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Links and Notes for September 3rd, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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


Long COVID: Much More Than You Wanted To Know by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“[…] maybe some long COVID is psychosomatic. People hate when doctors bring up the possibility of psychosomatic conditions, and I won’t deny that we tend to overuse the “psychosomatic” diagnosis like it’s going out of style − but some things really are psychosomatic. Chronic Lyme disease (“Long Lyme” rolls off the tongue nicely) is basically universally considered 100% psychosomatic by the medical establishment, although now that I’m thinking about it I wonder if maybe we should be less sure. Lots of people act like psychosomatic = not a real problem. Unfortunately, having a symptom for psychosomatic reasons sucks just as much as having it for any other reason. Sometimes it sucks more, because nobody takes you seriously.”
“[…] because women are traditionally more prone to psychosomatic illnesses − so much that the ancients attributed these to the uterus and called them hysteria (note shared root with eg “hysterectomy”). Women are about 2x as likely to get diagnosed with panic disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, etc, about 2.5x as likely to get chronic Lyme disease, widely regarded as an entirely psychosomatic condition, and 3-5x more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. So the female preponderance is suspicious.”
“But women are also somewhere between 2x and 4x more likely to get autoimmune disorders than men (it varies by disorder − the ratio for Sjogren’s is as high as 16x).”
“My overall conclusion here is that long COVID is rarer in children than adults, and may not exist at all. The studies tell us it’s probably somewhere less than 5% of kids, but so far we can’t conclude anything stronger than that.”
“[…] all viral diseases have a risk of postviral syndromes. Colds, flus, mono, lots of stuff that’s going around all the time. Lots of people get those postviral syndromes, and either recover or don’t, but either way we don’t make a big deal out of it. Since COVID’s considered “newsworthy” in a way flu isn’t, we obsess over its postviral syndrome even though it’s no worse than anything else’s.
“The worst case scenario here is really really bad. If a few percent of COVID patients get long-term unremitting genuine CFS/ME, that has the potential to overwhelm government welfare budgets and long-term depress the economy. I think there’s a 90% chance the real situation isn’t that bad, but it’s scary that we can’t entirely rule it out. Aside from the somewhat different 1918 case, I don’t think we have any historical experience of dealing with postviral syndromes at this scale.”

Economy & Finance

Social Security Will Be Insolvent in 12 Years by Eric Boehm (Reason)

“Only the first $142,800 of income is subject to the tax. Lifting or removing the cap, or raising the tax rate, would generate more revenue for the system. Alternatively, reducing benefits for some or all beneficiaries—either by instituting across-the-board reductions or by means-testing in some way—could bring Social Security’s liabilities in line with its assets.”

I understand that you have to mention this as a solution, but the benefits are already so low relative to cost of living in so many places that it seems cruel to even mention it.

“Those deficits will eat up the Social Security Trust Fund over the next decade, and insolvency awaits. The trust fund itself is actually an accounting fiction—it contains nothing except IOUs that the government has written to itself over the years.

Those IOUs he’s writing about are T-bills. In other words, the safest form of investment on the planet. If they can’t be redeemed, then the U.S. Government has defaulted. Not likely. If that happens, social security being out of money is the smallest concern pretty much anyone integrated into the global economy will have.

This has been the case for the decades I’ve been reading about how Social Security doesn’t have “real” money—when what is meant is that the Social Security Fund’s assets are held largely in U.S. government debt. People who argue against this the same ones who think only gold and nickels have any real value. It might be true, but for their version to be true would mean that everything else that supports our civilization would collapse and have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

“It was imagined as a safety net for the truly needy, not a conveyor belt to transfer wealth from the younger, working population to the older, relatively wealthier retired population.”

Wtf? People pay for this. The author literally wrote above in the article that the employer and employee together pay 12.4% of the salary into the fund. Those who need it are not “relatively wealthier”. They’re poor.

“Restoring Social Security to its proper place as an old-age entitlement program and not a national pension system would be a good place for Congress to start. That means raising the eligibility age for benefits.

Wait, what now? So the answer is to make sure people pay in but simultaneously ensure that fewer people actual get benefits? By this logic, we should move the eligibility age for benefits to 82 in order to restore the original four years between life expectancy and eligibility—“in 1935, the average life expectancy for Americans was 61. That means the average person died four years before qualifying for benefits.” Or maybe make it 83 to be more proportional to the base age. This kind of “solution” would kill Social Security, which is entirely the author’s point, I believe.

“Privatizing Social Security—or at least letting individuals opt-out of the program so they can escape the sinking ship—would be a huge win for younger workers who have time to save on their own.”

Of course it would. And there it is: this was always the goal. Fuck the poor. Get rid of pension programs because they’re not American.

The Which Way is Up Problem in Economics by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

In a country with a high wage replacement rate for its Social Security program, workers don’t need to accumulate large amounts of wealth in 401(k)s to support themselves in retirement. The same is true if public health care programs can be counted on to pay their health care expenses. And, they don’t need to save for their kids’ college if it’s free or cheap.”

“Given this history, we should have a lot of Very Serious People walking around with very serious egg on their face. The view, now widely accepted, that having an older population doesn’t mean too much demand, but rather too little, means that the concerns that had dominated politics here and elsewhere for decades were completely unfounded.

“There was no reason to cut back spending on child care, education, clean energy, and thousands of other items in the last two decades with the idea that we somehow would need a larger capital stock to cover the cost of baby boomers retirement. (Okay, that never made much sense in any case.) The Very Serious People not only got the magnitude of the problem created by an aging population wrong, they got the direction wrong.

Star Trek Versus Imperialist Doctrine by Yanis Varoufakis (Project Syndicate)

Star Trek’s Prime Directive deploys popular culture to highlight the irrelevance of whether the stated good intentions used to justify imperialist escapades are real or bogus. It dramatizes brilliantly the manner in which top-down high-tech invasions planned in advance to save an “inferior” people from themselves can only lead inexorably to the nauseating lies, crimes, and cover-ups of the sort we encounter in the Pentagon Papers or Wikileaks.”

Public Policy & Politics

To Stop War, America Needs a Third Party by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“under the influence of captured parties and the military’s ubiquitous and extravagantly funded public relations apparatus, America has itself redefined the “nature of war.” Armed conflict has gone from being an occasional unpleasant political necessity to the core product line of the American corporation. Wars are what we make, and like blue jeans or Louisville Sluggers, we build them to last, with Afghanistan the prime example. That should be the issue dominating Meet the Press, not whether we lost or just “didn’t win,” or which party’s leaders decided to pull out first, and why.”
Thinking we were there in search of revenge and bin Laden, the Taliban offered to turn him over once we started bombing, but were refused. We now also know that when we’d beaten them militarily at first, the Taliban tried to surrender, but we rejected even those overtures. The U.S. broadened the mission instead.”
“There is no way to look at what happened in Afghanistan and conclude anything but that it was a giant spending program in search of a mission that ended with the mightiest army in the world fleeing from a pre-historic fighting force armed with our own weapons.

The post The Truth About Labor Shortages by WillowWorker (Reddit) showed the following graphic:

 Truck Transportation Hiring Chart (2007–2021)

It claims that the story of the truck-driver shortage is simply whining by the industry and that when the media is complaining the most, hiring is actually on the rise. This is a fair point (if we take the data in the graph at face value), but it’s not the only conclusion you could draw. Just eyeballing the axes, it looks like the number of truck drivers has only increased overall by about 50,000 over the last 14 years. That’s only a 3% increase.

The U.S. population has increased by 10% in the same time and per-capita shipping needs have likely increased, as well (there are far more delivered goods than ever). So “the truth” about this labor shortage is not that the media and the industry are whining about a non-existent problem for some reason or other. It’s also not that all trucking jobs are being filled. To me, that means that it’s not only possible, but likely, that trucking employment has increased and continues to increase, but not quickly enough to keep up with demand.

I don’t know if that analysis is correct, but I know it’s not as simplistic as the simple conclusion the original post came to.

”Breaking Points”: On Afghanistan, the Revolving Door, and Media Failure to Disclose Contracting Ties of Guests by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“However, the fact that both the government and the national commentariat remain essentially captured by contractor money remains as big a problem as ever, as this episode shows. We haven’t even reached the stage of being able to identify the financial connections of the people occupying center stage on the national televised debate over military policy.”

Roaming Charges: Revenge Tragedy by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“Cuba’s incarceration rate–which recently prompted the Biden/Blinken State Dept to slap even more economic sanctions on the already embargoed nation–is half that of 3 US states: OK, LA and MS, and less than that of 38 states, including the US as a whole.”
“Those who bellow the most loudly about the sanctity of “limited government” are almost invariably the same people who brusquely support three of the most extreme powers of the state: the power to invade other countries, the power to execute citizens & the power to force women to give birth against their will.”

Lessons from Afghanistan by Daniel Warner (CounterPunch)

“It seems that the Afghan government and army didn’t buy enough into the American Dream to fight. The Afghan president – Columbia University educated and a former World Bank official – didn’t even go down with the ship. Twice elected, Ashraf Ghani had written on “Rethinking aid to failed states,” but he was not dedicated or competent enough to help his own country let alone stand by it. Too Western; too intellectual, too much rethinking.”
“Nation-building, humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect are modern forms of colonialism. They have replaced Gold, Glory and Gospel. Have you ever seen a Southern country invade a Northern one?

The Empire Does Not Forgive by Chris Hedges (Scheer Post)

“The faux pity for the Afghan people, which has defined the coverage of the desperate collaborators with the U.S. and coalition occupying forces and educated elites fleeing to the Kabul airport, begins and ends with the plight of the evacuees. There were few tears shed for the families routinely terrorized by coalition forces or the some 70,000 civilians who were obliterated by U.S. air strikes, drone attacks, missiles, and artillery, or gunned down by nervous occupying forces who saw every Afghan, with some justification, as the enemy during the war. And there will be few tears for the humanitarian catastrophe the empire is orchestrating on the 38 million Afghans, who live in one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world.”
“There are two million Afghan children who are malnourished. There are 3.5 million people in Afghanistan who have been displaced from their homes. The war has wrecked infrastructure. A drought destroyed 40 percent of the nation’s crops last year. The assault on the Afghan economy is already seeing food prices skyrocket. The sanctions and severance of aid will force civil servants to go without salaries and the health service, already chronically short of medicine and equipment, will collapse. The suffering orchestrated by the empire will be of Biblical proportions. And this is what the empire wants.”

Here, Hedges cites Chalmers Johnson:

“[…] the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.””

The Supreme Court Could Not ‘Block’ Texas’ Fetal Heartbeat Law | Opinion by Josh Blackman (Newsweek)

“The Court has no sweeping, majestic power to “ensure justice.” Indeed, it is a myth that courts can “strike down” laws at all. Rather, judges have a very limited power: to enjoin specific government officials from enforcing laws against specific litigants. The judiciary cannot simply erase statutes from the book. And when the government plays no role at all in enforcing a statute—as with S.B. 8—courts cannot “block” that law from going into effect.”
“This quartet endorsed President Biden’s mythical account of the Supreme Court. At least three of the four dissenters deeply felt that this law was substantively unjust, so there must be a way to stop it. But not every alleged wrong has a remedy in federal court. In time, actual Texans will file suit against abortion clinics, and those who fund the organizations. And the courts can then decide, at that time, if those suits are consistent with Roe v. Wade and its progeny.

US ruling class cuts off pandemic jobless aid, pushing millions over financial cliff by Marcus Day (WSWS)

“Corporate America, always acutely sensitive to the growth of resistance or opposition in the working class, fears that any significant rise in wages would lead to the collapse of its debt-fueled speculative orgy on Wall Street. Thus, the ruling class is executing an all-out assault on what remains of the social safety net, with the aim of breaking the resistance of workers and drastically intensifying their exploitation.
“The chief obstacle to addressing all the most burning social problems—whether the catastrophic impact of COVID-19, the dire poverty of the unemployed, or the degrading working conditions and low wages facing millions of workers—is the profit interests of the capitalist ruling class. At every step, the response to the pandemic and the associated economic crisis has been driven by the effort to protect the wealth and privileges of the super-rich.

Journalism & Media

NPR Trashes Free Speech. A Brief Response by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Mill ironically pointed out that “princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects.” Sound familiar? Yes, speech can be harmful, which is why journalists like me have always welcomed libel and incitement laws and myriad other restrictions, and why new rules will probably have to be concocted for some of the unique problems of the Internet age. But the most dangerous creatures in the speech landscape are always aristocrat know-it-alls who can’t wait to start scissoring out sections of the Bill of Rights. It’d be nice if public radio could find space for at least one voice willing to point that out.”

Science & Nature

Genes Believe in You by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

“Based on this logic, hundreds of thousands of teachers have been paid more or less based on the performance of their students, thousands of teachers have been fired for failing to achieve results, and hundreds of schools have been shut down entirely. If the students under the care of these teachers and schools have profoundly different academic potentials, then all of this is an injustice. Broaden out, and the offense is even starker: the moral justification for our system is based on the notion that we more or less control our own life outcomes. The social contract depends on this notion of individual agency. If, on the other hand, our genomes deeply influence those outcomes in a way we can’t control, you’ve kicked the legs out from under the whole operation.
“The only thing you can do is to have an honest conversation about the fundamental fact of our species, that life is not fair, and a corollary of that fact, that we are not all equal in our abilities. You can then hope that the conversation sparks social action that mitigates, in whatever way possible, that ubiquitous unfairness.”

Food delivery app workers forced to work under horrendous conditions when Ida flooding struck New York City by Philip Guelpa (WSWS)

“One company, Relay, imposes the draconian rule that unless a worker completes a minimum of 90 percent of their assigned deliveries, they do not get paid. In addition, workers are not permitted to decline orders, whatever the conditions or distance they have to travel. Companies also impose time limits on the completion of deliveries, applying pressure on the workers to travel at unsafe speeds or take dangerous shortcuts. Workers who do not meet the imposed targets are downgraded by the apps, resulting in being assigned to fewer jobs. Some companies reportedly skim the tips intended for the workers.”

Why Resist Blank Slate Thinking? For One, Look to No Child Left Behind by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

If human beings are in any sense unequal in their innate cognitive and behavioral abilities, in the way we all accept they are in their athletic abilities, then this has massive policy and politics implications. I wrote a whole book about one obvious place where there are profound policy consequences, which is in education.”
“I really must underline this point. A little back-of-the-envelope math suggests that more than 100,000 public school teachers in this country operate under merit pay systems. Those teachers are seeing their wages fluctuate based on the outcomes of their students. Thousands of teachers in this country have been fired (or had their contracts not renewed) on the basis of poor academic performance in their classrooms, and hundreds of schools nationwide have been closed based on test scores and other quantitative educational metrics. But this whole edifice depends on the notion that student outcomes are more or less under the control of schools and teachers.
“Again, I’m left with the same basic point: it is not remotely scientifically contentious to say that literally all elements of our physiological selves are influenced by our genome. If that’s true, how could it possibly be the case that there is no influence of our genes on our behavior or cognition, which arise from the physical bodies that we all acknowledged are built by DNA?”
“Those professional class liberals who are delaying marriage and kids until later and later in life are practicing excruciatingly exacting mate selection, looking for just the right person to make some babies with. That is genetic engineering; the fact that it’s the polite kind does not change the fact that, if such trends continue, on a long enough timescale we will have a rigidly stratified species based on genetic parentage. I do not need to share the extremely durable research showing that more highly-educated parents have more highly-educated children, which has serious consequences even if you suppose that influence is entirely environmental.
“What will all of the decent liberals do when living, breathing human beings walk the earth who have been engineered to be smarter and stronger and healthier and more productive? Continue to deny that genes matter, when the evidence that they do can shake your hand? This train is barreling down the tracks. The left should act accordingly. “There is no train” is not a plan.
“[…] the whole point is that acknowledging there is a strong genetic component to academic ability cuts in the direction of helping those who are not predisposed to succeed. If school is deeply influenced by genes, then results in school are outside of the hands of the individual, and it’s immoral to base their life circumstances on results in school. If we understand that, the argument for society helping those who fail to thrive academically is strengthened considerably, not weakened. Right now, the academically untalented just suffer, and we do nothing to help them. That’s wrong.

The allergy epidemic: is a cure on the way? by Cal Flyn (Prospect Magazine)

A true allergy is a disorder of the immune system, where the body incorrectly identifies a harmless food protein as a threat. Antibodies are released, which in turn flood the body with a chemical called histamine. In normal circumstances, the release of histamine helps your body repair injured tissue and fight off parasites; it is also responsible for the itching, sneezing and swelling associated with allergic reactions.”

Art & Literature

Proust’s Panmnemonicon by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“In a classic Looney Tunes episode Bugs Bunny has sent Elmer Fudd into a dustcloud of St. Vitus-like commotion from which he cannot escape; the sheer temporal extension of Fudd’s state is marked by Bugs sitting down next to him and patiently opening the cover of Remembrance of Things Past (as it used to be called in English).”
“I, too, have entered what I experience as my mostly supine, mostly bedridden phase of incurable graphomania, in which my “life” —the social events and the drinking and the traveling and the pursuit of day-to-day matters, as Czesɫaw Miɫosz put it, “under orders from the erotic imagination”— appears to me to be definitively over, even if I’ve set my noblesse-oblige on autopilot and still occasionally go through the motions learned in the old times.”
“[…] have said that entering the post-experiential phase of life is “not so bad”. It is not, after all, as if we the supine have no life left in us at all, but only that we have exchanged the life of “the world” for what Aunt Léonie lovingly describes as “mon petit traintrain”: the daily regimen of accomplishing small private things at their appointed hour and minute, the “little train” of our days, which makes no noise and only asks not to be derailed.”
“We settle into our little traintrains perhaps not because we’ve ceased to value what is in fact the true end-goal of all the non-stop status-jockeying that comes with life in “the world”, but because we have learned that it is only in the reduced kingdom of our own private space that we will ever have any true claim to sovereignty.
“[…] the unconscious habit with which we fill up the ordinary directionless flow of subjective time, waiting ever for reprieve from its tedium by intense inner experiences we try to summon but that only ever seem to come on their own; and the conscious habit with which we fill objective time, as at the court of Louis XIV or the bedside of Aunt Léonie, in order to keep it flowing in the right direction, on its rails.”
“[…] as far as I can tell there is a much stronger case that reality is in fact constituted by such things as the strange glint of light on the briar roses at sunset, by the dancing geometrical forms I see when I close my eyes, and other such things, than that it is entirely accounted for by the iron laws of historical materialism.”
“I recall a fantastic story some years ago in the New Yorker, I don’t remember who wrote it, in which a man gets shot in the head during a bank robbery. The bulk of the narrative takes place within the few milliseconds of the bullet’s voyage through his brain tissue. Or rather, the bulk of it is a sort of parenthetical listing of all the moments from the man’s life that did not flash before his eyes during these milliseconds: nothing about his parents, nothing about his career, nothing about the lover who used to refer to sex as “playing hide-the-mole”. Instead he remembered a boy from Georgia who had been on his baseball team as a kid, and who used to say “they is” instead of “they are”. So in the very final nanosecond of the man’s life, this is what he thinks: They is, they is.
It’s a morbid but enjoyable game to imagine what one’s own last thought will be. Perhaps mine will be of the guy who pronounced Proust like joust, and who has otherwise entirely disappeared from my memory. Before I die, our panmnemonic technologies may improve to the point where I can bring him back from the void of the past by entering nothing more than this faint trace of him into the universal search-engine.”


The Scandalous History Of The Last Rotor Cipher Machine by Jon D. Paul (IEEE Spectrum)

“During the 1950s, Friedman and Hagelin’s close relationship led to a series of understandings collectively known as a “gentleman’s agreement” between U.S. intelligence and the Swiss company. Hagelin agreed not to sell his most secure machines to countries specified by U.S. intelligence, which also got secret access to Crypto’s machines, plans, sales records, and other data.