By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Patient readers, this is a bit light because I have to finish up a second post on the Capitol Seizure. –lambert
Bird Song of the Day
I know I’m editorializing… I’ll try to get back on track next week.
Lambert here: Well, I said “If these declines continue through the end of the week, I’m gonna have to conclude we’re looking at a genuine fall in the numbers — not the current narrative, I might add — and that we are not looking at a reporting effect from the long weekend.” So I have to conclude we’re looking at a genuine fall in the numbers.
We are also not seeing an explosion from travel over the holidays, now well in the rear-view mirror. We might get a spike in ten days or so, if people were partying on MLK day, but with luck it will be small. Of course, there are those worrisome variants, so a mood of sunny optimism is not warranted.
Amplifying the variants issue: I am looking at aggregated regional and national data. That doesn’t preclude the idea that there are individual “hot spots” that are doing very badly. And if those hot spots are due to the new variants, and one or more of the variants is either resistant to the vaccine, or eludes current treatment protocols, we could see another rendition of the “stair step” pattern that we’ve already seen in cases. Unfortunately, our data collection is so bad that we have no way of tracing viral lineage in anything like near-real time, so we can’t tell where the variants are hitting. (Cities with direct flights to the UK or South Africa would be places to watch.) We might keep in the back of our minds that the first sign of a tsunami is water withdrawing from the shore — like the decline we are seeing now. It never hurts to have an extra mask or two around the house, or sacks of rice and beans, say I.
I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching…. (A reader asked the source of the data: Johns Hopkins CSSE. DIVOC-91 does allow other data sets to be used, like Our World in Data and The Atlantic, and where they provide visualizations similar to those below, a cursory comparison shows that the shape of the curves is the same.)
C’mon, guys. This is not the time.
Case count by United States region:
Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):
Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.
Hospitalization is discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.
Case fatality rate (plus deaths):
“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
“”I Think My Gmail Has Crashed”: The Teacher Who Made Bernie Sanders’ Mittens on Watching Them Go Viral” [Slate]. “What was your reaction when you saw Bernie wearing your mittens at the inauguration? I was totally delighted. I was actually a little late to the game because I was remote teaching for the whole morning. I go to my classroom and remote-teach from my classroom. I think it’s important to just turn off all media and focus on your students, but my phone happened to not be on mute and it started dinging in my coat pocket and I was like, someone’s really trying to reach me. Like, maybe my parents are in danger?”
Sorest winners in the history of the world:
I’ll admit the Bernie memes are funny BUT his openly grumpy disposition during a very historic moment for women and particularly women of color speaks volumes to me.
— Alexandra the Brave (@SashaMichelle89) January 22, 2021
“The capturing of the Capitol” [Michael Tracey, Unherd]. “And so Joe Biden was sworn in without incident, appealing for ‘unity’, while the city surrounding him was essentially under full-scale military occupation…. It was the refusal of American media to question the necessity of these extraordinary measures that will be one of the longest-lasting consequences of the entire bizarre affair. It confirmed that journalists will uncritically accept extravagant shows of intrusive state force, so long as the political incentives are correctly aligned. During the riots in the summer, the US media generally reacted with horror to the prospect of the American military being deployed to allay ‘civil unrest,’ with many claiming that it would be tantamount to white supremacy for soldiers to deter arson attacks against small minority-owned businesses and private residences. But place DC under complete military occupation as a final rebuke to Trump and his shameful supporters, and the show of state force is to be celebrated rather than adversarially probed…. The rationale for the occupation was made all the more questionable by the feckless behaviour of Trump, who, after the goofball mob intrusion at the Capitol, essentially retreated from public view: the opposite of what you’d expect from a tyrannical ruler desperate to cling to power. He admitted defeat, denounced those rioters who’d been under the illusion that he was some kind of Messiah, and actively discouraged any further action that could be remotely described as ‘insurrectionary.’” • Dunno. All it would take would be one nut with a gun, right? Nevertheless:
In all of New York and California, a single protester showed up at the state capital to protest. So terrifying. pic.twitter.com/cwiQRx2dqF
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) January 20, 2021
I can think of several reasons for this though: Deterrence, Trump throwing in the towel, lack of real strength…
“Consequences for Thee, Not for Me” [The Baffler]. “There are ways to hold responsible without sanctioning a disproportionate state response that will both harm us in the long term and run counter to our broader political objectives. Those using violence in an attempt to stop the transfer of power and install a dictator can well face social and legal consequences without a need to hand the state additional methods to crack down. True accountability is impossible without levying the same or worse at the officials who stoked and directed the crowd in the days and months leading up to January 6, as well as a healthy dose of scrutiny for the paymasters who bankrolled the operation and others like it around the country. If we want this to be anything other than an onanistic exercise that will have the side effect of lasting damage to our ideological project, we must understand these individuals not as terrorists but as state-sanctioned actors whose leadership is just as guilty.” • As usual, who’s “we”? I’d love to see a Truth and Reconcilation Commission for the actions of the political class from 2000 onward. Because I don’t think the title means with the author thinks it means. Once Obama gave banksters and torturers Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards on banksters and torturers, the horse was out of the barn and in the next county on “accountability” and “consequences” so far as I’m concerned.
“How the Civil War Got Its Name” [JSTOR Daily]. “In the years after the war ended, [historian Gaines M. Fosters] writes, no single term prevailed among southern whites. Some spoke of the ‘Confederate War for Independence,’ or just the ‘Confederate War.’ (The ‘War of Northern Aggression’ was rarely used until it was adopted by neo-Confederates and others opposed to racial integration in the mid-twentieth century.) Gradually, southerners settled on the ‘War between the States.’ Former Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens argued that this reflected the fact that the United States had never been ‘one Political Society’ and that the war had been between states ‘regularly organized into two separate Federal Republics.’ In the North, meanwhile, a shift was happening. During and immediately after the war, northerners most commonly referred to it as a ‘rebellion.’ But as Reconstruction was quashed and the nation permitted the rise of the Jim Crow terror regime, many white northerners sought to bridge the divide with their southern counterparts by using a neutral term. By the 1890s, ‘Civil War’ was clearly the favorite term used in newspapers. Soon after the turn of the century, Congress officially adopted it over ‘the rebellion.’
Transition to Biden
“Biden requires international travelers to quarantine upon arrival to US” [The Hill]. “President Biden on Thursday signed an executive order to back up Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommending that international travelers quarantine for seven days after arriving in the United States. Biden’s executive order says travelers must comply with CDC orders that require a negative COVID-19 test to get into the country as well as a quarantine period upon arrival to the states. The order tasks the Secretary of Health and Human Services with coming up with for implementing the requirement.” • The virus spreads exponentially, ffs. We don’t have two weeks to come up with “the plan”! Better to just shut down travel from the UK and South Africa, at the very least, and open up again when the plan is ready. (Meanwhile, a civilized country would have dispatched sewage analysis teams to all the cities with direct flights from the UK and South Africa, worked out the cities that are hot spots, and started tracking superspreaders and/or locking them down.)
Democrats en deshabille
“Portland: leftwing protesters damage Oregon Democrats’ headquarters” [Guardian]. • After reading yesterday that the DNC is operating just as it did four years ago, except worse, you can see why they would.
Realignment and Legitimacy
“America’s largest (and arguably most problematic) voting machine vendor is ES&S, not Dominion Voting” [Jennifer Cohn]. “Republicans have directed their belated election-security ire almost exclusively at Dominion Voting. They have conspicuously given short shrift to America’s largest and arguably most corrupt voting machine vendor, Election Systems & Software, LLC (ES&S), whose systems in Texas had a software “bug” as of September 2020 that could in theory have enabled ES&S or others to install unauthorized software. (For unknown reasons, the Texas Secretary of State waited until December to post the September report.) The GOP’s cherry picking is dangerous because it could give ES&S even more corrupt control over U.S. elections than it currently has.”
“Where Trumpism Lives” [Boston Review]. “the evidence cuts strongly against the common view of the movement as driven by ‘lumpen’ Rust Belt rage and economic despair in the country’s shrinking rural hinterland. Rather, the picture that emerges is one of greenfield suburbs that are both fast growing and rapidly diversifying, where inequalities between relatively well-off white households and their non-white neighbors have been shrinking the most. Low voter turnout in these places has, in turn, helped to deliver large margins to Republican candidates. These facts both help us to understand what is animating Trump’s most committed supporters and point the way to defeating Trumpism electorally.” • So-called “lumpen” rage and despair did not “drive” Trumpism. It delivered the margin to Trump in key deindustrialized states, in 2016. Interesting article that fights against a straw man.
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.
Rail: “Rail Week Ending 16 January 2021 – Rail Continues To Slowly Improve” [Econintersect]. “Total rail traffic has been mostly in contraction for over one year – and now is slowly recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. Traffic has two components – carloads and intermodal (containers or trailers on rail cars). Container exports from China have recovered, container exports from the U.S. remain deep in contraction. This week again intermodal continued in expansion year-over-year and continues on a strengthening trendline.”
Housing: “December 2020 Headline Existing Home Sales: Year Totals Most Since The Great Recession” [Econintersect]. “The headline existing home sales improved relative to last month with the NAR stating ‘this momentum is likely to carry into the new year, with more buyers expected to enter the market’. We are now in the “pandemic normal” – and it seems home sales are on a solid growth footing but note that inventory levels are extremely low limiting how many properties can be sold. In perspective, sales in 2020 are better than 2019 and every other year since 2006. We consider this report a little better than last month, but the rate of growth is decelerating.”
* * *
The Bezzle: “Tesla’s Autopilot Won’t Achieve Full Autonomy, Waymo CEO Says” [Bloomberg]. “Waymo concluded early on as part of Google’s self-driving project that it was unsafe for humans to trade off the task of driving back and forth with a robotic system. The company achieved a breakthrough in October, transitioning all rides offered by its hailing service in suburban Phoenix to driverless vehicles. It initially offered trips with safety drivers in the front seat. Krafcik said he doesn’t consider Tesla a competitor in driverless vehicles, telling Manager Magazin that it’s ‘developing a really good driver-assistance system.’”
Tech: “Twitter Should Cancel the Appeals Process or Make It Work (also: I’m in Twitter jail!)” [Hapgood]. • In essence, Twitter’s algos cannot distinguish between disinformation and tweets about disinformation.
* * *
Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 70 Greed (previous close: 63 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 60 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 22 at 12:57pm.
“No more cuddly selfies with our ape cousins, top conservation body warns scientists” [Science]. “The global authority on wildlife protection wants scientists to quit cuddling monkeys on Instagram, holding hands with orangutans in films, and palling around with chimpanzees in publicity photos. In a new set of guidelines released last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) called on scientists, students, conservationists, and caretakers to stop publishing images that depict themselves in close contact with nonhuman primates.” • Don’t encourage people to think of them as pets!
“The Next Pandemic Is Already Here” [MedPage Today]. “another pandemic has already started. It’s not one that rips through countries in months. It’s a slower growing pandemic, yet it threatens to kill 10 million people a year by 2050. Even so, it has received little attention. We’re talking about the global pandemic of antimicrobial resistance — a pandemic increasingly claiming the lives of patients on our hospital floors. Unlike pandemics caused by novel viruses, this one can be addressed through our prescribing routines and the purchasing decisions and food choices made on a societal level. The antimicrobial resistance crisis stems from the simple fact that new antibiotic development cannot keep pace with the rate of bacterial resistance.”
“The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers” [Wired]. “All over the world—from the Netherlands to Indonesia to Mexico City—geology is conspiring with climate change to sink the ground under humanity’s feet. More punishing droughts mean the increased draining of aquifers, and rising seas make sinking land all the more vulnerable to flooding. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, in the next two decades, 1.6 billion people could be affected by subsidence, with potential loses in the trillions of dollars. ‘Subsidence has been neglected in a lot of ways because it is slow moving. You don’t recognize it until you start seeing damage,’ says Michelle Sneed, a land subsidence specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey and coauthor on the paper. ‘The land sinking itself is not a problem. But if you’re on the coast, it’s a big problem. If you have infrastructure that crosses long areas, it’s a big problem. If you have deep wells, they’re collapsing because of subsidence. That’s a problem.’ For subsidence to become a problem, you need two things: The right kind of land, and an over-exploited aquifer.”
What we like to see:
BREAKING: 21 train cars of merchandise turned back at Hunts Point Market strike line.
“The locomotive engineer said, ‘we’re @Teamsters too,’ turned the freight car around, and headed back to Ohio.”
— Teamsters JC 16 (@TeamstersJC16) January 21, 2021
Although “we’re too” would be even nicer.
News of the Wired
Generalizing. But interesting responses:
A a Southerner — hence, an expert on politeness and civility — I’ve always said that New York City is the single politest place in America (because if it WASN’T, the whole place would snarl to a bloody halt within a day); it’s just that their politeness takes a different form.
— Ray Radlein (@Radlein) January 22, 2021
I agree with the comments on New York. I have had the experience of struggling with dragging a heavy suitcase down the steps of the subway, and had a stranger help me, and rush away at the bottom of the stairs, all without a word.
* * *
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 (JS):
JS writes: “Here’s a Dill plant with a Black Swallowtail caterpillar being attacked by a parasitic wasp.” I’m editorializing again….
* * *
Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:
Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.
If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!