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Links and Notes for June 25th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.

Table of Contents

COVID-19

Why Has “Ivermectin” Become a Dirty Word? by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“With the world desperate for news about an unprecedented disaster, Silicon Valley had essentially decided to disallow discussion of a potential solution — disallow calls for more research and more study — because not enough research and study had been done. Once, people weren’t allowed to take drugs before they got FDA approval. Now, they can’t talk about them.
““I want to try to be respectful because I think the intention is correct,” Kory told the committee. “They want to cut down on misinformation, and many doctors are claiming X, Y, and Z work in this disease. The challenge is, you’re also silencing those of us who are expert, reasoned, researched, and extremely knowledgeable.” Eight million people watched Kory say that on the C-SPAN video of the hearing posted to YouTube, but YouTube, in what appears to be a first, removed video of the hearing, as even Senate testimony was now deemed too dangerous for public consumption.
“Within months, researchers at Oxford released the results of a large-scale, randomized, controlled study called the “RECOVERY trial,” which found that steroids were highly effective for patients with severe and critical Covid-19. By September, the WHO issued a new guidance with a “strong” recommendation for steroid use for such patients. “We were criticized,” Kory says now. “But it became the standard of care.”
“Ivermectin was an alluring possibility, Hill said, because a course of treatment in third world countries costs just $1-$2, and though the available studies were nearly all small — between 100 and 500 subjects — there were some very attractive results. Overall, though, there wasn’t enough data to make a WHO recommendation.”
“Still, the issue with most of the early studies wasn’t that they showed negative results, so much as insufficient or ambiguous data. The overall take was promising, but not definitive.
“Kory says he regrets using the world “miraculous,” that “the descriptor made me seem uncredible and sensationalizing.” He wonders if “some slight moderation would have been more ‘palatable’ for the censors,”

Well, yeah. You have to make it easier to differentiate yourself from the kooks. You have evidence and a gut feeling that more evidence is forthcoming. But you don’t have it yet. So you have to tread lightly. You have to use a tone appropriate to the available evidence or you won’t be taken seriously.

“Arguments about the efficacy of mask use or ventilators, or the viability of repurposed drugs like hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, or even the pandemic’s origins, were quashed from the jump in the American commercial press, which committed itself to a regime of simplified insta-takes made opposite to Donald Trump’s comments. With a few exceptions, Internet censors generally tracked with this conventional wisdom, which had the effect of moving conspiracy theories and real scientific debates alike far underground.
“Hazan doesn’t necessarily believe ivermectin is a miracle cure by itself — “I’m not sure just ivermectin is going to do the trick” — but she’s adamant that censorship and interference by both the media and politicians is “ruining science.” Like many of the doctors who’ve been censured for discussing the topic, she believes Internet carriers and politicians alike have a fundamental misunderstanding of how medicine works. “All science, all medicine, is a hypothesis,” she says. “Until you have a valid, verifiable, reproducible cure, it’s all hypothesis. You need humility about what you don’t know. It’s like Einstein said: if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.”
“YouTube’s policy is elaborately thought out. At least in theory, it doesn’t simply zap anyone who mentions ivermectin. It does, however, require that any discussion in favor of the drug include disclaimers that either refutes those positive claims or outlines official guidelines on the subject. In essence, >YouTube is making the FDA’s current position a mandatory element of any public discussion.
“Ivermectin may never be proven effective as a Covid-19 treatment, but its story has already appeared as a powerful metaphor of the Internet’s transformation. Once envisioned as a vast democratizing tool, which would massively raise global knowledge levels by allowing instant cross-global communication between all people, it’s morphed instead into a giant unaccountable bureaucracy for suppressing dialogue, run by people with an authoritarian vision for information flow.
“Many ivermectin advocates believe discussion of the drug is being suppressed because of its status as a threat to a billion-dollar vaccine business, but it’s just as likely that its reputation worldwide as a “populist” treatment, a medicine taken by people not waiting for official validation, has made it a target of censors and pundits alike.”

Economy & Finance

Titanium Got Crushed by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“The next step is to separate this theory entirely from cash flows, companies, etc. Just like: “We have issued shares of nothing, and as long as people continue to buy those shares of nothing at some positive price, our debt will always be money-good.”
“In the case of IRON, which receives its collateral backing from TITAN, users may mint new stablecoins through a mechanism on Iron Finance’s network by locking up 25% in TITAN and 75% in USDC. Due to how the tokenomics of this particular DeFi project functions, when new IRON stablecoins are minted, the demand for TITAN increases, driving up its price. Conversely, when the price of TITAN falls dramatically, as was the case on Wednesday evening, the peg becomes unstable.
“In turn, as TITAN began to fall in dramatic fashion so did the pegged value of IRON. As whale dumps further decreased the value of IRON, it triggered the stablecoin’s mechanism that mints TITAN and removes liquidity in a bid to stabilize IRON to $1. This caused an arbitrage opportunity in the difference in price of IRON and TITAN, which in turn flooded the market with even more TITAN tokens adding additional sell pressure and destabilizing IRON’s price even further.”
“If the price of IRON goes down from $1 (good) to $0.95 (bad), you just issue some TITAN (worth $65) to buy some IRON until it’s worth $1 again. And if IRON keeps going down, you just issue some more TITAN (worth $60) and buy more. And if IRON keeps going down … [you can fill in some more iterations here] … you just keep issuing TITAN (worth $0.000000035) and at that point you’re not accomplishing much. If you could sell 286 trillion TITAN at $0.000000035 each you’d raise $10 million. That’s probably hard. There are 285 million IRON (formerly worth $1) outstanding.”
“The core of an algorithmic stablecoin is that you have some other token that is not meant to be stable, but that is meant to support the stablecoin by being arbitrarily issuable. It doesn’t matter if Titanium is worth $65 or $0.65, as long as you can always issue a few million dollars’ worth of it. But you can’t, not always, and that does matter.
“Polluting or being racist or whatever might be bad, they might attract negative attention from various stakeholders (customers, employees, regulators, BlackRock), but they were not conceived of as things that would attract negative attention from activist hedge funds. Activist hedge funds were busy pushing for stock buybacks.

Maybe this is the only way of getting something useful done in our madhouse of feudal, infinite-growth, brainwashed, propaganda-fueled, woke-frenzied capitalism. Convince/brainwash the deluded morons with money running hedge funds that climate-change is important. Or maybe just get the inherited-wealth doofuses to break everything for us, unwittingly ripping the carpet out from under their own feet.

“Basically the mortgage prepayment option is valuable, but actual homeowners do not always exercise it optimally. If you are a mortgage servicer and you can exercise the homeowner’s prepayment option for them — by buying back their mortgage at par and then selling it again at its market value — then that’s a good trade.
“The company said it was planning NFT auctions for its other toy brands. “Mattel is creating a new way for innovation and artistry to converge in the toy space and will continue to express its brands in the NFT format,” it said in a statement.”

What a load of horseshit. More like: “morons with a lot of money are throwing it away and we think we can convince them to throw some in our direction by dangling this shiny bauble in front of their noses.


We’ve Seen This Movie Before: Predictions of Economic Disaster by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

“If we were to see a similar collapse in asset prices today it would have no comparable impact on the real economy. If the roughly $1 trillion market capitalization in the digital currency market went to zero tomorrow, how would that affect the real economy? Some Bitcoin millionaires and billionaires would be very unhappy, but so what? There would be no economy-wide plunge in consumption. The same is true with asset prices in other markets. Could this tank some banks that made bad loans? Sure, that’s what markets are for. Companies that are not competent are supposed to go out of business. The idea that this will create some financial crisis where we can’t undertake normal business transactions has zero foundation in reality.


Don’t Pay Gambling Debts By Insider Trading by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“But how did Greensill get the insurance? Presumably it got the insurance the same way it did everything else: It created at least a vague impression in the mind of its insurer that it was actually doing short-term receivables finance. But what did the contract actually say? Did it say “insurer will insure any loans against actual invoices,” or did it say “insurer will insure any loans that we make as long as we say the word ‘receivables,’ possibly in connection with the word ‘prospective’ or ‘future’”?
“So, first of all, the Federal Reserve absolutely does issue its own digital currency, which is called “the U.S. dollar” and which consists of entries on computer ledgers. And consumers absolutely do get the benefits of a stablecoin without the risk of a crypto exchange losing all of their money: They can keep digital U.S. dollars in an online bank account, and pay for goods and services electronically with credit cards or ACH transfers or Venmo, and the dollars in the bank account are always worth a dollar and are insured by the FDIC. Also you can actually use them to pay for goods and services, which is a lot more than you can say for Tether.”
“The way a stablecoin works is that it takes $100 of deposits and invests $100 in whatever it wants; there is no capital requirement because (1) it is not a bank and (2) freedom, etc. If its $100 of assets turn out to be worth $95, the stablecoin holders eat the loss.
“But I think of stablecoins as sort of the lobby of the casino that is crypto speculation, and I assume that the main use of Tether is to take a quick break from betting on Bitcoin without actually leaving the casino: As cryptocurrency trading has exploded, so has the use of stablecoins. Right now, investors primarily use stablecoins as a place to park money on cryptocurrency exchanges without having to transfer cash back to their bank accounts.
“[…] look, if the casino gets robbed, and you are chilling in the lobby, you’re gonna get robbed too. Obviously you’ll be sad about getting robbed. You came to gamble, maybe to get rich or else to have fun losing your money, and getting robbed does not satisfy either of those desires. But it could be worse. You were … at the casino? You were mentally prepared to lose that money anyway.
“If you want to put your money somewhere safe for crypto, there are stablecoins, and if any of them go bust then that is a brief distraction from the crypto exchanges losing their customers’ money in other ways.
“If a bunch of gamblers are putting their fun money into X because it is a convenient tool for their gambling, then you probably shouldn’t worry too much about the financial-stability implications of X, even if it promises to always be worth a dollar, even if it is lying.”
“Or do you double down and put out a report like “we will increase our short position to 120% of the shares outstanding because we love trading phantom counterfeit shares and there’s nothing Reddit can do about it, nyah nyah nyah,” and hope that that’s enough to get some meme-stock attention?”


Lordstown’s Electric-Truck Orders Were Vague by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Ex ante, no one goes to investors and says “there are like 12 electric-vehicle companies, and maybe three of them will work out, and we are not one of those, we are going to take all your money and noodle around for a while and then shrug and give up.” They all say that they will succeed! Because they all plan to succeed! They all say “the total addressable market for electric vehicles is one kajillion dollars and we will get 90% of it.” And if you add up all of their projected market shares you get, you know, 1,000% or whatever. And somebody — almost everybody — is wrong.”
“In a broad benchmark of U.S. stocks known as the Russell 3000 Index, there are 726 companies whose earnings don’t cover their interest payments, a red flag to pros, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. These zombies are up an average of 30% in 2021 – trouncing the 13% return for the whole index – and 41 of them have doubled since New Year’s Eve.”
“The corporate-finance opportunity set has been dramatically expanded, but not in … like … business-y ways? Raising a ton of money at a price unrelated to fundamental value is just a better corporate finance move than increasing your fundamental value would be. It is hard to know what to do about that. Which is why there need to be new textbooks.”
“Basically the trade was (1) long stock plus (2) short out-of-the-money calls. Buying the stock gives you exposure to the upside; selling the calls caps your upside — but at $40, and what were the odds of AMC going to $40? — and cheapens the position. Good, fine. But then Mudrick … sold the stock and … did not close out the short calls?

Public Policy & Politics

Biden, China and the New Cold War by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

Unfortunately, people in the United States (including reporter-type people) tend to have little knowledge of history. Many have no first-hand knowledge of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and have not done much reading to make up for this deficiency. In fact, they also don’t seem to have much knowledge of the Iraq War, which is probably the better place to start here.”
“They had a very good case on this one. Hussein routinely imprisoned or executed political opponents or critics. He had invaded two of his neighbors (Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990) and he persecuted domestic minorities within Iraq, most notably the Kurds and Shite population.”

Dude, you’ve got to mention that Hussein was fighting a proxy war for the U.S. against Iran. You can’t just throw out that “Iraq invaded Iran” as justification for the U.S. being incensed at Iraq’s behavior without even mentioning that Iraq would never have invaded (or tried to invade) Iran without massive financial, military, and moral support from the U.S.

“[…] the Hussein as bad guy story is important for our current policy toward China. We can point to the country’s repressive measures against internal dissidents. We can also point to the repression directed towards its Uighur population in Western China, as well as its belligerence towards its neighbors in making claims on territorial waters. These and other actions can be used to show that China is far from a model democracy that respects the rights of its own citizens, as well as international law.
The question from the standpoint of U.S. policy is how any of our actions can be expected to improve the situation. Specifically, if we adopt a confrontational stance towards China, involving economic measures and a beefed-up military presence in the region, is there reason to believe that the country will improve its behavior in the areas that we care about?”
“It is also worth noting in this respect that China was hardly a model of human rights and democracy when the Clinton administration pushed to have it admitted to the WTO at the end of the 1990s. At the time, anyone who raised human rights and labor issues as a reason not to further open trade with China was denounced as a Neanderthal protectionist. We were told that somehow, by buying clothes shoes and other items produced with low cost Chinese labor, we would turn the country into a liberal democracy. Guess that claim is no longer operative.”
The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act required unions to force all officers to sign affidavits saying that they were not communists in order to be eligible for recognition through a National Labor Relations Board certified election. Many of the most committed labor organizers were in fact members of the Communist Party, so they were thrown out of labor movement if they refused to sign this pledge. In other cases, committed organizers refused to go along with this demand even if they were not themselves actually party members.”
“If the goal of arms race is to spend China into the ground, it is more likely we would spend ourselves into the ground. The burden of a major arms buildup would be much greater on the U.S. than China, although just like in the first Cold War, it would make lots of military contractors rich.
“Unfortunately, this bill looks like the funding will follow the model of Moderna. The government puts up the money and takes the risk, while private corporations will be able to gain patent and copyright monopolies, which will allow them to garner a disproportionate share of the gains. In a context where we are supposed to be concerned about the distribution of income, this looks like a huge step in the wrong direction.”
“In 1990, more than 20 percent of workers in manufacturing were unionized. In 2020, just 8.5 percent of workers in manufacturing were unionized. That is only slightly higher than the 6.3 percent average for the private sector as a whole.”
“The historic link between manufacturing jobs and unions has largely disappeared, and there is not an obvious reason to put any special effort into bringing it back. We want jobs to be union jobs, in every sector of the economy. When manufacturing disproportionately had union jobs, increasing manufacturing jobs might have meant increasing union jobs. This is no longer true.”
“we should look to cooperate with China in the areas where it will provide both countries with clear benefits. The most obvious areas for such cooperation are health care and climate change. Both countries, and in fact the whole world, would benefit from the sharing of technology in these areas. We would all benefit from having new technology in health care and clean energy distributed as quickly and widely as possible.
“Top researchers should be well-paid, but there is no reason to believe that they need to be motivated by payoffs in the tens or hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.”
Our resources will be far better used on fighting climate change and disease than on trying to intimidate China militarily. And, if we adopt policies that almost seemed as though they are designed to redistribute income upwards, we should not be surprised that we end up with more inequality.”


No, the Capitol Riot Was Not a Dress Rehearsal for a Coup d’Etat by Steve Brown (CounterPunch)

If there really is a cabal plotting to take down the U.S. Government (and I believe there is, perhaps even several), its leaders must surely be cursing the buffoonish Trump — and his even more buffoonish court jester Rudy Giuliani — for urging those thousands of clueless clowns to besiege and befoul the Capitol on January 6.”


My thoughts on Russian culture by Evgenia Kovda (SubStack)

“What is interesting is that the people who are in power — the Putin clan types that most of Russia’s creative class viciously opposes — have the same exact cultural values. Because they are liberals, too. And it’s the hardest thing to explain to someone who is not Russian. The difference between the Putin’s power clique and the opposition that’s now represented by Alexei Navalny is rather minimal. It is not even cultural really — not everyone in the Kremlin is some brutish goon in a gold plated armchair, as they are often portrayed. It’s one clan against the other. The liberal clan is a bit more technocratic and has more Western MBAs under their belts.

This isn’t actually all that difficult to understand. England and the U.S. both have political parties that claim to be polar opposites, but are not, upon inspection.


How the Chinese Communist Party Can Bring America Together by Grayson Slover (Arc Digital)

“China has the most abysmal human rights record of any regime in the world today. Even when we exclude the era of Mao Zedong—who during his 27 years leading the PRC as Chairman (1949-1976) probably became the most murderous man in human history—the list of the CCP’s human rights violations is unparalleled, ranging from imprisoning a record number of journalists to systemic forced labor and organ harvesting of dissidents, and, most recently, the ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs in China’s far-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, also known as East Turkestan.”

Hey, neat. This is obviously true, right? America’s eradication of Native Americans isn’t a thing we talk about, right? Japanese internment camps? Prisons? No? The U.S. has forced labor and the largest prison population in the world, for which the Constitution has a explicit loophole allowing us to use them as slaves. No bad incentive there. Vietnam? Korea? South and Central America? Most of the Middle East? No? Those aren’t human-rights violations because American did them for good reasons. It’s not America’s fault that its subjects can’t follow orders.

“[…] China is the only country that threatens to serve as a peer competitor to the U.S. as a world superpower. And, crucially, China is the only existing threat to the American-created international order based on the broad ideal of liberal democracy.

“In no uncertain terms, China is seeking to reshape the world in its image. In place of the present system based on rules and norms that are (in principle) equally applicable to all nations, China is intent on creating a hierarchical system in which Chinese power alone dictates international relations. As Michael Schuman explains in his book Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, a central piece in President Xi Jinping’s plan for China’s national rejuvenation is “reviving the traditional Chinese system of foreign relations,” a system in which all other nations were vassals to China, and specifically to China’s emperor, the “Son of Heaven,” who possessed the divine right to rule “all under Heaven.” Schuman explicitly connects this system to the present day:

“The glory of Chinese civilization was to extend over “all under Heaven”—the entire civilized world. In the old days, limitations of technology and transport realistically limited the extent of China’s reach. Now, in the age of jumbo jets and instant messaging apps, the Chinese world order can literally go global. Xi has embraced this rejuvenated, expansive vision of China’s position within “all under Heaven.” The Chinese emperors never accepted other peoples as equals, and Xi sees no good reason to start doing so today.

“The implications of China’s campaign for world domination are fairly straightforward when it comes to international trade and American military projection. But it also threatens the liberal conception of human rights that has been the basis for the international order for almost a century.”

This is the purest projection. Replace the word China with United States and it describes the current world. The U.S. already treats all nations as vassals. It doesn’t want to even consider an equal, to say nothing of a partner that might have the upper hand in a thing or two. That’s why the U.S. can only respond militarily. It can’t compete at the game for which it wrote all the rules. It’s cheating and still losing—and that makes it very mad.

“Using the America versus China comparison more frequently in our discussions on human rights will help to remind us that the values we share with our political opponents—by virtue of us being Americans—remain more substantial than we think.”

What an utter load of hogwash. The U.S. doesn’t have a moral leg to stand on. It’s so sad that this American exceptionalism propaganda still rules so much of the discourse. It’s only going to end in tears.

Journalism & Media

Has the Media’s Russiagate Reckoning Finally Begun? by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“In the first years of Trump’s presidency, the DIP acted as an ongoing oppo campaign, sending a daily news summary to reporters and congressional staffers alike, who pushed Trump-Russia themes and talking points to “generate more coverage,” leading to a vicious cycle. Politicians hired oppo merchants, who fed “research” to reporters, whose stories were hyped by more politicians, whose comments were reported on even more, a giant amplification machine with a terminal error built in. With Trump as the target, politicians were all too glad to let reporters go out over their skis factually, and reporters were (mostly) happy to print whatever they could reasonably attribute to a reputable source.
“Moreover it uses the Fusion/Steele case to flesh out a serious new structural weakness in the informational arena. In a media world where the demand for content is basically bottomless, and a political atmosphere where the stakes are high enough that factual problems are routinely ignored, a well-enough funded oppo operation can keep even the clumsiest of lies alive on the front pages in perpetuity.

“When you set the dossier story aside, and I don’t know what your experience is on this, but my dealings with these types of firms is pretty limited. I have to say that the stories that they’re shopping by and large are kind of one day wonders. It’s like a quick hit on somebody that their client wants to muddy up or embarrass, or whatever the hell it is. I guess there’s probably a good reason to say, “Why the fuck do we need to do any of this? Whose interest is being served? Is the reader really being served? Is the viewer really being served?”

“TK: In other words, “Why do we even need to deal with these kinds of organizations at all?”

“TK: Is that a generational thing? Because a lot of reporters who came up before, they say the same thing: on the night before you publish something, you have that knot in your chest, because you’re terrified you got something wrong.

“Barry Meier: Yeah, you wake up in the middle of the night, you call the copy desk. You’re changing all over here and there because you’re freaking out. Yes. I don’t know. I hate to think it’s a generational thing, I really do. That would worry me, if I thought it was a generational thing. Our profession attracts all kinds of people, and there are people that care. There are people that pretend to care or think they care, and there are people that dodge bullets for a very long time.”

Programming

What does First Normal Form actually mean? by Galimatias (ghost)

“But Codd realized the data model and query language can be significantly simplified if nested relations are eliminated. He suggest[ed] a process of normalization where nested relations are converted to stand-alone relations which references the parent row through foreign keys rather than through containment.”
The dominant database model in the age before the relational model was the hierarchical database model. In the hierarchical model a record can contain sets of child records – called repeating groups or table-valued attributes.
“This definition hinge[s] on the very vague notion of “essentially the same”. I don’t think the above explanation make any logical sense − January salary and February salary are obviously different things.”

Agreed. It’s possibly poor design, but maybe not. Maybe a join would be worse. The target domain here is not open-ended. Instead, it’s a maximum of 12 columns. If the value were per month and year, then it would be bad design to use columns but still not a violation of the first normal form (because that’s impossible in a pure SQL database). I think Postgres actually supports nesting, though. At the very least, they have arrays of tuples as a domain for relations. It would be a violation of the second normal form, though, I think.

“The above table is obviously invalid because the primary key is not unique, but “repeating groups of data” is not in itself a 1NF violation. 1NF is not concerned about values only about types. (The above table would probably be a violation of third normal form though.)”
“Codd shows a straightforward process to eliminating nested relations: You convert nested relations into a top-level relation and then add a foreign key referring to the “parent row” where it was extracted from. (This of course requires all tables to have a primary key − having a primary key is a necessary precondition for no[r]malization)”
“Some explanations define 1NF as having a primary key. This is a rather benign misunderstanding since it will not cause anyone to make bad design decisions. But technically it is incorrect. Having a primary key is a prerequisite for normalizing to first normal form.”