By Lambert Strether of Corrente
Bird Song of the Day
I think I hear bells in the background?
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51
“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson
They’re not wrong, are they?
America’s COVID “strategy” summed up in a single photo. pic.twitter.com/z4hiEmO8sV
— LA Parent Union (@UTLAUncensored) February 18, 2022
(Of course, I’m glad that the children are protected from Harris, as much as cloth masks can protect anyone, even if Harris doesn’t feel the need to protect them; not all take that view.)
Democrats en Déshabillé
I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:
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. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“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, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.
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“Democrats hit 30-year high for House retirements” [The Hill]. “The number of House Democrats not seeking reelection this year has hit a 30-year high — a bleak benchmark reflecting frustrations with the gridlock on Capitol Hill, the toxicity of relations between the parties and the challenges facing Democrats as they fight to keep their slim majority in the lower chamber…. Adding to the Democrats’ woes, the number of retirement announcements will likely continue to grow in the coming weeks as lawmakers get closer to their states’ candidate filing deadlines, many of which are in the spring…..
“Campaigning AOC electrifies crowds as Democrats fear brutal midterms” [Guardian]. “Ocasio-Cortez travelled to Texas this month to campaign for two of the progressive candidates she has endorsed this election cycle, Jessica Cisneros and Greg Casar. Since her first victory in 2018, Ocasio-Cortez has used her celebrity status to help other progressives attract voters and raise money, which she has a unique talent for. During the 2020 cycle, her campaign committee raised more than $20m…. An endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez has the ability to immediately elevate a progressive candidate’s campaign, and the congresswoman does not limit herself to open-seat races. In the four years since she won her own primary against the then congressman Joe Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed a number of candidates who are challenging sitting lawmakers. Cisneros, for example, is attempting to defeat Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who has served in the House since 2005…. But Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to openly oppose Democratic incumbents has rankled some of her House colleagues who have been on the receiving end of her criticism.” • That’s a damn shame.
“Who Runs Our Elections?” [Bolts]. “This page compiles, state-by-state, the local offices who are responsible for administering elections at the county and municipal level. Each state’s system is laid out in some detail—including officials’ power, and their method of selection or the timing of their elections—within the limits of what is possible to convey in one database. In many states, the internal inconsistency is so stark that a full accounting needs a specialized database specific to that state. Bolts will continue to dig into these details….. Note: Officials who are part of the criminal legal system play a decisive role in gate-keeping access to the ballot. Most county jails are run by sheriffs, who control whether the people who are detained there, and who are often eligible to vote, actually can access ballots. (In some states, another official like a warden runs the jail.) County prosecutors are also relevant since they affect who gets stripped of the right to vote, and who regains it or is punished for trying. This page does not include those officials because you can find information about when and how prosecutors and sheriffs are selected here.” • This looks like a useful resource!
“Virginia’s lead IT official resigned after less than a month in Youngkin administration” [ABC Richmond]. ” Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s pick to lead Virginia’s information technology agency is resigning the post in what an agency spokeswoman called a ‘personal decision.’ The governor’s office confirmed to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Friday that Phil Wittmer is stepping down from his role. The newspaper reported no explanation for his departure was provided.” • Odd. Readers?
Realignment and Legitimacy
One wonders how hot the summer of 2022 will be:
Which is to say, the next time a cop executes a black man on camera there’s a pretty good chance it shreds the entire Democratic Party and they will have absolutely no one to blame but themselves
— Will Stancil (@whstancil) February 18, 2022
“Who Is Behind QAnon? Linguistic Detectives Find Fingerprints” [New York Times]. “Two teams of forensic linguists say their analysis of the Q texts shows that Mr. [Paul] Furber, one of the first online commentators to call attention to the earliest messages, actually played the lead role in writing them…. The two analyses — one by Claude-Alain Roten and Lionel Pousaz of OrphAnalytics, a Swiss start-up; the other by the French computational linguists Florian Cafiero and Jean-Baptiste Camps — built on long-established forms of forensic linguistics that can detect telltale variations, revealing the same hand in two texts. In writing the Federalist Papers, for example, James Madison favored ‘whilst’ over ‘while,’ and Alexander Hamilton tended to write ‘upon’ instead of ‘on.’ Instead of relying on expert opinion, the computer scientists used a mathematical approach known as stylometry. Practitioners say they have replaced the art of the older studies with a new form of science, yielding results that are measurable, consistent and replicable. Sophisticated software broke down the Q texts into patterns of three-character sequences and tracked the recurrence of each possible combination. Their technique does not highlight memorable, idiosyncratic word choices the way that earlier forensic linguists often did. But the advocates of stylometry note that they can quantify their software’s error rate. The Swiss team said its accuracy rate was about 93 percent. The French team said its software correctly identified Mr. Watkins’s writing in 99 percent of tests and Mr. Furber’s in 98 percent. Machine learning revealed that J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, had written the 2013 mystery “Cuckoo’s Calling” under another pen name. The F.B.I. used a form of stylometry to show that Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomber. In recent years, such techniques have helped detectives in the United States and Britain solve murder cases involving a forged suicide note and faked text messages.” • I doubt this will have any political effect, but the tecnology is interesting.
I’ve said for some time that CDC numbers are good for narrative purposes: Are things better, or worse? Is there a wave, or not? Is there a peak, or not? Now we have a much better idea of what CDC’s internals are really like, and how sketchy and partial the releases are. What is remarkable is how bad the situation looks, even considered as a narrative. Commentary:
The lying is the very worst thing about the pandemic, because it disrespects everyone, invalidates all lived experience, undermines everything worthwhile. It is a poison, a canker eating away the face of society, seemingly unstoppable now, engulfing us all. https://t.co/2RzN91f2sd
— Dr David Berger, aBsuRdiSTe cROnickLeR (@YouAreLobbyLud) February 20, 2022
Case count by United States regions:
I have again added a “Fauci Line” to congratulate Biden and his team — Klain, Zeints, Fauci, Walensky — for finally falling below their own second-highest peak, although still comfortably above the first peak achieved by the former guy. (Rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick; the slope of the downward curve is more or less the same as the upward curve. Previous peaks — how small the early ones look now — have been roughly symmetrical on either side. But the scale of this peak, and the penetration into the population, is unprecedented.) I wonder if there will be plateau when BA.2 takes hold. Since the Northeast has form, that is probably the region to watch for this behavior first.
The official narrative was “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) was completely exploded. What a surprise! This time, it may be different. But who knows?
Continues encouraging (and independent from the CDC). No jump from the return of the students yet, which is even more encouraging, especially if you’re in “Waiting for BA.2” mode.
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.
NOT UPDATED From CDC Community Profile Reports (PDFs), “Rapid Riser” counties:
Looking good, though what’s that little cluster around DC doing? Maine is a data problem. (Remember that these are rapid riser counties. A county that moves from red to green is not covid-free; the case count just isnt, well, rising rapidly.)
The previous release:
Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission:
Some speckles of improvement in the solid red.
NOT UPDATED Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):
Sea of green once more. From the point of view of our hospital-centric health care system, green everywhere means the emergency is over (and to be fair, this is reinforced by case count and wastewater). However, community transmission is still pervasive, which means that long Covid, plus continuing vascular damage, are not over. (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.)
Just a reminder:
As with everything else, because the United States is not a serious country, our hospitalization data is bad. Here the baseilne is off:
Hospital trick: patients admitted with covid in 10-12 days become post-covid & no longer counted as hospitalized covid patients. ICU is full of post-covid patients that are here for 30, 40, 50 & more days. Not counted in the official stats.
— Dr. Natalia 💉😷 (@SolNataMD) January 24, 2022
Death rate (Our World in Data):
955,497. A continous drop in the death date, which is good news. I sure hope we break a million before Biden’s State of the Union speech. There’s still time.
We learned what drives contagion just by mapping all the deaths
But we’ll wish we’d lived a little, as we draw our final breaths
Why look before we leap? Let’s simply shut our eyes and jump!
And enjoy a glass of water from the Broad Street Pump!
— Dr Cat Sittingstill (@CatSittingstill) February 20, 2022
Good news here too.
Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Manufacturing Activity Index in the US fifth district fell to a 4-month low of 8 in January of 2022 from 16 in December, due to declines in the indexes for new orders and employment. Survey results indicated firms continued to struggle to find the skills that they need despite solid increases in wages. The third component in the composite index, the index for shipments, increased slightly.”
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 18.3% year-on-year in November of 2021, the least since May but slightly above forecasts of 18%. House prices remain elevated due to low inventory and fast turnaround but the increasing mortgage rates are starting to weigh.”
Banking: “Deutsche Bank Warns Staff Not to Delete WhatsApps Amid Scrutiny” [Bloomberg]. “Deutsche Bank AG has warned its employees not to delete WhatsApp messages from their phones as part of moves by the German lender to clamp down on private communication channels. The Frankfurt-based bank earlier this year sent a memo to staff warning them that any business-related messages going through private channels mustn’t be deleted as the act could be considered a crime under U.S. law, according to people with knowledge of the matter. It also reminded them that using messages sent from private phones for business is a violation of company policy, the people said asking not to be identified discussing the private matter.”
The Bezzle: “Does Crypto Have Value? A Bitcoin Pioneer Spelled It Out Years Ago” [Institutional Investor]. “The spark that lit the virtual currency bonfire can be traced back to 1997 and a computer game called Ultima Online, the world’s first large-scale massively multiplayer online game. It was created by Richard Garriott, a British-American game designer who began working on it when he was 13 years old. Arriving two years after the launch of eBay, Ultima drew more than a million players worldwide within just months, leading to challenges previously unimaginable. What happened next in many ways laid the foundation for decentralized cryptocurrencies. Very rapidly, auctions for in-game virtual currencies and goods exploded in venues across the web, opening the door to secondary markets, but also fraud, money laundering, and seriously thorny legal questions about who really owns the virtual assets inside a game. ‘This became such big business and such a pain for the game companies,’ Radtke said in her 2012 talk, because game companies were being exploited and mined for their digital assets but weren’t sharing in the revenue. They eventually prevailed on eBay to shut down all virtual goods auctions in 2001 — but it didn’t work. People kept on trading virtual assets. ‘The only thing that happened is people just went other places to buy them and other places to sell them,’ Radtke explained. Soon game companies were offering multiplayer games that encouraged real money trading and also gave them a cut of the profits. But players still broke the rules and tried to arbitrage their virtual currencies over online platforms and markets. Legal debates raged over the ownership and value of in-game virtual goods. For instance, if a player spent time mining iron ore from a mountain in-game, then went to a blacksmith’s shop to forge that iron into steel to make a sword, then discovered a magic spell to make it enchanted, who would own the sword — the player or the gaming company? No one could agree. The secondary marketplaces were completely unintended, says game maker Garriott, now based in New York and semiretired, in an interview with Institutional Investor. What he learned back then holds lessons for crypto investors today. As Ultima became one of the fastest-selling personal computer games in history, he recalls, sales of virtual goods from his game dwarfed sales of the game itself. ‘We thought, how is this possible, that anyone is willing to pay thousands of dollars to acquire a sword?’ What Garriott says he didn’t realize at the time was what he now characterizes as the ‘time value’ of a sword, or any other coveted virtual asset. Because players could not get virtual assets inside a game without putting in long hours of playing time, many were willing to purchase those goods outside instead. ‘In a game, it can take dozens of players and hundreds of hours to make a top-value magical sword,’ Garriott says. ‘Some people found it easier to just buy one on eBay.’ Although Garriott came to appreciate why Ultima players were willing to exchange fiat for digital objects from his game, he was thoroughly unprepared for the number of players seeking to profit off that fact….” From a talk given in 2012 (!!). Also: “Understanding how in-game, centralized virtual currencies morphed into real-world, decentralized cryptocurrencies is the key to demystifying cryptocurrency for a still-skeptical institutional investing crowd, according to Raghu Yarlagadda, chief executive of FalconX, a $3.75 billion crypto institutional brokerage firm in San Mateo, California, that serves hedge funds, asset managers, retail aggregators, and crypto-native funds.” • I’d want detail on that “morphing,” which sounds handwave-y to me. Bitcoin is freighted with a whole boatload of ideological impedimental that don’t seem to have an equivalent in RPGs.
— Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) February 18, 2022
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 36 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 34 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 18 at 4:59pm. Back to flirting with Neutral!
Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 186. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.)
Feral Hog Watch
“California Has a Feral Hog Problem. We Have Some Suggestions” [Texas Monthly]. “If what happens here happens there, Californians will likely be failing to put a dent in their pig population for many years to come. So, happy for any opportunity to Texsplain something to the coastal elite, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to draw up a list of suggestions.” #1 is what you no doubt guessed it is, but #6 is pretty good: “6. Go undercover as a hog, infiltrate their network, identify the source of their power, and take them down from the inside.” • Worked for… Worked for….
Usually, I loath Aesthetica, which is like Yang’s successor ideology in visual form, but hbd Ansel Adams (February 20):
"When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence."
— Aesthetica Magazine (@AestheticaMag) February 20, 2022
Holy moley, what an S-curve!
Kill the protesters!
And the new Silverado. The front end is nearly as tall as an adult. pic.twitter.com/m8ODNFCLTX
— AJ LaTrace (@ajlatrace) February 19, 2022
L’Affaire Joffrey Epstein
For the record:
(1996) #Wexner #Epstein
"a bathroom reminiscent of James Bond movies: hidden beneath a stairway, lined with lead to provide shelter from attack & supplied with closed-circuit television screens and a telephone, both concealed in a cabinet beneath the sink"https://t.co/kPeLyf1u9r
— Mostly Peaceful Rudy Havenstein (@RudyHavenstein) January 6, 2020
Our Famously Free Press
“Dean Baquet Never Wanted to Be an Editor” [The New Yorker]. Obvious rejoinder aside… Baquet: “the job of the New York Times should, in the end, be to come out with the best version of the truth, with your own political opinion held in check by editors and editing. Not everybody believes that, but I believe that. And I think that if you come to work for the New York Times—if you really want to work for the New York Times—you have to embrace that, because that’s what the New York Times is. Independence means being independent of everybody and of ideology—it just does. And I know people want to beat up that view, but, I mean, the reason those stories about the air strikes had so much power is because people read them as the truth.” • Well, the air strikes story was, perhaps, not so timely…..
To the Times, and presumably its readership, the “hardest” thing…
"This is the hardest thing of all, because it's not just the risks and benefits to you. It's the risks and benefits to the people around you."
Here's a guide to when, and where, experts say you should still wear a mask. https://t.co/juzaAtXLVz
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 19, 2022
The hardest thing is thinking of others. I know there are some who think that the Times has “journalism’s worst and most incompetent social media team,” but they’ve really clarified matters here.
The Times is really in peak form this week:
“If you’ve found yourself struggling through your usual Saturday tennis matches, staying focused at work, or being present around your loved ones, it could be the heavy hum of grief and worry getting in the way,” Sian Beilock writes. https://t.co/qV3ib9kkbE
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 19, 2022
My “usual Saturday tennis matches”? Really?
Yes, quite a week:
— Selina Wang (@selinawangtv) February 20, 2022
How odd, a country that protects its citizens from a disease that’s as infectious as measles, and has long-term effects on the vascular system, the lungs, and the brain. What is wrong with China, anyhow? Don’t they understand freedom? Particularly when freedom is in liquid form?
“How We Turned the Tables On Starbucks Union-Busters” [Labor Notes]. “Starbucks is spending millions upon millions of dollars to hire a huge law firm to train its managers to become experts in union-busting. You’d think they’d be better at it. Every store that files goes through the same basic steps of union-busting. The upside of this is that Starbucks workers can see what’s coming, and get creative. Our store prepared for the meeting not only by communicating with each other, but also by holding a Zoom meeting with baristas from other cities who’d already gone through the same experience. They walked us through what to expect and what kinds of things had worked best for them in throwing the union-busters off their game. So when we sat down for our meetings with our Store Manager, District Manager, and Regional Manager, we did so in solidarity. Our manager started off the meeting. This woman had spent a good part of the last election cycle talking about her left-leaning politics. She leads the Starbucks ‘Womens’ Alliance Network,’ a group designed to empower female Starbucks employees. She started our meeting by looking us all in the eyes and saying, ‘I don’t think you need a union.’ Over the next few hours they tried various tactics to try to sow doubt among us. They tried one of the arguments they’ve used frequently, which is that with a union we won’t be able to have baristas from other stores cover shifts at our store. In response, two people pointed to a New Jersey law that specifies that non-union workers can work in union settings. Our Regional Manager kindly thought of those workers and wondered, ‘How would that affect their experience? How would they feel working in an environment where their salary is different?’ One worker responded, ‘Well, I’d think that would just spark interest in them unionizing their store too.’ Clearly these managers were operating from a basic script; when we veered away from it, they unskillfully tried to return to it.” • Script-jamming. Driven by Zoom meetings. I hate to use the word “innovation”….
“The Digital Offertory and the Militant Right” [Forever Wars]. “WITHOUT TOO MUCH EFFORT, you can learn a great deal about the 92,844 people who used Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo to give $8.4 million to the “Freedom Convoy” that has upended daily life in the Canadian capital of Ottawa…. But we don’t have to get anywhere near full names or other doxxing territory to see some conspicuous themes. Here are some non-identifiable names entered into GiveSendGo alongside cash donations. This information was supplied to FOREVER WARS by anti-secrecy organization Distributed Denial of Secrets (or DDoSecrets): ‘Pastor Josh, Pastor Rob…. [Pastorn]…. .GIVESENDGO IS ODD. It’s a mistake to think of the operation as yet another far-right crowdfunding organization, though it hosts fundraisers by members of far-right groups including the Proud Boys. Mostly in 2017, the far right experimented with its own crowdfunding platforms, created expressly to host campaigns that Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and others had kicked out: Hatreon, WeSearchr, Counter.Fund (they’re all dead). But there is still a need for funding among the parts of the right that don’t have consistent access to megadonor largesse from capital—militants trying to crowdfund court costs like Enrique Tarrio, for example. GiveSendGo isn’t like that. Evangelical Christians rely on funding networks of laypeople for a wide variety of community projects, from soup kitchens to missionary trips to funerals. Some of that money can come from the weekly collection plate intake, but some is more formal and direct, with Christians pledging to help friends to the tune of $20 or $15 or $100 a month when they go off to do God’s work—sometimes directly for churches or denominations, but sometimes for “parachurch” organizations like InterVarsity or Youth With a Mission. GiveSendGo is a crowdfunding platform, but it is mimicking the American church’s own analog networks, not GoFundMe. The typical GiveSendGo campaign doesn’t benefit a grubby little fascist who has made himself unemployable by tweeting slurs. Many are simply for medical bills for sick children or memorial funds for widows, widowers, and parents who have lost children. Others are stranger—providing an interesting record of the Christian financial world.” • The whole piece is worth a read.
Please do your part and infect others in the workplace. It’s important!
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) February 20, 2022
News of the Wired
One of the nicer things about Twitter is bots that tweet beautiful images; reading them can be a form of what we call “self-care.” Here’s one account I follow:
Unknown location, do you recognise it? (24.0°S 95.5°W), 21 Aug 2015 pic.twitter.com/pUuAhsehDm
— Sentinel 2 Bot (@Sentinel2Bot) February 20, 2022
Word of the day: “ventifacts”:
Just look at this marvelous wind sculpture on Mars, seen last week by NASA's Curiosity rover. It led me to learn the term for these formations: "ventifacts." (Image processing by @mars_stu) https://t.co/DMkC5ijLi0 pic.twitter.com/NczYr4Owvs
— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) February 20, 2022
I wonder if it would be possible to treat long-dead talking points as ventifacts…
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 (KD):
KD writes: “Another shot of the abandoned shed, looking north.” I’ve seen permaculturists try to repurpose such abandoned structures. This would at least look good with some vines!
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