2:00PM Water Cooler 11/16/2021 | naked capitalism


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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

A duet, though one of the voices is very faint.

* * *

#COVID19

Readers, I have returned this section to its usual format (with some boilerplate revision). –lambert

Vaccination by region:

The numbers bounce back. (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)

58.8% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, as of November 15. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above the Czech Republic in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). We are back to the stately 0.1% rise per day. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the virus…

Case count by United States regions:

Now we have an actual jump (and I have drawn an anti-triumphalist black line). The cases are broadly distributed in the Midwest, and concentrated in New York and especially Pennsylvania in the Northeast (see yesterday’s Water Cooler for state data). Alert reader Cocoaman discovered that Pennsylvania was now counting reinfections as cases instead of ignoring them (which makes sense if you want to, oh, allocate health care resources). But even if you backed out those cases, which would bring Pennsylvania back into line with New York, the jump is still extremely concerning. And right before Thanksgiving, too.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). “Here is today’s version of the chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the case data discussed above. The last time CDC updated the data is 11/6, i.e. before the jump in cases:

(Note that the highlighted case data is running behind the Johns Hopkins data presented first.) Now, it’s fair to say that the upward trend in case data (black dotted line) is still within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within the grey area (aggregated predictions) It’s also true that where we see an upward trend in the predicted case data (lower right quadrant) it’s much later than where we are now. It’s too early to say “Dammit, CDC, your models were broken”; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. But maybe we’ll get lucky, and the problem, if indeed it is a problem, will go away before Thanksgiving travel begins.

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

Massachusetts is still exhibiting its oddball sine wave behavior, but to my eye the trend is up (as is the case data). It would be really bad if the case count jumped just as the students headed home for Thanksgiving.

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 November 12, 2021” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

Yikes, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all redder. Pennsylvania is solid red (because of its data change, but the cases are still real). New Mexico is much worse. Arizona is worse. Inland California is clear, but now there’s pink along the coast. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are better. And there are lots of little red specks, Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Note the rise/red coloring in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the rise in Indiana. No change in Pennsylvania, yet.

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 784,779 780,803. Fiddling and diddling. But at this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):

Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

(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’s duty 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.)

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

Chile, Portugal, Peru, with Brazil slowing. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

* * *

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

Trick handcuffs (1):

Trick handcuffs (2):

Stupid it is:

Ever since Biden ended a war, he can’t buy good press. Sure is odd:

The windup, the pitch:

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. (“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 that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

* * *

“Fight for”:

I don’t think that’s the killer argument the poster thinks it is….

Republican Funhouse

“Energized Chris Christie Ready For Next Chapter Of Humiliation” [The Onion]. • Chris Christie? Surely not.

“U.S. Republicans move to decriminalize marijuana at federal level” [Reuters]. “Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation on Monday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and eliminate legal hazards facing many cannabis-related businesses while regulating its use like alcohol… The bill diverges in several important ways from draft legislation proposed in July by Senate Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. [Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina’s] bill would impose a 3% excise tax on cannabis, compared to an increasing Senate tax proposal that would top out at around 25%. Where the Senate proposal would give the Food and Drug Administration a primary oversight role, the Republican legislation limits FDA involvement to medical marijuana and makes the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the primary regulator for interstate commerce.”

RussiaGate

“Indictment of Steele dossier source humiliates its media, intel cheerleaders” (podcast) [Aaron Maté, Pushback]. • I disagree. To be humiliated, you have to have a sense of shame. That said, only the most churlish would deny Maté his well-deserved happy dance on the imagined graves of his enemies.

Realignment and Legitimacy

Class traders:

“Among the Unvaccinated” [Chris Arnade, Among the Unvaccinated]. “Everyone mentioned above… has had a rather rough life. As measured by someone like me, or by most readers of this. Not as measured by any of them. They are just getting by doing the best they can and that means some bumps in the road here and there. Sometimes that includes accidents, overdoses, firings, bankruptcies, felony gun charges, addictions, etc. But that is just life. Everyone was without a college degree. Or in my lingo, in the Back Row. Everyone was proud of being unvaccinated, and almost everyone told me without me asking. They wanted me to know, much as someone wants you to know they are a Packers fan, or an Ohio State fan. The demographics of the unvaccinated I have met is very similar to the demographics of the rest of the Back Row. It is mostly white, but minorities are over-represented, relative to the general population of the US. To the degree they are political, it is mostly non-voters, and like non-voters, while they may have a strong allegiance to a ‘side,’ they don’t think much of the process. ‘Everyone is equally corrupt, but at least Trump is honest about it.’ The whites in the group mostly support Trump, but that isn’t really surprising. Some like Old Man Bernie. Some think he is a commie. Some even voted for Biden, ‘But I got a lot of shit for that.’ Some are, by income alone, upper middle class. They might own a small chain of local tire stores. Or they might have a lawncare biz that has done well. Most aren’t though. Most are lower middle class to poor. But that is the Back Row. What they all have in common is a distrust of certain authority. Mostly that means academics and bureaucrats who do things they can’t fully understand, see the value in, or ever aspire to. Like what do you actually do? Like what do you build? People pay you for that? Or to frame it as they would, if they knew the language, ‘A justified cynicism of an out of touch bureaucratic elite.’ Vaccines are being touted by those types of elites. So they must be questioned. Must be pushed back against…. There is about 15% – 30% of the population who won’t get vaccinated, almost no matter how hard you try. It has become core to who they are. The only way to possible reach them is by people like them. You can’t put an outsider on the TV to preach to them. Certainly not one with lots of credentials. It has to come from within their community. But not the mayor, or the local this or that. It has to be a normie like them.” • And as Arnade says, it doesn’t help that the public health establishment has butchered every aspect of pandemic management, including vaccination.

* * *

“Kyle Rittenhouse Jury Begins Deliberations Over Wisconsin Shootings” [Bloomberg]. “Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with counts ranging from reckless endangerment to intentional homicide and could face life in prison without parole if convicted. The August 2020 shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, came amid the nationwide social upheaval after the murder of George Floyd and have become a talking point for some conservatives, who claim Rittenhouse as a hero, and some liberals, who hold him up as a reckless vigilante.”

Stats Watch

Industrial Activity: “United States Industrial Production” [Trading Economics]. “Industrial production in the United States rose 1.6 percent from a month earlier in October 2021, rebounding from a 1.3 percent drop in September and beating market expectations of a 0.7 percent increase. It was the biggest monthly gain in industrial activity since March with half of the gain reflecting a recovery from the effects of Hurricane Ida.” • Bad for Biden, obviously.

Manufacturing: “United States Manufacturing Production” [Trading Economics]. “Manufacturing production in the United States increased 4.50 percent year-on-year in October of 2021, following a downwardly revised 4.7 percent increase in September. On a monthly basis, factory activity increased 1.2 percent; excluding a large gain in the production of motor vehicles and parts, factory output moved up 0.6 percent.” • Bad for Biden, obviously.

Capacity: “United States Capacity Utilization” [Trading Economics]. “Capacity Utilization in the United States increased to 76.40 percent in October from 75.20 percent in September of 2021, above forecasts of 75.8 percent.”

Retail: “U.S. Retail Sales” [Trading Economics]. “US retail sales surged 1.7% mom in October of 2021, above an upwardly revised 0.8% rise in the previous month and beating market forecasts of 1.4%. It is the strongest gain since March, as consumers spend more on early holiday shopping and gasoline.” • Bad for Biden, obviously.

Inventories: “United States Business Inventories” [Trading Economics]. “Manufacturers’ and trade inventories in the US rose 0.7 percent from a month earlier in September of 2021, following an upwardly revised 0.8 percent gain in August and in line with market expectations.”

Capital Flows: “United States Net Treasury International Capital Flows” [Trading Economics]. “The United States recorded a capital and financial account surplus of USD 91 billion in August of 2021, the 10th straight month of increases, following an upwardly revised USD 164.1 billion in the previous month. Foreign investors bought USD 30.7 billion in Treasuries in August, compared with an inflow of USD 10.2 billion in July. Meanwhile, foreigners bought USD 79.3 billion of long-term US securities, after purchasing USD 2 billion in the previous month.”

* * *

Inflation:

The thread is above my paygrade, but Waldman is always worth reading.

Retail: “The end of “click to subscribe, call to cancel”? One of the news industry’s favorite retention tactics is illegal, FTC says” [Nieman Labs]. “Discovering they had to get on the phone to cancel a subscription they signed up for online rankled several respondents in our survey looking at why people canceled their news subscriptions. The reaction to the call-to-cancel policy ranged from ‘an annoyance’ and ‘ridiculous’ to ‘shady’ and ‘oppressive.’… The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, recently made it clear that it sees the practice as 1) one of several ‘dark patterns that trick or trap consumers into subscriptions’ and 2) straight-up illegal. The FTC vowed to ramp up enforcement on companies that fail to provide an ‘easy and simple’ cancellation process, including an option that’s ‘at least as easy’ as the one to subscribe.” • More generally, since a dark pattern can be recognized — and how not, it was engineered — it can be regulated. More like this, please. Now do Facebook. See NC here in 2019 on dark patterns.

Rail: “World’s first all-electric freight locomotive to be used in western PA” [GoErie]. “Roy Hill, an iron ore mining, rail and port operation in western Australia, was the first announced buyer of Wabtec’s new FLXdrive, a battery-electric locomotive built in Erie. The company’s second order, however, promises to put the innovative new locomotive — which creates a hybrid train when paired with one or more diesel locomotives — on a stage closer to home. Canadian National has announced plans to purchase Wabtec’s 100% battery-electric locomotive to operate on its Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, which runs from the PIttsburgh suburb of Penn Hills to Conneaut, Ohio. No sale price was announced for the purchase, which was supported in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.” • The locomotive is pictured; it lacks the enormous radiators that today’s EMD and GE diesels use to throw off their excess heat.

Concentration: “Amazon Sued Over Crashes by Drivers Rushing to Make Deliveries” [Bloomberg]. “[Ans] Rana filed a lawsuit in Georgia state court, alleging that Amazon is liable for [his] accident, [after which he will never walk again]. Central to the complaint: the algorithms, apps and devices the company uses to manage its sprawling logistics operation. Amazon says it isn’t legally culpable because the driver worked for Harper Logistics LLC, one of thousands of small businesses launched in recent years specifically to deliver Amazon packages. By focusing on the key role played by the algorithms, Rana’s attorney, Scott Harrison, is looking to prove that the company controls the operation, managing everything from how many packages drivers must deliver to whether they should be kept on or fired. Demonstrating Amazon isn’t just a customer of Harper Logistics, but actually manages it from afar, is critical to any attempt to put the e-commerce giant on the hook for Rana’s medical bills and a lifetime of diminished earnings. Amazon closely tracks delivery drivers’ every move, the lawsuit states, including “backup monitoring, speed, braking, acceleration, cornering, seatbelt usage, phone calls, texting, in-van cameras that use artificial intelligence to detect for yawning, and more.” If drivers fall behind schedule, Amazon employees send text messages “complaining that a certain driver is ‘behind the rabbit’ and needs to be ‘rescued’ to ensure that all the packages on Amazon’s route are delivered in compliance with Amazon’s unrealistic and dangerous speed expectations.”Most commercial vehicle injury lawsuits are settled quietly between attorneys and insurance carriers. Rana’s case stands out for the severity of his injuries and his legal team’s argument that Amazon’s technological hold over its delivery partners makes it culpable in the crash.” • Sounds like a new legal theory of monopoly to me.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 81 Extreme Greed (previous close: 82 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 86 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 16 at 12:07pm.

The Biosphere

“Breakdown: COP’s bare minimum is still a ratchet” [Reuters]. “[T]he real question was not whether China and India would set clearer net zero targets, but whether any sort of agreement was possible at all. The worst-case scenario of no accord was, at least, avoided. Yet financiers at COP26 were antsy about a second Donald Trump presidency in 2024 read more . A U.S. National Intelligence Council note published before the conference foretold a dark future where climate change becomes increasingly destabilising, countries retreat into themselves to help their own populations, and tensions over resources and migration escalate. Efforts by the UK government hosts to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive therefore hinged on being able to lay down placeholders that imply future action on the part of big emitters like China and India, rather than explicitly stating what they would be. So instead of a firm pledge by Beijing to move forward a national peak of emissions to 2025 instead of 2030, Beijing and Washington agreed in a Wednesday pact that Beijing would “phase down” coal in the second half of the decade.”

“Ice on the edge of survival: Warming is changing the Arctic” [Associated Press]. “The fate of the Arctic looms large during the climate talks in Glasgow — the farthest north the negotiations have taken place — because what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Scientists believe the warming there is already contributing to weather calamities elsewhere around the world. ‘If we end up in a seasonally sea ice-free Arctic in the summertime, that’s something human civilization has never known,’ said former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, a University of Colorado environmental researcher. ‘That’s like taking a sledgehammer to the climate system.’ What’s happening in the Arctic is a runaway effect. ‘Once you start melting, that kind of enhances more melt,’ said University of Manitoba ice scientist Julienne Stroeve. When covered with snow and ice, the Arctic reflects sunlight and heat. But that blanket is dwindling. And as more sea ice melts in the summer, ‘you’re revealing really dark ocean surfaces, just like a black T-shirt,’ Moon said. Like dark clothing, the open patches of sea soak up heat from the sun more readily. Between 1971 and 2019, the surface of the Arctic warmed three times faster than the rest of the world, according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.”

“Enormous cost of relocating US climate refugees from coastal town a stark example for the whole world, researchers warn” [Frontiers Science News]. “The town of Tangier on Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay, has lost 62% of its original habitable upland area since 1967, a new study has found. It will see further decline within the next 15-30 years, leaving hundreds of people without homes and income. The researchers estimate that fully protecting and restoring the town would cost roughly between $250m and $350m. The case of Tangier is a prime example of the consequences of continued sea level rise and human displacement due to the climate crisis…. A prominent example of the consequences of human driven sea level rise is the case of the Tangier in Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay, US. Tangier Island is one of the last remaining inhabited islands in Chesapeake Bay and is primarily a fishing community. The town’s population has shrunk from more than 1,100 inhabitants in the early 1900s, to 436 in 2020 and consists of three upland ridges: Canton, Main, and West.”

Health Care

Lambert here: If you celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s not too soon to plan. Leaving aside vaccination, masking, and social distancing, let’s talk about another layer of defense: Ventilation. It has struck me powerfully that all the thinking we put into insulating houses can also be applied in ventilating them. (“A banker? Me?” “Yes, Mr. Lipwig.” “But I don’t know anything about running a bank!” “Good. No preconceived ideas.” “I’ve robbed banks!” “Capital! Just reverse your thinking,” said Lord Vetinari, beaming. “The money should be on the inside.” One metaphor I learned is that This Old House is like a chimney: It sucks in air at the bottom, and expels it at the top. Of course, insulation solved; previously, the house had pinned the blower door. But now, reverse your thinking. Don’t simply ventilate the spaces where are guests are gathering; open a window upstairs or in the attic. Create a draft. Just reverse your thinking.

“Displacement ventilation: a viable ventilation strategy for makeshift hospitals and public buildings to contain COVID-19 and other airborne diseases” [The Royal Society]. From the Abtract: ‘Adequate building ventilation in hospitals and public spaces is a crucial factor to contain [Covid]. We argue that displacement ventilation (either mechanical or natural ventilation), where air intakes are at low level and extracts are at high level, is a viable alternative to negative pressure isolation rooms, which are often not available on site in hospital wards and makeshift hospitals. Displacement ventilation produces negative pressure at the occupant level, which draws fresh air from outdoors, and positive pressure near the ceiling, which expels the hot and contaminated air out. We acknowledge that, in both developed and developing countries, many modern large structures lack the openings required for natural ventilation. This lack of openings can be supplemented by installing extract fans.”

“Fauci: Vaccinated families can ‘feel good’ about Thanksgiving gatherings” [The Hill]. “Anthony Fauci said on Monday that families who are vaccinated against COVID-19 can ‘feel good about enjoying a typical’ Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. President Biden’s chief medical adviser warned that the U.S. is still counting tens of thousands of new cases per day and recommended masks in indoor congregate settings. But he said the fully vaccinated should feel comfortable gathering with other vaccinated family and friends in private settings this holiday season. “[I]f you get vaccinated and your family’s vaccinated, you can feel good about enjoying a typical Thanksgiving, Christmas with your family and close friends,’ he said at a Bipartisan Policy Center event. ‘When you go to indoor congregate settings, go the extra mile, be safe, wear a mask,’ he added. ‘But when you are with your family at home, goodness, enjoy it with your parents, your children, your grandparents. There’s no reason not to do that.’” • No mention of ventilation. Of course. What a psycho. And a smarmy one at that. Can’t somebody in the West Wing get him to spend more time with his family?

* * *

“A live attenuated influenza virus-vectored intranasal COVID-19 vaccine provides rapid, prolonged, and broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection” [bioRxiv]. It’s a hamster study, so don’t get too excited. From the Abstract: “To overcome the limitations of intramuscular vaccines, we constructed a nasal vaccine candidate based on an influenza vector by inserting a gene encoding the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, named CA4-dNS1-nCoV-RBD (dNS1-RBD). A preclinical study showed that in hamsters challenged 1 day and 7 days after single-dose vaccination or 6 months after booster vaccination, dNS1-RBD largely mitigated lung pathology, with no loss of body weight, caused by either the prototype-like strain or beta variant of SARS-CoV-2. Lasted data showed that the animals could be well protected against beta variant challenge 9 months after vaccination. Notably, the weight loss and lung pathological changes of hamsters could still be significantly reduced when the hamster was vaccinated 24 h after challenge. Moreover, such cellular immunity is relatively unimpaired for the most concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants. The protective immune mechanism of dNS1-RBD could be attributed to the innate immune response in the nasal epithelium, local RBD-specific T cell response in the lung, and RBD-specific IgA and IgG response. Thus, this study demonstrates that the intranasally delivered dNS1-RBD vaccine candidate may offer an important addition to fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, compensating limitations of current intramuscular vaccines, particularly at the start of an outbreak.”

“How Long Will Boosters Last?” [Bloomberg]. “Now on to the question of how long boosters will last. That’s a tough one.” • Oh.

“Why Health-Care Workers Are Quitting In Droves” [The Atlantic]. “She felt like a stranger to herself, a commodity to her hospital.” She felt that way because she is. That’s what selling your labor power for a wage is all about. It’s not a metaphor. More: “[Morning Consult] found that 31 percent of the remaining health-care workers have considered leaving their employer, while the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses found that 66 percent of acute and critical-care nurses have thought about quitting nursing entirely. ‘We’ve never seen numbers like that before,’ Bettencourt told me. Normally, she said, only 20 percent would even consider leaving their institution, let alone the entire profession. Esther Choo, an emergency physician at Oregon Health and Science University, told me that she now cringes when a colleague approaches her at the end of a shift, because she fears that they’ll quietly announce their resignation too. Vineet Arora, who is dean for medical education at University of Chicago Medicine, says that ‘in meetings with other health-care leaders, when we go around the room, everyone says, ‘We’re struggling to retain our workforce.’” • Thinking of the CDC, I wouldn’t say that the “P” segment of the PMC has exactly covered themselves with glory in the pandemic (except for those on the frontlines of patient care). Nor., thinking of hospitals, universities, industry generally, has the “M” segment. If you can’t keep your labor force, shouldn’t you be asking yourself how you run your business?

“Underlying health conditions? That’s almost all of us” [The Sydney Morning Herald]. “In a way, ‘the economy” is really code for movement, the continual displacement of people and things for the purposes of creating profit. Restricting movement – the most powerful weapon against any novel pathogen – impedes the efficient creation of profit. By convincing the bulk of the herd that it is only the weaker animals at the edge that will be picked off by predators, the bulk continues on. No matter that this is not true and that it is a swathe of the bulk itself that is eliminated: population growth will soon fix that in a few years. The essential thing is to keep the herd moving. Several decades of libertarian political philosophy have resulted in the partial destruction of the idea of collective fates and collective action. All that matters is the individual, who is mendaciously instructed they must keep moving and abandon the weak for the sake of ‘the economy’, a construct whose purpose increasingly appears to be to deliver excessive profit to fewer and fewer oligarchs.”

They don’t call airlines common carriers for nothing:

The 420

Screening Room

Our link to a Rembrandt self-portrait educed discussion on his “The Night Watch“:

Chiaroscuro city! Alert reader Eustachedesaintpierre pointed out that there is a movie on this topic, directed by Peter Greenaway: J’Accuse:

J’Accuse is an essayistic film in which Greenaway’s fierce criticism of today’s visual illiteracy is argued by means of a forensic search of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Greenaway explains the background, the context, the conspiracy, the murder and the motives of all its 34 painted characters who have conspired to kill for their combined self-advantage. Greenaway leads us through Rembrandt’s paintings into 17th century Amsterdam. He paints a world that is democratic in principle, but is almost entirely ruled by twelve families. The notion exists of these regents as charitable and compassionate beings. But reality was different. Greenaway points out to the viewer all sorts of ‘evidence’ that can be found in the Nightwatch, but which no one ever noticed before. Just as in the acclaimed American show CSI, Greenaway knows how to make the evidence for the murder credible by basing his line of questioning on the facts: historical sources, comparisons with other works of art that contain a secret message and mainly by highlighting numerous details in the painting that were never noticed before or that were simply not correctly interpreted.

The film explains how and why The Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s J’Accuse, is a criticism of Amsterdam’s oligarchy and plutocracy of the Golden Age, a demonstration of the manipulative power of the visual image, and an indictment, which puts all the characters involved in a complex and devious conspiracy to murder. Greenaway himself plays the part of the public prosecutor, but is at the same time himself. In his 21st Century clothes he will interrogate characters from the movie Nightwatching, dressed in historical costumes on their part in the murder conspiracy.

Nothing fundamental will change. (I don’t want to trigger any of YouTube’s tripwires by linking to a full version of the movie, should there be one, and don’t you either.)

Our Famously Free Press

“Why grifting is now in fashion” [Molly Roberts, WaPo]. “Everyone is living their truth, not the truth. Reality is kaput, shared neither in theory nor in practice. So, many have discarded what faith they had in institutions, and they’ve also discarded the idea that institutions can be improved at all. Small victories don’t exist. Only total victory exists, zero-sum. Where this thinking leads is obvious. No point in trying to reform politics — better to rebel for your own regime. No point in trying to root the ugly out of Wall Street — better to invent your own kind of money. No point in trying to improve higher education — better to design your own insular network of alt-academia. But the legitimacy of a home-brewed belief system depends exclusively on the continued belief of those within that system. While to the rest of society, it might as well all be an illusion: non-degree degrees, non-money money, nonwinning winners. The believers might wonder who’s really getting scammed.” • From the people who brought you RussiaGate. Not an ounce of self-awareness; self-criticism isn’t even an option.

Class Warfare

“Acting as if one is Already Free: David Graeber’s Political Economy and the Strategic Impasse of the Left” [Salvage Zone]. “The fundamental unity between Graeber’s politics and his academic research was obvious. He was an anarchist, opposed to the ‘reigning institutions like capital and state’, as he explained in New Left Review in 2002, and he rejected liberalism on that basis. This guided his method as an anthropologist: he approached human societies with what could be called a deep universalism. All humans, in all societies, had the capacity to understand what a good society might be. The societies they built could organise and reorganise themselves in radically different ways, as the evidence of history shows. This was both a moral and a methodological claim, and this belief in the fundamental plasticity of human organisation, around a moral core of human desire for collectivity, runs through all his work. Most of his political commitments clearly ran in the same direction – as in Rojava, where Graeber saw an on-the-ground attempt to found a new kind of egalitarian society, or with Occupy. But Graeber also threw himself wholeheartedly into supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the movement around him – which prioritised occupying state power through elections, while operating in the British Labour Party, a party with, to put it mildly, limited traditions of freewheeling anarchist spontaneity. Graeber came out to bat for Jeremy when he and the movement were at its lowest ebb. Here was an anarchist intellectual urging full-throated support for a social-democratic, electoral party, while taking some of the hardest positions available, directly addressing (for example) the antisemitism crisis in Labour, in a crucial article for Open Democracy. To chart a route between the twin dangers of exaggerating the novelty of the moment on one hand, and its continuity with some implied and implicitly understood ‘business as usual’, means to invite deep reflection about a very real global crisis, and a crisis on and of the Left, without reassuring ourselves of our rectitude, that without betrayals and sell-outs things would certainly have turned out exactly as we planned. If we are to honour Marx’s call for the ‘ruthless criticism of all that is’, which includes our own long-held shibboleths, who better to guide us – in examining treasured fetish-objects – than a radical anthropologist?” • Dense, but very interesting.

“Whistleblower featured in USA TODAY ‘Behind the Blue Wall’ series ousted from police union” [USA Today]. “An Illinois police union on Wednesday ousted from its membership an officer facing criminal charges for exposing a squad car video that showed his fellow officers slapping and cursing a man dying of a drug overdose. The case of Sgt. Javier Esqueda, a 27-year veteran of the Joliet Police Department, was featured in September as the first installment of the USA TODAY series “Behind the Blue Wall,” an investigation involving more than 300 cases of police officers over the past decade who have spoken out against alleged misconduct in their departments. A subsequent story published this week outlined patterns of retaliation against such officers in departments large and small across the country, highlighting how some within law enforcement use internal affairs investigations and other forms of retaliation and intimidation to punish those who break the code of silence.”

If only they could imagine life on Earth!

News of the Wired

I am not feeling wired today. Perhaps tomorrow!

* * *

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 (ChiGal):

ChiGal writes: “Evening sky in Nichols Park. Also noted were a half dozen (“white”) men, mostly older but at least one looked to be in his twenties, drinking or sleeping on benches or the ground and a couple of tents. Sign of the times, they weren’t there 5 years ago.” A lovely sky, beneath which all of us sleep. But I’m surprised Chicago hasn’t made it impossible to lie down on the benches.

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