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Links and Notes for December 4th, 2020

Published by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.


What we can learn from contact tracing an entire province by John Timmer (Ars Technica)

“[…] once efficient contact tracing was adopted, infected people typically went into isolation sooner. As a result most people passed on infections earlier, before they ended up isolated. (So there was a change in infection patterns even though nothing about the virus changed.) So, while they found that nearly two-thirds of people transmitted the virus prior to the onset of symptoms, some of that is a product of the public health measures taken.
“The authors estimate that 80 percent of the infections could be traced back to just 15 percent of the individuals, although again that number would be influenced by Hunan’s contact tracing and isolation, which would have prevented infections from many of those infected in the later stages of the outbreak. This study sheds no light on whether that’s because some people’s infections are more likely to spread for biological reasons, or because some individuals took part in “superspreader” events where environmental conditions enabled high levels of infection.”
“In the absence of any public health interventions, the peak of infectivity—the average point after being infected at which someone was most likely to pass the virus on—was about 5.3 days. This is roughly the same time as symptoms first become apparent.”
“One thing that the researchers noted was that those under 12 years old were just as likely to pass the virus on as young adults were.

Don’t Eat Inside a Restaurant by Olga Khazan (The Atlantic)

“In a September study, people who tested positive for COVID-19 were more than twice as likely as those who tested negative to report eating in a restaurant recently. Talking with someone who has COVID-19 for 30 minutes or longer—about the time between your bloomin’-onion appetizer and molten-chocolate dessert—more than doubles your odds of catching it.”

I love how “30 minutes” is considered a reasonable amount of time to take to plow through an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Europeans are in even deeper trouble, I guess. Especially those of us who haven’t been in a restaurant for a while—when I get back in there, nothing is going to pry me out in under 3 hours.

“Virginia hadn’t banned eating indoors, even though the day after my interviews there were 14 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Fairfax County and 17 in Arlington. That’s well over the 10-per-100,000 measure that Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me recently was her ceiling for socializing indoors with friends and family only.”

Can the Government Mandate a Covid-19 Vaccine? Will It Have To? by Phillip Meylan (The Factual)

“The legal precedent for vaccination mandates at the state level is laid out by a Supreme Court case from 1905, Jacobson v Massachusetts, which confirmed a state’s right to enact “reasonable regulations established by legislature to protect public health and safety.” In addressing an outbreak of smallpox in Massachusetts, this case clarified that such an order is not a violation of the 14th Amendment right to liberty, but rather that liberty could not exist if individuals could act in a way that is injurious to others, for example, by carrying a disease that could otherwise be vaccinated against. In determining if an action such as vaccination is helpful or harmful to public health, the state has a right to refer to a board of qualified individuals to make such an assessment.”
“As put in the Wall Street Journal, “[p]rivate entities have financial and reputational incentives to protect their employees, patrons and residents, and are therefore well-positioned to determine what protective measures, including vaccination, need to be taken in specific circumstances.””

I don’t necessarily disagree, but see that this statement has empirically failed to prevent companies from doing horrible things. If there’s no profit in it, they don’t do it. Witness the way they push workers into risking COVID-19.

“For government, a heavy-handed approach could backfire, fueling further anti-government/anti-science sentiment, but not pursuing vaccination with ample vigor could mean a prolonged timeline for controlling the virus and returning to normal, raising human and economic costs.”

No shit.

Prisoners On The Vaccine Line by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“But this is a different issue [from providing educating or training prisoners], even if it invokes similar passions about the unfairness of providing a cost-effective and conceptually legitimate justification for turning out prisoners capable of resuming their place as law-abiding, productive citizens rather than recidivists. This time, it’s about life and death, or life and physical impairment by the long list of COVID-related disabilities affecting hearts, lungs and brains.

We have a duty to prisoners to keep them alive and healthy while in the custody of the government. You may not like it, and it may [not] be honored too often in the breach, but it is our duty. While you may see it in comparison to our general duty to all citizens, or all people, as a relative duty, you would be wrong.”

“[Prisoners] don’t get the option to decide whether to wear masks, to social distance, to live in solitude, even to wash their hands as needed, no less use sanitizer. We did this to them, even if we take comfort in justifying it by saying, “well, they did it to themselves by committing crimes.”

“Some of those crimes are heinous. Some petty. Some technical at best. Some non-existent. Yet, they’re all in this together, as if they’re all murderers. And even murderers are entitled to survive this pandemic, even if only to be executed later.”

“As to prisoners detained pre-trial, the ones who are presumed innocent and remain unconvicted of any offense, there should be no doubt. These aren’t criminals, no matter how hard some people want to ignore their presumption of innocence and assume their guilt.

God v. Science, Constitutionally Speaking by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“On the other hand, there’s science, and it tells us that COVID-19 can kill. We’re not all that good with dying, or having our family members die, and so in the scheme of relative values, our concern for protecting ourselves and our loved ones from pandemic is far more important than protecting the constitutional rights of a bunch of zombie-fanatics to congregate, spread disease among themselves and then go forth into the community and infect the rest of us.

It’s not that they don’t get to practice their religion, silly as it may be, but that they don’t get to kill the rest of us while doing so? Is that so hard to understand?

“You don’t care very much about the rights of the sky zombie folks because you care more about COVID-19? Totally understandable, as you’re allowed to value your personal concerns over those of other people. But then, they’re allowed to care about their values over yours. The difference is that theirs are protected by the Constitution. Honor it not because you agree, but because you expect them to honor the rights you value, and either they all deserve respect or none do.”

Economy & Finance

Why are the Free Traders All Protectionists? Vaccines and Sharing Knowledge (Fun for Thanksgiving) by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“One of the items that always appears near the top of our list of complaints against China is theft of intellectual property. However, if a large portion of our innovation is fully open, there is nothing to steal. We actually want China to install clean energy as quickly as possible, and they want the same from the United States. In this context, the greater and quicker diffusion of technology is truly a win-win.

“We can also say the same about advances in health care. Whatever forms our competition with China might take, no reasonable person would want to see their population needlessly getting sick and dying. And, as we can clearly see now, we certainly share an interest in preventing the spread of infectious diseases anywhere in the world.

“There is an overwhelming consensus among elite types that free trade is the best way to go. We see endless articles and columns that warn of us of the stupidity of tariffs on items like steel or cars. While the protection of these and other sectors may have allowed for higher pay for U.S. workers in years past, the story goes that they just have to adjust to a world where these industries will no longer be protected.

“We could tell the exact same story about the pharmaceutical industry, medical equipment manufacturers, wind and solar power companies. But the people who would see their incomes most at risk if we moved towards free trade in these areas (moving away from patent and copyright protection) would be highly educated professionals, largely people with college and advanced degrees in biology, chemistry, and engineering or physicians.  

“These people are parents, siblings, or children of the people who write about economic policy and international relations. Policy types are much more likely to have very direct connections with the people who benefit from protections of intellectual property than the less-educated manufacturing workers who might benefit from tariffs on steel or cars.”

Politics & Public Policy

”Healthcare capitalism” is trying to kill sick people (Reddit)

“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but there is no such thing as preexisting conditions. It is an invention of healthcare capitalism.

“The rest of the world just calls in medical history.”

When asked for clarification:

“A medical history is a list of facts that help doctors diagnose and treat you.

“Preexisting conditions are a concept invented to make your body your fault and therefore exclude you from insurance, or else to price gouge you. It’s reframing medicine as a privilege instead of a right.

CMV: If you say “billionaires shouldn’t exist,” yet buy from Amazon, then you are being a hypocrite. (Reddit)

“A lot of people also just don’t have the time and money to search for better options. They’re not barred from having opinions just because they’re poor but they can’t help but give ressources to especially horrible brands. I have enough time on my hands to look up every brand Nestlé owns. My fiancé’s sister who’s working as an ER nurse during a pandemic? Hell no! She’s too tired for that right now! But she’s still entitled to disliking Nestlé because she wants a society where she can go to the grocery store tired as hell and mindlessly grab something off the shelves without worrying about whether the drink she’s buying comes from people who extorted young African mothers. I think that’s fair.”

In other words: regulation, but one that works.

“Try to be as ethical as possible for what’s feasible considering your income level, amount of free-time and mental health. I personally spend quite a bit of time trying to be more ethical because, just as I have pointed out in my main comment, I can afford to. Just please god don’t write people off and act superior or condescending to them because they can’t do the same as you, especially if they’re lower-class. You don’t know what they’re going through and they are not the source of the problem. It’ll just alienate them from the causes as a whole.”
“instead of blaming the people for not doing changes that they can’t realistically do, we must try to fix the problems at it’s source. It’s by far the best option we’ve got.”

In this case, as above, the real criminals are the people who’ve created a gigantic pool of people who are too poor and desperate to be anything but prey to large corporations, for whom living an ethical life isn’t even an option because the regulations have become so gutted.

Missouri health director quits over harassment for telling the truth about pandemic

“Now imagine living there and being too poor to leave any other way than by joining the military. Unless you’re too old or disabled. Then the only way out is Jesus or oxy. Suddenly some rich guy from the tv shows up and promises economic and mental salvation for you, the first powerful person to do so in decades, plus some cathartic revenge on the “real enemy” ie those damn elitist liberals, black activists, and “job-stealing” immigrants. It’s like the high school quarterback stud suddenly asking the least popular girl in school to prom. Of course someone ignored and derided for so long is going to swoon over the lavish attention, the sudden elevation in social status and power, and thus devote herself to pleasing and defending her precious quarterback at all costs. She will also do everything she can to ignore the blatant fact that the star quarterback only asked her out so he and his friends could throw a giant party at her parents’ house, raid their wine cellar, fuck his girlfriend in her bed, and pee in her pool.

Just like any narcissist, Trump spotted the most vulnerable people in our nation and exploited them. He put them on a pedestal, making them for once feel special and valued, and called their racism and sexism beautiful instead of ugly. But like any narcissist, he only used flattery as a way to gain control. Once a vulnerable person feels the high (and political power) that attention and flattery brings, their self-esteem quickly becomes tied to, addicted to, maintaining that high. Which means doing whatever it takes to please the narcissist, mentally contorting themselves into ever-more demeaning positions just to demonstrate their undying loyalty and keep that sweet flattery flowing. People deeply enchanted by a narcissist will go so far as to destroy their own lives in a vain effort to gain the narcissist’s approval (been there, done that). Trump’s followers have been given a taste of political power for once in their lives, or so they think, been told that their racism is a source of pride, not shame. At this point they are so addicted to his bullshit they will even destroy their own democracy just to try and retain his attention, and the false flattery and illusion of political power that goes with it.”

Who’s the criminal here? The power structures that created this giant pool of desperate, degraded people vulnerable to Trump and his privations.

Caught in the Crossfire by George Monbiot

“Broadly speaking, there are two dominant forms of capitalist enterprise. The first could be described as housetrained capitalism. It seeks an accommodation with the administrative state, and benefits from stability, predictability and the regulations that exclude dirtier and rougher competitors. It can coexist with a tame and feeble form of democracy. The second could be described as warlord capitalism. This sees all restraints on accumulation – including taxes, regulations and the public ownership of essential services – as illegitimate. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of profit-making.”
“[…] the Pollution Paradox, a concept that I think is essential to understanding our politics. What this means is that the dirtier or more damaging an enterprise is, the more money it must spend on politics to ensure it’s not regulated out of existence. As a result, political funding comes to be dominated by the most harmful companies and oligarchs, which then wield the greatest political influence. They crowd out their more accommodating rivals.
“I see Nigel Farage and similar blowhards as little more than smoke bombs, creating a camouflaging cloud of xenophobia and culture wars. The persistent trick of modern politics – that appears to fool us repeatedly – is to disguise economic and political interests as cultural movements. Throughout this saga, the media has reported the smokescreen, not the manoeuvres.”

Undermining Democracy by Bruce Schneier

“For four years, Donald Trump has been trying to dismantle our shared beliefs about democracy. And now, his fellow Republicans are helping him.”

That’s a useless statement. it treats Trump as an outlier, which is not true. He’s Just a very noisy, obvious, and largely ineffective firework. Stop imbuing him with almighty purpose. He has done nothing to deserve it.

“It’s obvious how these kinds of claims damage Republican voters’ commitment to democracy. They will think that elections are rigged by the other side and will not accept the judgment of voters when it goes against their preferred candidate. Their belief that the Biden administration is illegitimate will justify all sorts of measures to prevent it from functioning.”

Christ, you could say exactly the same thing about Democrats and the largely Democratic mainstream media: they’ve just spent four years throwing an ugly and useless and highly mendacious temper tantrum about a stolen election, stolen by those ever-dastardly Russians. Why weren’t we hearing the death knell for Democracy then? Oh yeah: because it’s only terrible when done by those with politically disagreeable opinions. Obama couldn’t cling to power because he didn’t even run.

“The real fear is that this will lead to a spiral of distrust and destruction.”

That ship sailed long ago.

“How do you shift the collective belief among Republicans that elections are rigged?”

But they are rigged…just not for the reason that Republicans think. Poor people don’t matter. All votes are counted, but many votes are so marginalized that they don’t matter, despite being counted.

I mean honestly, did Schneier write this essay four years ago when the Democrats went on their “not my President” crusade? Why was that plot to undermine the legitimacy of an election OK when this one is beyond the pale? There were no election-day shenanigans evident in 2016 either—but there was a highly concerted campaign against that election that continues to this day. Is there any other explanation than bias?

Channeling Mad Men On Black Friday by Nick Pemberton (CounterPunch)

““The fact that anti-consumerism is now left wing common sense reveals the historical mutation of the left wing critique of capitalism, from its early critique of capitalism as a system of scarcity and exploitative production stifling human progress to a post-1950/60s critique of one of alienating affluence.””
Ralph Leonard
“The problem for the mass majority of people is not that they are consuming too much and that they’ve lost meaning because of it. The problem is that most people don’t have what they need. Most people are too poor.”

People are poor. Black Friday has deals. People are in pain. Black Friday fills a pain. If we can stop buying stuff and prioritize the planet this would be huge. But this often is many steps ahead of wherever we’re at.

“A growing universal connected through mutual dependence is necessary for survival but unfortunately facilitated through a market owned by the few for the benefit of the few. Paradoxically as the market connects us it makes us part of an increasingly universal poor.

Why Imperialism is Obsolete in Latin America by Vijay Prashad (CounterPunch)

“The United States, Arreaza told me, “has gone to the extent of carrying out modern acts of piracy, stopping ships in the middle of the ocean and stealing cargo that was paid for by the Venezuelan people.” Not only has the United States tried to blockade Venezuela, but it continues to interfere in Venezuela’s political affairs; this includes trying to undermine the legislative elections that will be held on December 6.”
Venezuela’s difficulty in servicing the debt to China is seen in Beijing as the fault of the illegal sanctions regime, which has made normal economic activity impossible; China’s “patient capital” strategy and its understanding of the geopolitical pressure on Venezuela are key to understanding its relationship.”
“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Guyana to push for ExxonMobil’s investment in the country; during his brief visit there, Pompeo asked the Guyanese government of Irfaan Ali to shun China. “Guyana, like Venezuela, and any other country in the world, for that matter, has a right to choose whom to partner with,” Arreaza told me. “But what is clear is that the United States cannot impose its programs on our continent or pretend that it has any exclusive rights as a commercial partner.””
“China, Arreaza says, trades with countries without interference in their internal affairs. This is quite different from the Western model, notably that overseen by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which pushes for structural adjustment alongside loans. Because China respects the sovereign choices of a country, Arreaza told me, “China has proven to be a reliable partner for the region and it can continue to play a key role in our development for many years to come.””

I just saw a report on poverty among the elderly in Venezuela on the Swiss News. They managed a nearly 10-minute report without once mentioning the decades-long economic war waged on Venezuela. They just talked about the poverty like it came out of nowhere, heavily suggesting that it was the ruling regime that was failing its people.

They’ve been singing the same song the entire time, since Venezuela first lifted so many out of poverty and brought the literacy rate up by massive amounts. They hated Chavez the whole time. Now they hate Maduro, who’s not nearly the leader Chavez was and doesn’t have the benefit of a very oil-friendly global price.

Venezuela suffers because their major export is oil and the price i ¼ of what it was a few years ago. Russia suffers the same way. Both countries are under extreme economic sanctions that prevent import of vital goods—but also prevent export of anything but cheap oil.

Swiss News completely failed to provide any context at all. They just talked about how Venezuela is mysteriously failing its poor and elderly—leaving its viewers to assume that it’s because they’re evil socialists who refuse to trade with Europe properly (i.e. on terms highly favorable to Western companies).

It doesn’t help Venezuela’s story that they’re taking help from China. It seems of no interest that they’re actually doing better than other countries in South America despite the sanctions. Colombia and Brazil—two neighbors—have greatly restricted trade, as well, at the behest of their master, the U.S. This is unlikely to change under Biden.

Dear Orange Man Bad: An Open Letter From the Enemy of Your Enemy by Nicky Reid (CounterPunch)

“As far as I can tell, you’ve spent your whole miserable existence failing your way to the top, burning other people’s money like Marlboros just to grab another pack from the taxpayer’s pocket so you can buy more gaudy crap no one on earth needs and get your rocks off next to Bill Clinton with some teenage sex slave on Jeffrey Epstein’s private airline. As far as I can tell, you’re all the toxic byproducts of state sponsored crony capitalism poured into one disgusting lumpy orange beanbag chair and you’ve generally r[u]n the White House like a call girl service for Israel and their head-chopping peace-pals in the Persian Gulf.
“We share a common enemy. Your worst enemy. Way worse than Antifa hipsters or Muslim immigrants. They’re the motherfuckers who have been aiming for your ass from the Grassy Knoll from the moment you suggested maybe getting along with Putin wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. You call them the Deep State. I just call them the Establishment, and they’re the ones who screwed you out of another four beautiful glorious years of White House shenanigans. They’re the ones who cooked up that casserole of hopped up nonsense called Russiagate to steer your periodically Russophilic ass back onto the Cold War straight and narrow.
“They’re the real enemy, D[o]nny boy. It’s all their fault. The neocon menace that has infested both parties and got Sleepy Joe elected.”
“I know their Achilles heel. I know just how to make them squeal like the little piggies they are. It’s the wars, Donny, their beautiful precious little wars. The neocons, Biden included, love those endless fucking wars more than life itself, more than you love Big Macs and forced oral sodomy. They’ve put years, decades of their lives, whole careers into filling every third world nation with oil and sand to the brim with barely legal GIs trying to pay for two years of city college with PTSD.
“I know that there is one thing you crave more than ill-earned money, more than undivided attention, more than your hottest daughter’s sweet sweet ass, and it’s revenge, and all you have to do to get it, to get even with those fuckers, is to follow through with just one goddamn campaign promise and end their stupid precious wars. End them all.
“You have to shut down the DMZ and abandon NATO, and for once, you have every right and power to do so as Commander In Chief. Hit the cameras and announce the great withdrawal on live television, and publicly fire any official who so much as drags their feet. Fire them all. Fire the whole goddamn Pentagon and fill it with reality TV stars and washed-up pro-athletes. Make it crystal fucking clear that every firing is for peace, to end these wars this whole goddamn country despises, and if they still resist, go over the brasses heads and command the soldiers on the ground to disobey any commanding officer who tries to keep these wars burning. Most of those grunts voted for you and even more of them are sicker of these stupid fucking wars than the rest of us.”
“Do this Donny and the deep state will have an epic conniption. Decades of imperial statecraft flushed down the fucking toilet with your rotten pumpkin ass on the seat. Oh, it will be glorious. They will howl and sob in despair and curse your name on every news outlet. But the people will love it. They’ll love you. You’ll be a goddamn rock star. You might not even have to pay for consensual pussy anymore. And you will ruin Biden’s presidency in the process.”
Biden will be forced to own them completely. He will have to be the asshole to send everyone back, to break up thousands of holiday family reunions just to feed the beast and make the wars forever again. If he lives through a single term, he’ll lose reelection to a cheap suit filled with gerbils, shit, he may even lose to you. But you’ll never know unless you pull the plug on that war machine. I”

Meet the Censored: Andre Damon by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“The actions by Google were the outcome of a campaign, largely bipartisan but led by the Democrats and their affiliated news outlets, to claim that domestic social opposition was the product of interference by foreign countries, particularly Russia. To stop this alleged interference, it was necessary to censor domestic political opposition, which the Russians allegedly sought to “amplify.””
“At repeated hearings in Washington, figures like Mark Warner and Adam Schiff would demand over and over again that Google, Facebook, and Twitter censor left-wing content. It was all a clear and flagrant violation of the First Amendment, which says that Congress does not have the power to limit the freedom of expression. But here was Congress instigating private companies to do exactly that, and threatening to regulate or fine them if they did not comply.
“It is a fundamental and undeniable fact that hundreds of thousands of Northern whites, many of them artisans, farmers and craftsmen, sacrificed their lives in the Civil War under the banner of the battle hymn of the republic: “let us die to make men free.” This fact shows that it is possible to create a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multinational movement of the working class. The slogan of Marxists, going back to the Communist Manifesto, is “workers of the world, unite!” not, “races of the world, divide.””
“The answer is that Google’s censorship has nothing to do with helping users find “authoritative” content. Its sole aim is to demote content to which the US political establishment objects, and promote content that it wants to promote.

Here’s the Truth: The Oligarchy Loves This Democratic Decay and Politics of Lies by Chris Hedges (Common Dreams)

Joe Biden’s victory instantly obliterated the Democratic Party’s longstanding charge that Russia was hijacking and compromising US elections. The Biden victory, the Democratic Party leaders and their courtiers in the media now insist, is evidence that the democratic process is strong and untainted, that the system works. The elections ratified the will of the people.”
“Never mind that both ruling parties are silent about the massive interference in our elections by Israel, which uses its lobbying groups to lavishly fund political candidates in both parties and flies members of Congress and their families to Israel for junkets at seaside resorts.”
“The credibility of democratic institutions and electoral politics, already deeply corrupted by PACs, the electoral college, lobbyists, the disenfranchisement of third-party candidates, gerrymandering and voter suppression, is being eviscerated.”
“The election of Biden is also very bad news for journalists such as Matt Taibbi, Glen Ford, Margaret Kimberley, Glenn Greenwald, Jeffrey St. Clair or Robert Scheer who refuse to be courtiers to the ruling elites. Journalists that do not spew the approved narrative of the right-wing, or, alternatively, the approved narrative of the Democratic Party, have a credibility the ruling elite fears.
“The story [Hunter Biden’s emails] has not been disproven. It’s not disinformation or misinformation. It’s been suppressed as it would be suppressed in a Third World country. It’s a remarkable historic moment. The danger is that we end up with a one-party informational system. There’s going to be approved dialogue and unapproved dialogue that you can only get through certain fringe avenues. That’s the problem. We let these companies get this monopolistic share of the distribution system. Now they’re exercising that power.
Matt Taibbi

For What Are America’s Wealthy Thankful? A Worsening Culture War by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“From the “vast right-wing conspiracy” through the “basket of deplorables” to now, the Democratic message increasingly focuses on the illegitimacy of the ordinary conservative voter’s opinion: ignorant, conspiratorial, and racist, so terrible that the only hope is mass-reprogramming by educated betters.
“[…] just as news that Robert Mueller might not discover the president to be a secret agent was deemed a “disappointment,” press and politicians alike seem reluctant to let go of legends of Middle America as one great sea of mass insanity. In the same way, some in the GOP can’t let go of the dream of an election stolen in the dark night of our Venezuela-style city governments.”
“Eight years ago, at the height of anger toward Wall Street, the American Conservative wrote about the “revolt of the rich,” saying, “Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it.” They pointed out that in both world wars, the Harvard man and the New York socialite alike “knew the weight of an army pack.” By the 21st century, war became a job for lower-class suckers, with soldiers being one of many groups targeted by predatory lending in the crash era.”
“Essentially, the two parties were both using race as a way to deflect attention from their own job-exporting, donor-fellating policies.”
“The indicators across the board — job security, quality of public schools, real income growth — were bad for everyone except the very wealthy, who were essentially living in a separate country.
“Huge chunks of America looked like the third world by 2016, with rampant drug addiction, dead factory towns, closed hospitals, terrible nutrition, and phenomena like “maternity care deserts,” i.e. swaths of the country with no access to birthing centers. Before 2016 we saw the first headlines about declining life expectancy among white Americans,”
“The “defund the police” movement is borne out of frustration in a lot of poor neighborhoods that cops are often the only well-funded policy response to joblessness, lack of health care, etc.”

Demanding Silicon Valley Suppress “Hyper-Partisan Sites” in Favor of “Mainstream News” (The NYT) is a Fraud by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“In the 2020 election, over 70 million Americans — close to half of the voting population — voted for Donald Trump, yet not one of them is employed by the op-ed page of the “non-partisan” New York Times and are almost never heard on NPR or CNN. That’s because those news outlets, by design, are pro-Democratic-Party organs, who speak overwhelmingly to Democratic readers and viewers.
“As Pew put it: “about nine-in-ten of those who name The New York Times (91%) and NPR (87%) as their main political news source identify as Democrats, with CNN at about eight-in-ten (79%).” These outlets speak to Democrats, are built for Democrats, and produce news content designed to be pleasing and affirming to Democrats — so they keep watching and buying. One can say many things about these news outlets, but the idea that they are the alternatives to “hyper-partisan pages” is the exact opposite of the truth: it is difficult to find more hyper-partisan organs than these.
“Indeed, if we are to have an internet controlled from above by unseen tech overlords in the name of eliminating “hyper-partisanship” and “disinformation” and fostering a “calmer” and “nicer” population, the sites now being artificially and manipulatively promoted are the absolute last ones who can credibly claim entitlement to that benefit.”

Europe Must Stand Up to Hungary and Poland by George Soros (Project Syndicate)

“Hungary and Poland have vetoed the European Union’s proposed €1.15 trillion ($1.4 trillion) seven-year budget and the €750 billion European recovery fund. Although the two countries are the budget’s biggest beneficiaries, their governments are adamantly opposed to the rule-of-law conditionality that the EU has adopted at the behest of the European Parliament. They know that they are violating the rule of law in egregious ways, and do not want to pay the consequences.
“The rule-of-law regulations have been adopted. In case there is no agreement on a new budget, the old budget, which expires at the end of 2020, is extended on a yearly basis. Hungary and Poland would not receive any payments under this budget, because their governments are violating the rule of law. Likewise, the recovery fund, called Next Generation EU, could be implemented by using an enhanced cooperation procedure, as Guy Verhofstadt has proposed. If the EU went down this road, the Orbán-Kaczyński veto could be circumvented. The question is whether the EU, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel perhaps leading the way, can muster the political will.”

A Long-Forgotten CIA Document From WikiLeaks Sheds Critical Light on Today’s U.S. Politics and Wars by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“But one major reason for the contempt harbored for Trump among security state operatives is his inability and unwillingness to prettify barbaric U.S. actions and to pretend that the U.S. is something other than it is. Recall the fury and rage provoked when, in response to a question by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly about Putin’s use of violence against journalists and others, Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?””
“The anger was due to the fact that presidents are not supposed to tell the truth about the U.S. and what it does in the world (just as Presidents are supposed to pretend they hate despots even as they support them in every conceivable way).”
“Sisi isn’t someone you invite over to your house for dinner; he’s someone you send money and weapons to in secret after you give your pretty speeches in front of American flags about human rights and freedom. What Trump is violating is not any Washington principles or ethics but Washington propaganda tactics.
“For that exposure, the CIA relentlessly attacked Trump starting from before he was even elected, and for the same reason, Assange is sitting in a British prison on espionage charges from the U.S. Department of Justice. Few things infuriate U.S. foreign policy elites more than those who, unwittingly or otherwise, show their true face to the world.

Should Michèle Flournoy be Secretary of Defense? by Winslow Wheeler & Pierre Sprey (CounterPunch)

“Ever since DOT&E was established, program advocates and their allies in industry have resented any independent testing and reporting that would undermine their own glowing self-evaluations—and that could spur cancellations. That’s likely why they have campaigned hard to eliminate the office or re-subordinate it to acquisition managers, stifling its independent reports to the secretary of defense, Congress, and the public. Flournoy’s recommendation signals her willingness to give them the oversight-suppressing victory they have pursued for years.”
“Flournoy would apparently prefer that the flaws remain undetected and unreported by advocate-dominated test and evaluation—undetected, that is, until the weapon fails in training or in combat. When that happens, the costs in time, treasure, and blood far outweigh the cost and time needed for good testing.”
“The Flournoy plan proposes no such rigorous evaluation or evaluators of new ideas and new weapons. Under her plan, the students wouldn’t just grade their own exams; they would write them and then demand we reward them handsomely for doing so.

Grand Illusions by Pankaj Mishra (NY Books)

“The problem for a Crow Indian, Lear writes, wasn’t just that “my way of life has come to an end.” It was that “I no longer have the concepts with which to understand myself or the world…. I have no idea what is going on.””
“This narrative of a US-led global journey to the promised land was always implausible. Four years of Trump have finally clarified that between 2001 and 2020—and through such events as the terrorist attacks of September 11, intensified globalization, the rise of China concurrent with the failed war on terror, and the financial crisis—the world was moving into an entirely new historical period. Moreover, in this phase, many ideas and assumptions dominant for decades were rapidly becoming obsolete.”
“As members of what Lear calls a “literate culture,” we may seem to be better placed than the Crow Indians to grasp our altered reality. But the upheavals of our times have devastatingly exposed our own deficit of conceptual resources, and it won’t be addressed by anything that happens in the US elections in November.”
“Whether in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and The Times of London or in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Economist, and the Financial Times, the laments and exhortations of a still largely white, male, and middle-aged commentariat bring to mind James Baldwin’s verdict that “the white man’s world, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, has the meaningless ring of a hollow drum and the odor of slow death.””
“It is imperative today to abandon not only these shattered fantasies of two Western generations but also the intellectual narcissism implicit in them.”
“This moral promotion was an odd fate for an ideology of individual freedom and property rights that had been denounced from both the left and the right for conceitedly fueling inequality and mass disaffection. As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1944, “bourgeois liberalism was, on the whole, completely unconscious of the corruption of its own class interest and fondly imagined its perspectives to be ultimate.”
“This tradition of self-congratulation has reached its reductio ad absurdum in Steven Pinker’s door-stopping data banks that claim things are getting better all the time and we just don’t realize it.”
“[…] a fixation on the crimes of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler managed to obscure the long centuries of global violence and dispossession that made Britain and the United States uniquely powerful and wealthy.”
“Working with a similar handicap, John Rawls, author of A Theory of Justice (1971), the most influential book of political philosophy in the late twentieth century, assumed that Western political institutions are fundamentally oriented toward promoting liberty and justice.
“How can we escape an intellectually enfeebled milieu where the self-interests and self-perceptions of privileged white men are passed off as “global thinking,” and world philosophy and world history are essentially Western in nature and provenance?”

S–t Public Defenders See: Innocent, But Fined by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“In the years since Ferguson, the public has become at least somewhat aware of the phenomenon of the state charging people for the pleasure of having to travel through the criminal justice system. In New York, for instance, people have to pay for the tests the state does to enter their DNA in a database. There may be additional surcharges of hundreds of dollars for felony convictions, “victim assistance” fees, fees for ankle monitors, etc.”
“People who are released from long prison terms often find themselves under an immediate obligation to repay years of costs racked up behind bars, with a failure to repay in some states leading to re-incarceration.”
““We’ve talked to hundreds, thousands of people who have this issue,” says Kornya. “From 2014 to 2019, there was $15 million in debt just associated with dismissed criminal cases with debts in Iowa.” He says the overall number of outstanding counsel fee debt is $177 million, and the collection rate is a pathetic 2%.”

This is the first debt to forgive, not student debt. If we’re going to be generous, why be generous to those who could afford to go to college, but not to those who can’t even afford a couple of hundred bucks for an unfair fine that they did nothing to deserve?

“After all, there were masses of people applying for leases or jobs who were being held back by the appearance of a criminal record, thanks to unpaid fees assessed in dismissed cases.”

TK This Week: Thanksgiving Edition by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“The Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic to escape fun. They were horrible people. A settler named Thomas Morton had the audacity to erect a Maypole and the Pilgrims burned his house down and had him “fett into the bilbowes,” i.e. put in leg irons. The ideal Plymouth male hated women but was aroused by pennies.”
“They’d made it the law of the land that everyone had to worship a faith created to legalize the urges of an obese hypersexualized serial killer of a king, who saw plots everywhere and beheaded a string of courtiers and brides.”

Everybody’s Saying It: “Guardrails” by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

““It was clear that Trump didn’t care about the consequences of spreading conspiracy theories that he almost certainly knew to be false, so long as it achieved his aims; and he’d figured out that whatever guardrails had once defined the boundaries of acceptable political discourse had long since been knocked down.” — Barack Obama, November 13, A Promised Land”

Russia. Gate. Fuck all y’all.

Study identifies reasons for soaring nuclear plant cost overruns in the U.S. by David L. Chandler (MIT News)

“[…] what was not known is why and what to do about it”
“Part of that rethinking, she says, is to pay close attention to the details of what has caused past plant construction costs to spiral out of control, and to design plants in a way that minimizes the likelihood of such factors arising.”

Holy shit, what an insight.

I don’t have a PhD from MIT but I can tell you right now that the answer is “fucking graft”. Greased palms. Industry payouts. It’s a construction project. Who do you think is involved? Halliburton and Bechtel and co. They make the Mafia look like a church choir.

In case anyone was wondering whether PhDs are utterly unlike their corporate bean-counting and pencil-pushing counterparts, here’s another nice quote:

“[…] there is a path forward to increasing resilience that involves understanding the mechanisms behind why costs increased in the first place.”

Christ almighty. How many years of school do you need in order to learn how to say nothing, not once, but twice, in one short interview?

”Journalism Professors Demand Iowa State University Disband the College Republicans Over Offensive Tweet” by Eugene Volokh (Reason)

This response from the University of Iowa to demands that certain students be punished for tweeting that people should “arm up” in response to something was very good:

“Iowa State University, as a public institution, has a total and complete obligation to abide by the First Amendment. Its five freedoms – religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances – are bedrock principles upon which our nation was founded. Upholding the First Amendment also means the university cannot deprive students or student organizations of their rights, or punish them for exercising those rights, except in a very limited set of circumstances such as a direct threat against an individual; severe and pervasive harassment that substantially interferes with students’ education; or expression that is paired with criminal conduct (vandalism, for example). Doing so would violate their First Amendment rights in much the same way as forbidding protests, or censoring the university’s student newspaper. In short, this demand asks that the university proactively violate the law, and we will not do so.
“[…] the tweet’s reference to “arming up” is protected speech not subject to discipline. The conduct of bringing a weapon on campus, however, would violate policy and would lead to disciplinary action.”

Non-inmates running the asylum turns out to be a decent idea.

“Student codes of conduct at other universities that have attempted to punish students for speech deemed “hateful,” “derogatory,” “threatening,” “insensitive” or described with other such terms have consistently been struck down as unconstitutional. […] while the Principles of Community are ideals to which we should all aspire, they are neither laws nor policy, and are not enforceable. This does not mean, however, that we should discontinue our efforts to encourage members of the campus community to treat each other with respect […]”
“As an educational institution, it is our charge and responsibility to foster and encourage the understanding of new ideas, the development of expression and thought, and the skill of interacting in a positive way with our community and our world. This responsibility is  not accomplished through suppressing speech or dictating thought.

Eugene Volokh made the following analogy, in an attempt to help the woke understand the conflict in terms that they might understand.

“[…] say this was a Black Students’ Alliance, which wrote, in the wake of a Trump victory: “Everyone, you must arm up, expect these people to try to destroy your life, the [white supremacists] want revenge on us.” I take it professors’ reaction would generally be, “this is part of a long tradition of American political hyperbole,” rather than “oh no, this is inciting violence.” […]

“[…] the professors might well say that blacks are “historically marginalized” and Republicans aren’t. But thankfully the Bill of Rights applies to all of us, not just those groups that professors happen to favor.”

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on Biden, Trump, Assange & Censorship | Useful Idiots (YouTube)

I’ve transcribed a bit from the video:

“Who know whether the United States of America might eventually—the people might eventually—cotton on to the truth that the country is not being organized for their benefit. They have no health service, they have virtually no welfare, they live in poverty, most of them are in penury. People can work at full-time jobs—sometimes two full-time jobs—and still be living out of the trunk of an old car, that they can’t afford to get fixed. It’s incredible, in the richest country…ah, I’m starting to rant.”
Roger Waters

Biden Proclaims ‘America Is Back’ as the US Makes Provocations on Russia’s Borders by Johanna Ross (Antiwar.com)

“[…] the appearance of US naval destroyer John S. McCain within Russian waters off the coast of Vladivostok. The incident should not be overlooked. The move seems to be a display of sheer bravado on the part of the Americans, who released a statement later on asserting that they had the right to challenge “Russia’s excessive maritime claims”.

“Moscow responded by saying the ship had been “warned of the unacceptability of its actions” and (in short) it was lucky it had not been rammed by the Udaloy-class destroyer which had been tailing it. This provocative move was followed on the next day by US missiles being launched into the Black Sea from Romania. The rocket-launch tests reportedly involved more than 130 troops and 30 pieces of military hardware. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out what they could be used for: the range of these missiles is 300km, they could reach Crimea.”

Bad Judge, Good Judge, Wait And See by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“Is Justice Barrett, like Judge Bibas, an evil Trump judge bent on destroying the law or a good and decent judge bent on upholding constitutional rights, even for the disfavored? The answer might be neither or both, as we can’t seem to shake off that tendency to judge judges by whether their opinions conform to the outcomes we prefer, even if their rationales are sound.”

A Minefield Not Your Own by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“People seem to have no issue shrugging off things being rammed down their throat as long as they either taste fine, or don’t taste bad enough to raise a fuss. After all, they want to keep their jobs, and objecting to forced wokeness is no way to get tenure, particularly when you don’t object to wokeness in general.”
“You may believe yourself to be woke as hell, but whether that’s sufficiently woke to survive will only be determined if you manage to survive someone else’s minefield.”

Expansion and Mass Eviction: Israel ‘Takes Advantage’ of Trump’s Remaining Days in Office by Ramzy Baroud (Antiwar.com)

“On November 19, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, became the first top US official to visit an illegal Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. During his visit to a winery in the Psagot settlement, Pompeo gave Netanyahu yet more good news. He announced that products from illegal Jewish settlements could now be labeled “Made in Israel”, and that the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement would be declared “anti-Semitic” by the US State Department.

“The massive development in Givat Hamatos, according to the Israeli group “Peace Now”, “will severely hamper the prospect of a two-State solution because it will ultimately block the possibility of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem” and major urban centers in the West Bank.

“The announcements are strategically timed, as they carry an unmistakable political message that Israel does not intend to reverse its settlement policies, regardless of who resides in the White House.

Philosophy & Literature

The Substack Discourse and the Self-Referentiality of Everything by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“And this is where I think his spectacular public recantation is significant: hewing so close in his career to the vicissitudes of the institution that both pays him and constitutes the object of his study, sooner or later Mayhew could not fail to embody and express, through his own personal conversion, the conversion of higher education to whatever you want to call this peculiar new sensibility that has transformed large sectors of American society in the Trump era.”
The United States has never been good at producing public intellectuals, but new trends in the present century bring our country’s public discourse even further from anything one might dare to call the life of ideas.”
“I believe that everyone, for the sake of their own thriving as human beings, should be required to study at university only things that have nothing to do with their own life up until that point. Curricula should not be made to be “relatable”; students should be encouraged rather to discover and cultivate relations to ideas, values,
“I understand that it’s the symbolism of the deed that the liberals are worried about, but this symbolism only means what it does because it recalls another era of history, in which book-burning was more than symbolic, but in fact had the power to interrupt the flow of information.”
“I am neither “for” nor “against” looting; what I am for is an amelioration of the social and economic conditions that cause looting.
“The greatest harm of looting, in this new order, is that it interrupts the normal flow of barcode-scanning and data-tracking that companies like Target value… but then again I would not be all too surprised to learn that even the looting behaviour was seized upon as an opportunity for a new sort of data-extraction: What aisles do people run to when the doors are flung open and the cash-registers abandoned? And as long as Target shoppers are still fulfilling their function as data-nodes, what great difference does it make if the goods they take out the door are temporarily reclassified as “free samples”?”
“Books are an afterthought too: hasty mass-produced tokens that follow upon a prior and more fundamental process of tracking and mapping consumer “preferences”. That these preferences are themselves a result of the absence of significant cultural points-de-repère outside of this self-contained and self-reflexive system of preference-mapping goes without saying. The people who get rich from this system, in fact, would be very happy for it not to be said.”
“Nor is the news industry safe from this broad historical shift; in fact this is the domain of public life that is likely exhibiting the most extreme symptoms. On the one hand people whose livelihood depends on the survival of the industry still try to pass off their publications as if the role these played in the circulation of information were unchanged since the era of the early modern broadside. On the other hand the contents of these newspapers has less and less to do with transmitting the thoroughly reported news of the world from far flung foreign bureaus, and ever more to do with opportunities for self-expression of a select class of very young, very urban, very demographically and ideologically exceptional media professionals.
“Of course, of course, peer-review in all its various forms is a desirable thing. The checks and balances provided by the co-workers and guild members we respect hold us up to higher standards than we are often able to hold ourselves up to alone. But when entrenched peer-review systems begin to break down, one is under no eternal duty to stay faithful to them, no more than one must fight to protect “books” as if these were an ahistorically stable thing. What one must fight to protect is the freedom of expression that books have historically embodied.

Science & Nature

Warp Drive News. Seriously! by Sabine Hossenfelder

“The real question is therefore not whether a space-time solves Einstein’s equations, but whether the distribution of mass and energy required to make it a solution to the equations is physically reasonable.”
“[…] really it says that we still do not know how to accelerate to superluminal speeds. But I think this is a big step forward because now we have a much better mathematical basis to study warp drives.”

Thanksgiving (Black Hole Entropy) by Sean Carroll (Preposterous Universe)

“Entropy itself was invented as part of the development of thermodynamics is the mid-19th century, as a way to quantify the transformation of energy from a potentially useful form (like fuel, or a coiled spring) into useless heat, dissipated into the environment.”
“Gibbs entropy is a measure of our lack of knowledge. We imagine that we describe the system in terms of a probability distribution of what microscopic states it might be in. High entropy is when that distribution is very spread-out, and low entropy is when it is highly peaked around some particular state.”
“The common feature is that we imagine a system has a lot of microscopic “degrees of freedom” (jargon for “things that can happen”), which can be in one of a large number of states, but we are describing it in some kind of macroscopic coarse-grained way, rather than knowing what its exact state actually is.”
“First, Bekenstein noticed another important feature of black holes: not only do they have entropy, but they have the most entropy that you can fit into a region of a fixed size (the Bekenstein bound). That’s very different from the entanglement entropy of a region of empty space in quantum field theory, where it is easy to imagine increasing the entropy by creating extra entanglement between degrees of freedom deep in the interior and those far away.”
“It’s that kind of reasoning that leads some of us to bite the bullet and suggest that the number of quantum degrees of freedom in spacetime is actually a finite number, rather than the infinite number that would naively be implied by conventional non-gravitational quantum field theory.”

How Gödel’s Proof Works by Natalie Walchover (Quanta)

“His incompleteness theorems meant there can be no mathematical theory of everything, no unification of what’s provable and what’s true. What mathematicians can prove depends on their starting assumptions, not on any fundamental ground truth from which all answers spring.”
“The real boon is that even statements about arithmetic formulas, called metamathematical statements, can themselves be translated into formulas with Gödel numbers of their own.”
“But can G be proved? If so, this would mean there’s some sequence of formulas that proves the formula with Gödel number sub(n, n, 17). But that’s the opposite of G, which says no such proof exists. Opposite statements, G and ~G, can’t both be true in a consistent axiomatic system. So the truth of G must be undecidable.”

“G asserts of itself that it can’t be proved. But can G be proved? If so, this would mean there’s some sequence of formulas that proves the formula with Gödel number sub(n, n, 17). But that’s the opposite of G, which says no such proof exists. Opposite statements, G and ~G, can’t both be true in a consistent axiomatic system. So the truth of G must be undecidable.

“However, although G is undecidable, it’s clearly true. G says, “The formula with Gödel number sub(n, n, 17) cannot be proved,” and that’s exactly what we’ve found to be the case! Since G is true yet undecidable within the axiomatic system used to construct it, that system is incomplete.”

“So Gödel has created a proof by contradiction: If a set of axioms could prove its own consistency, then we would be able to prove G. But we can’t. Therefore, no set of axioms can prove its own consistency.”


iPhone zero-click Wi-Fi exploit is one of the most breathtaking hacks ever by Dan Goodin (Ars Technica)

“The beauty and impressiveness of the hack is that it relies on a single bug to wirelessly access secrets locked away in what’s arguably the world’s most hardened and secure consumer device. If a single person could do all of this in six months, just think what a better-resourced hacking team is capable of.”

That is a highly misleading characterization. The researcher is part of a well-resourced hacking team. Project Zero is arguably the most well-staffed and well-resourced hacking team in the world. I hardly think he was working alone the entire time. These hero stories are so silly.

I sometimes wonder what it means when we keep hearing that the cost per watt for alternative energy has gone by several orders of magnitude. Based on which system of cost? The same one that externalizes all of the costs for fossil fuels?

I just don’t see how solar panels can get so “cheap” when they still require so many materials whose exhumation contributes directly to climate change. We have to be honest instead of just waving our hands and magically using the cost-calculating machinery of the enemy just to make ourselves feel good.


Vale Regions

This is SCOOP from Eiffel (Wikipedia), using a language construct (a method call) to act as a lock on parameters. In SCOOP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCOOP_(software)), you could
use the “separate” keyword to ensure a lock on a variable (e.g. it was on a “separate” virtual processor and access had to be marshaled to it). Here, they do a better job of considering a whole “region” of variables to lock at once, which provides more flexibility and clarity, though less granularity (that you were never likely to need anyway).

Verona makes it even clearer that they are using the same concept at SCOOP.


What is it with baby Yoda? I’m a monster, right? That I don’t care about baby Yoda? That I just see free advertising for Disney+? For a company that bought up most of the media landscape and mindshare already, even before it reinvented Boba Fett and Yoda in what, in soberer times, would be rightly seen as a blatant cash-grab? I find it fascinating how deeply this meme has penetrated already (it started in late 2019).