Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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2:00PM Water Cooler 5/10/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

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At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching. All the charts are becoming dull — approaching nominal, if you accept the “new normal” of cases, for example.

Vaccination by region:

Case count by United States regions:

The Midwest in detail:

Continued good news. But Michigan’s decrease is agonizingly slow.

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

Continued good news.

Test positivity:

Down, except for the West, now flat.

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“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

Biden Administration

HHS tries to put Fauci’s toothpaste back in the tube:

“Bernie Sanders skeptical of the Biden White House’s dealmaking plan” [Axios]. “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) indicated to “Axios on HBO” he’s already impatient with the White House’s quest for Republican support for President Biden’s infrastructure package, saying. ‘The American people want results’ and don’t care if these results are achieved with bipartisan votes… [F]rankly, when people got a, you know [ha*], $1,400 check or $5,600 check for their family, they didn’t say, ‘Oh, I can’t cash this check because it was done without any Republican votes.’… Sanders believes the lesson of the Obama era — in which the former president held out hope of getting Republicans to support the Affordable Care Act — is that it’s foolish to let Republicans slow-walk the Democratic agenda. ‘Congress takes breaks and it’s easy to obstruct,’ Sanders said. ‘The Senate is a very slow-moving process. … I would begin, you know, starting this work immediately. If Republicans want to come on board, seriously, great. If not, we’re going to do it alone.’” • Sanders is obviously right, so much as to make me question the good faith of liberal Democrats who seem to think otherwise; I can’t think what would motivate them other than something outside the scope of their Congressional duties. NOTE * Sanders checks himself from saying “$2,000.” Joe Biden owes me six hundred bucks.

Lambert here: Coverage of the infrastructure bill seems to have stalled (along with the bill itself; Psaki (above) says “progress by Memorial Day”). The same goes for a lot of other Biden administration initiatives, like WTO patent waivers for vaccines, withdrawal from Yemen; basically everything except the Covid relief bill, which the entire political class agreed had to be passed (just like the CARES Act). If this were the Trump Administration, the yammering about what wasn’t getting done, and the incompetence and malevolence of the non-doers, would be on blast (though to be fair, Trump would have been stirring the pot). Now, it seems that whenever Biden announces something will get done, the press moves on to something else, confident that something, at least, will get done. Perhaps they’re all at brunch now. Or perhaps newsrooms are even leaner than before, now that the clicks from Trump’s constant churn aren’t boosting revenues. Or perhaps the press just won’t criticize someone they see as representing them, as a class. Whatever the reason, if one after-effect of Covid is brain fog, one effect of the Biden administration is Biden Fog; it’s extremely difficult to see what, if anything, the administration is actually doing. Biden Fog makes me very uneasy, more uneasy than the Obama administrations smooth manipulativeness. Do others share my concern?

Stats Watch

Inflation Expectations: “United States Consumer Inflation Expectations” [Trading Economics]. “Median year-ahead inflation expectations in the US increased to 3.4 percent in April 2021, the highest level since September 2013, amid mounting concerns over rising price pressure as the economy further re-opens. Home and rent price growth expectations increased to new series highs, while households’ year-ahead spending growth outlook remained elevated.”

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Commodities: “Biden Declares Emergency Waiver While Colonial Pipeline Is Down” [Zero Day]. “The source who works for the midstream oil company told Zero Day that one reason Colonial might still be keeping the pipelines offline — in addition to needing to add security measures to it — is because ‘something they need for [restarting] the pipeline is ransomed.’ He thinks this could be the automated ticketing system for billing customers, which is on the corporate IT network that was hit with the ransomware. If that system is locked, Colonial can’t invoice customers automatically, he said. Colonial’s operational network controls the flow of oil product from the pipeline to distributors, then passes information to the ticketing system — located on the IT network — about how much each distributor received so the ticketing system can invoice them. If that system is locked and the pipeline is still flowing, Colonial would have to manually collect information about how much fuel is flowing to each customer, then manually process invoices. If Colonial didn’t already have a plan for doing this manually, it may keep the pipelines down until it can determine an efficient way to invoice customers this way or until it can restore the automated ticketing system.” • lol.

Commmodities: “Tyson launches plant-based burgers and sausages to compete with Beyond Meat” [The Dairy Site]. “Tyson Foods Inc is launching plant-based hamburgers and sausages ahead of the US summer grilling season, increasing competition for Beyond Meat as it releases an updated version of its own faux burger…. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods aim to meet consumer demands for more climate-friendly diets, but sales of some of their products have slowed more recently as the plant-based trend cools…. Tyson is making another attempt at an alternative burger after phasing out a patty last year that was a blend of beef and plants.”

Shipping: “Shipyards in China’s Repair Hub Ban Arrivals from India” [gCaptain]. “Shipyards in the Chinese coastal city of Zhoushan have banned vessels that called at or changed crews in India in the last three months, citing concerns over rising infections in the South Asian nation. Restrictions on vessels from India as well as Bangladesh are now in place, prohibiting their arrival for maintenance and repair work, said a spokesperson from shipping and logistics firm Wilhelmsen Group. The company was informed of the ban by a shipyard operating in the city, the spokesperson said. Details were confirmed by an official from Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard Co. Several shipyards in Zhoushan ranked among the world’s top 10 repairers in terms of 2019 business volume.”

Retail: “The secret tricks hidden inside restaurant menus” [BBC]. “There is now an entire industry known as “menu engineering”, dedicated to designing menus that convey certain messages to customers, encouraging them to spend more and make them want to come back for a second helping…. The words used to describe a food, however, may do far more than make them sound enticing – they can make our mouths water. A study from the University of Cologne in Germany last year showed that by cleverly naming dishes with words that mimic the mouth movements when eating, restaurants could increase the palatability of the food. They found words that move from the front to the back of the mouth were more effective – such as the made up word ‘bodok.’ The effect seems to even work when reading silently, perhaps because the brain still stimulates the motor movements required to produce speech when reading. This masticatory effect, the authors suggest, gets our saliva glands working.” • And much else. I wonder if these concepts are used in political communication. Anyhow, there’s such a thing as a “menu engineer.”

Tech: “Aircraft will soon be voice-controlled in the next step towards self-flying planes — here’s how engineers are actively working to make it reality” [Business Insider]. “Engineers and researchers at Honeywell Aerospace are currently working on new cockpit systems that will allow pilots to control their planes with voice commands. It’s the latest effort that seeks to reduce pilot workload by increasing automation in the cockpit. The idea is that pilots can give simple commands like tuning to a radio frequency or turning to a heading, while also spending less time on tedious and time-consuming tasks like researching weather.” • I know nothing about human factors engineering, but it seems to me that adding a whole new mode of communication would increase complexity, not decrease it. As for example–


Tech: “Musicians Say Streaming Doesn’t Pay. Can the Industry Change?” [New York Times (CL). “The artists’ demands are threaded with anger and anxiety over the degradation of creative labor. But the musicians face long odds. Despite solidarity among many older and independent artists, the most successful current pop acts have largely been silent on the issue. And while many musicians paint Spotify as the enemy, the shift to streaming over the last decade has returned the industry to growth after years of financial decline…. The heart of musicians’ critique is how that money is distributed. Major record labels, after contracting painfully for much of the 2000s, are now posting huge profits. Yet not enough of streaming’s bounty has made its way to musicians, the activists say, and the major platforms’ model tends to over-reward stars at the expense of everybody else. With more music being released than ever before, they say, it has become nearly impossible for any artist who is not a star to earn a living wage.” • Winner take all….

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 56 Greed (previous close: 55 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 54 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 10 at 12:20pm.

Rapture Index: Closes unchanged [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 187 (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so high is better.)

The Biosphere

“There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically)” [Eukaryote Writes Blog]. “So you’ve heard about how fish aren’t a monophyletic group? You’ve heard about carcinization, the process by which ocean arthropods convergently evolve into crabs? You say you get it now? Sit down. Sit down. Shut up. Listen. You don’t know nothing yet. ‘Trees’ are not a coherent phylogenetic category. On the evolutionary tree of plants, trees are regularly interspersed with things that are absolutely, 100% not trees. This means that, for instance, either: The common ancestor of a maple and a mulberry tree was not a tree; the common ancestor of a stinging nettle and a strawberry plant was a tree; and this is true for most trees or non-trees that you can think of. I thought I had a pretty good guess at this, but the situation is far worse than I could have imagined.”

“Eleven Ways of Smelling a Tree” [Emergence Magazine]. “In your hand: a highball glass, beaded with cool moisture. In your nose: the aromatic embodiment of globalized trade. The spikey, herbal odor of European juniper berries. A tang of lime juice from a tree descended from wild progenitors in the foothills of the Himalayas. Bitter quinine, from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, spritzed into your nostrils by the pop of sparkling tonic water.”

“Population turnover facilitates cultural selection for efficiency in birds” [Cell]. The Abstract:

Culture, defined as socially transmitted information and behaviors that are shared in groups and persist over time, is increasingly accepted to occur across a wide range of taxa and behavioral domains.1 While persistent, cultural traits are not necessarily static, and their distribution can change in frequency and type in response to selective pressures, analogous to that of genetic alleles. This has led to the treatment of culture as an evolutionary process, with cultural evolutionary theory arguing that culture exhibits the three fundamental components of Darwinian evolution: variation, competition, and inheritance.2, 3, 4, 5 Selection for more efficient behaviors over alternatives is a crucial component of cumulative cultural evolution,6 yet our understanding of how and when such cultural selection occurs in non-human animals is limited. We performed a cultural diffusion experiment using 18 captive populations of wild-caught great tits (Parus major) to ask whether more efficient foraging traditions are selected for, and whether this process is affected by a fundamental demographic process—population turnover. Our results showed that gradual replacement of individuals with naive immigrants greatly increased the probability that a more efficient behavior invaded a population’s cultural repertoire and outcompeted an established inefficient behavior. Fine-scale, automated behavioral tracking revealed that turnover did not increase innovation rates, but instead acted on adoption rates, as immigrants disproportionately sampled novel, efficient behaviors relative to available social information. These results provide strong evidence for cultural selection for efficiency in animals, and highlight the mechanism that links population turnover to this process.

So today’s dinosaurs have culture. I wonder if the dinosaurs of the Mesozoic did?

“45,000 apply for 12 spots to shoot Grand Canyon bison” [The Hill]. “The agency invited skilled shooters to enter a lottery to win one of a dozen spots to kill bison at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The NPS authorized the removal of bison at the Grand Canyon because according to the agency, the fast growing population has been grazing and trampling on water, vegetation, soils and archaeological sites. Additionally, the animals are harming visitor experience and wilderness character, the agency says.” • I don’t see the attraction.


“How ‘sustainable’ is California’s groundwater sustainability act?” [High Country News]. “[T]here’s the issue of SGMA’s breadth. The law actually leaves out quite a lot of water. It applies to ‘alluvial’ basins — water stored in deposits of sediment, in other words. But it does not apply to brackish groundwater, which often sits below alluvial basins and can be treated and used. It also doesn’t govern water stored in fractured hard-rock and volcanic aquifers, since they are not alluvial basins. This a problem, because these forms of storage hold the majority of the state’s groundwater, and this leaves 40% of its wells unregulated and vulnerable to over-pumping, according to a study by The Nature Conservancy and Stanford University’s Water in the West Center. ‘Because SGMA says that it regulates ‘all groundwater basins in the state,’ most of the public reasonably assumes that the problem of groundwater management in California has been solved,’ the study states. ‘Unfortunately, this is not the case.’”

Naked Capitalism Cooking Community™

“Depression-Era Foods That Are Weirdly Making A Comeback” [Mashed]. “The Great Depression lasted a decade, but its effects changed a generation. Echoing events of 2020, the Depression caused widespread unemployment and food shortages of meat, milk, and other pantry staples. Cooks during the unprecedented economic downturn learned eating simple meals without waste could stretch their dollar. The popularity of home gardens, foraging for food, and alternative recipes emerged as a way to work around high food costs of fresh produce, meat, and dairy products. Although 2020, fortunately, didn’t see the same long-term impacts as the 1930s, home cooking doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and Depression-era foods are making a comeback.  During the height of the pandemic, The New York Times reported empty shelves across the country and the inability of grocers to keep staple pantry items and fresh produce in stock. Essentials such as beans, rice, pasta, and peanut butter became hot commodities. Hot dog sales also spiked. Thanks to modern food shortages — and farmers being forced to destroy food — pared-down cooking habits are once again being embraced. Home cooks are turning to Depression-era foods made with affordable and shelf-stable ingredients to feed the whole family.” • I thought these recipes would be awful, but they don’t seem so to me. My parents grew up in the Depression, hence beans-and-franks and meatloaf are familiar. Not, however, “Water Pie”!

Under the Influence

“Kim Kardashian tied to allegedly looted art in debacle highlighting a frustrating reality” [NBC]. “The difficulty in verifying the provenance of ancient works of art is a loophole that can be exploited easily by unscrupulous sellers…. This brings us to the sculpture sculpture linked to Kardashian West. According to the complaint, it was offered for sale with the following provenance: ‘Old German collection, bought before 1980.’ At first, this may sound reassuring. But it also raises questions: Whose collection, exactly? How old is ‘old’ (is ‘before 1980’ now ‘old’)? And most importantly, where did this information come from? Is it based on documentation, publications or someone’s recollections? How can a buyer be reasonably sure this information is true?”

Book Nook

“Why Won’t George Let George Finish ‘Winds of Winter’?” [The Ringer]. “Most of the latter-day discourse surrounding Winds stems from such fresh affronts as Martin commenting about the book—admittedly, often at the public’s prompting—or devoting his time to other tasks. ‘Work on Winds of Winter continues, and remains my top priority,’ Martin blogged in June 2018. ‘It is ridiculous to think otherwise.’ Rightly or wrongly, though, it’s actually easy to think otherwise, because Martin has been busy writing or consulting on so many projects other than the one he says is foremost on his mind….. Martin stands to make a vast sum of money for finishing Winds, but people are already paying him handsomely not to.”

On the Lord of the Rings:

Guillotine Watch

“Gwyneth Paltrow Reveals She Went ‘Totally Off the Rails’ Over Quarantine, Ate Bread” [Jezebel]. Paltrow: “I love whiskey and I make this fantastic drink called the Buster Paltrow, which I named after my grandfather who loved whiskey sours… And it’s this great quinoa whiskey from this distillery in Tennessee with maple syrup and lemon juice. It’s just heaven. I would have two of those every night of quarantine.”

Class Warfare

“What’s the Best Thing You Bought This Year to Make WFH Bearable?” [New York Magazine]. New York Magazine’s “The Strategist” (“Shopping the Internet Smartly”) is one of my guilty pleasures. So: “Below, some 27 working professionals share the furniture, lighting, electronics, comfort items, and even kitchen items that improved their work days during the pandemic.” • It’s worth noting that these consumers are, by definition, not “essential workers,” probably none of whom could have afforded such “comfort items” (“Krewe Howard Blue Light Glasses,” $ 285).

“Prostitution and the Limits of Economic Reasoning” [Christian Scholar’s Review]. A debate with Scott Cunnningham. “[T]here might be a particular problem with the fact that prostitution involves an exchange of money. Many scholars, including some Christians, have argued that there are goods that are diminished or destroyed by market exchange. You cannot buy friendship or disciples. Sex is often named in such a list. Kevin Brown wrote a nice paper on the topic in CSR, available here. In this view, prostitution is a problem because the exchange of money for sex, if it becomes normal, undermines the good of sex…. What is immediately noticeable to me is that if I operate completely within my vocabulary as an economist, I cannot make the above moral case against prostitution. Economists are not very good at theorizing about situations where people are prone to make choices that are not good for them. We don’t have a thick account of families or faithfulness. We are not good at thinking about virtue or character. We are also not very good at thinking about the evolution of norms and culture. All that is to say, I believe that there is a moral and a pragmatic case against legal prostitution, but you won’t find it in the economics discipline.” • Cunningham’s response. Not unrelated–

“Covid Destroyed the Illusion of the Restaurant Industry” [The Flashpoint]. “The people I talked to who aren’t returning to the industry said the help from the government was a major motivator in getting time and space to make those decisions.” • See the comments on the tweet introducing the article:

Lots of anecdotes here and elsewhere to the effect that restaurant customers were more obnoxious than usual during the pandemic.

“Worker Resistance Continues as Maine Dollar General Employees Walk Off the Job” [The Flashpoint]. “Citing disrespectful treatment and low wages, all but one of the employees of the Dollar General store in the small town of Eliot, Maine walked off the job on Monday and Tuesday.” • Signage:

On organizing:

News of the Wired

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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 (JD):

JD writes: “A lot of citrus around but this is a neighbor’s cherry (?) tree.”

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