2:00PM Water Cooler 11/4/2021 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, there will be no UPDATEs today. It is what it is. –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

“Two birds singing, responding each other.”

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#COVID19

Patient readers, I have started to revise this section, partly to reduce my workload, but partly to focus more as an early warning, if that is possible. Hopefully I will have a variant tracker map soon. In the meantime, I added excess deaths.

Case count by United States regions:

A blip downward, This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling. That said, I don’t think the past rise is the surge some of us Bears have been waiting for (see the “tape watching” remarks below). It’s driven by cases widely distributed through inland California (see last Friday for maps). The local economy is heavily driven by outdoors-y tourism, but there are no major airports, so possibly cases are being spread by drivers. Beyond these speculations I cannot go.

Simply tape-watching, this descent is as steep as any of the three peaks in November–January. It’s also longer than the descent from any previous peak. We could get lucky, as we did with the steep drop after the second week in January, which nobody knows the reasons for, then or now. Today’s populations are different, though. This population is more vaccinated, and I would bet — I’ve never seen a study — that many small habits developed over the last year (not just masking). Also, if the dosage from aerosols drops off by something like the inverse square law, not linearly, even an extra foot of social distance could be significant if adopted habitually by a large number of people. And if you believe in fomites, there’s a lot more hand-washing being done. Speculating freely: There is the possibility that acquired immunity is much, much greater than we have thought, although because this is America, our data is so bad we don’t know. On the other hand, Delta is much more transmissible. And although readers will recall that I have cautioned against cross-country comparisons, I’m still not understanding why we’re not seeing the same aggregates in schools that we’ve see in Canada and especially the UK, although we have plenty of anecdotes. Nothing I’ve read suggests that the schools, nation-wide, have handled Covid restrictions with any consistency at all. So what’s up with that?

Even if hospitalizations and the death rate are going down, that says nothing about Long Covid, the effect on children, etc. So the numbers, in my mind, are still “terrifying”, even if that most-favored word is not in the headlines any more, and one may be, at this point, inured.

A good take:

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

Seems like a sine-wave pattern on the right. Why? And nothing like California yet.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report October 25, 2021” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

Here we see Covid spreading in California (newly yellow), which I flagged last Friday [lambert blushes modestly] as the cause of the rise in the national case count. This week, however, we have not only inland, but coastal spread (orange). Still lots of red in Alabama, sadly.

Speculating freely: One thing to consider is where the red is. If air travel hubs like New York City or Los Angeles (or Houston or Miami) go red that could mean (a) international travel and (b) the rest of the country goes red, as in April 2020 and following. But — for example — Minnesota is not an international hub. If Minnesota goes red, who else does? Well, Wisconsin. As we see. Remember, however, that this chart is about acceleration, not absolute numbers. This map, too, blows the “Blame Bubba” narrative out of the water. Not a (Deliverance-style) banjo to be heard. (Red means getting worse, green means bad but getting better.)

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Finally some relief for the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, although I don’t understand why they they have the bad luck to be so stubbornly still red.

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 770,868 767,442. Going down again, mercifully. We had approached the same death rate as our first peak last year. Which I found more than a little disturbing.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):

My interpretation of a 0.0 – 0.0 excess death rate meant that the real numbers had not actually been calculated (CDC explains there are data lags). Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so.

(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is the United States. Needless to see, this is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital. I should dig out the absolute numbers, too, now roughly 660,000, which is rather a lot.)

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

Chile slows down a bit. Also Portugal, which lifted restrictions about a month ago. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

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Politics

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

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Mice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Biden Administration

“Biden hits the gas” [Axios]. “President Biden’s hitting the gas — not pumping the brakes — to pass his two massive spending bills ASAP, and doesn’t read his party’s poor electoral showing in Virginia as a rebuke of the massive costs, lawmakers and White House advisers tell Axios. What Biden’s critics see as a stubborn streak his allies call resolve. The president’s confidants love to point out that during the 2020 primaries, the press corps doubted his strategy and ability to capture the Democratic nomination. Biden’s core team never wavered and rode their plan to the White House.” • We’ll see!

“U.S. Treasury official sees hope for restoring bank reporting to spending plan” [Reuters]. “The proposal initially would have required reporting on aggregate account inflows and outflows of as little as $600 per year. The threshold was raised to $10,000 but it was dropped from the ‘reconciliation’ bill last week after a strong lobbying effort against it from the financial services industry.” • Running $10,000 through your bank account applies to basically everyone. Anybody who believes this will only be applied to the rich is a fool. Make the limit $100,000, or better, a million. “Hope” my sweet Aunt Fanny.

Democrats en Deshabille

Certainly parsimonious:

When they tell you who they are….

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Recall from yesterday that “education was the top issue in the contest, according to the latest Washington Post/SCHAR poll, narrowly edging out the economy, 24 to 23.” On the economy,Thomas Ferguson suggested looking at personal income:

Not a good plan to have personal income fall before an election. But in some bizarre version of “first past the post,” all the hot takes are on “education” (#1 at 24%) not “the economy” (#2 at 23%). Perhaps it’s as simple as Beltway pundits being in good shape financially, but having kids in school.

“Terry McAuliffe Bet on Voters Hating Trump. Turns Out They Dislike Democrats More.” [Politico]. “Why can’t they beat these guys, even in a state as blue as Virginia?” • Italics in original. Commentary:

More commentary:

A corpse-like Clintonite bagman? Who could be more appealing?

“Lincoln Project Posed as Charlottesville White Supremacists at GOP Event” [Vice]. “Five people dressed like the white supremacists who caused the violent ‘Unite the Right’ riots in Charlottesville four years ago showed up outside of Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin’s event in the town on Friday. But instead of actual ‘Unite the Right’ supporters, it turns out it was a half-baked stunt from the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who oppose ex-President Trump—and Youngkin…. Five people dressed like the white supremacists who caused the violent “Unite the Right” riots in Charlottesville four years ago showed up outside of Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin’s event in the town on Friday. But instead of actual “Unite the Right” supporters, it turns out it was a half-baked stunt from the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who oppose ex-President Trump—and Youngkin.” • From gaslighting to torchlighting, good job. Just what Democrats need, their own Project Veritas. When you’ve got nothing else, I suppose….

“Virginia’s ominous warning to Joe Biden and the Democrats” [FInancial Times]. Mostly conventional wisdom, but since I want to remark on this: “If central casting were to confect a hologram of a moderate suburban Dad, Youngkin would fit the bill…. Youngkin showed great skill in securing Donald Trump’s endorsement while ensuring the former president stayed far away from the state.” • Nobody seems to have commented that Youngkin was an exceptionally disciplined and effective candidate, especially for a novice.

The nice thing about identity politics is that any number can play:

Listen to Black women, especially if they’re armed.

“Republican Jason Miyares makes history as Virginia’s first Latino attorney general” [NBC News]. • Hey, that’s Latin!

“Glenn Youngkin’s victory proves white ignorance is a powerful weapon” [MSNBC]. • These voters need to be workshopped. Say, is the Venn Diagram for MSNBC listeners and diversity consultants a circle?

Eric Adams will, I think, go far. This is great:

I’m not sure where — for all I know, he’s a Clyburn or worse — but far.

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“India Walton’s Mayoral Defeat in Buffalo Sets Dangerous Precedents for the Left” [Truthout]. “Now that Walton’s upset has itself been upset, the tactic of a do-over write-in campaign to thwart a leftist challenge has been proven viable. The precedent set in this race is a worrisome one for socialists: The establishment has just been handed another weapon in their perpetual war against candidates who even hint at pursuing anything other than the uninterrupted flow of profit.” • A list of tactical errors by Walton, including sending out campaign literature without a union bug, all in my view correctible. Commentary:

Walton’s post-mortem, a thread:

Under the radar, and happy to keep it that way:

Newcomer to the Des Moines City Council from Ward 1, pinned tweet:

All power to the Soviets!

Realignment and Legitimacy

The view from Kenya:

“Kyle Rittenhouse Claims Self-Defense After Shooting 3 Jurors” [The Onion].

“Your teeth are not luxury bones” [Sick Note]. “I’m staring down the barrel of two years of braces, a painful surgery, and God knows how many thousands of dollars to correct these issues. This is awful, but it will be a version of affordable for me; I have savings, subsidized and good health insurance (currently, at least) that might cover the surgery if my doctors can prove it’s necessary, and the sort of job where recovery time off isn’t an issue. For patients who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, it’s a completely different and more unattainable proposition—one that’s even more galling for parents who just cannot afford to make the best medical decisions for their kid.” • Well worth a read. It’s an abomination that Build Back Better doesn’t cover dental.

“Is It Finally Time for a Medicare Dental Benefit?” [NEJM]. Finally? Finally? Anyhow: “The American Dental Association has offered support for a Medicare dental benefit only if it includes so-called means testing to restrict coverage to people with incomes (from assets, pensions, and earnings) below 300% of the FPL and only if dental coverage would be separate from Medicare Parts A, B, and D (i.e., if Congress established a Medicare “Part T”). Beyond excluding many middle- and higher-income older adults who currently lack dental coverage, we believe a means-tested policy that is distinct from other Medicare benefits would restrict advances in oral health for two reasons. First, limiting a Medicare dental benefit to low-income beneficiaries would make it financially straightforward for most dentists to refuse to accept Medicare. Lack of acceptance by dentists has plagued Medicaid dental programs throughout the country. Nationally, only 43% of dentists accept Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) insurance,4 which has resulted in low access rates and poor oral health outcomes even in states whose Medicaid programs offer comprehensive adult dental benefits. Federally qualified health centers and other safety-net providers that accept public insurance are already at capacity and, without substantial private-sector participation, would struggle to accommodate increased demand among newly covered Medicare beneficiaries. Second, a means-tested, stand-alone Part T benefit would perpetuate dentistry’s separation from the rest of the health care system.” • So, obviously we’ll means test dental, right?

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Challenger Job Cuts” [Trading Economics]. “US-based employers announced 22,822 job cuts in October of 2021, the highest reading in 5 months, with the majority of cuts (5,796) attributed to plant, store, and unit closing. For the third month in a row, companies in the Health Care/Products sector announced the most cuts with 6,694 and workers’ refusing to comply with vaccine mandates accounted for 5,071 cuts in October.”

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to 269 thousand in the week ending October 30th, from a revised 283 thousand in the previous period and below market expectations of 275 thousand. It was the lowest number of jobless claims since the pandemic hit the US economy back in March 2020, as the job market continued to recover amid a surge in demand for labor and a sustained decline in new coronavirus infections. Still, persistent worker shortages remained a challenge that could weigh on further employment gains.”

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The Bezzle: “Tesla’s handling of braking bug in public self-driving test raises alarms” [Los Angeles Times]. “Tesla pushed out a new version of the experimental software suite it calls Full Self-Driving to approved drivers Oct. 23 through an “over the air” update. The next morning, Tesla learned the update had altered cars’ behavior in a way the company’s engineers hadn’t intended…. In everyday English, Tesla’s automatic braking system was engaging for no apparent reason, causing cars to rapidly decelerate as they traveled down the highway, putting them at risk of being rear-ended. Forward collision warning chimes were ringing too, even though there was no impending collision to warn about… The incident raises the question of whether there is a safe way to test self-driving vehicles at mass scale on public roads, as Tesla has been doing.” • There’s a typo. “[A]s Tesla has been doing” should read “as the psychos at Tesla have been doing.” You’re welcome.

The Bezzle: “Facebook’s metaverse will still track your every move” [Yahoo Finance]. “According to two experts I spoke with, Meta will find even more ways to follow you than Facebook did. Imagine a headset that can track your eyes, determining how long your gaze dwells on a digital billboard while you stroll down the virtual street in the metaverse. Meta may also know how often you visit a virtual location and who you’re grabbing a virtual beer with. The metaverse might open up new possibilities for you, the user, but it will also open up a new world of advertising possibilities for Facebook, er, Meta.” • Of course it will.

The Bezzle: “Facebook’s metaverse shift smacks of desperation” [Columbia Journalism Review]. The headline is deceptive, since the article is a round-up that does prove the headline’s thesis. This is an interesting nugget: “Ethan Zuckerman, cofounder of the Initiative for Digital Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts, wrote that the current version of the metaverse isn’t much better than those created 30 years ago by early experimenters (including Zuckerman himself).” • My priors are that Facebook, from the UI/UX perspective of both writer and reader, sucks, and there’s no reason to think Facebook engineers will be able to do any better with more dimensions to work with. Can any readers who work or play in virtual worlds comment on my intuition?

Tech: “Avoiding Data Disasters” [fast.ai]. “A data infrastructure engineer and contributor for the [the Covid Tracking Project] recounted, ‘It quickly became apparent that daily, close contact with the data was necessary to understand what states were reporting. States frequently changed how, what, and where they reported data. Had we set up a fully automated data capture system in March 2020, it would have failed within days.’ The project used automation as a way to support and supplement manual work, not to replace it. At numerous points, errors in state reporting mechanisms were caught by eagle-eyed data scientists notifying discrepancies. This vision of using automation to support human work resonates with our interest at fast.ai in ‘augmentedML’, not ‘autoML.’ I have written previously and gave an AutoML workshop keynote on how too often automation ignores the important role of human input. Rather than try to automate everything (which often fails), we should focus on how humans and machines can best work together to take advantage of their different strengths.” • But with augmentedML, will management be able to fire enough workers?

The Fed: “Powell Dodged a Taper Tantrum With Ease. That’s Suspicious” [John Authers, Bloomberg]. “Wednesday, as expected, brought the announcement that the U.S. central bank was indeed beginning to taper the bond purchases with which it has been supporting the market. It is also tapering at exactly the speed expected, and on course to finish the process in June next year…. In 2013, the bond market threw a tantrum at the mere mention of a taper. Real financial conditions had sharply tightened before the Fed could eventually start withdrawing stimulus. This time, real yields are no higher than they were on New Year’s Day. … As a parent, there are few worse things from a toddler. But there is also something alarming when your child goes along with what they’re being asked with no fight at all. Passivity can be a concern. Is this a sign that they are in bad spirits? Are they ill? or could it be that they’re up to something and their suspiciously calm behavior is because they have something to hide?… Real yields are arguably the key indicator to monitor over the weeks and months ahead. Like a suspiciously quiet toddler, it might be ailing, or it might be up to something. And if it really is time to start reducing stimulus to avoid the risks of inflation and overheating (and it is), it isn’t helpful for long-term money still to be available on such generous terms. The other key indicator of the bond market, the yield curve (shorthand for the spread between the yields on two- and 10-year Treasury yields), sent a more optimistic signal.” • Readers who understand the bond market may wish to comment.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 82 Extreme Greed (previous close: 82 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 72 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 4 at 12:31pm.

The Biosphere

“Airlines face long haul to reach sustainable fuel goals” [Financial Times]. “Commercial aviation accounts up to 5 per cent of global warming and its travel growth is “unparalleled” by any other mode of transport, led by in developing and emerging economies, according to the International Energy Agency…. The International Air Transport Association’s (Iata) 2050 target relies heavily on changing fuel mixes to achieve nearly two-thirds of its planned reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The trade group estimates about 450bn litres a year of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will be needed in 2050, or about two-thirds of total fuel consumption. Current annual SAF production is only 100m litres, the Iata estimates. United Airlines has laid out plans to buy nearly 7bn litres of SAF over the next 20 years, which it says is the biggest commitment in the industry. One of its jetliners took a test flight from Houston this month with an engine that burnt fuel derived from sugars found in corn. But sustainable fuel still represents less than 1 per cent of the fuel United currently burns in a normal year.” • Biofuels? Have they lost their minds?

Health Care

“COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing; Emergency Temporary Standard” (PDF) [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. This is the long-awaited OSHA emergency temporary standard on vaccination and testing. I’ve only skimmed it; there seems a lot of clumsy bureaucratic compromising on droplets and aerosols, but at least aerosols are in there. The scope:

This ETS requires employees to either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly and wear face coverings, based on the type of policy their employer adopts. . As OSHA explained in Need for the ETS (Section III.B. of this preamble), OSHA has determined that it needs more information before imposing these requirements on the entire scope of industries and employers covered by the standard. OSHA is interested in hearing from employers about their experience in implementing a full suite of workplace controls against COVID-19.

It’s disappointing that “barriers” are still even an option. It’s also disappointing that OSHA did not adopted the layered strategy that CDC (on its good days) recommends. It’s ridiculous that OSHA punts on this, and even more ridiculous that “OSHA is interested in hearing from employers about their experience.” I mean, it’s almost as if profit comes before health and safety at the so-called Department of Labor.

“Plant in traditional Samoa medicine could be as effective as ibuprofen, study shows” [Guardian] (r. “Leaves from a plant which can be found “in back yards across Samoa” could be as effective as ibuprofen in lowering inflammation and could even be used to treat illnesses such as Parkinson’s and cancer, a new study has found. For centuries, the leaves of the psychotria insularum plant, known locally in Samoa as matalafi, have been used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation associated with fever, body aches, swellings, elephantiasis, and respiratory infections. ‘I was sceptical at first, when researching’ said Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni, the study’s author and the manager of the plants and postharvest technologies division at the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa. ‘There was a lot of superstition around this plant particularly, even in traditional medicine, but I was keen to find out if I could provide scientific merit to the traditional medicines of the Samoan people,’ she said. ‘We can now highlight not only its potential as an anti-inflammatory agent but also its potential as a treatment for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases as well as Covid-19.” • See Michael Pollan’s wonderful The Botany of Desire. It is absolutely to be expected that plants will reach out to us in these ways.

Our Famously Free Press

“How the Internet of Things poses a threat to journalists” [The Journalist’s Resource]. “[T]here is limited awareness of the implications of [devices other than cellphones], specifically for journalists and their sources, with mentions of the dangers of the IoT notably absent from safety guides for journalists. That this makes the IoT effectively an ‘unknown unknown’ is particularly concerning, given the ubiquity of such technologies, which can be found in homes, offices, shops — even on the street. Furthermore, they are often designed to blend into their environments, subtly replacing older versions with less intrusive functionalities — an example being the rise of the smart doorbell. Like spyware, these devices can be coopted to monitor messages, location information and daily actions. Unlike spyware, the IoT can also facilitate cyber-physical threats. This article outlines how journalists can begin to think about the various environments they pass through, which IoT devices they might encounter on their travels in each place, and how these devices may pose a risk to their work and wellbeing.” • Yikes, but of course. Reminds me of when the AI in Gibson’s Neuromancer takes control of a gardening bot and decapitates a bad guy with it.

“This Is Just The Same Old Shit” [Defector]. A takedown of Punchbowl, started by Politico staffers and handed $1 million of stupid money. The conclusion: “[T]he media industry is, broadly speaking, still standing where it always has been: in a place where the old structures persist and survival is still dependent on the whims of various billionaires and tech firms.” • Well, except for various pockets of independence and resistance — possibly more and more of them — of which Defector may fairly consider itself one.

Class Warfare

“Highly Paid Union Workers Give UPS a Surprise Win in Delivery Wars” [Bloomberg]. “The massive labor shortage that’s rocked the U.S. since the pandemic and disrupted long-established employment relationships hasn’t had much impact on UPS, which pays its unionized drivers the highest wages in the industry. That’s helped it maintain a stable workforce and rising profits throughout the current disruptions. Meanwhile, lower-paying, nonunionized FedEx racked up $450 million in extra costs because of labor shortages. And while UPS easily beat earnings expectations and predicted a rising profit margin in the U.S. for the fourth quarter, FedEx signaled that its profit margin will fall further. The lack of workers is taking a toll on its reliability, too. FedEx’s recent on-time performance for express and ground packages has sunk to 85%, while UPS has met deadlines on 95% of those packages, according to data collected by ShipMatrix Inc.” • A unionized workface as a competitive advantage. Who knew? Terrific gif:

(Hat tip Jordan Speer for Bloomberg Businessweek. Now do one for Deere.)

“Signs You Will Never Actually Be Able To Retire” [The Onion]. • As usual with the Onion, it’s all true.

News of the Wired

Remind me what’s so great about Modernist glass boxes:


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

EMM writes: “It is mushroom season, fascinating creatures.”

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