2:00PM Water Cooler 1/3/2023

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Clamorous Reed Warbler, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India.

* * *


“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

Biden Administration

“WH won’t say if Biden will return 2020 donations from Sam Bankman-Fried” [New York Post]. “Bankman-Fried, 30, was one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors and even met with Biden’s White House advisers before his FTX currency exchange collapsed in one of the largest alleged frauds in American business history…. ‘The president received campaign donations [from Bankman-Fried]. Will the president return that donation? Does he call on all politicians … to return those funds?’ asked Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller. ‘So look, I’m covered here by the Hatch Act — [I’m] limited on what I can say and anything that’s connected to political contributions from here, I would have to refer you to the DNC,’ Jean-Pierre said, citing the federal law that prohibits certain officials from advocating for candidates. ‘I’m asking the president’s opinion, though,’ Miller pressed. ‘You asked me two questions: You asked me about will he return donations and then you asked me about his opinion. I’m answering the first part, which is I’m covered by the Hatch Act from here. I’m limited on what I can say. And I just can’t talk to political contributions or anything related to that — I cannot speak to that from here,’ Jean-Pierre claimed. When asked for her answer to the other question, regarding Biden’s opinion more generally, Jean-Pierre said, ‘I just cannot speak to this from here, even his thoughts.'” • Out of her league.


“What Biden’s political evolution means for progressives in 2023” [The Hill]. “Jayapal, who was just elected to another term as chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus, was pleased about the White House’s receptiveness to progressives’ agenda. When legislation stalled, frequently by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and now-Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and a small group of members in the House, she said administration officials were often enthusiastic to work on executive actions as workarounds to the narrow congressional majority. That executive approach is expected to continue and, many hope, even amplify in 2023, with Republicans soon to have a slight advantage in the lower chamber and as Democrats find ways to get more through the Senate. If recent history is a guide, that collaboration — anchored by Biden’s desire to be fluid and flexible on issues he resisted in the past — has been successful.”

“Trump hints at third-party run in 2024” [RT]. “Trump shared an article this week on his social media platform, Truth Social, that called for him to launch a third-party campaign if Republican leaders don’t support his 2024 bid to reclaim the White House. The article [by Dan Gelernter], which was published on Tuesday in a conservative journal called American Greatness, argued that Republican leaders intend to defy the will of voters by blocking Trump from winning the party’s presidential nomination…. ‘Do I think Trump can win as a third-party candidate? No,” Gelernter said. “Would I vote for him as a third-party candidate? Yes, because I’m not interested in propping up this corrupt gravy-train any longer.'” • Hmm.


FL: “3rd case brought by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election police dismissed” [CBS Miami]. “Terry Hubbard, 63, was among 20 people arrested last August on criminal charges of illegal voting in 2020 in what was the first major action taken by the the Republican’s controversial new Office of Election Crimes and Security. A judge in Broward County this week tossed out the case on the grounds that the Office of Statewide Prosecution does not have jurisdiction to prosecute since it can only prosecute crimes that occurred in two or more counties. Two other cases were dismissed on similar grounds.” • A state office for… 20 people? Anyhow, the Election Police should have arrested Jebbie for stealing election 2000 in Florida by jiggering the voter rolls. Is that what DeSantis really wants?

GA: “The Art of Losing: A Stacey Abrams Story, Part II” [Ettingermentum Newsletter]. “It would have been one thing if Abrams kept on telling Democrats what they wanted to hear purely to raise money. It would have been a lie, and it would have been absolutely commendable. Georgia Democrats had been undeniably neglected by the national party for no good reason for quite a while, and nothing can help heal those wounds like a prodigious fundraiser. The real problem started when Abrams committed the worst sin a politician can do: she started to believe her own hype. …. Where the average Democrat in 2018 did better than Clinton in 2016 by about 7 points, Abrams only improved on her margin by just 3.5 points. It was a striking and very meaningful underperformance, and not one that can be easily explained away by attempted voter suppression…. Even one of the more credible specific claims of voter suppression in Georgia—that Kemp “cancelled” the registrations of 53,000 voters—isn’t entirely true. These registrations weren’t removed from the rolls, as Abrams and her allies have implied, but put on hold, meaning that it still would have been entirely possible for those voters to still vote in the 2018 election. According to Charles S. Bullock, chair of political science at the University of Georgia, all that would have been required for those voters to cast a ballot would have been to show up with a photo ID at the polling station. An unnecessary hurdle? Yes. Highly suspicious for Kemp to do in the context of his role as overseer of his own election? Absolutely. But a credible explanation for Abrams’ first-round loss and massive underperformance relative to all other Democrats? Not really. So, looking at the results themselves, where did it go wrong for Abrams? Practically everywhere. Black turnout had increased compared to 2016—as should be expected in a midterm where Democrats were more energized than Republicans—but the potential gains from that were muted by her performance among Black voters themselves being relatively weak overall. Georgia Democrats also had some of their all-time worst showings in white rural areas, even poorer than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers that are still seen as the absolute floor. The one place where Abrams managed to make notable gains was in the Atlanta suburbs. Higher numbers there, as well as some of the state’s urban areas, are why she came closer to winning the state than Clinton did. But even those swings paled in comparison to what was occurring in similar areas across the country. All in all, she lost by roughly 50,000 votes: painfully close to taking Kemp to a runoff election under Georgia’s arcane election laws, but a loss at the end of the day. In the process, she ended up losing two Black Belt counties won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hardly a promising first try for a strategy that was supposed to define the future of politics itself.” • Oops. Turns out Stacy Abrams was just another Amy McGrath; a money magnet for out-of-state goodthinkers; a loser when the votes were counted. I wonder if Neera will bring her into the White House?

NY: “George Santos’ Democratic opponent calls for congressional probe as party plots district comeback” [Politico]. ” George Santos’ general election opponent called for a House investigation into the GOP member-elect over biographical fabrications he told on the campaign trail — as Democrats plotted how to take back the district. ‘We call upon Congress and demand Congress conduct a House ethics investigation into George Santos,’ Robert Zimmerman, a Democrat who lost to his opponent by a 54 to 46 percent margin in November, said Thursday.” • Wouldn’t it have been simpler to win the race?

NY: “Santos should consider resigning, veteran GOP lawmaker says” [Associated Press]. “Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, a former House Ways and Means chairman who has served in Congress for 25 years, told ‘Fox News Sunday’ that Santos would have ‘to take some huge steps’ to regain trust and respect in his district. Santos is set to be sworn in Tuesday when the new Congress begins. ‘This is troubling in so many ways. Certainly, he’s lied repeatedly,’ said Brady, who is retiring from the House. ‘He certainly is going to have to consider resigning.’ Brady said a decision about whether Santos steps down is one ‘to be made between he and the voters who elected him.'” • So….

Republican Funhouse

“‘I earned this job’: Republicans explode in meeting before speaker vote” [Politico]. “House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and his top supporters erupted at the dozen-plus conservative hardliners vowing to block his speakership bid in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, just hours before the vote. In a fiery speech to his conference, McCarthy underscored the extensive concessions he has made to those who have vowed to oppose him, largely those in the House Freedom Caucus, according to multiple members in the room…. After weeks of intense, down-to-the-wire negotiations, McCarthy is out of time to lock down the needed 218 votes. With his yearslong effort to claim the speakership trapped in limbo, the conference meeting Tuesday morning is a sign of the chaos still to come in during votes on the House floor. And after having his speakership aspirations ripped away from him in 2015, his allies say this time he’s prepared to fight until the potentially bitter end.” • Commentary:


“McCarthy Falls Short in First Vote Amid G.O.P. Revolt” [New York Times]. “Representative Kevin McCarthy of California lost his first vote for speaker on Tuesday and was in a pitched battle for the top job in the House, amid a rebellion among hard-right lawmakers that left the post up for grabs and prompted a historic struggle on the floor at the dawn of the new Republican majority. The Republican mutiny, waged by ultra conservative lawmakers who for weeks have held fast to their vow to oppose Mr. McCarthy, dealt a serious blow to the G.O.P. leader and laid bare deep divisions that threaten to make the party’s majority ungovernable. But it did not end the California Republican’s bid for speaker, which he has vowed to continue, forcing multiple votes if necessary until he wins the top post.” • The Speaker of the House, a Constitutional office, is elected by all House members. It would be amusing if Democrats put McCarthy over the top. (An unspoken aspect of this battle is that the Speaker is second in the line of Presidential succession, after the Vice President. If Biden slips a cog….)

“GOP sounds alarm over struggles with Gen Z voters” [The Hill]. “An analysis by Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) using day-after estimates suggests that voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds in 2022 was at the second highest of the last 30 years for a midterm election. In House races alone, the demographic favored Democratic candidates to Republicans 63 percent to 35 percent, remaining mostly consistent since 2020 but a slight drop from 2018, when the margin was 67 percent to 32 percent. Overall, more than a quarter of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are estimated to have cast a ballot during the November midterms, according to an analysis of Edison Research’s National Election Poll Survey by CIRCLE, often playing a critical role in battleground races. David Morgan, a senior at Pennsylvania State University and the political director of the Penn State College Republicans, believes the GOP is facing challenges with young voters because they’re not speaking to social policies and issues. ‘Better health care, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, stuff like that … climate change, those issues are huge for Gen Z. And because the party kind of is a little bit slow on the uptake initially with kind of some of these issues … I think it kind of automatically slanted our generation to go more towards Democrat,’ he noted.” • Hey, and how about appealing to all those old farts who work at Starbucks and Amazon? They need a union!

Not such a bad theory:

But what the heck were you thinking when you put those votes on the Court?

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.

* * *

“Corruption” [Eschaton]. “Corruption is a systemic thing. Individuals can be corrupt, of course, but that doesn’t matter all that much. It’s the corruption that is so widespread that no one can talk about it without implicating their friends and colleagues (or themselves), where speaking up will only result in you being squashed. Everybody went very silent on Sean McElwee, a man who had a puff pieces written about him every other month and was for a couple of years The Official Voice Of The Left (because he was, while On The Left, a Very Serious Person who was Very Pragmatic unlike the rest of the smelly lefties). Don’t wait for any public reflection from those who promoted him. One possibly very corrupt guy, but he has lots of friends!”

“How to end gridlock and ensure Democratic power — with a bold progressive agenda” [Salon]. “Through the haze of conflicting post-election narratives, the possibility for a long-term progressive realignment can be seen, combining the government activism of Joe Biden’s major legislation (the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act) with the growing power of diverse social movements advancing racial, gender and climate justice, gun safety and more. As the younger voters who overwhelmingly support Democrats grow in strength, there’s a path out of current gridlock and polarization based on a progressive agenda. But conventional wisdom can’t even see it.” • Isn’t it pretty to think so. Flogging the youth horse won’t work any better than flogging the “coalition of the ascendant” did. People grow out of stuff….

Realignment and Legitimacy


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 universal acceleration or doubling in cases that I would expect to see based on past surges.

I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet (but see here for immune system dysregulation, which is looking pretty awful). 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 reached its highest level ever, at least at Walgreens, and BQ.1* has taken over, closely followed by XBB, and both are immunue escape variants. UPDATE Walgreen’s positivity, Boston MWRA data going vertical, and the rapid rise of XBB in the Northeast are all very concerning. The effects of all our holiday travel should be playing out in the next two weeks. Readers, please feel free to add holiday anecdotes.

Stay safe out there!

* * *

This post from yesterday mentions immune dysregulation involving monocytes (not T cells), based on this article from Nature: “Transcriptional reprogramming from innate immune functions to a pro-thrombotic signature by monocytes in COVID-19.” Here are two TikToks (sigh) that give a good explantion of the article in layperson’s terms:

These two TikToks show me that I missed a key passage in the Nature paper, underlined here:

Transcriptionally, COVID-19 monocytes are characterized by enrichment of pathways involved in hemostasis, immunothrombosis, platelet aggregation and other accessory pathways to platelet activation and clot formation. These results identify a potential mechanism by which monocyte dysfunction may contribute to COVID-19 pathology.

“Clot formation.” Not just “a cold I can’t shake,” or even sepsis, but blood clots; all that vascular damage we keep hearing about. I got the “pathology,” missed the blood clots. Fifty lashes with a wet noodle for lambert.

* * *

• I don’t know what happened to the Infectious Disease community, but whatever it was, it was bad:

• Handwashing for the win:


For grins, I thought I’d look in at the 91-DIVOC data for the last year:

I flat out don’t believe this, even if Johns Hopkins is the source. It doesn’t match up with anything else. See comment below on Biobot data.

Here by contrast is Biobot data for the pandemic:

We know that wastewater is a reasonable proxy for covid infection. So I’d argue that biobot data provides a more reasonable picture than whatever it is Johns Hopkins is doing. (The Biobot chart shows a divergence between Covid RNA in wastewater and clinical cases starting in March 2022, where previously the correlation had been quite close. I believe this is a result of Administration messaging starting at that time that Covid was “mild,” “just a cold,” didn’t require masking, “vaxed and done,” etc. I believe that CDC introduced its infamous “Community Levels” metric (the “green map”) at that time, as well. And of course, the American health care system is in itself a disincentive to turn one’s case into a clinical case. NOTE: I don’t use BioBot data on a daily basis, because I got tired of retroactive adjustments being made with no explanation. But I think the yearly data should be OK.


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 is said to update Monday-Friday by 8 pm:

The previous map:

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 January 3:

1.1%. Yikes. The highest ever. 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 27:

Too much red (even with Illinois offline). JFK/LGA (Queens County, NY), SFO (San Francisco, CA), LAX (Los Angeles) are all red.

December 25:

And MWRA data, December 27:

Lambert here: Yikes. Big jumps North and South. And certainly not all the students are back; BU classes begin January 19; Harvard’s January 22.


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 13:

Lambert here: BQ.1* dominates, XBB moving up fast. This data is updated, even though the last batch was December 11 (i.e., only two days of additional data). Not sure why this data is coming out before CDC’s, and on a Thursday, since in the past they both got it from Pango on Fridays.

Variant data, national (CDC), December 10 (Nowcast off):

BQ.1* takes first place. XBB coming up fast. (For BQ.1/XBB and vaccine escape, see here.) Here is Region 2, the Northeast, where both BQ.1* and XBB are said to be higher, and are:

• This is extremely annoying:

Feigl-Ding has used CDC’s NowCast projections. CDC has in no sense posted “numbers,” and the “new” so-called “data” “confirms” nothing unless you accept the model! (Having been burned by the CDC “ensemble” model in the past, I don’t see a reason to trust this one.) Feigl-Ding should use the right words to describe the thing.

• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated December 29:

Resuming the steady upward climb after a short plateau.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 24:

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: 1,118,478 – 1,117,194 = 1284 (1284 * 365 = 468,660 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

There are no offical statistics of interest today.

* * *

Real Estate: “Remote Work Is Poised to Devastate America’s Cities” [Eric Levitz, New York Magazine]. “The nation’s office buildings aren’t as empty as they were before COVID vaccines became widely available in spring 2021. But they’re still far less populated than they were in 2019. A recent analysis of Census Bureau data from the financial site Lending Tree found that 29 percent of Americans were working from home in October 2022. In New York City, financial firms reported that only 56 percent of their employees were in the office on a typical day in September. Full-time remote work has grown less prevalent since the worst days of the pandemic. But flexible work arrangements — in which employees report to the office a couple times a week — are proving stickier. A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that 30 percent of all full-time workdays would be performed remotely by the end of 2022. As Insider’s Emil Skandul illustrates in an excellent piece, these surveys and projections are buttressed by mobile phone data showing that, in virtually all major U.S. cities, foot traffic in central business districts is down substantially from 2019.”

The Bezzle:


* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 36 Fear (previous close: 37 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 36 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 3 at 1:44 PM EST.

Rapture Index: Closes up one on Wild Weather. “The Northern US suffered under a massive blizzard” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 187. (Remember that bringing on the Rapture is good.)

New Year’s Post-Game Analysis

Department of Feline Felicity

Good kitty!

Book Nook

“Comfort Food (Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin)” [DO THE M@TH].

“Rex Stout: Logomachizing” [David Bordwell’s website on cinema]. I’m not sure why I was looking for material on Rex Stout’s detective, Nero Wolfe, but when I did, I ran into this: “How to fill out a novel’s full expanse? Especially one in a genre with rigid structural conventions? The classic puzzle plot, ideal for a short story, had to stretch itself to book length by means of subsidiary mysteries, more deaths, false solutions, some love interest, and the genius’s disquisitions. Hard-boiled authors might interweave crimes perpetuated by different malefactors (Hammett), pad out descriptions and atmosphere (Chandler), multiply parallels and kinship ties (Macdonald), and sprinkle interrogations across acres of white space (Gardner). Stout had recourse to some of these strategies as well. But coming from “straight” literature, he knew other ways to flesh out the mystery format while still respecting the core conventions. Stout’s solution to the problem of scale fulfilled a precept Wolfe passed along to Archie: “There is no moment in any man’s life too empty to be dramatized.” Spoken like a true Jamesian (“Dramatize, dramatize!”) and Joycean (Stout thought the Bloomsday chronicle the best novel of modern times). His aim, I think, was to compose a thoroughly conventional detective novel that also provided a character study, created a unique world, spun a yarn in a comic register, and invited us into an adventure in language…. The explosion of book and magazine publishing at the turn of the twentieth century encouraged writers to pursue what today we’ve come to call world-building. Treasure Island (1883) and other adventure tales, children’s stories like Alice in Wonderland (1865), and science fiction like The Time Machine (1895) introduced readers to richly furnished imaginary lands…. Before Stout, no major writer of detective fiction had tried for such thickly populated milieus.” • Anyhow, I’m a big Rex Stout fan, and might even go so far as to characterize him as the American Wodehouse (speaking of worldbuilding). Here’s another review that lists all Stout’s novels.

The Gallery

“Tea on Fur, Wet Fur on Lips” [Art in America]. “Meret Oppenheim’s furred sculpture Object is widely considered the Surrealist object par excellence… Object could not feature in the retrospective in Bern or Houston because it’s too fragile to travel from MoMA’s collection. Quite possibly, Oppenheim, who resented becoming something of a one-hit wonder, would have liked it this way. The exhibition surveys instead the rest of her wide-ranging output—her paintings, assemblages, and design work in a variety of forms from furniture to accessories. Throughout her life, Oppenheim wanted to keep her art and design practices separate…. Oppenheim spent the bulk of her career rebelling against the success of Object, not wanting to become, as she once put it, ‘the artist who lines things.’… Oppenheim always seemed to wield logic against itself in a manner that proves its limits and its absurdity, showing how easy it is to bend, twist, and extrapolate.” • Object:

The 420

“Marijuana’s black market is undercutting legal businesses” [CNBC]. “Thriving, unregulated marijuana businesses across the United States are undercutting legal markets awaiting banking and tax reform. While it’s an issue in states like Colorado, Michigan and Washington, it’s a much bigger problem in New York. Unlicensed businesses are “taking a pretty hefty percent of the potential market share,” according to Amanda Reiman, a researcher at cannabis intelligence company New Frontier Data. None of the 36 newly licensed dispensaries in New York have even started operating yet. The licensing program in New York is years behind the state’s sophisticated black market. New York doled out its first set of dispensary licenses last month, but recreational marijuana has been legal in the state for nearly two years. ‘These shops are masquerading as safe, legal entities,’ said Trivette Knowles, a press officer at the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, ‘but there are currently no licensed sales happening right now in the state of New York.’ The problem is particularly cumbersome in New York City, Knowles said. Weed can be bought from brick-and-mortar storefronts, trucks, pop-up shops, bodegas and even courier services that deliver directly to consumers. His office has sent out cease-and-desist letters to some of the unlicensed operators in the state, but some trade groups say there are likely tens of thousands of illegal businesses in the city alone.” • Sounds great! What’s the issue?

Our Famously Free Press

“Fact Check-Image purporting to show New York Times opinion piece calling for teachers to ‘tolerate bullying towards unvaccinated children’ is digitally altered” [Reuters]. “An image purporting to show a screenshot of an opinion piece published by the New York Times calling for teachers to “tolerate bullying towards unvaccinated children” is digitally altered. No such headline or article was published by the outlet.” Easy to tell if you look at the formatting: “The word ‘opinion’ is written in red font, fully capitalized and in bold on the New York Times website, as opposed to black font and only the first letter capitalized as seen in the falsified image (here) (click through to articles).” • Ironically, of course, writers from both the Times and the New Yorker have stigmatized maskwearers, which unexpectedly has not brought calls of “This is violence!” from social justice types. Meanwhile, watch out for memes from the right. They’re very good at them — almost as good as the Ukrainians! — and it’s easy to get sucked in.

Guillotine Watch

Harsh but fair:

Class Warfare

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please:

News of the Wired

“Neil Sperry: Build your North Texas landscape and garden plans around around these facts” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]. “More than 90% of the Metroplex has been built on what is known as the Blackland Prairie. That’s an elongated strip of alkaline black clay soil that runs along and either side of Interstate 35 from just south of the Red River all the way to Austin and San Antonio. Farmers call it “gumbo” (when their preachers are listening), and we all know it to be sticky when it’s wet and rock-hard when it’s dry. It takes powerful equipment to cultivate it, yet it can turn out some great crops when we manage it properly. Your best odds will come when you limit the times you choose plants that prefer acidic soils. That list would include azaleas, gardenias, loropetalums, wisterias, dogwoods, sweet gums, water oaks, American hollies and their offspring and slash and loblolly pines. These plants will all develop iron deficiency problems 3-5 years after planting in the black soils. While you can amend soils for smaller types of plants such as flowers, vegetables and groundcovers, tall plants need much more extensive bed preparation than most budgets will allow. To repeat a lecture I’ve given in this classroom before, for standard plantings, you can improve any soil by adding organic matter.” • But advocates peat moss. No!

* * *

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 JU:

JU writes: “Flocked forest @ Mammoth ski resort.”

* * *

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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. Mikel

    “Marijuana’s black market is undercutting legal businesses” [CNBC].

    Could it be, in some cases, laws in some places that tie gun ownership to not using cannabis?

    1. Wukchumni

      The only 2 items in strident deflation are TV sets & marijuana, its hard to imagine the black market is undercutting the legal market when an ounce of the kind will set you back $50 in Cali @ a pot purveyor.

      For what it’s worth dept:

      The price of 420 very closely followed the price of an ounce of all that glitters for about 20 years when old yeller was stuck in the 300-400 range.

          1. LawnDart

            Know an old farmer who really misses those days. Decades ago he got chased-out by the cartels; legalization was just icing on the cake.

            Not sure how the tax-man’s going to keep up when folks can legally grow several 10# plants in their backyard, and persons who’ve gone legal openly rue their decision: too many hobbyists willing to part with what extra they can’t imbibe for little more than beer-money, thereby flooding the market.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Black market – or free market? Do people prefer buying their stuff from their friendly, local neighbourood drug dealer – that delivers – or an impersonal corporation trying to muscle those guys out? Are people choosing by the quality of that product? I have read that there is a difference there too.

          1. Wukchumni

            The big difference for yours truly, is my connection always had the same old vanilla ice cream* for sale when it was illegal, but now it’s more like 131 flavors @ the local pot shoppe

            * not that I don’t like vanilla, but all the time?

    2. LawnDart

      Illinois residents couldn’t have a concealed-carry permit and a medical marijuana card, in the pre-recreational days. Likely the same in other jurisdictions with medical marijuana only.

      A friend got the carry permit, and his wife got the medical card– problem solved.

    3. Screwball

      Not sure where to put this as I only have an observation. Ohio here, only medical in the state. I’m about an hour from Michigan, which is recreational as well as medical.

      People here than can drive a couple of hours or less to Michigan, and will, because it’s a lot cheaper. They charge the state %6 tax, along with a %10 percent “pot” tax, on top of the price. Out of state welcome they advertise. For example, an ounce around here is 250-300, while a trip to Michigan is 90 even with the tax. Quality the same.

      The black market around here is more expensive, and I’m sure some go there and sell it here.

      I really have no point in that, other than it depends perhaps on where you are, and an observation in general.

  2. Toshiro_Mifune

    Remote Work Is Poised to Devastate America’s Cities

    We talked about that here on NC when the lock downs started, that the shift to “Work from Home” would be the major economic story of the next 10+ years.
    Only it isn’t just the cities that are going to be hit. Its the suburbs that are valued for their proximity to the cities, the clothing manufacturers whos primary product was office casual, car companies as there’s less wear and tear due to less commuting. You get the idea. This will have long lasting and far reaching economic implications.

    1. hunkerdown

      That’s a good sketch of the downside, but what about the flip (NOT up) side? Gig delivery, sleepwear, domestic services, small-town business districts might be worth a play, what else? I don’t suppose they’re going to be satisfied making their own lunches, unless they pour them.

    2. Carla

      We require long-lasting and far-reaching economic change if the planet as we know it is to survive. Capitalism demands infinite growth — not sustainable on a finite planet. We’d better start learning what changes to welcome, and remote work, at least for certain kinds of jobs, is one. Check out “Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World.”

      Don’t buy it at Amazon, please. Blackwells.co.uk has it for under $13, including free shipping to the US.

    3. albrt

      The car companies have responded by taking a page from the cell phone companies and making sure all the cars will become technically obsolete within a short time regardless of wear and tear.

      Bold move. We’ll see how that works out for them.

  3. Sub-Boreal

    Here’s today’s data point for the Bonnie Henry dossier. An uncharacteristically persistent CBC Radio interviewer tried to pin her down on masking.

      1. Michael King

        Right on cue: BC hospitalizations with Covid up in December (highest since August) and wastewater counts also way up. I cannot even look at Bonnie Henry, never mind listen to her, without my blood pressure spiking. The same goes for Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier David Eby. This is supposed to be a social democratic government.



    1. C.O.

      For a few minutes there I thought my head was going to explode. Henry is trotting out the “it’s a mild rapidly spreading variant” canard again, as in the cbc.ca writeup says according to Henry, “more people are getting less seriously sick.” She made sure to mention “the unvaccinated” in a way to suggest such people are the only reason covid spreads. Henry seems to think that more infectious is better, because the wave will go through faster.

      If you’d like to see the cbc.ca write up (it has been up for less than an hour) here is the link:


    2. eg

      Meanwhile in Ontario the Ford government continues its strategy of hoping that no testing data will mean that nobody will notice that the pandemic isn’t actually over …

  4. Wukchumni

    The press has conveniently forgotten this, leaving it up to me, to remind everybody why My Kevin (since ’07) was possibly denied becoming the Speaker in 2015…

    Witness: Rumors surfaced Wednesday night that Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) was romantically involved with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and that could be at least part of the reason McCarthy backed away from running for speaker of the House. McCarthy denied this, and Ellmers reportedly has, as well, though she has declined to speak to the press. (from 2015)


    I especially enjoyed how Jeffries got like 10 more votes than Kev today, it spoke volume.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thank you. Any further thoughts on McCarthy? I came up as a Democrat (long ago) and I really can’t tell one Republican from another without a scorecard.

      1. Wukchumni

        Any further thoughts on McCarthy?

        Frankly, i’m glad to have him, what if I was stuck with Valadao or some other meaningless Congresscritter like most constituents?

        I’m gonna stick with Kev through thin and thinner.

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        He worked for Bill Thompson known for being meanest on the hill. My gut is he’s a loyal college republican weenie who came up in Cali.

  5. Lambert Strether Post author

    I have added some orts and scraps. I generally collect too much over the weekend, and this long weekend I really went overboard.

    Adding, do check the first link under Covid on the Nature article and immune dysregulation. It’s extremely important.

    1. Greg

      Comparing the 91-Divoc chart with the Biobot, it looks to me like the 91-Divoc is a subsample of the Biobot.

      One way this could work that springs to mind – I wonder if 91-Divoc is choosing to only count variants that existed at a specific point in time? That would leave a close match in the past but a much reduced curve with only the remnant cases of historic variants at the present.
      That sort of error wouldn’t even need to be malicious. It could be that the chart was put together by a researcher who has since moved on, and the backend API hooks were hardcoded and haven’t been updated. We’re “past the pandemic” of course, so its only natural that researchers move on to greener funding.

  6. clarky90

    I had not heard the Climate Crisis Response described, as being “Central Planning” …

    Now, visions of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, including the liquidation of the sparrows…

    Or, Stalin’s destruction of the Kulak peasants….

    …The Democrat leadership kneeling, in unison, draped with Kente cloth…

    Re: “… the class power of the PMC, ….”

    Electric Vehicles: Mr. Toyoda is Worried

    Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda speaks at a briefing on the company’s strategies on battery
    It’s been a little while since I devoted a Capital Letter to looking at how things were going with electric vehicles, a central planning project within the broader central planning project that is the western world’s response to climate change/crisis/chaos. The short answer is …..

    … things are not going particularly well.

    The danger that the attempt to push buyers to pick EVs will represent a disaster for consumers, the economy, workers, and for the West (geopolitically), continues to be all too real, something that will be of no great surprise to those who have studied the failures of central planning in the past…….”


    1. Mikel

      Not only is it going to be environmentally unfriendly, it’s going to be a mobility disaster.
      The rentierism that is going to flood the future auto market will be a nightmare.
      And after what I’ve witnessed with Covid, I’m prone to shun reliance on public transportation.

  7. NorD94

    and the “fun” continues

    Covid’s winter surge is poised to exceed summer peak

    The number of people in the United States hospitalized with Covid-19 is about to surpass the figure reached during this summer’s spike, federal data show, as a confluence of factors — from the continued evolution of the coronavirus to holiday gatherings — drives transmission.

    Notably, the number of people hospitalized with Covid — roughly 40,000 — is still far below the winter waves of 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 (the wave driven by the original Omicron variant) as well as the Delta wave in summer and fall 2021. But it seems clear that the anticipated winter wave has begun, at least in parts of the country.

    Hospitalizations among people 60 and older — those most vulnerable to severe outcomes from a Covid case — have been taking off since mid-November, federal data show.

    *** skipped a bit ***

    Still, it seems clear that Covid is on the rise once again. Part of the increase in transmission could be the growth in prevalence of XBB.1.5, the latest Omicron subvariant to assert itself. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week indicate the variant is causing some 40% of U.S. infections, and it’s heading toward dominance faster than the most recent titleholders, other forms of Omicron known as the BQs that are now receding. That suggests it has quite a transmission boost.

    1. FreeMarketApologist

      A lot more red counties in that CDC interactive map than last week. What’s it going to look like after the New Year’s wave passes through?

  8. ambrit

    About the Snowtidote; where is the mountain goat? I looked real hard and can’t see him, or her.

      1. ambrit

        Oh man, like being. That one is so old it no longer has bells on it. That joke is guaranteed to wether the storm.
        Alas, it’s beginning to look like Kevin’s Speakership will go the way of the Sasquatch; long rumoured but never definitively seen.

    1. curlydan

      Here’s another big Airbnb risk for me. Most hotels let you cancel within 1-3 days before check-in. In my experience, most Airbnb’s take almost all or all of your money at least 1 week in advance. So any travel mishaps or sickness make you responsible.

      Of course, when I walk into a hotel, I’m N95’ed up, carrying my HEPA air filter, and about as nervous as a cornered squirrel.

  9. LawnDart

    See the Bengals/Bills game last night?

    REPORT: NFL Didn’t Make Decision To Postpone Game, Players & Coaches Of Bills And Bengals Refused To Continue Playing

    Many are applauding the NFL for their decision to postpone Monday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals after Bills safety Damar Hamlin had to be rushed to a local hospital in critical condition following a violent collision with Bengals WR Tee Higgins.

    However, based on recent reports, it was not the NFL who made the decision to halt the game. Rather, it was the players and coaches from both sides who refused to continue playing after watching medics administer CPR on Hamlin for several minutes.


    1. Wukchumni

      I’m not surprised really…

      Of all the pro sports in the USA, I think the NFL is the only one where players get together after the game (the NHL does it, but only in the playoffs) and have a meet and greet session on the field of play.

      You sense there’s a real solidarity there.

      1. Lee

        IIRC, the NFL also redistributes revenues from higher earning franchises to poorer ones to promote competitive parity.

        1. notabanker

          It’s a little more fundamental then redistributing revenues, as compared to say, baseball. The major NFL revenues come from TV contracts that are negotiated by the league so revenue is split across all the clubs. In MLB the teams negotiate their own in market contracts, so the larger the TV market, the higher the revenue. Given all the NFL games are played once a week 17 times, contrasted with daily in MLB 162 times, viewership is national for the NFL. MLB is far more local.

          I watch almost all of our local team baseball games. I couldn’t watch enough to support another team. I could go a whole season without ever seeing most of the National League teams. With NFL games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday, and sometimes Saturday, I can see all of the NFL teams play at least once.

          NFL is smart to organize the way they do though. They definitely realize the greater power in the whole than in the parts. NFL can make a team like Pittsburgh a perennial powerhouse and huge national draw, whereas the Pirates have close to zero chance of ever being competitive consistently. I’m quite sure the Mets payroll next year exceeds the total revenues of a number of small market MLB clubs.

      2. Michael Fiorillo

        I hope you’re right; back in 1987, they scabbed on themselves, with then-current and former stars crossing the picket line to play.

  10. johnherbiehancock

    re: air bnb

    I’ve only used AirBnb a couple times, reluctantly, when they were the only reasonable place to rent from.

    The first time was early on in the pandemic, and it worked out well, but was not cheap, although it was clean and well maintained, and I don’t recall the “cleaning fee” being particularly egregious or affecting the bottom line much.

    Later on, noticed the “cleaning fee” part of the equation significantly pushed the price of the rental WAY over the advertised price on the site, and seemed like a blatant “bait ‘n switch” scam. And none of the places I’ve rented in the last year were particularly clean. One even had cobwebs on several walls.

    The “sharing economy” is all too quickly reminding us of why we needed licensing and regulations in the first place… I imagine even more rapidly than the time it took to implement those regulations in the first place.

    1. Revenant

      Don’t blame the owner, they are simply following the incentives. Airbnb and VRBO rank properties by an opaque internal search algorithm to display to prospective renters but price per night is a major filter. The platforms choose to show price per night as exclusive of fees so some owners load the fees to reduce the price per night.

      There are good reasons for the platforms decisions. We list on VRBO and we list with the cleaning and linen fees shown separately at cost or with a small margin. If somebody wants to order extra linen or cleaning during a multi week stay, they know the price. Or conversely if they want to book a long stay, the price is not distorted by multiple cleans and linen drops they will not receive. The linen and cleaning is a fixed cost, which makes short stays expensive.

      As a final comment, cleaning and linen IS expensive. It is about £100 to clean a large three bed country house (half of a Regency villa) and another £100 for the linen hire (400 threadcount Egyptian cotton superking duvet cover, flat sheet, fitted sheet, 4x king pillow cases, 2x towels, 2x handtowels, all per bedroom, plus bathmats and handtowels per bathroom).

      1. lyman alpha blob

        It wouldn’t be so expensive for the poor owners if they lived in the property where they were renting a room and cleaned it themselves. I could go on.

        1. Objective Ace

          The “cost” is the cost, even if it’s your time rather then monetary. I did live in my property when I was AirBNB’ing out the downstairs “in law” suite and I still hired a cleaning service. I dont think I could have held my 9-5 job if I was disappearing randomly for a couple hours midday..

          And thats assuming I valued my time at around 25 dollars an hour… which probably would have been fair. But again, if I’m going to be cleaning/turning over the rooms 1 vs 3 times a week, I expect to be compensated for the greater effort if its 3 times

      2. Angie Neer

        Revenant, your explanation helps a bit. But “I was simply following incentives” doesn’t quite have the ring of moral imperative.

    2. Acacia

      Most times I have used AirBnB, the owners present themselves as a friendly couple with an extra room in their home. It’s smiles and home cooking and cozy domesticity. They may even have pictures of some of their friendly pets romping around.

      By the time I arrive, the situation has slowly morphed such that they are nowhere to be found, I never meet them, they don’t actually live there, the ‘home’ is an apartment they are renting, probably with negative effects on the local rentals market, the door key comes from a ‘friend’ who lives somewhere nearby and who will field all communication with friendly couple owners, and there is possibly somebody else staying in another room of the same apartment. All of this information about the actual setup slowly gets shared close to the last minute.

      1. Wukchumni

        Most of the AirBnB’s have got decent guests here in Tiny Town, but they’re city people who turn on every gawdamn outside light, harshing our dark skies mellow. Grrrrr.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Maybe you should go to them and kindly point out to them that lights at night attract grizzly bears to see what food there is to be had. And that is why the locals have their outside lights off ever since a family was attacked by a bear attracted to their lights. The story doesn’t even have to be true and even if they don’t turn their lights off, you know that they will be thinking about bears the rest of the night.

          1. Wukchumni

            I held the rifle that killed the last Grizzly in California, which was killed by a farmer here in 1926, it’s under glass in our museum in Tiny Town and is a model 1892.

            It felt weird holding the agent of it’s final destruction, although there’s still a Grizzly Bear that hangs out on high, all over the state.

            It wouldn’t work Rev Kev-your excellent plan.

            Everybody wants to see a bear, you wouldn’t believe how many people are yeah whatever in regards to goliath trees that will always be there, but show them a Black bear and it made their trip.

            1. Wukchumni


              My final tally was 20 Black Bears for the year, the first time i’ve gotten to 20 since 2015 when I saw 54. The numbers since then have been around 10 a year.

      2. Objective Ace

        Do you leave negative feedback for the stay in that case? While the circumstances you note arent unusual — not interacting with the host — I’ve found that can generally be found out by thoroughly reading the listing and reviews.

        The negative effects on the local rental market is fair — but as long as the AirBNB is following local zoning I dont see the problem. Hotels also effect the rental market and could be converted to housing

      3. Jason Boxman

        Heh. About 50% of my experiences involved a key… that didn’t. Work. Well. Nothing like trying to get into the place I’m renting at 1 am, in the freezing cold, and. Not. Being. Able. To.

        I guess they all moved to those electronic keypads, but how hard was it to get a copy of a key for a guest that actually works. Ugh.

    3. Jason Boxman

      My experiences throughout the years varied from acceptable to awful. But this was back when it was cheap enough to justify. Usually it was someone’s house. When it was an empty unit, the experience was more likely to be worse. Given the cost today I don’t think I’d bother. I wouldn’t risk staying with anyone else, so that means a whole house or apartment. For that price, might as well get a hotel room. Or not travel, which is my current strategy.

      One of the worst was a unit in Philly during the winter, without as far as I could tell any heat. I slept in my winter coat. Fun times. Another was in Cambridge, where the owner perhaps rented other rooms, and the next room down had make up sex at 1 am. Very, very, very loud. Enough that even earplugs were only somewhat useful.

      There was a place on James Island near Charleston that I rented a room at once, and her cats would come up and sleep on the bed with me randomly. That was an unexpected experience.

  11. The Rev Kev

    ‘Everyone was handed one of these on my @UnitedAirlines_
    flight, but most people are unmasked and lots of folks are noticeably ill. Is this their way of saying “It’s ok to spread a deadly disease on our planes as long as your hands are clean?”’

    Person who realized they helped infect an entire planeload of people with an infectious virus – ‘Out, damned spot! out, I say! Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!’

    United Airlines: ‘Here – take this sanitizing wipe for that.’

  12. Laura in So Cal

    Gen Z and the GOP

    Based on my son and his friends, the GOP could get their votes by becoming anti-war…especially stupid wars. The idea that Ukraine is the start of something bigger, all the Chinese v Taiwan sabre rattling etc. makes the 18-29 crowd nervous.

  13. Gumbo

    “Farmers call it “gumbo” (when their preachers are listening)”

    Gumbo appears in several areas around the country, including the one I hale from.

  14. IM Doc

    I just posted this in the links this AM and feel compelled to put it here as a PSA regarding if someone drops in front of you like what happened last night. I cannot even remember over my life how many patients have been saved by their family members doing this simple intervention. Probably 10-12 at least


    If you are ever in this situation and someone drops like that in front of you, I want you to do something for me. Especially if an AED is minutes away, and especially if the person is young and healthy.

    It is called a precordial thump. As residents in the CCU we did this literally all the time back in the day when rhythm therapy was limited.

    Take your right handed fist, get in the right side of the patient and as hard as you can thump them right over the left chest where their heart is. One time only. Do this as quickly as you know there is no pulse. Again one time only. The quicker this is done the more likely it will work.

    That will deliver to their chest 1-5 joules of energy. In v fib, especially and some v-tach, that is all it takes to immediately restore rhythm. Other rhythm issues like AFIB and svt are going to require much more joules so the AED is essential.

    I cannot tell you how many times this saved lives in the ccu years ago.

    They took the thump out of the protocol because of rib fractures. Entirely ridiculous. I would much rather be dealing with rib fractures on this young man tonight rather than likely brain damage.

    1. flora

      Thank you so very much. I’ve had training in Breath of Life breathing technique and the Heimlich Maneuver and cardiac compression, (and thank goodness I’ve never been faced with a situation requiring any of this). I’m adding your clear instructions to my list of what to know ‘just in case of.’

    1. britzklieg

      Making a movie from a Delillo novel must be an enormous challenge. I’ll check it out. The book was… Delilloish!

    2. Acacia

      It’s Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise. Read it in the late 1980s, and found it a quite amusing satire of the then-nascent excesses of cultural studies in academia. Lots of memorable passages. So, I’ve been curious to watch the film, if only for the nostalgia trip. That said, I’m not sure how funny and/or timely it would be in the present, almost 40 years later, when few would find academics butting chests over “Elvis Studies” vs. “Hitler Studies” to be terribly absurd or eyebrow raising. Cinephiles have been underwhelmed by Baumbach’s treatment, and most of the film reviews I’ve seen are preoccupied with how this film could possibly require a production budget of $100-140 million, opining that this is probably one of the last of the big boondoggle productions as Netflix tries to buy its way to artistic credibility.

      Regarding the run-up to the film, Jacobin re-reviewed the novel last year:


      I found the following take (quoting from a mailing list) on both DeLillo’s fiction and Jacobin quite interesting:

      I am a little perplexed by the DeLillo review in Jacobin. Please don’t mistake me: I think DeLillo is a remarkable writer, superb at the level of the sentence, unmatched at the simultaneous capturing and parodying of certain American idiolects. Nor do I begrudge Ryan Napier his account; critics think what they think, and nether require nor expect agreement. It’s the placement that puzzles me.

      The magazine declares itself “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture”; it’s very hard for me to see a socialist, or communist, or Marxist account, either in the review or in DeLillo’s own critical stance. I’ve read more than a dozen DeLillo novels (and one play!) and I think it’s fair to say that a center of gravity within DeLillo’s social view is the sense that various venalities — among which academicism and consumerism play central and recurring roles — have corroded or ruined or ironized anything that was once great, full-souled, joyous, or innocent, particularly in America, the nation which provides the thematic of his first novel and remains his core interest. At the far end from this venality is something like fanaticism, appearing in book after book, from Oswald to Khomeini to 9/11, which is the other great risk. It is the too much to which the venality is the too little.

      In short, DeLillo, brilliant prose writer that he is, is a conservative. Beneath his writerly attention to the inevitable truth that nothing is perfect and everything merits inspection, he clings structurally to the idea of a good and true America (baseball provides the most persistent figure) debased by passive consumption and threatened by political militancy. That defines liberalism of course; I would imagine that most on this list recognize liberalism as a particular mask worn by the conservative impulse, said impulse betrayed by the fundamentally backward-looking character of DeLillo’s view. “The future belongs to crowds,” he declares vatically to end the prologue of Mao II; it’s more threat than promise.

      What has any of that to do with Marxism, or communism? Very little, except to the extent that it is antithetical. The critique of “Consumerism,” on which the review centers and which the magazine sets at the head of the review (“Published in 1985, Don DeLillo’s White Noise depicted an America blinded by consumerism”), is indeed very powerful in DeLillo. But it is entirely liberal, focused on the bad beliefs of individuals, fetishizing the real relation wherein the vast majority of humans are compelled to market dependency no matter their mental comportment toward it. It is a way of not reckoning with, of avoiding, of finally affirming that old chestnut the mode of production. Private property yes, capitalism sure, but let’s have the right mental attitude toward it, and fuck all you slobs for going along with it — this is the critique of consumerism.

      We will be free, in this worldview, not through any overcoming of the social order — indeed, that is the path of the evil militants and fanatics — but by being fully realized individuals within it, original, artistic, humane subjects of capital. In centering the critique of consumerism, Jacobin joins Adbusters (remember Adbusters?), whose mission statement featured the call “to transform every moment of existence into a repudiation of the consumerist nightmare.” The villain, you will recall, was always corporate excess — not wage exploitation, not market dependency, not capitalism.

    3. Martin Oline

      Thanks for this information regarding the movie. I saw the preview just a couple of days ago while watching the granddaughter. I was struck by the uncanny resemblance of the father to my brother-in-law so now, finding it is from DeLillo, I will watch it.
      I am hoping that AMC will produce a new series based on a Richard Russo book from 1997 Straight Man. I am a fan of Bob Odenkirk and read the book after learning he was going to try to make this along with Russo’s help. Even after 25 years the book still presents a wonderful skewing of the politics of academic administration and I highly recommend it for anyone working in higher education. A synopsis from Deadline:
      The book is a mid-life crisis tale set at Railton College and told in the first person by Devereaux, whose reluctance is partly rooted in his character – he is a born anarchist – and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans.
      In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions. Odenkirk said, “I loved Paul and Aaron’s take on Richard’s excellent, entertaining novel, This milieu (academia) seems very pertinent to the conversations we’re all having. I am drawn to the tone of humanity and humor in the novel and I look forward to playing this role – something lighter than my recent projects but still closely observed and smart.”

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