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Links and Notes for January 15th, 2021

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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.

COVID-19

It’s Time to Use Eminent Domain on the Coronavirus Vaccines
by Arnab Acharya, Sanjay G. Reddy (Foreign Policy)

“The easiest way to make vaccines truly available to all is to freely license every effective vaccine formula so that generic producers can manufacture the vaccine anywhere. This approach would overcome the short-run limits on production, which come from intellectual-property restrictions that constrain production to specific firms. Doing away with this barrier would ensure that the vaccines are produced and sold by many actors in a competitive marketplace, and made available to the public at the least cost.


The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb by Zeynep Tufekci (The Atlantic)

“If anything, given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected.
“Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths. In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.”
The variant is still a respiratory virus, so the basic tools will not change, and they will all continue to work. In fact, they have become more important, but we may need to be stricter—less time indoors, better masks, better ventilation, more disinfection of high-touch surfaces—to get the same bang for our protective buck.”
“This moment is somewhat similar to America’s initial COVID-19 surge and shutdown in March. We need to once again talk about the importance of flattening the curve. We need to again preserve hospital capacity, so our fatality rate doesn’t increase. But this time around, we can be a lot more hopeful: We need to flatten the curve because delaying potential infections just a few weeks or a month can make a tremendous difference when highly effective vaccines are being rolled out.
Vaccinated people are thus not only much, much less likely to get any disease; they appear much less likely to get even a silent, asymptomatic infection. Although we need more data to be sure, all of this strongly suggests that vaccinated people will also transmit less. The fewer people there are to efficiently transmit a pathogen, the harder it is for that pathogen to spread.”
“Researchers in Canada—where some provinces decided to vaccinate now as much as possible without holding half in reserve, and will administer the booster with future supplies—estimate that this type of front-loading can help “avert between 34 and 42 per cent more symptomatic coronavirus infections, compared with a strategy of keeping half the shipments in reserve.””
“We’ve had a year to learn—about the importance of early action, of acting decisively even in the face of uncertainty, of not confusing absence of evidence with evidence of absence. A year to learn to aim not for perfection in knowledge but for maximal impact even while considering the trade-offs. And most important, a year to learn to not wait when faced with threats with exponential dynamics but to act as early and as decisively as we can—and to adjust and tamper later, if warranted.”

Finance & Economy

The IPO Market Was Too Good by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“But now the emotional situation may have reversed. Now if your stock doubles on the first day of trading, your employees and investors will be mad that you got fleeced by Wall Street and sold stock for less than it was worth. (Sure they didn’t sell, and their stock is worth a lot now, but they got diluted.) Instead of feeling good about yourself because people wanted to buy your stock, you will feel bad because you sold it to them too cheaply.
“Usually the way IPOs work is that the banks talk to all the big investors, and write down the quantities of shares the investors would buy at various prices, and then aggregate that into a sort of subjective view of the clearing price, and apply their long experience and gut instinct to the order book, and then tell the company to price the shares a bit lower than the apparent market-clearing price.”
“The process is meant to create a more transparent method for gauging investor demand compared to traditional IPOs, the people said. It also gives Unity more power to decide on its pricing and investor base compared to the usual process. Yeah I mean it’s a regular IPO but the company gets to look at the order book and pick the price. This is a good idea! This is easy! Companies should do this!
“If a company goes public by selling 15% of its stock, and then 15% of the buyers in the IPO “flip” their stock the next day (realistic numbers), then only 2.25% of the company’s stock is available to buy. The post-IPO price—the price after the pop—thus reflects scarcity, the lack of shares available to buy, more than it reflects the valuation of the company.
“Unity allowed employees to sell shares on day one, a departure from the usual lockup that prevents employees from selling shares for the first 180 days. “The people who build this company are amazing and I rely on them and I wanted them to participate on the same level playing field as a banker or investor,” Riccitiello said. “I’ve never understood why this wasn’t possible.””
“Partly this is a matter of supply and demand: There is a lot of money looking to invest in IPOs, and not enough companies looking for money, so the companies have an upper hand. Partly it is a matter of a change in the corporate life cycle: In the olden days, companies went public relatively early, so IPOs really were mostly for small unproven companies; now, lots of IPOs are for enormous multibillion-dollar tech unicorns with household-name brands, so the classical logic—“you are asking investors to take a huge risk on an unproven newcomer like Airbnb so they need a discount”—doesn’t quite apply.”
“[…] now the market commission rate, for retail investors, is zero. But for most of the history of brokerages—again, until late 2019—you paid your broker a commission on every trade that you did. In the olden days commissions were fixed by regulation, but in modern times they are set by market competition, and this competition kept driving them lower until they went to zero.
“From the outside, I kind of feel like Robinhood’s actual, honest proposition was kind of good and they could have made the case for it, but they apparently did not have that confidence and decided to lie about it instead.
“Between October 2016 and June 2019, certain Robinhood orders lost a total of approximately $34.1 million in price improvement compared to the price improvement they would have received had they been placed at competing retail broker-dealers, even after netting the approximately $5 per-order commission costs those broker-dealers were charging at the time.”
“For most orders of more than 100 shares, the analysis concluded that Robinhood customers would be better off trading at another broker-dealer because the additional price improvement that such orders would receive at other broker-dealers would likely exceed the approximately $5 per-order commission costs that those broker-dealers were then charging.”
It’s possible that free frictionless trading is bad. If you pay $5 per trade, then you will trade some finite number of times. Perhaps each time you rationally think that you have at least $5 of expected gain from your trade, or perhaps more realistically each time you think that a trade will provide at least $5 of entertainment value. If trading is free then you can just sit on your couch all day playing an addictive iPhone game, only the game is Robinhood, and you are risking real money on each trade. In a pandemic, where stocks are volatile and other sources of fun are limited, free trading will lead to a lot of gambling.”
“There is, I think, a vague sense among many financial regulators that most people should own index funds and avoid active trading, and while I personally sympathize with that view, it seems unlikely that it’s the law.”
“[…] if you do market-making trades on public exchanges, you have a high risk of adverse selection: If you bid $9.98 for a stock, you are likely to buy that stock from someone who knows that it’s worth less than $9.98.
“If you trade with small retail investors you have much less risk of this: Their orders tend to be random, so you can safely buy at the bid and sell at the offer without worrying that your counterparties know more than you do. The bid/ask spread largely compensates the dealer for the risk of adverse selection, and if you can reduce that risk you can reduce the spread.


Tesla Kept Busy in 2020 by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Then in December Tesla was finally added to the S&P 500 index. This too is non-news for the expected cash flows of Tesla’s business, but of course it is a big deal for the price of the stock, because there are a lot of index funds that buy all the stocks in the S&P 500 index, and they did not own Tesla and had to buy it when it was added to the index.
“But the S&P also has a profitability requirement, and despite its enormous and growing stock market capitalization Tesla had never been profitable over four consecutive quarters until last June, so it was not eligible to be added to the index until then. The result is that, when it was finally added to the S&P, it was not the 500th-biggest public company in the U.S., but the sixth-biggest, and by far the biggest ever to be added to the index. The result is that index funds had to buy something like $80 billion worth of Tesla stock, all at once, to continue to track the new index. (And sell $80 billion of other stuff.)”
“[…] traditional active investing, you buy stocks where you have an investment thesis, the stocks that you understand and like and can make a case for. The implicit default is not buying; you have to overcome some burden of proof to decide to buy a stock. In direct indexing, you just buy all the stocks (in the index) unless you have a thesis that you shouldn’t. The default is buying everything; there is a burden of proof to delete a stock.
“The message of direct indexing is that, for most investors, active investing should start from the premise of indexing—that you should own the whole market, weighted by market cap—and delete from there, rather than starting from a blank page and adding stocks. Or rather, the message is that the “blank page,” for investors, is owning the market portfolio, that the actual decisions that investors make are choices to deviate from the market portfolio. The default is the index.
“As we do not sell short, we can only be underweight stocks that are in the equity index. However, while hedge funds need to borrow a stock to sell it short, we can achieve the same relative positioning by selling what we have in the portfolio – without needing to borrow the stock from other investors.”
“For a fund whose default approach is “holding the entire global equity market,” not owning a stock is the equivalent of short selling.”
“A pure short selling strategy is in effect “I can make more money betting that frauds will collapse than I can owning stocks.” A passive indexing strategy is in effect “I can make more money owning all of the stocks than I can making any specific stock bets.” If you combine the two, you get Norway’s Wirecard approach, roughly “own all the stocks except the ones we figure out are frauds.”


Dystopian Future Securities Fraud by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If your expectation is that if you invest in a good business you will make money, and if you invest in a bad business you can go to court and complain and the court will give you your money back, then maybe your job is a little too easy.

“If you are a shareholder of a public company, you want the company’s managers to maximize profits, within reason. If the managers could increase profits by doing a bunch of crimes, you might not want that. You might not want that because you are a good and moral person, but assuming that shareholders are just amoral return-maximizing machines, you nonetheless might not want it because the company would get in trouble for the crimes, and that would be bad for business, and thus for the stock price.

“But if the shareholders get compensation for that—if they can sue when the stock price goes down due to corporate crimes—they will have less reason to object to the crimes. “Whatever, do crimes, if you succeed then the stock will go up, and if you fail and the stock goes down then a court will make you pay us back.”

“If you sue for sexual-harassment-as-securities-fraud, the plaintiffs are easy to find (big shareholders), you don’t really have to prove harassment (just refer to news accounts), your clients are only in it for the money, everything is clean and simple and easy. Also the dollar amounts are larger: In some subjective moral sense, sure, employees are more harmed by a toxic work environment than shareholders are, but if the toxic work environment is at a large public company, and the stock drops, then it’s really easy to argue that the shareholders lost a huge amount of money and should get it back.”
“And so if you run a public company and don’t want to get sued—for huge amounts of money, by highly effective lawyers who have taken hundreds of millions of dollars off of other public companies—then you perhaps look at all these cases and say, well, we’d better not do any bad things. You’d better not do sexual harassment or have a data breach or make a bad video game, sure, but more generally you’d better not do anything that attracts the attention of these securities lawyers.

Yep. No trouble there. Just don’t offend anyone. Also don’t make a tempting target for the easily offended who like attention and money. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

“If you do anything shady, people who specialize in extracting money from public companies will extract some money from you.”

Even if you don’t, really. They can even generate the bad press and sue on behalf of shareholders who’ve lost money for them. No-one gets hurt. It’s just a company with employees. Fuck ‘em. Lawyers deserve the money more than wage slaves, who have only themselves to blame for having taken jobs at potentially toxic or overly ostentatiously successful.companies.

“Still it feels a little weird to say that an index addition, which has absolutely nothing to do with the expected future cash flows of a public company, is material inside information about the company.

“But in a world in which index investing keeps getting more important, you should expect more of this. A common critique of indexing is that it disconnects companies’ stock prices from their actual businesses: If everyone is indexing, they are not evaluating companies’ business prospects, but just buying them because they are on a list. On this view, insider trading based on secret earnings information is old-fashioned and possibly ineffective, because earnings aren’t what matter. The index is what matters, so that’s where you should expect to see insider trading.”


A Pandemic Dividend for Every American by Christopher Mackin, Richard May (The New Republic)

“Above and beyond the $900 billion stimulus recently signed by President Trump, over the next two to four years it is likely that between $5 to $10 trillion dollars of taxpayer money, in the form of taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees, will be expended to save American businesses and jobs. That level of government aid, the largest on record in American history, will likely require more than a generation of productive effort to pay back. A reckoning with the government’s role in rescuing the economy in this fashion also creates an opportunity to pose some of the larger questions about productivity, fairness, and economic inequality that preceded the pandemic.
“Presuming taxpayer-provided funds and guarantees will continue to play a key role in the recovery of private sector employers, incumbent shareholders should not be the sole beneficiaries of recovered value. Instead, it should be shared with employees working at all levels of each firm receiving assistance and with each and every citizen whose tax dollars are the ultimate source of funds for the recovery.
“If taxpayer dollars are fueling the recovery of private sector firms in particular, then fairness demands that all American citizens should share in the future benefits of that recovery.”
“The first mechanism should be the introduction of legal trusts that can hold shares of stock in the firms receiving federal loans or guarantees. Those trusts would hold shares on behalf of employees at all levels of these firms, not just senior executives. When recovery occurs, all employees will share in the upside.
“A Kellogg Foundation-funded study conducted by Rutgers University found that workers enjoyed retirement benefits three to five times larger than those without an ownership stake.”
“Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban also weighed in on Twitter and in subsequent interviews, stating, “If we are going to bail out companies, we need to make sure all employees benefit from a turnaround, not just executives. This would be a step toward income equality.””
“Beyond employees and executives, taxpayers also deserve a return of their principal and a share of any potential upside. Many Americans employed in the gig economy and elsewhere do not enjoy employee status in scaled money-making organizations. They too should be enfranchised and rewarded through structures such as the National Wealth Fund concept described by Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth. Such a fund should also receive an allocation of shares from firms receiving substantial loans or guarantees from the federal government. Depending on firm performance, those shares would produce an annual yield distributed directly to every citizen.
“The immediate crisis, however, involves the need for a public quid pro quo to establish what conditions, if any, should be attached to the disbursement of unprecedented amounts of taxpayer dollars to rescue private sector firms during the Covid-19 crisis.”
“We propose that any future Covid-19 related federal assistance to private sector firms should be allocated among three groups: existing shareholders, employee trusts, and a National Wealth Fund.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the nation’s resolve, but the manner in which we knit the nation back together from its ravages should not rely on policies that preserve and potentially compound existing inequalities.

Public Policy & Politics

Prof. John Eastman’s Future by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“How do you put someone who has gone so far over the edge of reality into a classroom? It’s not because they hold political beliefs, but because they demonstrate a detachment from objective reality. It’s not because they do not have a right to free speech, but because they demonstrate the lack of self-control to not express things that are so fundamentally outrageous, dangerous and potentially illegal.

“Of course, who decides where the line is drawn? Who decides that Eastman’s “verifiable” certainty that the election was rigged and Trump won by a landslide is factually false. Many believe it, and they do so with the best of intentions and deep sincerity. We all maintain our steadfast belief that we are the ones with the firm grasp of reality, whether we believe that Men in Black is entertainment or a documentary.


Violence in the Capitol, Dangers in the Aftermath by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“On September 14 — while bodies were still buried under burning rubble in downtown Manhattan — Congresswoman Barbara Lee cast a lone vote against the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). “Some of us must urge the use of restraint,” she said seventy-two hours after the attack, adding: “our country is in a state of mourning” and thus “some of us must say: let’s step back for a moment, let’s pause just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.””
“At the very least, basic rationality requires an acknowledgement that when political passions and rage-driven emotions find their most intense expression, calls for reflection and caution can only be valuable even if ultimately rejected.

“[…] the importance of resisting the coercive framework that demands everyone choose one of two extremes: that the incident is either (a) insignificant or even justifiable, or (b) is an earth-shattering, radically transformative event that demands radical, transformative state responses.

“This reductive, binary framework is anti-intellectual and dangerous. One can condemn a particular act while resisting the attempt to inflate the dangers it poses. One can acknowledge the very real existence of a threat while also warning of the harms, often far greater, from proposed solutions. One can reject maximalist, inflammatory rhetoric about an attack (a War of Civilizations, an attempted coup, an insurrection, sedition) without being fairly accused of indifference toward or sympathy for the attackers.

“My insistence that we look at the other side of the ledger — the costs and dangers not only from such attacks but also the “solutions” implemented in the name of stopping them — did not come from indifference towards those deaths or a naive views of those responsible for them. It was instead driven by my simultaneous recognition of the dangers from rights-eroding, authoritarian reactions imposed by the state, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.”
“But the view that we should attempt to identify the core motives of terrorist acts or violent crime, rather than just label them evil and vow to destroy their perpetrators, was largely deemed taboo in mainstream discourse.
The same framework used to assault civil liberties in the name of foreign terrorism is now being seamlessly applied — often by those who spent the last two decades objecting to it — to the threat posed by “domestic white supremacist terrorists,” the term preferred by liberal elites, especially after yesterday, for Trump supporters generally.”
“The once-radical 2006 Gingrich argument — that some opinions are too dangerous to allow to be expressed because they are pro-terrorist and insurrectionary — is now thriving, close to a consensus. These calls for censorship, online and official, are grounded in the long-discredited, oft-rejected and dangerous view that a person should be held legally accountable not only for their own illegal actions but also for the consequences of their protected speech: meaning the actions others take when they hear inflammatory rhetoric.”
“The complete reversal in mentality from just a few months ago is dizzying. Those who spent the summer demanding the police be defunded are furious that the police response at the Capitol was insufficiently robust, violent and aggressive. Those who urged the abolition of prisons are demanding Trump supporters be imprisoned for years.”
“Those who argued in the summer that property damage is meaningless or even noble are treating smashed windows and looted podiums at the Capitol as treason, as a coup. One need not dismiss the lamentable actions of yesterday to simultaneously reject efforts to apply terms that are plainly inapplicable: attempted coup, insurrection, sedition. There was zero chance that the few hundred people who breached the Capitol could overthrow the U.S. Government — the most powerful, armed and militarized entity in the world — nor did they try.
“Perhaps many view it as more upsetting to see august members of Congress hiding in fear of a riot than to watch ordinary small-business owners weep as their multi-generational store burns to the ground.”

That’s a stab at the heart of the holier-than-thou hypocrisy of the moral majority of the so-called progressive left.

“There is a huge difference between, on the one hand, thousands of people shooting their way into the Capitol after a long-planned, coordinated plot with the goal of seizing permanent power, and, on the other, an impulsive and grievance-driven crowd more or less waltzing into the Capitol as the result of strength in numbers and then leaving a few hours later. That the only person shot was a protester killed by an armed agent of the state by itself makes clear how irresponsible these terms are. There are more adjectives besides “fascist treason” and “harmless protest,” enormous space between those two poles. One should not be forced to choose between the two.
“Like all inflated threats, this one has a kernel of truth. As is true of every faction, there are right-wing activists filled with rage and who are willing to engage in violence. Some of them are dangerous (just as some Muslims in the post-9/11 era, and some Antifa nihilists, were and are genuinely violent and dangerous). But as was true of the Cold War and the War on Terror and so many other crisis-spurred reactions, the other side of the ledger — the draconian state powers clearly being planned and urged and prepared in the name of stopping them — carries its own extremely formidable dangers.


Austerity, Democrats and the State by Rob Urie (CounterPunch)

“[…] the Covid-19 pandemic was entirely predictable. The Chinese prepared for it following the 2003 SARS epidemic, meaning that they understood that it was a risk. The image of Americans shopping around for an Obamacare plan that covers Covid-19 before the disease existed illustrates the absurdity of its neoliberal premise.
“The economic illiteracy of PAYGO ties to the argument that government spending costs more than it produces. Were this same logic applied to private investment, corporate profits wouldn’t exist. The implied difference is between public and private investment. With a program like a Jobs Guarantee, public investment would provide people with jobs doing work that needs to be done, thereby producing a social benefit. Through paying these people, the money that otherwise wouldn’t exist will be re-spent on goods and services, thereby producing an economic benefit. The question then is why public investment isn’t many multiples of private investment?”
“In 2010 the U.S. had the most expensive health care system per capita in the so-called developed world, coincident with the worst healthcare outcomes. Step one by the Obama administration was to state the problem to be solved to be the inadequate distribution of private health insurance. Now, a decade after the ACA was passed, the program has neither reduced health care costs nor improved healthcare outcomes. But more people do have health insurance.”
“For those who may be unfamiliar, this is corporate salesmanship 101. The first step is to state the problem in terms that can be solved through the purchase of a product. If the problem can be stated as people not having a particular product, coercion and subsidies can be used to get them to purchase it. That the ‘solution’ is unrelated to, and may be antithetical to solving, the original problem is irrelevant once it has been redefined. From that point forward, the solution is defined through the statement of the problem. Ask Obamacare supporters if it works, and the answer is always that more people have health insurance.
“The last time that Democrats held the White House and both houses of Congress was when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. Mr. Obama promptly reneged on his campaign promises to key constituencies, gave Wall Street $10 trillion for wrecking the economy, and passed a Republican health insurance sales scheme using the ruse that it was healthcare reform.”


The [Neocon] Empire Strikes Back: Victoria Nuland, and the Kagans Who Love Her by Maj. Danny Sjursen, USA (ret.) (Antiwar.com)

“So, like another tragic literary figure, expect each member of Biden’s Gatsby-like gang to “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” – a past of futile interventionism that profits the war-profiteers who pay their immense mortgages in communities gated off from both far-flung foreigners and fellow citizens incurring the costs of their imperial nostalgia.”


When Are We Going to Admit that Trump is Unfit to be President? by David Bernstein (Reason)

“There is no excuse for political violence, and Trump, admittedly, did not ask anyone to engage in violence. However, if you tell people that their votes didn’t count, that the election was a sham, that the election you lost wasn’t even close but in fact a landslide in your favor, it’s only natural to expect that some people will be inclined to resort to violence, because the whole point of elections is to settle political matters without violence. If the election process is a total fraud, then violence is to be expected.

“Even in the face of the violence yesterday, Trump, while telling the rioters to go home, also continued to insist that he really won in a landslide, thus continuing to foment violence. He is unfit to be president. And no, that doesn’t excuse all the examples of bad behavior on the left over the past 4 years, and that bad behavior undoubtedly created an atmosphere in which violence becomes more acceptable (not least by the tacit and sometimes explicit acceptance of the mass violence last Summer).

“But the basic moral principle of “two wrongs don’t make a right” still applies. Sometimes if you fight fire with fire, you burn down your house.”


Don’t Give the Capitol Rioters Power Over Tech and Policing Policy by Elizabeth Nolan Brown (Reason)

“What the hell happened yesterday and how it happened will take some time to answer properly. But as tends to be the case in times of crisis, people are proving eager to cram this unprecedented experience into familiar frames and take from it evidence for their pet policy proposals.

“Exhibit A: the techlash. Because the groups who broke into Congress yesterday organized through online platforms, or were motivated to organize by information on them, people with perpetual axes to grind against social media want to put the blame on Big Tech.”

“[…] it doesn’t address any root causes of the phenomenon that distress people, and it leaves American politics mired in an eternal game of whack-a-mole with communication facilitators that simply squelches the speech rights of law-abiding people while distracting from the hard work of addressing the underlying issues that drove that communication.”
“It’s certainly not wrong to call out Trump’s obvious role in making this happen, or the way senators like Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) contributed to the conspiracy theories driving it. But we absolutely don’t want to open the can of worms that is broad interpretations of criminal incitement. Or treason. Or terrorism.”
“By all means, prosecute specific people for specific criminal acts, like vandalism and physical attacks on Capitol cops. But we don’t need to reach for the highest possible criminal charges, or prevent protesters from flying home, or prosecute literally everyone who entered the building, or aim for punishment beyond people directly responsible for bad behavior.”
“To be sure, there are still a lot of unknowns about how rioters were able to break deep into the heart of Congress and remain there for quite some time without much resistance. But there are also some plausible explanations, such as that Capitol police were outnumbered, that D.C. didn’t want the National Guard called in since Trump controls it, and that authorities had expected a smaller crowd and were trying to avoid an excessive and potentially escalating presence.
“[…] we should never condemn de-escalation and restraint from authorities. The point is that police and those in charge should show all protesters—regardless of cause, skin color, or perceived political party alliance—the same restraint they (mostly) showed yesterday.”
“A mass break-in to the U.S. Capitol to interrupt presidential certification on behalf of a man who did not win is quite a bit beyond a few trash can fires and spray-painted monuments, or even whatever more serious violence did break out in isolated patches at summer protests. The MAGA hordes yesterday sent the entirety of Congress and the vice president into hiding. They forced Capitol police to barricade the House chamber to stop them from storming in. They broke Capitol windows and rifled through lawmakers’ offices. You have to be willfully obtuse to see that as on par with some localized acts of vandalism.


The UK is Out of the EU, But the Balance of Power in Europe has Tipped Permanently Against It by Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch)

“I have always argued that the greatest danger lies not in Brexit but in the Brexiteers themselves because they were selling political and economic snake oil and would go on doing so. Moreover, they were selling it to different people under different labels: the anti-EU coalition combined free-market, Thatcher-worshipping activists working in temporary concert with those who saw themselves as Thatcher’s victims.


US govt-sponsored website Bellingcat disrupts MH17 trial in Netherlands by Eric van de Beek (The Grayzone)

“With the start of the MH17 trial in March 2020, the self-proclaimed “collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists” assumed a new role: The US government-funded website began ridiculing the defense attorneys and attempting to discredit witnesses.
Despite reporting from his living room, speaking no Arabic, and possessing no expertise or experience with weapon systems, Higgins’ work resonated widely in mainstream media. And it is no wonder: His findings fit perfectly with the mainstream narrative of moderate rebels waging a noble struggle against a merciless dictator who gassed his own people while at the same time pulverizing them with barrel bombs.”

Philosophy

Words On Pages by Dave Maier (3QuarksDaily)

“My immediate reaction, that is, when I heard this, was to wonder whether and in what sense “Ellen Page” is still a referring expression, and who gets to decide this, and on what grounds. Naturally Elliot himself has a unique and in some ways authoritative perspective on this, but a) he’s only one of an entire community of English speakers; and b) if he wants to give us a theory of the reference of proper names he’s entirely welcome to do so, but in that context his own perspective, as in (a), is, I think, less authoritative than on the rather narrower question of what he should now be called, which I grant is up to him.”
“There had always been a worry about the reference of names, as in sentences like “Pegasus does not exist.” If the name gets its meaning from the thing it refers to, then how can such a sentence, which asserts non-existence, be meaningful at all? In 1905 Bertrand Russell famously analyzed such problematic sentences as “The present king of France is bald” by taking the apparent referring expression in the subject to contain a hidden assertion, allowing us to see the sentence not as problematically meaningless but instead as straightforwardly false.”
“Kripke thus argued that we need a way to pick out our guy in terms of his necessary properties, to make sure that the reference remains stable enough to speak intelligibly about alternate metaphysical possibilities.


The stupidity of the intelligent by Forester McClatchey (Washington Examiner)

“To the eyes of strangers, he was a dapper nobody. In the eyes of literary acquaintances, he was a shy modernist, a fitful poet, and a drunk. He died in 1935. After his death, a trunk was discovered in his apartment crammed with 25,000 scraps of paper. They included a hodgepodge of poems, astrological charts, and prose, signed by the various characters of Pessoa’s teeming imagination. The oeuvre is so vast, and Pessoa’s handwriting so poor, that scholars are still deciphering it. Every time a new edition of Pessoa’s work emerges, it is fatter than the last.
“Pessoa called Caeiro’s work “a vaccine against the stupidity of the intelligent.” Rocks are rocks, trees are trees, and that is how it should be. Human beings would be better off if we had not been cursed with the ability to think. Caeiro wants to see without thinking; thinking he dismisses as “a sickness of the eyes.” He has nothing but scorn for other poets, who write about “what isn’t there.” Perhaps the most shocking thing about Caeiro’s work is its rejection of metaphor, which is the bedrock of poetry. A poet, you might say, is somebody who shows you that X is Y: The poets say the stars are … eternal nuns And the flowers devout penitents for a single day, But … after all, the stars are just stars And the flowers are just flowers, Which is why we see them as stars and flowers.”
“Beauty is the name given to something that doesn’t exist, The name I give to things in exchange for the pleasure they give me. So why do I say of things: “They’re beautiful?””
“How would you translate a grumpy anti-poet who A, never existed, B, wrote bad Portuguese, and C, was nevertheless a great poet?”
“Pessoa actually lived it. In his work, the only thing nobler than consciousness is the consciousness of consciousness. The self is merely a stage where personalities mingle. His literary cosmos is populated with artificial people who are obsessed with artifice.”
“He believed that human connection could only be a hindrance to his art because it would take him out of his own head. In Portuguese, “pessoa” means “person.” The irony of this name is clear. Just as Caeiro tried not to be a poet, Pessoa spent his life trying not to be a person. He preferred seeing himself as a cosmos. What is more human than that?”


Who Is René Girard? by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“he is a practically-minded person’s idea of what a theorist is like. Girard himself appears to share in this idea: a theorist for him is someone who comes up with a simple, elegant account of how everything works, and spends a whole career driving that account home. A theorist spends all of their time on the positive construction of a case, and none of their time on skeptical doubts or objections, and least of all on the nagging call of humility that pipes back up again whenever a philosophically minded person starts to feel as if they’ve got something right — the call that says, “Why should I, of all people, be the one to have got things right? It seems so improbable.” Girard’s answer to this question would probably be as straightforward as his theory: because I’ve read a lot, and because I am smart.

I think I see the appeal he has for Silicon Valley overlords.

“[…] he is consistently reproached by his American colleagues “spreading himself too thin” (“C’est vous comparer à un trop petit morceau de beurre pour une trop grande tartine,” he will later explain for a French audience unfamiliar with the idiom).”
“French theory on American shores has always been a dialogue des sourds, and Girard was already playing the American, which is to say enjoying the spectacle of all those puffed-up mandarins.”
“Again, it is not that one wants to discourage a struggling Amazon-partnered retailer from reading French philosophy, but only that it is not at all clear that Girard is any better placed than any number of other theorists to provide any practical tools to help an e-merchant along towards his or her narrow goals — let alone to provide anything like a critique of the ideological structures that have imposed these goals.
“[…] whatever has money behind it will inevitably have intelligent-looking people at least pretending to take it seriously,”
“[…] is at least true that some men seek out young, attractive, glamorous women in the aim of enhancing their own social status — the pure delectation in the other’s beauty may be at least part of the man’s satisfaction in the pairing, but it seems fair to say that this delectation is often inseparable from the self-contentment he feels at the status-enhancement she confers to him, and that achieving this status is in turn inseparable from depriving other men of the opportunity to achieve it.”
“That is, at least sometimes a man “acquires” a woman by the logic of neighborly competition and status anxiety, but then discovers that she has a soul too, and is worthy of love just like any human being, quite apart from her significance for his social status. Such love strikes me as an instance of post-mimetic desire, just as we might say that “mere” appetite is pre-mimetic desire.
“[…] just as the nineteenth century’s idea of evolution as ruthless competition needed to be supplemented by rigorous accounts of the evolutionary role of altruism in the twentieth century, so too might we say that Girard is missing at least half the story.
“We are rather interested in surveying the diversity of the expressions of humanity, cataloguing them, and waiting, but not impatiently, for patterns to appear. There are different kinds of theorist, of course, and there is plenty of room for all of us. It is however somewhat a shame that the everything-explainers, the hammerers for whom all is nail, should be the ones so consistently to capture the popular imagination.
“René Girard, in sum, is not a particularly great theorist — it is easy on even a casual study of his work to spot the weaknesses and lacunae. But he may well be the theorist our era deserves.”

Programming

Mary Poppendieck on Why You Should Just Burn Your Backlog by Jennifer Riggins (The New Stack)

“They will always be certain with one of two answers: Yes, and it’ll be done in six weeks. No, I’m sorry that isn’t something we are going to do.”

So you never plan beyond six weeks? You just go with whatever flow there is? driven by circumstance? Where do you document research for future work? Or is that dormant, not backlog?

““If people ask you to do something and you don’t have the capacity, saying ‘I’ll put it on my backlog’ does them no good and it does you no good. It’s just a lie. You know your output capacity. You know the rate at which you get stuff done. And that’s only as fast as you’re going to move.” — Mary Poppendieck, “The Lean Mindset.””

Which means you make requests someone else’s problem. Cool. I agree with no estimates and first-in-first-out and agile . But you also need a feel for task size or you don’t know when to split among team members.

He argued that no one can manage that level of detailed expensive planning. After all, that’s what distinguishes agile from its Waterfall predecessor. He says you have to follow the software engineer’s version of the scientific method:
  • Pick a candidate.
  • Invest a little in it.
  • Get feedback.
  • Observe how it works in your environment.
  • Adapt.
  • Decide to continue or move on.
  • Start again.

Mary says in this rate-based system you are done when the time is up or very close to when the time is up.

This sounds pretty hand-wavy and not very compatible with actual deadlines imposed by customers who may have had the deadlines imposed on them. (E.g. by an government agency or regulation or perhaps by a hoster who’s shutting down a piece of software or support.)

“If you’re working in this sort of rate-based system, you can have a little leeway on either side, but you are finished when the deadline is there. You accomplish the best you can in the given time period for that problem at that time.

I’m forced to agree that this is generally what you end up doing, no matter how well you plan. You can optimize how much of the original goal you cover by the time you’re “done”, but the description above is kind of tautological.

“Tom says it comes down to the difference between push and pull. When somebody gives you a deadline, they are pushing a list onto you. But if they are saying that every three months your team is going to release something with better versions each time, that’s pulling.

Nice work if you can get it. Because you don’t have customers who need things by a certain date? How is this applicable to anything but a startup with a single product?

“There is one caveat — open source communities. In that follow-up email interview, Mary said open source software doesn’t follow the same pattern. In an open source community, a long backlog is actually a good sign that people are active users who care about it, so they want to find bugs and to continuously improve it.”

I guess that this logic might apply to any framework or component?


What I’ve Learned in 45 Years in the Software Industry by Joel Goldberg (BTI360)

“The more specialized your work, the greater the risk that you will communicate in ways that are incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Fight the curse of knowledge. Work to understand your audience. Try to imagine what it would be like to learn what you are communicating for the first time.