moisture-free air provides a clear path for dispersal of airborne particles of viruses such as SARS-CoV2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19. The SARS-CoV-2 virus survives better at low temperatures and low humidity…. Our own research indicates that dry air also reduces the ability of our body’s cilia—hairlike projections on cells lining airways—to remove viral particles and prevent them from reaching the lungs. Finally, the immune system’s ability to respond to pathogens is suppressed in drier environments.” • Here is a long thread on Covid and humidity:
Anyone got dry skin at the moment with the cold weather? Here’s a little thread on humidity that’s also relevant to COVID 1/
— Prof Cath Noakes #Ventilate 😷 💙 (@CathNoakes) November 27, 2021
Including measurement devices and tips.
“COVID-19: stigmatising the unvaccinated is not justified” [The Lancet]. “In the USA and Germany, high-level officials have used the term pandemic of the unvaccinated, suggesting that people who have been vaccinated are not relevant in the epidemiology of COVID-19. Officials’ use of this phrase might have encouraged one scientist to claim that ‘the unvaccinated threaten the vaccinated for COVID-19.” But this view is far too simple. There is increasing evidence that vaccinated individuals continue to have a relevant role in transmission. In Massachusetts, USA, a total of 469 new COVID-19 cases were detected during various events in July, 2021, and 346 (74%) of these cases were in people who were fully or partly vaccinated, 274 (79%) of whom were symptomatic. Cycle threshold values were similarly low between people who were fully vaccinated (median 22·8) and people who were unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated, or whose vaccination status was unknown (median 21·5), indicating a high viral load even among people who were fully vaccinated…. Historically, both the USA and Germany have engendered negative experiences by stigmatising parts of the population for their skin colour or religion. I call on high-level officials and scientists to stop the inappropriate stigmatisation of unvaccinated people, who include our patients, colleagues, and other fellow citizens, and to put extra effort into bringing society together.” • The mechanical explanation:
For vax against upper respiratory viruses like SARS2, these viruses often don’t require “internal” replication. They just land in the nose, replicate locally & transmit on. So the vax can block “internal” replication and thus stop disease separate from stopping transmission
— Michael Mina (@michaelmina_lab) November 27, 2021
Perhaps when we have nasal vaccines, mucosal immunity will stop transmission as well. And speaking of which–
“Protective mucosal immunity against SARS-CoV-2 after heterologous systemic prime-mucosal boost immunization” [Nature]. From the Abstract: “Here we report that intranasal vaccinations with adenovirus 5 and 19a vectored vaccines following a systemic plasmid DNA or mRNA priming result in systemic and mucosal immunity in mice. In contrast to two intramuscular applications of an mRNA vaccine, intranasal boosts with adenoviral vectors induce high levels of mucosal IgA and lung-resident memory T cells (TRM); mucosal neutralization of virus variants of concern is also enhanced. The mRNA prime provokes a comprehensive T cell response consisting of circulating and lung TRM after the boost, while the plasmid DNA prime induces mostly mucosal T cells. Concomitantly, the intranasal boost strategies lead to complete protection against a SARS-CoV-2 infection in mice. Our data thus suggest that mucosal booster immunizations after mRNA priming is a promising approach to establish mucosal immunity in addition to systemic responses.” • OK, a mouse study. Nevertheless!
“Ways of Seeing” [John Berger]. “If we accept that we can see that hill over there, we propose that from that hill we can be seen.”
The Agony Column
“You Can Make Any Day the Best Day of the Year” [Lindsay Crouse, New York Times]. “When I think about it, it’s clear that there will be experiences from this pandemic that I will miss or feel nostalgic for as well: a blissfully vacant calendar; meandering walking catch-ups with friends; smiling at neighbors after months of waving from across the street. Not the tedium or the dread, of course, but the beauty we found in the quiet. And lately I’ve realized that a lot of what made me unhappy during the pandemic made me unhappy beforehand, too. The loneliness that I worried at times might become a permanent feature of adulthood, for example, or the way the days and years can stretch together. The excuses I made as I waited for something to change. We can’t wait anymore. The stress we feel now isn’t going to magically disappear, just as it never would have before the pandemic. The world has always been a shambles. There’s only one thing we can control: How are we going to live in it?” • My teeth are grinding as hard now as they did when I read that Atlantic article yesterday. The conclusion: “So I’m going to go back to my practice of declaring a best day in advance. I’ll start by declaring today or tomorrow or next Monday one of the best days of 2021. Then I’ll tell someone its new designation, because a best day is often better with company. I’ll put down my phone. I’ll decide to do something I enjoy — it could be as simple as having some friends over or going for a walk.”
“In Good Spirits” [New York Times]. “In late 2019, just as the world was on the precipice of a plague of biblical proportions, [Carissa] Schumacher said she began channeling Yeshua, as she refers to Jesus Christ. Transcribed recordings of some of those sessions appear in a new book, ‘The Freedom Transmissions,’ out Nov. 30.” • I’m really starting to hate the word “freedom,” even if it’s very important to the inhabitants of Assholistan. Anyhow, commentary:
Of course the woman channeling Jesus only wears Walmart, is married to a defense contractor, and has three book deals. WWJD, after all. https://t.co/lroktJKRI6
— Veena Dubal (@veenadubal) November 27, 2021
Photo caption: “Carissa Schumacher walks through the Elfin Forest in California.” The Elfin Forest. I shouldn’t make fun of it, it’s a real place. But…. are there hobbits, too? Dwarves?
“What May Have Been” [space+light]. “The recreation of crackling in some of today’s pop music, the pre-aging of select Nike retros, synthwave, and the production of a replica vintage shirt are all aesthetic and technical manifestations of hauntology. I will admit right away that at the moment of this writing, I have not read Specters of Marx by Jacques Derrida, in which he coined the word. My most cogent understanding of hauntology comes from Fisher’s application to explore culture and consumer society under late capitalism, or capitalist realism — a term used by Fisher to describe the near ubiquitous resignation that there is no alternative. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, globalization, finance capital, mass consumerism, and mass media have asserted dominance over not just every sector of the world but of our social relations, our behavior and minds, our hopes and dreams. But this economic and cultural hegemony doesn’t exist purely in recognition of itself; its power and very presence is “haunted not by the apparition of the spectre of communism, but by its disappearance.” A recent example that is seared into my memory forever, and maybe yours too, is the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders in 2020. For many Millennials like me, the Occupy movement in 2011 was formative, a test run, the first time many of us had cut our teeth in the world of left-wing politics. Sanders’ run for the presidency twice was when we actually got to flex our muscles, buoyed by a once-in-a-lifetime candidate. And during his second run in 2019-2020, specifically, we all learned a harsh but valuable lesson: that the Democratic Party, haunted by the dead New Deal coalition and the civil rights movement and which believed that it had finally and entirely exorcised the progressive Left from the party in the early 90s under Clinton, would stop at nothing to prevent a man who identifies as a democratic socialist from becoming their leader and president of the United States. Hauntology, then, is ‘about the figure of the specter . . . that it cannot be fully present: it has no being in itself but marks a relation to what is no longer or not yet.”
“Capitalism Is Making Us All Miserable — Even the Superrich” [Jacobin]. “[It’s nearly impossible to reconcile] the possession of extreme wealth with basic moral or ethical impulses or other human traits. Some ultrawealthy people, of course, are simply incapable of empathy or compassion to begin with, and as such, feel zero remorse about exploiting and manipulating the world around them. In one estimate by journalist Jon Ronson, instances of psychopathy are four times higher among CEOs than among the general population — giving us plenty of reason to believe that the cloistered world of the elite boasts a disproportionate number of Patrick Batemans. Nevertheless, even on the basis of this somewhat jaw-dropping estimate, we’re still talking about a rate of psychopathy that’s less than 5 percent. The vast majority of ultrarich people, then, aren’t literally psychopaths — even if many regularly do things that cause immense harm, stress, and suffering to other people…. Unless you’re a psychopath, being exorbitantly wealthy often necessarily involves painful contortions of the soul. Insofar as it’s possible to generalize about a vague and contested concept like “human nature,” there is something profoundly unnatural about exploiting and dominating other people, just as it’s deeply inhuman and antisocial to have the majority of your relationships be defined by proximity to money.”
“Policy Response Instrumental in Shaping the Pandemic’s Impact on Inequality” [Morning Consult]. “From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, minority groups across the United States were more likely to suffer job losses than their white compatriots, and they were also less likely to have sufficient savings or wealth to cope. In the nearly two years since, a “K-shaped” recovery has seen employment outcomes for high-income and white adults improve faster than those of lower-income workers or minority groups. In addition to concerns regarding equity and sustainability, economic inequality across races has also been shown to reduce economic activity. While the policies of the U.S. government have helped blunt the impact of the pandemic on inequality, further COVID-19 surges and the conclusion of pandemic programs have once again widened the gap in recent months — a divide that policymakers within the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve will be keen to narrow.” • They will?
“Digging for Utopia” (excerpt) [Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Review of Books]. “he Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by the anthropologist David Graeber and the archaeologist David Wengrow, assails the proposition that there’s some cereals-to-states arrow of history. A mode of production, they insist, doesn’t come with a predetermined politics. Societies of hunter-gatherers could be miserably hierarchical; some indigenous American groups, fattened on foraging and fishing, had vainglorious aristocrats, patronage relationships, and slavery. Agriculturalist communities could be marvelously democratic. Societies could have big public works without farming. And cities—this is a critical point for Graeber and Wengrow—could function perfectly well without bosses and administrators.” • Paywalled, sadly.
News of the Wired
“We Live By a Unit of Time That Doesn’t Make Sense” [The Atlantic]. “The week is this bizarre unit of time—it’s the only one that doesn’t fit neatly into the fraction of any larger unit, like everything else does, from seconds to centuries. One issue is that, for businesses, it causes bookkeeping irregularities when you have a different number of weeks in a month, a quarter, or a year…..”
“Record number of first-time observers get Hubble telescope time” [Nature]. “In 2018, NASA changed the way it evaluates requests for observing time on Hubble by introducing a ‘double-blind’ system, in which neither the applicants nor the reviewers assessing their proposals know each other’s identities. All the agency’s other telescopes followed suit the next year. The move was intended to reduce gender and other biases, including discrimination against scientists who are at small research institutions, or who haven’t received NASA grants before. ‘The goal of submitting an anonymized proposal isn’t to completely eradicate any evidence of who’s submitting, but rather to have that not be the focus of discussion,’ says Lou Strolger, an observatory scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, which manages Hubble. Data from [the Space Telescope Science Institute] newsletters show that since the change was introduced, more first-time principal investigators have been securing viewing time on Hubble. In 2018, a record-breaking 15% of successful proposals came from applicants who hadn’t been awarded observation time before. That proportion rose to just under 32% in 2021 (see ‘First-time observers’). In 2020, 10% of successful applicants were graduate students, says Strolger.” • Good!
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 (JM):
Pleasing bokeh! JM doesn’t say what kind of plant this is. I think I should know, but I don’t. Readers?
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!2:00PM Water Cooler 6/8/2021