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Links and Notes for July 16th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

PPE is an environmental disaster – is there an alternative? by Nick Ferris (New Statesman)

The emissions impact of the manufacture and transportation of this equipment is around 500,000 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the emissions of 850,000 flights from London to New York. This figure is reached by multiplying each kind of PPE by its average carbon impact, as set out by researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.”
“An estimated 65 billion gloves and 129 billion face masks are required to protect citizens worldwide every month. Or to look at it another way: global sales of disposable face masks soared from $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020.
“Demand for PPE has been accompanied by a relaxation of plastic restrictions. Fears over reusable items carrying the disease have encouraged the use of previously frowned-upon single-use products like grocery bags and coffee cups. Countries including the UK, France, Canada, China and India withdrew or postponed plastic bans. Plastic was the only sector of the US chemical industry – which includes everything from paints to fertilisers – that grew last year.
“[…] given the massive threat to human life posed by Covid, even the most ardent environmentalist would surely give ground to some increased plastic waste. But a shifting view of plastic, from something that is a danger to the planet to something that is “safe and hygienic”, risks halting decades of hard-won progress in tackling plastic pollution.
“For Viliani, the only way to ensure that medical emergencies can be dealt with in a sustainable way is to prevent them from happening in the first place. “We shouldn’t be in the middle of a pandemic,” she says. “We have known about the importance of pandemic preparedness since Sars in 2000, then with avian flu, and swine flu in 2009. PPE is the very last line of defence: if all countries had been ready for a pandemic and not let it take over in the way that it has done, we would not be here.”


Delta Variant: Everything You Need to Know by Thomas Pueyo (Uncharted Territories)

This article is very good and includes the following graphic illustrating the different in number of cases to be expected with an R0 of 2.7 (original COVID-19 variant from March 2020) vs. R0 of 6 (the middle value of the estimated R0 of 4–9 for Delta). It should be quite clear that this is why things are jumping so much more quickly in this “wave”.

 Coronavirus Cases with R= 2.7 vs 6

“One way to tell is the viral load. The higher it is, the more the virus is present. In China, they estimated the viral load of Delta to be 1,000 times higher than that of the original variant.
“I haven’t talked about Long COVID yet, but it’s also something to consider. Without vaccines, about 1 in 8 infections will have Long COVID6. That said, if the protection is the same for Long COVID as for infection, hospitalization, or death, Long COVID would go down from ~15% of infections to ~1-4%. It also appears that vaccines can reduce Long COVID afterwards. It is something to keep in mind, but I’m not sure I would change any policy just because of Long COVID at this point. Deaths are enough to quantify the downside.
“If you’re not vaccinated though, this is a much more dangerous time than March 2020. The transmission rate is higher than it used to be, and if you catch Delta, you’re much more likely to die—or get Long COVID. You should be extra careful, only hang out with other vaccinated people, and avoid dangerous events.
So here each society needs to decide. Say 40% don’t want to vaccinate. Is the freedom of 40% to not vaccinate worth the deaths and Long COVID of those vaccinated? Otherwise, are you willing to force people to vaccinate? Are you going to keep the country closed until there’s a booster vaccine? Will you be able to get your fences and test-trace-isolate programs to work?”


Cuba sees largest protests in decades as economy deteriorates and COVID-19 pandemic worsens by Alexander Fangmann (WSWS)

“Just a few days later, Cuba saw a record 6,923 cases on Sunday, and 47 deaths, in a country of just under 11.2 million, with cases basically doubling over the previous week. Having seen only 12,200 cases in all of 2020, the island has now recorded over 232,000 so far in 2021, while deaths have risen from 146 to a total of 1,579. There are now over 32,000 active cases in the country.

Economy & Finance

Blockchain Lets You Bet on Stocks by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“A cash-settled swap is just a bet in which you pay me $1 for every dollar that Tesla stock goes up, and I pay you $1 for every dollar that Tesla stock goes down. We can say that I own Tesla “synthetically,” and you are short Tesla synthetically. This is a very popular product for investors who, for whatever reason, do not want to actually own stock. Archegos Capital Management is a famous recent example of a big investor that bought very concentrated positions in a lot of stock on swap. Part of the reason for this was probably that Archegos wanted to avoid the disclosure obligations that come with owning U.S. stocks directly.
“To oversimplify, under the Mirror Protocol, the idea is to keep prices of the synthetic – or “mirrored” – equities in the ballpark of the real thing by offering incentives for traders to arbitrage price discrepancies and manage the actual supply of tokens. Users can create, or “mint,” new tokens when prices are too high by posting collateral, and destroy, or “burn,” tokens when prices are too low, driving the price up or down.
“[…] in the long run you want your junior bankers and traders to be trained, at the office, by the senior bankers and traders, and it’s hard to do that if all of the senior people are at home all the time.”


Techno-Feudalism Is Taking Over by Yanis Varoufakis (Project Syndicate)

“While these radical transformations had momentous repercussions (the Great Depression, WWII, the Great Recession, and the post-2009 Long Stagnation), they did not alter capitalism’s main feature: a system driven by private profit and rents extracted through some market. Yes, the transition from Smithian to oligopoly capitalism boosted profits inordinately and allowed conglomerates to use their massive market power (that is, their newfound freedom from competition) to extract large rents from consumers. Yes, Wall Street extracted rents from society by market-based forms of daylight robbery.”
Today, the global economy is powered by the constant generation of central bank money, not by private profit. Meanwhile, value extraction has increasingly shifted away from markets and onto digital platforms, like Facebook and Amazon, which no longer operate like oligopolistic firms, but rather like private fiefdoms or estates.”
“But while capitalism may end with a whimper, the bang may soon follow. If those on the receiving end of techno-feudal exploitation and mind-numbing inequality find a collective voice, it is bound to be very loud.


Someone Is Going to Drill the Oil by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

One thing to notice is that both of these stories are essentially behavioral. They purport to identify inefficiencies in the market, ways to make above-market returns from other people’s irrationality or shortsightedness or non-economic preferences. The first story says: People have non-economic preferences for social responsibility, which makes socially irresponsible stocks cheap, so if I buy socially irresponsible stocks I will get an above-market return. The second story says: People are irrationally short-sighted about the long-term risk of socially irresponsible behavior, so if I buy socially responsible stocks I will get an above-market long-run return. In some sense both of these stories can’t really be true, but they both seem plausible. On the one hand we have decades of experience of people ignoring externalities and minimizing the effects of climate change, etc., which suggests the second story — “people irrationally minimize the long-run costs of social irresponsibility” — might be true. On the other hand, there are a lot of social-responsibility and environmental/social/governance investors right now, which suggests that the field might be a bit crowded and taking the other side of it might be lucrative.”
“Watching from a distance are people like Brian Gilvary, the head of Ineos Energy, an arm of the private UK chemicals company. As many energy companies try to shift from oil to gas and lower carbon technologies, Ineos is buying up unwanted fossil fuel assets. “We have an appetite to acquire,” says Gilvary, the former chief financial officer at UK energy major BP who joined Ineos in December. In March, the company announced it would acquire Hess Corporation’s oil and gas assets in Denmark for $150m.”

That’s the sponsor of the cycling team, in case you were wondering whether to root for them.

“The activists and government officials behind the campaigns believe they lead to reduced investment and production. But in the short term production could shift to private or state-owned companies which face much less scrutiny over their activities. Some of those new owners will use that relative obscurity to squeeze as much production as they can out of the oilfields they are acquiring without disclosing the environmental consequences.”
“Some stock shill sends out an email newsletter saying “buy Amalgamated Widgets because they are about to announce a breakthrough Covid cure,” and then Amalgamated Widgets stock goes up rapidly and then down rapidly again, and from the outside you can look at it and say “ah, people were tricked into thinking that Amalgamated Widgets had a Covid cure,” but the shill’s newsletter is titled Stock Shill Weekly and the only subscribers are people who want to play pump-and-dumps and nobody believes it, it’s just an excuse for everyone to play a gambling game where the loser is whoever gets out last.
“Nobody in this article thinks that they are investing in some productive enterprise and hoping to earn an attractive rate of return. Nobody thinks that Keanu Inu is the future of money and that they are contributing to innovation in payments systems. They all think they can “do 30 times or more” on some completely pointless gambling game, and if they lose, well, “it’s pretty much hit-or-miss wherever you go.” Let them take each other’s money, who cares.
Robinhood’s major innovation was building an app, and an economic model, that made it easy and pleasant for regular people to trade a lot. Perhaps that’s good! It does seem controversial.”
Robinhood reported 1.1 million options trades, 5.1 million stock trades, and 1.4 million cryptocurrency trades per day in the first quarter of 2021; for comparison, Charles Schwab Corp. reported 8.4 million daily trades in that period. Schwab has 31.9 million accounts with a total of $7 trillion of assets; Robinhood has 18 million accounts with $80.9 billion of assets.”


Owning Chinese Companies Is Complicated by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Then you list the Caymans company in the U.S., and people buy its stock, and they sort of pretend that they’re buying stock in the Chinese company — they sort of pretend that the Chinese company is a subsidiary of the Caymans holding company — even though really they’re only buying an empty shell that has certain contractual relationships with the Chinese company.
“A major problem in finance is that a lot of lawyers became lawyers because they did not like math, while a lot of bankers and traders became bankers and traders because they did not like to read. So lots of financial contracts will consist of 10 or 50 or 200 pages of text, which a lawyer will cheerfully write (or sullenly copy and paste, fine) but which her client will not read, and buried within those pages there will be like three formulas, which the lawyer will write and which might be wrong. The lawyer, who fears math, will write the formula wrong, and her client, who knows math but fears words, will not read it, and so the wrong formula will be enshrined in the contract. (It does not help that the formula will generally be written in words — it will look like a very long sentence rather than a formula — due mostly to typographical limitations. So it won’t look appealing to anybody.)”

That is pathetic, especially fifty years after Tex and LaTex were invented, both of which are more than adequately capable of dealing with formulae.

“This was plainly a mistake: It was not what anyone had agreed to; the formula written in the document did not reflect the economic deal that the parties understood. So Ligand corrected the document, and then some investors sued (you gotta try!), but they lost. You get to correct obvious mistakes, the judge decided.
“Two points here. One is that “honestly come on we live in a society” is a good bedrock principle of the common law; you certainly can’t rely on it to protect all of your interests — don’t go around signing contracts that you don’t mean! — but it tends to soften the blow of the most egregious cases. It is, however, a principle that requires human intervention and common sense; it is hard to automate. Smart contracts on the blockchain can’t solve this: If code is law, and the code is wrong, oops, you pay the $100 million.


Primer: The Eurodollar Market by Tim Purcell (Lykeion)

“So why was the entire banking system overbidding for paper that seemingly made up a small percentage of their overall profits? Because of the rise of the repo markets. Essentially, the banks were overbidding for USTs to use as collateral, because the repo market was so lucrative, but they needed collateral to run the operation. USTs are the most pristine collateral (US Gov’t never defaults (yet)), which is why banks were trying to get as much of it as they could, and by the 1990s it had become an enormously important part of the funding dynamic.”


The Meme Stocks Can’t Fail by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“One problem is that if your strategy depends on failing companies looking for expensive funding, the fact that failing companies are sometimes magically rescued by cheap capital from meme-stock investors can just seem unfair. You are in the business of charging companies large amounts of money for risky financing. To see a bunch of retail investors do it cheaply, as a hobby, is very frustrating.


Elon Musk Never Wanted to Be CEO by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“For another thing, “raising the cost of capital of high-carbon emitters” means increasing the returns on their stocks, which implicitly means ”our ESG fund will get a lower return than a non-ESG fund, because we hope to raise the returns of non-ESG stocks.” This answers the client’s question — ”how does this fund reduce emissions?” — but not necessarily in the way that the client wants to hear: “We reduce emissions by giving you a lower return on your investments.” You can see why the salesman might have been mad.

Public Policy & Politics

Innocence Lost: What Now To Make of Cosby? by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“On the factual side, there is a great deal of misinformation taken as gospel, that he confessed to rape during the civil depositions that gave rise to the reversal. He did not, insisting that sex was consensual. He admitted to giving Quaaludes to Barbara Constand, which is viewed as nefarious today as a date rape drug but might very well have been quite normal at the time, when ‘ludes were not an unusual drug for people to take and share. Times change and perceptions change with them. What people today see as irrefutable evil was nothing of the sort at the time it happened, but without that perspective, they can’t begin to imagine it being an innocent, if not quite normal and friendly, act. Drug etiquette was different years ago.”

“My point isn’t to absolve Cosby, but to promote the principle that gave rise to the “technical rule” in court of the presumption of innocence. The principle doesn’t exist because people are innocent, but because there is no tenable way for an accused for whom external proof doesn’t exist to prove innocence.

“We’re left with two choices. Either we choose to believe guilt, because that’s what we’re “entitled” to believe, or we’re left to suffer the presumption of innocence, even though everybody we know on the jury in the Court of Public Opinion believes otherwise. I choose the latter, not because it’s a rule in law but because of the principle upon which it rests.

I reject guilt by accusation and shifting the burden to the impossibility of compelling an accused to prove his innocence. I realize that many will see this as robbing them of their entitlement to decide from their armchairs who is guilty, but that’s the price I’m willing to endure for the presumption of innocence.”


Spare Us an Afghan Threequel, Joe: Don’t Get Pulled Back In! by Danny Sjursen (Antiwar.com)

“Some highlights of the inconvenient indicators that more of the American-same would prove a preposterous waste of blood, time, and treasure include:”
  1. More air strikes won’t ultimately matter. In 2019, the US dropped 7,423 bombs on Afghanistan – eight times as many as in 2015 – and still here we are, with the Taliban at the gates.
  2. The Kabul government lacks real legitimacy with many Afghans. Every one of the country’s four presidential elections was marred by obscene and verifiable fraud.
  3. The joint is a damn drug den. Despite spending at $9 billion trying to eradicate Afghanistan’s narcotics – especially heroin – trade, the country still accounts for 90 percent of the world’s illicit supply of opium-poppies. Between 2001 and 2018, the number of hectares of land devoted to the crop increased 32 times over.
  4. Corruption runs rampant among Kabul’s illegitimates, and the US was always part of the problem.


A Moving Account of Fighting Corporate Power by Chris Hedges (ScheerPost)

“As Kucinich discovered throughout his career, these corporate forces will deploy every weapon in their arsenal against those brave or foolish enough to defy them. “The Division of Light and Power”is destined to become a classic text for those who seek to understand the corporate coup d’etat that took place in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
“The rules were clear from the start. Serve the interests of big business and the city’s rich — by granting tax abatements, 99-year franchises, monopolies, and bond financing for big, often unnecessary multi-million dollar projects — and thrive. Defy those interests and face political oblivion.
I believe in the municipal ownership of these monopolies because if you do not own them, they will in time own you. They will corrupt your politics, rule your institutions and finally destroy your liberties.””
“When the war against him began in earnest, the press dutifully amplified the lies spun out by the public relations departments of the corporations against Kucinich. The city was saturated with constant news and editorials touting the benefits of privatizing the private utility, although customers with Muny Light had one of the lowest electric rates in the country.”


Social Media Platforms and the Dangers of Censorship Creep by Eugene Volokh (Reason)

It’s only human nature for people to think the worst of their adversaries’ views—including by labeling them hate speech or fake news or incitement—while giving their allies the benefit of the doubt.”

We may rightly worry what would happen if phone companies could block phone service to disfavored groups, even if we can’t predict the ideological mix of the groups that would be blocked, and even if we expect that it will just nip off some ideological advocacy here and there rather than broadly damaging any particular major political movement. Likewise for social media platforms.

“One reader suggested that Amazon Web Services may have been risking federal criminal liability for hosting incitement of violence by Parler users (which means Parler would have been, even more clearly). But I don’t think that’s so. Incitement liability turns on the defendant’s intent to produce a criminal act, Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105, 109 (1973); a hosting company would lack such an intent. The same is generally true of aiding and abetting. Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 65, 76 (2014). And conspiracy generally requires both an intent to further the underlying crime and an agreement to commit it. United States v. Williams, 974 F.3d 320, 369–70 (3d Cir. 2020). Some specialized statutes, such as the ban on “knowingly provid[ing] material support or resources” (including “communications equipment”) “to a foreign terrorist organization,” 18 U.S.C. § 2339B(a)(1), don’t require such an intention; and indeed both platforms and hosting companies may be required to block accounts used by designated foreign terrorist”


The podcast 1361: Kentucky opioid dialectics / Tarence Ray by This is Hell! (Apple Podcasts) was an excellent interview with one of the hosts of the Trillbilly Worker’s Party. The following excerpt is from 54:30,

“When you take opiods, you don’t want to go do crimes. This is why them trying to convince everybody that there was a crime wave, in retrospect, looks really funny and ridiculous. Because when you take opioids, you don’t want to go rob a bank; you want to sit at home and watch TV or go to sleep.

“[…] There is a reason why we consider alcohol to be fine, even though it ruins many people’s lives. […] And that’s OK, though. It’s legal. It’s fine. It’s OK to take it. But, opioids, which ruin just as many lives, probably, statistically, not nearly as many as alcohol, that’s not OK.

“And that hints at a social relation. There’s a mystification […] and fetishization process going on. […] None of these […] narratives of the epidemic take any of this into account. They just said: Big Pharma creates the pill, people take the pill, there’s mass social chaos. What’s going on? What do we mean by that? Why is there an opioid epidemic going on, but not an alcohol epidemic?

“Well, it’s pretty clear that it’s for the same reason that there was a crack epidemic in the 80s, but there’s wasn’t a cocaine epidemic. These are social processes. And they always go uninvestigated, though, in the larger narrative of how we talk about drugs, talk about the war on drugs, how we talk about people using them. And this feeds into, this lends itself to very reactionary causes.”


Nancy and Paul Pelosi Making Millions in Stock Trades in Companies She Actively Regulates by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Indeed, all five of the Pelosis’ most-traded stocks over the last two years just so happen to be the five Silicon Valley giants that would be most affected by pending legislation. Four of them — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google — were all of the companies identified by the House Antitrust Subcommittee as being classic monopolies, while the fifth — Microsoft — has sent executives to repeatedly testify before Democratic-led House committees to defend Democrats’ pending bills. In other words, the Pelosis are trading stock most heavily in the exact companies whose future can be most shaped by the bills Pelosi and her lieutenants are negotiating and shepherding through Congress […]”
“Just as was true when numerous Senators from both parties sold stocks in COVID-related industries before the pandemic began — raising questions about whether they had advance knowledge of what was coming through classified briefings — watching Nancy Pelosi’s wealth skyrocket by millions of dollars from trades in the very companies she is directly overseeing creates a sleazy appearance, to put that mildly.
“One would think that one of the richest people in America would be satisfied with that level of wealth — more than anyone could spend in a lifetime — and would decide that she and her husband simply refrain from trading stocks and trying to get richer while she occupies one of the most powerful political positions in the country. But at least when it comes to Nancy Pelosi, you would be wrong. She craves not only greater and greater public political power but also even greater and greater personal wealth, even if her pursuit of it further erodes faith and trust in the U.S. political system.


The Taliban’s Dramatic Military Victory by Ted Rall

“Not only did the Taliban win a protracted war against the world’s biggest superpower, that superpower is leaving them a brand-new nation built from the ground up. Twenty years ago, Afghanistan was a failed state with 14th century infrastructure. Roads, all unpaved, didn’t even have names. There was no electricity, no phones, no sewage, no running water. There wasn’t even a banking system.

The United States is leaving them $8 billion worth of roads and highways, a $1 billion power grid, dams, canals, levees, drainage systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, the Internet, you name it. 85% of the country’s population is covered by cellphone service; that’s not true of the Hamptons.

“We have gifted the Taliban $36 billion in infrastructure spending.”


Roaming Charges: The Cuba Fixation by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“Despite his climate change rhetoric, Biden’s Interior Department is on pace to equal or surpass the glory days of the George W. Bush administration when it comes to the approval of new oil drilling permits on public lands. By the end of the year, the Interior Department could issue close to 6,000 permits. The last time so many were issued was fiscal year 2008, during an oil boom propelled by crude prices that hit an all-time high of $140 per barrel.”
“Fires in California have burned over twice the acreage they had by this point last year. “We’re seeing fire activity that we would normally be seeing in September and October already,” said CalFire’s director Thom Porter.”

And 2020 was already a banner year for fires, the year we saw the “red sky”.

“Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki on Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin: “The United States is the first country to have private companies taking private individuals to space. This is a moment of American exceptionalism. That’s how we see it.”

I hate everything about that. I hate everything about this administration. They’re just as mealy-mouthed as any of the other administrations were. Every White House Press Secretary is a lying piece of shit, a terrible person without morals or principles, never willing to admit any mistake or concede a point. Jen Psaki is just the latest in a long line of mealy-mouthed majordomos.

“During the pandemic, more than 4,000 non-violent federal inmates were released from prison on home confinement. Then in the waning days of his administration, Trump cruelly signed an executive order requiring all of the released prisoners to be returned to their cells once the pandemic ended. Supposedly, the Biden administration “studied” the Trump order for months before finally deciding to let it stand and force the released inmates back into federal prisons, even though they’ve fully abided by the strict terms of their release.
“Health Reform as PR: Under new rules backed by both Trump and Biden and supported by 93% of Americans hospitals are required to post their prices online. But 94% of hospitals have simply ignored the rule because the fine is only $300 a day and there’s no one to enforce it anyway…”


Interview With Professor Adolph Reed by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“I’ll go to Lyndon Johnson on this. As he pointed out, the point of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was not to change people’s attitudes, it was to change their public behavior. And you’ve got a right to have whatever fucked-up attitude you have.”


The Pros and Cons of Bernie Sanders’ Bond with Joe Biden by Norman Solomon (Scheer Post)

“Baker added that Biden’s recent appointment of Lina Kahn to be the chair of the Federal Trade Commission “was a really big deal — she is probably the foremost progressive anti-trust scholar in the country.” Overall, what the Biden administration is doing runs the gamut from very good to very awful. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders — an extraordinary politician who has always worked in tandem with progressive movements — has landed in an exceptional position to shape history. He recently told an interviewer, “As somebody who wrote a book called ‘Outsider in the House,’ yes, it is a strange experience to be having that kind of influence that we have now.””


Three Cheers for Socialism by David Bentley Hart (Commonweal)

“Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions.
“[…] though we often speak as if the centralized state and corporate “free” enterprise were antagonists, they are in fact mutually sustaining. Global capital depends upon the state’s power, its diplomatic access to other nations and markets, the trade treaties it negotiates, and (if needed) its judicious deployments of terror.”
“Just as we Americans have succeeded in turning “Christianity” into another name for a system of values almost totally antithetical to those of the Gospel, I have every confidence that we will find a way to turn “socialism” into just another name for late-modern liberal individualism.


The United States Tries to Take Advantage of the Price Cubans are Paying for the Blockade and the Pandemic by Manolo de los Santos & Vijay Prashad (CounterPunch)

The socialist government in Cuba shoulders the responsibility of medical care and of social insurance. Despite the severe challenges to the economy, the government guarantees salaries, purchases medicines and distributes food as well as electricity and piped water. That is the reason why the government added $2.4 billion to its already considerable debt overhang. In June, Cuba’s Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas Ruíz met with French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire to discuss the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. France, which manages Cuba’s debt to the public creditors in the Paris Club, led the effort to ameliorate the debt servicing demands on Havana.”


Author of the Mega-Viral Thread on MAGA Voters, Darryl Cooper, Explains His Thinking by Darryl Cooper (SubStack)

Trump supporters had gone from worrying the collusion might be real, to suspecting it might be fake, to seeing proof that it was all a scam. Then they watched as every institution − government agencies, the press, Congressional committees, academia − blew right past it and gaslit them for another year. To this day, something like half the country still believes that Trump was caught red-handed engaging in treason with Russia, and only escaped a public hanging because of a DOJ technicality regarding the indictment of sitting presidents.”
“The idea that the corporate press is driven by ratings and sensationalism has become untenable over the last several years. If that were true, there’d be a microphone in the face of every executive branch official demanding to know what the former Secretary of Labor meant when he said that Jeffrey Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The corporate press is the propaganda arm of the Regime these people are now seeing in outline. Nothing anyone says will ever make them unsee that, period. This is profoundly disorienting. Again, we’re not talking about pre-2016 Greenwald readers or even Ron Paul libertarians, who swallowed half a bottle of red pills long ago. These are people who attacked Edward Snowden for “betraying his country,” and who only now are beginning to see that they might have been wrong.
Many Trump supporters don’t know for certain whether ballots were faked in November 2020, but they know with apodictic certainty that the press, the FBI, and even the courts would lie to them if they were. They have every reason to believe that, and it’s probably true. They watched the corporate press behave like animals for four years.”
“Lawyers can argue over the legitimacy of the procedural modifications; the point is that conservatives believe in their bones − and I think they’re probably right − that the cases would have been treated differently, in both the media and in court, if the parties were reversed.
It hardly needs saying that if The New York Times had Donald Trump Jr.’s laptop, full of pictures of him smoking crack and engaging in group sex, lots of lurid family drama, and emails with pretty direct discussions of political corruption, the Paper of Record would not have had its accounts suspended for reporting on it. Let’s remember that stories of Trump being pissed on by Russian prostitutes and blackmailed by Putin were promoted as fact across the media spectrum and used as the basis for a multi-year criminal investigation, when the only evidence was a document paid for by his opposition and disavowed by its primary source.”
“Conservatives know − again, I think probably everyone knows − that just as Don Jr.’s laptop would have been the story of the century, if everything about the election dispute was the same, except the parties were reversed, suspicions about the outcome would have been taken very seriously. See 2016 for proof.
“But if in 2004 I had told you that the majority of the GOP voter base would soon be seeing the folly of the Iraq War, becoming skeptical of state surveillance, and beginning to see the need for action to help the poor and working classes, you’d have told me such a thing would transform the country. Take the opportunity. These people are not demons, and they are ready to listen in a way they haven’t in a long, long time.


Bless the Traitors by Chris Hedges (Mint Press News)

Drones hover 24 hours a day in the skies over Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Without warning, the drones, operated remotely from Air Force bases as far away as Nevada, fire ordinance that obliterates homes and vehicles or kills whole groups of people in fields or attending community gatherings, funerals and weddings.”

Journalism & Media

Is “Critical Race Theory” the Wrong Term? by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

Wesley Yang: Suk co-wrote this great piece called The Sex Bureaucracy, where she goes through how they define sexual violence to encompass, as she says, “almost everything that students are doing.” So they’re creating a system where nobody is innocent, everybody is guilty, and then, the system has the discretion to target whomever they wish. Their view, having been involved in the system, was that the number of black and Hispanic males who end up in trouble is radically disproportionate. So essentially it’s, “You created this system that’s going to end up reflecting the biases of the rest of society.””
Wesley Yang: This is one of the many areas in which ideological succession ends up cannibalizing itself. In many cases, you reach a certain equilibrium, where people are basically free, and the only way that you still squeeze more progress out of it, is to take things away from other people or redistribute that equilibrium. I’m not saying we should be complacently at the end of history, but it may be the case that suddenly we see second wave radical feminists being made into the great enemy of mankind by transgender activists. There’s this process where we have to go back and we have to cannibalize the previous subjects of progressive reform in order for there to be more progressive reform. That’s a sign that this succession is becoming involuted and self-consuming.
Wesley Yang: We know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to produce a world where they’re on top. It’s amazing how far they’ve gone, because if you’ve been paying attention to them for the last 20 years, you mostly just saw them as this buzzing irritants, and you still have all these people insisting that that’s all they are, when, clearly, they have burst the bonds of anything that any serious person would have thought was possible already in their ability to change core policies, like giving vaccines by race. We’re not talking about it, and we’re not criticizing it, and the only people who criticize it are people who then end up vindicating the argument. It’s a paradox.


Spying and Smearing is “Un-American,” not Tucker Carlson by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The scene was perfectly representative of what the erstwhile “liberal” press has become: collections of current and former enforcement types, masquerading as journalists, engaged in patriotic denunciations of critics and rote recitals of quasi-official statements.
“These leaks tended to go to the same small coterie of reporters at outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN, and not one prompted blowback. This was a forgotten major element of the Reality Winner story. Winner, a relatively low-level contractor acting on her own, was caught, charged, and jailed with extraordinary speed after leaking an NSA document about Russian interference to the Intercept. But these dozens of similar violations by senior intelligence officials, mainly in leaks about Trump, went not just unpunished but un-investigated.
“During Trump’s first run, I nearly lost my mind trying to explain to fellow reporters that he was succeeding in part because of us, that the prestige media’s ham-handed, hysterical, anti-intellectual approach to covering the Trump phenomenon was itself massively fueling it, making a case for establishment corruption and incompetence more eloquently than he could.”
These were people who had no problem wantonly bombing poor and mostly nonwhite countries all over the world, made a joke of the rule of law (and America’s reputation abroad) with policies like torture, rendition, and mass surveillance, and shamelessly whored themselves out to Wall Street even after the 2008 crash. Yet they pretended to severe moral anguish before Trump even took office.
“The problem with critics who want to make the term stick is they’re the same people who dole out words like transphobe, misogynist, racist, conspiracy theorist, Assadist, Putin-lover, traitor, and a hundred other bazooka terms toward everyone from Sanders to Rogan to Jill Stein to all non-Biden voters and, now, all critics of the intelligence services. At some point even the Nicolle Wallaces of the world must realize flinging absolute moral insults in all directions through the tube is a numerically untenable broadcast strategy. Until then, Carlson gets to welcome every type of person marked with Scarlet Letters to his audience, and frankly he’ll deserve every ratings bump he gets from this.


The Myth of the Winnable Culture War by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The perception that conservatives don’t change their minds is as stupid as my belief that liberals would never cozy up to the CIA and NSA turned out to be. Conservative attitudes toward war, gay rights, surveillance and a host of other issues have shifted radically in recent years.
“True, advertisers are mass-boycotting Carlson, but if they succeed in getting his show pulled, that audience won’t go to CNN, they’ll find some other haven. Maybe their next broadcast guru will be someone who doesn’t ask Sidney Powell for evidence of election fraud, doesn’t warn about Covid-19 early, doesn’t argue against war in Iran or Syria. If you’re going to try to eliminate this or that voice, be aware there’s a downstream calculation involved that may not turn out the way you think.”
“As any married person knows, there are certain words you never say in a fight, because you’ll still be living together when it’s over. Americans, like it or not, are married to one another. That’s not accommodationist talk, it’s just fact. The people we disagree with aren’t going anywhere, and it makes more sense to talk to them than not.”

Science & Nature

Death Valley soars to 130 degrees, matching Earth’s highest temperature in at least 90 years by Jason Samenow (Washington Post)

“As the third massive heat wave in three weeks kicked off in the West on Friday, Death Valley, Calif., soared to a searing 130 degrees. If confirmed, it would match the highest known temperature on the planet since at least 1931, which occurred less than a year ago.”

Honestly, how can you read this garbage media? Note that the title claims that the temperature soared to 130 degrees but, in the second sentence, the article notes that it has not yet been confirmed. Also, it notes that 1931, “occurred less than a year ago.” I am very confused. Does the WP not have editors?


#MeatToo by Julian Baggini (Literary Review)

“He is surely right that the vast majority pay mere ‘lip service’ to humane farming. He cites a survey which shows that 75 per cent of American consumers say they buy ‘humane products’, in a country where only 1 per cent of livestock is raised on non-factory farms. The fact that most people do not live up to their aspirations is no evidence that such goals are unachievable, though. I have met many progressive livestock farmers who care for their animals in ways that might surprise even Mance. It is true, however, that even they cannot eliminate all suffering in their animals’ lives, and dairy herds still face the problem of male calf slaughter.”

This could also means that people’s aspirations are being hoodwinked. You can’t have everyone go vegan without addressing the twisted economy and inequality. There is currently a premium on selling climate- and animal-friendly goods to well-off people with guilty consciences.

This system does not scale to delivering inexpensive food to everyone—including the economically disadvantaged—because it wasn’t designed for that. We need a different delivery system, with different principles, in order for any of this to work. Eating vegan or vegetarian should be the most inexpensive options. This will not happen with a food market controlled by large corporations that want to sell their customized and patented niche products. People who haven’t “chosen” a healthier lifestyle have essentially no ability to do so.

“What really offends him is the ‘pointless lives’ of farm animals that exist only to provide us with food: ‘For humans, lives must have meaning. To watch animals accept their lives as machines would contradict that.’ But nature has no interest in giving its creatures meaningful lives. For most, it is a struggle for survival, where the pursuit of food and the production of offspring are the only goals. Salmon in Alaska returning to their spawning grounds are killed in their thousands by grizzly bears with no concern for their suffering. Wild ruminants live in fear of carnivorous predators who tear them apart alive.”
“Jeremy Bentham, thought that meat-eating was ethical because animals would suffer a worse fate in the wild. For sure, that is not true of the crated sow or caged chicken today. But the sheep and cows that graze the open fields of our best farms surely experience no worse lives than their cousins who take their chances with merciless predators, with no vets to help them when sick or to put them out of their misery if needed.
“he must know that much grazing land is not suitable for arable crops, and chickens and pigs can be fed on leftovers from arable farming that humans cannot consume. The most efficient food system would have much less animal farming than we currently have, but it would have significantly more than none.


All The Right Words On Climate Have Already Been Said by Sarah Miller (SubStack)

“Would people be “more aware” about climate change? It’s 109 degrees in Portland right now. It’s been over 130 degrees in Baghdad several times. What kind of awareness quotient are we looking for? What more about climate change does anyone need to know? What else is there to say?”


MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule. by Nafeez Ahmed (Vice)

“Study author Gaya Herrington told Motherboard that in the MIT World3 models, collapse “does not mean that humanity will cease to exist,” but rather that “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the BAU2 scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040.””
“While focusing on the pursuit of continued economic growth for its own sake will be futile, the study finds that technological progress and increased investments in public services could not just avoid the risk of collapse, but lead to a new stable and prosperous civilization operating safely within planetary boundaries. But we really have only the next decade to change course.


The Fires This Time: A Climate View from California by Rebecca Gordon (Scheer Post)

“Just as the coronavirus has disproportionately ravaged black and brown communities (as well as poor nations around the world), climate-change-driven heat waves, according to a recent University of North Carolina study reported by the BBC, mean that “black people living in most U.S. cities are subject to double the level of heat stress as their white counterparts.” This is the result not just of poverty, but of residential segregation, which leaves urban BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) communities in a city’s worst “heat islands” — the areas containing the most concrete, the most asphalt, and the least vegetation — and which therefore attract and retain the most heat.”
“Northern California gets most of its drinking water from the snowpack that builds each year in the Sierra Nevada mountains. In spring, those snows gradually melt, filling the rivers that fill our reservoirs. In May 2021, however, the Sierra snowpack was a devastating six percent of normal! Stop a moment and take that in, while you try to imagine the future of much of the state — and the crucial crops it grows.”
“A full quarter of the state’s farmlands have access to just 5% of what they would ordinarily receive from rivers and aqueducts. As a result, some farmers are turning to groundwater, a more easily exhausted source, which also replenishes itself far more slowly than rivers and streams. Some are even choosing to sell their water to other farmers, rather than use it to grow crops at all,”
“[…] nuclear war nonetheless remains a question of “if.” Climate change is a matter of “when” and that when, as anyone living in the Northwest of the United States and Canada should know after these last weeks, is all too obviously now. It’s impossible to overstate the urgency of the moment. And yet, as a species, we’re acting like the children of indulgent parents who provide multiple “last chances” to behave. Now, nature has run out of patience and we’re running out of chances. So much must be done globally, especially to control the giant fossil-fuel companies.”


What Makes Quantum Computing So Hard to Explain? by Scott Aaronson (Quanta)

“The thing is, for a computer to be useful, at some point you need to look at it and read an output. But if you look at an equal superposition of all possible answers, the rules of quantum mechanics say you’ll just see and read a random answer. And if that’s all you wanted, you could’ve picked one yourself.”
The goal in devising an algorithm for a quantum computer is to choreograph a pattern of constructive and destructive interference so that for each wrong answer the contributions to its amplitude cancel each other out, whereas for the right answer the contributions reinforce each other. If, and only if, you can arrange that, you’ll see the right answer with a large probability when you look. The tricky part is to do this without knowing the answer in advance, and faster than you could do it with a classical computer.”
“[…] the difficulty is not so much proving that a quantum computer can do something quickly, but convincingly arguing that a classical computer can’t. Alas, it turns out to be staggeringly hard to prove that problems are hard, as illustrated by the famous P versus NP problem (which asks, roughly, whether every problem with quickly checkable solutions can also be quickly solved). This is not just an academic issue, a matter of dotting i’s: Over the past few decades, conjectured quantum speedups have repeatedly gone away when classical algorithms were found with similar performance.
“The problem, in a word, is decoherence, which means unwanted interaction between a quantum computer and its environment — nearby electric fields, warm objects, and other things that can record information about the qubits. This can result in premature “measurement” of the qubits, which collapses them down to classical bits that are either definitely 0 or definitely 1.

Art & Literature

On the Road: In Myanmar, Part Two by Bill Murray (3 Quarks Daily)

“A vivid belief in spirits thrives in Myanmar. Kyaw gave a go at explaining the curious mix of animism and Buddhism. Banyan trees, for example, are known to have spirits. Wherever you find a banyan tree, chances are you’ll find a spirit house underneath it, a little wood box for bananas or pomilons or some other spirit offering.

“So what happens if there’s a banyan tree at a pagoda? No problem. You get a spirit house in the middle of Buddha’s house. No conflict. Both belief systems are intertwined.”

“In 1995, in the main hall of the international airport assembly area were five wall clocks. It was a quarter of six in Hong Kong, a quarter of six in Singapore, a quarter of five in Bangkok, a quarter of ten GMT – and four fifteen in Burma.


The Long Rain (Full Text) by Ray Bradbury

“He fired off his gun six times at the night sky. In the flashes of powdery illumination they could see armies of raindrops, suspended as in a vast motionless amber, for an instant, hesitating as if shocked by the explosion, fifteen billion droplets, fifteen billion tears, fifteen billion ornaments, jewels standing out against a white velvet viewing board. And then, with the light gone, the drops which had waited to have their pictures taken, which had suspended their downward rush, fell upon them, stinging, in an insect cloud of coldness and pain.”

This reminds me very much of most of my experiences reading science fiction short stories when growing up.

“I believe that I first read this story on a lazy fall weekend in late September. The leaves were crisp and just beginning to fall. It was warm, but not hot. It was calm and I was enjoying reading this story on a porch glider that we had on our porch. I just laid there, swinging back and forth, reading this masterpiece.”

Philosophy & Sociology

The End of Books by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“It makes perfect sense that I myself should do something improbable, in a city that is for me such a congeries of synaesthetic delusions, as to roll up in a 10-foot U-Haul with a few thousand volumes of philosophy, history, linguistics, literature, &c., in several different languages, hardcover and soft, octavo and quarto, damaged and pristine. It had been my idea to sell them to the Harvard Bookstore. There were other university towns closer than Cambridge to the relative’s home —Clinton, Binghamton—, but I imagined Harvard, of all places on this continent, to be the one community learnèd enough to take an interest in my volumes on the prehistory of Western Siberia and the transcendental deductions of Kant.”
“Still, when it comes to leaving the works of Descartes on a city bench, it surely is better to be in Cambridge than in, say, Utica, as the reaction you are mostly likely to get when noticed is: “Heh. Harvard.””

Oh, I don’t know, Justin. I know at least a couple of Utica residents who would snatch that thing up in a second.

“The libraries I occasionally saw at big state universities began around that time to feature massive “book sculptures” in their foyers — discarded and unloved volumes recycled now as public art, often hollowed out, cut in half, disfigured. These were intended as “celebrations” of the wonders of reading, even though it was obvious to anyone who had ever read a book that what was really happening was a variety of desacralization bordering on vandalism.


On Contact: Pandemic! by Chris Hedges (YouTube)

“In politics, moralism is always a sign that you don’t have an actual, real program of how to change things effectively in social reality. That’s why I think this moralization of the left—in the last 3 decades, I would say—is simply a sign of the fact that, after 1990, the left didn’t yet find a proper way to propose an workable alternative to the existing system.”


Notes on Violence by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“Thomson, to her credit, recognizes that the badness of something must not automatically entail a belief in the possibility of its eradication; there are some things that are bad, and the best thing we can do is to learn to live with them. But she does not see how this recognition might function, and indeed generally has functioned in human cultures, more as a cosmic regulatory principle than as a matter of mere “damage control”.”
“People think I am exaggerating when I say this, but I mean it: the greatest moral transgression of the contemporary world is that we have, first, desacralized slaughter and the consumption of animal flesh, and second, moved this slaughter behind the walls of unmarked, remotely located slaughterhouses, rendering it structurally invisible. This is a historically unprecedented development, and if you are not prepared to call it a sin, either because you do not believe in sin or because you do not believe that animals have a moral status that enables them to be sinned against, you still must acknowledge that our treatment of non-human others as a mass-scale commodity comes with “wages”, in the form, namely, of ecological devastation.
“If the world seems out of harmony right now —and again I am serious about this— it may have something to do with the fact that so many are overly concerned about identifying violence in its attenuated forms within the human social sphere, while conveniently side-stepping the fact that there is unceasing mass-scale violence in the most paradigmatic sense going on all over the world at all times.
“It makes some sense, that is, to tell other people that their tweets are hurting us, or hurting some unseen third party, when tweets are, increasingly, the only sign of life we are getting from other human beings. It may in this light be not so much that naïve and unworldly post-Millenials have spread the notion of violence too thin, but rather that the conflict-engine on which they spend their lives is also an engine for the sublimation of violence.
“There is also some evidence that the universal free accessibility of pornography, for all its unprecedented moral harm, may be effective in dissuading some men from flesh-and-blood sexual assault, infidelity, and other transgressions (numerous studies purport to prove this, and numerous others purport to prove its opposite).”
“The real effect of this has been not a reduction of violence, but rather a dumping of violence where, at least initially, it is harder to see, and dressing it up in idealistic language that makes it harder to identify. Stockades are dismantled and prisons are moved outside of the city and restyled “correctional institutions”; certain forms of war are called “peacekeeping”; sacrificial rules for the slaughter of animals and prayers of gratitude for the consumption of animal flesh are abandoned, and abattoirs, like jails, are moved from the market-square to the hidden outskirts of the city.
The industrialization of discourse —for that is what social media have brought about— will inevitably, like earlier instances of industrialization, generate new waste products that will be difficult to contain and that will bring about real-world harms.”
“Two people I like very much have entered the Substack fray. I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage you to follow them and, if possible, to subscribe to their work. One is my old friend Wesley Yang, whom I last saw in Bryant Square Park eating Chipotle. He is an ice-cold observer of contemporary life, and I am sure his Substack will be excellent. The other person is someone I cannot call a friend, only because I do not know who she really is: Alice from Queens, namely, the pseudonymous Twitter phenom who has managed to stick herself into all the right people’s craws since she appeared on the scene a few years back. I am sure neither Wes nor Alice really needs any amplification from me, but I like them and I thought it was the friendly thing to do.

Technology

Instagram Has Become SkyMall by Clive Thompson (Debugger)

“Many of the products have “like” counts so risibly high they practically need scientific notation, almost certainly juked into the ionosphere by roboclicks.

“[…] Maybe this is a glimpse of the inevitable heat-death of ecommerce: Bots trying to convince other bots to buy stuff no humans would ever click on.

Programming

The Untold Story of SQLite: Interview with Richard Hipp (CoRecursive)

“Shane Harrelson did this for us about 10 years ago. He came up with this huge corpus of SQL statements, and he ran them against every database engine that he could get his hands on. We wanted to make sure everybody got the same answer, and he managed to segfault every single database engine he tried, including SQLite, except for Postgres. Postgres always ran and gave the correct answer. We were never able to find a fault in that. The Postgres people tell me that we just weren’t trying hard enough. It is possible to fault Postgres, but we were very impressed.”