2:00PM Water Cooler 12/27/2022

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I have been gifted with a terrible head cold that peaked on Xmas Day and is now slowly passing on, leaving in its wake a lot of sneezing and grumbling. (No, it’s not Covid. Really.) So I’m feeling a little uninspired. –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

House Bunting, Tata, Morocco. “On hotel roof.” With crowing rooster! “House bunting?” “No, I’m just looking to rent.”

* * *


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

Capitol Seizure

“U.S. House Jan. 6 committee investigated four Texas conservative figures, transcripts reveal” [Texas Tribune]. “The four Texans the panel interviewed were Bianca Gracia, a leader of Latinos for Trump; Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist; Stewart Rhodes, the militia leader recently convicted of seditious conspiracy; and James P. Waldron, a retired Army colonel and information warfare specialist. Most of those interviewed refused to answer questions.” This, however, is the buried lead: “Rhodes’ testimony shed new light on the membership of the Oath Keepers: At its peak a few years ago, Rhodes told the committee, the Oath Keepers had roughly 40,000 dues-paying members — roughly 20% of whom he said worked in law enforcement.” • 20% is a lot. So much LE, so many spooks, so many informers. But they were all taken completely by surprise!

“Jan. 6 report sidesteps federal intelligence failures before deadly Capitol riot” [Yahoo News]. “While detailing multiple warnings of violence collected by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials about protests planned for Jan. 6, the House select committee’s report largely avoids the issue of how federal agencies handled the information or why they failed to share the full extent of the threats with U.S. Capitol Police officers tasked with protecting Congress from the violent mob that stormed the Capitol building. The select committee’s mission, as defined in its authorizing resolution, was in part to investigate “the preparedness and response of the United States Capitol Police and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies” to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.” • My goodness! One can only wonder why…..

Biden Administration

Giving the gift of Covid:

(The issue is not that Biden isn’t modeling masking behavior, but that Biden believes his behavior is correct and should be normalized. As does “Dr.” Biden, on the left.)

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

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.

* * *

“George Santos admits to lying about his resume in a series of interviews” [City and State]. “Congress Member-Elect George Santos admitted to lying about key parts of his resume in a series of media interviews published Monday evening, but left a handful of important questions unanswered, as his explanations conflicted with reports over the past week.” • More from the dogpile. I hold no brief for Santos, but he was elected fair and square. The conventional wisdom. is that Democrats didn’t do their oppo properly (see the Times here). But hold on. Can anybody think of another political figure who was elected, and who the Democrats attempted to depose with, well, post-election oppo? (Since that’s what the Steele dossier was.) I would speculate that Democrats want removal of elected Republican officials for various scandals normalized. And that’s why they sandbagged Santos with oppo after the election. (Oh, and Santos is gay. Surely at least one NGO should be vociferously defending him?)

Our Famously Free Press

C’mon, Matty:


Lambert here: I am but a humble tapewatcher, but unlike Eric Topol, I’m not calling a surge, because the last peak was Biden’s Omicron debacle, and after an Everest like that, what’s left? Topol’s view is the establishment view: Hospital-centric. Mine is infection-centric. I do not see the acceleration or doubling in cases that I would expect to see based on past surges. There is also the TripleDemic aspect, which I don’t know enough about.

I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet. Wastewater has taken off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, right on time, two weeks after Thanksgiving. Those are not only in themselves large cities, they are all the sites of international airports (reminiscent of the initial surge in spring 2020, which emanated, via air travel, from New York). Wastewater is a leading indicator for cases, which in turn lead hospitalization (and death). In addition, positivity has begun to increase again (Walgreens), and BQ.1* has taken over. Finally, I’m hearing a ton of anecdotes (and please add yours in comments).

Stay safe out there! If you are planning to travel on New Year’s, do consider your plans carefully.

* * *

• I can’t keep giving this dude Sociopath of the Day Awards; it would be unseemly. As part of Wachter’s latest homework assignment, a 25-tweet protocol for “personal risk assessment,” we see the version he uses of the famous “Swiss Cheese” diagram of layered protection:

(I love that “To make it easy to remember” part.) Here is James Reason’s version (from the NC archives). Reason is an “error management” scholar, and the developer of the model:

Notice any difference? That’s right. Like the good libertarian sociopath he is, Wachter has reduced the model to “personal responsibilities” only, and erased “shared responsibilities” entirely. This matters, even to the individual, because look at his ventilation advice: “Meeting outdoors is safest, improve ventilation indoors by opening windows and using portable air cleaners.” Because Wachter erased institutional settings entirely, he cannot recommend (for example) C02 monitoring. Nor can he recommend Japan’s famous 3C’s model; “shared responsibility” is not part of his universe.

* * *

• “The XBB.1.5 variant is on a growth spurt in the United States” [Eric Topol, Ground Truths]. “Now it appears that in New York State, XBB evolved further to XBB.1.5, with new mutations, which was aptly first noted by JP Weiland a couple of weeks ago, coincident with the beginning of a steep rise of hospitalizations there. The key mutation of XBB.1.5 is clearly F486P, which had been identified many months ago by the Bloom lab as one that would be tied to immunity escape and Ryan Hisner wrote about extensively in August. As you can see from Daniel Focosi’s convergent variant map of the BA.2 descendants, XBB.1.5 is one to acquire the F486P mutation….. If XBB.1.5 has such rapid growth advantage over BQ.1.1, that isn’t a good sign. Last week, David Ho’s lab at Columbia University published a paper in Cell entitled ‘Alarming antibody evasion properties of rising SARS-CoV-2 BQ and XBB subvariants.'”

* * *

• Maskstravaganza: “Should Everyone Be Masking Again?” [The Atlantic]. Oh, hell no. “David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is all for masking season, he told me, but he’d be more hesitant to resort to mandates. ‘It’s hard to impose mandates without a very strong public-health rationale,’ he said, especially in our current, hyperpolarized climate. And although that rationale clearly existed for much of the past two crisis-ridden years, it’s less clear now. ‘COVID is no longer this public-health emergency, but it’s still killing thousands of people every week, hundreds a day … so it becomes a more challenging balancing act,’ Dowdy said.” • The mind reels. What does Dowdy consider an “emergency”? And the PMC do love them their balancing acts. “Hard choices.” “Delicate phases.”

* * *


Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map”). (This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.) The map updates Monday-Friday by 8 pm:

NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.


From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published December 26:

-1.9%. Decrease, but who gets tested on Christmas or Boxing Day? NOTE: Of course, it’s an open question how good a proxy Walgreen’s self-selected subjects are for the general population, especially because they didn’t go the home-testing route, but we go with the data we have.


Wastewater data (CDC), December 20:

Too much red (especially with Ohio back online). JFK/LGA (Queens County, NY), ORD (Cook County, IL), SFO (San Francisco, CA), LAX (Los Angeles), and ATL (Cobb County, GA) are all red. See also this morning’s Links for a map that shows the airports with long delays that are also red dots.

December 19:

And MWRA data, December 21:

Lambert here: Up in both North and South. Odd? Haven’t the students already left town?


Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), December 11:

Lambert here: BQ.1* dominates, XBB coming up fast on the outside. Not sure why this data is coming out before CDC’s, since in the past they both got it from Pango on Fridays.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), December 3 (Nowcast off):

BQ.1* takes first place. Note the appearance of XBB. Here is Region 2, the Northeast, where both BQ.1* and XBB are said to higher, and are:

• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated December 24:

Resuming the upward climb after a short plateau.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 20:

We’ll see what is hospitalization is like about two weeks into January, after holiday travel has ended.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 1,116,095 – 1,115,748 = 347 (347 * 365 = 126,655 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ general business activity index for manufacturing in Texas fell to -18.8 in December of 2022 from -14.4 in the prior month, pointing to the eighth contraction in the activity…. Capital expenditures sank sharply.”

* * *

Transportation: “Hey guys, SWA pilot with a little information” [r/SouthwestAirlines, Reddit]. “This is entirely managements fault. Gary Kelly, and the new CEO, and corporate barons have completely gutted the philosophy Herb believed in, which was investing in employees. They’ve known for months that many crews were stretched to the absolute limit. It was only a matter of time before something caused a cascading series of failures that spiraled out of control. The board and CEO knew this, and chose to instead give themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and threaten to fire staff, along with dragging out contract negotiations with the unions in the hopes there will be a recession. This is corporate mismanagement to a level I’ve never seen in this industry during my 25 years.” And: “”I have friends in CS and the hotel assignment side too. There were 2 specific problems, the software for scheduling is woefully antiquated by at least 20 years. No app/internet options, all manual entry and it has settings that you DO NOT CHANGE for fear of crashing it. Those settings create the automated flow as a crewmember is moving about their day, it doesn’t know you flew the leg DAL-MCO it just assumes it and moves your piece forward. In the event of a disruption you call scheduling and they manually adjust you. It does work, it just works for an airline 1/3 the size of SWA. So the storm came and it impacted ground ops so bad that many many crews were now ‘unaccounted’ for and the system in place couldn’t keep up. Then it happened for several more days. By Xmas evening the CS department had essentially reached the inability to do anything but simple, one off assignments.” • Commentary:

It’s like McKinsey sold them all the same three-ring binder.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 39 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 37 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 27 at 1:19 PM EST.

Xmas Postgame Analysis

I think we’ve got a category error here:

Though I do see the point.

Zeitgeist Watch

“On sincerity” [Joe Carlsmith].

My hope, in this essay, is to bring what I mean by sincerity into clearer view. But the term has a fairly rich set of associations for me, which I’m not sure will ultimately admit of a cleanly unified analysis. I start by discussing five of these associations. Sincerity seems to me closely related to:

  • Something like truth-seeking (“scout-mindset“), but for agency as a whole rather than just beliefs
  • “Not playing pretend”
  • One’s different motivations working in harmony
  • “Seriousness”
  • (Less confidently) Some stuff about non-ego/altruism/goodness

I then discuss whether we can unify these five associations under a single principle. I offer two possibilities for doing so. The first is conceptual, and takes scout-mindset-but-for-agency as the core thing. The second is empirical, and takes “not playing pretend” as the core thing. I’m not sure either is adequate.

I also discuss a few of the many failure modes nearby to sincerity: self-deception, extremism, over-confidence, “the-normal-rules-don’t-apply-to-me”-ness, sanctimony, over-concern with sincerity itself (both in others, and in yourself), and that most straightforward and fearsome of failures: just plain picking the wrong actions, even if you did the other stuff right.

I take the view that for an artist — we are not all artists — only the work matters. “Sincerity” is completely irrelevant.

The Screening Room

“13 years ago, ‘Avatar 2′ was impossible. Inside the groundbreaking plan to pull it off” [Los Angeles Times]. The actors are actually underwater during their scenes (!). “‘This is unlike anything ever done before,’ said Kirk Krack, the professional free diver and coach who trained actors, stunt performers and crew for months leading up to the ‘Avatar’ shoot. ‘It’s the biggest diving movie of all time because it’s shot wet for wet — this isn’t Aquaman hanging on a wire with a fan in their hair. This isn’t some [VFX artist] programming what they think swimming looks like. … There’s never been a movie that has done what this underwater unit did to the level we did it, to the realism of the reality we’ve done.’ A chance meeting on a shared flight years earlier had given Krack, a veteran free diver who worked on the 2009 documentary “The Cove,” the opportunity to introduce himself to Cameron. ‘I walked up and said, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Krack remembered with a smile. ‘My name’s Kirk. I’m a free diver, and I’m going to hand you my card and say, ‘How long can you hold your breath?’… ‘He tells me about the project, the different films, how [‘Avatar’] 2 is 60% water, 3 is 30%, 4 and 5 will be 15%,’ Krack said. ‘How the new Na’vi of the ocean are called Metkayina, they’re free divers, and the problems they’ll have with capture because of the bubbles. They’re thinking of rebreathers instead of scuba systems, and do I think free diving could do it? I said, ‘Absolutely. And here’s how I would do it.’ …. But one of Krack’s proudest moments was watching [SIgnourney] Weaver, who was 69 years old when she began free diving training, outlast a stunt diver on breath hold while performing a scene as her new Na’vi character Kiri, the teenager Jake and Neytiri have adopted into their family.” • This is pretty neat. Although the movie could stil be a dud. Have any readers seen it?

Book Nook

“Did the Mother of Young Adult Literature Identify as a Man?” [New York Times]. • By Betteridge’s Law, no.

Our Famously Free Press

“Nobody cares about your blog!” [Medieval Manuscripts Provenance]. • A fascinating story of academic theft, and a salutary reminder that old-school blogs still exist.

Class Warfare

“The Trouble with Expertise: Why You Should Usually Trust Experts (But It’s Complicated)” [Philospher’s Magazine]. Interesting:

The real trouble with experts is not with expertise itself, but how experts behave. Experts don’t always use their expertise in ways that are helpful to non-experts.

· Sometimes they have a conflict of interest or a political motivation.

· Experts sometimes speak outside their field – a phenomenon called “epistemic trespassing.”

· They may try to tell you things that are not “tell-able,” as when a very successful person tries to give step-by-step advice on how to navigate all the obstacles they handled intuitively.

· Experts may offer advice that doesn’t meet your needs.

In addition to these concerns, some issues get tangled up with political or religious perspectives that make it difficult to know when an expert is really acting like an expert (and trying to help you) or when experts are speaking from their personal political allegiances. This is especially concerning when the issue is time-sensitive, as in the case of pandemic diseases like COVID-19.

Further still, sometimes whole fields of expertise give the wrong answer in a terrible way. Consider the field of medicine. Medical researchers have exploited people of colour, obstetricians have ignored medical decisions from women in labour, pharmaceutical corporations have conspired to increase addiction, and trans patients are routinely stigmatised or refused care. There are lots of reasons to be sceptical about experts. But it’s important to note that those reasons have nothing to do with expertise. The trouble comes because of the power experts have to put people in compromising positions and to use their positions in ways that harm others.

What is the future for experts?

It should be clear that we can’t live without trusting experts. The world is far too complicated. You’re relying on thousands of experts right now just to be able to access the words you’re reading online. But the more we learn about the human side of expertise, the more reasons we have to be cautious.

A step toward improving expert reliability is to add checks on expert judgment. Rather than having a single physician make medical decisions, these days medicine is often a team-based affair. Nurses, social workers, ethicists, and others are involved to make sure critical aspects of the patient’s life, social situation, preferences, and values aren’t overlooked. Similarly, for government-funded research, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) evaluate studies for ethical concerns about how participants are informed and treated.

More checks and balances would be a good idea. Perhaps experts should do pair programming. Paired by sortion?

Calling all Turing Test mavens:

News of the Wired

“How do snowflakes form? Get the science behind snow” [NOAA]. “Q: So, why are no two snowflakes exactly alike? A: Well, that’s because individual snowflakes all follow slightly different paths from the sky to the ground —and thus encounter slightly different atmospheric conditions along the way. Therefore, they all tend to look unique, resembling everything from prisms and needles to the familiar lacy pattern.” • Neat!

I’m not sure this is such a good idea:

* * *

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 ReSilc:

ReSilc writes: “Happy holidays from way off the grid!”

* * *

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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. clarky90

      The West opposes the rest of world, in a UN vote for a fairer economic system, equality, sustainable development

      New Zealand, once again, joined with other Western rogue states, to oppose the rest of the planet.

      The United Nations General Assembly held a vote that called for a new international economic order, based on sovereign equality, sustainable development, and biological diversity……

      But, the computer says “no”.

      1. Mikel

        Why should they expect the West to negotiate in good faith?
        I bet right after that vote that they all got together like old schoold buddies who threw down the names of the same Ivy League schools. Then they went about continuing to blow smoke up the West’s butt to further inflate the arrogance.
        There’s too much deference in too many other areas (especially thinking of acadamia) for the West to take them seriously.

      2. spud

        back in the late 1980’s i think, new zealands labor party elected a bill clinton type who took a meat axe to new zealand, it seems his toxic legacy is still with you.

      1. Joe Well

        And then he can do that thing where someone who is wrong over and over again can say they are a “renegade” not running with the herd when people correct him.

        There needs to be a rule that no one with tenure gets to claim they are a contrarian or antiestablishment. You are our generation’s version of a feudal lord.

    2. Greg

      First thing I thought was “that’ll be a dozen more admins per researcher”.

      I’m not sure how we get from where we are to an academic model that puts the investment back in the outputs that are most important. It’s a personal bugbear.

  1. tennesseewaltzer

    As to snow flakes. A fascinating look at the variety of flakes is the book Snow Crystals by W.A. Bentley and W.j. Humphreys. With 2435 Illustrations. First published in 1931, the innovative use of photographic technology to capture the flakes without their melting is a story itsself.

  2. Tom Stone

    I take Lambert’s “Feeling” that something awful is on the way seriously because I have also developed a working intuition about highly complex dynamic systems when I studied them daily over a period of years.
    There’s a flow you begin to sense when you immerse yourself in a subject.
    Be careful, and be lucky.

    1. chris

      Sound advice. I’d rather be lucky than good any day. But if you’re good enough, and prepared, with the right resources, you can make your own luck.

  3. Watt4Bob

    There are different paths to expertise.

    Some become expert by following their passion, some become expert by chasing power.

    Paths can be sincere, and ethical, or delusional and unethical, or visa-versa I suppose.

    I’m sure an individual can feel quite sincere in their quest for power.

    I think expertise in the service of power is the one to worry about.

    1. chris

      Well, the technical definition of expert in most industries is a combination of education, experience, and training. In most cases, if you have a combination of those three beyond the high school level in any particular subject area, you could legally qualify as an expert. How far you get based on that, and whether you actually know anything worth sharing, is up for debate. That’s one of the reasons the legal profession has ways of excluding expert testimony from people who shouldn’t qualify as an expert in a given situation. Look up Frye and Daubert if you want to know more about this.

      I think it is useful for people to know that there is a low bar for being considered an expert in the US. It means people should question what they’re told and that good experts worth listening too should be prepared to explain the basis for their opinions clearly.

      1. TimH

        It means people should question what they’re told

        Question politely, and if the answer is “I’ve been doing this for years and know what I’m doing” then go elewhere.

      2. Scylla

        To me, when it comes to experts, I default to one of the fundamental aspects of Anarchism. Authority (expertise) cannot justify itself. An individual can only become an authority through accumulated knowledge, an established and proven track record of being demonstrably correct and trustworthiness. This has served me well. I never take someone’s word based on their claimed expertise. I want to see their logic and their past track record.

        1. chris

          Well, sure. An expert should be able to explain the basis for their findings and opinions. They should know their topic well enough to be able to explain it to audiences with different levels of content knowledge. If you can’t do that, you’re not much of an expert. Waving questions away with “you wouldn’t understand” isn’t appropriate.

      3. Janie

        Family CPA used to say that the worth of an expert witness increased with the square of his (geographic) distance.

  4. Daryl

    > “Hey guys, SWA pilot with a little information”

    Am I misremembering, or was Southwest in the past known as a company that never did layoffs? How far they’ve fallen.

    1. chris

      I have a bunch of people in my family who were stranded or denied flights because of SWA problems this week. That post rings true based on what they were told.

      1. curlydan

        If you want to see some PO’ed people, search Twitter for “Las Vegas Southwest Airlines”. I saw a tweet this morning (can’t find it anymore) claiming Southwest told everyone in their Las Vegas terminal to get a hotel and not expect any flights for 3 days!

        Guess they’re not going to be able to tell a joke to get out of this one (not that the jokesters had any responsibility here)

        1. Joe Renter

          I believe it. A couple I know here in Las Vegas were told yesterday that their flight for Thursday this week is canceled. Messed up.

          1. Glen

            12/31 is the date I just heard reported in the news too, and I just found this:

            Southwest Airlines says travelers stranded by holiday meltdown can’t rebook until December 31st

            Look at the comments below the story. People had to rebook flights to other carriers and noted that the SWA airplanes were just sitting at the gates and the weather at both ends of the flight were fine. Lends more credence to the explanation Lambert has linked above. Looks like SWA doesn’t know where it’s flight crews are located.

            SWA did receive $64B in covid aid from the US government, but it doesn’t sound like that money got spent on ensuring critical IT systems are properly staffed and maintained.

            1. chris

              We tried looking for train options today too. They were more expensive and way less convenient than the airlines.

              This is a perfect example of where we are on so many problems. We’re relying on systems that don’t work well, have a high risk of failure, and haven’t been updated in decades. We know this is a risky and dumb thing to do. We know thay the people who own and maintain these systems understand it is a risky and dumb thing to do. But we also know that nothing about it will be done, despite there being better options available.

            2. scott s.

              Got canxed last Fri. Plane came in and we were lining up at gate but gate agent said we would board after crew arrived. Didn’t see any crew and eventually they just announced canxed no flight for 2 days. So assume no crew. Didn’t take too long to get bags back and got Delta flight later that night.

              Nothing on phone texts until Sun/Xmas got text that our flight on Sun would be delayed (never attempted to book). So called and got that fixed now I have “flight credit”. Think I will demand refund.

            3. Societal Illusions

              I recently saw an article claiming over 7 billion in aid – the higher number includes all airlines I believe – not that it really changed your point…

  5. Matthew G. Saroff

    Regarding that **familyblog** billboard, how about **familyblog** holding **familyblog** drivers **familyblog** accountable for the **familyblog** carnage that they inflict?

    Jaywalking should not be a crime, running over pedestrians should be.

    1. Mo's Bike Shop

      Walking is a bigger crime than skateboarding. At least with the skateboard you’re buying a consumer product.

      1. JBird4049

        I have seen both pedestrians crossing the street against the light, never realizing their near death, because they never looked up from their phone; I have seen drivers nearly drive my car off the freeway while on their phone; I have also seen idiots both on bicycles and in cars blasting through red lights, nearly killing me both as pedestrian and driver; maybe we should get mad at the twit doing the stupid and not on their mode of transportation?

        And yes, that billboard is just offensive. It probably makes people mad at it and not worried about jaywalking.

        1. Mo's Bike Shop

          Yeah, the phones. I’ve nearly killed people on their phones while on my bike. I don’t need that angst.

          The Ad sets off my Poe Lawmeter.

          But really, in the US, you have to push a button to walk, and there really are people who think the flashing bit means you’re fair game at that point.

    2. jrkrideau

      Jaywalking should not be a crime,

      It’s not, in Québec. Nor, as far as I am aware anywhere else in Canada.

  6. Acacia

    Re: Avatar 2, haven’t seen it yet, but it doesn’t bode well that the LA Times story angle is the ooh-ahh awesome technical details of the underwater production, and how long various stars could hold their breath. Okay, so a lot of it is underwater. As I recall, there was a pretty serious underwater battle at the end of Thunderball, (some informed commentary), but everybody was wearing a scuba rig, so I guess that means Avatar 2 is supposed to be in another league. Idk, maybe we could hear something about the themes, characters, or story of Avatar 2, and why we should care about any/all of that?

    The publicity budget for Avatar was reportedly around 150 million. For these contemporary blockbusters, it can be 50% of the total cost (IMDB says 237 million for Avatar but some industry sources reported 300~310 million total budget). Current reports are that Avatar 2 cost somewhere between 350 and 460 million, not including marketing, which is estimated to be another 100 million at least. Given that it took 13 years for the franchise to produce this sequel, and many will be wondering why they should pay a second visit the Planet Pandora, it could be around 50% of the total budget again.

    With a publicity budget of at least 100 million to possibly 230 million USD, I can’t help but wonder how much of the interest in this film is really organic, and how much of it is in effect manufactured. Striking that publicity for contemporary blockbusters is very often counted as part of the “production” budget, i.e., that ‘demand’ is also being produced.

    1. Jeotsu

      My review, for what it is worth, having seen it 2 days ago here in NZ. 10:15 showing on Dec 26th, so a mostly empty theatre. The few people present were not wearing masks.

      In brief, it is an Avatar film. Nothing surprising or different in plot or characters or style to the first film.

      It is gorgeous. Beautiful. The underwater world in particular is stunning. A coral reef not (yet) ruined by humans. The biodiversity, the density of life, in enthralling. I can totally see people walking out of this into the concrete landscapes of ‘home’ and having a significant shock of depression.

      A very strong and unsubtle message anti anti-colonialism and pro-environment.

      I would happily see it again to explore the corners of the screen to see all the details and cool life forms that fill every scene.

      The underwater work is pretty seamless. Makes it feel very real, for a computer generated world. Thankfully the Na’vi are just inhuman enough to avoid the uncanny valley issue.

      Conflict of interest statement: a bunch of my friends were crew, so I’m biased in their favour. The great thing is now that it is released they can tell me about the stuff they made for the movie. The line between ‘practical’ and ‘virtual’ is getting very blurry. Also, while working with James Cameron is famously demanding, the crew are happy for the years and years of work they are getting. This is a major career builder for heaps of artists and talented people. This is the sort of long term work that lets artists think about buying a house. And they haven’t been screwed over like Amazon and the Rings of Power, where they were promised a long-term multi-year project (and some people bought houses based on that), only to be screwed over. Apparently they were shipping components/props/moulds to the UK 2 months before they announced they were ditching NZ, so well planned perfidity.

    2. CNu

      Saw it on Christmas day with the entire family in 3-D.

      Some non-movie goers in the family and a couple who’d never seen a movie in contemporary 3-D.

      Had nearly as much fun watching their reactions to the 3-D effects as watching the movie and its effects themselves.

      For three hours, everyone was thoroughly engrossed and thoroughly entertained.

      Pretty sure that this movie was only intended to be viewed in 3-D.

      Personally, I’d equate it with Jim Starlin’s taking over the Adam Warlock comic franchise back in the day.

      I’d never seen a comic rendered that beautifully until then. Dunno if I’ll ever see another comic rendered that beautifully again.

      I hope that the sensory extravagance of Avatar 2 marks a turning point, rather than the high-point of contemporary cinema.

  7. Carolinian

    I haven’t seen Avatar 2 and have no intention of doing so–at least in a theater. But decades ago Cameron shot much of The Abyss underwater and did so by filling the unfinished containment building of an abandoned Duke nuclear reactor with water. This became the set and the actors with lights in their masks acted in it.

    Years later Duke was threatening to complete the reactor–which is only 20 miles or so from my house–but dropped the idea.

    Never a fan of the first Avatar but certainly glad that Sigourney didn’t drown.

    1. Alex Cox

      A friend of mine acted in that film. The director made him stay under water so long – without breathing apparatus – he almost drowned.

      But he got paid a million dollars!

    2. Carolinian

      For those who might be interested. Wiki:

      Cameron had originally planned to shoot on location in the Bahamas where the story was set but quickly realized that he needed to have a completely controlled environment because of the stunts and special visual effects involved.[12] He considered shooting the film in Malta, which had the largest unfiltered tank of water, but it was not adequate for Cameron’s needs.[7] Underwater sequences for the film were shot at a unit of the Gaffney Studios, situated south of Cherokee Falls, outside Gaffney, South Carolina, which had been abandoned by Duke Power officials after previously spending $700 million constructing the Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant, along Owensby Street, Gaffney, South Carolina.[11]

      Two specially constructed tanks were used. The first one, based on the abandoned plant’s primary reactor containment vessel, held 7.5 million US gallons (28,000 m3) of water, was 55 feet (18 m) deep and 209 feet (70 m) across. At the time, it was the largest fresh-water filtered tank in the world. Additional scenes were shot in the second tank, an unused turbine pit, which held 2.5 million US gallons (9,500 m3) of water.[12] As the production crew rushed to finish painting the main tank, millions of gallons of water poured in and took five days to fill.[13] The Deepcore rig was anchored to a 90-ton concrete column at the bottom of the large tank. It consisted of six partial and complete modules that took over half a year to plan and build from scratch.[14]


      I was in Atlanta at the time but heard about it from a publicist friend.

  8. LawnDart

    Bob Wachter, Gary Kelly…

    The Meaning of “Asshole”
    Aaron James offers a cognitivist conjecture, which sheds light on foul language generally.

    If you asked me what it means to call someone an “asshole” before I really thought about it, I probably would have suggested an “expressivist” analysis. The word, I might have elaborated, is just another term of abuse, a way of simply expressing one’s disapproval. Much as if one had said “Boo on you!”, one isn’t trying to say something that can be true or false, correct or incorrect. The job of foul language like “asshole” isn’t to describe the world, but simply to express one’s disapproving feelings, in an ejaculatory or cathartic burst facilitated by inherently emotive words.

    I decided this was completely wrong one day in the summer of 2008, while surfing in a crowded line up. I was watching a guy brazenly break the rules of right of way and thought “Gosh, what an asshole”. That wasn’t a new thought, but I then noticed, for the first time, that this thought has what philosophers call “cognitive content”. I was trying to say that the guy in question was properly classified in a certain way. Other law-abiding surfers weren’t properly classified under that term, and so it could be true or false, correct or incorrect, to say that this guy was, in fact, an asshole.

    That got me thinking about what it would be for someone to qualify as an asshole. Harry Frankfurt partly inspired this. I thought: Frankfurt put his finger on “bullshit”, and I am a philosopher, so I should define “asshole”. After considerable tinkering and with the help of friends, I settled on this definition: the asshole is the guy who systematically allows himself special advantages in cooperative life out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunises him against the complaints of other people.

    1. Objective Ace

      >the asshole is the guy who systematically allows himself special advantages in cooperative life out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunises him against the complaints of other people.

      I think this is too broad. I have enough wealth so that I can advantage myself by eating nutritious organic/non-pesticide laced foods. Send my child to extracurricular activities.. maybe even a better school. I can afford to go to the doctor when I’m sick.. retire at a reasonable age.. should that make me asshole?

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      I’ve also thought a lot about what it means to be an a$$hole and my definition is pretty close to this one. The two key aspects are 1) that the person knows they are behaving like an a$$hole, though I would identify a more expansive range of behavior than “systematically allowing special advantages,” because a lot of times being an a$$hole just means being mean or unpleasant without necessarily seeking any particular advantage, and 2) that the person somehow feels justified in this behavior, but again I would expand the range of justification beyond “entrenched sense of entitlement” because a lot of times the justification is more a feeling of having been wronged in some way, and so payback is deserved.

      Yes, I can point to numerous instances in my life where I have been the a$$hole.

      1. herman_sampson

        Usually, in my experience, an asshole doesn’t think he is one; if you think you are one, you aren`t, just ill-mannered in one situation. An asshole has no self-reflection.

        1. LawnDart

          Self-reflection seems key: when I have engaged in assholish behavior, it is usually followed by self-regret or self-loathing, and a correction of the behavior: the asshole does not self-correct.

          I would agree that the author’s defination of asshole is too precise and narrow.

    3. Mo's Bike Shop

      “Put your seatbelt on”, “No power tools after our first drink”, “Don’t set fire to a wood pile you did not make”: I am that kind of A$$hole, and am fine with being called out about it.

      So I demur that this is over-specifying the term.

      1. Late Introvert

        Agree, most people these days think I am an azzhole for trying to avoid C0vid. In their minds that definition in the article would be true.

  9. SD

    Quebec jaywalking

    Nothing raises awareness quite like a snuff film kiosk. If it weren’t real I’d assume it was out of a William Gibson novel where he describes how the sadism of a psychopathic ruling class has lost its luridness and become normalized in a deft aside.

    1. Wukchumni

      I once tried to jaywalk in Bangkok about 40 years ago in between a couple of long-ish boulevards, but gave up after about 5 minutes waiting for a break in the action that never came, and admitted defeat by walking to where there was a crosswalk about 200 yards away.

      I looked up where the term ‘jaywalker’ comes from, and a jay was a rube or a hick, back in the day.

      1. doug

        Yes, ‘crossing the street like a drunken jay’. That was part of the push to get folks out of the way, so autos could take over their space. I think the article was in the New Yorker, but not positive about that.

  10. Jeff W

    “Reason is an ‘error management’ scholar, and the developer of the [Swiss cheese] model:

    [illustration of Swiss cheese model applied to various COVID pandemic interventions]”

    Just to be clear about who exactly did what.

    James T. Reason of the University of Manchester developed “Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation,” a more generalized model of failure using the Swiss cheese metaphor about 25 years ago.

    Australian virologist Ian Mackay ran with that and applied it to the COVID pandemic, creating the “Swiss Cheese Pandemic Defence Metaphor” illustration (which is why his name appears in the illustration) featured in that item about Robert Wachter.

    1. Late Introvert

      I think mining was the 2nd job after prostitution. Neither one has changed much after all these millennia.

  11. Maggie in NC

    While you are watching XBB and BQ.1.X.X… here’s another returning to the headlines ….. first mention late October 2022 —> BA. also known as BF.7….

  12. thoughtful person

    Walgreens variant %’s.
    My question is, why are the lesser variants (say under 5% each) often the exact same %? Ok, once maybe, but it seems to occur daily. What are the odds?

    1. Greg

      Speculation – that sounds like a data collection artifact. Something about the way they’re collating data from branches is generating a rounded value, and it’s only visible where the values cluster (at the low end).

      E.g. something as simple as “round up to the nearest % for each branch” and there are x branches in the days report, therefore all minimum values are 1/x% for that day.

  13. Wukchumni

    Bankman-Fried used $546M in Alameda funds to buy Robinhood stake

    SB-F is so full of surprises, and its hard to say when the transaction occurred other than ‘earlier in the year’ but the stock is worth about 1/2 of what he paid, another quarter of a billion of OPM down the drain.

  14. The Rev Kev

    ‘This interaction from an Amazon delivery driver is making the rounds on the r/Antiwork subreddit, whose moderators vet the authenticity of posts.’

    That can only have happened here in Oz going by that driver’s terminology. Thing is, that manager said that the driver was self-employed and was not entitled to a break. Come again? Classically, if you are self-employed, you are your own boss and take breaks where and when you need them. if you are not entitled to a break, then you are an employee if not a serf. A different relation altogether. And yet government will let corporations get away with crap like this.

    1. Mo's Bike Shop

      self-employed and was not entitled to a break

      That did stand out. I’m guessing a Milt Friedman equivalency: Self-Employed=Gig-Worker=Indentured Servant.


    2. Mikel

      The low life called him self-employed, but gives orders.

      The driver needs to get out of that arrangement: The platform/business owes them nothing and they owe they platform every minute of their life.
      Those should have been fighting and burn the place down words to the driver.

    3. Greg

      I’d also pegged it as down under based on the lingo and the brands. Could be Oz or NZ, but I’m not sure how many Amazon drivers exist in NZ, so probably Oz.

      And yeah I found it weird that this poor schmo had both no free will *and* an annoying boss sending abusive texts, but was apparently self-employed.

    4. bwilli123

      The US is the supreme innovator in this race to the bottom.
      Take the “Arise” employment platform company for example.

      “…After paying about $1,500 for home office equipment: a computer, two headsets and a phone line dedicated to Arise; after paying Arise to run a check on her background; after passing Arise’s voice-assessment test and signing Arise’s nondisclosure form; after paying for and passing Arise’s introductory training, to which she devoted three days, unpaid; after paying for and passing a certification course to provide customer service for Arise client AT&T, to which she devoted 44 unpaid days; after then being informed she had to get more training yet — an additional 10 days, for which she was told she would be paid, but wasn’t; and then, after finally getting a chance to sign up for hours and do work for which she would be paid (except for her time spent waiting for technical support, or researching customer issues, or huddling with supervisors), Tami Pendergraft spent three weeks fielding telephone calls from AT&T customers, after which she received a single paycheck.
      For $96.12…”


  15. The Rev Kev

    ‘Suburban people will say “I just don’t understand drag” and then do this to their home’

    Feel sorry for the neighbours. I read one guy say that he lived on a quite street and it was good that way. But then one Christmas, one family went all out on their Christmas lighting display like in those images. Then other neighbours took up the challenge and spent big money on lighting up their homes to. Before you know it, half the street was a blaze of lighting and cars came from near and far to see those displays. It went from a quite street to a circus display with a constant stream of cars going u and down the street gawking at all those lights. What a nightmare.

  16. ambrit

    Lambert has a “head cold” and I have a “gastro-intestinal malaise.”
    Going by the Commenteriat here, this winter is trying to catch up for the slack times of the lockdowns.
    This is fast becoming “The Winter of our discontent.” I hope we come out the other end in better shape than King Richard III does.

    1. Wukchumni

      I have a “gastro-intestinal malaise.

      Football coach looks down at the stricken player on the field and utters:

      ‘Wok it off’

      Seriously though, feel better-both of you. I’m overdue to have a cold or the flu.

      1. ambrit

        Thanks from this Miserable Mississippiean. Phyl has not caught ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ may be. (Knocks on head for ‘luck.’)
        Day Four and I’m on the ‘recovery’ leg of the course. I too remember the old days when we could just “tough it out.” Alas, the older I get, the harder it gets to pretend to be “tough as nails.” (This is an object lesson in the proposition that “better messaging” has severe limits to it’s effectiveness.)
        Stay safe up there in The High Castle.

  17. Jason Boxman

    Wow, in “COVID-19 Variant Dashboard – USA” XBB1.5 is now the top variant at 16.59 beating out BQ1.1 at 16.54. This is really stratospheric rise in like 6 weeks or whatever it’s been.

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