2:00PM Water Cooler 12/26/2022

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Snow Partridge, West Kameng, Arunachal Pradesh, India.

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Readers, I hope your Christmas Eve and Day were everything you expected, and what you expected was good (and what you hoped for). The week between Christmas and New Year’s tends to be slow, and so my Water Cooler coverage this week will be a little erratic, perhaps confined to a single topic. (Tomorrow, however, I will do a complete post, just to prevent the pandemic(s) from getting away from me.)

Today’s topic is “proxies,” which are not the same as a voting proxies, except tangentially. My first step was naturally to check my OED, but it contained nothing to the purpose:

(Although the ecclesiastical usage is interesting; one wonders whether the Scholastics, say, had a theology of procuration.) The more fashion-forward American Heritage Dictionary does, highlighted:

(This is similar in structure to a market proxy.) I would refine the AHD’s definition as follows:

An entity or variable used to model or generate data assumed to resemble the data associated with another entity or variable that is typically more difficult to research, or for which official data is unavailable or corrupt.

One obvious example of “unavailable or corrupt” data is Covid case counts for the United States. (Since wastewater data leads case data, it’s an OK proxy, even if the CDC’s national coverage is spotty. CDC does, at least, have county level data for most major airports, so at least I can highlight potential danger spots for readers who travel.) Here is a splendid example from The Economist of a proxy for actual, gen-u-wine, scientific case data, the sort of data public health establishment worthy of the name would be expected to collect, if only to help its “customers” with their personal risk assessments, but never mind that:

As readers know, loss of smell is one symptom of Covid. So it makes sense that Amazon reviews of “Yankee Candles” complaining that “this candle has no smell” would be a good proxy for Covid cases. And so it proved, in the study cited by the Economist. Now, I am but a humble tapewatcher, but if you think we have a good proxy here, it follows that we are in the midst of a surge, and it’s a bad one, on a par with Biden’s Omicron jouissance; I have drawn a grey “Fauci” line to show this[1]. Further, before I stopped running case data, I qualified it by saying that the real figures were much, much higher; I used a factor of six. If “no smell” is a good proxy, it looks like I was in the ballpark. Finally, we have seen a “divergence between clinical case curves and wastewater curves” starting in Q1 2022; here we see a similar divergence but for case curves and “smell” curves. Since this divergence is likely to be policy-driven, I have drawn a Democrat-blue line to show this.) Now, I’m not completely sure I accept the “no smell” proxy for Covid — is it confounded by flu, or RSV? — but it certainly underlines the message to “stay safe out there.”

[1] If so, I was too conservative. On December 16, I rather than call a surge, I wrote:

I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet.

Of course, we could some “Something Awful and a surge at the same time! Christmas data will tell us much.

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Here is a second proxy, devised by GM, which I think wins a brilliancy prize. China has set about making its case data as corrupt as our own. What to do? Past proxies of cases have included backed up crematoria and crowded hospital parking lots (these can be determined from aerial photography). But this is great:

I’ve found that in the complete absence of data, a reliable proxy for what is happening is Wikipedia’s list of people with Wiki pages who died recently:


E.g. when Iran was having its first covered up outbreak in early 2020 it was very notable how many generals and politicians suddenly were dying at the same time.

There actually aren’t all that many Wiki pages for Chinese people despite the huge population (Western bias and so on), so usually it is 0 or 1 a day on that list. But here is what it looks like for the month of December:

Date/Number deaths on the page

25 4
24 1
23 5
22 3
21 2
20 2
19 1
18 1
17 1
16 1
15 2
14 0
13 0
12 0
11 0
10 0
9 0
8 0
7 0
6 1
5 0
4 0
3 0
2 0
1 1

The trend is quite clear, and it will, if anything be even more more startling once the most recent days are completed (they are still partial now).


Readers, can you suggest some good proxies? Not necessarily for Covid, but using something from the material, “real” world as a proxy or check on official data for, say, inflation or unemployment. Or manufacturing. Or heating fuel prices. Or, I suppose, metrics of any kind. Enjoy!

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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. From JB:

JB writes: “My experiment with converting my pool to a 20k gallon aquarium, continues. The vegetation is now blooming, and not just the lily pads as I’ve shared in the past. What’s more, the Koi are growing fat and sassy. Everybody told me this wouldn’t work. Me? I’m thinking empirical results rule, or as Yogi Berra unforgettably said: ‘In theory there is no difference between theory and practice – in practice there is.'” Words to ponder!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Samuel Conner

    IIRC, I’ve seen “electrical power generation” used as a proxy for “total output” in interpretation of PRC economic statistics.

    Stay well, all.

  2. Verifyfirst

    My metric for gentrification in my town–number of houses which immediately after being purchased are painted purple.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Seriously? Well then, there lay a great opportunity for some young student to earn their Degree in a dissertation on this phenomena.

  3. CanCyn

    One metric I use as an indicator of how well people are doing financially is the number of cars in need of body work on the road. If the car is drive-able after a minor collision then repairs can be put off for such a time in the future when there is a little more room on the credit card. I admit since retiring to a more rural part of the province this is not as useful because I just don’t see as many cars as I once did. I first noticed this during the Great Recession after 2008. Many, many cars in need of body work on the road and many more late model cars on the road too. Lived in the most populous part of Canada, just outside of Toronto.

    1. flora

      Delaying body work repairs (cars are still running) might be financial or it might be the body shops’ incredibly long delay in getting repair parts; delays anywhere from 1 to 6+ months now, depending on the car and the parts. (Last year it took my mechanic over 4 months to get a simple head gasket for a popular and common car. Nothing fancy or exotic.)

  4. Will

    Excellent news. Peace is scheduled for the end of February. Even better, Russian participation seems optional.


    Asked about whether they would invite Russia to the summit, the [Ukrainian] foreign minister said that Moscow would first need to face prosecution for war crimes at an international court.

    “They can only be invited to this step in this way,” Kuleba said.

    The terms of the peace plan will follow those laid out earlier this year by Ukraine.

    At the Group of 20 summit in Bali in November, Zelenskiy presented a 10-point peace formula that included the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.

    Must be a credible plan cause the journalist doesn’t seem to have asked how the peace summit would work. Perhaps the introduction of the Patriot air defence system will force the Russians to capitulate?

    [Kuleba] revealed that the US government had made a special plan to get the Patriot air defence system, which can shoot down enemy missiles, ready to be operational in the country in less than six months. Usually, the training takes up to a year.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Needless to say, when the Russians make their move, Dmytro Kuleba will be the first person out of the country with a police guard. That 10 point plan has been floating around for some time now like an unflushable turd and can only happen when the Ukraine militarily beats Russia. I’m not holding my breath. Since the Biden regime is absolutely refusing to negotiate with Russia as in at all, Dmytro Kuleba must feel safe making such statements.

      1. Bsn

        I went to youtube to see Dima’s Military Summary Channel yesterday as I often watch it on Odysee. I was using Utube in TOR and all the suggested videos (scrolling down the side) were Ra Ra Ra Ukraine. “50 Russian soldiers killed in trenches”, “Drone footage of Ukraine successes in Kherson” ….. on and on. There were about 20 in a row all showing Uk. victories.
        It seems that’s what people are hearing day in and day out. Many thanks to NC for more correct info on this subject.

    2. John k

      At one time I thought Russia would be done last summer, now I don’t think feb is practical to liberate the other 4 Russian speaking oblasts and de-mil/de-nazify the rest of the country, though by end feb no power in west Ukraine seems likely to mostly empty the west.
      He’s wrong to say all wars end with negotiations, afaik Russia never reached a peace agreement with Japan following ww2. Us will certainly not agree to Russian victory and it wouldn’t be binding anyway, France/Germany have shown they also won’t live up to agreements. Imo Russia’s offer to negotiate might not be genuine at this point but playing to row, just let them drag out until Russia has accomplished its objectives like the Vietnamese did.
      I wonder when the ground freezes this season.

      1. ChrisPacific

        I’m pretty sure the whole negotiation thing is a performance for the benefit of third parties (most notably China and India). Not to say that Russia is being dishonest, but they must be aware that the positions of the two sides are too far apart for negotiation to be practical right now. They’re competing to look like the reasonable adults in the whole situation.

    3. Acacia

      Yep. Delusional. But this will be the new talking point, i.e., “the Ukraine really really wants peace, but those horrible evil Russians refuse to admit their horrible evil war crimes and won’t show up at the international court, so the Ukraine needs moar weapons and moar billions of support from the collective West.”

      And many people in the public will actually believe this.

  5. NorD94

    so back to normal in Germany this spring/summer?

    Top German virologist says COVID-19 pandemic is over https://www.dw.com/en/top-german-virologist-says-covid-19-pandemic-is-over/a-64214994

    The COVID-19 pandemic can be considered over because it is now an endemic disease, the German virologist Christian Drosten told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

    “We are experiencing the first endemic wave with Sars-CoV-2 this winter; in my estimation the pandemic is over,” the head of virology at Berlin’s Charité University Hospital said, referring to the coronavirus behind the global pandemic.

    After this winter, the immunity in the population would be so broad and resilient that the virus stood little chance in the summer, Drosten said in comments published on Monday.

    Meanwhile, intensive care physician Christian Karagiannidis, who is also a member of the Germany’s COVID-19 expert council, said the pandemic would likely be over after the winter.

    While one or two small COVID-19 waves were still likely, Karagiannidis said the population’s immunity was solid and there were significantly fewer COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

    1. agent ranger smith

      When people tell us that “endemic” means “good” because “endemic” means ” not pandemic anymore” . . .
      we should remind them that malaria is “endemic” to Africa and that goes to show that “endemic” does not necessarily mean “good”.

      1. Jason Boxman

        And tuberculosis as well as others.

        Meanwhile Times today had a story about life as a masking holdout.

        1. JBird4049

          I am not sure they actually know what they are blathering about. Most of the vaccines we take are for formerly endemic in the United States and Europe. These formerly endemic diseases were a reason, perhaps the reason, why people had so many children.

          It was not unusual for a woman to lose most of a dozen children to then endemic childhood diseases. Just pull up a biography of a favorite historical person pre twentieth century. Any class and occupation. You will be amazed, probably horrified really, at all the deaths in their family.

  6. Amfortas the hippie

    when we lived in town, we were across the street from the foodbank(as well as the Young Life cult space*)…they’d do their thing on tuesdays, and the number of cars…and the number of folks walking there) were a fine economic indicator for the health of the local economy.
    now, town has a “Community Kitchen”…where do-gooders(**) make essentially TV dinners for the poors and old.
    the local paper/brochure has an occasional write up(***) about the number of meals they put out, which has done nothing but grow since they opened, right about the time covid became a thing out here.
    along with the above mentioned beat up car phenomenon, and the longevity of for sale signs, new for sale signs, and what the Scanner Says…these are all pretty good proxies.
    as far as local outbreaks, wife was buddies with the school nurse…and she and i would compare notes on empty shelves of pharmaceutical products. she kept a close eye on this, while i’d only notice when i went somewhere. when pepto and immodium disappear, there’s a gut bug going around, etc.

    (* young life cult:they did their thing at night, mostly…and installed a speaker on the porch so the neighborhood could hear the Good News, whether we wanted to or not. I’d sit on my porch in nice weather and watch, and there were always lots of furtive rustlings in the bushes(Ie “heavy petting”) and beer cans strewn along the roadside come morning.)
    (**-the majority of the people who operate this kitchen are sincere, as near as i can tell…but there is an element of “get out of jail free” and performative do-goodery to burnish one’s rep)
    (***-the “News” paper is usually a Chamber of Commerce Brochure, touting our quaintness, rustic charm and such…and ignoring all the sordid underbelly stuff…save for the every two month sheriff blotter…unless the underbelly becomes momentarily impossible to ignore(like the courthouse burning spectacularly to the ground))

  7. Hana M

    JB your ‘aquarium’ experiment fills me with joy. I did something similar in my last home. The key is to not micro-manage it. Let it thrive on benign neglect. And above all don’t try to make it tidy or ‘clean’, and never dredge out the leaves that fall and eventually carpet the bottom of your pool! I don’t know the climate you are dealing with but you may want to add some other fish (in addition to the Koi) that love mosquitoes or their larvae but do your research carefully as some are invasive if they escape into the wild. I added a little side waterfall of natural stone that aerated the water–it was a definite plus both aesthetically and biologically. It took a couple of seasons but soon I had tadpoles, frogs, a mating pair of box turtles and a growing, diverse crowd of birds feasting on the bounty. Keep an eye on those water hyacinths–they are beautiful and prolific and a major invasive species in some areas of the US. You will probably need to thin them out a some point but don’t let them escape a fiery death. Keep a diary–it’s such fun! After all as Yogi knew, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
    Lambert, let JB know that I’m happy to share ideas directly via email.

    1. John Beech

      Hana M,
      I’m easy to find: info@genesishobby.com

      Fact is I am always open to learning more about the keeping the pool aquarium. The observation about both benign neglect, adding other fish, and water hyacinth especially is prescient because FL is one of the states where it’s running wild.

      Knows more about this than me, obviously! Anyway, I’m thinking about buy a hundred bait minnows to add to the tank. Would appreciate any wisdom before I do. As for benign neglect, that’s good because I rarely feed them anything. We have frogs already, and I see the occasional heron standing on the pool deck wall eyeballing prospects of a snack.

  8. fjallstrom

    Number of violent deaths per capita is used by historians as a proxy for violent crime. Deaths tend to get reported, it tends to be illegal and rarely change categories, and it tends to be something governments take seriously enough to keep track of.

    1. LifelongLib

      It’s been argued that violent deaths are a poor proxy for violent crime because they’re too dependent on other factors. E.g. two areas with the same amount of violent crime can have greatly different death rates because one has a good emergency medical system and the other doesn’t. Of course this would be applicable at best only since the advent of modern medicine. In earlier times you’d probably be better off with no medical treatment at all. In one account a soldier wounded at Waterloo was first bled, then had his wounds bound so they couldn’t drain and was told to apply leeches. Incredibly, he lived. He threw away the leeches and his wounds burst open and drained on their own.

  9. JBird4049

    All this corrupting and lack of deaths for Covid with the concurrent efforts to find alternative ways of counting reminds me of the efforts of getting a count for the American Civil War. Not only was the process pathetic, people often did not find out about what happened to a relative until a stranger either mailed a letter or just showed up at door, perhaps a few years after the war. At all the hospitals on both sides, patients and staff made it a duty to stay with and write down a dying man’s last words especially with where he lived; the letter or visit would happen with the opportunity of doing so. The post office was good, but people might not have actual addresses or have moved (most people still lived on farms sometimes deep in the country). So, whoever got the information or the letter might have a real task.

    Add that the Confederate government’s military records were lost when Richmond was burnt. Much of the information was also stored in the state, county, and city level, but no internet and not much organization of the records either. This is true for the north and south. Washington was not burned, but federal record keeping was also poor. This is why the number of civil war deaths keeps increasing every fifty years or so with each major effort by the next generation of historians finding new ways to count the dead. Sometimes, more records are discovered. Then there were the various extra epidemics that swept the entire nation following those disease factories called armies as well as the prison camps and hospitals placed far away from the front. Remember, the disease theory of germs was not a thing, yet. If the military records were bad, just think of the record keeping for the civilians. Again for the whole nation. When historians realized that they were part of the civil war dead, they must have been intimidated by the efforts needed to find them.

    So, we have all the shenanigans with Covid without the multiple bombed or burned cities, shattered armies, poor record keeping, and massive swarms of sick and often dying people; we do have deliberate obfuscation of records, large numbers of people dying weeks or years after getting sick (as in the war, the injury or illness gotten from the war might kill you a few weeks or decades later) often in isolation or without an address (up to a million homeless Americans plus many doing the couch surfing or RV living)

    Almost nobody believed that the war would be a horrible and large scale as it was, which meant nobody planned ahead. For the first year of the war, there was no medical system set up able to deal with the tens of thousands of injured that could happen to a single army in a single campaign. And of course detailed record keeping was far down on the list of to-do’s. It really is comical, in a truly awful way to read about the efforts to deal with all the dying. And bodies, sometimes found and buried years after a battle. However, we are told that today we have a medical system set up for things like an epidemic. That they are trying really hard. Supposedly. I see no comedy, though.

    Funny, isn’t, I would trust the written word of the confederate and union doctors, officers, and officials dealing with the overwhelming amount of suffering and death 160 years ago, before the word of many people in the government or medicine today. And for 150 years, historians have been digging through all the records and letters of people at all levels getting a better count tabulated every few decades; just how long will it take to get a count remotely accurate for Covid? And will there ever be any accounting for those deliberate mistakes of now, unlike the honest ones of the past?

    1. Basil Pesto

      When I read about old-time crises like Spanish Flu or Bubonic Plague and deaths were always presented in a range of estimates I always thought “boy, what a shame they couldn’t get an accurate count of fatalities in those pre-modern times. good thing in this day and age we’d definitely be able to get a way more accurate count/narrow range of such statistics”. Can’t believe how naïve I was.

  10. Raymond Sim

    I don’t have a quantitative metric for it, but when Monica Gandhi reaches a new height of crazy, new heights of Covid typically follow.

    Recently she undertook to reassure her readers by pointing out that symptoms being observed post-Covid resemble those seen in HIV infection, so no biggie.

    1. JBird4049


      HIV does not kill you directly, but it is the cause of AIDS, which causes your death by destroying your immune system. No immune system means everything infects you. You essentially rot to death.

      It is not a nice death. Trust me on this.

      Only by taking boatloads of medications everyday for life to keep the virus in check and therefore your immune functioning enough to keep you alive.

      If Covid merely damages your immune system, which apparently it can, you are more vulnerable to dying from infections or cancer; if it knocks out your immune system, as AIDS does, then you are a dead man walking.

      I assume, but I am not an expert, that Covid is helping its hosts experience new and exciting ways to suffer and die.

      All this is a long way to ask just wtf does she mean?

      The stupid. It burns.

  11. VietnamVet

    Proxy data is all that we have.

    Basically all of the pandemic data is corrupt. With the end of Zero-COVID, so is China’s. Empires create their own reality. Avoiding for-profit mRNA vaccinations or looking for data counter to the official narrative, risks identification as a corporate-state enemy and suffer shunning, firing, or worse. We are on our own.

    Buried in hospital computers is data on the correlation of prior COVID infections and hospitalization of children with secondary infections (flu, RSV,…). If this correlation is proven to be true, it documents the failure of public and private education to provide safe schools for our children.


    “There is only one way out of our COVID mess. It is not denial. And it is not passivity.

    It is masking, testing, social distancing and clean air engineering via ventilation and filtration.

    Public health officials and politicians aren’t telling us this because they are afraid to take on the responsibility for implementing these changes. Or they are too ashamed to admit the scale of their mistakes.

    That means each and every citizen must send them a signal that we refuse to surrender to an immune evasive virus. And that the prospect of massive ill health of our children is not acceptable collateral damage.

    The pandemic will not end until we consciously and collectively act.

    We can only do that by systematically changing conditions of modern life to starve this wildfire of its fuel and oxygen.”

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