2:00PM Water Cooler 5/8/2023

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I am finishing up a post on Mass General’s Kafka-esque and brutally stupid new masking policy, where patients are not allowed to ask staff to mask up, even if immunocompromised. And so I must ask you to talk amongst yourselves. –lambert

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. From DD:

DD writes: “These are hyacinths in my garden under an early-spring snowfall in Madison, WI.” Lovely subtle colors.

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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. ChrisFromGA

      Thanks. I confess to watching way too many Youtube channels, including Mercouris, WeebUnion, Military Summary, Ritter, etc. Always fun to find more. Lancaster is one brave guy.

      The latest howler I heard was that geriatric Kissinger saying that the Russians will come to the peace talk table by fall, after the Chinese are magically put under the spell of the west again, and act as a negotiator, albeit heavily re-educated to hate Russia.

      Delusional … when Xi won’t even take a call from Blinken, and our state dept has been relentlessly insulting the Chinese. What sort of Jedi mind trick do they think they have up their sleeves?

      1. Janie

        Ray McGovern is high on my list of the way too many podcasts I listened to. It’s because of the historical depth of his experience; he’s in his 80s and went to work for the CIA straight out of college I believe, where he has a masters in Russian studies and language. On his regular Monday show with judge Napolitano today, the judge had a real zinger about the JFK assassination that I had not heard before. Sorry I’m unable to link from this phone.

        1. pjay

          It was on today’s Napolitano webcast. I couldn’t help but notice that Youtube had helpfully placed one of their big blue “Context” boxes below the screen (at least for me), labeled ‘Assassination of John F. Kennedy,’ where they provided a link to the *Encyclopedia Britannica* article on the event – just so viewers could read the *real* story and not be misled by the “conspiracy” ramblings of these two old men!

          For those interested, I’d recommend that book on McGovern’s shelf instead.

      2. digi_owl

        That USA can pull another Plaza Accord out of its rear end, and ruin China economically?

        1. SocalJimObjects

          It’s Mutually Assured Destruction since inflation in the US will SKYROCKET immediately, imports, including critical medicines (which the US never imported from Japan) will be X times more expensive, and the Chinese will be gobbling up real estate in the US like there’s no tomorrow. China is not a military protectorate of the US like Japan was, so it will not be easy forcing a new Plaza Accord down their throats. Also US inflation was trending down when the Plaza Accord was signed while Core Inflation is still heading up right now albeit at a slower pace.

            1. SocalJimObjects

              US laws are easy to circumvent for moneyed interests. Worse come to worst, the Chinese can always “own” the homes through various proxies with the help of … Americans. Also, with rising interest rates, the real estate industry is looking at possibly a prolonged downturn. DeSantis will be singing a different tune when home prices are down 35%.

    1. some guy

      About that fit and fashion article . . . the one about the super expensive clothes designed to stealth-advertise how rich you are to those with eyes to see . . .

      The mere fact that we of the Great Unwashed Hoi Polloi are even allowed to know they exist at all hints to me that they are a badge of arriveest noovoe reesh money. People of genuinely ancient wealth and power probably see those clothes as a clanging siren warning: ” Uh Oh . . . Here comes a Sweaty Striver. And they think to themselves: ” What a pathetic Try Hard. Try harder, you sad little Try Hard.”

      The living avatars of Ancient Wealth ( those who choose to walk among us) probably have their own secretly coded clothing ( at whatever price) which only they who have eyes to see even farther and deeper can see at all.

      But that is just a feeling on my part. As a $46,000/year bi-weekly wage-earner, how could I possibly know?

  1. fjallstrom

    Deaths in US seems to be counted again.

    I’ve been using mortality.watch to look at excess deaths, my reasoning being that counting deaths has been central to many functions going back to the early modern states so it will likely be a number that is hard to massage. The state needs to know the numbers born and dead for taxation, drafts, juries, voting rolls, social security, ownership, and the list goes on. It’s hard to fudge because all those individual deaths are important for state functions, and then you just add them up.

    So I was rather surprised when deaths in the US sharply started dropping. Either USians had stopped dying to the same extent, or the US government was losing control of core functions. I came so far as to discover that the CDC does the numbers in the US.

    So, now I don’t know. Did the only one who knew how to update the spreadsheet get back to work after being gone a few weeks? I guess we have to hope he or she keeps in good health.

      1. fjallstrom

        That was rather cryptic, yes. Sorry about that.

        Lambert has the last week(s?) commented about the excess deaths in US charts suddenly flat-lining in one of the standard chart he uses. I have noticed the same at mortality.watch (though different presenation so it didn’t flatline but instead dropped), and at least in the latter case the data comes from CDC’s weekly counts of deaths. To be clear, this was a larger drop then the ususal lag in recent weeks. They now seem to have caught up.

        Pondering the decline in state functions and ill health (and the weaknesses evident in for example Twitter after firing lots of staff), I figured it was some poor CDC staffer that had been off with Covid.

        But I wasn’t terribly clear, so thanks for asking.

    1. aleric

      Here’s the site I watch. I wonder how mortality.watch can be so certain about the recent weeks when many localities haven’t reported yet. Frustrating for these sort of home-page-only sites that you can’t deep link the particular data you want to show.

  2. skippy

    Wellie this will trigger the brain trust …

    Long-COVID symptoms mirror those in other viral illnesses, study shows

    “The results will be presented at the prestigious European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.”

    “The fact that long-COVID symptoms are on par with those of other seasonal viral illnesses in Queensland shows how critical vaccination is.”

    “The study is also a reminder that the best way we can continue to protect ourselves is remaining up to date with vaccinations.”


    Add this too the list …

    Burnet Institute defends COVID mask mandate study after scientific journal’s Expression of Concern

    “We used two forms of data to assess change in mask usage: images of people wearing masks in public places obtained from a major media outlet and population-based survey data,” the study said.’


    After all the hard work and won knowledge about such a significant public health risk factor, its all devolving into this morass, which IMO feeds the loon pond stock with vibration stimulants. Won’t link the virus trail goes back to 1999 thingy by [chortle] David E Martin.

    Then again its a long road too – https://olympics.com/ioc/brisbane-2032

  3. Verifyfirst

    I posit that we (US) would be much better off as far as Covid if Trump had beaten Biden. Why? Imagine Trump wins and does exactly what Biden has done (so Trump doesn’t perform any better than Biden did). The blue tribe, however, would be screaming bloody murder at Trump’s actions or lack thereof–“it’s a level three pathogen” “they’re infecting the CHILDREN” “so irresponsible”, etc. In fact the blue tribe would be aggressively triple masking and yelling loudly about ventilation and nasal vaccine development. So collectively, we would have more mitigations going on, more chains of transmission broken, etc.

    1. some guy

      You are probably correct about that. The Blue Tribesfolk would likely be ultra-masking and defense-layering and corsi-boxing and retro-upventilating every Blue Tribal space they could, just to Own the MAGAs. ( And yet the Blue Tribal Leaders would still be secretly committed to their secret Jackpot Acceleration and Entrenchment agenda of Letting Covid Rip Everywhere).

      So the Blue Leaders and Blue Followers would have come into unacknowledged but bitter opposition to eachother. Blue Followers would have found themselves in a rowboat in a hurricane full of tornados and tsunamis, what with all the conflicted mixed messages raging all around them).

      But we will never know. By now, the Blue Tribals are devoted to their own expression of Let Covid Rip Everywhere Forever. The Holy Saint Fauci and the Holy Saint Gebreyesus and the Holy Saint Walensky would demand no less.

      In the kingdom of the witless, the half-wit man is king. So let us all keep half our wits about us, here in our leaky little rowboat a-toss on a raging sea of Typhoid Mary Covid Spreaders.

  4. kareninca

    I am really worried. My mom, who is 80 y.o., had covid about a year ago and seemed to recover well. Then she broke her arm four months ago. That is healing okay, but she has lost a lot of muscle tone; far more than might be expected; this was just noticed by a friend who hadn’t seen her since before the break; no-one else noticed since it was so gradual. But this seemed like something fixable; we’re going to increase her protein, try collagen peptides, and increase various exercises. She is of English/Scottish descent, and hates exercise, so although she’s never had such a problem, it seemed understandable that she’d have this problem now.

    But – I just talked with a relative of mine who is a couple of years younger than her. She had covid, too, a few months earlier than my mom did, and seemed to recover well. But she just found out that she has lost about a third of her muscle tone, over the past several months. She is Eastern European, and she already does all of the exercises a person should do, and she eats plenty, and is hardly skinny. She is the last female I would think of to lose muscle tone.

    Neither has any obvious symptoms of long covid. Until now. Long covid commonly causes muscle wasting. But no-one is going to diagnose them with long covid, just because of this. I wonder how many people are losing muscle without realizing it.

    1. GramSci

      Speaking as one who is pushing 80, I think I can report that most people my age are losing muscle mass. A month of bed rest will do it to you, and good luck with gaining it back.

      1. kareninca

        Did this start for the people you know, before or after the start of the pandemic?

        Neither of these ladies was on any bed rest at all, even a year ago when they had covid.

        My grandmother, who was the aunt of the second lady, made it to 86 without any apparent muscle loss at all (and she smoked for the last five or so years of her life, after my step grandfather died). That was pre pandemic. I actually don’t know anyone on either side of my family who had muscle loss at any point pre pandemic, except one person upon going into heart failure, and one person with cirrhosis.

        1. GramSci

          I was thinking especially of my wife who lost muscle mass 5 years ago after a slipped disk put her in bed until the doctor got back from vacation. and of a brother-in-law, who at 84 complained of muscle loss after a cruise virus pre Covid, also never really regained. And thinking of myself (not covid-induced, at least not per home tests), and old age banter with acquaintances. But my sister-in-law at 85 still drinks and smokes with impunity.

          1. kareninca

            Yes, it is true, it has always been a problem. It’s just that I’m seeing it in people I wouldn’t expect it in, and the timing matches it being a consequence of covid. If you hear of any clever things to try to improve this, please post them; I’m looking for anything promising.

  5. The Rev Kev

    Turcopolier is still drinking the juice. Their latest post is ‘Ukraine downs hypersonic Russian missile using Patriot defense system’ even though the Ukrainians said it never happened and that ‘The US has repeatedly said current-generation radars – including the Patriot – can’t track a hypersonic missile’


    This is sinking to the level of the Daily Kos whom they sometimes source from.

    1. Carolinian

      I still like Pat Lang even if he thinks patriotism requires that he toe the party line. While I hardly ever go there anymore aren’t most of the posts now by someone else?

      1. rowlf

        I was positive on Pat Lang as he reminded me of many veterans that would give me information if it appeared I was paying attention. I stand on many people’s shoulders and we had several email correspondences. He could be cantankerous but I can put up with a lot for usable information. Solve the problem first, worry about feelings later.

        After Mr Lang had health issues during the pandemic TTG seemed to take over the blog in a Blinken/Nuland flavor. I have concerns that decedents of Eastern European familys got a chance to drive US policy as well as the US oligarch dreams of taking control of other country’s’ resources.

      2. ChrisFromGA

        Sadly, Colonel Lang passed away a few weeks ago. I am not sure who is running the blog now.

          1. anahuna

            Yes. TTG, whom I had always regarded as an incisive voice of reason on that site, suddenly and evidently for ancestral reasons, became an inflexible supporter of Ukraine. To his credit, though, he has not resorted to banning contrary opinions.

      3. some guy

        Pat Lang died a little while ago. The blog continues under the leadership of The Twisted Genius. TTG is of Lithuanian descent and has a headful of Soviet Occupation memories handed down from older Family Survivors. But he sees those memories as ” evil Russia”, not ” evil USSR”, just as many Eastern European ethnic descended people do.

        I would note that the blog still permits commets by ukroskeptics so long as they follow basic rules of politeness. NaCap readers might even try reading many Ukraine-post-based threads over there and study the style of the ukroskeptics whose ukroskeptical comments keep getting published . . in case any NaCap readers care to try offering their own ukroskeptical comments.

        I have long noticed that the NaCap narrative and the Turcopolier narrative are exactly opposite to eachother. I follow both narratives as they develop. I have long since thrown up my hands and decided that I will not know what is happening till it has already happened long enough ago that no one can spin the results as being something other than what they undeniably really turn out to really be.

    1. ChrisFromGA

      They should have cut out the middleman and awarded the prize to Zelensky.

  6. LawnDart

    With only mass-shootings and covid leading the pack of doom-and-gloom, unless Canada counts, no (almost) daily derailment this past Saturday.

    But Sunday got us back on track for the week:

    UPDATED: ‘Empire Builder’ Derails Departing Chicago Union Station

    Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder derailed departing Chicago Union Station on Sunday.


    Businesses evacuated following train derailment in Braymer

    The authorities will be looking into a train derailment that took place in Braymer, Missouri, on Monday afternoon.

    The Canadian Pacific train derailed at about 1:30 p.m. It appears it consisted of 190 cars and nine derailed.

    Reportedly, there were only an engineer and conductor on the train. No injuries have been reported.


    1. Jason Boxman

      That’s a nasty looking nationwide spike. Variants data is so old it’s useless, though. Sigh. Nothing to see here, neoliberal capitalism calls. Because markets.

      Looks like PA and MA are the drivers. Most other places are green actually.

      No. The colors are messed up. Green CA is showing a huge spike up 13.8% but green on map. So this data is suspect I guess. Who knows. Thanks CDC.

      1. ChrisRUEcon

        > … the colors are messed up

        Yep. Noticed that too. Maybe if they do get back on a weekly cadence, it will settle down. It’s been a month so not sure how all the intermediate numbers have been handled.

  7. Hepativore

    Perhaps older people than me can come up with an answer to this, but if the US is so willing to engage in open hostilities with China, just how does it plan to do so when it can easily hold 90% of our industrial base as well as our source for rare earth metals for ransom?

    It would take decades to develop and build the manufacturing and mining sectors that we have offshored to China including the components that our used in military vehicles and equipment. It would seem that a war with China would cause the US to lose before it would even begin, since our millionaires and billionaires rely too heavily on Chinese manufacturing and export for it to get off the ground and China could cut us off at any time.

    1. LawnDart

      MIC is a hungry beast– it needs ongoing war or threat of war to keep rice-bowls filled: we don’t have many big bad guys to choose from that could help justify the expenditure.

      No it’s not in our interest, but it suits the ruling class just fine.

    2. Pat

      Drugs. You would think that every major bureaucrat and politician would have realized by now that most of them are deeply vulnerable in a conflict since most if not all of their prescriptions are formulated in China.

      Sure there will be black market versions for the very wealthy, but then they should also realize how dependent they will also be on the not so wealthy masses for cannon fodder and drone production alone.

      Gotta love that the people are likely the most desperate for China to be put in its place because it has become too powerful are also the ones who probably were the driving force to off shore production and manufacturing to China and likely Chinese allies to increase their dividends.

    3. Robert Hahl

      My favorite theory is that China doesn’t automatically recycle its dollars into US Treasuries anymore, it spends them on the BRI instead, which is inflationary in the dollar zone. Washington’s reaction is to threaten war, hoping to show China that if it doesn’t park the cash in Treasuries, it will have to spend (waste) the money anyway on its military.

      The reason why this plan is thought worth the risk is that if they don’t keep lending us back our money, then we won’t be able to keep buying things from China for nothing anyway. I think the real reason we have de-industrialized is not because wages are lower in foreign counties, but that we buy their products for free. All they get are Treasuries. Our industries just can’t compete with free.

      1. some guy

        What that means is that we don’t buy the Chinese goods for free. We buy them with our industry which is sent to China. That’s not “free”. That’s a very high price.

        And anyway. individual American thing-buyers don’t even buy Chinese things for “free”. They have to pay in the tokens of monetized labor ( “money”) which have to be labored for first before they can be received to be spent.

  8. Carolinian

    This seems like a Lambert link

    Poor ventilation is also responsible for increased spread of airborne pathogens. As the Aerobiological Engineering Handbook notes, airborne pathogens are overwhelmingly likely to spread indoors:

    Most microbes die off in the outdoor air as a result of sunlight, temperature extremes, dehydration, oxygen, and pollution.- outdoors, viruses and other infectious agents quickly get diluted in the atmosphere, destroyed by UV light, or by heat or cold…Controlled indoor climates favor the survival and transmission of contagious human pathogens as well as some outdoor fungi and bacteria. Since people spend over 90 percent of their time indoors, the solution to the problem of most airborne infections, therefore, lies in engineering control of the aerobiology of the indoor environment.


  9. Wukchumni

    Hadn’t been in a Home Depot in awhile and everything of value was now under lock and key it seemed like.

    I asked a young employee how long that had been going on, and he said it was all put in place 3 weeks ago, they were getting killed on shoplifting.

    1. flora

      Yep, and probably organized shoplifting. Lots of upscale department stores departing San Francisco on that account. Where is law enforcement, one wonders.

      1. flora

        Oh wait, shop lifters must be of course social victims of an unjust system. Ergo, shoplifters must not be arrested or prosecuted. That would be unjust. (Sayeth the idiot wokerati in their crazy defense of nonsense.)

        1. skippy

          I could counter that the government de-funding of anything resembling a social good, outsourcing to the private sector, or incentivizing police by pay as you go with asset seizures has just come to this cross road.

          On the other hand in Libertarian utopia all private businesses would have to fund their own private security.

            1. skippy

              Indeed! Keeping the commies out so natural capital could be looted, surf in your own nation of birth, ravaged by conflict some seek migration, dumped unceremoniously in the worst part of L.A., start ethnic gang to protect the group, gain skills and as the violence modifies them become even more vicious than the locals, and lastly members start the journey that is the penal system and the gifts it affords – knowledge/network upgrades.

              Too this they are deported back home in bulk and called ungrateful by conservatives, of the day, only to have a crack at the political system back home with the new skills and mindset they have acquired.

              Best bit is this all then ends up as ammo for the right wing to justify certain purity ideas.

              Which then comes full loop with mass shooters wearing supremacist right wing badges whilst named Gracia. BTW think they are going to need another change in the amount of dead/maimed people to qualify for a mass shooting, 10/15? Just like Covid numberwang thingy and poof its gone. Funny how events have a 10/20-ish year gestation period before the negative externalities hit like a gong so everyone can hear it.

              1. Lambert Strether Post author

                > Funny how events have a 10/20-ish year gestation period before the negative externalities hit

                That’s a really interesting concept, rather like the Friedman Unit. We could call it the Skippy Unit. Do you have more examples?

        2. Pat

          This is probably an instance where there are two aspects to the crime. I have no doubts that a large portion of shoplifters are supplementing a low to nonexistent food and necessities budget with a five finger discount when that shouldn’t be necessary but is because we are a cruel country. But here in NYC we have a lot of evidence that much of the shoplifting is organized for resell and is done by groups not individuals. From the items that are locked down in the large pharmacies/modern general stores and other retailers to the videos that were done of certain stores being looted after the BLM protests*,it is clearly being done for profit.

          *My favorite has the person narrating what they are seeing, which is people going in and coming out with their arms full of high end clothing and loading it into a series of cars, losing it when the car that comes up to be loaded is a Rolls Royce.

        3. some guy

          Well, mass organized shop-lifters may or may not be victims of our anti-justice social system; but they are certainly products of it.

          And they are being mass-produced in ever rising numbers. Coming Soon to a city ( or a town or a county) near you.

    2. Robert Hahl

      I recently heard an announcement while shopping at Giant, a supermarket in Virginia, that the self-checkout lanes are now limited in the number of items that one can buy at a time because of shoplifting. Maybe they said 15 items. I haven’t been back yet to verify that they are actually doing it.

  10. southern appalachian

    “Patient readers, I am finishing up a post on Mass General…”
    Thank you. Appreciate the work very much.

  11. ambrit

    Apropos of Nothing, I was noodling about on the YouTube late last night looking for something both free to watch and worth my money when I came across Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film “Koyaanisquatsi.” I used to have a DVD copy but loaned it out. It never returned.
    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koyaanisqatsi
    It is, for want of a better explanation, a meditation on the state of the modern world. No dialogue, a wonderful soundtrack by Phillip Glass, and remarkable cinematography. I won’t spoil it for you. Well worth a watch in the silent watches of the night.
    This film makes more sense now that it did back in 1983.
    YouTube. The movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOA_dOrm_Mk

    1. Carolinian

      I love that movie and I do have a copy. Love Glass’s music too although it’s not for everyone. Reggio did some follow ups that weren’t as good.

    2. Nikkikat

      Love that film. I own a copy too. A friend brought it to my house back in the eighties. Great music. I think of it often to this day.

    3. some guy

      I watched it when it came to our movie theater. I watched it as many times as I could, in case it never came back again. And it never has.

      It had a successor film, made to the same high quality by the same people, called Powaqquatsi.

      Which I also watched as many times as I could, for the same reason.

  12. Jason Boxman

    Because it can’t be COVID:

    Gizmodo tested out Dr. Gupta using the free trial. Like many people this time of year, this writer was suffering from a particularly nasty case of seasonal allergies. After explaining my symptoms and asking Dr. Gupta for advice, I was immediately presented with a pop-up reading, “Dr. Gupta IS NOT a real physician.” The alert went on to say the tool was intended to serve as an alternative to a search engine and was “NOT” intended for medical or clinical uses. Further down the alert said Dr. Gupta “may provide potentially unreliable responses.” All very reassuring.

    (bold me)

    Who Asked for This: Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli Releases Medical ChatGPT Knockoff

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