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Links and Notes for October 1st, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)

“Almost 20 years ago, the historians of medicine Elizabeth Fee and Theodore Brown lamented that the U.S. had “failed to sustain progress in any coherent manner” in its capacity to handle infectious diseases. With every new pathogen—cholera in the 1830s, HIV in the 1980s—Americans rediscover the weaknesses in the country’s health system, briefly attempt to address the problem, and then “let our interest lapse when the immediate crisis seems to be over,” Fee and Brown wrote. The result is a Sisyphean cycle of panic and neglect that is now spinning in its third century.”
More Americans have been killed by the new coronavirus than the influenza pandemic of 1918, despite a century of intervening medical advancement.”

Adjusted for population and deadliness of the pathogen? Unlikely, but I’m willing to be surprised. I wish that Yong wouldn’t stoop to such comparisons without providing proper context. He’s better than that.

“As the global population grows, as the climate changes, and as humans push into spaces occupied by wild animals, future pandemics become more likely. We are not guaranteed the luxury of facing just one a century, or even one at a time.

We technically have multiple pandemics/epidemics going on now, but only one of them really affects the important 10% of the world, so that’s all we hear about. HIV, for example, has never stopped being of dire concern in much poorer parts of the world. Tuberculosis is also still a huge problem. We technically have influenza and COVID in parallel, but our measures for the latter nearly eclipsed the effects of the former.

“Germ theory allowed people to collapse everything about disease into battles between pathogens and patients. Social matters such as inequality, housing, education, race, culture, psychology, and politics became irrelevancies. Ignoring them was noble; it made medicine and science more apolitical and objective. Ignoring them was also easier; instead of staring into the abyss of society’s intractable ills, physicians could simply stare at a bug under a microscope and devise ways of killing it.”
“During the pandemic, many of the public-health experts who appeared in news reports hailed from wealthy coastal universities, creating a perception of the field as well funded and elite. That perception is false. In the early 1930s, the U.S. was spending just 3.3 cents of every medical dollar on public health, and much of the rest on hospitals, medicines, and private health care. And despite a 90-year span that saw the creation of the CDC, the rise and fall of polio, the emergence of HIV, and relentless calls for more funding, that figure recently stood at … 2.5 cents.
“Trifling budgets mean smaller staff, which turns mandatory services into optional ones. Public-health workers have to cope with not just infectious diseases but air and water pollution, food safety, maternal and child health, the opioid crisis, and tobacco control. But with local departments having lost 55,000 jobs since the 2008 recession, many had to pause their usual duties to deal with COVID-19. Even then, they didn’t have staff to do the most basic version of contact tracing—calling people up—let alone the ideal form, wherein community health workers help exposed people find food, services, and places to isolate.”
“When a doctor saves a patient, that person is grateful. When an epidemiologist prevents someone from catching a virus, that person never knows. Public health “is invisible if successful, which can make it a target for policy makers,” Ruqaiijah Yearby, the health-law expert, told me.”
In 2008, Philip Blumenshine and his colleagues argued that America’s flu-pandemic plans overlooked the disproportionate toll that such a disaster would take on socially disadvantaged people. Low-income and minority groups would be more exposed to airborne viruses because they’re more likely to live in crowded housing, use public transportation, and hold low-wage jobs that don’t allow them to work from home or take time off when sick. When exposed, they’d be more susceptible to disease because their baseline health is poorer, and they’re less likely to be vaccinated. With less access to health insurance or primary care, they’d die in greater numbers.”

This comes as no surprise at all. No-one in America has ever been fired for concentrating on assuaging elite, wealthy concerns to the detriment of the overwhelming and relatively, if not absolutely, impoverished majority.

America’s ethos of rugged individualism pushes people across the political spectrum to see social vulnerability as a personal failure rather than the consequence of centuries of racist and classist policy, and as a problem for each person to solve on their own rather than a societal responsibility.
It means shifting the spotlight away from pathogens themselves and onto the living and working conditions that allow pathogens to flourish. It means measuring preparedness not just in terms of syringes, sequencers, and supply chains but also in terms of paid sick leave, safe public housing, eviction moratoriums, decarceration, food assistance, and universal health care.”
“Socially privileged people now also enjoy the privilege of immunity, while those with low incomes, food insecurity, eviction risk, and jobs in grocery stores and agricultural settings are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated. Once, they were deemed “essential”; now they’re treated as obstinate annoyances who stand between vaccinated America and a normal life.


An NBA Star and New York’s Governor Show That Liberal COVID Discourse is Devoid of Science by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“[…] society does sometimes deny a person individual autonomy in the name of societal good by, for instance, dictating to them which narcotics they can and cannot ingest into their bodies or even requiring other types of vaccines as a condition for entering school.”

Exactly! Wait, is that not the point you were making, Glenn?

“To whom is an unvaccinated Jonathan Isaac a threat?”

All the people who can’t get regular health care. Millions of Isaacs add up and they lose out to the odds. And despite your sophistry, the hospitals are full of the unvaccinated and are forced to triage or turn other patients away. That whole chapter could have been avoided with solidarity instead of narcissism.

“If that is true, why does a vaccinated person care if someone is unvaccinated? How does Jonathan Isaac or anyone else who chooses not to get the vaccine endanger those who have chosen to be vaccinated if it is true that, in Biden’s words, “if you are fully vaccinated, your risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is very low”?”

Because of scaling. Isaac is a straw-man because he’s already had COVID. I don’t consider him to be (completely) unvaccinated. Given that the amount of protection afforded by having had COVID isn’t as predictable as if you’d been vaccinated (the range is smaller in that case, improving predictability and plannability), Isaac should really get an antibody test to see where he really stands, rather than just saying “I’m safe. I had it. I feel like I’m protected enough.” I suppose that’s better than not having had it at all—or not knowing whether he’s had it, leaving society open to retaining stronger measures than necessary.

“[…] the far more important metric would be whether someone tested positive for COVID, not whether they are vaccinated (I elaborated on that argument in explaining why I oppose vaccine mandates and passports here). As Isaac put it: “I don’t believe that being vaccinated means uninfected, or that unvaccinated means being infected. You can still catch COVID with or without having the vaccine.“”

That is hand-waving and horseshit. It ignores likelihoods. Vaccination massively reduces the likelihood of infection. Testing is not the same. It just tells you whether you have it now. This is equating an EPT with birth control.

“But if it is true that COVID poses a “very low risk” to the vaccinated, how can he simultaneously maintain that vaccine mandates are necessary to protect the vaccinated, the foundation of his claim to impose vaccine mandates on private employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970?”

This is just obstinately ignoring the swamped-hospitals argument we’ve been making since the beginning.

“None of this makes any sense except as a means for control and cultural dominance.”

Because you’re more interested in straw-manning retarded liberals than listening to rational voices.

“[…] just ponder the oozing arrogance required for this type of paternalism, whereby someone convinces themselves that their judgment about what is best for Jonathan Isaac and people like him should override his own judgment about what his best for himself and his life.”

Because you seem literally incapable of considering network effects and solidarity because you spend way too much time on Twitter with idiots, who make it seem like the vast part of the world thinks like they do when they are just an outrageously vocal minority. Rational people and policymakers spend time on getting things done rather than squabbling on Twitter (it’s not a real place).

This article makes the vaccination case look weaker than it really is. Glenn seems to actually be making the case that not all people who are skeptical of vaccines are morons. That’s fine and a worthwhile point to make if you happen to be fighting with morons online. However, in making his own point, he weakens the case for vaccination too much.

People who are healed or vaccinated will catch COVID much less readily. Isaac is not a good example because he already had COVID. He has no comorbidities. No-one should be telling him to get vaccinated. In Switzerland, he gets a certificate, the same as a vaccinated person.

However, to argue that everyone should be able to make their own choice, no matter what (while offhandedly noting that other vaccines are required “as a condition for entering school”) is facetious. The reasoning is that, while the risk is individually low, when it is compounded over the whole society, the risk that hospitals are overwhelmed is high. And even if they’re not overwhelmed, they’re still filled with COVID patients, preventing care of other diseases and accidents. That’s where the problem arises. If you’re unvaccinated, then you increase the chance that you’ll keep that pipeline full for the foreseeable future.

Economy & Finance

China’s Fortune Cookie Crumbles by Michael Hudson & Ross Ashcroft (CounterPunch)

George Soros’ dream is that China would do what Yeltsin did to Russia – that it would privatise the economy, really carve it up and let US investors buy control of the most profitable heights. In that way, the foreign investors would be able to sort of get the profits of Chinese industry, Chinese labour, and it would become the darling stock market of the world, just like Russia’s stock market was the leading booming stock market of 1994-96. China would be run to benefit US investment bankers. Soros is furious that China is not following the neoliberal policy that the United States is following. It’s following a socialist policy wanting to keep its economic surplus at home to benefit its own citizens, not American financial investors.
“[Soros] thinks that China actually needs American dollars to build its factories and invest. He thinks that somehow China’s balance of payments is going to fall apart without the US market, without US investors telling President Xi what to do. The Chinese government won’t have a clue as to what to invest in and how to let the ‘free market’, meaning George Soros and BlackRock and other companies, operate.”
“China understands the difference between earned income and unearned income, between productive investment and unproductive investment. In the United States, if they do recognize this difference, they realize that via unearned income you can make wealth […] parasitically much quicker than you can actually create real wealth. It’s cheaper to be a parasite than a host.
“We’re not going to understand what’s happening in the United States, in England or Europe by looking only at what Marx wrote in Volume 1 of Capital, because they’re not making money industrially anymore. They’re making money by being a rentier economy, by landlordism, by monopolies and by bank credit, which Marx discussed in Volume 2 and 3.
“They’re now realizing that to keep China’s cost of living low, you have to keep the price of housing low. That means that you don’t want housing to become a commodity, an investment vehicle for absentee owners and landlords to make money. You want housing to be for Chinese people to live in. That means low-priced housing, not debt-leveraged housing as they’re seeing in the United States.”
“Thorstein Veblen in 1923 wrote a book, Absentee Ownership, saying that housing should really be for living, not a speculative vehicle. But in America, real estate is all about civic development. It’s about how to increase real estate prices and create a bubble for speculators to find someone to flip the property to. I’m not sure it’s going to happen much longer and in London now that Brexit has occurred.”
“[…] what China is trying to do is asking how to create a domestic economy where Chinese people make money productively. They can not only afford a house of their own, but if they invest, they can invest in making China richer, not in buying income-yielding, rent-yielding, assets in America, England or Europe.”
“China is primarily a still a rural economy, a village economy. Most people don’t realize that. When you think of China, you think of Shanghai and Shenzhen and Beijing and even Wuhan. But the fact is that much of China’s rural and there can’t really be a rural exodus to the cities because you have a kind of passport plan in China. In order to live in Beijing, you have to have a permit to live in Beijing so the city won’t become even more overcrowded than it is now.”
“In many ways, what you’ve got in America is an advanced oligarchy. Across Europe, you’ve got a zombie banking system. And basically the model for the last certainly 30, 40 years has been to extract as much rent as possible and pass it off as an economic miracle.
“[…] the bulk of the Democratic and Republican Party said if we can’t privatize infrastructure and make it a rent-extracting monopoly, we’re not going to do it, and we’re going to block the government from doing it. So in the United States, they’re going to have high priced infrastructure, high-priced health care and high-priced education while China is going to have low-priced transportation, low-cost infrastructure, free education, public health care. And you’re going to have a very high-cost United States unable to compete with the rest of the world. All it can do is make military threats or financial threats.
“Ultimately the tendency is for the financial sector to take over and to use the financial returns to take over real estate. And so there’s a symbiosis between real estate and finance. That’s occurred in every economy for the last 2,000 years since Greece and Rome. It certainly characterizes where most money and most wealth is made today.”
“So China is going to leave its planning spontaneously to individuals to innovate, to develop, where America is becoming, and England, are centrally planned economies planned by Wall Street, not to create prosperity, but to create rent-extracting opportunities for Wall Street stocks and bonds and absentee real estate. So you’re going to have a rentier economy – let’s call it neofeudalism – while the rest of the world goes forward into what industrial capitalism was meant to be a century ago before it was sidetracked in the West. Much of Eurasia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will evolve into socialism, as most expected would happen in the West a century ago.”
“I think that ever since China’s officials met in Alaska with Mr. Blinken earlier this year, they see the handwriting on the wall, as have Russia and other SCO members. They’ve accepted that the world economy is fracturing between the U.S.-centered “free world” (central planning by Wall Street and unilateral diplomacy from Washington) and the multilateralizing rest of the world.”


Goldman Compliance Analyst Wasn’t Compliant by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“At this level it is all heuristics. “Vote yes on climate proposals” or “vote with management unless we have a little red frowny face next to the company in our huge spreadsheet of investments” or whatever it is. If you own every company, you can’t have a close personal substantive relationship with all of them; you can’t waste an hour thinking about whether this particular board of directors should or should not write a report about climate change. You have to have a general sense of whether it is good for companies to write climate reports, and then use that general sense to inform some quick decisions about hundreds of individual companies.”

It’s like recruiting. The world is too big to do things well, so we do them with heuristics, hoping for a positive balance. Individual companies will be unfairly fucked or lauded by the process. And the stupid heuristics are wide open to scammers, who know just what to do to benefit from advantages whose preconditions they don’t even come close to fulfilling.

“Someone will go collate all their votes and say “this firm voted against climate-change proposals in 87% of companies” or whatever, and that will be embarrassing. And if the giant institutional manager says “well but we read all of those proposals closely and considered our deep working knowledge of those companies and decided that a new report was unnecessary in 87% of the cases and necessary in 13%,” one, that will not really satisfy anybody, and two, it probably won’t be all that true. You were voting on some rough heuristic and now you had better shift your heuristic.

This is our world. Sad, but probably unavoidable.

“And you might say, “BlackRock, do you not care about water?” And BlackRock will be abashed. You never read any of those water-issues proposals, and it’s possible that neither did BlackRock, but that’s not the point. The point is that there is some scoring system for how many times a fund manager voted for “water issues,” and some incentive to maximize your score.
“You could just about imagine the person at a big index-fund firm saying “well voting no on this proposal is better for the value of the company, but voting yes on it will make our customers feel better about our ESG commitments and lead us to amass more assets.” Which way do you vote then? I think the cynical commercial answer is “vote for ESG,” but I also think that might be the correct fiduciary answer? Your obligations, as a fund manager, are to your investors, not to the companies you own.
In modern markets, the paradigmatic shareholder is broadly diversified, and there is less reason to care about what any particular company does. What you want is for the huge diversified shareholders who have influence over every company to use that influence in a broadly desirable way. Companies are just data points; what you care about is aggregates. We talked the other day about a shareholder proposal at Fox Corp. that explicitly argued that the proposal might be bad for Fox’s bottom line, but will [be] good for all the other companies that Fox shareholders also own. That is the way of the future.”


Wells Fargo Swapped Some Digits by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Man. I love writing about the complex stratagems that the world’s biggest and most sophisticated financial institutions use to give themselves an edge. My favorite remains “if someone sends you money by accident, keep it,” but this one is pretty good too. “Switch the digits in a price to make it higher, and hope the customer doesn’t notice,” that’s high finance right there.
“A number of factors are boosting shares after SPAC deals close, investors say. Large investor withdrawals reduce the number of shares available to trade, also known as a stock’s float. That scarcity means it doesn’t take much to swing the stock. Companies that go public via SPACs are also popular targets for short sellers, who wager on stock-price declines, a trend that can attract day traders hoping to “squeeze” the professionals by bidding up the shares.”
“Rising trading in options—which give the holder the right to buy a stock at a certain price in the future—is also playing a role. Market makers that sell options often hedge by buying shares of the underlying stock, a force that can help amplify share-price gains.
“[…] the way that buying and selling houses traditionally works, in the U.S., is that there is not a market maker. There is no liquidity provider. If you want to sell your house, you put up a sign saying “house for sale,” and if you want to buy a house you drive around looking for those signs, and if a buyer meets a seller they negotiate a bilateral deal between themselves. I mean, there’s more to it than that — the buyer and seller can and usually do hire agents to help them look for each other; the “for sale” signs are mostly online and searchable these days — but it is an essentially bilateral market; generally when a house is sold, the person who lived in it for a while sells it to another person who plans to live in it. You don’t normally sell your house to a market maker who sells it to someone else five minutes later.
“[…] if you sold a house to this market maker it would pay you less than a “real” buyer would pay. (And then it would turn around and sell the house to that “real” buyer at the price she would pay.) You lose the spread, but you gain liquidity and immediacy
“Eventually everyone might adapt their behavior to the existence of the market maker: Instead of driving around looking for for-sale signs, buyers would just go to the market maker to buy a house, so sellers would not attract buyers with their for-sale signs and would have no one to sell to but the market maker. It might become a bit of a monopolist, at least until competing well-capitalized well-informed market makers could get into the market.

Public Policy & Politics

German Elections: a Rough Loss and a Triumph by Victor Grossman (CounterPunch)

“The Bundeswehr is a vital part of German expansion plans, a successor to German military aggression in Africa around 1900, in World War One and, above all, in World War Two. There can be no compromises on this issue; The Left should instead remain in opposition, save its political soul and forgo the pleasures and honors of a minor cabinet seat or two and a bit more respectability in western Germany, where – for transparent reasons – it is largely ostracized or ignored.”
“Note on a neighbor: It may interest some readers that in a recent election in Graz, Austria’s second largest city, the Communist Party won the most votes (28,8 %) and will be the strongest party in the city council, a pay-off for years of attention to the problems and needs of working class tenants.


Congress averts federal shutdown, but Biden budget plan faces collapse by Patrick Martin (WSWS)

These revelations demonstrate the complete cynicism of the entire Democratic leadership. They have been proclaiming their determination to pass a $3.5 trillion bill, and utilized Bernie Sanders, now chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and various House “progressives” to give a “left” face to the maneuvers by Biden, Schumer and Pelosi. And all the time, they were well aware that Manchin and Sinema would torpedo the bill.
“Whether or not the infrastructure bill is ultimately passed, the much larger reconciliation bill is as dead as the dodo. The Democratic Party “progressives” will once again play their assigned roles while Pelosi & Co. will express their regrets and wring their hands, a process that is now under way.”

Journalism & Media

The News is America’s New Religion, and We’re in a Religious War by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

By the time Trump arrived, there was only one route left: putting content behind a paywall. Essentially, news companies passed a hat and asked for donations, just like churches. Also like churches, they began to sell belief instead of fact. They turned viewers and readers into congregationalists, people who’d be less interested in news than calls to spiritual battle. Fox had already proven this revenue model could work. In the Trump years, led by the New York Times — which lost other forms of income but went from 1.2 million digital subscribers in 2016 to 7.5 million in 2020 — the rest of the commercial media followed suit.”
“It was once a given that early reports, a.k.a. the “first draft of history,” tended to be wrong and would need to be tweaked as new information arose. Questioning gospels, however, is heresy, so mainstream reporters in particular avoided taking second looks at universally accepted initial takes.
“During the kind of emergency that would seem to justify an at least temporary embargo on partisan bullshit, groups are despising one another for real, because The Tube commands it more than ever.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Monomania Is Illiberal and Stupefying by Jonathan Haidt (Persuasion)

“Within a group of people competing for prestige on adherence to a belief, one can often gain points by publicly attacking outsiders. This creates an incentive for individuals in the group to attack not just their enemies, who are often out of reach, but innocent people who happen to be nearby. This dynamic may account for the cruelty with which power monomaniacs turn on professors and administrators who try to help them, or who otherwise share their political views but not their monomania. The threat of job loss and reputational damage make everyone else walk on eggshells, and this fearful attitude is incompatible with the success of a liberal society.”
“By abolishing the right to question, a monomaniacal group condemns itself to holding beliefs that are never tested, verified, or improved. We might even say that monomaniacal groups are likely to be wrong on most of their factual beliefs and their diagnoses of the problems that concern them. And if they are wrong on basic facts and diagnoses, then whatever reforms they propose to an institution are more likely to backfire than to achieve the goals of the reformers.
“I want to be clear that monomania is not just a problem on the far left. On the far right, we have seen communities becoming illiberal and stupid by following monomaniacs obsessed with communism, homosexuality, religion, immigration, and the national debt. But to return to the problem I encountered on my five-college book tour, I think that professors and leaders of educational institutions have a fiduciary duty toward their students that requires them to oppose monomania and lead students out of its stultifying embrace.”


Book Review: The Scout Mindset by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“Of the fifty-odd biases discovered by Kahneman, Tversky, and their successors, forty-nine are cute quirks, and one is destroying civilization. This last one is confirmation bias − our tendency to interpret evidence as confirming our pre-existing beliefs instead of changing our minds. This is the bias that explains why your political opponents continue to be your political opponents, instead of converting to your obviously superior beliefs. And so on to religion, pseudoscience, and all the other scourges of the intellectual world.”
“[…] someone with Soldier Mindset considers questions like “What’s the most rhetorically effective way to prove this point?” or “How can I embarrass my opponents?”, but not “Am I sure I’m on the right side?” or “How do we work together to converge on truth?”
“Scout Mindset stands out in how much it cares about emotional buy-in, so it takes probabilities in a different direction. They’re not great just because they help you think more clearly. They’re great because they help decrease the pain of changing your mind. Going from “X is true” to “X is false” seems like an admission of failure. Updating your probability estimate seems like virtuously taking account of new evidence − and an update from 60% to 40% is no better or worse than an update from 90% to 70%.”
“It reminds me of C.S. Lewis − especially The Great Divorce, whose conceit was that the damned could leave Hell for Heaven at any time, but mostly didn’t, because it would require them to admit that they had been wrong. I think Julia thinks of rationality and goodness as two related skills: both involve using healthy long-term coping strategies instead of narcissistic short-term ones.
“But all these skills about “what tests can you put your thoughts through to see things from the other person’s point of view?” or “how do you stay humble and open to correction?” are non-trivial parts of the decent-human-being package, and sometimes they carry over.”

Programming

Bracket pair colorization 10,000x faster by Henning Dieterichs (Visual Studio Code)

“Both ASTs describe the same document, but when traversing the first AST, the absolute positions have to be computed on the fly (which is cheap to do), while they are already precomputed in the second one. However, when inserting a single character into the first tree, only the lengths of the node itself and all its parent nodes must be updated − all other lengths stay the same. When absolute positions are stored as in the second tree, the position of every node later in the document must be incremented. Also, by not storing absolute offsets, leaf nodes having the same length can be shared to avoid allocations.