strong>By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Bird Song of the Day
Another migratory bird. This is really gorgeous. I don’t know their habits, but I imagine a great congregation of Lesser Redpolls gathered, in the dusk, before sleep.
A roller coaster. (If by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax, despite all the sturm und drang in the press.
61.2% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, such as it is, as of December 16. The stately 0.1% rise per day returns. We have broken the important 61% psychological barrier! Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Peru in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday).
Case count by United States regions:
Still fiddling and diddling. Also, as happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for no other reason.
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. Not updated:
Case data (black dotted line) has been within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within aggregated predictions (the grey area).
I wrote: “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.” The case data has now broken out of the grey area (see at “Oopsie!”). Since the models are aggregated conventional wisdom, it’s not fair to call them propaganda, exactly. Nevertheless. conventional wisdom is looking a little shaky, and anybody who relied on them to predict that we would be “back to normal” by early next year should be taking another look at their assumptions. And this is — I assume — before Omicron!
MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, not updated:
Still a steep drop in the average, like the last peak. We’ll see if gets choppy again, or not.
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.
Maine improved. Upper Midwest improved. Acela corridor sketchy. More flecks of red, especially in Texas. Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out. The fleck of red in the middle of New York near the Pennsylvania border is, I think, Ithaca (i.e., Cornell).
The previous release:
Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):
I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)
Death rate (Our World in Data):
823,390. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.
Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid). Not updated:
Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).
Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:
South Africa’s rise looks linear, even though this is a log scale. Look at the UK, too. 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 Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
“A theory: How Trump’s Jan. 6 coup plan worked, how close it came, why it failed | Will Bunch” [Will Bunch, The Inquirer]. “We now know that Trump’s top aide, chief of staff Mark Meadows, had written in an email on January 5 — the same day as Trump’s tweet and memo about “Antifa” — that the National Guard was on standby “to protect pro-Trump people” the next day. His words only make sense in the context of expected clashes with leftists…. But here’s the thing: . Their absence clearly flummoxed Team Trump, and even the president’s allies at the Fox News Channel, who throughout the day blamed violence on ‘antifa’ who clearly weren’t there. Critically, the lack of expected street clashes explain the stunning three-hour failure by the National Guard to respond to officials pleading for troops to help stop the insurrection.”
“House panel subpoenas author of Jan. 6 PowerPoint” [The Hill]. “The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has subpoenaed the man who dispersed a PowerPoint laying out the Trump campaign’s plans for contesting the 2020 election and who briefed several lawmakers on the strategy. The subpoena to Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel, comes after his 38-page PowerPoint titled ‘Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN’ was included in a trove of emails to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.'”
“Senate expert to brief Democrats on potential rules changes” [The Hill]. “A former leadership staffer will brief Senate Democrats during a closed-door caucus lunch Friday about how they could potentially change the upper chamber’s rules as they renew their focus on passing voting rights legislation. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Marty Paone, a former secretary of the Democratic conference and parliamentary expert, briefed a group of Senate Democrats Thursday night and will speak during their caucus lunch Friday. ‘Last night a number of my colleagues and I met with Marty Paone, a Senate rules expert who worked under past leadership, including Robert C. Byrd, about how we can restore the Senate so it can work the way our founders intended,’ Schumer said.” • Well, that should do it.
“The Memo: Failure on big bill would spark cascade of trouble for Biden” [The Hill]. “In terms of the bigger picture, there is deepening pessimism in Democratic circles about the fate of the [Build Back Better] huge social spending bill [and it’s not all that huge[. Talks between Biden and Manchin this week failed to make meaningful progress, instead exposing the breadth of the gulf that remained. Manchin has never committed to supporting the Build Back Better plan, even though it has been scaled down significantly, largely at his behest. Amid the impasse, both the White House and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have backed off earlier pledges to try to move the legislation before Christmas. And Biden himself appears to be turning his attention to voting rights rather than the social spending plan that has been the keystone of his domestic agenda. On Wednesday, Biden said there was ‘nothing domestically more important than voting rights.’ The outlook for voting rights is even bleaker than it ever was for Build Back Better, however. Thanks to unified Republican opposition, movement on the topic will be impossible without reform of the Senate filibuster — something Manchin also opposes.” • Again, this is the party the Democrat leadership built, over many years, with a lot of hard work (and specifically on Manchin and Sinema’s behalf). It is broken by design.
“Democrats rev up voting rights push to end 2021. But Senate path remains elusive.” [NBC]. “Senate Democrats, eager to salvage a victory as they lose hope of finishing the Build Back Better Act before Christmas, have turned their attention to voting rights legislation. Still, two key obstacles remain: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. And it’s not clear Democrats have a path to win over their two colleagues to force a vote on the bill, despite significant shifts from other moderates and a frustrated voting base clamoring loudly for Congress to act. Long-simmering frustrations among prominent Black leaders appeared to be boiling over as they pressure President Joe Biden to do more to encourage the Senate to act. Progressive advocacy groups have revved up their pressure campaigns, fearing that time is running out to avert what they see as an existential threat to democracy. Leaders of the effort in the Senate, notably Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, have held meetings with colleagues to find a path forward. And moderates like Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, said this week they’re ready to change the Senate rules to allow a vote on an election overhaul. But despite this movement, it may not be enough.” • Doing the same thing and expecting a different result?
“US Ends Settlement Talks With Families Separated By Trump Border Policy” [HuffPo]. “The U.S. government withdrew Thursday from settlement negotiations to end lawsuits filed on behalf of parents and children who were forcibly separated under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy. Justice Department officials informed lawyers for the plaintiffs in a conference call that the government would not offer a global settlement in family separation cases and will defend each one in court, said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed one of the suits. The decision comes after eight months of negotiations and weeks after reports of a proposed settlement that would include payments of several hundred thousand dollars to each family sparked outrage among Biden administration critics in Congress and elsewhere.” • But the babies!!!!!
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.
Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. 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.
And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…
already did suspend the filibuster for specific reasons in the past and would now for SC nominees. It has razor-thin margins yet can still pass massive spending bills. Invoking Manchin or Sinema doesn't really explain the puzzle; it just re-describes it.
— corey robin (@CoreyRobin) December 2, 2021
A second example of the PMC’s inability to govern comes under the rubric of “our democracy.” Of the various components of the Democrat party, NGOs, miscellaneous mercenaries, assets in the press, and the intelligence community all believe — or at least repeat vociferously — that “our democracy” is under threat, whether from election integrity issues, or from fascism. But other components — funders, vendors, apparatchiks, and electeds — don’t believe this at all. On election integrity, HR 1 has not passed. Gerrymandering continues apace (also a sign that Republicans take their politics much more seriously than Democrats do). On fascism, I suppose we have Pelosi’s January 6 Commission. But nothing unlawful took place, or we would have Merrick Garland’s January Investigation. The combination of hysterical yammering from some Democrats and blithe indifference from others is extremely unsettling. (This leaves aside the question of whether Democrats, as a party, have the standing to whinge about either the erosion of democracy or the imminence of fascism. I say no.) Of course, there is a solution to the problems with “our democracy”:
Democrats will solve the problem of minoritarian tyranny by losing the popular vote. https://t.co/hdw4IxTu2b
— Alice in Winter (@AliceFromQueens) November 18, 2021
* * *
“Political suicide” [White Hot Harlots]. “One of my most offensive (or maybe fatalistic) beliefs is that the Biden administration, as it is constituted and how it governs, is a form of reparations…. Here’s what Actual Reparations entail: the token diversification of the elite castes in Democratic politics and other liberal-dominated arenas along with a few thousand sinecures for the race stooges who worked dutifully in 2016-2020 to ensure that banks and pharmaceutical companies shall never feel unsafe. … This is the end result of the Stan-Culture-as-Politics paradigm that’s ruled liberalism since Obama’s ascent. The success of a small handful of individuals from historically marginalized groups is proffered as a substitute for systemic reforms. You don’t fight racism by rebuilding the infrastructure of black communities that have been left to rot. Instead, you fight racism by making Beyonce richer. Her success is your success. Ignore the fact that your tap water has chunks in it and celebrate how many books Amanda Gorman just sold. This is progress. This is liberalism. This, I’m sorry to say, is your reparations. Now, such an approach to politics was enough to beat a demented game show host on the second try, but I’m afraid it’s already sputtering out. The generic ballot now favors Republicans by a greater margin than has ever been recorded, Biden’s already polling below 40% and is set to repeal most of the COVID-era’s financial relief policies in a few weeks, and–oh, wow, fuck–hispanic voters are now split evenly between the two parties, and upper-class Asian Americans appear to have been the decisive factor in the GOP’s shocking upset in the Virginia gubernatorial race.” • And a similar story:
Everyone has been focusing on AD40, in Flushing, which Sliwa narrowly flipped against Eric Adams. But Sliwa, the Republican, also dominated two Democrat-represented AD's in Brooklyn that are Asian-majority, AD47 and AD49.
— Ross Barkan (@RossBarkan) December 12, 2021
“Democrats should worry about what’s happening in Biden country” [Financial Times]. Cobb County. “Some of this might sound familiar to Biden. At a similar stage in his vice-presidency, the Obama administration had pulled the global financial system back from the brink of the 2008 crisis and passed a major domestic stimulus. But the White House’s ineffectiveness touting these achievements ultimately led to a drubbing in the 2010 midterms, with Republicans ending unified Democratic control of Congress. Now, as president, Biden faces a similar problem. ‘I think that there’s a messaging vacuum,’ adds [Jon Epstein, a 53-year-old teacher}. ‘And if the Democrats don’t fill it, the Republicans are more than happy to.'” • Sourcing very much oriented toward the Democrat base.
Relief package: $400B smaller than the CARES Act
College debt moratorium: ended under the Democratic president
Eviction moratorium: ended under the Democratic president
Unemployment extension: ended under the Democratic president
— August J. Pollak (Taylor’s Version) (@AugustJPollak) December 17, 2021
[Pounds head on desk]:
Just realized—nearly 2 years late—that my shaving cream is celebrating 100 years. Thanks Barbasol for making my daily face scraping marginally less painful! Now with Soothing Aloe and a Rust Proof Aluminum Bottom. pic.twitter.com/BZZkVe4VXS
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) December 17, 2021
Product placement? Brain fart? Where was the Clinton Vice-Presidential choice’s staff on this?
Ever wonder what a congressional district office does?
This year, our constituent liaisons opened 1,800 cases, helping our neighbors in The Bronx and Queens navigate federal services like stimulus checks, immigration filings, PPP loans, Social Security, Medicare, and more. pic.twitter.com/URGAQ1N1jc
— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) December 16, 2021
And a good thing, too!
“A classical machine learning technique for easier segmentation of mummified remains” [Phys.org]. • Wait. This is science. How’d it get in this section?
I believe we all possess the ability to lead, and I want to help you develop those skills. From empowering diverse teams to mediating conflict, I’m sharing the lessons I learned during my career in public service. I hope you’ll join me on @MasterClass. https://t.co/vhBWYr1GKJ pic.twitter.com/fwK0BmhNZR
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) December 16, 2021
Realignment and Legitimacy
“What Is Pelosi’s Endgame?” [Charles Cook, Cook Political Report]. Cook has been writing on American politics for years. So I read it all. Here is Cook’s extraordinary final sentence: “We are living in a very odd world now. There is no telling what we will be thinking and talking about a week from now, let alone a year.” • Cook is correct. And it’s not merely a matter of thinking and talking. I think it’s becoming a matter of our political arrangements. I did not occur to me — and did not, I think, occur to many — that Biden’s performance on Covid would actually be worse than Trump’s, if your metric is the death count (and I think that’s a good metric). For all his fumbling and malice, Trump gave us Operation Warp Speed and the vaccines. And what did Biden do? Bet the country on a Vax-only strategy that has now demonstrably failed. At some point, accountability arrives. The body count, the organic damage, is simply too high.
“The force of historical decline.” [Haydar Khan, The Scrum]. Galbraith v. Thiel. I’m pulling out this quote from Galbraith: “The institutional, infrastructure, resource basis, and psychological foundations for a Keynesian revival no longer exist.” Makes me think of Medicare for All. Does the country have the operational capability to deliver it? Based on our response of Covid, no.
There are no official statistics of note.
The Bezzle: “Melania Trump announces new line of NFTs” [The Hill]. “Melania Trump is entering the world of NFTs, selling ‘breathtaking watercolor art’ featuring an image of her eyes to collectors. The former first lady made the announcement on Thursday, saying the nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, will be released in regular intervals. The first one, titled ‘Melania’s Vision,” includes the painting of Trump’s eyes by artist Marc-Antoine Coulon and an audio message. ‘My vision is: look forward with inspiration, strength, and courage,’ Trump says in the clip. The sales site for the NFT, priced at $186 as of Thursday morning, says it will provide the collector ‘with strength and hope’ and ‘an amulet to inspire.'” • So this is where we are: Amulets. Here it is:
Better than Hunter Biden’s art? You decide:
The Bezzle: “Car Companies Want You to Keep Paying For Features You Already Have” [Vice]. “Back in the day, car companies made money by selling cars and financing those car purchases. Now, automakers plan to make even more money by selling subscriptions and software updates to cars that have already been sold, perhaps even for features people expect cars to have. Brace yourselves now for this nickel-and-diming future. Automakers have been fairly explicit that they see “Software as a Service,” as it is known in business speak, as a significant earner to make back some of the billions of dollars they invest in electric and autonomous vehicle development…. the big play here is not going to be the $80-a-year stuff for marginal features like remote start. Instead, it will be performance, range, and perhaps even safety upgrades to electric vehicles that make the actual car better at being a car. These were upgrades that were difficult or impossible to engineer with gas cars, but are relatively trivial for electric ones. The goal, from the automakers’ perspective, will be getting people to pay for the same thing multiple times as often as possible. This strategy is taking its cue from Tesla, which calls over-the-air upgrades ‘an essential part of the Tesla ownership experience.'”
The Bezzle: “Elizabeth Holmes ‘chose fraud over business failure,’ prosecutors say in Theranos closing arguments” [NBC]. “Bringing up documents on monitors in front of the jury box, [Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Schenk] reviewed how Holmes had affixed pharmaceutical company logos to Theranos lab reports to imply endorsement. The companies, Pfizer and Schering-Plough among them, had neither endorsed the results nor authorized the use of their logos, witnesses testified. Holmes also altered, enhanced or doctored the conclusions to make the reports appear even rosier, Schenk argued….. The defense argued that Holmes had acted in good faith and that the government had failed to prove that she acted with intent to deceive.” And gives five reasons, one of which is: ” Holmes had the company’s technology validated by Johns Hopkins University, at the request of Walgreens, and was not afraid of outside review.” • It’s an ugly thought, but this may say more about Johns Hopkins than Holmes? Granted, I don’t know the detail on this. Readers?
Manufacturing: “Qantas switches domestic fleet to Airbus in blow to Boeing” [Reuters]. “For Boeing, the loss of the coveted Qantas contract is a further blow to its 737 MAX…. It interrupts a strong run of sales since the jet was cleared for flight late last year following a safety ban and means a further loss of narrowbody market share to Airbus. Qantas has operated Boeing jets since 1959 and was once the world’s only airline with an all 747 fleet. The U.S. planemaker will now supply only its long-haul 787 Dreamliners.”
Manufacturing: “Boeing wants to build its next airplane in the ‘metaverse'” [Reuters]. “In Boeing Co’s (BA.N) factory of the future, immersive 3-D engineering designs will be twinned with robots that speak to each other, while mechanics around the world will be linked by $3,500 HoloLens headsets made by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O). It is a snapshot of an ambitious new Boeing strategy to unify sprawling design, production and airline services operations under a single digital ecosystem – in as little as two years. Critics say Boeing has repeatedly made similar bold pledges on a digital revolution, with mixed results. But insiders say the overarching goals of improving quality and safety have taken on greater urgency and significance as the company tackles multiple threats. The planemaker is entering 2022 fighting to reassert its engineering dominance after the 737 MAX crisis, while laying the foundation for a future aircraft program over the next decade.” • Give an MBA a VR headset, and this is what you get. Short them.
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 29 Fear (previous close: 31 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 32 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 17 at 11:37am. The dial is back! Perhaps writing CNN actually helped!
“Insurance Companies Are Profiting Big Off of Climate Change” [Jacobin]. “‘Without insurance, new coal fired power plants wouldn’t get built. Without insurance, oil refineries wouldn’t refine,’ said Douglas Heller, insurance expert at the research and advocacy group Consumer Federation of America. ‘That doesn’t mean that the insurance industry is solely responsible for fossil fuels. But it’s a part of the equation.’ The problem is not just that insurance companies offer coverage to fossil fuel projects, but they also use millions of people’s premiums to invest in — and provide capital to — the fossil fuel industry’s expansion. State insurance commissioners have the power to expose and curtail these activities. But because the fossil fuel industry has pumped tens of millions of dollars into state politics, most states other than California have refused to do so. Meanwhile, the Republican stronghold of North Dakota — one of America’s largest producers of coal — is now exploring providing government-supported insurance to the fossil fuel industry. But now there’s some good news: insurance regulators and legislators in New York and Connecticut, both of which are key states for the insurance industry, have taken steps to fight back — suggesting a new front could be emerging in the war on global polluters.”
“Air pollution from a Virginia landfill is making residents sick. Officials won’t call it an emergency” [Southerly]. “Since January 2020, engineering firm SCS Engineers has been under contract with the city to monitor and report temperatures and other key data from the gas wells. Multiple times that year, starting in July, temperatures in several wells exceeded the maximum allowed limit. But in a violation notice obtained through a public records request, state environmental regulators said the city falsely reported having no excessive temperatures during 2020—and it did nothing to expand the dump’s gas collection system, a step the site’s permit required for two of the violations…. The gas wells that began overheating last year have since become the location of a chemical reaction that’s continued heating the trash—in one well, to temperatures close to 200 degrees—while belching harmful gases and chemicals. Ernie Hoch, a consultant for Richmond-based firm Draper Aden who is leading the repairs, said that the issue is happening more than 100 feet under the surface, and it’s unclear how large it could be.” • Yikes. Worth reading in full, especially if you live near a landfill. This landfill sounds exceptionally nasty, but all landfills are nasty.
“Millipedes Have Been Living a Lie” [The Atlantic]. “Eumillipes persephone, discovered deep underground in Australia, is the first millipede ever identified with more than 1,000 legs. The count actually comes to a whopping 1,306, a number that absolutely demolishes the previous record holder (750 legs, you tried!) and wins E. persephone the title of most-legged animal on Earth. All hail!…The creature, which looks like a pointy-headed spaghetti noodle wearing full-body cleats, is extraordinarily small—not even four inches—and lives far from most other known millipedes, nearly 200 feet below the surface. That pointed head, Marek explained, is key for navigation at such depths. As they burrow and look for fungal spores to eat, the front of a millipede’s body expands into crevices, stretching in width to “provide an anchor,” Marek says. The back portions then catch up in a sort of Slinky motion, coiling up until the animal decides to move forward once more. Somehow, they don’t get tangled…. The critters can’t control each leg individually (imagine that traffic jam), but instead use a single nerve cord that travels the length of their body to coordinate the movement. They’re slow and graceful, even at 1,306 legs strong. Some can even use their next-level limb control to jump, though most stick to burrowing and scuttling around in the dirt.” • Neat! The article has a video of a millipede in motion. It looks rather like a high-speed train. (They have high speed trains in Europe and Asia, for our American readers.)
“DNA in Air Can Catalog Hidden Insects All around Us” [Scientific American]. “A new poster, presented this week at the Ecology Across Borders conference, reports on a proof-of-concept effort to show how it works. While employed as a postdoctoral fellow at Lund University in Sweden, Fabian Roger collected airborne samples using a commercially available liquid cyclone contraption, which swirls air into a liquid-filled tube, thereby trapping DNA fragments previously borne in the air. He collected air samples at three locations in southern Sweden, where he also used traditional methods to survey insects for comparison… The team found traces of DNA from 85 species, including butterflies, beetles, ants, flies and their close relatives…. Several eDNA and air issues remain hazy, says Elizabeth Clare, a molecular ecologist at York University in Canada, who has worked on similar air-sampling studies. For one, it’s unclear how long an individual insect’s DNA persists in the air after it has flitted away. Are researchers sensing a recent visit or one made months ago? Studies have found intact DNA in permafrost up to 10,000 years after organisms perished. But in other conditions, such as exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, DNA may degrade quickly.”
“These astronauts will be able to unlock Mars’ secrets by looking at rocks on Earth” [Euronews]. “As part of the Pangaea project, organised by the European Space Agency (ESA), the astronaut candidates are getting basic training in geology and rock sampling – all to equip them with the scientific skills required for Mars and Lunar missions…. The three-week programme takes them to the Dolomites in Italy, a mountain range in the northeast of the country, the 15-million-year-old Rise crater in Germany, and to the volcanic landscapes of the Canary islands. Likely we would land near, for example, a crater or perhaps a lava outflow channel, or if it’s on Mars, perhaps what we believe to be an ancient riverbed or lakebed where there potentially could have been flowing water in the past. There they learn how to use rock hammers and magnifying glasses, take samples without contaminating them and relay data back to scientists via specialised tablets.” • It would seem more sensible to train a geologist to be an astronaut, rather an an astronaut to be a geologist. Can that be done?
Not such a bad idea:
I'm suggesting that US literally gives tests to all Americans & do so WITH A STRATEGY
No Insurance Reimbursements (this is public health, not medicine!)
Have a plan (I suggested a useful and doable one above) and get the tests out.
It will help curb spread
— Michael Mina (@michaelmina_lab) December 17, 2021
Strategy? Huh? We have a strategy. It’s Vax Vax Vax. What’s wrong with you? And speaking of things we squandered a year not doing–
— Abraar Karan (@AbraarKaran) December 17, 2021
Your house (if you have one) is a chimney. A good visualization:
The air moving up a chimney works under the same set of physical principles as water flowing in a pipe. But air pressure is negative and chimneys are negative pressure systems: the hotter the fire, the biggest the draft https://t.co/21T6TTMtyq [gif: https://t.co/mBDEg5ziD9] pic.twitter.com/b5WRB8rIJB
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) December 17, 2021
Think of all the virus going up the chimney. That’s what you want. The same effect, though not as powerful, can be achieved by opening an upstairs window or a vent on the roof. You can test the resulting draft with a candle or an incense stick. You might be surprised at how much draft there is.
Another take on Guateng:
Clear evidence that covid cases have peaked in #Gauteng province in South Africa suggests we don’t fully understand epidemiology of this variant. The very rapid rise and then decline in cases suggests many possibilities, including that we’re missing a lot of subclinical infection pic.twitter.com/7FlOZ2p1Ga
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) December 17, 2021
I tend to think we don’t know very much about anything. We don’t understand the immune system, for example. (This is probably good, because if we could, viruses and other micro-organisms would, too, since they work at a scale we cannot.)
And on Omicron:
⚠️BREAKING—Imperial College study finds #Omicron could be **just as severe** as the Delta strain, according to early findings from researchers at Imperial College London.
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 17, 2021
Lead your life:
Friday morning train into NYC is absolutely packed pic.twitter.com/Nn7RaCBEsX
— tae kim (@firstadopter) December 17, 2021
“The Death Toll Says It All” [The Atlantic]. “About 75 percent of COVID deaths in the U.S.—600,000 lost lives—have been among people ages 65 and older.” • I guess if you think Social Security can go bankrupt, this is a good thing. Everybody must do their part, after all.
News of the Wired
I remain unwired, so here is a Spring painting from one of the many artbots I follow (and I really recommend this practice as a mental palate cleanser):
— Camille Pissarro (@artpissarro) December 9, 2021
Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) 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 (petal):
Readers, thank you for all the plant pictures!
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!