By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Patient readers, I am still not firing on all twelve cylinders. For the avoidance of doubt, a typical twelve-cylinder vehicle:
(Whoops, this is an inline six. Thanks, Google Image search! But its such a beautiful car, I’m leaving it.) So this isn’t going to be the best Water Cooler you’ve ever read. Please try to do your best to make up for my misfires and random swerving in comments 🙂 –lambert
Bird Song of the Day
Meadow Bunting, Ilistay River, Primorsky Krai, Russia. “A bird continuously calling.” Not in the same class as Meadow Soprano, fortunately. Imagine the confusion!
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51
“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick
“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles
“Biden’s 2022 solution to student debt could fall apart in 2023” [Politico]. The deck: “Progressives who spent more than a year pushing President Joe Biden to cancel debt in the first place say they’re mobilizing in the coming year to hold onto a hard-fought victory.” • So we’re doomed, then?
The gerontocrat in the room:
I’ve talked to a ton of people about Biden over Christmas and basically everyone has said the exact same thing: “He’s going to be so old, what does he think he’s doing, what if he loses it or drops dead?”
— Will Stancil (@whstancil) December 28, 2022
This is a case where I wish we had Luntz-like panels of voters chosen by sortition and interviewed by non-Bigfoot journalists. (I think town halls indicate that most people are far more articulate about their political views than the press gives them credit for, especially when given time to ponder.) Another job for the League of Women voters. Or the Grange. Or something. Polling and brainwaves by random opinion-havers — even [lambert blushes modestly] me — aren’t making it.
This is pathetic:
As travelers look to rebook due to Southwest’s cancellations, other airlines should cap fares on these routes to help people who need to get home. I’m encouraged to see several airlines have now committed to this step – all of them should.
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) December 27, 2022
Mayo Pete’s big moment.
Democrats en Déshabillé
Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert
I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:
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, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.
* * *
Lambert here: I am but a humble tapewatcher, but unlike Eric Topol, I’m not calling a surge, because the last peak was Biden’s Omicron debacle, and after an Everest like that, what’s left? Topol’s view is the establishment view: Hospital-centric. Mine is infection-centric. I do not see the acceleration or doubling in cases that I would expect to see based on past surges. There is also the TripleDemic aspect, which I don’t know enough about.
I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet. Wastewater has taken off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, right on time, two weeks after Thanksgiving. Those are not only in themselves large cities, they are all the sites of international airports (reminiscent of the initial surge in spring 2020, which emanated, via air travel, from New York). Wastewater is a leading indicator for cases, which in turn lead hospitalization (and death). In addition, positivity has begun to increase again (Walgreens), and BQ.1* has taken over. Finally, I’m hearing a ton of anecdotes (and please add yours in comments).
Stay safe out there! If you are planning to travel on New Year’s, do consider your plans carefully.
• “COVID-19 infection induces higher trust in strangers” [PNAS]. n = 1,163. “As to the nature of the cause, our ex-post analysis points at two mechanisms that could explain the increase in trust. First, experiencing higher than expected helpfulness from strangers who mobilize during the pandemic could result in a change of beliefs about trustworthiness.” This could be true in Italy, but not in the United States. More: “Next, the heightened health risk could make the need for support from others become salient and stimulate putting greater trust in them.” Ditto: “Our finding seems prima facie aligned with the predominant finding in the literature on the positive effects of natural disasters on trust.” True: “However, there are differences that make the comparison imperfect. Our research is in the unique position of being carried out during a protracted pandemic, rather than in the aftermath, as is the case with most other natural disasters or with historical studies of previous pandemics. .” • Hmm. Or, in an utterly dystopian timeline, therefore surely not this one, SARS-CoV-2 induces behavioral changes that enable it to reproduce more efficiently, like Toxoplasma gondii in rats. Readers?
• “Milan Reports 50% of Passengers on China Flights Have Covid” [Bloomberg]. • Wowsers, deja vu all over again. Well, I’m sure the rigorous testing, tracing, and quarantine system at our own airports will prevent whatever variants China is currently brewing from arriving over here. Oh, wait…. And speaking of maps, in yesterday’s Links I put up this map:
I placed a red check next to the airports in counties that have the highest “viral levels” for SARS-CoV-2 (“red dots”), according to the CDC wastewater map. The major airports that are not red dotted are BOS (no data) and DCA/IAD/BWI. I can’t find an average delay time, but one imagines what the unmasked people waiting in the airport are doing: Eating, drinking, and flushing toilets with no lids, all in close proximity with each other.
For BOS, this is true as far as it goes: On the CDC map, there is indeed a white dot (no data). However, as alert reader KB points out, Boston does have high levels of Covid from the MWRA map (which I run daily, and should have thought to refer to).
• Who invented “living with”? Does anyone know?
What does “living with cholera” mean in the 1854 epidemic? It’s going about your life. Seeing friends. Dining out. Drinking water, no matter the degree of fecal contamination. Occasionally developing fatal shock from severe diarrhea. Yes, we must live our lives.
— Neoliberal John Snow (@NeoliberalSnow) February 16, 2022
• “Will the Biden Administration Investigate Evidence of Ghostwriting Involving Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci?” [Disinformation Chronicle]. • So far as I can tell, the headline is correct only through legalistic logic-chopping. However, did Collins and Fauci review and edit the ‘Proximal Origins” article for Nature? Yes. Did the article, when published, not name them as contributors? Yes. That does seem to be “research misconduct” — whether by Collins and Fauci, or the authors, I’m not clear — and it odds to the general whiffiness surrounding the natural origins camp (with whose conclusions I vehemently agree, BTW. See Proverbs 28:1 for one theory of human behavior here).
NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.
From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published December 26:
-1.8%. Decrease, but who gets tested on Christmas or Boxing Day? NOTE: Of course, it’s an open question how good a proxy Walgreen’s self-selected subjects are for the general population, especially because they didn’t go the home-testing route, but we go with the data we have.
Wastewater data (CDC), December 24:
Too much red (especially with Ohio back online). JFK/LGA (Queens County, NY), ORD (Cook County, IL), SFO (San Francisco, CA), LAX (Los Angeles), and ATL (Cobb County, GA) are all red. See also this morning’s Links for a map that shows the airports with long delays that are also red dots.
NOT UPDATED And MWRA data, December 21:
Lambert here: Up in both North and South. Odd? Haven’t the students already left town?
Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.
NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), December 11:
Lambert here: BQ.1* dominates, XBB coming up fast on the outside. Not sure why this data is coming out before CDC’s, since in the past they both got it from Pango on Fridays.
NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), December 3 (Nowcast off):
BQ.1* takes first place. Note the appearance of XBB. Here is Region 2, the Northeast, where both BQ.1* and XBB are said to higher, and are:
• NOT UPDATED As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated December 24:
Resuming the upward climb after a short plateau.
• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 24:
We’ll see what is hospitalization is like about two weeks into January, after holiday travel has ended.
Death rate (Our World in Data):
Total: 1,116,095 –
1,115,748 = 347 (347 * 365 = 126,655 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).
It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.
Manufacturing: “United States Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Manufacturing Activity Index in The Richmond area edged higher to 1 in December 2022 from -9 in the previous month, pointing to the first expansion in the factory activity since April.”
Retail: “What Can We Learn from Barnes & Noble’s Surprising Turnaround?” [The Honest Broker]. “But Barnes & Noble is flourishing. After a long decline, the company is profitable and growing again—and last week announced plans to open 30 new stores. In some instances, they are taking over locations where Amazon tried (and failed) to operate bookstores…. Amazon seems invincible. So the idea that Barnes & Noble can succeed where its much larger competitor failed is hard to believe. But the turnaround at B&N is real. In many instances they have already re-opened in locations where they previously shut down. Barnes & Noble is no tech startup, and is about as un-cool as retailers get. It’s like The Gap, but for books.” • This is a wonderful, encourging article (because I love books). I’m stopping here to encourage you to read the rest of it. (Not sure about the CEO hagiography, or CEOs in generall, but it’s sure better to have one who isn’t a fool.)
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 34 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 37 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 28 at 12:56 PM EST.
Our Famously Free Press
Xmas Postgame Analysis
“The Meaning of ‘Asshole’” [Philosopher’s Magazine (LawnDart)]. “That got me thinking about what it would be for someone to qualify as an asshole. Harry Frankfurt partly inspired this. I thought: Frankfurt put his finger on “bullshit”, and I am a philosopher, so I should define “asshole”. After considerable tinkering and with the help friends, I settled on this definition: the asshole is the guy who systematically allows himself special advantages in cooperative life out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunises him against the complaints of other people.” You mean, like the bourgeoisie? More: “This definition is hopefully significant simply because it prompts one to think, “Hey, I’ve met that guy”. Maybe you encountered him this morning in the coffee shop. Maybe the guy wouldn’t quiet down on his mobile phone, despite obvious sneers. Maybe he drives as though he owns the road. He probably says, “Do you know who I am?” to the maître d’ at a restaurant when he’s not quickly seated. Although it of course matters how the definition’s details get worked out and applied, the main idea is that even those inclined to quibble in the small might agree that ‘asshole’ doesn’t simply have expressive meaning. Its function is to classify a person, correctly or incorrectly, as having a particular kind of moral personality.” • Although the the writer doesn’t mention it, Bourdieu has an extensive analysis of the insult as a form of classification, the key distinction between the insult and, say, the Dewey Decimal system — am I dating myself, here? — being that the insult has no “backup” in the form of, say, a professional association of bibliographers. (Bourdieu is a lot less sloppy, but I can’t dig out the quote just now. Perhaps a Bourdieu maven in the readership will pick up my slack, here, however, is a terrific quote, relevant to the discussion of “class” starting over here: “All classification is an object of conflict, both in science and society” (Classification Struggles, 53).
“The Problem with Punching Up” [Sibylla Bostoniensis]. “And I want to make this really clear: that “absolutely not okay when” part is crucial to the implicit popular definition we can observe of “punching up”. We don’t need – or use – the expressions “punching up” and “punching down” to regulate criticizing. As a society, we’re generally fine with the idea that you can criticize anyone, in any direction, all the time. Likewise, it isn’t applied to disagreement, or argument, or debate. No, the ‘punching’ in ‘punching up’ refers to behaviors that are not generally morally licit, such as: belittling, mocking, shaming, making fun of; denigrating the person rather than just the position; ostracizing, ‘canceling’, boycotting; driving away advertisers; de-platforming. Some would continue the list into more severe behaviors: harassing, doxxing, death threats, and even physical violence. There’s a lot to be said for this norm, because it attempts to regulate the morality of the use of verbal aggression and what’s called relational aggression. Either you believe that all verbal and relational aggression are morally illicit – which I most definitely do not – or you need to have some principled system for determining when they are morally licit. And that’s what this ‘punching up vs punching down’ paradigm is doing for us. Thus, it’s probably better to have it than not to have it, since most people generally don’t have an alternative. But there’s a problem with it. When you ‘punch up’, the parties most likely to be in arm’s reach are those hanging lowest from overhead. Sure, that party you’re ‘punching’ – berating, harassing, no-platforming, etc. – may be higher than you on the West’s modern Great Chain of Being, but that doesn’t mean they’re all that high in an absolute sense. Just because they’re higher than you (or whatever group you’re advocating for) doesn’t mean they’re not laboring under a considerable burden of discrimination and marginalization themselves. Consequently, you may have just ‘punched’ someone who is themselves oppressed and struggling to get by. Sure, they may have more privilege that you, but that doesn’t mean they’re all that privileged. You may be ‘punching up’, but you’re still kicking someone when they’re down. I’m not saying your cause is wrong, and I’m not saying that people higher than you on the Great Chain of Being can do no wrong or shouldn’t be held to account when they screw up. But we’re talking about ‘punching’, remember: the use of tactics which are otherwise illicit. If you’re legitimately ‘punching up’ but still managing to hit oppressed minorities, well, maybe that means the concept of ‘punching up’ as moral heuristic leaves something to be desired. Furthermore, in ‘punching’ someone just above you in social status, you just ‘punched’ somebody who otherwise shares most of the same oppressors as you and would otherwise be a natural ally, what with all you have in common. Sure the ‘punching up vs punching down’ doctrine says that morally you get to do that, but, pragmatically, is this going to lead to the result you want?” • So maybe only punch sideways?
I’ve been a “Take care” guy for many years but it may be time to move on. “Have a good one” is off the table as is the clownish “Take it easy.” Just not many good options for today’s guy on the go
— Ded Moroz (@InternetHippo) December 20, 2022
“Stay safe out there” seems a little negative….
“The Tom Brady of Other Jobs” [New York Times]. The deck: “Meet the people as old in their jobs as Tom Brady is in his: the oldest 1 percent of the work force, across a range of .” Underlining that word “professions.” They do include one logger: “Monday morning usually finds Mr. [Earl] Pollock, , in the cab of his bulldozer, flattening a road through the timber woods. It’s a natural evolution from the job he had as a teenager decades ago: felling trees with a power saw.” • Foreman. Oh. To be fair, I don’t know — and we aren’t told — Pollock’s entire career. But it’s hard to wreck your back from heavy lifting in a cab, is it not?
And speaking of [glassbowls]:
— ArkieMiasma (@ArkieMiasma) December 27, 2022
Note the final sentence: “This is not the type of communication I (or any ) want to issue…. I think capital-L “Leader” sounds better in the original German, don’t you? I think there’s some principle or other associated with it…. (I have long inveighed against the way that various official titles — CEO, Reverend, Professor, President, Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man — are merged into one gelatinous blur with “Leader.” I think this is a bad tendency because it eliminates a source of checks and balances between authorities.)
News of the Wired
“W. R. Bion’s Theories of Mind” (podcast) [New Books Network]. Despite the brutal assault on the university system by administrators and funders, there’s is an awful lot of great scholarly work being done, and New Bools Network is the place to find them. Bion is a fascinating thinker (and very subtle and dense, so it’s hard to pick out a nugget to quote. I started poking around to see if I could find something a fifth-grader like me could read, and came up with this: “A Theory of Thinking” (PDF):
It is convenient to regard thinking as dependent on the successful outcome of two main mental developments. The first is the development of thoughts. They require an apparatus to cope with them. The second development, therefore, is of this apparatus that I shall provisionally call thinking. I repeat– .
That made me sit up and blink. So I had to stop reading. Musical interlude.
Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. From RM:
RM writes: “Flowers were really popping out in Lyngdal, Norway when I went for the month of May. It turns out that the month of May in Norway is the dry season so it was wonderful to travel and enjoy fresh blossoms everywhere.”
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