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2:00PM Water Cooler 6/15/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, as usual I collected too much political material over the weekend. I’ll beef up that section in a bit. –lambert


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart. The data is the John Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. Here are the major regions of the United States since pandemic start (linear scale):

Again, the Northeast has little cause to preen, despite Cuomo claiming to have “crushed” the virus. But the steady increase in the South and West — especially when California did so well in the early days — has to be concerning. At least we can cross off the idea that the summer heat will kill it. So there’s that.


“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 Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Since we’re getting closer to the election, maybe it’s time to start looking at the electoral map, updated June 8 and unchanged today:

So, taking the consensus as a given, 270 (total) – 204 (Trump’s) = 66. Trump must win 66 from the states in play: AZ (11), FL (29), MI (16), NC (15), PA (20), and WI (10) plus 1 to win not tie = 102. 102 – 66 = 36. So if Trump wins FL, MI, NC, and PA (29 + 16 + 15 + 20 = 80), he wins. That’s a heavy lift. I think I’ve got the math right this time!

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Biden (D)(1): “Exclusive: U.S. Democratic Party irked by council’s ‘insurgent’ climate plan – sources” [Reuters]. “The Democratic National Committee’s council on climate change irked party leadership when it published policy recommendations this month that ventured beyond presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan, according to three people familiar with the matter…. Members of the DNC Environment and Climate Crisis Council, formed last year, published proposals for the party’s four-year platform on June 4 in a press release, calling for up to $16 trillion in spending to shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels while banning hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas exports. The council’s proposals far exceed Biden’s current climate plan, which bans new oil and gas permits on public lands and dedicates $1.7 trillion to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, but allows continued fracking and exports in the meantime.” • I don’t know how to get my head around the fact that $1.7 trillion comes from Biden, and $16 trillion from the DNC (!). Although I suppose that means that $32 trillion is the right amount….

Biden (D)(2): “‘Who are we?’ Joe Biden seizes the moment as nation’s attitude shifts on race” [Guardian]. “As public attitudes shift quickly on race, Biden appears emboldened by the changed political landscape, embracing a far more ambitious reform agenda than he entered the race for president. By contrast, Trump, with his hostility to the protesters and resistance to their demands for reform, has found himself on the wrong side of the American public at a particularly perilous moment for his presidency and his re-election prospects. A Washington Post-Schar School poll found that 61% of Americans disapprove of the way Trump handled the protests while just 35% approve. When asked what type of president they preferred at this moment of racial strife, half said they would prefer a leader who can “address the nation’s racial divisions”, compared with 37% who said they would prefer a leader who can ‘restore security by enforcing the law.’” • The mind reels. Because–

Biden (D)(3): “Amid protests, Harris emerges as top contender for Biden’s V.P. slot” [Reuters]. “A Democratic strategist with relationships in Biden’s circle was even more blunt, saying recent events all but required Biden to pick a black woman – and that Harris is the most practical choice. ‘It’s going to be Harris. It was always going to be Harris. It was going to be Harris even when Joe Biden didn’t think it was going to be Harris,’ said the strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘At some point, he was trying to convince himself black people like him so much that he could pick someone like Amy Klobuchar.’” • Of course, Harris’s law enforcement background — albeit not for the rich — should play well with the Karens of this world. Most of whom are not out protesting….

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Realignment and Legitimacy

“Opinion analysis: Federal employment discrimination law protects gay and transgender employees” [SCOTUSblog] (opinion). “Today the Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, ruled that even if Congress may not have had discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status in mind when it enacted the landmark law over a half century ago, Title VII’s ban on discrimination protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees. Because fewer than half of the 50 states currently ban employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, today’s decision is a major victory for LGBT employees…. Justice Neil Gorsuch framed the question before the court as a straightforward one: ‘Today,’ he wrote, ‘we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender.’ The answer to that question, he continued, ‘is clear.’ When an employer fires an employee ‘for being homosexual or transgender,’ that employer “fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.’” • Gorsuch?! No doubt they’re softening us all up for something terrible, but this is an unexpectedly good ruling. Life’s little ironies:

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

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Commodities: “The Great Cheese Emergency” [Modern Farmer]. “Mountains of specialty cheese have been piling up in warehouses in recent months, as restaurants shuttered and other traditional markets closed down across America. Like many other areas of the food industry, artisanal cheese has not been immune to the pandemic’s disruptions. But cheese associations say artisanal cheese producers have been hit especially hard, as they tend to be local family-run businesses—without the support of larger corporate entities—that depend on restaurants. A recent survey of almost 1,000 artisanal cheese sellers and producers, conducted by the American Cheese Society (ACS), found that nearly 70 percent were negatively impacted in some way by COVID-19. Almost 60 percent said their overall sales decreased.” • The pandemic as a catalyst, both of our worse tendencies (as here) and our best (strikes, protests).

Commodities: “Q&A: Inside the high-stakes world of clandestine crude shipping” (interview) [American Shipper]. “ is the antithesis of scalability – a small team of amateur sleuths, more Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew than HAL 9000, more likely to be hunched in the dark trying to identify a single ship’s telltale features on an ultra-magnified satellite image than crunching numbers. co-founder Samir Madani began following ship movements as a hobby. He was also one of the co-creators of the twitter community #OOTT, the Organization of Oil Trading Tweeters. The hobby transformed into a fully incorporated commercial enterprise in 2018, with Madani going full time, together with co-founders Lisa Ward and Breki Tomasson. The timing was impeccable. In the two years since, U.S. sanctions have increasingly targeted crude tankers, the tanker industry has become a major focus of stock investors, and oil has become an ever-more-important fulcrum of geopolitics and the global economy.” • Fascinating stuff!

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 50 Neutral (previous close: 53 Neutral;) [CNN]. One week ago: 67 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jun 15 at 11:58am.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 184. Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing. I feel apocalyptic. Why don’t these guys?

Health Care

“A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic” [Proceedings of the Royal Society A]. From the abstract: “Our intention is to provide a simple modelling framework to examine the dynamics of COVID-19 epidemics when facemasks are worn by the public, with or without imposed ‘lock-down’ periods. Our results are illustrated for a number of plausible values for parameter ranges describing epidemiological processes and mechanistic properties of facemasks, in the absence of current measurements for these values. We show that, when facemasks are used by the public all the time (not just from when symptoms first appear), the effective reproduction number, Re, can be decreased below 1, leading to the mitigation of epidemic spread. Under certain conditions, when lock-down periods are implemented in combination with 100% facemask use, there is vastly less disease spread, secondary and tertiary waves are flattened and the epidemic is brought under control. The effect occurs even when it is assumed that facemasks are only 50% effective at capturing exhaled virus inoculum with an equal or lower efficiency on inhalation. Facemask use by the public has been suggested to be ineffective because wearers may touch their faces more often, thus increasing the probability of contracting COVID-19. For completeness, our models show that facemask adoption provides population-level benefits, even in circumstances where wearers are placed at increased risk. At the time of writing, facemask use by the public has not been recommended in many countries, but a recommendation for wearing face-coverings has just been announced for Scotland. Even if facemask use began after the start of the first lock-down period, our results show that benefits could still accrue by reducing the risk of the occurrence of further COVID-19 waves.” • This is really a review of the literature, but its a very good review of the literature.

“FDA withdraws emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine” [The Hill]. “The agency said recent clinical trial failures mean chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine may not be effective to treat COVID-19, and that their potential benefits do not outweigh the risks.”

“Ground-Zero Empiricism” [In The Moment]. “At moments of extreme scientific uncertainty, observation, usually treated as the poor relation of experiment and statistics in science, comes into its own. Suggestive single cases, striking anomalies, partial patterns, correlations as yet too faint to withstand statistical scrutiny, what works and what doesn’t: every clinical sense, not just sight, sharpens in the search for clues. Eventually, some of those clues will guide experiment and statistics: what to test, what to count. The numbers will converge; causes will be revealed; uncertainty will sink to tolerable levels. But for now, we are back in the seventeenth century, the age of ground-zero empiricism, and observing as if our lives depended on it.”

“Young Blood and Old Blood” [Derek Lowe, Science]. “This new preprint details the readouts of such clocks after treatment of two-year-old rats (and their various tissues) with a proprietary ‘plasma preparation’ from a company called Nugenics Research (update: corrected spelling of the name). I don’t think that’s going to make publication of this paper in a journal any easier, because that preparation is resolutely not described in any detail at all in the paper, from what I can see. This is no indictment of the paper or its results, but it does make them rather difficult to reproduce, doesn’t it?” • Ouch. But anyhow: ‘the effects of the plasma preparation on both the methylation signatures and on more traditional readouts of physiological function seem to be pretty dramatic, after two rounds of treatment in elderly rats. By the DNA methylation clock, the ages of the blood, heart, and liver tissue were basically halved (there was much less effect on the hypothalamus, interestingly). Markers of inflammation and oxidative stress went down significantly in the treated animals, and many other blood parameters changed for the better as well (HDL, creatinine, and more). The animals performed better in physical and cognitive tests (grip strength, maze test) with numbers approaching that of the young animals themselves. The authors say that this work ‘supports the notion that aging can be systemically controlled, at least in part through the circulatory system with plasma as the medium.” • For a price, of course. (Somewhere in my travels I ran across this animal studies aphorism: “Monkeys exagerrate, but mice lie. So perhaps that applies to this study.)

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“How N.W.A’s ‘Fuck tha Police’ Became the ‘Perfect Protest Song’” [Rolling Stone]. “‘Racism is just the symptom, but the fight is economic,’ the [rapper] D.O.C. says. ‘Black people have been marginalized and kept away from the economics of this country. I think people are starting to understand that and are trying to figure out how we can change that and allow everybody to join in this game of capitalism. That more than anything else is going to solidify people of color to really care about peace in their own neighborhoods, policing their own streets, not unlike the Black Panther party were doing back in the Sixties. [The Black Panthers] weren’t going to allow rogue police to come into their neighborhood and do the stuff these guys are doing to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. You couldn’t have done that in the Panthers’ neighborhood. They weren’t going to allow it.’”

“Barbra Streisand Gives Disney Stock To George Floyd’s Daughter Gianna” [HuffPo]. “Gianna Floyd expressed gratitude to Streisand over the weekend for gifting her shares in Walt Disney Co. The gallery of Instagram photos shows Gianna holding a letter and certificate she received from the “I Am A Woman In Love” singer, plus two of Streisand’s record albums, ‘My Name Is Barbra’ and ‘Color Me Barbra.’ Thank You @barbrastreisand for my package, I am now a Disney Stockholder thanks to you,’ Gianna wrote.”

“The Myth of the Kindly General Lee” [Adam Serwer, The Atlantic]. “During his invasion of Pennsylvania, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia enslaved free black Americans and brought them back to the South as property. [Historian Elizabeth Brown] Pryor writes that ‘evidence links virtually every infantry and cavalry unit in Lee’s army’ to the abduction of free black Americans, ‘with the activity under the supervision of senior officers.’” • As I have mentioned, I’m experiencing a good deal of schadenfreude in following Lee’s defeat in Gettysburg, through failures of generalship on multiple levels. From The Smithsonian: “Once, Dwight Eisenhower, who admired Lee’s generalship, took Field Marshal Montgomery to visit the Gettysburg battlefield. They looked at the site of Pickett’s charge and were baffled. Eisenhower said, ‘The man [Lee] must have got so mad that he wanted to hit that guy [Meade] with a brick.’”

Police State Watch

“A Long Polycentric Journey” [Elinor Ostrom, Annual Review of Political Science (via)]. Ostrum’s early work focused on policing (!). “In the fall of 1970, I worked with an outstanding group of black students to conduct a study in two poor, independent black communities that we matched to three similar communities being served by the Chicago Police Department. At the time of our study, the two small communities had just a few police officers. Their wages were low and their official cars were frequently out of service because their budgets were so limited. The Chicago Police Department had a force of >12,500 men who were paid relatively high wages. We estimated that expenditures for police service in the three Chicago neighborhoods were 14 times the amounts spent on policing in the small communities (E. Ostrom & Whitaker 1974). But despite the huge difference in spending, we found that in general the citizens living in the small cities received the same or higher levels of services compared to the residents in Chicago. Although victimization rates were similar, citizens living in the small independent communities were less likely to stay home due to fear of crime, and they agreed with statements that their local police treated all citizens equally according to the law, looked out for the needs of the average citizen, and did not take bribes (E. Ostrom & Whitaker 1974). The findings from these initial studies were consistent with the political economy theory.” • More on Elinor Ostrum at NC.

Cop solidarity. Thread:

We often forget that the phrase “bad apples” comes from the proverb “one bad apple spoils the barrel.” Although the phrase may have morphed

What are the rationales for policing today, a thread:

Our Famously Free Press

“Inside one reporter’s experience from Ferguson to Floyd” [CNN]. “Covering this hate and these losses could destroy my faith in humanity. Both Garner and Floyd were stopped for alleged non-violent crimes — selling untaxed cigarettes and allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. And yet both died violent deaths. Covering these are hard but I just try my damnedest to get to the truth. I won’t always get it right, of course not. I will always be a work in progress and perfection in journalism does not exist. And I still have my faith in humanity. I don’t know why something has broken loose and made America and the world respond. Perhaps it is so many people seeing what I saw, the unbearable long minutes of suffering George Floyd had under the knee of a police officer. Perhaps it’s been heightened by the isolation we have undergone as individuals facing the coronavirus. I have many questions, for myself, for the audience, for America. I hope to be there when the answers come.”


Makes me wonder what other art forms video game art has influenced. Thread:

Class Warfare

“Almost One in Four Adult Workers is Vulnerable to Severe Illness from COVID-19” [KFF]. “Among non-elderly adult workers, at-risk workers are older on average than non-elderly workers who are not at risk (average age of 45 versus 40), reflecting the fact that risk status chronic conditions or poor health increases with age. One-half of at-risk non-elderly adult workers are women, which is higher than the percentage (46%) of non-elderly adult workers who are not at risk. Large shares of at-risk workers — 86% of non-elderly adult at risk workers and 61% of age 65 and older at-risk workers — work full-time (at least 35 hours per week). They have substantial connection to work and may face economic difficulties remaining absent from their jobs even if safety is a question. The average annual earnings of non-elderly adult at-risk workers was $48,400 in 2018, somewhat lower than the average annual earnings for non-elderly adults workers who were not at risk ($51,900). …. The importance of at-risk workers’ earnings to themselves and to their families may put added pressure on them to continue to work or return to work even if their safety may be compromised. Not surprisingly, among both non-elderly at-risk workers and workers age 65 and older who live alone, earnings on average account for a very large share of their total annual incomes: 94% among non-elderly at-risk workers and 72% among older at-risk workers in 2018.” • Yes, that’s how wage labor works.

“Spiraling anti-Marxism in the DSA” [Class Unity]. “The cancelled event, jointly organized by the Philadelphia DSA political education committee and the Lower Manhattan DSA political education working group, was to have been held on May 30th and was titled ‘Covid-19 and the dangers of disparity ideology.’ The main attraction was the presence of Adolph Reed, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and a longtime socialist and labor activist going back many decades, including as a Bernie campaign surrogate in both 2016 and 2020 and as one of the founders of the Labor Party in the 1990s. Reed has recently written several articles on the same theme as the cancelled event. Both the Facebook and Action Network pages for the event have been taken down, but the event had drawn several hundred interested people. It goes without saying that the DSA has a desperate need for a culture of internal discussion and debate, and that the event would have been useful for the many curious attendees, the Philly and NYC chapters, and the entire organization. So what happened?… Anti-Marxist elements, principally within New York City DSA, engaged in a coordinated campaign to portray the event as racially insensitive and ultimately to force its cancellation. This campaign took place both publicly on social media and behind the scenes as NYCDSA chapter leadership maneuvered to undercut and sabotage the event. …. If DSA liberals can cancel a scholar of Reed’s stature with baseless allegations amplified over social media, whom can’t they cancel?… Early in the morning on what was to be the day of the event, the Afrosocialist Caucus issued a statement titled ‘Response to the Philly DSA, NYC Lower Manhattan branch and Adolph Reed,’ in which they demanded the cancellation of the event and its replacement by ‘a debate of Adolph Reed’s class reductionist analysis versus our intersectional socialist analysis‘” • How on earth does Adolph Reed get cancelled? As for “intersectional socialism,” it’s a little-noticed fact that Chirlane McCray, one-time member of the Wellesley-adjacent Combahee River Collectiveground zero of intersectionality as a political concept — is now Mayor Bill Dlasio‘s wife. Which is a little too on-the-nose, isn’t it? I recommend a reading of Reeds “the Trouble with Uplift,” which must have made a good many aspirational “voices” very, very angry.

News of the Wired

“The mysterious origins of an uncrackable video game” [BBC]. “‘[V]ideo game archaeologists’ are unearthing long forgotten pieces of software and pulling them apart. Inside they are finding clues to how the early days of video gaming came about, but also secrets that can help modern programmers with some of the problems they are facing today…. Maze-navigating games were very common back in the late 1970s and early 1980s…. Although the blocky, two dimensional mazes from entombed might look simple by the standards of today’s computer graphics, in 1982 you couldn’t just design a set of mazes, store them in the game and later display them on-screen – there wasn’t enough memory on the game cartridges for something like that. In many cases, mazes were generated “procedurally” – in other words, the game created them randomly on the fly, so players never actually traversed the same maze twice…. [I]n Entombed, an Atari 2600] the fundamental logic that determines the next square is locked in a table of possible values written into the game’s code. Depending on the values of the five-square tile, the table tells the game to deposit either wall, no wall or a random choice between the two…. It seems straightforward, but the thing is, no-one can work out how the table was made. Aycock and Copplestone have tried retro-engineering the table. They looked for patterns in the values to try and reveal how it was designed, but this was to no avail. Whatever the programmer did, it was a stroke of mild genius.” • Now do protein folding!

“Not the Cat’s Meow? The Impact of Posing with Cats on Female Perceptions of Male Dateability” [Animals]. “Women responded to an online survey and rated photos of men alone and men holding cats on measures of masculinity and personality. Men holding cats were viewed as less masculine; more neurotic, agreeable, and open; and less dateable. These results varied slightly depending whether the women self-identified as a ‘dog person’ or a ‘cat person.’ This study suggests that a closer look at the effects of different companion species on perceived masculinity and dateability is warranted.” • Well, I’m closed, disagreeable, not neurotic at all, and I like cats. So there.

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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 (TH):

TH writes: “Isn’t it pretty the way the sun caught caught the blooms on this Desert Fern Tree?” It is!

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