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Links and Notes for January 22nd, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

The New Strain: How Bad Is It? by Brendan Foht and Ari Schulman (The new Atlantis)

“New Covid spreads much more aggressively. That could mean the return of runaway spread like we saw in March. And it could mean that reaching herd immunity will require a larger share of people to be infected or vaccinated. So we may be looking at a deadlier and longer pandemic unless smart, aggressive action is taken right now.”
“Over the last year, the U.S. has at many points been able to stabilize Covid outbreaks, stopping runaway spread and seeing modestly declining case curves, though without ever eliminating the virus. In other words, at best we’ve been able — barely — to tread water. But it wouldn’t take much added weight to sink us.
“Since we can’t see the future, perhaps these questions are better: If the new Covid threat fizzles, what damage will have been done by responding aggressively to what turned out to be a false alarm? And how would that damage compare to a world where we fail to respond to the alarm but it turns out to be true?
“Public health experts are also already debating delaying the second dose of vaccines to allow more people to receive the first dose, which on its own confers significant immunity. (This too is already happening in the U.K.) But some scientists worry that just one dose will create a weaker immune response, to which the virus could more easily develop resistance. It is a genuinely difficult question: If delaying the second dose means more people receive the first dose, this could buy critical time to slow the new strain while more vaccines are produced. But a new strain that is resistant to vaccines would be disastrous.”


Asking Questions About Vaccines Does Not Make You Anti-Science | 3 Quarks Daily by Godfrey Onime (3 Quarks Daily)

This practice of using the actual, live bug to self-induce infection is called variolation. Among those intentionally exposed to smallpox through variolation, about 1-2 in 100 may die. For those who got the infection naturally, about 30 in 100 died.”
“It’s okay to question vaccines — and science in general. Throughout college, medical school and residency, we were trained to do just that, and I still do it today. I also encourage my medical students and residents to do the same. We challenge our researcher-colleagues, push them to think harder, to do better. But when they can satisfy us, we accept their findings. We questioned because we truly wished to learn.
“Before deciding whether to receive the vaccine, I did my due diligence. I read the research, rather than Facebook memes or conspiracy blog posts; I pondered the findings and listened to the experts, rather than to friends or celebrities who knew not the first thing about science. Feeling reasonably confident with the vaccine, I said a silent prayer to the brave men and women who put themselves on the line and participated in the original studies, when they knew not if the vaccines would work or how safe they were.
“The Italian physician and microbiologist, Roberto Burioni, is quoted as saying, “Does an aircraft engineer take a vote among the passengers as to how many wheels to put on an airplane? No—the engineer is the expert… and it’s his job to decide.” Just as we would not board a plan that’s flown by our untrained friends or favorite celebrities, we should be careful to only get our vaccines facts from reputable sources and trusted scientists […]”
“[…] to again quote Dr. Burioni “The Earth is round, gasoline is flammable, and vaccines are safe and effective. All the rest are dangerous lies.””
“Hopefully we can continue to better and better harness the incremental progress in science over the years, make safer vaccines faster, and save more lives. But we have to take the vaccines. There just is no getting around that fact.

Finance & Economy

But is it securities fraud? by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

But “bad thing” is a vague and subjective description. Some people think it was bad that Trump used Twitter to incite a violent insurrection and that Twitter let him do it, but other people think that it is bad for a quasi-public utility like Twitter to ban a hugely popular political figure from its platform.”
“We talk occasionally around here about “everything is securities fraud” as a sort of alternative to democratic governance, a way around politics: U.S. politics are broken in various ways and sometimes unable to regulate activities that people want to regulate, so they regulate those activities through securities lawsuits instead. In the long run that is perhaps not a stable equilibrium. In the long run, if something is a way around politics, eventually politics will creep into it.”

It’s Just another abdication of responsibility that lets the strongest win.

“When everyone moved to Zoom and Slack and Discord, retail investors ended up talking much more about stocks, but professionals might have talked about them less. It is not hard to believe that that might, uh, have an effect on markets:”
“We have talked before about my “ boredom market hypothesis,” which says that retail investors will trade stocks more actively to the extent that (1) it is fun and (2) nothing else is fun. My calculation has generally been that (1) free trading, Robinhood Financial LLC’s gamified trading app, Elon Musk’s … whole … thing, and a pretty good bull market since March have all made trading more fun, while (2) the pandemic has made everything else less fun.”

Until the next crash wipes them all out.

“Still one can see how, say, an English employee of a German bank working in Dubai and trying to win the business of an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund would not try her absolute best to live up to the spirit of American regulation.”
“See, the person they were bribing complained about not receiving enough bribes, which made him mad, so he threatened to stop giving Deutsche Bank any more business, so they paid him an extra bribe to keep in his good graces, and sensibly called it a “goodwill payment.” It’s just sort of bland and efficient and unembarrassed.”
“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for U.S. companies to pay bribes abroad, has always been a bit controversial and quixotic. (Especially when, as here, the U.S. company it regulates is actually a German company.) The point of the FCPA, I suppose, is to try to change business norms in foreign countries: U.S. and multinational companies can’t pay bribes, the theory goes, so foreign governments who want to work with them can’t demand bribes, so they will clean up their acts and no one will demand bribes anymore.
“It sometimes feels like an alternative analysis might be that this is just the U.S. taking its cut. If you’re a German bank bribing Saudi officials to win Middle Eastern business, you have to budget some money to pay off the U.S. government too.


SPAC Magic Isn’t Free by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

Where does the value [of a SPAC] come from? I used to build and market equity derivatives, and it is tempting to resort to the professional mystification, “it comes from monetizing volatility, that great yet under-appreciated resource.” But that’s not a very good answer; let’s try to do better.

“I think the value of the share is fairly straightforward: It is worth $10 because there’s $10 in a pot and you can always get your $10 back out of the pot. Easy. The value of the warrant is a bit more mystical; it depends on volatility, on there being some nonzero chance today that, in the future, the shares will be worth significantly more than $11.50. The thing to notice is that if everyone did the free-money trade, then the warrant would be worth zero. People would buy shares for $10 and cash them out for $10, the shares would never be worth more than $11.50, the warrants would never be exercised, everyone would know this with certainty, and no one would pay any positive price to buy the warrants. Also no private companies would agree to merge with a SPAC because all the money in the pool would be redeemed.”

“In effect, hedge funds are providing bridge loans that have enabled a host of famous names from the world of business, finance and politics to launch their own SPACs this year. The funds are often arbitrageurs, though, with no intention of remaining investors once a SPAC has found a merger target. Retail investors and institutional investors who hold SPACs as long-term investments once a deal is struck haven’t always done as well.”

Of course, all of these fantasies and great ideas collapse immediately when there is no more seemingly guaranteed bull market. America has hit on the only socialism it can stand: trickle down but now combined with the Shock Doctrine and ZIRP to make a world where the market never goes down because rich people are given free money and they have nowhere else to go with it. But the market means nothing to the 99%.

“But as the tool gains favor, there are concerns about the regulatory differences between the two modes of going public. The prospect of wooing retail traders through media and inherently speculative projections brings heightened risk to stock-market investors, according to some venture capitalists and corporate-governance experts.”
“Honestly if I were Robinhood I would consider doing an IPO only to customers. For one thing it would save some banking fees. It might even get you a better price. And if it works you have quite a proof-of-concept to take to other companies. “Don’t go public with Goldman Sachs,” you might be able to say, “go public with us, we might get you a higher price and we’ll definitely get you a wilder shareholder base.” I’m not sure Robinhood wants to get into the underwriting business, and I’m not sure every company would really want the unfiltered all-Robinhood-shareholder experience, but I feel like some would.”
“News of the win has been met with a mixture of incredulity and pride among London’s trading community. … “It’s funny how if it was BP or Goldman Sachs that made the money, no one would bat an eyelid, but when it’s a bunch of working-class lads, people say they’re cheating,” says one trader who knows them, expressing a widely held sentiment. “I say good luck to them.” Me too.”


JPMorgan Had a Good Bad Year by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“It is hard to know what to do with “a challenging year where we generated record revenue.” You can take it as sort of a boast: This year was hard, but we did better than ever, because we are very good at our jobs. You can take it as a sigh of relief: Boy are we glad 2020 is over, also wow look how rich we are. You can take it as an acknowledgment that, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s a little gauche for a big bank to make record profits: We recognize how hard this year was for everyone, and we will collect our enormous winnings in a solemn and dignified fashion.
“We talked a few times last year about the anomaly that the Federal Reserve’s stress tests for big banks used a market-crisis scenario that was much less severe than the actual Covid crisis—but that the banks performed much better in that actual crisis than the Fed thought they would have in its imagined crisis. It turns out that in a real crisis banks don’t just lose a lot of money and get sad; they also make a lot of money trading derivatives when the crisis happens, and when the Fed fixes it.
“I don’t know what to tell you. A lot of finance is built around sort of no-arbitrage assumptions: “If X happened, then people could make a risk-free profit, so they’d flock to the opportunity until X did not happen.” In liquid continuous markets those assumptions often more or less work. But sometimes people just forget to take their risk-free profits, and the system breaks down a bit.
“I assume the disk will eventually disintegrate under its blanket of garbage, but you never know. In another decade, when Bitcoin has become the world’s main store of value and 90% of it has been misplaced, this will be a trillion-dollar rubbish dump and Wales’s main industry will be combing through it looking for that hard drive.
“[…] because it has partially “orphaned” its CDS by moving its debt to a new entity, leaving very little debt at the old entity that still has lots of CDS outstanding. Perhaps, if you are a CDS writer, you can convince the company to do that orphaning, by giving it a cut of your profits. This is roughly the McClatchy Co. trade.”

This sounds so shady.


Debt and Deficits, Yet Again − Center for Economic and Policy Research by Dean Baker (CEPR)

It looks like President Biden will propose a robust stimulus package of well over $1 trillion. According to press accounts, the package is likely to include another check for $2,000. (I believe it is supposed to $1,400 above the $600 in the last package.) It is likely to include a refundable child tax credit that will do much to reduce child poverty. It will also include money to state and local governments to make up massive pandemic induced shortfalls. There will also be money for mass transit and a down payment on green new deal programs. Biden also plans to increase the subsidies provided in the Affordable Care Act, to make its insurance more affordable. And, he is likely to ask for a reduction in the age of Medicare eligibility.”

“Suppose interest rates return to the 4-6 percent range we saw before the Great Recession. What’s the problem?

Interest rates in this range would have been considered normal, or even low, prior to the Great Recession. Higher interest rates will have some negative effects. We will see less construction, mortgage refinancing will slow sharply, and there will be a modest falloff in public and private investment. The dollar will also likely rise. This will make U.S. goods and services less competitive internationally, leading to a somewhat higher trade deficit.”

The Fed sets a target of 2.0 percent inflation. This is supposed to be an average, not a ceiling. We have not hit this target since before the Great Recession.”
“If long-term interest rates rise even back to pre-pandemic levels, it could lead to a substantial decline in the stock market. One of the reasons the stock market was so strong in 2020 was that there were few alternative options for investors.
“With bonds becoming a more attractive alternative, many investors will switch from stocks to bonds, putting downward pressure on stock prices. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to see a 20 or 30 percent drop in stock prices.”
Lower stock prices are not necessarily bad for the economy (they can be if the drop is due to a plunge in the economy), but they are bad news for the wealth holdings of the very rich.
“The Federal Reserve Board currently holds trillions of dollars of government debt. The interest paid on the debt held by the Fed is refunded right back to the Treasury. Last year the Fed paid $88.5 billion to the Treasury, reducing the true interest burden by 0.4 percentage points, which leaves the interest burden at only slightly above 1.0 percentage point of GDP.
“Much of the debt outstanding is long-term, which means that we will only see higher payments when a ten-year or thirty-year bond expires. So the idea we will suddenly be facing a crushing interest burden doesn’t make any sense.”
“We will hand down a whole economy and society to future generations. If we had zero national debt, but massive amounts of patent and copyright rents, it would be hard to claim that we had served them well.
“If we fail to educate our children, with more than one-sixth growing up in poverty, we have not done well by future generations. If we leave them a decrepit infrastructure, we will not have served future generations well. And, if we destroy the natural environment, by not arresting global warming and destroying the country’s natural beauty, we will not have been fair to our children. In short, the debt doesn’t really measure anything. Highlighting the debt is a way for people with a political agenda to oppose spending that they don’t like. It is not an honest complaint and doesn’t deserve to be treated as such.”


IPOs Keep Going Up by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“This suggests that my advice is not wrong, exactly, in this burning-hot market—asking for more money is good, if it gets you more money!—but it does not actually avoid the IPO pop. The way the IPO pop works is that, whatever the IPO price is, the stock doubles the next day. Valuation has nothing to do with it; it is just a law of physics in this “stocks only go up” market. (Good lord is this not investing advice.)”

I can imagine that the comment above without the parenthetical is pretty much the rallying cry of most Robinhood investors.

“This suggests that the problem of the IPO pop is not exactly that the bankers and company value the company incorrectly in the IPO. It’s just a matter of supply and demand: The price at which you can sell 28.3 million shares is lower than the price at which you can sell 3.7 million shares.
“The people who buy stocks just after the IPO are way more enthusiastic than the people who buy in the IPO, who in turn are way more enthusiastic than the people who buy before the IPO.”
“[…] small public-market buyers are the ones who are most enthusiastic about buying stock these days, you might as well go straight to them.”
“Ordinarily the way one thinks of safe-and-sound banking regulation is that banks want to do a lot of lending, and regulators say “actually some of that is too risky and you should cut it back.” ; the bankers have unlimited upside and limited downside.”
“Ordinarily the way one thinks of safe-and-sound banking regulation is that banks want to do a lot of lending, and regulators say “actually some of that is too risky and you should cut it back.” Banks have incentives to be aggressive: If risky loans work out the bankers get rich, if they go poorly they get bailed out; the bankers have unlimited upside and limited downside. Regulators have incentives to be conservative: If risky loans work out the regulators don’t get a bonus, but if the banks need bailouts the regulators get blamed; they have no upside and lots of downside.”


War of the (Financial) Worlds by Nomi Prins (CounterPunch)

“As soon as Wall Street got the good news from the Fed as 2020 ended, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, wasted no time in announcing its intent to buy a staggering $30 billion of its own shares in the new year. And as if by magic, those shares leapt 5% that very day. Other mega-banks followed suit, as did their share prices.

“Remember that, long before Covid-19 hit, the financial crisis of 2008 was met by a multi-trillion-dollar Wall Street bailout. At the same time, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to zero, while purchasing U.S. Treasury and mortgage bonds from the very banks that had sparked the disaster. Its own assets then rose from $870 billion to $4.5 trillion between August 2007 and August 2015. On the other hand, the U.S. economy never quite reached a growth level of, on average, more than 2% annually in the years after that near collapse, even as the stock market regained all its losses and so much more. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, aided by an ultra-loose monetary policy, steadily rose from a financial-crisis low of 6,926 on March 5, 2009 to 27,090 by March 4, 2020, which was when Covid-19 briefly trashed its rally.

“However, within a month of the market dip that followed widespread shutdowns, its climb was refortified by similar but larger maneuvers, as Federal Reserve policy was once again deployed to save the rich under the auspices of saving the economy. Rally 2.0 took the Dow to a new record of 30,606.48 as 2020 closed.”

“[…] the combined net worth of the top 1% of Americans was $34.2 trillion (about one-third of all U.S. household wealth), while the total for the bottom half was $2.1 trillion (or 1.9% of that wealth).
“[…] while the market soared, more than 25.5 million Americans were the recipients of federal unemployment benefits. The S&P 500 stock market index added a total of $14 trillion in market value in 2020. In essentially another universe, the number of people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and didn’t regain them was about 10 million.
“Total federal revenue was $3.45 trillion, while the corporate tax part of that was just $221 billion, or a paltry 6.4%. What that means is that in an ever more unequal America, 93.6% of the money flowing into the government’s till comes from individuals, not corporations.”


tHe fUtUrE oF mOnEy by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“The basic tension in Bitcoin is:”
  1. Bitcoin is at its core about rejecting the traditional financial system and replacing it with something different, something trustless and disintermediated. Instead of relying on banks to hold and transfer your money for you, your money lives on a blockchain and you have direct access to it.
  2. But most of what actually happens with Bitcoin is about rediscovering financial history and re-creating the traditional financial system from scratch.
“The Libor scandal was … maybe the most scandalous scandal in the financial industry since the 2008 global financial crisis? Libor was called “ the world’s most important number,” but the way that it was calculated was by calling up banks and asking them what rate they could borrow at, and the banks could just make up an answer. It turned out that they often made up answers that were wrong, in order to (1) reassure investors that they could borrow more cheaply than they actually could and/or (2) affect the value of their Libor derivatives trades.
“When a company in an index is banned (for U.S. investors), and U.S. investors own products (funds, ETFs, derivatives) that track the index, there is a weird inefficiency. Two things can happen: The U.S. investors can dump their index-tracking products, or The index administrators can dump the companies. Both solutions are over-broad. In the first, the U.S. investors are effectively selling all the companies in the index, not just the banned ones. In the second, all indexed investors, not just U.S. ones, have to sell the banned companies. The efficient solution would be for (only) U.S. investors to dump (only) the banned companies, but since the atomic unit of investing is now the index, that is hard: You don’t just own stocks, so you can’t just sell them.”
“The U.S. government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were seized by the U.S. government and placed into conservatorship in 2008, in the depths of the financial crisis. This was a novel and shocking development and it was widely assumed that, you know, *something* would happen: They’d be reformed in some way and recapitalized and returned to private ownership, or broken up, or abolished, or turned into an official government agency, or whatever you want. But instead nothing really happened, and they’ve been in conservatorship ever since; the terms of the conservatorship changed in a controversial way in 2012, but the basic structure—Fannie and Freddie are in limbo, not wholly owned by the government but nonetheless effectively owned by the government—stayed the same. And every few months there is a news story about how the U.S. government is going to return them to private ownership, and each time I write, “ hahaha no it won’t,” and each time it doesn’t. And each time the urgency fades.”

Public Policy & Politics

Gaslighting Last Summer’s Riots and the Law Enforcement Response by David Bernstein (Reason)

“The Capitol Police were woefully understaffed and under-prepared for last Wednesday’s riot. The reasons for that need to be thoroughly investigated. But the notion that right-wing mostly white rioters get special treatment while BLM-associated lawless behavior attracts violent, harsh, crackdown is at odds with what actually happened last summer.


We Need a New Media System by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

News companies now clean world events like whalers, using every part of the animal, funneling different facts to different consumers based upon calculations about what will bring back the biggest engagement kick. The Migrant Caravan? Fox slices off comments from a Homeland Security official describing most of the border-crossers as single adults coming for “economic reasons.” The New York Times counters by running a story about how the caravan was deployed as a political issue by a Trump White House staring at poor results in midterm elections.”
“Repeat this info-sifting process a few billion times and this is how we became, as none other than Mitch McConnell put it last week, a country: ”
“Drifting apart into two separate tribes, with a separate set of facts and separate realities, with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.

That’s actually pretty eloquent of Mr. McConnell—credit where credit is due.

“Instead, outlets like CNN and MSNBC took a Fox-like approach, downplaying issues in favor of shoving Trump’s agitating personality in the faces of audiences over and over, to the point where many people could no longer think about anything else.
“[…] caricatures that tickled the urbane audiences of channels like CNN but made conservatives want to reach for something sharp.”


An Exceptional Situation by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“I generally reassure myself that the considerations I have to offer in this space will not be received as “takes”, both because these latter are much more succinct than the preamble alone of even my most rapid-fire thoughts, but also because I lack the certainty that generally characterizes this new genre.

This is pretty much how I feel about my own blog: just because I mention something doesn’t mean that I wholeheartedly agree with it. I generally try to offer a hint as to how I feel about something I include.

“The problem with this is that (with a gentle shout-out to René Girard) in an important sense all culture is larping — our species is Homo larpens at least as much as it is Homo narrans or ludens. The Viking who put on a bear sark was larping too. I larp every day I get up and pretend to be a competent professor of philosophy who understands anything at all about how the world works.
“[…] anyone who has studied the history of conversion will be inspired to ask whether incentives for developing strategies that bring rewards is really such a novelty of the internet age. After all, what is Pascal’s wager but a recommendation to larp? Go through the motions, wear the decorations, and you will get points — that’s the history of religion in a nutshell.
“[…] to the extent that QAnon is a variety of spirituality —I would classify it as New Age, as evidenced for example by its production of neo-shamans—, it is powered by the unfalsifiable mystery at its core: infinitely interpretable and revisable, always indisputably true.
“I acknowledge I would like to see Trump impeached again, cut off from the normal post-presidential perks, ostracized, prosecuted wherever he can be; I would like to see his Republican enablers expelled and ostracized, and prosecuted wherever they can be. It does not matter what I would like, and perhaps that’s for the better.”

I wish it were applied proportionately. Trump’s idiocy has done more to diminish U.S. power than that of his predecessors. For that, he is impeached for revealing us to ourselves. For forcing us to lie to ourselves again about how we are not that, about how we are better, all without ever actually being better. Or even trying.

I want them all to lose their perks. They should all be in prison. Only one will go, looking more and more like a scapegoat if only because the severity of his crimes is not discernible from countless others and yet he alone is pursued with vigor. For being unrepetently grotesque. For not playing the right game.

“[…] when citizenship has disintegrated into a vast constellation of customer-loyalty rewards and there is no neutral space in which citizens can adjudicate their disputes with the managers, we’ve got a problem.”
“[…] what is clear is that, unlike the dead-enders’ putsch at the Capitol on January 6, big tech’s putsch will be successful. All of big tech’s putsches for the foreseeable future will be successful. It is only some small comfort that, this time around, the side for which big tech has come down in favor is the “good” one.”

Good lord that’s braindead. The good one? That’s going to age quite badly, I fear.


Cult Nation by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“Audiences were chided that disinterest was tantamount to support, and coverage stopped even hinting at the existence of people with identities outside the Trump and anti-Trump brands. Before long, that lost relative or neurotic cabbie was everyone you knew. The easygoing liberal who once pitied right-wing media addicts became one, unable to get through a conversation without bringing up Trump, and terrorized to the point of misery by partisan dramas.

“We long ago learned to denounce as predatory the casinos that lure in the elderly and watch with glee as Grandma and Grandpa pour lifetimes of savings into slot machines, a buck or two at a time. Patriotic media is the same scam, morally on the same plane as telemarketers selling magazine subscriptions.

“The formula is simple: scare viewers with stories about the loss of things most important to them (in the case of the elderly, their memories of how life used to be), then sell insurance or medication or reverse mortgages or whatever in the slots between segments. Those old folks were feeding coins into the TV as surely as into a slot machine.

“If being able to laugh is a symptom of privilege, parental or marital love experienced for its own sake, without being channeled toward social change, is a suffocating, decadent indulgence.”
“There was a time when opinions on national politics were way down the list of what most people considered most important about themselves. In online America, that’s gone. Unhappy people are made more unhappy. Potential respites in the form of family, community, and alternative perspectives are demonized as people sink deeper into cultlike bubbles. If we could just unplug, we’d recover. But we don’t know how.
“Our elite messaging system is so broken, it no longer knows how to shelve culture war long enough to manufacture consent around even a temporary cooling of heads. We’re in a cult of hating each other, and as with any cult, no vacations are allowed.


Raskolnikov’s Dream Come True by Edward Curtin (Dissident Voice)

“We now live in a screen world where written words and logic are beside the point. Facts don’t matter. Personal physical experience doesn’t matter. Clear thinking doesn’t matter. Hysterical reactions are what matter. Manipulated emotions are what matter. Saying “Fuck You” is now de rigueur, as if that were the answer to an argument.”
“[…] phony events still mesmerize millions who are eager to suspend their disbelief for the sake of a sad strand of hope that their chosen leaders – whether Biden or Trump – are levelling with them and are not playing them for fools. Trump and Biden are scripted actors in a highly sophisticated reality TV movie is a bit of “reality” too hard to bear.”
“On a conscious level, however, many people continue to rationalize their grasp of what is going on in the United States as if what they take to be reality is not fiction. Trump supporters –despite what are seen by them as his betrayals when he said on January 7 that “The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy….My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.” – still cling to the belief that he is the man they believe in and was going to “clean the swamp” but was sabotaged by the “deep state.” Biden supporters, driven by their obsessive hatred for Trump and the ongoing delusions that the Democratic Party, like the Republican, is not thoroughly corrupt, look forward to the Biden presidency and the new normal when he can “build back better.” For both groups true faith never dies. It’s very touching.
“if the Democrats and the Republicans are at war as is often claimed, it is only over who gets the larger share of the spoils.
“So what’s changed under Trump? We are talking about nuances, small changes. A clown with a big mouth versus traditional, “dignified” con men.”
Trump’s followers were betrayed the day he was sworn in, as Biden’s will be shortly unless they support a crackdown on civil rights, the squelching of the First Amendment, and laws against dissent under the aegis of a war against domestic terrorism.”
“I realize that it is very hard for many to entertain the thought that Trump and Biden are not arch-enemies but are players in a spectacle created to confound at the deepest psychological levels.”
“Biden will carry on Trump’s legacy with minor changes and a lot of PR. He will seem like a breath of fresh air as he continues and expands the toxic policies of all presidents. So it goes.”


Chaos agent: Right-wing blames US Capitol riot on notorious instigator banished by Black Lives Matter by Max Blumenthal (The Grayzone)

“I reached John Sullivan by phone on January 8, while he still lingered in the DC area. He argued that his flagrant encouragement of the mob in the US Capitol was textbook undercover journalism.
“Through my conversations with the Sullivan brothers, I learned that they had become the subject of a documentary by a Los Angeles-based photojournalist named Jade Sacker. Sacker appeared briefly in Sullivan’s footage filming inside the Capitol and could be heard congratulating him for the invasion. “We did it!” she chirped to Sullivan as the mob flowed inside the building.”
“I witnessed a who’s who of white nationalist and militia-style groups on the Capitol’s grounds on January 6, from the Proud Boys to Three Percenters, from Boogaloos to Groypers to members of the Traditional Worker’s Party. Leaders of these extremist organizations and adherents of the conspiratorial QAnon cult were documented storming the building. There was no doubt the riot was the handiwork of the right-wing movement
“The video he recorded and published on YouTube provides one of the most vivid depictions of the rampage – and of his own enthusiastic involvement in it.”
“Sullivan replied. “You were right.” “Is this not gonna be the best film you have ever made in your life?” he enthused to Sacker.”
“On November 23, 2020, Portland anti-fascist activists issued an online “anonymous tip” about John Sullivan, demanding he be “locked out” of their circles. “While it’s easier, and generally more fair, to believe he is a naive narcissist, clout chaser and inept organizer, it might not be an accurate analysis. A narc for the feds might not be an accurate assessment either. It’s more likely that John is an agent provocateur, putting activist communities in danger.””
“Sacker has also used the resources at her disposal to propel the brothers’ political ambitions. “I have covered James, and John’s travel in the past,” she said, “but mostly James’s airfare, because he’s in a different financial position than John. My reason for that was because James pays quite a bit in child support. And he’s struggled to maintain his public speaking engagements. So when he had an opportunity to go and speak at certain events, we wanted to help him because you know, it would benefit our film.””


America Condemns One Violent Mob While Celebrating Another by Lee Camp (Mint Press News)

“It’s violence on a breathtaking scale, far greater than what was done at the Capitol and far greater than any of us will witness in person. And yet large-scale, corporate-endorsed violence, death and destruction is not only allowable, it’s celebrated, it’s furthered, and promoted.
“Should the racist violent insurrectionists at the Capitol be punished? Absolutely. But so too should the bought-off politicians who do the bidding of our morally bankrupt corporate America. These politicians and the CEOs they serve are purveyors of violence. They trade in, produce, and reap violence. They sit on hordes of money—the obscene profit from feeding American lives into the death cult of unfettered capitalism.”
“Our mainstream media are blanketing the airwaves with talk of how the violent insurrectionists must be punished, and while they are not wrong, the criminal behavior those same talking heads and “reporters” ignore speaks volumes. All violence is not equal. Some of it is profitable and protected. Some of it is the American way.


The Capitol Police were so unprepared this week that an event planner like me could tell by Jessica Carney (NBC News)

“They aren’t all that heavy, and they’re designed as more of a suggestion than anything. They’re intended for crowds that understand and plan to follow basic rules; the gate means, “Do not go past this point.” They’re certainly not going to keep someone from going past any given point if people think they’re beyond or above the rules.”
“There’s not ever going to be enough police or security at any event to stop people if they all act in unison; if enough people want to get to Vanilla Ice at the same time, they’re going to get to Vanilla Ice. Social constructs and basic decency, not lightweight security gates, are what hold everyone except the outliers back in a typical crowd.
“Social norms are the fabric that make an event run smoothly — and, really, hold society together. There aren’t enough police in your town to handle it if everyone starts acting up at the same time.


How Silicon Valley, in a Show of Monopolistic Force, Destroyed Parler by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“But today, if you want to download, sign up for, or use Parler, you will be unable to do so. That is because three Silicon Valley monopolies — Amazon, Google and Apple — abruptly united to remove Parler from the internet, exactly at the moment when it became the most-downloaded app in the country.”
“On Thursday, Parler was the most popular app in the United States. By Monday, three of the four Silicon Valley monopolies united to destroy it.”

The market has spoken? Right? Most popular app is wiped out is a sign of a free market, no? </s>

“Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked: “What are @Apple and @GooglePlay doing about this?” Once Apple responded by removing Parler from its App Store — a move that House Democrats just three months earlier warned was dangerous anti-trust behavior — she praised Apple and then demanded to know: “Good to see this development from @Apple. @GooglePlay what are you going to do about apps being used to organize violence on your platform?””

Christ, AOC is absolutely unhinged right now. Nothing remains of the progressive sheen she once had. The squad and their supporters are for censorship and do not care about implications.

“[…] the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism. Liberals now want to use the force of corporate power to silence those with different ideologies. They are eager for tech monopolies not just to ban accounts they dislike but to remove entire platforms from the internet. They want to imprison people they believe helped their party lose elections, such as Julian Assange, even if it means creating precedents to criminalize journalism.”
“It is true that one can find postings on Parler that explicitly advocate violence or are otherwise grotesque. But that is even more true of Facebook, Google-owned YouTube, and Twitter. And contrary to what many have been led to believe, Parler’s Terms of Service includes a ban on explicit advocacy of violence, and they employ a team of paid, trained moderators who delete such postings. Those deletions do not happen perfectly or instantaneously — which is why one can find postings that violate those rules — but the same is true of every major Silicon Valley platform.


Banana Republic by Morris Berman (Dark Ages America)

“One way to look at this event, as well as the riot of Jan. 6, is to see it as sad. Because this denoument of America is sad. We had so much potential as a country, and we pissed it away in fraud, greed, hustling, and corruption. In Ben Franklin’s time, you could drink out of the Schuylkill River; now much of our formerly beautiful country resembles a cesspool. And it has also become a cesspool of the mind, in which extreme individualism is celebrated, and helping others is regarded as weak.


On the Appeal of Trump to Trump Fans by David Bernstein (Reason)

“Trump, to almost everyone’s surprise, wins. So how do big government, big business, elite experts and so on, i.e., the establishment, react, from his fans’ perspective? Without even giving Trump a chance, they decree that he is illegitimate, that he needs to be resisted, and that his voters are beyond redemption; “this is 1932 in Germany” was not a rare reaction.

“So, from these voters’ perspective, the one time in their lifetimes and much longer a president comes around who really speaks to their worldview, the establishment tries to destroy him. Rather than the anti-Trump sentiment persuading them, it makes them stronger supporters, people who see Trump as their weapon against an establishment that disparages them.”

Roaming Charges: Do Me Two Times, I’m Goin’ Away by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“It’s hard to tell who is more brainwashed, the members of the Cult of Q or Senator Susan Collins, who thought the Capitol had been attacked by Iran: “My first thought was that the Iranians had followed through on their threat to strike the Capitol.” Collins, I think…”

Kunstler has been pretty unhinged of late, but this is actually pretty funny and not exactly an unrealistic prediction—or even description of what is happening right now.

The Zeitgeist Wants What the Zeitgeist Wants by James Howard Kunstler (Clusterfuck Nation)

“Meanwhile, The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC have turned into a nonstop gloat-fest anticipating the punishments to be dished out by progressive Wokesterdom against anyone who ever entertained a thought about or uttered the phrase “stolen election.” They can kiss their livelihoods goodbye. Their college degrees will be revoked by such bastions of free thinking as Harvard. Their websites will be liquidated. Senators and congresspersons must be thrown out of their seats. They’ll be reduced to squatting on filthy blankets at the entrance of the Walmart begging for spare change, or hauled off to re-education camps where NPR lawyers with riding crops preside over their therapeutic struggle sessions, beating the wrongthink out of their hides. For Democrats, vengeance is a dish to be served piping hot. Would you like flies with your shit sandwich?”

Technology

“All connectivity is data connectivity in cell networks today. The user can choose to be data-only (e.g., use Signal for voice), or use the MVNO or a third party for VoIP service that will look just like normal telephony.

“The group prototyped and tested everything with real phones in the lab. Their approach adds essentially zero latency, and doesn’t introduce any new bottlenecks, so it doesn’t have performance/scalability problems like most anonymity networks. The service could handle tens of millions of users on a single server, because it only has to do infrequent authentication, […]”

Science & Nature

A “no math” (but seven-part) guide to modern quantum mechanics by Miguel F. Morales (Ars Technica)

“In the LIGO experiment used to detect gravitational waves, the light is sent down arms 4 km long, and with radio light we’ve used the Cassini spacecraft as it approached Saturn as a mirror. Quantum mechanics is not limited to the microscopic world.”
“It is true for any kind of particle, under any circumstance, all the time. Photons, electrons—even molecules. Particles always move like waves and hit like particles.”
“To make the gyroscope more robust, we can make all the lasers, mirrors, and paths out of fiber optics. And to make it more sensitive, we can have the light travel in many clockwise and counter-clockwise loops before recombining. Fiber gyroscopes work because a photon of light moves like a wave and will take both the clockwise and counter-clockwise paths and produce stripes when recombined. Fiber gyroscopes rely on quantum mechanics to work.

Programming

The process, thought and technology behind building a friendly .NET SDK for JetBrains Space by Maarten Balliauw

“Everything can be a ToDo item. Want to follow up on a chat message? ToDo. Read a blog post later? ToDo. Move a ToDo into an actual issue on a project? Sure thing!”


I’m harvesting credit card numbers and passwords from your site. Here’s how. by David Gilbertson (Medium)

“You can still have your big ol’ React app with 938 npm packages for the header/footer/nav/whatever, but the part of the page where the user is typing should be in a secured iFrame and it should run only hand-crafted (and may I suggest, not-minified) JavaScript — if you want to do client-side validation.”

Culture

The Joke’s On Him: Tom Cruise and Eyes Wide Shut by Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com)

“The difference between Affleck and somebody like Pitt (or DiCaprio) is the difference between an old-fashioned square-jawed leading man-type, like Rock Hudson or Gary Cooper or Alan Ladd, who tried to stick to the words and hit the marks and color within the lines, and somebody like James Dean or Marlon Brando or Dennis Hopper, who treated every page as potential raw material for a collage they hadn’t thought up yet.