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Links and Notes for March 5th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Dr. Osterholm’s Warning: COVID Hurricane on the Horizon by Vincent Emanuele (CounterPunch)

“The data are clear now that there is, in fact, evidence of increased severe disease. What we have to understand right now is what we will be seeing in these next weeks ahead . . . You have to understand some of the most vocal people right now who are critical of this idea that there will be a surge with B117 are the same people who early in the pandemic were critical that covid-19 was going to be a problem at all and actually said so publicly on many occasions and indicated that influenza would continue to be the most important infectious disease we’d have in the upcoming months. And I’m telling you right now, everything in my public health background, my training, and 45 years of in the trenches tells me that this is going to be a big peak.
“Dr. Osterholm and others have been very clear: the U.S. cannot control the pandemic with vaccines if the rest of the world is a “house on fire” with infections and a lack of vaccines. New variants will develop in the “house on fire” countries, spread to countries and regions that have been robustly vaccinated (North America, Europe, Japan, etc.), and potentially defeat the vaccines’ immune protection. In the end, we shouldn’t forget that the effort to vaccinate the rest of the world is both moral and strategic.”
“Unfortunately, for Dr. Osterholm and those who’ve followed him since the beginning of the pandemic, his public health recommendations and policy suggestions have been all but ignored. Hence, we can only expect that his most dire predictions will, once again, come true.


The dominant variant of the coronavirus in California has acquired dangerous mutations by Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)

“Dr. Charles Chiu is the senior author of a study documenting the rise of the CAL.20C variant among 8,000 residents of the Mission District in San Francisco, and first detected the variant on December 31. He told the press, “This variant is concerning because our data shows that it is more contagious, more likely to be associated with severe illness, and at least partially resistant to neutralizing antibodies. … The devil is already here. I wish it were different. But the science is the science.””
“Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Chiu indicated that it would be imperative to drive down infections as much as possible while rapidly moving to vaccinate the population.”

Like duh—that’s what we should be doing in any case.

“In a review of 324 people with COVID-19 treated at UCSF clinics or its medical centers, after adjusting for various confounding variables, such as age, gender, and race, those infected with the CAL.20C variant were almost five times more likely to need ICU admission and 11 times more likely to die.”

That sounds pretty bad, but it’s still early days with this data. We’ll have to see if it’s isolated or if the effects scale.

“Critics had noted that the number of cases requiring admission to the ICU or leading to death, though statistically significant compared to the previous COVID infections, was small and occurred at the peak of the surge when health systems were inundated, which may have contributed to these findings.

Finance & Economy

Startups Sometimes Stretch the Truth by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“You go public, and sell stock to boring mutual funds and middle-class retail investors, only when you have something viable. In the olden days that meant “a profitable company,” and it certainly doesn’t mean that anymore; lots of huge consumer-tech-ish unicorns have gone public with large losses and somewhat vague plans to reverse them. But even those companies typically have, you know, a business; they produce their thing at some large scale and sell it for money and have either positive gross margins or at least some story about how they will achieve them.
“The recent boom of electric-vehicle companies going public by merging with special purpose acquisition companies has eroded that tradition. Now you get founders selling their wild visions to the public, with a pitch that is heavy on projections and light on historical financials; they can go public earlier, still in the vision stage, and there is no sharp boundary between how they sell to venture capitalists and how they sell to mutual funds and retail investors. They are confident in their vision of the future, and act like it is already here. That’s not really what public companies are supposed to do.

Yeah, for a public company, it kind of sounds like “lying about your financials” or “playing fast and loose with the truth” or “making people believe things that you didn’t exactly say in order for them to give you money”.

To me, that should fall under the definition of fraud. Failing that, it is largely unhelpful churn and a waste of resources that seems designed to make the most amoral liars rich while very rarely producing something of broad social benefit as a side-effect. It is unjust and vastly inefficient and our climate cannot afford it. It makes no sense to allow it in this form, to say nothing of encouraging and subsidizing it, pretending it’s the only way to get innovation, just because it’s the only way we’ve ever tried and the con men reaping all the benefits tell us so.

“But actual bank shareholders are largely diversified investors who own lots of other stocks, and a bank-driven financial crisis will be bad for those stocks too, so the big shareholders will actually internalize a lot more of the risk of crises than they would if they were pure bank shareholders, so they will want different behavior from banks and regulators.
“Electricity prices reached the maximum allowable $9,000 a megawatt-hour last week, far above typical levels of about $25, as the winter storm shut down half the state’s generating capacity.”
“Perhaps you have a Draconian allocation of “anyone who got the electricity has to pay the bill even if it takes the rest of eternity to work it off,” or perhaps you have some loss-sharing arrangement where the state or federal government eats some of the cost, or it’s allocated proportionally among ratepayers and utility shareholders over the next decade, or whatever. But you have some leisure to decide that, to have different stakeholders argue about it in different venues, if you let the electricity crisis turn into a credit crisis. If you just let it turn into a much worse electricity crisis then you miss your chance to fix it.”

As if the only choice is between having an electricity crisis and a credit crisis. I like how we’ve narrowed our hopeful vision in the 21st century to just being able to shop among crises—and have one of them be so horrible and inconceivable that we’re forced to take the one that ends up—oopsie!—enslaving large swaths of the population under a mountain of debt.

Most of those stakeholders have no say and no leverage. It is ridiculous to build policy around pretending that they do or ever will. Letting prices get that high leads to as much money as possible for the strong and defaults to no money for the weak. It’s just a scam to put the disadvantaged on the back foot and suck as much as possible out of them.

Predatory company: You owe me a million dollars.”
Citizen: What? That’s ridiculous. I only have a thousand.”
Predatory company: Ok. I’ll take that. The government will pay me the remainder.”

Sounds great for … pretty much only the already-rich person. The poor person is fucked for life and taxpayers pick up the part of the tab that that person can’t pay—and all the while without questioning the legitimacy of the tab in the first place.

Prices should not get that high. That’s ridiculous and unsupportable. Do people have to cover for the helicopter that delivers water to them on their roof in a flood? Just because they can’t drive to the store anymore? What if a sinkhole cuts off ten houses? Do those ten houses pay a million bucks to fix the road? Levine’s argument completely ignores solidarity.

“Will the richest man in the world, who is also the chief executive officer of a $650 billion electric car company, who is also the CEO of a flying-to-Mars rocket company, spend most of his time in 2021 in court arguing with a U.S. securities regulator over his tweets about a cryptocurrency based on a Shiba Inu meme? I mean, it sounds unlikely, but it’s a thousand times more likely than that he’ll quietly get down to work and avoid messy pointless internet distractions, right? There will be some incredibly dumb Elon Musk story this year, why not this one.


The Rich Kids Who Want to Tear Down Capitalism by Zoë Beery (NY Times)

“According to the consulting firm Accenture, the Silent Generation and baby boomers will gift their heirs up to $30 trillion by 2030, and up to $75 trillion by 2060.”
““The wealth millennials are inheriting came from a mammoth redistribution away from the working masses, creating a super-rich tiny minority at the expense of a fleeting American dream that is now out of reach to most people,” said Richard D. Wolff,”
“If money is power, then true wealth redistribution also means redistributing authority. Margi Dashevsky, who is 33 and lives in Alaska, gets guidance on her charitable giving from an advisory team of three women activists from Indigenous and Black power movements. “The happenstance of me being born into this wealth doesn’t mean I’m somehow omniscient about how it should be used,” she said. “It actually gives me a lot of blind spots.”
“In short, this means using their money to support more equitable economic infrastructures. This includes investing in or donating to credit unions, worker-owned businesses, community land trusts, and nonprofits aiming to maximize quality of life through democratic decision making, instead of maximizing profits through competition. Emma Thomas, a 29-year-old democratic socialist who is also taking her money out of the stock market, described what she’s now investing in as “an economy that is about exchange and taking care of needs, that is cooperative and sustainable, and that doesn’t demand unfettered growth.”


GameStop Is Happening Again by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“There are well-established processes to do that; big trading firms have stock-borrow relationships and capital and financing lines and so forth that allow them to trade each day confident that they’ll be able to settle in two days, or in one day really. And the fact that the transactions mostly net out—big market makers buy a lot of stock and sell a lot of stock but mostly end up flattish—makes these processes even easier; you can trade lots of stock without borrowing lots of money or stock, because you can cancel most of it out at the end of the day and only settle the net amount. But those processes break down if you have to get your money and borrow your stock before you trade.”
“Real-time settlement eliminates important netting and financing opportunities because it requires that all transactions be funded on a transaction-by-transaction basis. With real-time settlement, the entire industry – clients, brokers, investors – loses the liquidity and risk-mitigating benefit of netting, which is particularly critical during times of heightened volatility and volume. It is not unimaginable that the stock market could move to real-time settlement; you could put stocks on the blockchain hahaha. But it would be very different from the current system, and the transition would involve a lot of disruption. Keeping delayed settlement, but making the delay shorter, is an easier matter.
“I feel like this is less of a problem in a world of delayed settlements than it would be in a world of real-time settlements. As it is, people knew how much money was due to them, and had to wait a few hours to get it. In a world of real-time settlements, if you couldn’t use Fedwire to send cash or securities, you couldn’t trade.”


The Vaccine Is Not a Competition by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“But occasionally one division will be doing work that is so crucial to The Stock Market Inc. as a whole that the board of directors will pay attention to it. Or occasionally two divisions, or a dozen divisions, will have different parts of a product or service or idea or business that, if they were combined together, would be crucial to The Stock Market Inc. as a whole, so the directors will call up those divisions and say “hey you’ve got to work together to get this project done, for all of our common good.” And then of course they will, because they all work for the same company and answer to the board of directors and do what they’re told.”
“But BlackRock and Vanguard and all the other big institutional investors who own shares in these pharmaceutical companies also own shares in all the other companies, the airlines and hotels and retailers and everyone else who will benefit if vaccines are deployed rapidly and economic activity returns to normal. And so we have talked a few times about how it is in their interests—the interests of the shareholders of The Stock Market Inc.—for pharmaceutical companies to produce and distribute vaccines quickly and effectively and cooperatively and cheaply, even if it is not necessarily in the narrow financial interests of any of those particular pharmaceutical companies.”
“And then the goldsmith’s brother-in-law came to him and said, look, you’ve got all this gold lying around, can I borrow some of it to buy a horse and plow? And the goldsmith said, ehhhhhh. But then he said, well, I basically trust you, and I have to see you at family gatherings, and it’ll be annoying if I say no, so, sure, have some gold, what’s the worst that can happen, the small risk of beheading is better than the awkwardness of disappointing my brother-in-law. And so he loaned some gold to his brother-in-law, and the brother-in-law had a successful harvest and paid him back with interest, and after enough goldsmiths made enough successful loans to enough brothers-in-law, they realized that this could be a more general business open to the public, and so they started making loans to other people, and fractional-reserve banking did start.
You are the most famous company in the world, Congress is holding hearings about you to which you are not invited, the market’s estimate of the discounted present value of your future cash flows has soared by 2,000% and then fallen by 900% over the course of a few weeks, and there you are, plugging away on the quarterly financial statements, debating the fine points of the online business plan, fixing typos in the board memo, not selling your hugely overpriced stock because you’re in an earnings blackout.”


SPAC Investors Don’t Love Lucid by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“The right SPAC can do that, but you can’t do that with $10 in your checking account, so the $10 in the SPAC’s hands really is worth more than $10.”
“[…] it accomplishes one crucial thing for Lucid, which is that it allows Lucid to go public based on projected 2023 revenue. Normal IPOs are focused on audited financial statements covering years that have already happened; future projections are strongly discouraged. Meanwhile SPACs are allowed to include projections, and in fact Lucid’s deck doesn’t include any historical financials; the “Summary P&L” slide (page 67) starts with estimated 2021 numbers. It’s hard to do a regular IPO for a car company that has never sold a car, but you can do a SPAC. But it will cost you.”
“This is basically the same except (1) Gill owns roughly 0.14% of the company and has no inside information and (2) instead of disclosing his holdings on official SEC forms that are required by law, he’s posting screenshots of his brokerage statement on Reddit.
“Isn’t it awkward to have some of your real-life teammates on your fantasy team, and others not? Don’t you want to bet on all of your teammates? If you’ve got the ball and one teammate is in a really good scoring position, but he’s not on your fantasy team, and another teammate is in a less promising position but he is on your fantasy team, who do you pass to?


Bitcoin and Baseball Cards − Center for Economic and Policy Research by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“To make this concrete, suppose someone signed a five-year lease in Bitcoin, where they agreed to pay two Bitcoins a month for office space. (Five-year leases are common for commercial properties.) At the start of their lease in 2016, they would be paying an amount equal to less than $800 a month. Today, they would be paying over $100,000 a month for the same space. Anyone who committed to this rent would either have been forced into bankruptcy or renegotiated the lease.”
“It’s still hard to not see these prices as the result of bubbles, since it is difficult to see anything like this much intrinsic value in other a sports trading card or Bitcoin. The sports trading card has the advantage in this area, since at least it is something, whereas Bitcoin is quite literally nothing.


Electric Bills Are a Gamble Too by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“As the storm rolled through during the past week, however, she kept opening the company’s app on her phone and seeing her bill “just rising, rising, rising,” Ms. Tanner said. Griddy was able to take the money she owed directly from her bank account, and she now has just $200 left. She suspects that she was only able to keep that much because her bank stopped Griddy from taking more.”
“The people buying GameStop had money to burn, and burnt it, and invited their friends to come over and roast marshmallows in the fire. The people signing contracts to buy Texas electricity at wholesale prices were doing so to economize. In some theoretical sense they accepted higher price volatility in exchange for usually lower prices, but in a much more practical sense they wanted the usually lower prices and couldn’t afford the higher price volatility. And then when prices rose they were wiped out.”
“Perhaps because they feel like it’s impossible to save for a secure retirement in a slow and steady way, because the system seems rigged against them, because the former structures of middle-class security are gone. You don’t get a pension now; you get a Robinhood app and a WallStreetBets account.
“It turns out to be really easy to accidentally engage in risky financial speculation, to somehow make disastrous bets on spot power markets in your monthly utility bill because it’s simple to sign up. If life is a constant series of high-stakes financial gambles anyway, perhaps it is tempting to choose some of your gambles on purpose.

This is the same logic that makes the poor spend windfalls on themselves. Life has taught them that if they don’t enjoy it now, someone will take it away from them. Some way will be found that it’s not theirs. They’re 100% fucked, so why spend windfall money on being 99% fucked?

I save money because I have more than I need and I expect it to be worth something when I need it. I expect to be able to retire on it, not that someone will somehow take it. The stock market occasionally takes back gains, but I’ve gotten out of most of my positions there (I assume that my pension and retirement funds are invested there, for lack of anything else to invest in).

If you don’t have the expectation that the money is yours for you to use when you want, then you’ll very rationally spend it while you can.

“[…] how would you feel about buying XRT to get at its GameStop shares? How would you feel about buying it during those GameStop halts? What was the price of GameStop, three minutes into a five-minute trading halt? The official answer—the one used, for instance, in calculating the net asset value of XRT—is whatever the price was at the start of the halt. The real answer—the one that you might use in determining whether to buy XRT—is more like, whatever the price would be at the end of the halt, a number that was uncertain but surely at least ran the risk of being lower.”


The Ecological State by Erald Kolasi (Monthly Review)

“Those with social and institutional power decide how they want to distribute money, labor, and resources, and those without must navigate the resulting constraints and roadblocks that have been thrown in front of them, or they can challenge the system and remove some, if not all, of the roadblocks. Especially under capitalism, artificial scarcity is an important social reality that torments the lives of billions around the world, but scarcity as a natural limiting factor in economic activity is not as fundamental as we might like to think.
“The central problem of economics is not scarcity, but stability in the flow of goods and resources, and especially the stability of the ecozones that act as an economy’s primary energy reservoir. The primary goal of any economic system should be to ensure stability and sustainability in the face of nature’s external perturbations, which have always played a dominant role in the development of human history.”
“The concept of a “free market” is largely an abstraction because virtually all governments have a strong impact on the dynamics of market activity. Governments decide what counts and does not count as property and enforce property rights. Governments define the rules governing market operations. Governments can even create new global markets for domestic companies through warfare and other forms of strategic competition, like sanctions, embargoes, and blockades. Trade and commerce cannot be decoupled from state power.
Capitalists run to the state when they need money and favors, but otherwise they merely ask of the state that it legitimate and, when necessary, reinforce their continued plundering of society.”
Capitalists are not that interested in efficiency. They are interested in controlling the social distribution and utilization of economic resources. More specifically, they are interested in augmenting their power by trying to organize society on their own terms, and that process includes pressuring governments and workers to accept their demands through a wide array of threats and coercive actions.”
“Suppose we were to grant the questionable claim that the private sector is more “efficient” at allocating resources, primarily by keeping costs down, than the government. So what? How does this show that higher efficiency is something worth achieving more than other desirable aspects of economic activity, such as job security, poverty alleviation, and macroeconomic stability?
“Here it should also be noted that greater efficiency in the production of such “goods” as luxury mansions and gas-guzzling SUVs may in fact be detrimental to human welfare as a whole.”
“The point of these examples is to emphasize that there is no obvious contradiction between government ownership and the shift toward sustainable human development as a mark of social success. It is certainly true that many state-owned companies in the past have been operated with great negligence and incompetence, but the same is true for many private companies as well.
State companies do not have to survive by obtaining profits because the government can keep financing them, including through taxation, borrowing, and various forms of monetization, such as printing money.”
“The Iranian example is particularly instructive. Before the 1950s, the production and distribution of Iranian oil was controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, in which the British government had a majority stake. Rising popular anger about the unfair distribution of profits prompted the Iranian government to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. The move had many unintended consequences. Britain and other Western countries responded with severe sanctions that made it virtually impossible for Iran to export most of its oil. Iran also lost access to its financial reserves held in Western banks. With the economy reeling and internal political divisions intensifying, the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in 1953 through a violent coup orchestrated by the U.S. CIA and the British MI6. Nationalization failed in Iran not because of some inherent deficiency, but because Western powers decided to make it fail as a way of protecting their control over the global oil trade.
“Societies can also choose to set a lower limit, but here the guidelines can be more flexible. If we wish to protect some of the trappings of modern civilization, such as taking a drive or getting on a flight every once in a while, then a rough lower bound could be something like 30,000 kilocalories. The point of establishing a range, instead of a fixed number, is to recognize that societies are complicated and need some measure of flexibility as they interact with the world and respond to its challenges.”
“You can still go to the local market and eat at your favorite restaurant; the government will not take those things away from you. But to prevent large corporations from accumulating too much wealth and power, and to prevent them from becoming energy guzzlers that threaten the planet’s ecological stability, the state should be involved in their ownership and administration, which in many cases will involve some type of nationalization.”
“In so doing, the valerist state would also put the brakes on the ruthless tendencies of modern capitalism to plunder natural resources and commodify them for large profits in global markets.”

Public Policy & Politics

The Broken System by Elizabeth Anderson (The Nation)

“Michael J. Sandel’s new book, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?, gives us a deeper view into some of the reasons why many ordinary workers have become suspicious of the highly educated elites who seek to represent their interests in the Democratic Party. In providing a damning critique of meritocracy, Sandel also documents how, as both an ideology and a set of practices, it has become a driving force within the party as its members have become more highly educated. He argues that, in stressing education as the primary means to get ahead in society, the party’s educated elites have come to offer an increasingly narrow pathway to a decent life.

And stop calling it a “meritocracy”. It’s long ago been decided that credentials are the only valuable merit. Actually knowing things is not required. It’s often detrimental. Knowing how to do things—actual things we need in order to survive is also considered superfluous. Those things you can just buy. With money that you earn because you’re credentialed. That’s not merit. Those in the so-called elite have the least merit of all. They’re useless. They are the real moochers from Atlas Shrugged, the James Taggarts. They don’t invent anything, they can’t build anything, they don’t know how to perform a single task that’s valuable to anyone else or society—and they’ve engineered society to give them the biggest salaries, in the cushiest jobs, doing nothing.


Biden’s Syria Attack: An Actual Impeachable Offense by Ron Paul (Antiwar.com)

“Interestingly, Biden’s Secretary of Defense came to the Administration straight from his previous position on the board of, you guessed it, Raytheon. Libertarian educator Tom Woods once quipped that no matter who you vote for you get John McCain. Perhaps it’s also fair to say that no matter who you vote for you get to enrich Raytheon.

“The Democrats wasted four years trying to remove Trump from office under the bogus “Russiagate” lie and then the equally ridiculous and discredited claim that Trump led an insurrection against the government on January 6th. Yet when Trump started raining bombs down on Syria with no Congressional declaration of war or even authorization, most Democrats stood up and cheered. Left-wing CNN talking head Fareed Zakaria swooned, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night.”

“In fact, initiating a war against a country that did not attack and does not threaten the United States without Congressional authority is an impeachable offense. But both parties – with a few exceptions – are war parties.

President Biden should be impeached for his attack on Syria, as should have Trump and Obama before him. But no one in Washington is going to pursue impeachment charges against a president who recklessly takes the United States to war. War greases Washington’s wheels.”

Apparently, the Biden administration has stopped its support for the Saudis in their deranged war against Yemen. This is a good thing. However, it’s not so great that the bar is so low now that a president of the U.S. can hop over it by stopping one of his administrations’s several war crimes, while chirpily continuing another with the full-throated support of most of America, especially the sanctimonious media elite.


Is Biden Reenlisting in the Forever Wars? by Patrick Buchanan (AntiWar.com)

“In Afghanistan, under the terms of the peace deal negotiated with the Taliban in 2020, all US troops are to be out of the country by May 1.

Under that deal, not a single US soldier has been lost in combat in the last year.

“If the US announces, as some believe is likely, that we are not going to withdraw all forces by May 1, the Taliban, who control half the country, are likely to begin targeting the remaining American troops in the country.”


Will Comey’s Words Come Back To Haunt Him? by Ray McGovern (Antiwar.com)

Few outsiders are aware that those warrants covered not only Page but also anyone Page was in contact with – as well as anyone Page’s contacts were in contact with – under the so-called two-hop surveillance practice.
“According to two former technical directors at NSA, Bill Binney and Ed Loomis, when President Barack Obama approved the current version of “two hops,” the NSA was ecstatic. It is easy to see why. Let’s say Page was in touch with Donald Trump (as candidate or president); Trump’s communications would then be surveilled, as well – and not just his communications with Page. Or, let’s say Page was in touch with Google. That would enable NSA to cover pretty much the entire world.”
“The NY Times immediately rushed onto its website an article titled “Putin Led a Complex Cyberattack Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Finds”. And on Jan. 7, the Times’s front-page banner headline read: “Putin Led Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Says”, providing credulous readers with “proof” that Trump owed his election win to Russia’s “influence campaign”. A shot of adrenaline for Russia-gate. As planned, after his three colleagues depart, Comey tells Trump of the Steele allegations, adding that the FBI had not validated the allegations, but thought it was important for the president to know.”

But the Stop the Steal folks are sui generis, right? Is it possible that Trump did the whole “stop the steal” stuff out of spite? As in: see how it feels when half the country belies your election?


A Modest Proposal For Republicans: Use The Word “Class” by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“They all have exactly the same political and aesthetic opinions on everything, and think the noblest and most important task imaginable is to gatekeep information in ways that force everyone else to share those opinions too.
“His message − which he never put into words, but which came across clearly anyway − was “you working-class people should hate and fear the upper class, and I’m on your side”.”
“Everyone agreed these people were Trump’s base, but the media insisted on emphasizing the “white”, as in “WHITE!!! working class”. Your job is to get people thinking “white WORKING CLASS!!!” instead.
“It could appeal to blacks and Hispanics. They’re mostly working-class, so they hate the elites as much as anyone else. So far the left has kept them voting Democrat by scaring them with stories about how racist the white working class is, and convincing them that only Democratic elites can keep them safe.
“[…] even the most uncouth and uneducated person can strike it rich if they work hard and make good deals. The Democrats hate this; they prefer a system where powerful insiders get to play favorites, where success depends on who you know and not what you know, and where good jobs are locked behind gates of correct credentials from the right colleges.
“[…] the Democrats are the party of people who got hired by McKinsey straight out of college to a job that pays a higher entry-level salary than most people get in their entire lives.”
“Point out how DC Democrats passed a law saying all child care workers must have college degrees, and how this is just a blatant attempt to take jobs away from working-class people in order to give them to upper-class people instead.
“Argue that the Democrats and the government are a jobs program for the upper class. All those Institutes For X and Public Service Campaigns For Y, all those regulations that require two hundred lawyers just to move a potted plant, all those laws that mean every company needs fifty compliance offers working full time just in order to not get sued, they’re all a giant jobs program for college-educated people who refuse to work with their hands.
“You can position yourself as the party of meritocracy, and position meritocracy as the opposite of class favoritism, and your opponents will do all your work for you, tripping over themselves to insist on how anti-meritocratic they are.
“You need to make the case that bogus degree requirements (eg someone without a college degree can’t be a sales manager at X big company, but somebody with any degree, even Art History or Literature, can) are blatantly classist.
College degrees are no longer thought of as factually giving you skills which let you earn enough money to be comfortable. They’re thought of as inducting you into the class of people who deserve comfortable lives. Treating an upper-class employee the same way you would treat a working-class employee is considered morally wrong.”
“Make universities no longer tax-exempt − why should institutions serving primarily rich people, providing them with regattas and musical theater, and raking in billions of dollars a year, not have to pay taxes? Make the bill that does this very clearly earmark the extra tax money for things that help working-class people, like infrastructure or vocational schools or whatever.”
“[…] the Democrats have invented and propped up a fake concept of expertise as a way of making sure upper-class people who can game admissions to top colleges control the discourse.”
“Your new talking point is that your media, the Republican media, is the mainstream media, the media that normal people read and watch. All that other stuff, the New Yorker and whatever, is upper-class media, which gains its status by systematically excluding lower-class voices, and which exists mostly as a tool of the upper classes to mock and humiliate the lower class. You are not against journalism, you’re not against being well-informed, you’re against a system that exists to marginalize people like you.”
“[…] wokeness is a made-up mystery religion that college-educated people invented so they could feel superior to you. Why are they so sure that “some of my best friends are black” doesn’t make you any less racist? Because the whole point is that the only way not to be racist is to master an inscrutable and constantly-changing collection of fashionable shibboleths and behaviors which are secretly class norms. The whole point is to make sure the working-class white guy whose best friends are black and who marries a black woman and has beautiful black children feels immeasurably inferior to the college-educated white guy who knows that saying “colored people” is horrendously offensive but saying “people of color” is the only way to dismantle white supremacy. You should make it clear that this is total balderdash, you could not be less interested in it,
“[…] racism is a subform of classism, where people naturally assume minorities are lower class. When a cop targets a black person for a “random” stop-and-frisk, that’s racist. But it’s also coming from same thought process the cop uses to target an unkempt heavily-tattooed white guy in the bad part of town, instead of a well-groomed suit-wearing white guy in the business district. The cop is classist, and using race as a marker of low class. This is bad, but the surest way to counteract it would be to dismantle the class system entirely − not to offer increasingly more amazing positions to the tiny handful of minorities who are able to perform upper-class really well and get the appropriate college credentials.


New York Times racialist vandals descend on Rome and Greece by Sandy English (WSWS)

“To Marxists, it has never been a matter of either celebrating or condemning the Greco-Roman world. The astonishing feats of that epoch expressed the highest material culture that could be achieved given the mode of production. Just as crucially, the fall of the Greco-Roman world demonstrated that social orders, civilizations, and indeed entire historical epochs, collapse under certain conditions. This remains a profound lesson. The New York Times sees no value in the study of classical antiquity, besides the spoils that can be shaken down using the vulgar racialist weapons of the present. One cannot imagine a more backward and arrogant conception of human culture.


House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Core Press Freedoms by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Since when is it the role of the U.S. Government to arbitrate and enforce precepts of “journalistic integrity”? Unless you believe in the right of the government to regulate and control what the press says — a power which the First Amendment explicitly prohibits — how can anyone be comfortable with members of Congress arrogating unto themselves the power to dictate what media outlets are permitted to report and control how they discuss and analyze the news of the day?”
“They are singling out selected newsrooms for their coverage of political events and sending a clear message that these media outlets will pay a price if they do not align their viewpoints with Democrat orthodoxy. That is a chilling transgression of free speech and journalistic freedom. No government official has any business inquiring about the ‘moral principles’ that guide a private entity’s decision about what news to carry.
“Accusing one’s domestic opponents of being subversives and domestic terrorists is by far the most common way that despots on every continent justify their censorship and silencing campaigns of oppositional media outlets.
“This framework is hardly rare in the west either. When the Obama administration collaborated with the UK Government in 2013 to detain my husband David Miranda at Heathrow Airport in connection with the work he was doing in the Snowden reporting, they cited an anti-terrorism law to justify his detention, and repeatedly threatened to prosecute him for terrorism if he did not cooperate by providing all of his passwords to them. He ultimately prevailed in his lawsuit against the U.K. Government on the ground that it constitutes an illegal assault on press freedoms and human rights to abuse anti-terrorism frameworks to intimidate or silence journalists.”
“Are there conspiracy theories and disinformation sometimes found on the conservative cable outlets which House Democrats want taken off the air? Of course there are: all media outlets disseminate conspiracy theories and fake news at times. MSNBC and CNN spent four years endorsing the most deranged conspiracy theory imaginable, one with very toxic roots in the Cold War: namely, the McCarthyite script that the Kremlin had taken over control of key U.S. institutions through sexual blackmail over the President,”
“[…] as much as I loathe so much of what those outlets do, it is not the role of the government to regulate let alone silence them. The corrective is for journalists to rebuild trust and faith with the public by exposing their misinformation and proving to the public that they will do accurate and reliable reporting regardless of which faction is aggrandized or angered.”


What Planet Is NATO Living On? by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies (MintPress News)

“The U.S. Army’s plan for an invasion of Russia, which is euphemistically called “The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations,” begins with missile and artillery bombardments of Russian command centers and defensive forces, followed by an invasion by armored forces to occupy key areas and sites until Russia surrenders.”
“The report reveals that a large majority of Europeans want no part in a U.S. war with Russia or China and want to remain neutral. Only 22% would support taking the U.S. side in a war with China, 23% in a war with Russia. So European public opinion is squarely at odds with NATO’s role in America’s war plans.”
Only 17% of Europeans want closer economic ties with the United States, while even fewer, 10% of French and Germans, think their countries need America’s help with their national defense.”
“NATO’s Reflection Group justifies and promotes the United States’ and NATO’s renewed Cold War by filling its report with dangerously one-sided threat analysis. A more honest and balanced review of the dangers facing the world and NATO’s role in them would lead to a much simpler plan for NATO’s future: that it should be dissolved and dismantled as quickly as possible.


Congress Escalates Pressure on Tech Giants to Censor More, Threatening the First Amendment by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“For the same reasons that the Constitution prohibits the government from dictating what information we can see and read (outside narrow limits), it also prohibits the government from using its immense authority to coerce private actors into censoring on its behalf.
“Four book publishers and distributors sued, seeking a declaration that this practice was a violation of the First Amendment even though they were never technically forced to censor. Instead, they ceased selling the flagged books “voluntarily” due to fear of the threats implicit in the “advisory” notices received from the state.
“It is true, as noted by the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, that [the book distributor] was “free” to ignore the Commission’s notices, in the sense that his refusal to “cooperate” would have violated no law. But it was found as a fact – and the finding, being amply supported by the record, binds us – that [the book distributor’s] compliance with the Commission’s directives was not voluntary. People do not lightly disregard public officers’ thinly veiled threats to institute criminal proceedings against them if they do not come around, […]”
“That is clearly what happened after Democrats spent four years petulantly insisting that they lost the 2016 election not because they chose a deeply disliked nominee or because their neoliberal ideology wrought so much misery and destruction, but instead, they said, because Facebook and Twitter allowed the unfettered circulation of incriminating documents hacked by Russia.”
“What made Lieberman’s implicit threats in the name of “national security” so despotic was that they were clearly intended to punish and silence a group working against his political agenda. And that is precisely true of the motives of these House Democrats in demanding greater censorship in the name of combating “misinformation” and “hate speech”: their demands almost always, if not always, mean silencing those who are opposed to their ideology and political agenda.
“It is a power as intoxicating as it is menacing. When it comes to the internet, our primary means of communicating with one another, that power nominally rests in the hands of private corporations in Silicon Valley. But increasingly, the Democratic-controlled government and their allies in the corporate media are realizing that they can indirectly and through coercion seize and wield that power for themselves. The First Amendment is implicated by these coercive actions as much as if Congress enacted laws explicitly mandating censorship of their political opponents.”


Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat participated in covert UK Foreign Office-funded programs to “weaken Russia,” leaked docs reveal by Max Blumenthal (The Grayzone)

““The BBC and Reuters portray themselves as an unimpeachable, impartial, and authoritative source of world news,” Williamson continued, “but both are now hugely compromised by these disclosures. Double standards like this just bring establishment politicians and corporate media hacks into further disrepute.””
“Reuters and the BBC solicited multimillion-dollar contracts to advance the British state’s interventionist aims, promising to cultivate Russian journalists through FCO-funded tours and training sessions, establish influence networks in and around Russia, and promote pro-NATO narratives in Russian-speaking regions.
“The BBC identified local partners like Hromadske, a Kiev-based broadcast network born in the midst of the so-called Maidan “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014 that relied on ultra-nationalist muscle to remove an elected president and install a pro-NATO regime. Hromadske materialized almost overnight with seed money and logistical support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and billionaire media mogul Pierre Omidyar’s Network Fund.

That is the same Pierre Omidyar who funds The Intercept, but has a notoriously hands-off approach there.

“[…] “independent” outlets pushing the right line against the Kremlin, Zinc proposed leveraging UK FCO funding into a program of direct payments and gaming Google search results in their favor. The intelligence cut-out was explicit about its desire to reduce the search visibility of the Russian government-backed broadcaster RT.com.

Science & Nature

Mathematicians Set Numbers in Motion to Unlock Their Secrets by Kelsey Houston-Edwards (Quanta)

““This simple observation — that torsion points on the elliptic curve are the same as finite orbit points for a certain dynamical system — is what we use in our paper over and over and over again,” said DeMarco.”
“Raynaud’s previous result proved simply that the number of intersections is finite — but it left room for that finite number to be as large as you could possibly want (in the sense that you can always make a larger finite number). The trio’s new proof establishes what’s called a uniform bound, a cap on how big that finite number of intersections can be. DeMarco, Krieger and Ye didn’t identify that cap exactly, but they proved it exists, and they also identified a long series of steps that future work could take to calculate the number.
“They translated the two elliptic curves into two different dynamical systems. The two dynamical systems generated points on the same actual space, the complex plane.”

Art & Literature

Someone Else’s Diary by Maria Stepanova (The Paris Review)

“At some point, years ago, she began the process of decluttering her apartment, and this gradually consumed her. She was permanently shaking things out, checking anew what objects were essential. The contents of the apartment constantly needed sorting and systematizing, each and every cup required careful consideration, books and papers stopped existing for themselves and became mere usurpers of space, […]”
“Her apartment now stood silent, stunned and cowering, filled with suddenly devalued objects.

It is only my continued existence thats imparts value to my things, my digital archive. It is useful to me while I live. But to no-one else.

“These had belonged to Galya’s mother, my grandmother, and no one had worn them for at least forty years. All these objects were inextricably bound together, everything had its meaning only in the whole, in the accumulation, within the frame of a continuing life, and now it was all turning to dust before me.
“Life itself, while it continues, can be that same oval, or after death, the thread of life running through the tale of what has been. The meek contents of her apartment, feeling themselves to be redundant, immediately began to lose their human qualities and, in doing so, ceased to remember or to mean anything.
“Notebooks are an essential daily activity for a certain type of person, loose-woven mesh on which they hang their clinging faith in reality and its continuing nature. Such texts have only one reader in mind, but this reader is utterly implicated. Break open a notebook at any point and be reminded of your own reality, because a notebook is a series of proofs that life has continuity and history, and (this is most important) that any point in your own past is still within your reach. Sontag’s notebooks are filled with such proofs: lists of films she has seen, books she has read, words that have charmed her,”

I guess I’m in good company.

“Like a fridge, or as it was once called, an icehouse, a place where the fast-corrupting memory-product can be stored, […]”
“There is something faintly displeasing, if only in the excess of material, and I say this precisely because I am of the same disposition, and far too often my working notes seem to me to be heaped deadweight: ballast I would dearly love to be rid of, but what would be left of me then?
“[…] this living space is Borges’s Aleph, a “monstrous allegory of truth,” a gristly mass of crude fact and versions that never attained the clean order of history.
“And I wondered why they were doing it, and hadn’t yet realized that a list creates the illusion of possession: the exhibition would pass and dissolve in the air, but the piece of paper held the order of sculptures and pictures, as freshly as when they first saw them, long after the actual images had faded.”
“Lovely sunny morning, not the rain promised. Had coffee with condensed milk and went out around 11. Crowds everywhere. Sat for a long time, until 1:00 p.m., by the pond, looked at the grass, the trees and the sky, sang, felt very well in myself. People were out walking their dogs along the paths, and pushing babies in strollers, and lots of parties of youngsters in their swimsuits, relaxing and having fun. Managed to pay without standing in line, bought cream cheese. Strolled home. New school has a beautiful border. Tall plumes of bedstraw and wild rose. Just perfect! On the way home saw some boys playing in an abandoned old car. They had a plastic bottle stuffed full of seed pods. Apparently they’re edible.”

I honestly read this in my late mother’s voice, in my head. She wrote and spoke exactly like this.

“On July 17, 2005 she wrote: Sima rang this morning. I got down the photo album afterward. Shook all the photos out and spent a long while looking at them. I didn’t want to eat, and looking at the photos gave me such a feeling of melancholy, tears, real sadness for the times passed, and for those who aren’t with us anymore. This pointless life of mine, a life lived for nothing, the emptiness in my soul … I wanted to lose myself, forget it all. I went back to bed and slept for the rest of the day, strange, can’t think how I could have slept so long, didn’t get up till the evening, till 8:00 p.m. Drank some milk, closed the curtains and lay down, and again this sleep to transport me away from reality. Sleep is my salvation.
“Nabokov writes about existence as “but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness”—well, this quiet little provincial town, of little interest to anyone, became over the years that first dark eternity in the collective memory of our family.
“Whatever stood behind this, swaying and rustling, was in no hurry to show itself, and perhaps didn’t intend to show itself at all.”
“By now the sky was dazzling, the clouds formed a mountain ridge across the horizon, and a skin-pink light glowed under the crazed white facade of the buildings.”


So Empty by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“I declined, as I could not see the point in it. That was not really Jerry Lee Lewis, but a ghost of him, a phantom still haunting our world only because death had neglectfully passed him by. He was then, by my current calculation, 53 years old.”
“In the same documentary Cave himself offers up similar reflections on one of Nina Simone’s final performances. Having been called on to introduce her at some festival, Cave reports wincing when the grande dame flopped down onto the piano bench looking exhausted before she even began playing, only to find that soon enough, in her natural element, she moved into a mode in which she could simply, categorically, do no wrong.
“Whether or not this is so, it is plain that we are a world away here from the late-period greatness of Beethoven or Thomas Mann. Their enduring genius was wrapped up in their ability to continue doing what they once did, but even more excellently. The Killer’s failed effort to mount the piano, by contrast, testifies to his greatness not because he at least got part way before giving up the effort, but because his failure mirrored his successful mounting of decades before, and reminded us, in its non-happening, of who he was.”
“I have always avoided writing about the music I care about, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Perhaps I wanted to cultivate an image more like Edward Said’s —worldly, refined, well-tailored— when in fact the mirror shows me to be something much closer to Lester Bangs. But I would like to let my own late-ish style be unashamed. Let the low and sinful things that made me who I am come out and have their late day.

I have never tried to hide behind erudition. I’d rather just be me, enjoying and writing what I want. Let the chips of judgment fall where they may. I probably won’t even notice.

“I can recall first hearing Licensed to Ill in 1986, and somehow, on that same occasion, learning that one of the lads had a father named Israel Horovitz, who wrote plays and was friends with Václav Havel. From the point of view of a white American who grew up with Hee Haw on in the background, and who rode to school in the back of a pick-up truck with a Bocephus sticker in the window, driven by a girl whose brother was in the Klan, the conditions under which Ad-Rock had to fight for his right to party were surely more foreign than those faced by, say, a young Eazy-E. To fail to see this is precisely the famous “narcissism of minor differences” identified by Freud, which phrase pretty much encapsulates the entire history of racial strife in the United States from Abolition onward.
“[…] the itinerant entertainer mentioned in Quintilian’s first-century-CE Institutio oratoria, who can toss a chick pea through the eye of a needle at a great distance. Quintilian describes this feat as an instance of mataiotekhnia, which “imitates art pointlessly, with no intrinsic quality of good or bad”.
“What’s more, I acknowledge there is always something painfully forced about rap lyrics presented, in written form, as poetry. What we are in fact seeing is only a trace of something that in its proper artistic expression is intrinsically oral.

Philosophy & Sociology

Book Review: Fussell On Class by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

Paul Fussell will have none of it. He believes America has one of the most hypertrophied class systems in the world, that its formal equality has left a niche that an informal class system expanded to fill − and expanded, and expanded, until it surpassed the more-legible systems of Europe and became its own sort of homegrown monstrosity.”
“There are many things to dislike about cruise ships. But when you notice that every time you talk about tourism, someone goes on at great length about how they could never take a cruise and how they can’t understand how someone could enjoy such a cookie-cutter style of vacation, it becomes relevant that Fussell describes cruises as the working-class vacation par excellence and griping about them as a popular form of middle-class signaling.

They are also a climatologically catastrophic trap. I enjoyed my cruise with the family. I will probably never go another cruise again, but for entirely new reasons that are likely to resonate with my family, as well. Camping is the place where it’s at for the working class.

“The middle classes are salaried professionals, starting with the upper-middle class. Jeff Bezos, for all his billions, is only upper-middle-class at best. So are many of the other people you think of as rich and famous and successful. The upper-middle-class likes New England, Old England, yachts, education, good grammar, yachts, chastity, androgyny, the classics, the humanities, and did I mention yachts?
“Fussell says that “having a university degree” used to be a good signal of being in the middle class, but that around 1960, various places that would have previously called themselves colleges, training schools, and vocational schools rebranded as universities. This had a big effect on the number of people in the demographic category called “people with university degrees” and no effect on the underlying class structure or on anyone’s ability to get ahead. From a class perspective, he recommends considering the top few dozen universities “real universities”, and every other “university” a scam that promises its graduates the cultural cachet of a university degree but won’t actually deliver.”
“Back in 1983, Fussell would have seen someone wearing a hoodie and comfortable jeans to work and gone into raptures about how alive and nonconformist they were. Today it just means they’re performing class successfully.
The Simpsons were a prole family who absolutely seemed rich enough to take frequent cruises and maybe even save up for a yacht if they got lucky. This puts the recent rise in wealth inequality in a new and starker light than I’d thought about much before.”

Technology

Google Analytics: Stop feeding the beast by Caspar

“Google is an advertising platform. Everything it does, all of its products, are geared towards selling advertising. Most of its products are free, many of them are useful, and a few are even great. But they all exist to suck up more data so that it can become even better at selling advertising.
“Many of Google’s products have an absolutely staggering market share. Google has nine products with more than one billion users each. Google Chrome is the most popular web browser with a market share of 64%. Google’s Android is the most popular operating system on mobile devices with a market share of 72%. Google’s products are being used by most internet connected humans on earth.”
“The result of all this is that Google’s revenue is eye-wateringly massive: around 180 billion USD in 2020, which is around the GDP of New Zealand. Now consider that only four years ago, Google’s revenue was 90 billion USD, which means that the revenue doubled in 4 years.”
“Google’s success is good for Google and its shareholders. It’s not good for us, the consumers. We live in a world where local news is either stone dead or barely surviving. As we have learned in the past few years, a functioning media is essential to democracy.”

Not in Switzerland. We have an excellent state news service, SRF (with French and Italian versions as well). I get two newspapers a week, one for the greater region (but not the whole canton) and one really local one (like beaver-found-living-in-local-lake style).

“Online news articles are a hideous cluster-fuck of click-baiting headlines, cookie banners, privacy nightmares and top heavy with advertising and it’s mostly Google’s fault. Producers of news are desperately wringing every last pathetic drop of profit from their content.

Again, not in a bunch of news sites In Switzterland. SRF has no ads on its TV channel or web site. I feel bad for people who have to use the web on mobile. It is truly awful, compared to the desktop experience.

““For many years, the astonishing torrent of money thrown off by Google’s Web-search monopoly has fueled invasions of multiple other segments, enabling Google to bat aside rivals who might have brought better experiences to billions of lives.

This seems a bit hyperbolic to me. It’s not clear that Google’s doing a bad job with its services. In some cases, the products are desperately lacking in usability and, in some cases, features, but they often do make them better. On the other hand, sometimes they just kill them, and then not only is the original competitor gone, but Google’s replacement is gone, and the whole market is extinct.

YouTube Music is an example of a UI that barely covers the “listen to as a radio, letting the algorithm choose everything for you” use case—which is a definite step down from Google Play Music for me.