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Links and Notes for February 26th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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 last time I by Maria (Crooked Timber)

“I have so much. I have my parents so I have human touch. I have my parents, unlike the four different people I’ve written condolence notes to just in the past month, and several more last year. One friend went through the torture of knowing his dementia-suffering father was locked in a care home that sick hospital patients were sent back into, late last spring, infecting his father who died with no palliative treatment and no family. I don’t know how you make peace with that, or if you should.”
“But these past six substitutable months I’ve never been more aware of the seasons, of the length of sunlight and disposition of the tides.”
“I also don’t ever want to deny any of the days I have lived. This time may not evoke nostalgia in some busy, novel future, but it feels deeply lived-in and sufficient. Those disconcerting days of a year ago, when we were suspended between a past already accelerating away and a frightening future that turned out even stranger and longer than imagined – I’m glad I’m no longer in-between, wind-milling my legs before the freefall. I live in a long, slow now, now. It’s quiet here. I like it.”

I honestly think it may evoke nostalgia, for a simpler, less-hectic time. Hopefully, we can carry some lessons with us into the time after, lessons about thinking more carefully about what we do and being satisfied with less, not more.


Groundhog Daze by B.D. McClay (Hedgehog Review)

“For people whose immediate work has not placed them on the front line of infection, the message of staying home and consuming for the greater good has led to a form of moral activity that reduces itself to spending money in the right way on the right things, and only that. And, of course, such “virtuous” isolation relies on people who can’t stay at home all day: the cooking staff at the restaurant, the grocery workers packing up your order, the delivery people bringing you what you’ve ordered. Even if staying in is the right thing to do, it is also, in the most basic sense, parasitic.


Coronavirus: Links, Discussion, Open Thread by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“The good news is that vaccines which protect inconsistently against infection are probably still good at protecting against severe disease and death. For example, although the J&J vaccine is only 66-72% effective at preventing people from getting symptomatic disease, it’s 85% effective at preventing severe disease, and (at least so far in studies) 100% effective at preventing deaths. In fact, most vaccine studies have shown 100% efficacy at preventing deaths.”
“It’s the control system again − whenever things look good, we relax restrictions (both legally and in terms of personal behavior) until they look bad again, then backpedal and tighten restrictions. So we oscillate between like 0.8 and 1.2 (I made those numbers up, I don’t know the real ones). If vaccines made R0 go to 0.5 or whatever, we would loosen some restrictions until it was back at 1 again. So unless we overwhelm the control system, R0 will hover around 1 in the summer too, and the only question is how strict our lockdowns will be.”
“Then they act as if they want vaccines to be produced. They subsidize all the existing companies and factories. They allow anybody to manufacture vaccines and charge market price for them, subject only to usual safety restrictions. If Amazon wants to get into the vaccine distribution business, for God’s sake, let them. If that means some poor people can’t afford vaccines, the government throws money at them until they can.
“Mutation rate is a function of number of cases, so as number of cases goes down mutation rate should also go down, but number of cases probably isn’t going down to zero in the US for a long time if ever, and parts of the Third World are going to take forever to be vaccinated, either for logistical or political reasons. We’re not going to literally eradicate the coronavirus this year, and probably not this decade. So it will always have a chance to mutate and become more vaccine-resistant, and the new vaccine-resistant strains will give it more chance to transmit and therefore more chance to mutate, and so on.
“Grade-school kids used to wander around town on their own or in bands of friends, playing games and exploring. Then there were various panics about child kidnappings and people insisted kids stay within their parents’ sight at all times. Now crime is way down, people have stopped panicking about kidnapping, but they’ll still call the police if they see an unattended kid because that just isn’t done. There are whole countries whose cuisines are still built around weird decisions they made as part of World War II rationing. I really don’t want this to happen, but I also didn’t want normalized perma-surveillance after 9/11,


Washington’s Wuhan laboratory lie by Andre Damon (WSWS)

“In the face of universal scientific consensus on the natural origins of COVID-19, the Biden administration and the US media have doubled down on the lie that the disease was released from a Chinese laboratory. There is not a shred of truth to this claim. The most recent, and most damning, refutation came from members of the World Health Organization team researching the origins of the pandemic. They announced that the WHO would abandon any investigation into a man-made origin of the disease because there was no evidence to support it.
“This marked the open embrace by the Biden administration of what was widely considered the most absurd and outlandish of Trump’s conspiracy theories that COVID-19 was a “weaponized” virus released from a Chinese laboratory. It was promoted by far-right ideologues like White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“In the recent period, the US has spun one propaganda campaign after another in an attempt to make the American population hate China and, by extension, the Chinese people. Before the Wuhan lab conspiracy theory, there was the claim that China is carrying out a “genocide” against its Muslim population. Before that it was Tibet; before that it was Taiwan.
“The effort to poison public opinion against China is intimately linked with distracting attention from domestic failures. More than 500,000 people are dead in America because its government refused to warn the public about the pandemic, sabotaged testing, then prematurely reopened businesses and schools with the aim of boosting the stock market.”
This type of demonization is the last refuge of desperate ruling classes already condemned by history. American capitalism must answer for its crimes. Those responsible for the deaths of half a million people in America are not the workers of China but the capitalists of America!”

Economy & Finance

The Green New Deal Threatens Republicans’ Bread and Butter, it’s Not Just Competition in the Battle of Ideas by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“[…] since the supply of electricity to individual homes is inherently a monopoly relationship (no one will have two electrical hookups), the burden can be placed on the provider to ensure electricity in a specified price range, rather than structuring the market so the risk lies entirely with consumers.
“Basically, the Republicans were more interested in destroying the financial bases for support for progressives than winning battles of ideas. It would be great if progressives could turn the table and destroy a major source of right-wing funding while creating good-paying jobs and saving the environment.


The article Powell delivers reassurances to Wall Street by Nick Beams (WSWS) is absolutely excellent and chock-full of worthwhile information. The WSWS is quickly becoming one of my go-to sources of straight information with very little slant. They usually keep their opinion to the last paragraph, where they urge the workers of the world to unite.

“In addition, the Fed would continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities “at least at their current pace until further substantial progress has been made toward our goals,” noting that these measures have “materially eased financial conditions.””

Yeah, for Wall Street. The bond markets rejoice that they can unload their junk on the Fed at 100¢ on the dollar.

“The Fed is currently purchasing these financial assets at the rate of $120 billion per month—that is more than $1.4 trillion a year. This amount is equivalent to around 7 percent of gross domestic product, a level of support never before seen.”

Just parking all of that shit on the people’s balance sheet, converting it into cold, hard cash for the idiots who bought it in the first place. The Fed is left holding the bag on all of this stuff and America’s corporations get to clean their balance sheets and buy Tesla and Bitcoin with the proceeds.

“Two years ago, this [3%] was the rate on 10-year US Treasury bonds, regarded as one of the most secure assets in the global financial system. Today companies regarded as somewhat risk-prone can obtain money at the same rate.

“So long as the Fed acts as the guarantor for credit markets, however, the lending continues as investors move into ever riskier areas searching for a higher rate of return.

What could possibly go wrong? As long as the U.S. government’s main goal is to keep making the current monopolies and banks another giant corporations richer, while letting everything else stagnate—and as long as its money holds out—the stock market will climb higher and higher. But that’s the only thing left in America’s form of capitalism: pouring the people’s money into private corporations in as many ways as possible.

“According to a report in the Financial Times (FT), central banks have since injected $6.6 trillion of liquidity into the financial system with the expectation that they will provide at least another $5.8 trillion.”


The Death of the Carbon Coalition by Thomas Oatley, Mark Blyth (Foreign Policy)

“But the MVT’s most significant flaw is that it operates nearly independently from the economy. Consider that, according to the Brookings Institution, Biden won 509 counties to Trump’s 2,547—that’s over five times as many going to Trump. But here’s the kicker. Biden’s counties constitute 71 percent of the country’s GDP. Trump’s is less than 30 percent. Surely we must somehow factor this into how we think about why people vote the way they do? How does growth, or the lack thereof, determine elections?
“[…] what is not recognized is how this political coalition was in fact entirely dependent on a particular growth model: an extremely fossil fuel-intensive agro-industrial economy.
“It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that the United States’ postwar economy was a massive machine that transformed oil, coal, and natural gas into income and food.
“The economy that drives U.S. GDP growth today is already post-carbon. And though many of its activities are energy intensive (server farms consume more than more than 2 percent of the world’s electricity use; financial services consume more electricity than any other industry in New York City), the energy they consume can come as readily from wind and solar as from coal and natural gas. This isn’t the case for the internal combustion engine, for the steel from which its constructed, and for the oil extraction, refining, and distribution systems that support it. Nor is it true for an ammonia plant or for cement or aviation. Farmers cannot substitute solar energy for artificial fertilizer.
“In the old system’s place, the United States has created a new one in which highly skilled, or at least high-credentialed, individuals earn high incomes at Google, Apple, Merck, and Goldman Sachs while low-skilled workers earn minimum wage without benefits at Walmart and the Dollar General through, in many cases, baroque global value chains. The industrial separation between highly valued human capital and low-skilled labor is reinforced increasingly by geographic distance. The rich and the poor once lived in different parts of town. Today, they live in different parts of the country.
“The post-carbon coalition dominates the Democratic Party and supports Biden. This coalition brings together a West Coast variant composed of high-margin agriculture (think wine), Big Tech, entertainment, and digital and high-end services and an East Coast variant based largely on financial services.

Obviously housing and food are superfluous.

The United States’ two coalitions cannot be brought together. Indeed, they are existential threats to each other.
“That growth may be parasitic on its neighbors and can probably not be generalized as a model elsewhere. (For Germany to have an export surplus, someone else must have a deficit.) But it does work as an encompassing national growth model, and all the major German parties take it as their mission to support it. Despite all their differences, no one questions the export surplus, and politicians compete with one another to find different winning electoral coalitions within these parameters.
There is only one way to fix this mess. The post-carbon coalition has to bribe what’s left of it to make the carbon transition. Non-coastal, largely Republican states must be the epicenter of the green transition and be the recipients of most of the investment. After all, they have the most assets to turn around and the most to lose if they are not compensated. If all they are offered is “you decarbonize/we keep the money,” then all they will give back is more Trumpism.

This is very sane and realistic analysis.

“Elections in the United States are not being fought over rival principles and certainly not over median voters. They are contested over which parts of the country will grow and how and who will pay for it. Recognizing this is the first step to fixing the deeper problem of the carbon transition for the good of all Americans.”


GameStop Hearing Featured No Cats by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Another, more true, way of thinking about this is that a convertible bond is a bond with an equity call option attached, and the value of a call option depends largely on the volatility of the underlying stock. If you turn your company from “business intelligence software company” into “weird proxy for Bitcoin” then your volatility will go up. (MicroStrategy’s one-year realized volatility was 27% this time last year; it’s almost 82% now.) So you can get really good terms on your convertible bonds, which you can use to buy more Bitcoins, which will make your stock both higher and more volatile, which will let you sell more convertible bonds, etc.”


Goldman Has an Investing Robot by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Maybe in like a decade Marcus will be a big, staid, consumer-focused bank, and its relatively small investment-banking arm will cling embarrassingly to its past swagger, and if you work there you will answer the phone “Goldman Sachs” and it will sound pretentious, like people at Citigroup who insist on saying they work at “Salomon.” But right now Goldman is mostly Goldman, and Marcus is the out-of-character side project, and there is a race between Marcus’s tendency to infect Goldman with boring banking and Goldman’s tendency to infect Marcus with aggressive complexity. By all accounts Marcus is winning, at least in a localized way; Goldman may be mostly Goldman but Marcus is holding its own, being boring and friendly and consumer-y and not at all full of evil derivatives burbling under the surface. That is probably good for, you know, Marcus’s customers (sensible transparent products!), and Goldman’s shareholders (reliable consumer earnings with low reputational and balance-sheet risk!), and the stability of the financial system and so forth.”


Congress Wants to Talk About GameStop by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

GameStop was the hot craps table with the excited crowd gathered around it. Everyone understood intellectually that the odds were against them and eventually the hot streak had to end, but look how happy everyone was! Look at the hugs and high-fives! Drink the free drinks! Isn’t this great? Don’t you want to gamble here too? Who cares if you lose some money?”

This is the statement from RoaringKitty/Keith Gill to Congress.

“I’ve been asked why I decided to share my investment ideas on social media. My investment skills had reached a level where I felt sharing them publicly could help others. I also thought that by sharing my own ideas and accepting critiques, I would be able to identify holes in my analysis. Hedge funds and other Wall Street firms have teams of analysts working together to compile research and critique investment ideas, while individual investors have not had that advantage. Social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and WallStreetBets on Reddit are leveling the playing field. And in a year of quarantines and COVID, engaging with other investors on social media was a safe way to socialize. We had fun.”

Still Keith Gill:

“The idea that I used social media to promote GameStop stock to unwitting investors is preposterous. It was abundantly clear that my channel was for educational purposes only, and that my aggressive style of investing was unlikely to be suitable for most folks checking out the channel. Whether other individual investors bought the stock was irrelevant to my thesis – my focus was on the fundamentals of the business.”

At Robinhood,

“The median customer account size is about $240, with an average account size of about $5,000. Overall, as of the end of 2020, about 13 percent of Robinhood customers traded basic options contracts (e.g., puts and calls), and only about two percent traded multi-leg options. …”

That’s actually interesting because 50% of the customers have almost no money at Robinhood…and some customers have a lot of money at Robinhood (dragging the average significantly upward from the median).

“I dunno I feel like if 13% of your customers are trading “basic options contracts” on single stocks, that is … that seems high? I was a professional equity derivatives structurer for four years and I’ve never bought an option in my personal account. I’m not sure about “unsophisticated,” or “inordinate risks,” or “complex financial product,” but if 13% of Robinhood customers trade options that does kind of sound like they’re gamblers?
“At approximately 5:11 a.m. EST on January 28, the NSCC sent Robinhood Securities an automated notice stating that Robinhood Securities had a deposit deficit of approximately $3 billion. That deficit included a substantial increase in Robinhood Securities’s VaR based deposit requirement to nearly $1.3 billion (up from $696 million), along with an “excess capital premium charge” of over $2.2 billion. SEC rules prescribe the amount of regulatory net capital that Robinhood Securities must have, and on January 28 the amount of the NSCC VaR charge exceeded the amount of net capital at Robinhood Securities, including the excess net capital maintained by the firm. Under NSCC rules, this triggered a special assessment—the “excess capital premium charge.” In total, the NSCC automated notice indicated that Robinhood Securities owed NSCC a total clearing fund deposit of approximately $3.7 billion. Robinhood Securities had approximately $696 million already on deposit with NSCC, so the net amount due was approximately $3 billion.
“Basically Robinhood got a normal margin call—its “VaR based deposit requirement”—for about $1.3 billion, because its customers were trading a lot of stocks that were very volatile. This margin call exceeded Robinhood’s regulatory capital, which under the clearinghouse’s rules triggers another, even bigger margin call.”
“Here, precisely because Robinhood was so thinly capitalized, its clearinghouse had the right to demand even more money from Robinhood, exacerbating the risk of disaster. And then it just waived the whole extra $2.2 billion charge and said “ehh never mind you’re fine,” because Robinhood agreed to stop trading so much of the volatile stocks.
“Once you call a congressional hearing on a topic, you are pretty committed to the conclusion that the topic is serious and something should be done about it. You can’t call everyone in and write memos and testimony and ask “what was this all about?” and have everyone reply “well we just thought it would be dumb and fun to do this, and it was” and then conclude “ah, well, as long as everyone had fun, carry on.””
“Aaron Brown emailed to remind me that this buy-low-sell-high trade is “exactly what convert arb guys do”: If a company sells a convertible bond, then many buyers of that bond will be convertible arbitrage hedge funds, who will short some of the underlying stock to hedge their exposure. As the stock goes up, they’ll short more of it; as it goes down, they’ll buy back some of their shorts; either way they will help to reduce volatility in the stock. And if the stock goes up a lot, they’ll probably convert their bonds into stock, which will have the effect of (1) reducing the company’s debt load and (2) selling stock at a high price.”
“GameStop could have found a bank and sold it puts and calls on a million shares for, let’s pretend, $170 million. At the time the stock was trading at like $325. If the stock fell below $20 by the end of July—very possible, since it started the year there—then GameStop would buy back a million shares at $20 per share. This would cost it $20 million, but of course it collected $170 million of option premium; the net result would be that GameStop would have $150 million and 1 million fewer shares. If the stock rose above $500 by the end of July—very possible, if you believed WallStreetBets—then GameStop would issue a million shares at, effectively, $670 per share (the $500 strike price plus the $170 of option premium it collected). Again GameStop started the year trading at $18.84, and at the time of this hypothetical trade it was trading at $325, so selling stock at $670 would be a huge windfall. And if the stock ended up between $20 and $500, GameStop would neither buy or sell any stock and just pocket the $170 million.
“Also, crucially, by selling warrants (or convertible bonds, or some more structured version) before you become a meme stock, you avoid all the awkward questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission about selling stock during insane volatility. You effectively pre-sell the stock; you register the warrants and do your disclosure in normal times, and then they automatically become stock when things get weird.”


GameStop Hearing Exposes a Sick Business Model Destined to Exacerbate Wealth Inequality in America by Pam & Russ Martens (CounterPunch)

Axne: “So on the specifics, when people sign up they get a scratch-off ticket to see what they get; confetti falls every time they place an order; they get push notifications; they’re encouraged to trade; if a friend signs up they get a free stock. On and on. Why have you added specific gaming design elements to look like gambling to your app that encourages more frequent trading?”

Tenev: “Congresswoman, as I mentioned earlier, we want to get people what they want in a responsible, accessible way. We don’t believe in gamification. We know investing is serious and that’s why most of our customers are buy and hold. A very small percentage of our customers utilize margin.”

Axne: “I appreciate that but you know, folks like my nephew actually aren’t your customer. They’re your product. Your customer is sitting right next to you, Mr. Griffin with Citadel.””

“What Axne was referring to was discussed at length earlier in the hearing. Ken Griffin’s Citadel Securities, a so-called internalizer or market-maker, pays Robinhood to send its retail orders to it to execute the trades. While Robinhood has payment-for-order-flow agreements with other internalizers, the bulk of its trade orders are going to Citadel. The vast majority of Robinhood’s revenue stream comes from payment-for-order flow. Thus, its priority would appear to be to please its true customer, Citadel Securities.

“The reason that the young people placing trades at Robinhood are viewed as “the product” that Robinhood is selling to Citadel Securities is that Wall Street has long viewed retail orders as the “dumb money” it would like to trade against. That’s because the retail investor is willing to (or oblivious) that they are trading in the dark market offered by internalizers rather than a lit market like the New York Stock Exchange where bids and offers on stocks are publicly displayed.”

A good take on that hearing was the following 5-minute video:

What Should Have Happened at the GameStop Hearing by Reason TV (YouTube)


How Will Our Children Know They Face a Crushing Debt Burden? − Center for Economic and Policy Research by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“Suppose the inflation rate rises to 3.0 percent, roughly a percentage point higher than projected. If interest rates also rise by a percentage point, so that the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury bond in 2031 is 4.0 percent, instead of 3.0 percent, we would still be looking at the same real interest rate. In that case, the value of the bond would be eroded by an extra 1.0 percentage point annually, due to the impact of higher inflation.
“First, much of our debt is long-term. The 30-year bond issued in 2021 at a 2.0 percent interest rate doesn’t have to be refinanced until 2051.
“[…] the projected wage gains from higher productivity growth are roughly twenty times the “crushing” burden of the debt calculated above. This means that even with a higher tax burden due to the debt we are now building up, workers ten years out should enjoy substantially higher living standards than they do today. There is the obvious issue that productivity growth does not automatically translate in higher wage growth. While wage growth for the typical worker did track productivity growth from 1947 to 1973, that has not been the case since 1979. Average wage growth did continue to track productivity growth reasonably well in the last four decades, but most of the gains went to high end workers, such as top- level corporate executives and Wall Street types, typical workers saw little benefit.
“[…] the projected wage gains from higher productivity growth are roughly twenty times the “crushing” burden of the debt calculated above.”
“This pattern of upward redistribution of before-tax income could continue for the next decade, which would mean that most workers cannot offset an increased tax burden with higher pay. That would be a very serious problem, but the problem would be the upward redistribution blocking wage growth, not the relatively minor tax increase they might see due to the debt.
“Anyone generally concerned about the well-being of workers ten years out, or further in the future, should be focused on what is happening to before tax income, not the relatively modest burden that taxes may pose due to the debt.
“The higher prices charged by the companies that own these monopolies are effectively a private tax that the government allows them to impose in exchange for their work. No honest discussion of the burden of government debt can exclude the implicit debt that the government creates with these [patent] monopolies.
“Anyone seriously asking about the well-being of future generations must look at the education and training we have given our children, the physical and social infrastructure, and of course the state of the natural environment. The government debt is such a trivial part of this story that is hard to believe that would even be raised in the context of generational equity, if not for the big money folks who want to keep it front and center.

Public Policy & Politics

Biden Offers Moderate Solutions to Radical Problems by Ted Rall

“Biden’s solution is a one-time payment of $1400. Better than nothing but a rounding error compared to what would be required to keep people in their homes while they’re waiting for employment opportunities to return.”


The False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Condemning that riot does not allow, let alone require, echoing false claims in order to render the event more menacing and serious than it actually was. There is no circumstance or motive that justifies the dissemination of false claims by journalists. The more consequential the event, the less justified, and more harmful, serial journalistic falsehoods are.”
“Not only was there no reason to believe this happened from the start, the little that was known should have caused doubt. On the same day the Times published its two articles with the “fire extinguisher” story, ProPublica published one that should have raised serious doubts about it. The outlet interviewed Sicknick’s brother, who said that “Sicknick had texted [the family] Wednesday night to say that while he had been pepper-sprayed, he was in good spirits.” That obviously conflicted with the Times’ story that the mob “overpowered Sicknick” and “struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher,” after which, “with a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support.””
“In Sicknick’s case, it’s still not known publicly what caused him to collapse the night of the insurrection. Findings from a medical examiner’s review have not yet been released and authorities have not made any announcements about that ongoing process. According to one law enforcement official, medical examiners did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma, so investigators believe that early reports that he was fatally struck by a fire extinguisher are not true.
“With the impeachment trial now over, the articles are now rewritten to reflect that the original story was false. But there was nothing done by The New York Times to explain an error of this magnitude, let alone to try to undo the damage it did by misleading the public. They did not expressly retract or even “correct” the story. Worse, there is at least one article of theirs, the January 11 one that purports to describe how the five people died that day, which continues to include the false “fire extinguisher” story with no correction or update.”
“But on January 21, the “zip-tie man’s” own prosecutors admitted none of that was true. He did not take zip-ties with him from home or carry them into the Capitol. Instead, he found them on a table, and took them to prevent their use by the police: Eric Munchel, a pro-Trump rioter who stormed the Capitol building while holding plastic handcuffs, took the restraints from a table inside the Capitol building, prosecutors said in a court filing Wednesday.”
“So it matters a great deal legally, but also politically, if the U.S. really did suffer an armed insurrection and continues to face one. Though there is no controlling, clear definition, that term usually connotes not a three-hour riot but an ongoing, serious plot by a faction of the citizenry to overthrow or otherwise subvert the government.”
“That protesters were found before and after the riot with weapons does not mean they intended to use them as part of the protest. For better or worse, the U.S. is a country where firearm possession is common and legal. And what we know for certain is that there is no evidence of anyone brandishing a gun in that building. That fact makes a pretty large dent in the attempt to characterize this as an “armed insurrection” rather than a riot.”
“All this matters because it inherently matters if the media is recklessly circulating falsehoods about the most inflammatory and significant news stories. As was true for their series of Russiagate debacles, even if each “mistake” standing alone can be dismissed as relatively insignificant or understandable, when they pile up — always in the same narrative direction — people rightly conclude the propaganda is deliberate and trust in journalism erodes further.
“One can — and should — condemn the January 6 riot without inflating the threat it posed. And one can — and should — insist on both factual accuracy and sober restraint without standing accused of sympathy for the rioters.


Democratic Senators introduce new bill to remove Section 230 internet speech protections by Kevin Reed (WSWS)

“Wyden also said, “Creating liability for all commercial relationships would cause web hosts, cloud storage providers and even paid email services to purge their networks of any controversial speech.” Others have warned that the language of the bill would impact many other paid services from Substack and Patreon—online platforms that enable bloggers, artists, musicians, podcasters, writers and videographers to offer their exclusive content to audiences for fees—to other kinds of premium online content to web hosting.”

Those are platforms, paid directly for hosting. This is a material difference from selling advertising based on content.

“Many experts have commented on the fact the provisions of the 1996 Communications Decency Act were adopted in an era of the internet and World Wide Web when the distinction between online service providers and online content publishers was much clearer than today. The emerging contradictions over liability for illegal content as well as moderation policies express, in part, the blurring of the lines by social media platforms such as Facebook that simultaneously exhibit the attributes of both a service provider and a publisher.”


Cancel Culture, Where Liberalism Goes to Die by Chris Hedges (MintPress News)

“He refused to demonize them as less than human. He insisted that this form of racism, while evil, was not as insidious as a capitalist system that perpetuated the economic misery and instability that pushed whites into the ranks of violent, racist organizations.”

“When the town Campbell lived in decided the Klan should not be permitted to have a float in the Fourth of July parade Campbell did not object, as long as the gas and electric company was also barred. It was not only white racists that inflicted suffering on the innocent and the vulnerable, but institutions that place the sanctity of profit before human life.

““People can’t pay their gas and electric bills, the heat gets turned off and they freeze and sometimes die, especially if they are elderly,” he said. “This, too, is an act of terrorism.”

““Theirs you could see and deal with, and if they broke the law, you could punish them,” he said of the Klan. “But the larger culture that was, and still is, racist to the core is much more difficult to deal with and has a more sinister influence.””

He would have reminded us that racial injustice will only be solved with economic justice. He would have called on us to reach out to those who do not think like us, do not speak like us, are ridiculed by polite society, but who suffer the same economic marginalization.”
We must acknowledge the tragedy of these lives, while at the same time condemning racism, hate and the lust for violence. We must grasp that our most perfidious enemy is not someone who is politically incorrect, even racist, but the corporations and a failed political and judicial system that callously sacrifices people, as well as the planet, on the altar of profit.”
“The towns in Maine where my relatives come from have been devastated by the closures of mills and factories. There is little meaningful work. There is a smoldering anger caused by legitimate feelings of betrayal and entrapment. They live, like most working class Americans, lives of quiet desperation. This anger is often expressed in negative and destructive ways. But I have no right to dismiss them as irredeemable.
To understand is not to condone. But if the ruling elites, and their courtiers masquerading as journalists, continue to gleefully erase these people from the media landscape, to attack them as less than human, or as Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables,” while at the same time refusing to address the grotesque social inequality that has left them vulnerable and afraid, it will fuel ever greater levels of extremism and ever greater levels of state repression and censorship.”
“The cancel culture, a witch hunt by self-appointed moral arbiters of speech, has become the boutique activism of a liberal class that lacks the courage and the organizational skills to challenge the actual centers of power — the military-industrial complex, lethal militarized police, the prison system, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the intelligence agencies that make us the most spied upon, watched, photographed and monitored population in human history, the fossil fuel industry, and a political and economic system captured by oligarchic power.”
“The cancel culture fueled the persecution of Julian Assange, the censorship of WikiLeaks and the Silicon Valley algorithms that steer readers away from content, including my content, critical of imperial and corporate power.”
“Most importantly, the cancel culture deflects attention from the far more egregious institutionalized abuses of power. It is this smug, self-righteousness crusade that makes the liberal class so odious.
The architects of empire and the ruling capitalists who exploited workers, stymied democracy, orchestrated state repression, hoarded obscene levels of wealth and waged endless war were, he knew, the real enemy.
“The ruling elites and the courtiers who trumpet their moral superiority by damning and silencing those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech are the new Jacobins. They wallow in a sanctimonious arrogance, one made possible by their privilege, which masks their subservience to corporate power and their amorality.


The Bombhole Era by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The innovation was to use banner headlines to saturate news cycles, often to the exclusion of nearly any other news, before moving to the next controversy so quickly that mistakes, errors, or rhetorical letdowns were memory-holed. The American Napoleon generated controversies at such a fantastic rate that stations like CNN and MSNBC (and Fox too) were able to keep ratings high by moving from mania to mania, hyping stories on the way up but not always following them down. The moment the narrative premise of any bombshell started to fray, the next story in line was bumped to the front.
“The innovation of the Trump era was companies learned they could operate on a sort of editorial margin, borrowing credibility for unproven stories from audiences themselves, who gave permission to play loose with facts by gobbling up anonymously-sourced exposes that tickled their outrage centers. Mistakes became irrelevant. In a way, they were no longer understood as mistakes.”
“Years later, Congress would release testimony from then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe to the effect that the Bureau concluded as early as August, 2016 — over a year before the Times story — that evidence “didn’t particularly indicate” that Papadopoulos had any links to any Russians. […] Yet Papadopoulos was the predicate for the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” probe into Trump’s relationship with Russia, the probe that became the Mueller investigation. Blue state audiences were essentially never told that this investigation was at best grounded in erroneous information.
“The extreme danger from the beginning of the Trump era was not just that the White House might be occupied by an unfit person, but that American institutions might follow him into disrepute. This happened with institutional media, which responded to a hyperbolic, unreliable president by taking on those same qualities to an extreme degree.
“[…] elite media made the same request of audiences that Trump regularly made to his own fans, that what was said and done ten minutes ago be forgotten in a world where only the present mattered.


Honor Black Lives by Ending Racist Wars by Nicky Reid (CounterPunch)

“I did what I do best, dearest motherfuckers. I sweared about it on the internet. Now it’s your move.”


VIDEO: Trending as a Transphobe and Bi-Phobe by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“I am fortunate enough to have a long enough body of work, a large enough readership which trusts my integrity even when they disagree with my views, and a strong and independent enough platform that renders me largely immune at this point from the effects of such reputational attacks. But I nonetheless wanted to discuss the dynamic that drives these sorts of frenzies because they so often destroy the reputation, the livelihood or even the lives of people who are far more vulnerable and less secure in their work and in their lives. When it goes astray, few things are as irrational, merciless, vindictive, and impervious to reason as mob justice.”


Student Loan Horror: When You Think You Qualify For Debt Relief, Check Again. And Again by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Was it a coincidence that these complaints began snowballing just as the Department of Education federalized student lending in 2010? Within just a few years after the change, the Department of Education was making $50 billion a year in profit from student loans. Today, the DOE has a portfolio of well over a trillion dollars in loans, and would be roughly the fifth-largest bank in the United States, if it were a bank.”
What started out as a $31,000 commitment for a Bachelor’s degree ballooned over the years, thanks in large part to interest and the high cost of living, especially with (now) two children. The couple insists they have never missed a payment, though they have occasionally taken advantage of forbearance programs. As of today, their debt sits at $126,000.


Even By Democratic Party Standards, Censoring Fox News Is An Insanely Stupid Idea by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“All of these stories share the same theme: small, unelected groups of private executives making sweeping decisions about speech, cheered on by Democratic Party politicians. If it proceeds to its logical conclusion, it poses a much more serious problem for society than even Fox News at its worst.
Confusing that which you find politically offensive with actually erroneous or deceptive reporting has become so common, even media professionals don’t seem to care about the difference anymore.”


Don’t Hate Rush Limbaugh. Copy Him. by Ted Rall

“As much as Buchanan, Reagan and Trump, [Limbaugh] defined the ideological and attitudinal contours of today’s emboldened Republican Party. Had Al Franken managed to guide the benighted Air America — take a sec to Google it — to similar heights, Democrats would have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and Bernie Sanders would be beginning his second term. Who knows how many economic sectors would be nationalized by now?”

You may not have liked his humor, but you won’t get anywhere pretending that things that Limbaugh obviously meant as jokes (like his ego-laden introductions, “serving humanity simply by opening [his] mouth” are things that he actually believes. Granted, sometimes it was hard to tell, but most of the time it wasn’t. Not unless you’re severely ironically impaired, as so much of the “serious left” seems to be, these days.

“[…it’s like] that time Donald Trump asked the Russians to look for Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. It was a joke, everyone knew it was a joke, and Democrats looked stupid for pretending it wasn’t or, worse, not recognizing it.”


Repentance by James Howard Kunstler (Clusterfuck Nation)

“It must be self-evident to many of the people caught up in this mob madness that the Woke crusade is dishonest, stupid, cruel, and evil. All it really accomplishes is to generate more racial animosity while it paints people-of-color as not having the personal wherewithal to get on in their lives without extra-special assistance from people not of color. But having sacrificed their sense and their honor, how can people in authority repent? As author James Lindsay puts it on a podcast at his New Discourses website:”
“They have been supporting this thing that they can see for themselves is complicit in evil, they intuit it… but psychologically they cannot let themselves see it, because to admit that what they see in front of their own eyes… to admit that it’s obviously as bad as it is, that the theory itself [systemic racism] is worse than bankrupt, it’s evil, requires going through the entire psychological process of admitting to yourself, and to others around you, that they got duped, and they carried water for that evil thing…. There’s a high psychological cost to admitting that you were dumb and got tricked, and there is a high social cost for both of those things as well.””

Science & Nature

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society? by Stephen Levy (Wired)

“Patrick has his own views on technology. “I’m from the ’60s,” he says. “When computers came along, I did not view them as the next wave of liberation.” He appreciates the beauty of engineering but disdains what he feels is the arrogance of technology people. “And now the evils are very apparent,” he says. He is not on Facebook and uses a simple cell phone, not a smartphone.”
“Patrick had a lot of sympathy for his point of view, but he felt that Sale’s extremism hurt his cause. “I wish Kirk had taken more time to become a better informed critic,” he says, adding that his broad dismissal of technology left him out of touch with reality.
“Sale predicted flatly that the dollar and other accepted currencies would be worthless in 2020. Patrick points to the Dow at 30,000 and the success of new currencies such as Bitcoin. “Not much contest here,” Patrick writes. Round goes to Kelly.”

That was easy. Right? No philosophical hair-splitting about what value means. Just equal a bigger number with success. Easy. No muss. Literally the techno-stupid that is the problem. The world still looks like its OK—because the people who have most of the money are pretending it is so those with the few remaining scraps are convinced to given them those, too.

There is no logical explanation for why Bitcoin and the stock market are valued as highly as they are. They just are…because they say so. There can be no significant conversion of that so-called value into anything in the hierarchy of needs without scaring the rest of the value away. The underpinnings are rotten. We’re Looking at a soufflé before someone claps.

““Only one of his predictions was a winner; one came in neck and neck; and one was way back in the pack.””

The back in the pack one was the collapsing economy. It just hasn’t collapsed totally yet because of massive life support from the fed. It’s moribund. It’s like pointing to the normal pulse of a coma patient and declaring everything is fine. The economy has, for all intents and purposes, collapsed for 90% of the country. The dollar is not yet worth nothing, but it’s declining and there is no hope that it will ever climb again.

“Despite this miserable year, Kelly is boosting his optimism to a higher gear. With tech’s help, he believes, the world’s woes will be resolved. “In 25 years, poverty will be rare, and middle-class lifestyle the norm,” he wrote in his submission to Patrick. “War between nations will also be rare. A bulk of our energy will be renewables, slowing down climate warming. Life spans continue to lengthen.””

Not in America. This is typical Wired, ignoring the decreasing life-expectancy in America—which is precedented in the so-called first world, but should be very worrying because of the precedent (the collapse of the Soviet Union)—to push their narrative.

“Sale believes more than ever that society is basically crumbling—the process is just not far enough along to drive us from apartment blocks to huts. The collapse, he says, is “not like a building imploding and falling down, but like a slow avalanche that destroys and kills everything in its path, until it finally buries the whole village forever.””
“Like the raging denialist in the White House, the cantankerous anarchocommunalist has quit the game after the final score left him short.”

Thanks, Levy: gotta compare the “crank” to Trump, of course.


Carl Hart Interview: I Am a Heroin User. I Do Not Have a Drug Problem by Marc MacNamara (Nautilus)

“But both of the nucleus accumbens, despite their sizes, are within the normal range of human variability. It’s like height. One guy might be 5’10”, another guy might be 6’2”. But we don’t say the guy who’s 5’10” is height deficient. We just say that he’s in a normal range, and he’s not as tall as the other guy. We wouldn’t say one is deficient versus the other. In neuroscience, one of the things that has happened, particularly when it comes to drugs, people have over-interpreted the differences to mean pathology, when, in fact, both of the brain structures are within the normal range of human variability. The overinterpretation is to interpret it as being pathological.”
“Some people don’t know not to mix specific sedatives with opioids. For example, they don’t know not to mix large amounts of alcohol or large amounts of antihistamines. Specific combinations can lead to respiratory depression, which can lead to death. Another point of ignorance involves people who buy street drugs and don’t necessarily know if the drugs contain contaminants. That’s the kind of ignorance I’m talking about.”
“Some people can take opioids for extended periods of time. As long as they keep the doses fairly low and they don’t take multiple doses a day, they probably won’t experience physical dependence. It’s just like with alcohol. Most people drink alcohol on a regular basis, but they don’t become physically dependent. Whereas others drink every day in large amounts, and they will become physically dependent.”

“You write, “Despite the current false narrative, the addiction rate among people prescribed opioids for pain in the United States, for example, ranges from less than 1 percent to 8 percent.” Why do we have that false narrative?

“It serves many purposes. It allows for the “war on drugs.” It allows for people to be moralistic; for treatment providers to have a raison d’etre. And what would the media have to write about?”

“If you’re not wearing a mask, when we have this highly communicable disease, then you’re potentially impacting the rights of other people. I think of my birthright as the basis of my liberty to control my body, and put what I want in my body as long as I’m not interfering with other people’s ability to do the same. I am allowed to pursue happiness as I see fit, as long as I’m not disrupting other people’s ability to do the same. And that’s part of the responsibility that’s required of anybody who is exercising these rights.”


Thrillcraft are Taking Over Wild Places, More Wilderness will Help by Phil Knight (CounterPunch)

“Everywhere we go, we have an impact on wildlife. Pedestrians and people on horseback can cause wild animals to flee or avoid travel routes. Any kind of human presence is a problem for wary animals like lynx or wolf that have learned through hard experience that people bring guns and attitudes. Thus the habitat becomes less valuable, harder to use. Naylor and Wisdom (2009) found that elk feeding and resting behavior was impacted by all types of human use, but motor vehicles and mountain bikes had the most impact, hikers the next most, and horseback riders had the least. Elk are well known to avoid roads, as are grizzly bears, even when roads are closed.”
“Snowmobiles tear everywhere in the winter forests and mountains. Motorcycles roar up the single-track trails, kicking up rocks. Four wheelers grind up what were once narrow trails. Side by sides loaded with helmeted thrill seekers run in unruly mobs through the desert, crushing smaller wildlife that can’t get out of the way. And as people get more demanding and less discerning about their activities – everyone wants to do something cool and Instagram-worthy – there are more kinds of machines out there than ever. It’s harder and harder for someone seeking a quiet, non-mechanized recreation experience to find it.”


The Earth Is Going to Be Fine
by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“Climate change is real. It is happening, and it is anthropogenic. This has been established by such an overwhelming consilience of inductions that to deny it is to position oneself somewhere closer to flat-eartherism than to intelligent-design theory on the continuum of suspicion-based hermeneutics.
“Only a proper scientific understanding of the real threats, and a lucid philosophical engagement with the existential questions these threats force upon us, will enable us to come up with adequate solutions. Everything else is just the same old engine of privatized guilt and fundraising, humming along smoothly, almost as if it required no fuel.”
“Humans and bovines have crowded the others out, much like the Amazon Corporation has done to small merchants (I’m serious about this — the two processes really are similar). But even with this duopoly among mammals, our entire class remains minuscule alongside, say, arthropods or fish. All mammals together weigh less than all annelid worms. And so on. In short, we do not just misestimate the relative position of the various life forms on Earth; we do so wildly. We are not only not in the ballpark; we are standing in an entirely different part of town. And so it is not surprising that we do not really see the game.

 The Biomass Distribution on Earth

“Since the introduction of synthetic fertilizers just a century or so ago, human beings have in turn profoundly altered the planet’s nitrogen cycle, and this more than anything else may be the most significant effect so far of the Capitalocene, and the one that best justifies a comparison to the cyanobacteria of the early Proterozoic. 2.5 billion years from now, some completely unpredictable life form may find reason to remember us with gratitude for making their own evolution possible.
“One grossly under-discussed problem with nuclear power is that the plants that produce it have to be maintained in order to avoid catastrophes. But this implies the continued survival of people in a position to maintain them. What if the human population of Earth were again reduced to 10,000 or so? These people’s survival would mean an eventual return to some sort of “civilization”: arts, philosophy, industrialization, a digital revolution. If that is a future we would want, then we have to take into account that these 10,000 people would not be in a position to maintain the nuclear power plants left over from the Before Times.
“What is the solution, then? Give people money and freedom. Don’t rely on technological and interventionist solutions that could massively backfire to solve the problems our technologies and interventions have already created. Be prepared to adapt to inevitable changes, whether anthropogenic or “natural”. Don’t conflate the present state of things with the static norm. And most importantly, promote and demand the sort of scientific literacy that enables people to think clearly about their ecological plight, and about their place in nature.
“Shortly after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, the average temperature in what is now Colombia was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 celsius). This relatively torrid condition was pleasing to the Titanoboa cerrejonensis species of snake, which grew up to 42 feet long (13 meters or so), and weighed about 2500 pounds (1150 kg). Some current snakes would be similarly delighted to expand their biomass in a human-warmed future. The idea that it is wrong for this to happen comes from the same place in us as the horror, so powerfully expressed by Blaise Pascal, at the thought of the Earth floating in infinite empty space, rather than lying at the center of a limited number of concentric crystalline spheres.”


A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 3: Rose colored glasses by Miguel F. Morales (Ars Technica)

“[…] the narrower the color range of the light source, the longer the path difference can be before the stripes disappear. The color itself does not matter. If I choose a red filter and a blue filter that allow the same width of colors through, they will have their stripes disappear at the same path difference. It is the range of color that matters, not the average color.
“Which brings us to a rather startling result: the length of a particle wave is given by the range of colors (and thus energies) it has. The length is not a set value for a particular kind of particle.”
“Just as asking which path the photon takes makes no sense, asking what color a white photon has while in motion turns out to make no sense.
“There is no kind of particle that will arrive randomly—they are all either introverts or extroverts. Quarks, electrons, protons, and neutrons all belong to the introvert fermion camp; photons, gluons, and pions are all extrovert bosons.
“This is just a stunning experiment. It shows that the length of a particle in motion is related to the range of energies (colors) involved; it uses a composite particle; and it clearly shows the bunching and anti-bunching of bosons and fermions with the same apparatus just by changing the isotope of helium. It’s an experimentalist mic drop.
This interplay of the length of a traveling particle and the range of colors is a very deep feature of quantum mechanics—it is commonly known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The location and energy (momentum) cannot be both well defined. A sharp position necessitates a wide range of energy, and a sharp energy (narrow color range) necessitates a long particle ripple.”
“But there is a limit to how closely I can pack photon ripples—if they get too close, they start holding hands. This photon friendliness starts erasing the data I was trying to convey. As I keep increasing the data rate, I need to make the pulses shorter and shorter to keep the ripples from overlapping and erasing the message. But to make a shorter pulse I must use a wider range of colors.”
Each user needs not just a central color, but a range of colors so they can make pulses fast enough. The width of the range of color—the color bandwidth—determines how short they can make pulses and thus how fast they can send or receive data.”
“While the internet provider can put many different colors onto a fiber, the total bandwidth is conserved. The internet provider can have a 1,000 users, each at a slow, narrow bandwidth, or 10 users each with very fast, high-bandwidth connections. But there is only so much color range to go around.
“There are many users, and you can read off the maximum data rate of each user by the width of their allocation. High data rate users like high definition TV and cell phones need wide blocks of radio colors, while low data rate users like FM radio and GPS need only need narrow allocations of color.”
“In the optical/IR titanium doped sapphire is a favorite, and Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers work over a wide range of infra-red colors and are crucial for long distance internet fiber communication. Because of the ubiquity of Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers, there is a good chance that […] a wide color laser was involved in getting this webpage to you.


A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 4: Looking at the stars by Miguel F. Morales (Ars Technica)

“As opposed to someone carefully dropping single pebbles into a mirror-smooth lake, it’s more like they poured in a bucket of gravel. Each pebble makes a ring of ripples, and the ripples from each stone spread out as before. But now the ripples are constantly mixing and overlapping. As we watch the waves lap against Earth’s distant shore, we don’t see the ripples from each individual pebble; instead the combination of many individual ripples have added together.
“It turns out asking where the photon entered the telescope was a non-sensical question. Photons, like any particle, move like waves. The ripples from each individual photon fill the telescope aperture. In order for the star to be in sharp focus, the ripples from each photon have to be at least as wide as the telescope. Photons really do move like waves over the vast distances of space.”
“So if someone asks me why I believe in quantum mechanics, I say, “Because I can clearly see the stars at night.””
“The largest telescopes with the sharpest vision are the Event Horizon Telescope and Very Long Baseline Array telescopes, which span the Earth, and sometimes one of the mirror segments is put into space to avoid the size limitations of the little planet we live on.

Are people even aware of the awesome things we can do?

“By carefully collecting and focusing these waves, we can build virtual telescopes that are enormous, with the associated ability to sort and image light from very closely separated sources. Because photons move like waves, there is no fundamental limitation to how large we can build a telescope.
“Eventually, this became known as the “HBT effect” and led to the field of quantum optics. It is now understood that this correlation is a hallmark of quantum mechanics, and is a spatial extension of the photon bunching we saw in the last article.”
“By studying how this fireball expands and moves, we are gaining insight into how our early Universe evolved, and learning more about some of the fundamentals of quantum chromo-dynamics (the strong nuclear force). But to make this movie, we had to utilize the insight of Hanbury Brown and Twiss, and use the wave-like nature of particles and how they mix together. We’ve turned an odd aspect of quantum mechanics into a tool.
“But if a major storm system forms and much of the air above North America starts moving 40 mph East, the storm is a heavy enough jumper that we can see the Earth’s rotation slow down as the storm forms. We can later watch it speed back up as the storm blows itself out.”
“If you are trying to measure gravity waves with pulsars or guide spacecraft to distant Kuiper Belt objects, you need to know where you are very precisely, and this is published as a free service by the US Navy.
“The falling of the New Year’s ball is an echo of this: historically a ball was lowered from the astronomy observatory at noon every day so the ships in the harbor could set their clocks.”


A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 5: Catching a wave by Miguel F. Morales (Ars Technica)

“When we trapped the wave, we went from any note being possible to a state where only those waves that fit within the trap—and the notes they correspond to—can exist. In other words, the pitches of the guitar string are caused by the trap. And when we put a finger on a fret to change the size of the trap, the size of the waves that fit changes, and the notes we hear change.
“Atoms are naturally occurring electron traps. The protons in atomic nuclei have a positive charge that attracts the negatively charged electrons. And, just as in the quantum corral and guitar string, when the electron wave is trapped, it has particular harmonic notes.
“So the colors of the light tell us how far apart, energetically, the electron waves are.”
“Every time you add an electron, it is not only attracted to the protons in the nucleus but repelled by all the other electrons already in the atom. This repulsion changes the shape of the trap, which changes all the harmonic waves of all the electrons in it. The electrons are like a flock of birds in a tree, and every time another one joins, they all have to rearrange themselves and resettle.
“One of the hopes for quantum computing is that it will finally give chemists the firepower needed to predict complicated reaction rates and material properties. Just as the aerodynamics of airplanes and automobiles has been revolutionized by numerical fluid simulations, quantum computing would greatly accelerate the development of new materials.
“Being able to make our own ‘atoms’ allows us to manufacture electron traps with desired properties, and of course this is going to show up first in consumer televisions. Quantum dots allow TV makers to precisely tune the colors emitted, creating more accurate color, over a wider color range, all while using less electricity. There is a really nice review in IEEE Spectrum magazine of the ways quantum dots can be used to enhance television screens.”
When we make tiny beads, the wave nature of quantum mechanics naturally makes electron harmonics that determine the colors emitted. We’ve made artificial atoms (check out the associated lab description on how they were made). It’s like suddenly gaining the ability to use the frets on a guitar to change the trap size.

“if you isolate a single quantum dot and look at its spectrum (particularly when cold), it has very narrow emission lines like an atom. But the beads of semiconductor in a vial are not all exactly the same size. Some are a few atoms larger, some may be egg shaped, etc. And in even a little droplet of solution, there are bajillions of individual quantum dots, each emitting slightly different color lines. So together they will emit a range of colors depending on the mixture of dots.

“Manufacturers can actually use this to their advantage. By adjusting how many dots of a particular size are in the solution, they can fine-tune the spectrum emitted. Particularly for house lighting, this can make a much more natural light than standard LEDs. This tuning is something we can’t do with atoms. Every neon atom is identical to every other neon atom, so they all emit the same color lines. But when we make our own traps we don’t have to make them all identical and can engineer the spectrum emitted.


A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, Pt. 6: Two quantum spooks by Miguel F. Morales (Ars Technica)

“The lenses in polarized sunglasses are polarized in the vertical direction, meaning that when worn normally, they will allow light polarized vertically to pass through but will completely block horizontally polarized light. This is advantageous, because light glinting off of water is mostly horizontally polarized; a lens that only allows vertically polarized light through will greatly reduce the reflected glare.
“If we look at a star with one polarized lens, half of the photons will get through. Whether a photon will go through or be absorbed by the lens is random—and not “kind of random,” but perfectly random. It is so perfectly random that the passage of starlight through a polarized lens can be used to create the highest quality random numbers known to humankind—there is actually a market for random numbers generated in this way.”
“Any two glasses of the same frame color cause deterministic behavior, and two glasses of different frame colors cause random behavior. And it is this difference between deterministic and random that enables quantum cryptography.
“Even if there is not enough time for light to travel from Detroit to Windsor before the other photon encounters its lens, it already knows what happened to its twin. As far as we can tell, the photon in Windsor knows what happened in Detroit instantly.
“No matter how fast or mischievous we get, the second photon seems to know instantly what happened to its twin. Current limits are better than 1,000 times the speed of light.
The instantaneous relationship between twinned photons is incredibly unexpected. Yet it definitely exists; not only have we tested it in thousands of ways, it turns out it is an important feature of the way our Universe works.”
“When looking through three sunglasses, we saw light get through with one ordering and not through another. The non-commuting algebra involved here is one of the things that makes the math of quantum mechanics so hard.
“Together, these are the most counter-intuitive aspects of quantum mechanics; it doesn’t feel like this is how our world should work. But it does.”
“From the extrovert & introvert bunching of particles we saw back in article three to the precise colors emitted by atoms in the Sun, these three related effects underpin how the world works—the Universe would be a different place without them. And we can put them to practical use; quantum computers are only possible because of entanglement. A strange feature of how particle siblings interact is the basis for an entirely new technology.
This is the holy grail of encryption: a shared random key where you can guarantee that no one intercepted the messenger and made a copy. It is a little disturbing how excited three-letter agencies are about this capability. And it’s not a potential interest—quantum cryptography is already here. While there are still limitations on the range and speed, quantum cryptographic links are in production and use.”
“You will note that whatever lenses the friends in Windsor and Detroit use, they always see a random sequence (50-50 chance each photon will be absorbed or transmitted). It is only when they pick up the phone and talk, which happens at normal light speed, that they realize they got the same random sequence when they pick the same lenses. Because it is always a random sequence no matter which lenses are used, it turns out there is no way to send any information faster than the speed of light.

Quantum mechanics is not only written in math, but there are three completely different versions of the math in widespread use: the Schrödinger wave approach, the Dirac formulation, and Feynman’s path integrals. The Schrödinger approach emphasizes the waviness of particles and uses differential equations. The Dirac formulation focuses on quantum mechanics’ sensitivity to measurement order and uses the language of linear algebra.

“Feynman’s path integrals also have a wavy point of view and can be seen as an extension of the Huygens–Fresnel principle of wave propagation. This leads to some truly terrifying path integrals, covering all possible paths and possibilities. Feynman diagrams are a shorthand for keeping track of the approximations you need to make to actually solve things. While the mental models behind the three mathematical traditions are quite distinct, they always give the same answers.

“So when someone claims to have a “new” version of quantum mechanics, I roll my eyes. Not only do they have to correctly predict all the different observations we’ve seen in this article series, from particle mixing to anti-bunching to entanglement, but we already have three versions that work. The new version had better be useful and make it easier to get the right answer.

Philosophy & Sociology

Book Review: The Cult Of Smart by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“When charter schools have excelled, it’s usually been by only accepting the best students (or expelling the worst students), then attributing their great test scores to novel teaching methods. Most of this has been a colossal fraud, and the losers have been regular public school teachers, who get accused of laziness and inadequacy for failing to match the impressive-but-fake improvements of charter schools or “reformed” districts.”
“Schools can’t turn dull people into bright ones, or ensure every child ends up knowing exactly the same amount.”

Society’s interest is utility, not knowledge. If you’re dumb, but can sing or lift heavy things, that’s good. Those things are useful, more so than many other currently highly remunerated careers.

“DeBoer recalls hearing an immigrant mother proudly describe her older kid’s achievements in math, science, etc, “and then her younger son ran by, and she said, offhand, ‘This one, he is maybe not so smart.’” DeBoer was originally shocked to hear someone describe her own son that way, then realized that he wouldn’t have thought twice if she’d dismissed him as unathletic, or bad at music. Intelligence is considered such a basic measure of human worth that to dismiss someone as unintelligent seems like consigning them into the outer darkness.
“[…] isn’t this denying the equality of Man, declaring some people inherently superior to others? Only if you conflate intelligence with worth, which DeBoer argues our society does constantly.
“Access to the 20% is gated by college degree, and their legitimizing myth is that their education makes them more qualified and humane than the rest of us. DeBoer thinks the deification of school-achievement-compatible intelligence as highest good serves their class interest; “equality of opportunity” means we should ignore all other human distinctions in favor of the one that our ruling class happens to excel at.
“He wants a world where smart people and dull people have equally comfortable lives, and where intelligence can take its rightful place as one of many virtues which are nice to have but not the sole measure of your worth.
“[…] there’s a lot to like about this book. I think its two major theses − that intelligence is mostly innate, and that this is incompatible with equating it to human value − are true, important, and poorly appreciated by the general population.”
“The intuition behind meritocracy is: if your life depends on a difficult surgery, would you prefer the hospital hire a surgeon who aced medical school, or a surgeon who had to complete remedial training to barely scrape by with a C-? If you prefer the former, you’re a meritocrat with respect to surgeons. Generalize a little, and you have the argument for being a meritocrat everywhere else.

But you just agreed that schools don’t even accurately measure scholastic achievement, so you’re rating people on fictitious and corrupt data.

“More meritorious surgeons get richer not because “Society” has selected them to get rich as a reward for virtue, but because individuals pursuing their incentives prefer, all else equal, not to die of botched surgeries.”

And only the rich get the benefit of good surgeons? Dude, we’re already there. You’ve won. Congratulations. Your prize is the American dystopia.

“He (correctly) decides that most of his readers will object not on the scientific ground that they haven’t seen enough studies, but on the moral ground that this seems to challenge the basic equality of humankind. He (correctly) points out that this is balderdash, that innate differences in intelligence don’t imply differences in moral value, any more than innate differences in height or athletic ability or anything like that imply differences in moral value. His goal is not just to convince you about the science, but to convince you that you can believe the science and still be an okay person who respects everyone and wants them to be happy.”
“His thesis is that mainstream voices say there can’t be genetic differences in intelligence among individuals, because that would make some people fundamentally inferior to others, which is morally repugnant − but those voices are wrong, because differences in intelligence don’t affect moral equality.
“What is the moral utility of increased social mobility (more people rising up and sliding down in the socioeconomic sorting system) from a progressive perspective? For conservatives, at least, there’s a hope that a high level of social mobility provides incentives for each person to maximize their talents and, in doing so, both reap pecuniary rewards and provide benefits to society. This makes sense if you presume, as conservatives do, that people excel only in the pursuit of self-interest.”
DeBoer

These labels of progressive/conservative are really awkward. (But those are apparently Boer’s words).

“If high positions were distributed evenly by race, this would be better for black people, including the black people who did not get the high positions.”

No. Raise the floor for everyone. His argument feels wrong and naive.

“Even if it doesn’t help a single person get any richer, I feel like it’s a terminal good that people have the opportunity to use their full potential, beyond my ability to explain exactly why.”

I doubt that DeBoer was arguing against this. This feels like straw-manning.

“Some people are smarter than others as adults, and the more you deny innate ability, the more weight you have to put on education. Society wants to put a lot of weight on formal education, and compensates by denying innate ability a lot. DeBoer is aware of this and his book argues against it adeptly.”
“I see people on Twitter and Reddit post their stories from child prison, all of which they treat like it’s perfectly normal. The district that wanted to save money, so it banned teachers from turning the heat above 50 degrees in the depths of winter. The district that decided running was an unsafe activity, and so any child who ran or jumped or played other-than-sedately during recess would get sent to detention − yeah, that’s fine, let’s just make all our children spent the first 18 years of their life somewhere they’re not allowed to run, that’ll be totally normal child development.”

 Ted Rall on Schools and Teachers (22.2.21)OMG who hurt you? So, should we ban all public schools and send everyone to charter schools? That would totally fix everything. I suppose it might assuage Siskin’s obviously severely bruised feelings toward a system that severely wronged him by forcing his genius into a container that it was somehow ill-equipped to fit (despite its genius). Burn it to the ground and salt the earth—that will put things right. Hell, I was bored in school, too, but it also taught me patience. It taught me that not everyone was proceeding at the same rate—that school wasn’t all about just me, about making sure I got as far ahead a I could possibly go.

To be clear, though: the system is so shitty because it attracts zealots and idiots who are happy to take a poor-paying sinecure. There’s no money in the system. Of course its stretched thin. Of course it sucks. Charter schools are cheaper? I doubt it. Just like every other scam, they’ll look cheaper until they kill the competition, after which prices rise and the same Cheshire Cats end up grinning when the money pours into the monopoly they’ve lobbied for themselves. By all means, address this just like every other insular American issue: as if the rest of the world doesn’t have better solutions. Swiss kids generally like their schools.

School forces children to be confined in an uninhabitable environment, restrained from moving, and psychologically tortured in a state of profound sleep deprivation, under pain of imprisoning their parents if they refuse. The only possible justification for this is that it achieves some kind of profound social benefit like eliminating poverty. If it doesn’t, you might as well replace it with something less traumatizing, like child labor.”

Jesus. Again…who hurt you? These descriptions sound like people describing COVID lockdowns. Consider that it’s possible that your experiences aren’t applicable to the entire rest of the world, where school seem to work a bit better than that description.

“I’m not as impressed with Montessori schools as some of my friends are, but at least as far as I can tell they let kids wander around free-range, and don’t make them use bathroom passes.”

On the other hand, those are the biggest asshole kids on public transport here in Switzerland. It’s OK. You’re a relatively well-off psychiatrist in San Fransisco, so that doesn’t affect you. Those kids aren’t going to climb into your Uber. Also, a bunch of them straighten up and fly right by the time they’re 30 or so, so those of us in closer contact with them because of ecological concerns don’t even have to deal with them for that long. It’s only a decade or two—just be patient. Just like you were so patient when you weren’t allowed to read a book you wanted to read during a 1-hour class you found boring.

“I am so, so tired of socialists who admit that the current system is a helltopian torturescape, then argue that we must prevent anyone from ever being able to escape it.”

It couldn’t possibly be that you’re misunderstanding what DeBoer intended. You noted above that that is not what DeBoer wants, so this kind of feels likes a straw-man argument, provoked by what seems like a serious triggering incident.

“Or if they want to spend their entire childhood sitting in front of a screen playing Civilization 2, at least consider letting them spend their entire childhood in front of a screen playing Civilization 2 (I turned out okay!)”

Yeah dude, it sounds like there’s no baggage there. Good thing you know every school has always sucked. Your description doesn’t sound like what I remember, but who knows? I’m probably not as smart and sensitive as you are, so I probably benefitted from being innately under-equipped to even understand how terribly I was being tortured.

“Certainly it is hard to deny that public school does anything other than crush learning − I have too many bad memories of teachers yelling at me for reading in school, or for peeking ahead in the textbook, to doubt that.”

Oh, the arrogance and generalization. I, on the other hand, thought I learned something from some of my teachers, many of whom were supportive. But, like I wrote above, that’s probably because I wasn’t smart enough to elude the Stockholm Syndrome imbued by my educational torturers.


Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The smash #1 bestseller sold 300,000 copies and detailed Marcuse’s long-awaited explanation for a) why the proletariat had not risen in postwar Germany, and b) why there was no sense in waiting for it to do so going forward. He explained: not only was the material condition of the worker in modern capitalism insufficiently brutal to spur him to revolution, but technological advances coupled with expanded freedoms allowed even the lowliest employee to fully integrate into the “one-dimensional society,” a consumerist hell of mostly met material needs, “pleasure,” “fun,” and “socially permissible desirable satisfaction,” all of which “weakens the rationality of protest.””

I don’t understand what Taibbi’s problem is here: this sounds like the same argument that Aldous Huxley eloquently and cogently made.

“As he put it, in America, the “exercise of political rights (such as voting, letter-writing to the press, to Senators, etc., protest-demonstrations with a priori renunciation of counterviolence)” only served to “strengthen this administration by testifying to the existence of democratic liberties.” In other words — drumroll — freedom is slavery:”

Kind of, Matt. More like freedom is hollow, a distraction. It’s a point I broadly agree with. It’s what those in power always do to “dampen” revolution. If they dampen revolution by capitulating toward justice, then that’s great and it would be ridiculous to complain about it. But when they dampen revolution by providing a sop that fools people into not revolting, then that’s a problem. Witness the triangulation of the Democrats and Republicans. It’s something that Taibbi’s written about a lot, but he seems to have utterly missed the connection to his own writings.

“To be fair to Marcuse, he was trying to argue that the “one-dimensional” society was “radically evil” because it created a kind of totalitarianism of the consumer instinct, in which the individual becomes one with the state through his worship of product, learning to understand happiness only as something that can be bought. While the supreme beneficiaries of this paradise of buying increase their wealth and political control, the state drops bombs abroad, and at home abuses prisoners, minorities, and the “unemployed and unemployable.””
People who do intellectual work should feel a responsibility to make sure the words they use at least roughly correspond to their ostensible meaning, but like a lot of German intellectuals, Marcuse had been mired in dialectical comparisons for so long that his sense of proportion was fucked beyond recognition. The man cited aggressive driving in arguing an emergency so dire that a suspension of all civil liberties was warranted.”
“This shines through in Repressive Tolerance, which doubles as an impassioned manifesto against enjoyment of any kind in the here and now, which Marcuse regarded as a kind of sin against the future Utopia. “For the true positive is the society of the future and therefore beyond definition and determination,” he wrote, adding that “the existing positive is that which must be surmounted.””

He was fucking right, though maybe for the wrong or poorly stated reasons. Happy motoring and suburbs was always going to be a giant waste in the long run. It’s like watching someone set a forest on fire to stay warm for one night. Look! everyone’s happy. Why are you bitching? Freedom! U.S.A.! They like what we told them to like and are too numbed and obsessed with our directives to even dream of anything better or less wasteful. America elevated a child’s idea of success to religion. Reading is dumb. Money is everything. Waste is necessary. I got mine, Jack.

“He was the inspiration for the attitudes of modern America, which is suspicious of all forms of enjoyment divorced from political intent. Forget humor, our popular culture doesn’t even feel safe celebrating sex, unless it’s tragic or transgressive. We’re living out the Woody Allen joke, “I finally had an orgasm, but my doctor said it was the wrong kind.””

And Taibbi is offended because Marcuse is insufficiently respectful of the deeply American things that Taibbi considers to be worthy of more respect—that Marcuse is not in a position to criticize them because he doesn’t even pretend to try to understand them, to understand the appeal.

While I sort of understand that argument, I wonder, too, who does have standing? Do I have to ride a jet-ski on a crowded lake to know the thrill of it before I’m allowed to weigh in against it, as unethically impinging on literally everyone else trying to enjoy nature in peace? So much of the American experience is about selfishness, about pantomiming libertarianism while nearly constantly metaphorically throwing punches that end where other faces begin.

Instead of making a more eloquent argument that separate’s Marcuse’s concern from the scorn of modern elites, Taibbi ends up defending stupid, wasteful shit out of spite.

I share Taibbi’s love for the humor and irony of American culture. I really do. I think Marcuse was a stick in the mud, but he wasn’t wrong. He was an ally, just a humorless one. There’s a difference from the humorless scolds who are too stupid to do anything but score Internet points in Twitter dogpiles.

I think Taibbi needs to get away from the poisonous 20% on Twitter. He brings a lot of baggage to his reading.

“Rehabilitation just can’t be risked, without imperiling society’s victims. “The exercise of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise,” Marcuse writes, adding that “liberation of the Damned of the Earth presupposes suppression not only of their old but also of their new masters.”

I originally wrote “I admit that sounds stupid,” but now I’m not so sure. If there are oppressors, then they will necessarily lose power that they had (not civil rights, though). Here Marcuse seems to be saying that liberation necessarily entails reining any form of self-selected masters. I freely admit that his prose may be getting in his way, but he’s not impenetrable and I feel like Matt’s misinterpreting him here.

“Explaining that “the democratic argument implies a necessary condition, namely, that the people must be capable of deliberating and choosing on the basis of knowledge,” he goes on to prove that the broad main of people are not so capable. They lack the discernment to know the “objective truth which can be discovered,” to separate correct from incorrect, among other things.”

I agree that humans are limited by the herd, just like any other species. You don’t think there are buffalo who know a better place to forage, but they’re ignored? Or lemmings with questions? They are right—but have no chance. Marcuse’s error seems to have been to think there is a solution.

Hell, I think I have more answers than most, but I freely admit that there may be no way to apply them, given the parameters of humanity. The human equation has very definite attractors that we’ve never escaped before. We can avoid them for a while, but are drawn inexorably back. Marcuse was more hopeful than I am, in positing that we can actually escape these initial equations. Who knows? We’ve made leaps before. But we’ve never escaped some of these basic parameters, not for long. I’m not hopeful.

“Marcuse had it wrong. Fifty-plus years later, American society does much worse at satisfying material needs, and the ordinary working person is less and less often invited to share the “stabilizing needs” of the system with its rulers. Even Marx was closer to correctly describing today’s politics. What has been successfully integrated, by the very consumerist oligarchs Marcuse supposedly despised, is would-be dissident literature like Repressive Tolerance.”

Marcuse is to blame for those who misinterpreted him and trumpet their support for those misinterpretations as “his ideas”? And that, in translation, or written in a second language. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for the poor bastard.

Programming

Will you pay the consistency costs? by Oren Eini

“We start by giving up the implicit assumption that we have to award the achievement for the 10,000th within the same tick as the actual kill.  If we give up this requirement, it means that we have a far more relaxed environment to deal with.

“We can say that we’ll process the achievements at the end of the next hour, for example. That gives us enough time to get updates from the rest of the system, settle the dust and avoid millisecond level decision making processes. In almost all businesses, there is no such thing as a race condition.

“In many situation, we jump to assumptions about the kind of requirements that we have to meet, but usually there is a lot more flexibility. And discovering where you can get some slack can be of tremendous value.”
“The key here is that even for something that may consider critical, the number of failure modes is too high. Trying to handle them and ensuring a consistent world is usually too expensive. It is far better to have the hooks in place to handle failures and apply compensations. They are far rarer and much easier to deal with in isolation.”


Arranging Invisible Icons in Quadratic Time by Bruce Dawson (Random ASCII)

“Computers today are really fast. The CPU of the original reporter (OP) was running at 4.6 GHz and they had approximately 950 GIF files on their desktop. In 20 seconds their CPU would tick through 92 billion cycles, or 97 million cycles per image. That is a lot.

“My guess was that once again this was due to an observation which I have taken to calling Dawson’s first law of computing: O(n^2) is the sweet spot of badly scaling algorithms: fast enough to make it into production, but slow enough to make things fall down once it gets there.


Entity Framework Core 5 – Pitfalls To Avoid and Ideas to Try by Khalid Abuhakmeh (JetBrains Blog)

“When working with a legacy database or complicated organizational power dynamics, we may be tempted to handcraft each entity and define every relationship within the DbContext.OnModelCreating method. Developers should first look at the scaffolding features built into the EF Core CLI tools.”
“The best option is to run our tests against a production-like environment, as we’ll eliminate issues that could arise from engine variations. It can be difficult depending on the database, but with containerization technologies like Docker, the problem of managing isolated instances has never been easier for developers.”
“We can opt into identity resolution while opting out of object tracking by using the newly added AsNoTrackingWithIdentityResolution method.”
“Lazy loading is a feature that has caused countless production issues, and the EF Core team has rightfully made it inconvenient to enable this feature.”

Pussies.

They also have a new migration model that allows you to generate SQL. They highly recommend that and turn off automatic migration. We don’t do that because 99.9% of the migrations you’re going to do are by developers, against test databases. Make the default convenient for the most likely scenario. By all means, turn off migration for production.

They also strongly recommend TPH if you’re going to even use inheritance at all. TPT is also available, but is a bit of a performance boondoggle and “[e]ven in that scenario, though, what is entity inheritance achieving?”

They support “soft” deletes by allowing global filters on tables (very much like Quino has always supported with class filters).

Though the engine is capable of joining and selecting projected data from multiple tables, they also recommend using AsSplitQuery() to avoid the fancy logic and just use a separate query per table.

“By adding the AsSplitQuery method, we now have three SQL statements for Movies, Characters, and Actor.”

That’s what Quino does now, with the data-list loader. It’s not immediately obvious that doing the giant-ball-of-query would be faster (especially when the SQL server is usually co-located).

EF has a Linq method called FromSqlInterpolated() that properly maps interpolated values to parameters, but if you call FromSqlRaw() instead, you’re going to run into SQL-injection problems. Quino handles this with the CustomCommandBuilder. Of course, you can always shoot yourself in the foot if you want to badly enough—you are, after all, writing raw SQL. But the CustomCommandBuilder makes it easier to manage and use parameters and encourages using the proper pattern. The FromSqlInterpolated() vs. FromSqlRaw() distinction feels more like a trap because two very similar-looking methods have completely different security characteristics.

EF doesn’t have any generalized high-level support for batch updates. Instead, they just tell you to execute raw SQL for efficient updates.

There is a retry mechanism for when the database may not be responding. We have something very similar in Quino—added for desktop apps that stay open through hibernations and sleeps, but perhaps just as useful for maintaining robustness in a server environment where the network might hiccup.