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Links and Notes for August 6th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Cognitive deficits in people who have recovered from COVID-19 by Adam Hampshire, William Trender, Samuel R Chamberlain, Amy E. Jolly, Jon E. Grant, Fiona Patrick, et al. (The Lancet)

“People who had recovered from COVID-19, including those no longer reporting symptoms, exhibited significant cognitive deficits versus controls when controlling for age, gender, education level, income, racial-ethnic group, pre-existing medical disorders, tiredness, depression and anxiety. The deficits were of substantial effect size for people who had been hospitalised (N = 192), but also for non-hospitalised cases who had biological confirmation of COVID-19 infection (N = 326). Analysing markers of premorbid intelligence did not support these differences being present prior to infection. Finer grained analysis of performance across sub-tests supported the hypothesis that COVID-19 has a multi-domain impact on human cognition.


After a COVID-free year, delta arrives in Wuhan, China by Beth Mole (Ars Technica)

“After going a full year without any locally spread cases of COVID-19, the city where the coronavirus pandemic first began has now detected its first cases involving the delta variant.

Officials in Wuhan, China, on Monday confirmed three delta cases, prompting them to order coronavirus testing for all 12 million or so of the city’s residents.

Amazing.


China fights to contain outbreak of COVID-19 delta variant by Alex Lantier (WSWS)

“The result is that since the pandemic began, fewer than 5,000 people died in China, the original epicenter of the virus, while in the NATO alliance, grouping the world’s wealthiest imperialist powers in Europe and America, 1.7 million people have died.

This is not because, as is claimed in NATO countries’ media propaganda, eradicating the virus is impossible. It is because the degenerate political criminals who run these governments pursued a policy that the BMJ (British Medical Journal) correctly branded “social murder.” While giving trillions of dollars, euros and pounds to the financial aristocracy in bank and corporate bailouts, they rejected scientific social distancing policies that have saved millions of lives in China.”


WHO calls for global moratorium on COVID boosters until end of September by Beth Mole (Ars Technica)

“In a press briefing Wednesday, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted that 4 billion COVID-19 doses have gone into arms, but more than 80 percent have gone to high- and middle-income countries, which make up less than half of the world’s population.

“Put another way, high-income countries have now administered 100 doses per 100 people, while low-income countries have administered 1.5 doses per 100 people due to low supply, Dr. Tedros said.”

““I don’t think we should mix up the big picture here,” WHO Senior Advisor Bruce Aylward said. “What we’re trying to do is get the global population vaccinated…The big picture here is, as a policy, not to be moving forward with boosters until we get the whole world at a point where the older populations, people with comorbidities, people who are working at the front lines are all protected to the degree possible with vaccines.”


Cognitive impact of COVID-19 often worse than a stroke or lead poisoning by Thomas Scripps (WSWS)

“Deficits were most pronounced for tests which “tapped cognitive functions such as reasoning, problem solving, spatial planning and target detection whilst sparing tests of simpler functions such as working-memory span as well as emotional processing.”

“The researchers suggest, “recovery from COVID-19 infection may be associated with particularly pronounced problems in aspects of higher cognitive or ‘executive’ function, an observation that accords with preliminary reports of executive dysfunction in some patients at hospital discharge”.”


US faces resurgent COVID-19 catastrophe by Andre Damon (WSWS)

“As cases, deaths, and hospitalizations rise at a dizzying rate, crucial medical resources for monitoring the spread of the disease and treating the ill are in short supply. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported nationwide testing shortages, noting turnarounds in some areas as high as 3 to 5 days.

““It’s August 2021, where are the rapid antigen tests that should have been supplied for free for every household to accurately screen for infectiousness—which is what really matters?” fumed Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research Institute. “The tests that were ready here in May 2020.”

The United States still has no centralized system of contact tracing, no program of mass testing, and no nationwide app for tracking cases, vaccinations status, and exposure.

Rapid-testing kits have been available in Switzerland for a long time now. People use them all the time.

“The United States recorded over 120,000 daily new COVID-19 cases Thursday, exceeding the peak of the first and second waves and rising at the highest rate ever. Cases have risen 10-fold in just the past six weeks, with experts warning that the darkest days of the pandemic lie ahead.

““Things are going to get worse,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci said over the weekend.

“Hospitals in Florida, which leads the country in daily new cases, are “suspending elective surgeries and putting beds in conference rooms,” noted the Associated Press, while “Mississippi had just six open intensive care beds in the entire state.”

““We are seeing a surge like we’ve not seen before in terms of the patients coming,” Dr. Marc Napp, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida, told the Associated Press. “It’s the sheer number coming in at the same time. There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses.”

Exactly. We’ve known this for a year-and-a-half. People think only of themselves and not the cumulative effects of everyone thinking only of themselves. This is the logical end result.


For many, the belated realization that Covid will be ‘a long war’ sparks anger and denial by Megan Molteni (StatNews)

“Epidemiological researchers like Emory University’s Jennie Lavine have turned to models to try to project when SARS-CoV-2 might transition from pandemic pathogen to endemic. In a paper published in Science, Lavine and her co-authors predicted that this transition might take anywhere from a few years to a few decades, depending on how quickly the pathogen spreads and how widely vaccines are adopted.
“The good news, she said, is that nothing in the coronavirus’s recent evolution suggests it won’t eventually transition to being a mild endemic virus, joining the family of common cold-causing bugs. That could change if new variants were to deal young kids much more severe cases of disease, or completely blindside the immune systems of people who’d been vaccinated or previously infected. “Thankfully, at this point, both of those things are holding,” said Lavine.”


“This is a virus that we need to eliminate”—Dr. Deepti Gurdasani condemns “herd immunity” policies by Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)

“One, I think natural immunity can wane over time. And I think the durability of that immunity does depend on the severity of original infection. When infections are mild and asymptomatic, we can have at least weighting of neutralizing antibodies and how that correlates with waning immunity. We don’t know yet, but we know that re-infection, or the getting infected again with the virus, either the same variant or another variant, are far more common than we originally thought. Although there is protection, even over longer duration of time, it’s not absolute.”
This is not a threshold we will likely be able to reach through vaccination or contain the pandemic through vaccination alone, unless we develop a next generation of vaccines that are effective against these newer variants, which may well happen. But it’s unlikely to be able to keep up with virus evolution unless we prevent new variants from evolving.”
“Endemicity essentially means that infection or transmission will continue without an introduction of infections from outside. What you will see is different levels of infection or transmission happening continuously because there’s sort of stable endemicity where one person transmits to another person and the transmission propagates. It doesn’t extinguish. There might be periods where you have high endemicity, where you have high levels of infection. That will of course be devastating for a virus like SARS-CoV-2, which causes long-term disease, which can cause severe illness, and be quite fatal.
It is likely it will be a high endemicity situation where the virus continues to adapt and, perhaps, even our vaccines can’t keep up with it. In which case we lose much of the gains we’ve already made. This will lead to a sort of pandemic and epidemic cycles. And this will leave many people disabled with long-term disease. I mean, this is a virus we know can enter the brain, that causes long-term neurological deficits, that causes thinning in parts of the brain that are associated with taste, smell, and memory. We also know it affects different organ systems, even in those people with mild infection. And we know that chronic illness isn’t rare [with this virus]. It’s nothing like the flu and it’s nothing that’s benign.”
“This is not a virus we can live with or even want to live with. This is a virus that we need to eliminate, but that requires global coordination.

Economy & Finance

GDP Rises 6.5 Percent in Second Quarter, Passing Pre-Pandemic Level of Output by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

“The quarterly data are erratic and subject to large revisions, so the first-quarter data has to be viewed with caution. (The profit data for the second quarter will not be available until the preliminary GDP report is released in August.) However, a rise in profit shares is inconsistent with the story of employers being squeezed by rapidly rising wages resulting from a labor shortage.
“We did see some uptick of inflation this quarter, with the core Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) deflator rising 3.4 percent. This is likely to prove transitory as the economy works through shortages in many sectors associated with its rapid reopening.”

Public Policy & Politics

Infrastructure Bill Bans Vaping on Amtrak by Christian Britschgi (Reason)

“The negative health effects of second-hand smoke have already been exaggerated to justify smoking bans. Subjecting far less dangerous vaping products to the same restrictions on public health grounds is absurd. It’s conceivable that a ban on people vaping on trains and planes will actually costs lives by encouraging e-cigarette users to travel in more dangerous automobiles on long-distance trips.

“[…] The idea is to improve and expand service so as to increase ridership. That goal isn’t helped by telling the vaping public they’ll have to put their e-cigarette away during the 18 hours it takes to ride from New York to Chicago.”

Libertarians are an odd bunch. They give so much of a fuck about individual freedoms (e.g. vaping on a train or plane), but couldn’t care less about someone’s desire to ride a train or plane without having clouds of scented vape steam wash over them for 18 hours. Hey, maybe people should be able to play their movies at top volume, too? Or just smear shit on themselves? I mean, they’re not affecting anyone else, right? Just themselves?

The argument that more vapers would die in car accidents may actually increase the appeal of the law to non-vapers.


Cuba Reconsidered or: How to Break a Revolution in 60 Years by Nicky Reid (CounterPunch)

The unvarnished reality is that Cuba may not be a dictatorship in the traditional sense of the word, but it is an authoritarian state. The Cuban people vote for their favorite local Communist Party kiss-ass to represent them at the National Assembly and that National Assembly then chooses their fearless leader. It’s essentially British Parliament with less respect for civil rights. And that’s the greatest kept secret of the Cuban Revolution, in spite of all the fiery rhetoric pouring from both ends of the narrative, the result was just another bourgeoise, top-down, social democracy. There’s really nothing revolutionary about it beyond the propaganda. The people there are about as oppressed and bored as the rest of us and some of them want another revolution.
“How the fuck did we get here? How did we get from the Quixotic-Leninist dreams of Che Guevara to another carceral bureaucratic purgatory. The truth is there is one piece of communist propaganda that is very true. Castro may have fucked up the revolution but he had a lot of help from his enemies back in Washington.
“As heinous as America’s bottomless bag of dirty tricks has been, nothing has been crueler and more devastating to the Cuban people than the embargo. Half a century of the strictest sanctions the world has ever seen has pushed these people to the brink of desperation. During the height of the coronavirus, while Cuba was busy producing affordable vaccines for the Third World, Donald Trump ambushed the tiny nation with hundreds of new sanctions, restricting everything from ventilators to syringes. This is what has pushed the Cuban people into the streets. Not a desire for American-style neoliberalism […]
“Many people point to the survival of the Cuban regime as proof that sanctions don’t work as a method of regime change but that really all depends on how you define regime change. When Castro first came to power he was a non-denominational left wing populist promising direct democracy and open elections. It was only after years of American sponsored abuse that he turned to Soviet style Marxist-Leninist drudgery in an act of desperation and maybe this is the real intention of American sanctions, not to starve a nation into overthrowing a regime unacceptable to the empire, but to shellshock a revolutionary experiment into becoming an aching authoritarian nightmare so Uncle Sam can tell kids like me with red stars in our eyes, “See, I told you revolution was some messed up shit.”
“The whole damn nation was so traumatized by the chaos that they practically begged for a vicious red czar like Stalin to keep them safe from the hordes and that’s how the Russian Revolution died. And that’s how the Iranian and Bolivarian Revolutions died, not with a .45 double-tap to the skull but with gallant dreamers pushed into authoritarianism by campaigns of American-sponsored terrorism. I may be wrong. There is probably a good chance that Lenin and Castro’s lack of respect for truly stateless revolution damned theirs to authoritarian ends from the start. But we’ll never know for sure and, once again, I think that’s part of the point.”
“Regardless of how you feel about their direction, popular indigenous revolutions need to be given at least enough respect to thrive or fail on their own merits. I hope the kids in the streets of Havana find what they’re looking for, but be careful, with the American shark breathing down your neck, it will always be a dirty game of pool.”


Hiroshima Is A Lie by David Swanson (Scheer Post)

“There is a myth that by participating in WWII, the United States did the world such a favor that the United States now owns the world. In 2013, Hillary Clinton gave a speech to bankers at Goldman Sachs in which she claimed that she had told China that it had no right to call the South China Sea the South China Sea, that the United States could in fact claim to own the entire Pacific by virtue of having “liberated” it in WWII, and having “discovered” Japan, and having “bought” Hawaii.[v] I’m not sure how best to debunk that. Perhaps I can advise asking some people in Japan or Hawaii what they think. But it’s worth noting that there was no flood of mockery for Hillary Clinton of the sort experienced by Alice Sabatini. There was no noticeable public outrage over this reference to WWII when it became public in 2016.
“The nukes did not save lives. They took lives, possibly 200,000 of them. They were not intended to save lives or to end the war. And they didn’t end the war. The Russian invasion did that. But the war was going to end anyway, without either of those things. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, “… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”[vi]”
“Top military officials who said just after the war that the Japanese would have quickly surrendered without the nuclear bombings included General Douglas MacArthur, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, General Curtis LeMay, General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, Admiral Ernest King, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, and Brigadier General Carter Clarke. As Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick summarize, seven of the United States’ eight five-star officers who received their final star in World War II or just after — Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Arnold, and Admirals Leahy, King, Nimitz, and Halsey — in 1945 rejected the idea that the atomic bombs were needed to end the war.
“The United States had no plans to invade for months, and no plans on the scale to risk the numbers of lives that U.S. school teachers will tell you were saved.[xix] The idea that a massive U.S. invasion was imminent and the only alternative to nuking cities, so that nuking cities saved huge numbers of U.S. lives, is a myth. Historians know this, just as they know that George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth or always tell the truth, and Paul Revere didn’t ride alone, and slave-owning Patrick Henry’s speech about liberty was written decades after he died, and Molly Pitcher didn’t exist.[xx] But the myths have their own power. Lives, by the way, are not the unique property of U.S. soldiers. Japanese people also had lives.”
“Truman ordered the bombs dropped, one on Hiroshima on August 6th and another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. The Nagasaki bombing was moved up from the 11th to the 9th to decrease the likelihood of Japan surrendering first.[xxi] Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons — burning Japanese cities, as it had done to so much of Japan prior to August 6th that, when it came time to pick two cities to nuke, there hadn’t been many left to choose from. Then the Japanese surrendered.”
“That there was cause to use nuclear weapons is a myth. That there could again be cause to use nuclear weapons is a myth. That we can survive significant further use of nuclear weapons is a myth. That there is cause to produce nuclear weapons even though you’ll never use them is too stupid even to be a myth. And that we can forever survive possessing and proliferating nuclear weapons without someone intentionally or accidentally using them is pure insanity.
“And he blames everyone involved — which must include himself — for “the most powerful motive of all: the habit of obedience, the universal teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not even to think about that which one has not been assigned to think about, the negative motive of not having either a reason or a will to intercede.””
“The war with Japan was already over, the Japanese seeking peace and willing to surrender. Japan asked only that it be permitted to keep its emperor, a request that was later granted. But, like napalm, the nuclear bombs were weapons that needed testing.
Franklin Roosevelt described fascist bombing campaigns over civilian areas as “inhuman barbarity” but then did the same on a much larger scale to German cities, which was followed up by the destruction on an unprecedented scale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — actions that came after years of dehumanizing the Japanese.”
“People aren’t consciously choosing to believe in the myths of WWII and violence. Grimsrud explains: “Part of the effectiveness of this myth stems from its invisibility as a myth. We tend to assume that violence is simply part of the nature of things; we see acceptance of violence to be factual, not based on belief. So we are not self-aware about the faith-dimension of our acceptance of violence. We think we know as a simple fact that violence works, that violence is necessary, that violence is inevitable. We don’t realize that instead, we operate in the realm of belief, of mythology, of religion, in relation to the acceptance of violence.””


Just Let the Militias Have Iraq by Nicky Reid (CounterPunch)

“And despite the incessant sob stories coming out of the mainstream media, who will have you and anyone unfortunate enough to listen believe that imperial conquest is the key to feminism in savage brown countries, there appears to finally be something of a bipartisan consensus that Afghanistan has been a gigantic waste of time and resources.
“And despite the incessant sob stories coming out of the mainstream media, who will have you and anyone unfortunate enough to listen believe that imperial conquest is the key to feminism in savage brown countries, there appears to finally be something of a bipartisan consensus that Afghanistan has been a gigantic waste of time and resources. Which frankly begs the question, what the fuck are we still doing in Iraq?
“What’s left of ISIS is hanging on by a thread and America is engaged in a heated tit for tat bombing campaign with the only people capable of finishing them off. Mind you that neither one of these “threats” to Walmart and apple pie would even fucking exist if it wasn’t for the forty years of incessant warfare made possible by US tax dollars.
“Most people suffer beneath the hefty delusion that America’s current campaign in Iraq began in 2003, but the reality is it really began in 1980 when the dovish Jimmy Carter gave then ally Saddam Hussein the green light to invade Iran and it never really stopped from there. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that Saddam fucking wanted to. America supported and funded this insane crusade for greater Babylon because the Iranians had done the unforgivable and went and had a popular revolution against one of our bloodthirsty puppets.
“After thwarting several peace attempts from the understandably confused Iraqi strongman, America launched one of the most disproportionately heinous military campaigns in modern history. As Jean Baudrillard famously observed, it could hardly even be described as a war. It was more like a CNN infomercial for Boeing with war crimes.
“After 40 days and 177 million pounds of munitions, the modern metropolitan state of Iraq had been reduced to a pre-industrial hellhole. We bombed literally anything that moved and quite a few things that didn’t; hospitals, schools, power plants, oil fields, chemical weapons facilities, nuclear centrifuges, highways of retreating troops, highways of retreating civilians… We obliterated a civilian bunker, killing 1,500, mostly women and children. We demolished the nation’s power grid and sewage system, leaving their population to rot in a flood of their own filth.”
“But the Persian Gulf War didn’t end in 1991. It continued without mercy through out the Clinton years with a crippling embargo that’s been described quite accurately by resigning UN officials as genocidal. Anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million Iraqi civilians died from starvation and medical neglect, all with the intention of torturing the populace into overthrowing a dictator we had armed and empowered for years.


How Unemployment Insurance Fraud Exploded During the Pandemic by Cezary Podkul (Scheer Post)

“What they all had in common, according to federal prosecutors, was participation in what may turn out to be the biggest fraud wave in U.S. history: filing bogus claims for unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Absolutely not. This is the story they want you to believe, but Wall Street guffaws at these paltry sums.

“In addition, the fraud has been enabled by a burgeoning online infrastructure, whose existence has not previously been reported in the mainstream press. Much of it is geared toward exploiting aging or obsolete state unemployment systems whose weaknesses have drawn warnings for decades.
“Across the U.S. from March to December 2020, the number of initial claims equated to 68% of the country’s labor force, which stood at around 164 million before the pandemic. In five states — Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island — the initial claims outnumbered the entire pool of civilian workers. By contrast, about 23% of American workers were out of a job or underemployed at the peak of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; in the most recent report that figure is just under 10%.”
At least twice during the Obama administration, the Labor Department proposed reforms to Congress to address some of these inadequacies, primarily by boosting information sharing among states and federal agencies. Both times these efforts went nowhere. President Donald Trump included similar reforms in each of his four budget proposals to Congress. They, too, were never enacted.”
“Fifteen minutes later, he posted a message in his channel that seemed to rationalize fraud: “Virtually all these wealthy entrepreneurs you see around 90% of them started with something illegal to make enough money to run their business.””

Paraphrasing the old saw that: behind every great fortune lies a great crime.

“Many have shared Payton’s plight. In 2020, consumers filed nearly 400,000 complaints claiming their identities were stolen and used to claim government benefits. That was up more than 2,900% from about 13,000 such complaints in 2019, according to Federal Trade Commission data.


Our Leaders Are Doing Nothing to Quash Corporate Crime by Ralph Nader (Scheer Post)

“Proposals to bring the laws up to date in their penalties and coverage to deter corporate lawbreaking are never a priority for Congress. When was the last time you heard a politician demand “corporate reform”?


U.S. Appeals Court releases January 6 attacker involved in killing of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick by Jacob Crosse (WSWS)

“The lenient treatment afforded Trump’s foot soldiers has prompted one judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell of Washington D.C., to question prosecutors’ intentions and motives multiple times since January 6. During a July 29 plea hearing for defendant Jack Jesse Griffith, Howell asked the prosecutor to explain why Griffith was pleading guilty to only a class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months in jail, typically reserved for people who trespass at a national park after hours.

““I’m just curious,” Howell said. “Does the government have any concern, given the factual predicate at issue here, of the defendant joining a mob, breaking into the Capitol building through a broken door, wandering through the Capitol building and stopping a constitutionality mandated duty of the Congress and terrorizing members of Congress, the vice president, who had to be evacuated?” The judge continued, “Does the government, in agreeing to the petty offense in this case, have any concern about deterrence?”

Journalism & Media

Vaccine Success, Media Misery: Is Good News Taboo in the Trump Age? by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Covid-19’s comeback is Exhibit A for why America needs sweeping changes in the way we organize our lives and our politics. We have the worst and most useless political parties in the world. Neither of our reigning brands is capable of articulating a positive vision for the country, because neither has any identity anymore apart from tireless slander of the other. Democrats, worse on this front, are a rat-hair away from describing the whole GOP as a terrorist organization in need of outlawing. They’re perpetually miserable because being visibly happy while Trump still walks the earth is “normalizing.” Republican leaders meanwhile may still be caught between the Sophie’s Choice of backing Trump and appealing their post-2016 firing as Washington’s most trusted handmaidens of corporate influence, but they at least seem happier in public, probably conscious of how lucky they are to be in office despite a total lack of coherent message.
“We’ve had five years of this escalating hyperbole because without it, the Democratic establishment knows it has no argument for power beyond not being Donald Trump. Because Trump promised to Make America Great Again, Democrats have stressed being conscious of the country’s flawed legacy, adopting a clipped, “Build Back Moribund” tone. On the other hand, they’re not fixing the health care system or breaking up predatory monopolies or ending idiotic interventions abroad, or really changing anything at all — that was the plan of the internal faction they spent the 2020 primaries crushing. Their argument is competence in crisis, so we must never be without one.
“There’s no question that with any other president cracking a whip on a vaccine program — if Biden himself had been in office last year, or Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, or even George W. Bush — the storylines then would have been about a heroic cutter of red tape who pulled out the stops to get shots in arms. Not so with Trump, whose supporters were explicitly told that their man was rushing a dangerous product to market. Biden and his running mate spent a long summer cynically raising such concerns about the safety and “transparency” of the same vaccine they’re now blasting Trump supporters for not taking. Only in a totally dysfunctional political system would this be considered logical, or okay.”
“Democrats have spent the last five years so consumed with removing the scourge of Trumpism that they’ve become their own poisonous part of his story. They’re now Ahab to Trump’s whale, and their revenge trip is whirlpooling us downward even in would-be moments of national triumph. Writer Walter Kirn talked about how the dull old Time magazine where he once worked tried to ground the American mind in a “moderate, shared reality,” but our leaders refuse on principle to allow any shared American experience, forcing us to stay on this interminably exasperating jihad instead.”

From a comment on this article:

“I find it interesting that for all the takes on who will and who won’t take the vaccine- and why- a simple reason is commonly overlooked: For many people in good health and of a certain age group, the virus poses little to no real threat. Yes, there have been terrible cases reported in surprising victims, but as far as the data goes, they continue to be anomalies.”

This is exactly the kind of reasoning that torpedoes a common effort. That’s why the vaccines will work for those who get them, but they’re doomed as far as preventing COVID from becoming endemic (that ship has largely sailed in western countries anyway).

The ego rules. Each individual decides for themselves that they don’t want the vaccine because it probably won’t happen to them. It ends up happening to enough people to swamp the hospitals, leading to unnecessary deaths from both COVID and also from people who can’t get treatment for other medical problems.

The ego does not think about that, cannot comprehend this level of abstraction, does not care. The ego is afraid for themselves, so they just make their own little, short-sighted decision, not caring that this decision, multiple millions of times, ends up causing a much bigger problem. Chaos theory is hard. Math is hard.

These people are afraid of the vaccine because it hasn’t been approved yet. They’re all waiting around for those of us who took it to die. When that doesn’t happen, they won’t bother to question their own behavior. They will be afraid for themselves next time as well.

While we’re on the subject: do these people try to convince their loved ones not to get the vaccine? Are they good or bad Christians? Do they fight to convert their loved ones to keep them out of hell? Or do they believe strongly enough that the vaccine is bad to want to protect themselves, but not to protect their loved ones? Or do they not care about their loved ones? How do they reconcile this?


When It Comes to Stopping Evictions, Suddenly the “Rule of Law” Matters by Branko Marcetic (Jacobin)

I found the following picture of Biden in this article.

 Cryin' Biden

 Where's my Pudding Cup?

If you want to make your own, I made a template (ImgFlip).


Welcome to Year Zero by Wesley Yang (Year Zero)

None of these are “excesses” of the anti-racist movement. They are the practical application of the principles laid out by the anti-racist texts that became required reading across corporate America during the racial reckoning of 2020. In the words of one of the two most required authors, Ibram X. Kendi, “the only remedy of past discrimination is present discrimination.” Some of these measures almost certainly violate the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The courts brushed them back in certain cases and will likely continue to do so as challenges emerge.”
“It took a decade or so for the theory of “colorblind racism” to move from academia to corporate America, and another half-decade for it to be explicitly endorsed by the federal government. It amounts to a quiet overturning of the post-1964 racial consensus.
“What is not in dispute is that the federal government and other private entities have already crossed a Rubicon and signaled a willingness to defy legal precedent and public opinion in accordance with the ruling consensus of the new regime that they have thereby inaugurated.”
“It will serve as an ongoing contribution to a larger project of which it is a part—the writing of a book-length account of the peculiar species of authoritarian utopianism sweeping through the ruling institutions of American life, which I have termed “the Successor Ideology.””
“How this inversion of the moral order—in which it is criminal justice rather than crime that is the greatest menace to communities afflicted by crime, and where it is the stable middle class family that is the true seedbed of the structural violence that menaces America—came to become constitutive of bourgeois respectability itself is a story at once intellectually null (because victory was secured largely through emotional blackmail and intimidation) and sociologically fascinating (because victory was secured largely through emotional blackmail and intimidation.)”
“It is the story that has been told only obliquely and in fragments by a media more prone to compulsively acting out the absurdities and excesses of the movement than dispassionately chronicling it.

Science & Nature

Roaming Charges: Welcome to the Pyrocene by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“Under normal circumstances, logging is an accelerate not a deterrent for fire. Under these extreme climate conditions, logging has fueled the infernos that have swept the West for the last decade. Last year was the worst fire season in the West in the last 2,000 years. This year will worse. And so, likely, will be the consecutive years of the next several decades. There’s no immediate solution and all of the proposed political responses will only exacerbate the crisis. Welcome to the Pyrocene.

 Drought Levels


Sorry, Skeptics: New IPCC Report Provides Unprecedented Clarity About Earth’s Climate by Ethan Siegel (Forbes)

“The “hockey stick” graph now goes back more than 2000 years, and shows definitively how unprecedented the modern warming trend is; the first two centuries of the 3rd millennium will be warmer than any multi-century period over the past 100,000 years. Skeptics often question how much of the warming is due to natural factors versus how much is due to human activity, and the latest report has answered that: approximately ~95-100% is human-caused; approximately ~0-5% is natural (due to solar and volcanic effects).

Humans are the cause of this unprecedented warming, and it is up to us to be the solution, too.

“With reduced uncertainties, tighter and more robust predictions, and a clear vision of our future, the latest IPCC report shouldn’t alarm us, but rather should inform us and spur us to what’s desperately needed: climate action. The “lukewarmer” argument, where some skeptics hoped that climate change would be on the milder end of what’s expected, can now be ruled out. However, so long as no low-risk, high-impact events occur, warming of ~6 C and above also appears unlikely so long as we don’t exponentially increase our emissions.
“The conclusion is that as soon as we hit net-zero emissions, the temperature will roughly be frozen-in at that value unless/until negative emissions work to reverse the warming trend.”
“In many ways, as a society, it’s illustrative of how we’re incorrectly responding to societal problems that have a scientific solution. You cannot eradicate a virus when people keep engaging in activities — like not wearing a mask and refusing vaccinations — that incubate and spread it. You cannot reduce the damage from wildfires when we don’t properly fund forest management and even a small number of humans keep starting them. And you cannot mitigate the worst consequences of a warming planet if we do not collectively reduce the carbon emissions that actively cause the planet to warm.

Immediately underneath this article (on Forbes) was the following article of nearly equal importance and global impact.

 This is why we can't have nice things

You can see where Ethan Siegel’s article ends and the article “These Top-Rated Skincare Products Are All Included In Dermstore’s Anniversary Sale” begins. It’s enough to make you think Forbes might not quite get the depth of the problem—or that capitalism isn’t at all equipped to address it.


Most of the power sector’s emissions come from a small minority of plants by John Timmer (Ars Technica)

“ […] the authors looked at how much of a country’s pollution was produced by the worst 5 percent when all of the country’s power plants were ranked by carbon emissions. In China, the worst 5 percent accounted for roughly a quarter of the country’s total emissions. In the US, the worst 5 percent of plants produced about 75 percent of the power sector’s carbon emissions. South Korea had similar numbers, while Australia, Germany, and Japan all saw their worst 5 percent of plants account for roughly 90 percent of the carbon emissions from their power sector.

“Globally, the worst 5 percent of power plants when it comes to carbon emissions account for 73 percent of the total power sector emissions. That worst 5 percent also produce over 14 times as much carbon pollution as they would if the plants were merely average.

Outfitting the worst of the plants with a capture system that was 85 percent efficient would cut global power sector emissions in half and total global emissions by 20 percent. Countries like Australia and Germany would see their power sector emissions drop by over 75 percent.”

Art & Literature

Barack’s Mar-a-Vineyard Birthday Extravaganza by Matthew Mills Stephenson (CounterPunch)

This article was wonderfully written and though-provoking. I’ve pulled a citation almost at random, but the whole essay is worth reading. The author has written several books, which I’m intrigued to look into.

“On paper, Obama and Trump share almost nothing in common. Obama is cerebral, a philosopher-king, African-American, and a defender of justice while Trump is a white supremacist, con man who likes to wear extended red neckties.

“But that’s just the packaging; underneath, both Obama and Trump embraced politics as a way to make (or keep) money, and both of their public personas are the result of careful cinematic image crafting.

“Is it any wonder that Obama is so drawn to Hollywood types—Clooney, Hanks, Lucas, Spielberg, etc.—whose careers are built on illusion? Or that Trump’s only paying job in his life was in reality TV?

“For Trump, business and politics are Ponzi schemes. He uses his new money to repay old lenders, and his net worth is whatever he can borrow in business or lie about in politics.”


What sweat, wine, and electricity can teach us about humanity by Bill Gates

“Vaclav Smil is my favorite author, but I sometimes hesitate to recommend his books to other people. His writing, while brilliant, is often too detailed or obscure for a general audience. (Deep dives on Japanese dining habits or natural gas can be a tough sell for even the smartest, most thoughtful readers.) Still, I’m a big enough fan to keep telling my friends and colleagues about his books, even though I know most of them won’t take me up on my recommendations.”

Wow. Arrogant much? Can you hear it, Bill? Do you not understand that what you’re writing is nearly entirely self-unaware?

Philosophy & Sociology

Learning to Live in Steven Weinberg’s Pointless Universe by Dan Falk (Scientific American)

“Although he never tried to hide his atheism—perhaps only Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been more vocal—Weinberg was sympathetic to those who yearn for a more intimate conception of God. “I think a world governed by a creator who is concerned with human beings is in many ways much more attractive than the impersonal world governed by laws of nature that have to be stated mathematically; laws that have nothing in them that indicates any special connection with human life,” he told me. To embrace science is to face the hardships of life—and death—without such comfort. “We’re going to die, and our loved ones are going to die, and it would be very nice to believe that that was not the end and that we would live beyond the grave and meet those we love again,” he said. “Living without God is not that easy. And I feel the appeal of religion in that sense.”
“In The Big Picture (2016), physicist Sean Carroll sees nothing to fear in an amoral universe. Our task, he writes, is “to make peace with a universe that doesn’t care what we do, and take pride in the fact that we care anyway.”
“Weinberg would have agreed. As he told an audience in 1999: “One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from that accomplishment.””


12 Bytes by Jeanette Winterson review – engaging history of technological progress by Stephanie Merritt (The Guardian)

“In the essay Jurassic Car Park she addresses the problem of the current white male dominance of tech and how this leads to ingrained bias (“datasets are selective stories”). As well as the obvious solution of more people of colour and women at the table, she writes: “I would like to see established artists, and public intellectuals, automatically brought in to advise science, tech and government at every level,” because “the arts have always been an imaginative and emotional wrestle with reality – a series of inventions and creations.””
So much of it comes down to the old question of whose stories get to shape our reality. She’s right that aspects of this AI future are frightening, but for any non-scientists wanting to understand the challenges and possibilities of this brave new world, I can’t think of a more engaging place to start.”


Find Your Soul by Matt Hanson (The Baffler)

“Admitting that it’s lazy and simplistic to accuse other people of being brainwashed and leave it at that, Montell takes a more empathetic approach. She suggests that “it doesn’t take someone broken or disturbed to crave that structure . . . we’re wired to. And what we often overlook is that the material with which that scaffolding is built, the very material that fabricates our reality, is language.” She’s critical of how cults thrive on people’s fears and insecurities, but if “language is the way ‘we breathe reality into being,’” then the buzzwords involved are what can lead the way to fanaticism.
Montell describes MLMs as “white-male-founded, white-female-operated beauty and ‘wellness’ brands whose recruits peddle overpriced products (from face cream to essential oils to diet supplements) to their friends and family, while also trying to enlist those customers to become sellers themselves.””


“The Hinternet” Is Turning One! by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“[…] the cost of not sticking to the regular work-rhythms that shape my life and preserve, along with tee-totaling, exercise, and meds, the fragile balance of what I would dare to call my safe space. But rules are rules. The right to such a vacation is enshrined in law for all functionaries, and the boundary between legal right and social duty is vague. I fear that if I attempt to maintain my weekly Substack rhythm, the French Vacation Police will soon be rappeling through my balcony window and shutting down my internet connection. Perhaps they would be justified in doing so.”
“This is something I’ve noticed more generally among my friends and peers whose career-paths have landed them in tenured positions in American universities with mega-endowments, those great hedge-fund-management firms offering humanities classes for cover: they all talk as if philanthropy were a human moral duty simpliciter, rather than something only afforded by what are in the end the very unusual circumstances of their lives. Today one can even model oneself as an “anticapitalist” through acts of public alms-giving, always evading the central truth that such giving is only possible because one already is a beneficiary of income inequality.
“Absurdly, then, the only people who get to be anticapitalists are the ones who can buy the cultural cachet that this identity carries with it by means of their accumulated capital;”

Technology

CSAM Detection by Apple

“[…] the system performs on-device matching using a database of known CSAM image hashes provided by NCMEC and other child-safety organizations. Apple further transforms this database into an unreadable set of hashes, which is securely stored on users’ devices. The hashing technology, called NeuralHash, analyzes an image and converts it to a unique number specific to that image. Only another image that appears nearly identical can produce the same number; for example, images that differ in size or transcoded quality will still have the same NeuralHash value.
Position 25-29
“In summary, for non-matches, the image information in the vouchers remains doubly encrypted because the outer layer cannot be decrypted. For matches, the image information remains encrypted by the inner layer.
Position 149-150
“The server then uses the decryption key to decrypt the inner encryption layer and extract the NeuralHash and visual derivatives for the CSAM matches. Only those images that have a voucher that corresponds to a true CSAM match can have their vouchers’ data decrypted.
Position 160-162
“Nothing is learned about non-matching images. Even if the device-generated inner encryption key for the account is reconstructed based on the above process, the image information inside the safety voucher for non-matches is still protected by the outer layer of encryption. Thus, with a combination of Private Set Intersection and Threshold Secret Sharing, Apple is able to learn the relevant image information only once the account has more than a threshold number of CSAM matches, and even then, only for the matching images.
Position 164-168

Programming

Am I stuck in a local maximum? by Mark Seemann (Ploeh)

“Whenever I get into debates, that’s implicitly the problem on my mind. It’d probably improve communication if I stated this explicitly going into every debate, but sometimes, I get dragged sideways into a debacle… I do, however, speculate that much disagreement may stem from such implicit assumptions. I bring my biases and implicit problem statements into any discussion. I consider it only human if my interlocutors do the same, but their biases and implicit problem understanding may easily be different than mine. What are they, I wonder?”
“I’m still a big proponent of TDD, but since I learned what algebraic data types can do in terms of modelling, I see no reason to write a run-time test if I instead can get the compiler to enforce a rule.