Links and Notes for November 5th, 2021
Below are links to articles, highlighted passages, and occasional annotations 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.
Table of Contents
- Economy & Finance
- Public Policy & Politics
- Journalism & Media
- Science & Nature
- Art & Literature
- Philosophy & Sociology
“As the Delta variant became the dominant strain of the coronavirus across the United States, all three COVID-19 vaccines available to Americans lost some of their protective power, with vaccine efficacy among a large group of veterans dropping between 35% and 85%, according to a new study.”
“By the end of September, Moderna’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, measured as 89% effective in March, was only 58% effective.
“The effectiveness of shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech, which also employed two doses, fell from 87% to 45% in the same period.
“And most strikingly, the protective power of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine plunged from 86% to just 13% over those six months.”
We should also recall that this study was performed in a country that eliminated all masking and distancing recommendations/requirements very early.
“For veterans younger than 65, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines provided the best protection against a fatal case of COVID-19, at 84% and 82%, respectively.”
“[The study] tracked 780,225 veterans of the U.S. armed forces from Feb. 1 to Oct. 1. Close to 500,000 of them had been vaccinated, while just under 300,000 had not.
“[…] the study population comprised six times as many men as women. And they skewed older: about 48% were 65 or older, 29% were between 50 and 64, and 24% were younger than 50.”
“Other researchers have found similar evidence of declining vaccine effectiveness. But they have suggested that the immune system’s defenses against SARS-CoV-2 simply fade with time, and that waning vaccine effectiveness would probably have been seen with or without the arrival of a new, more transmissible strain.”
Science summit warns of escalating pandemic disaster by Evan Blake (WSWS)
“Dr. Leonardi has opposed unsafe school reopenings and authored a widely circulated letter outlining the neurological dangers posed to children by COVID-19. Asked about the potential long-term implications of unsafe schools reopenings, Dr. Leonardi responded, “There’s a publication that lists a lowered productive lifespan in kids, and it’s more of an attenuation in kids than adults. So it’s a bad idea, we’re setting kids up to have chronic illness.”
“Asked to comment on the need to fight for a global elimination strategy, Dr. Leonardi cited a study conducted on rhesus monkeys which showed that every test subject infected with COVID-19 formed Lewy bodies in its brain. Lewy bodies are associated with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
“Drawing out the implications of this finding, Dr. Leonardi presented a horrific scenario, asking: “If that happens in humans, if we start getting neurodegeneration down the line, who is going to take care of all those people that are afflicted by it? Do we really want to risk almost everybody in the populace and have a very small amount of people able to take care of these other people?”
“The argument was advanced that one can convince governments to eliminate COVID-19 because it would save them money. From a humanitarian standpoint, this should be irrelevant, and there is something profoundly wrong with a society where the saving of human lives has to be shown to be cost-effective.
“But this argument is itself meaningless to the ruthless financial elites that have amassed trillions of dollars during the pandemic through the funneling of state funds into the stock market. In the US alone, the billionaires increased their wealth by $1.8 trillion, or 62 percent, in just the first 18 months of the pandemic. While the international working class has suffered unfathomable losses, the stock markets continue to reach record highs globally.”
“Taken as a whole, the reports at the World Health Network summit provide overwhelming proof that the only correct pandemic policy is one aimed at the global elimination of SARS-CoV-2. For this to be implemented requires the development of a mass movement of the international working class armed with a scientific understanding of the pandemic.”
“Under the “Drug-Free Workplace Rules” instituted at the end of free-loving Ronald Reagan’s 2nd term, all large companies w/ federal contracts were required to drug test their employees, prompting approximately 90% of Fortune 500 companies run drug tests on their workers and 68% of all other employers nationwide to do the same. Where was the outcry from the anti-vax right about this intrusive mandate?”
“Drosten: Hier in Deutschland gerade, mit unserer Auffassung von Gesundheitsschutz—manche nennen das, ein bisschen abfällig, “Kaskomentalität” oder “Vollkaskomentalität”—aber man brauche dazu keine abfälligen Begriffe zu kreieren. Wir haben hier die Erfahrung in unserer Gesellschaft, dass Leute eine medizinische Versorgung bekommen und nicht, fast unter archaischen Verhältnissen an Infektionskrankheit sterben müssen, aus voller Gesundheit heraus. Und das ist, ich glaube, eine berechtigte Vorstellung in unsere Gesellschaft. Wenn wir da also hinwollen, dann müssen wir das über die Impfung erreichen.”
“Drosten: Ich glaube der Groschen, der hier noch nicht gefallen ist, ist, dass das nicht nur Infektionsbiologisch-, Epidemiologisch-relevant ist, sondern auch Wirtschaftlich. Wir werden im nächsten Frühjahr eine Gruppe von Europäischen Ländern haben, die durch ist—und eine andere Gruppe, die nicht durch ist.
“Corina: Deutschland, zum Beispiel.
“Drosten: Ich denke, dass Deutschland auch bis dahin nicht durch sein wird, denn wir sind in einer ziemlich schlechten Situation. Wir haben eben 15 Millionen Leute, die eigentlich hätten geimpft sein können und die geimpft sein müssten.”
That’s it, folks! (Es isch gloffe!) Pack it up! We lost. Thanks for playing. Better luck next time. Looks like Germany—and, almost certainly, Switzerland and the U.S. of A.—is going to take the long way around, through the qualification stages. Best of luck!
“The impact of waning, and the opportunity to restore very high (~95%) effectiveness of mRNA vaccines (specifically Pfizer/BioNtech) with booster (third) shots has been unequivocally proven from the Israeli data. Yet the adoption of boosters, even in the highest-risk groups such as age 60 plus, has been very slow.”
“Throughout the world, the profound pandemic fatigue has led to the irresistible notion that the pandemic end is nigh, that masks, distancing, and other measures have run their course, essentially that enough is enough. It is hard to imagine fighting a foe as formidable as Delta that a vaccine-only strategy can be effective.”
“That brings us to the United States, sitting in the zone of denial for the fourth time during the pandemic, thinking that in some way we will be “immune” to what is happening in Europe. That somehow the magical combination of mRNA vaccines with only 58% of the population fully vaccinated, a relatively low proportion of booster shot uptake, a start to vaccinating teens and children, and a lot of prior Covid, and little in the way of mitigation, will spare us.”
“We are already seeing signs that the US is destined to succumb to more Covid spread, with more than three weeks sitting at a plateau of ~75,000 new cases per day, now there’s been a 10% rise in the past week. We are miles from any semblance of Covid containment, facing winter and the increased reliance of being indoors with inadequate ventilation and air filtration, along with the imminent holiday gatherings.”
Pfizer antiviral slashes COVID-19 hospitalizations by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel (Science)
“In a trial that an outside monitoring group halted early because the treatment appeared so promising, the company’s experimental compound slashed hospitalizations by 89% among those treated within 3 days of symptom onset, and by nearly that much among people who started on the pills within 5 days.”
“Getting antivirals to people within 3 days of a diagnosis can be a challenge, and the trial cohorts were part of a larger group who started the therapy within 5 days of symptoms. There, six out of 607 on the antiviral, or 1%, were hospitalized, versus 41 out of 612, or 6.7%, in the placebo group.”
“How would you design a virus to spread stealthily in the ways that SARS-CoV-2 does, either for general research or for nefarious purposes? You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t know how. “There’s a vanishingly low likelihood that you could design a virus so that it spreads asymptomatically,” says Weiss. Human-to-human transmissibility has never been produced deliberately in laboratory experiments because no one knows exactly how to make a virus more transmissible among people.”
“Bat-borne viruses, including Hendra, Nipah, Marburg, and rabies, can kill people, but they don’t easily spread from person to person. While, in theory, a bat virus that has the ability to infect people via the ACE-2 receptor might be able to spread from person to person, there is no known record of any bat virus (or any other wild animal virus) having done so.”
Economy & Finance
“With the company’s losses mounting, Chief Executive Officer Rich Barton said it had become too risky to scale the business in a U.S. housing market that has been running hot for well over a year during the pandemic. “Fundamentally, we have been unable to predict future pricing of homes to a level of accuracy that makes this a safe business to be in,” Barton said on an earnings call.”
Hahahaha. No shit.
“When we decided to take a big swing on Zillow offers 3.5 years ago, our aim was to become a market maker not a market risk taker. And this was underpinned by the need to forecast the price of homes accurately three to six months in the future.”
The second sentence belies the stated aim in the first.
“But in the house business you can’t generally buy a house in the morning and sell it in the afternoon. You sign a contract to buy a house in the morning, then you do an inspection and title search and stuff, then a few weeks later you close on the house and deliver the money, then you spruce up the house a bit, then you wait for a buyer to come in — which takes, not seconds as it does in the stock market, but days or weeks or months — then you show the house to the buyer, then you sign a contract to sell it, then they do an inspection and title search and stuff, then you wait around for them to get a mortgage, then a few months later you close on the sale.”
That’s a long-winded way of saying that houses aren’t fungible in any practical sense, even at medium scale.
“The whole thing is so stupid and overdetermined that I cannot bear to write about it; if you lost money on SQUID you should just come to my house and give me your wallet because you should not be allowed to use money anymore.”
“But in modern crypto and meme-stock markets this basic fact has been distilled into a fundamental belief, free of any underlying reason. “If we all buy this thing and don’t sell it, the price will go up, and then we’ll be rich” is a belief that is … sort of logical? … and that can be applied to anything. “If we all buy GameStop Corp. stock,” etc.; there the belief went by the name “diamond hands.” “If we all buy Bitcoin,” etc.; there it goes by the name “HODL.” There is a new generation of crypto stuff like Olympus DAO, where it goes by the name “(3,3),” a vague wave in the direction of game theory: “(3,3) is the idea that, if everyone cooperated in Olympus, it would generate the greatest gain for everyone (from a game theory standpoint).” “Cooperate” in that sentence just means buying a lot and never selling.”
“Early discussions of the Volcker Rule, which forbids banks from doing “proprietary trading” but allows them to do “market making,” placed some emphasis on this distinction: If your desk makes most of its money from price moves, that’s bad prop trading; if it makes most of its money from spreads, that’s good market making.”
“Market making activities should be characterized by rapid inventory turnover and minimal profits on inventory held, while proprietary trading activities should evidence more modest turnover with the bulk of profits derived from inventory appreciation.””
“I should say that there are two objections to “more buyers than sellers.” One is that it is a non-explanation: When people ask why the market went up, they want you to give them a *reason*, and “more buyers than sellers” is just a tautological rephrasing of “the market went up.” The other objection, though, is that it isn’t true: Every time a share of stock or a cryptocurrency trades, there is one buyer and one seller, so there are never “more buyers than sellers.””
A Progressive Monetary Policy Is the Only Alternative by Yanis Varoufakis (Project Syndicate)
“As the coronavirus pandemic recedes in the advanced economies, their central banks increasingly resemble the proverbial ass who, equally hungry and thirsty, succumbs to both hunger and thirst because it could not choose between hay and water. Torn between inflationary jitters and fear of deflation, policymakers are taking a potentially costly wait-and-see approach.”
“Interest rates should indeed be raised. Lest we forget, even in times of zero official interest rates, the bottom 50% of the income distribution are ineligible for cheap credit and end up borrowing at usurious rates via payday loans, credit cards, and unsecured private loans. It is only the rich that benefit from ultra-low interest rates.”
“Similarly, in crypto, having many billions of dollars invested in a thing that (1) is supposed to be worth $1 in all circumstances, (2) can’t say where it keeps its deposits and (3) has essentially zero capital seems kind of bad! Perhaps it should disclose its assets and have capital and liquidity requirements. But crypto is … new? There is a lot of experimentation in crypto, a lot of smart people trying to figure out the right way to do financial things from a clean slate. (Also a lot of people trying to figure out how to do scams; always that.)”
“I like to say that crypto is about rapidly reliving all of financial history, but that might understate things. This is the Bored Apes community discovering that you need law. This is a discovery that it is actually nice to have a society. A trustless immutable decentralized blockchain is nice, but it cannot completely replace a society with some trust.”
“The stock more than tripled to a record $545.11 in late morning trading in New York, bringing total gains for the year to a whopping 1,300%. The rapid jump in the stock price triggered at least 10 trading halts for volatility as 12 million shares changed hands – more than 20 times what’s been seen over the past month.”
This is for Avis, a rental-car company.
“I was also going to say that “we like to execute on our strategy before announcing it” is a singularly bad approach to the meme-stock era, and what you should actually do is announce your strategy a lot, have your stock go up, do a big stock offering, pay yourself a huge bonus, buy some islands, and worry about execution later.”
How is it that think that (A) there are no losers here and (B) they are inventing this when the same thing happened in 1929.
“[…] as author and longtime MLM expert Robert FitzPatrick argues, the industry has only grown in size and influence since its inception — remaining a poorly understood and criminally underregulated enterprise that generates billions in revenue every year while scamming countless Americans.”
““MLM is so reflective of prevailing cultural systems, dogmas and economic structures, that it remains largely unexamined, almost invisible, even though just a cursory study reveals an extraordinary fraud on a global scale, disguised as legitimate business.””
Replace MLM with “capitalism” or “finance” or “crypto”.
“So, that’s the way I identify multilevel marketing. It’s a cultic racket that has embedded itself in our economy, disguised as direct selling and an income opportunity and protected by government through corruption and lobbying — and ignored, even by the Left, as a destructive economic and social force.”
“The government did try to shut down Amway in the ’70s, but Amway subverted that prosecution at the highest level of government with the president of the United States, who was then Gerald Ford, taking his largest contribution from the Amway families. They funded his library, his museum, and he later became a spokesman for them. His secretary of state became a consultant. They actually met with him at the White House while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was trying to shut down Amway.”
“They said it’s very difficult to prove a pyramid scheme, but what they do is criminal. They deceive, and they harm, and they do this deliberately in a calculated manner. That’s called fraud, and we have laws against criminal fraud. That’s the law that was used here. So, why is this one different from the other 700? The attorneys had no answer for that. That case is the model though. And this is the same thing you see in relation to all kinds of white-collar fraud. It’s rare that corporate criminals are ever prosecuted criminally.”
“I guess my two conclusions about this story are: Mainly I was surprised that TMTG has been kicking around this long? It was pitched to Trump, by “two former contestants on his reality show, ‘The Apprentice,’” in January 2021, and the company was incorporated in February. It was not formed two weeks ago purely to cash in on SPAC money; this is a thing that somebody at least vaguely wants to do. If they did the bad thing, I suppose that’s a sort of fraud, but it is a somewhat arcane sort of fraud. How many times do you think I will write that sentence about the Trump SPAC? I just feel like we are all going to learn a lot about all sorts of arcane frauds and I am excited to go on this journey with you and Trump SPAC.”
““I like living on this planet and would prefer not to fund activities that destroy it” strikes me as a reasonable and sufficient reason for a person to choose some investments and reject others. But it is awkward to say that, because ESG investors are generally (1) fiduciaries for their clients and (2) also marketing their services to prospective clients. Clients would prefer to be told that ESG investing will make them money. So the ESG investors like to tell stories to the effect of “activities that destroy the planet will have a lower long-term financial return, which is why we avoid them.””
The moral argument carries no weight in our world. You always end up justifying everything with money. It’s the only way to get anyone to listen. We’re kind of doomed.
“If your ESG thesis is “eventually the world should ban oil,” fine, I guess, but if your ESG thesis is “soon the world will ban oil” there is some uncomfortable empirical evidence the other way.”
“Brown assets could turn out to be highly valuable if the world fails to transition out of the high-carbon economy. This is true both because sentiment for green assets may cause brown assets to be underpriced (generating higher expected returns) and because brown assets may provide a valuable hedge against the costs of climate change in a world that failed to transition to a low-carbon economy. Given the lack of progress to date toward transition to a low-carbon economy, we argue that institutional investors subject to fiduciary duties of prudent investment (including the duty to diversify) cannot yet justify divestment from brown assets.”
“A year ago, you could have told a story like “let’s not buy oil wells in Texas, because eventually oil drilling will be banned or at least difficult to finance, and the world is transitioning away from oil.” In the actual world of November 2021, oil is trading near $85 a barrel because of intense global demand for oil, and in Texas it is kind of illegal not to finance oil drilling. If you bought oil wells a year ago that was probably a good trade!”
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Everyone else is getting theirs, so you might as well do it, too. Rob ‘em blind before they rob you. It’s the only way. A pity that this seems to be the default way of thinking these days.
“An important mechanism to remember is: ”
“Is this legal? In the stock market, no, of course not; it is “wash trading.” Is it legal in the crypto market? I dunno man, it’s crypto.”
- You create a new cryptocurrency, WashCoin.
- You mint a trillion WashCoins and put them in your crypto wallet along with $2 of Ethereum. How much are your trillion WashCoins worth? I mean, zero dollars, right?
- You open another crypto wallet and put another $1 worth of Ethereum in it.
- You send the $1 of ETH from the second wallet to the first in exchange for one WashCoin.
- The next day, you send $2 of ETH from your first wallet back to the second in exchange for that one WashCoin.
- Now the trading price of a WashCoin is $2, so its total market capitalization is $2 trillion, up 100% in the last 24 hours.
- You still own 100% of the WashCoins and nobody has paid you anything for them.
- But, now that the market cap is $2 trillion and soaring, somebody might.
“If you sell me one CryptoWolverine for $1, and I sell it to someone else for $2, and she sells it to someone else for $3, then we have collectively pumped up the value of the ecosystem that we are all invested in; it is in each of our personal interests to overpay for stuff so that the rest of our stuff is worth more.”
“On Twitter, this was discussed as an example of failures of filtering in tech job searches, but to me it reads more like an example of how everything now is simultaneously serious and a joke.”
“if I was hiring for a crypto company, and I got a resume with a line like “Led team of 6 engineers to mine Ethereum on company servers,” I would give that person an interview. That shows initiative, technical skills, and a certain comfort with legal ambiguity that seems useful in the crypto industry.”
Why the ‘Big Short’ Guys Think Bitcoin Is a Bubble by Michelle Celarier (NY Magazine / Intelligencer)
“Hedge-fund mogul John Paulson, who was behind the “the greatest trade ever” — in 2007, he personally made $4 billion on his short of subprime mortgages — thinks cryptocurrencies are a bubble that will prove to be “worthless.” Michael Burry, the quirky hedge-fund manager made famous in The Big Short movie (played by Christian Bale), complains that no one is paying attention to crypto’s leverage. For months, he has been suggesting that bitcoin is on the precipice of collapse. And NYU professor Nassim Taleb, whose now-canonical book The Black Swan warned about the dangers of unpredictable events just ahead of the subprime crash, argues that bitcoin is functionally a Ponzi scheme.
“Other famous critics include economist Nouriel Roubini, one of the few in his profession to predict the financial crisis, and hedge-fund billionaire and hard-money acolyte Paul Singer, whose speech at a prestigious investment conference in 2006 described the eventual “wipeout” of mortgage securities. Singer, the founder of the $48 billion investment firm Elliott Management, thinks cryptocurrencies are a fraud,”
“Mike Green, a prominent investment strategist who was also short subprime before the financial crisis, when he worked at hedge fund Canyon Capital, nonetheless shares the perspective of his fellow ’08 Cassandras. “These guys tend to be good b.s. sniffers,” he says. “My view is that bitcoin will ultimately end up going to zero. And I think we are in the final stages right now.””
There is opportunity cost, but it’s so volatile, it’s no better than betting on the flip of a coin.
“Green says he began looking into bitcoin because clients were clamoring to invest in it. “As I dug into the actual underpinnings, it just became very clear that what was actually going on was cultlike behavior with no real understanding of the asset or the economic implications for the model that it was proposing,” he says.”
““I kind of like to have the Fed run by Ph.D.’s who went to work for the government being the people deciding fiscal policy more than a bunch of kids,” he says, referring to the generation of extremely online young people who have figured prominently among the early adopters of bitcoin. “And the U.S. dollar is backed by the full faith of the United States. Does bitcoin have an army?””
“While bitcoin has lately showed some ability to move independently of the S&P 500, posting gains even when the market declined, critics still see it behaving more like a meme stock than an established asset class.”
“Spitznagel, also a fervent critic of the Fed’s monetary policies post-crash, says cryptocurrencies themselves are fiat currencies, because they are “created out of thin air.””
To the uneducated eye, they are created out of thin air, but they cannot be created by “fiat”. There is a limited supply that can ever be created, and the “proof of work” means that no-one can just create Bitcoin without putting in at least some amount of energy/effort to “outbid” others trying to process the same transaction. It’s not at all like the Fed just creating billions by moving numbers on a balance sheet.
““People buy it thinking that the next guy will come along and subjectively value it higher,” he says. “That looks like a Ponzi scheme.””
That is a fair statement. It’s not at all unlike most of the regulated market (e.g. house-flippers, meme-stock flippers, most trading, really).
“Until recently, China accounted for more than 50 percent of all mining, but it’s unclear how much — if any — of that capacity remains online now that the central government has banned the industry. In practice, much of it seems to be moving to the United States, particularly Texas.”
“No one knows what the actual leverage is, says Green, who adds that some of the trading is simply fake buy-and-sell orders, known as “wash sales,” that give the illusion of activity.”
“He notes that the venture capitalists who’ve dreamed up many of the new tokens and exchanges come from a culture that created popular new businesses, like Airbnb and Uber, which thrive by avoiding the type of costly regulations that govern their established rivals. The VC world calls it disruption; Green calls it regulatory arbitrage.”
“Spitznagel agrees with that assessment. “I can see why governments need to fight this thing. They are probably going to shut it down at some point.” (Here, a more neutral observer might point out that bitcoin is a decentralized global network, and that one national government — or even many governments together — can’t just “shut it down.” As long as there are computers somewhere in the world running the program, bitcoin is technically alive and functioning.)”
What he probably means is that it would eliminate the high margins and profitability of the scheme. You can’t actually shut it down, but you can make it unattractive enough that it collapses on its own. It probably wouldn’t take very much to make it dwindle into insignificance. People only “trust” it now because it’s been trending upward for a year or two. If it were to trend downward, then it would collapse gradually, at first, then all at once.
Public Policy & Politics
At 18:40, referring to something Josh Hawley had said,
“Matt: That is “bodies and spaces” talk. It’s amazing to me how people, who have spent years fixating on every filigree of PMC mystification around race and gender, are incapable of seeing it if it’s about a white guy.
“Felix: That’s why he’s Elizabeth Warren for conservatives.
“Matt: Yes! Hawley is Elizabeth Warren for the right! Uncharismatic dork, standing for a completely online opinion, held exclusively among frantically neurotic, office-bound dorks who make up a fraction of the electorate.”
A little bit later in the discussion, at around 21:00,
“Matt: It’s attacking symptoms to avoid addressing causal focuses that are out of political control. And that’s what nobody, from Xi to Halway to anybody can admit, which is that our system, as constructed, cannot change in a fundamental enough way to affect this kind of stuff. The general trend of culture, all the things they’re horrified by, the wheel has been lashed to the mast, it’s not moving. We would have to break up our political structure and reorganize it fundamentally to actually address this stuff.”
What a lovely metaphor: I see the storm raging all around the ship, the seas heaving it like a toy in a bathtub, the rain lashing down on the deck, the mist popping up from the crooked boards, the rope taut from the mast to the wheel. The wheel straining against the gigantic—dare I say, Gordian—knot that gets only tighter with each drop of rain that falls on and each wave that washes over it. The prow pointed straight into the next wave, heedless of the danger. The crew helpless to do anything about it, the captain raving madly, spittle flying, cutlass arcing wildly through the air, his tortured throat tearing as he screams a stream of glossolalia that is lost to the howling wind as soon as it leaves his roaring maw.
This is us now. Settle back for a rough ride. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
“[…] the world’s most costly weapons program (at $1.7 trillion), a fifth-generation fighter, supposedly “invisible” to radar (that actually cannot fight and is not invisible to advanced radars), now has a new mission to justify its existence and continued production: dropping dial-able “tactical” nuclear weapons that can be as small as 0.3 kilotons or up to 50 kilotons in explosive power.”
The U.S. is redesigning its deployment capacities in order to make it more palatable to use a nuclear weapon.
“These re-configured planes, which also have software upgrades to allow them to prime, unlock and release their twin nukes, are being delivered to forward bases near Russia and China within the relatively short range of the bomb-laden planes.”
“When a bad outcome appears inevitable, rationalizations appear out of the ether to explain how things could possibly go so very wrong. After all, a fair legal system couldn’t possibly acquit Rittenhouse because he’s guilty. Not because of what happened, not because of the law, but because that’s the verdict reached in the Court of Social Justice. No matter how many lawyers explain that the judge’s rulings, from the in limine motion to preclude the prosecution from calling the deceaseds “victims” to Judge Schroeder’s admonishing the prosecutor, Thomas Binger, for trying to use Rittenhouse’s exercise of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent as evidence of guilt, to seeking to use propensity evidence that had been precluded against him, were both correct and within the bounds of normal trial practice, these are seen as absolute outrages by the unwary. Each instance that “surprises” the unduly passionate by not coming out the way their motivated reasoning would suggest becomes another piece of irrefutable evidence of how broken, how “fixed,” the legal system is.”
“Of the more than six hundred people charged with crimes in connection with that riot, only a minority are accused of using violence of any kind. […] While few object to prison terms for people who used violence as part of that riot (even though many progressives do object to long prison terms for those who used violence as part of the 2020 protest movement), a large number of non-violent protesters face serious felony charges and lengthy prison terms. That non-violent protesters should not be imprisoned is foundational to the criminal justice reform movement, yet it is nowhere to be found when it comes to the 1/6 defendants whose real crime, again, is that they have the wrong ideology.
“To charge non-violent 1/6 defendants with felony charges has been a serious challenge for federal prosecutors. Since when is non-violent trespassing a felony?”
“[…] just yesterday, prosecutors demanded more than four years in prison for Jacob Chansley, the so-called Q Shaman, despite the fact that he did not use violence against anyone on that date. But again, because Chansley became some sort of symbol of anti-liberalism or MAGA ideology, you will not find a Democrat expressing concerns about this highly aberrational prison request. The same is true of the extraordinary pre-trial detention of non-violent 1/6 defendants, the unusually harsh conditions in which they are detained, and the fact that an Obama-appointed judge is imposing sentences harsher than those requested by prosecutors: classic excesses of the Prison State that are being cheered rather than denounced because of their utility in punishing ideological enemies.”
US Media Cowers not Covers Chevron’s Prosecution of Human Rights Lawyer Donziger by Greg Palast & Zach D. Roberts (GregPalast.com)
“The US press covered the UN’s demand that President Putin release dissident Alexei Navalny, but failed to report that the same panel ordered Biden to release Donziger.”
“This is the first case in US history of a criminal prosecution by a corporation.
That Donziger has been prosecuted and imprisoned by Chevron is no metaphor. After Donziger won the judgment against Chevron in 2011 in Ecuador, the oil giant filed a racketeering suit in New York against Donziger, claiming he won the Cofan case by offering a bribe to an Ecuadoran judge.
“(The Ecuadorian judge admits he never got a dime from Donziger but did take an estimated $2 million from Chevron for “expenses.”)
“In the US, Chevron found a judge, former tobacco industry lawyer Lewis A. Kaplan, who denied Donziger a jury trial on Chevron’s civil racketeering claim. Kaplan found for Chevron, then ordered Donziger to pay the oil company millions of dollars for their legal fees, thereby bankrupting […] him.
“When the judge ordered Donziger to turn over his personal computer to Chevron — the company claimed Donziger was […] hiding funds — Donziger asked for an unbiased expert to protect confidential information about his clients.
“For Donziger’s temerity, the judge charged him with criminal contempt and placed Donziger under house arrest — an unprecedented punishment for an attorney.
“It gets worse: when the Justice Department failed to prosecute Donziger, the judge hired, at public expense, a private lawyer to prosecute Donziger. And still worse: the attorney worked for a firm that that represented Chevron!”
“There is a common argument that countries with aging populations, like China, will suffer because each worker will have to support a larger number of retirees. It is easy to show that this view is silly. Even a modest rate of productivity growth will swamp the impact of a declining ratio of workers to retirees. With output per worker increasing, both workers and retirees can enjoy rising living standards even as the ratio of workers to retirees fall.”
“But if the workforce stagnates, then companies need to spend less on investment. They will still modernize their equipment and replace worn out items, but they don’t have to invest to accommodate the needs of a larger workforce.”
“It is ironic that the economists warning about the implications of an aging population not only got the magnitude of the problem wrong, they even got the direction wrong. With our aging population, we don’t have to worry about too much demand, we have to worry about too little. This is yet another example of the old saying that economists are not very good at economics.”
“We discovered the cure for secular stagnation in the 1930s, the government has to spend money to make up for the failure to spend by the private sector.”
This is no longer the acceptable solution, in light of climate change. Growing for the sake of it is a waste of precious resources. We have to be much more sure that we’re growing for a good reason. We can’t just say that someone has to push growth, regardless. We have to come up with a solution for stasis, as well. Otherwise, the easiest solution will always be to grow and grow and grow, using up the future’s resources today.
“This is one of the opportunities created by China’s supposed demographic crisis. The issue is that because of the aging of the population it faces the prospect of a huge shortfall of demand in the economy. This is a good problem for a country to have, if its leadership is adept in managing its resources.”
“There’s the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1953, Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954, the great Patrice Lumumba of the Congo in 1960, Joao Goulart of Brazil in 1964, Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973, all the way up to Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti in 2004 and Manuel Zeleya of Honduras in 2009. The list literally goes on and on. America has become so devoted to sabotaging democracy in it’s own hemisphere that it runs a school, formerly known as the School of the Americas, whose curriculum includes everything from torture to propaganda and whose alumni reads like a who’s who of human rights abusers, including some of Latin America’s more heinous autocrats, like Argentina’s Jorge Videla, Bolivia’s Hugo Banzer and Panama’s Manuel Noriega.”
“Of course, when our monsters take their reign of terror too far, usually by nationalizing a prized resource or sharing the sugar with the wrong neighbors, America gets to play it’s coveted role of hero, saving poor nations from the monsters we built by bombing them into oblivion.”
“You see, dearest motherfuckers, America isn’t a monster. America is something far more horrifying. America is a monster factory, building heinous ghouls so it can justify it’s very existence fighting them and footing you for the fucking bill every step of the way. The wars on autocracy, drugs and terror are little more than massive hustles and the hustle never stops.”
“This fucking madness doesn’t end until we end it. We need to stop wasting our torches and pitchforks on monsters and turn them on the mad doctors who build them. The root cause of all this violence is Uncle Sam and we’re never gonna vote him out of power, so we might as well burn his laboratory to the fucking ground and rebuild on the ashes.”
“Unlike virtually every other incumbent who has been felled by a leftist challenger in recent years, Brown did not concede the election after narrowly losing the Democratic primary. He immediately decided to keep campaigning, drawing support from the city’s business and real-estate elite as well as rank-and-file Republicans, organized labor, and the Black working class.”
Wait…who the hell supported Walton then? Even her own party didn’t endorse her.
“His campaign enlisted the help of Republicans and Trump supporters, including the real-estate developer Carl Paladino, a former gubernatorial candidate known for his racist and incendiary statements.”
But Brown is a black.man. That supporter can’t be all too racist—or, at least, he doesn’t let his racism outweigh his self-interest.
“The chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, refused to endorse Walton after she became the Democratic nominee, likening her to David Duke, the white supremacist leader. Governor Kathy Hochul, who hails from the Buffalo area, also refused to back Walton. Local labor unions divided support, with the Buffalo teachers endorsing Walton, a critic of charter schools, while more moderate unions sided with Brown.”
“Of course, but there has never been a ”free press”. There have been extraordinary journalists who have occupied positions in the “mainstream” – spaces that have now closed, forcing independent journalism on to the internet. There, it has become a “fifth estate”, a samizdat of dedicated, often unpaid work by those who were honourable exceptions in a media now reduced to an assembly line of platitudes.”
“It has been open season on the WikiLeaks’ founder for more than a decade. In 2011, The Guardian exploited Julian’s work as if it was its own, collected journalism prizes and Hollywood deals, then turned on its source. Years of vituperative assaults on the man who refused to join their club followed. He was accused of failing to redact documents of the names of those considered at risk. In a Guardian book by David Leigh and Luke Harding, Assange is quoted as saying during a dinner in a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, actually was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind.”
“Now look at the cost of “upgrading” and “modernizing” the US nuclear arsenal, a program which was originated by Barack Obama, after he got his Nobel Peace Prize, and has now ballooned beyond its original abdominous $1 trillion price tag to a stunning $1.75 trillion. No shrinkage there. For both Parties no cost is too high to keep us poised every instant on the razor edge of Accidental Armageddon.”
“A 23% cut in the military budget (or if you wish to cast your net wider, a 13% cut in the “national security” budget) will fund the entire Build Back Better Bill – with no more cuts. With a 23% cut for fiscal 2022, the military budget drops from $750 billion to $580 billion. That is well in excess of the combined military expenditures of $314 billion for China ($252 billion) and Russia ($62 billion.) In fact a cut of 50% in the military outlay would still leave it at $375 bill, still higher than the combined expenditure of Russia and China. If an elected official cannot agree to that, they are either paranoid or a hegemonist up to no good.”
Journalism & Media
“The basic stance of the social justice set, for a long time now, has been that they are 100% exempt from ordinary politics. BlackLivesMatter proponents have spent a year and a half acting as though their demand for justice is so transcendently, obviously correct that they don’t have to care about politics. When someone like David Shor gently says that they in fact do have to care about politics, and points out that they’ve accomplished nothing, they attack him rather than do the work of making their positions popular. Well, sooner or later, guys, you have to actually give a shit about what people who aren’t a part of your movement think. Sorry. That’s life. The universe is indifferent to your demand for justice, and will remain so until you bother to try to change minds. Nobody gives you what you want. That’s not how it works. Do politics. Think and speak strategically. Be disciplined. Work harder. And for fuck’s sake, give me a simple term to use to address you. Please? Because right now it sure looks like you don’t want to be named because you don’t want to be criticized.”
“my main takeaway from this whole episode is that it’s very interesting to me that the dominant form of political discourse in America now is essentially weaponized JibJab videos. I’m not sure what that says about anything, but I find it interesting nonetheless.”
Science & Nature
“The pledges made so far are just that: pledges. They are not mandatory, and no one will be punished for failing to live up to them.”
On the contrary: we will all be punished severely if we fail. The promises listed in that article are even more half-hearted than the pledges at Paris—and none of the countries even came close to coming through on their pledges. China has accounted for about 50% of the reduction in CO2 output in the last decade. It is the biggest current emitter, so that’s a good start. So far, it’s all—if you’ll pardon the expression—hot air.
“Business Insider declared the event a “historic failure,” while an editorial in the Financial Times spoke of “More hot air than progress at COP26,” noting that the US’s decision not “to sign up to a deal to phase out coal production… struck a severe blow to what was meant to be a flagship policy of COP.””
“It is hard to argue with Thunberg’s characterization of the summit as “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah.”
“She told the huge crowd, “The leaders are not doing nothing. They are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system. This is an active choice by the leaders to continue to let the exploitation of people and nature, and the destruction of present and future living conditions to take place.””
“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats will pretend that the infrastructure bill they just approved and the social spending and climate bill they just agreed to postpone add up to a huge US commitment to resolve the climate crisis.
“The truth is just the opposite. Both the Democrats and Republicans are willing to slash the consumption of American workers in the name of climate change, but not to cut a penny of the profits of American corporations.”
China’s Climate Goals Hinge on a $440 Billion Nuclear Buildout by Dan Murtaugh & Krystal Chia (Bloomberg)
“Along with the potential for geopolitical fallout, potential partners have other concerns. China hasn’t signed on to any of several international treaties that set standards for sharing liability in the event of accidents. It also hasn’t offered to take back spent fuel, an added disadvantage when competing with Russia, which does.”
“At COP26, applications by the International Atomic Energy Agency and industry advocates to set up shop at a more public and visible area were rejected. Japan’s efforts to restart its fleet are mired in court actions and public opposition, Germany will take the last of its reactors offline next year, and France has pledged to cut its reliance on nuclear energy from 70% to 50% by 2035.”
“While the incident ended up being largely uneventful, it widened the already gaping trust gap between China and the global marketplace for nuclear technology. China’s business practices are often opaque and sometimes downright hostile to the world’s other big emitters. The U.S., India and others are unlikely to build critical infrastructure around Chinese technology, even if it does prove safe and cost-effective.”
Blow it out of proportion, then claim later that you can’t trust them.
Art & Literature
“The swimming pools were lit, the sprinklers cast their slow, soft arc. Thousands of dollars of lighting and millions of kilowatts of electricity were used to make green plants red and blue. Thousands of gallons of water were pumped up to make thousands of bags of pine chips dark against the pale trunks. The little group moved past beneath a curved immensity of sky, now filled with stars.”
“[…] (according to his biographer, “Viktor Orban is a man who almost automatically believes in the veracity of whatever he considers to be politically useful to him”) Did anyone at all fall for this? I guess yes; Fidesz won the 1998 elections and Orban briefly became prime minister. But he wasn’t very good at it then either, and he lost control to the Socialists a few years later. He shrugged, gave up, and retired to live a quiet life in the country. Haha, no, he spent the whole time plotting revenge.”
“The book is kind of ambiguous about this, but I think it suggests that during his last few weeks in office he raised everyone’s salaries to an unsustainable level, just so the socialists would have to lower them again and look like the bad guys. He started rumors that the election had been stolen − less because he thought anyone would believe it, more just to keep the opposition off-balance − and then started every other rumor he could think of.”
That raising-salary ploy is a wicked power move. Of course it also indicates that you care more about petty revenge and your own relative power than the welfare of the country you want to run.
“Before his victory, Orban told supporters “we only have to win once, but then properly”. He wasn’t kidding. After his 2010 victory, Orban focused on using his control of Hungarian institutions to change the rules and make sure he could never lose again. There was a rule that the Hungarian constitution could not be amended by less than a four-fifths majority. Unfortunately, that rule itself could be amended by a two-thirds majority. Orban used his two-thirds majority to trash the rule, then amend the constitution with whatever he wanted.”
“Lendvai concludes that “the bastion of power constructed since 2010 is, as far as it is humanly possible to tell, impregnable to external assault”.”
“Word came from Brussels: we are going to take all these people in. Every country will accept its fair share. Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and all the other continental leaders agreed: this was our responsibility to our fellow human beings. Viktor Orban shocked Europe by saying no. Not no as in “we agree with your grand vision but we request that you lower our quota”. No as in “haha, as if”.”
“This is what I think of when I look at Orban. He was able to beat everyone else by taking advantage of loopholes everyone else left open because they didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to use them. I imagine that being Orban feels puzzling, like everyone else is leaving low-hanging fruit on the ground constantly. He’s a fascinating psychological specimen, but everyone else needs to up their game and stop leaving things open for people like him to take advantage of.”
Philosophy & Sociology
“Graeber was committed to living his ideas about social justice and liberation, to giving hope to the oppressed, and inspiring others to follow suit; this spirit permeates the book and its arguments. The Dawn of Everything is a fascinating, radical, and playful entry into a seemingly exhaustively well-trodden genre, the grand evolutionary history of humanity. It seeks nothing less than to completely upend the terms on which the Standard Narrative rests.”
“[…] having established that the Standard Narrative of human development is perhaps not as grounded in objective fact as we might expect, Graeber and Wengrow embark on a tour of approximately 10,000 years of human history exploring new evidence that the record of human social and political behavior is also vastly more diverse and creative than we would think.”
“As Graeber and Wengrow note up front, most of the span of human history is essentially unknowable. Even for those periods where some materials do exist, our evidentiary record is sparse. Some localities preserve better than others—an archaeological site in a desert or on a dry Mediterranean island or even at the edge of a glacial lake in the Alps has a better chance of preservation (and thus of thorough study) than one covered by tropical jungle or built on regularly flooded marshland.”
“Why should the default be to assume a monarchical or authoritarian society? What sites, and whose cultures, have been and continue to be read as harbingers of modernity, “ahead of their time,” while others are written off as weird anomalies that can’t be fully understood? Why, for that matter, should leaving certain kinds of material traces be taken as the sign of civilizational success?”
“Graeber and Wengrow’s arguments made me think more about recent works in science fiction, and not just because there are salient references to Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” On one hand, this is unsurprising—science fiction has long been the home of imaginative exercises in different social and political arrangements. On the other hand, it is perhaps depressing that the only other stories of alternate communitarian political arrangements that might immediately come to mind all feature far-future people living on spaceships.”
“One side effect of the Standard Narrative is that it comes with a fairly narrow political imagination. In the rush to explain how we got from there (anthropogenesis) to here (the triumph of man over nature, incipient ecological collapse, the ambiguous triumph of neoliberal capitalism, what have you), the range of historical possibilities is pruned away with each passing millennium until the only future that seems to have been possible is the one we’re in right now.”
““What until now has passed for ‘civilization,’” write Graeber and Wengrow, “might in fact be nothing more than a gendered appropriation—by men, etching their claims in stone—of some earlier system of knowledge that had women at its center.””
“Without going through every source in the book, I can’t say with certainty that the authors never overreach their claims, but in the areas where they directly touched on my scholarly interests, the surprises held up under subsequent investigation.”
“The teleological framework of stone tool development, for instance, began to crack in the 1930s under the combined forces of rudimentary systems of cross-regional geological dating (which established contemporaneity) and evidence that a much wider variety of stone tools had been made in many parts of the world.”
“In their narrative, there is no telos, no arrow of history. There is only humanity, creative and playful and violent and caring, imagining new social worlds and then going and trying them out.”
Moment of Truth: You Get A Trophy, And You Get A Trophy by Jeff Dorchen (This is Hell!)
“Likewise, enabling hawks of privatization to commandeer the prevailing discourse, whether through inaction or by weak or conciliatory action, is ultimately selfish. Also likewise, refusing to support popular movements of the poor to alleviate their own poverty. Arguing for and giving material support to the poor are steps toward revolution, and refugees are by definition poor, and the selectively over-policed are by definition poor, and the concerns of the poor are by definition revolutionary.
“You may believe one single highly motivated superman or junta of supermen can always do better without input from the rabble. But the more you chip away at the commons and take power and wealth away from the people who will inevitably have to live with the consequences of the superman’s actions, the farther you take humanity from a decent society.”
“The avatars of this tendency mostly know nothing but operate in a social culture in which one must project an aura of knowing everything,”
“It was moral universalism that demanded an end to slavery, to sexism, to caste systems, to socioeconomic inequality: Black people deserve freedom because they are people, women deserve equal rights because they are people, the poor deserve material security and comfort because they are people. This is not merely an elegant philosophical position but the basis of left political strategy; stressing common humanity, rather than fixating on demographic differences, means we can have the biggest tent imaginable. All it requires is believing that we must leave no one behind, as a movement and society.”
“I have been on several occasions pressed to believe that, say, a 27-year-old grad student who discovered politics in 2018 and hasn’t read more than 500 words of Douglass’s work has some sort of intuitive understanding of what Douglass would believe now, in contrast to everything Douglass himself ever said. No. Douglass believed in civil liberties, as did most of the heroes of left-wing practice stretching back centuries, and the fact that the NPR set now finds that commitment socially inconvenient does not compel me to abandon it. In fact quite the opposite.”
“It means that we can win such a fight only if the people lead, if there is sufficient gravity within the country to achieve such a thing. We must slowly educate and gradually mobilize; no skipping steps. The Defund the Police impulse never fully committed to educating and mobilizing in this way; it was seen as sufficient to suggest that everyone who wasn’t already on board was a racist. Inevitably, it collapsed, as there is no left politics that is not a mass politics. Populism is not optional for us. It never has been.”
“[…] the terrible modern condition where everyone seems compelled to act at all times as if they already know everything, as if nothing is surprising, as if they anticipated your question and not only know the answer but are deeply unimpressed with you for asking. The singular obsession is to be savvy, an insider. As I say in that essay the commitment is not to knowing but to appearing to know. I find this condition uniquely destructive to the effort to achieve a socialist politics in principle.”
“[…] the socialist left has no history not because no one is willing to teach but because leftist social culture makes the young and inexperienced believe that it’s shameful to need to be taught. So they peacock around, recite rhetoric they learned on Tumblr, and remain profoundly ignorant of the basic history and philosophy they pretend they always knew.”
“The popularization of socialism has come packaged with a suffocating culture of jokes and irony, which are good for appearing clever but bad for winning the future. There are many leftists who would like to achieve more tangible progress but who seem entirely unwilling to let go of their juvenile commitment to “dunking,” using social ostracism as their only political tool.”
“I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, including socialism, and I remain profoundly alive to the possibility that I’m wrong about everything. But I have been organizing and protesting in radical left spaces since I was a teenager, I have diligently done the reading that was considered an essential part of socialist practice for most of our history, and I have written and thought through the left’s issues my entire adult life. I do not mistake these for reasons that I should get to dictate the future of the left. But they are reasons that I will not be pushed off of my spot by people embracing whatever flavor-of-the-week left politics is popular. I paid my dues, and I will keep my own counsel about what the left is and should be. The fact that a bunch of keyboard warriors on Twitter have recently pretended that the left is something it’s never been does not move me.”
“Even when they were not politically libertarian, the GI Bill philosophers were in their personalities deeply individualist, and typically oblivious to the historical forces that shaped them. This individualism after all is the common ancestor that proves the aging hippies of Pynchon’s Vineland, the post-liberal oligarchs of Silicon Valley, and the Trump-voters of “the State of Jefferson” are only different species of the same Californian genus.”
“Is this very Substack nothing but my own version of The Proceedings of the Friesian School? Surely, to some extent, yes, it is. But it’s probably best for me not to think about that, and instead to just keep doing my thing.”
That is vey good advice. You would otherwise overthink yourself into not writing at all, leaving the world a didactically poorer and dimmer place. The obvious fools write their heart’s out without a moment’s doubt as to the value of their oeuvre, while those with something worthwhile and considered to impart are ever-hesitant to offend.
“(I will not belabor the fact that monkeys are by definition be-tailed; to lack a tail as a primate is to be an ape, though significantly this is a lexical distinction unavailable in French, where both monkeys and apes get lumped together as “singes”; in any case what they meant with that phrase at the Zamboanga Club was to bring us human beings down a few notches).”
“A high-school drop-out in California might also go into banking or tech, and make a good deal more money. But at least until recently such a move seemed, while offering unlimited riches, only to offer limited social advancement, in view of the stigma of nouveau-riche arrivisme. This stigma matters less and less, especially as the world of tech is, for better or worse, increasingly displacing the humanistic tradition as the center of intellectual weight in our society. But still, even at the most recent fin-de-siècle the life of the mind as classically conceived continued to seem more transfigurative than the simple acquisition of riches, […]”
“This isn’t to suggest that teaching “white” English should give way to grading AAVE as an acceptable substitute, or that the kid who can’t add two plus two should be admitted to medical school, but that effort, the personal responsibility to try one’s hardest and do one’s best, is an underappreciated virtue that deserves to be shown greater respect. It’s not that it demands a new grading paradigm, since education is about academic accomplishment, but it is about who you would want standing next to you when something has to get done, the smartest guy or the guy you could trust to be there and try his best.”
“The thing I really want to try and get across here is that Rust is not a language where first-class functions are ergonomic. It’s a lot easier to make some data (a struct) with some functions attached (methods) than it is to make some functions with some data attached (closures).”
“Beginner (and experienced) Rust programmers look at the state of the world as it is and try and build things on top of these shaky abstractions, and end up running into obscure compiler errors, and using hacks like the
async_traitcrate to glue things together, and end up with projects that depend on like 3 different versions of
async-stdin there if you’re feeling spicy) because people have differing opinions on how to try and avoid the fundamentally unavoidable problems, and it’s all a bit frustrating, and ultimately, all a bit sad.”