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Links and Notes for September 10th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

What We Actually Know About Waning Immunity by Katherine J. Wu (The Atlantic)

“[…] if antibodies aren’t already lurking in and around the airway, the virus might get a chance to invade a few cells, maybe even cause some symptoms, before sufficient reinforcements arrive. That’s not necessarily a concern, said Crotty, who described SARS-CoV-2 infection as unfolding in two phases. “Initial replication is fast and tough to stop,” he said. Severe, hospitalization-worthy damage in the lung, however, tends to take at least a couple of weeks to manifest—plenty of time for “even a modest amount of antibodies and T cells” to interfere.
When it comes to severe disease and death, though, vaccine effectiveness hasn’t really budged at all: Immunized people seem to be thwarting the worst cases of COVID-19 just as well as they did when the shots debuted, often at rates well into the 90s. That’s fantastic, considering that the FDA’s original benchmark for vaccine success, announced in June 2020, was reducing the risk of disease or serious disease by 50 percent among people who get the shot.”

Economy & Finance

Will it Be Enough? by Wolfgang Streeck (New Left Review)

“Perhaps this question is misconceived, and the issue is no longer how to pay for what is needed, but what to do if what is needed has become too expensive to be paid for. As a starting hypothesis, consider the possibility that the collective costs of running capitalism may by now have once and for all exceeded what societies can extract from capitalism to cover them – to pay for social peace, the formation of patient workers and satisfied consumers, the preparation for and cleaning up after surplus-producing production, the extension and defence of markets and property rights in distant countries, etc. etc.”


In Old New York by Rafia Zakaria (The Baffler)

The steep drop in value suggests not only that investors are rethinking their investments but also that they have accepted the premise that the pandemic may have changed the role of cities altogether. New York City, the financial and business capital of the world, and until very recently a hub for tourists, may well be the canary in the coal mine that predicts a decline in the very idea of the megacity. With the Delta virus having halted return-to-office plans, the office tower vacancy rate in Manhattan is stuck at 20 percent.
“Students and creatives may still be thronging to the city, but it is the absent army of white-collar office workers whose taxes and transactions keep the city running. The urban cycle of constant production relies on all the people who earn money while being away from home and then spend it to make themselves feel better, feel more successful, more like a somebody rather than a nobody. New York has been all about this equation.”
New Yorkers may not recognize such decay as an ominous portent, but they are familiar to those who have spent any time at all in the Rust Belt. What deindustrialization did to the American Midwest, killing scores of small cities, the pandemic is now doing to America’s largest city. The boarded-up downtowns, the abandoned stately mansions and the general air of resignation is still palpable in the near abandoned Rust Belt towns of the Midwest and it still breaks one’s heart.”


Lending Bitcoins Is Tricky by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“In general the thing that is happening now in the crypto world is that it is rapidly recreating the things that exist in the traditional finance world. “Earn interest on your savings” is a thing that exists in traditional finance, though the interest is quite low these days; it is fairly intuitive and customer-friendly and so of course crypto companies would like to re-create it (but with higher interest). And of course it would be nice, for crypto companies, to re-create banking without bank regulation. But you can see why regulators wouldn’t like it.
“El Salvador’s move is “a stunt that will completely clog the transactions for the majority of Bitcoin holders who really just want it to remain a store of value to hold,” said Carsten Sorensen, a researcher with The London School of Economics. “When individual countries seek to overnight make it legal tender, then the network will easily suffer as there already are issues with the transaction rate.”

Public Policy & Politics

The Evil We Do Is the Evil We Get by Chris Hedges (Scheer Post)

“They knew there is no moral difference between those who fire Hellfire and cruise missiles or pilot militarized drones, obliterating wedding parties, village gatherings or families, and suicide bombers. They knew there is no moral difference between those who carpet-bomb North Vietnam or southern Iraq and those who fly planes into buildings. In short, they knew the evil that spawned evil.”
“American was not attacked because of a clash of civilizations. America was attacked because the virtues we espouse are a lie. We were attacked for our hypocrisy. We were attacked for the campaigns of industrial slaughter that are our primary way of speaking with the rest of the planet.”
“Just as their parents and grandparents believed that the factories would come back, the town would wake up, the jobs would return, New Yorkers now await the return of office workers who have already acclimated to a world where remote is the only route to safety.
“It is the loss of that state of mind, the one that insisted that hardship was always worth it if it meant getting to live in New York City, which is the biggest casualty of this decline. Without an office to go to, the apartments really only designed to be sleep stations seem even smaller, claustrophobic and unbearable.

Journalism & Media

The Anniversary of 9/11 is a Great Day to Reflect on Republican Hypocrisy by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“It’s been suggested by some of Biden’s critics that he should have sought congressional approval for something so significant as a vaccine mandate. I’d agree, but I’m not interested in hearing that criticism from any Republican who cheered the “I’m the decider!” years, when Bush used executive orders so often and for so many things — including warrantless surveillance — that a whole generation grew up unaware that things like sending troops into combat once required congressional approval.
“When Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, compared Trump to Osama bin Laden, the cycle was complete. Republicans had essentially become the new version of “unlawful combatants,” and many of their supporters found themselves staring directly at the business end of the War on Terror machine their party created.

We now also have a whole generation that has no idea that government surveillance used to be largely opt-in rather than opt-out.

“We also didn’t hear Republicans demanding hearings when a Guantanamo prisoner had to appear for hearings seated sideways on a special pillow, his insides wrecked from years of “rectal re-feeding,” since it was apparently okay with the bulk of the party’s leaders that being in American custody now means having to submit to ritual sodomy in addition to having no right to trial.
“The legacy of 9/11 was a complete assault on individual rights, the rule of law, transparency, oversight, due process, and the democratic process, with Bush and Cheney building a whole extralegal justice system, complete with secret budgets and prisons, whose entire purpose was to deny rights to America’s “enemies.” This period was so devastating to the principles of fairness and transparency that even the ACLU eventually gave up caring, eventually becoming just another undisguised partisan collection plate that recently reversed course from previous vaccine mandate policy just in time for Biden’s vaccine plan.”
“[…] would have a lot more credibility if they could bring themselves to denounce things like no-fly lists or “targeted killing” or rendition or indefinite detention or a dozen other horrors committed in their party’s name in the last twenty years on general principle, not just for partisan reasons. If you only care now that some of these tools are being aimed at your voters, that makes you more of an asshole, not less.


Self-cancellation, Deplatforming, and Censorship by Nick Gillespie (Reason)

“This trend toward suppression is not lost on progressives, at least not older ones, such as Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Thomas Frank, all of whom are over 50 and increasingly find themselves at odds with a woke left that has little use for hosannas about free speech and that valorizes ethnic identity over class struggle.
“In liberal circles these days there is a palpable horror of the uncurated world, of thought spaces flourishing outside the consensus, of unauthorized voices blabbing freely in some arena where there is no moderator to whom someone might be turned in,” writes Frank, whose 2004 volume What’s The Matter With Kansas? became the bible for left-wingers desperate to rescue the country from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and neoliberalism. Mocking a call in The New York Times for a “reality czar” who would help end the spread of “misinformation,” Frank concludes acidly: “The remedy for bad speech, we now believe, is not more speech, as per Justice Brandeis’s famous formula, but an ‘extremism expert’ shushing the world.”
“The real goal here is for the government and the corporations to come to some sort of workable truce. “We are ready to work with you to move beyond hearings and get started on real reform,” Zuckerberg told the lawmakers. The other CEOs didn’t disagree. Why would they? If they can minimize political risks while locking in their current market positions, who’s going to complain? As Zuck explained to Congress in 2018, “When you add more rules that companies need to follow, that’s something that a larger company like ours inherently just has the resources to go do, and that just might be harder for a smaller company getting started to be able to comply with.””
““Capitalists will sell us the rope we hang them with,” goes a saying variously attributed to Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. A variant aimed at libertarians is that by supporting the rights of Big Tech platforms to ban and deplatform anyone who isn’t some sort of woke paragon, we are defending the very people and systems that will make it impossible for us to continue to argue for free speech. That’s hyperbolic and paranoid. If you think Twitter sucks when Jack Dorsey runs it, just wait until Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer (or Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell) are calling the shots.

Art & Literature

The Crying Man by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“Imagine: around 1805, a Georgian man in red pants with a silver seam held a little boy on his lap just within the Arctic Circle, fed him sweets, and cried like a baby, thinking of the past, of “some past”, of a past unknown to the boy but known to him. Some decades later in St. Petersburg the Imperial Academy of Sciences was seeking samples of the languages of the empire, for the purposes of science and power (“glottoprospecting”, we might say, on analogy to Londa Schiebinger’s notion of “bioprospecting” in the colonial world). The prospectors encountered the man who had been the boy who sat on the man’s lap, and asked him to give them some language. This is what he gave them, handing that sad Georgian man down to von Middendorff, and eventually to von Böhtlingk at the Academy, and eventually to me, and now to you, dear reader.
Rather than allowing my crying to be captured incidentally by someone else, I got in there in the manner of the mortals who can’t help but mark up the stones themselves with some variation on “I was here”. These are the mortals who have, in the modern period, come to be called “writers”, even as their literature often has next to nothing in common with the literature of oral cultures, which confer a sort of immortality not through individuality and freezing-in-time, but through community and continuity.”

Programming

Ship / Show / Ask by Rouan Wilsenach (MartinFowler.com)

“A big part of why Pull Request models have become so popular is that they support remote-first and asynchronous teams. Explicitly “Showing” the interesting parts of your work to others can help them learn and feel included in the conversation, especially when they work remotely or different hours. I’ve also found (especially in teams that don’t talk enough [1]), always committing to mainline can mean problematic changes are only noticed weeks after they’re made. By this time it’s difficult to have a useful conversation about them because the details have gone fuzzy. Encouraging team members to use the “Show” approach means you can have more conversations about the code as you go.”
“The reason you’re reliant on a lot of “Asking” might be that you have trust issue. “All changes must be approved” or “Every pull request needs 2 reviewers” are common policies, but they show a lack of trust in the development team. This is problematic, because an approval step is only a band-aid – it won’t fix your underlying trust issues. Do a bit more “Showing”, so you can release some of the pressure in your development pipeline. Then focus your efforts on activities that build trust, such as training, team discussions, or ensemble programming. Every time a developer “Shows” rather than “Asks” is an opportunity for them to build trust with their team.