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Links and Notes for November 26th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Omicron Update: Nov 27 by Katelyn Jetelina (Your Local Epidemiologist)

“[…] There were two flights from South Africa that landed in Amsterdam late last night. Upon arrival, all 600 passengers were tested on the tarmac and 61 tests came back positive. A 10% prevalence rate on a flight is unbelievably high. Like defies imagination (as Bergstrom said). Especially given all passengers were negative before take off. With these positive cases we need to know a few things:”
  • Were these people connected in some way before the flight (like in a tour or same hotel room)?
  • What was the vaccination rate (type, timing, boosted)?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • And, of course, were these caused by Omicron?


Elitism is Not the Answer to Populism: On ‘Anti-Vaxxers’ and Mistrust in Government by Ramzy Baroud (CounterPunch)

“A Gallup poll, published in 2013, revealed the extent of mistrust that Americans, for example, have in their own government, and the decline of that trust when compared to the previous year. According to the poll, only 10% of Americans trusted their elected Congress, only 19% trusted the country’s health system, 22% had trust in big business and 23% in news media.
“[…] by 2021, nearly 70% of the US’s wealth would be concentrated in the hands of millionaires and billionaires. Can we truly blame a poor, working-class American for mistrusting a government that has engendered this kind of inequality?
There are hundreds of millions of people with real grievances, justifiable fears and understandable confusion. If we do not engage with all people on an equal footing for the betterment of humankind, they are left to seek answers from the ‘prophets of doom’ – far-right chauvinists and conspiracy theorists.”


Why Health-care Workers are Quitting in Droves by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)

“Health-care workers aren’t quitting because they can’t handle their jobs. They’re quitting because they can’t handle being unable to do their jobs. Even before COVID-19, many of them struggled to bridge the gap between the noble ideals of their profession and the realities of its business. The pandemic simply pushed them past the limits of that compromise.
Several health-care workers told me that, amid the most grueling working conditions of their careers, their hospitals cut salaries, reduced benefits, and canceled raises; forced staff to work more shifts with longer hours; offered trite wellness tips, such as keeping gratitude journals, while denying paid time off or reduced hours; failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment; and downplayed the severity of their experiences.”
“Between 35 and 54 percent of American nurses and physicians were already feeling burned out before the pandemic. During it, many have taken stock of their difficult working conditions and inadequate pay and decided that, instead of being resigned, they will simply resign.
“Medicine’s personal cost seemed greater than ever, but the fulfillment that had previously tempered it was missing.
Expertise is also hemorrhaging. Many older nurses and doctors have retired early—people who “know that one thing that happened 10 years ago that saved someone’s life in a clutch situation,” Cassie Alexander said. And because of their missing experience, “things are being missed,” Artec Durham added. “The care feels frantic and sloppy even though we’re not overrun with COVID right now.”
“[…] the past months have left millions with long COVID and other severe, chronic problems. “I’m seeing a lot of younger people with end-stage cardiac or neurological disease—people in their 30s and 40s who look like they’re in their 60s and 70s,” Vineet Arora told me. “I don’t think people understand the disability wave that’s coming.”

Economy & Finance

AmEx Sold Some Tax Deductions by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“This is a nice version of the good tax trade that paid my salary at an investment bank for a while, and that is explicitly blessed by this 2007 IRS guidance. The trick is that, for a corporation, transactions in your own equity (like the warrant) do not generate taxable income, but bond transactions — including both the convertible bond and the bond hedge that “hedges” the conversion option in the bond — do. So your outflows are deductible bond-related payments, while your inflows are non-taxable equity payments.
“Here’s how the tax math was described in an AmEx document viewed by the Journal: A business owner would use AmEx’s wire services to send $10 million for a 1.77% fee—or $177,000. Assuming the business owner would pay a 42% combined federal and state marginal income-tax rate, the owner would deduct the fee for a $74,340 reduction in taxes, lowering the transaction’s net cost to $102,660. The business owner would also earn one point per dollar spent, or 10 million points. The owner could then transfer the points to a personal AmEx Platinum Charles Schwab card at 1.25 cents per point, generating a cash reward of $125,000. Subtract the net transaction cost of $102,660 for a gain of $22,340.
The basic promise of financial markets is that if enough people want something badly enough, the market will provide it, though it may turn out not to be exactly what they want. If people are clamoring for safe assets, the market will dutifully make a ton of risky mortgages and tranche them into safe assets, which will eventually blow up. If people are clamoring for electric-vehicle investments, a bunch of pre-revenue electric-vehicle companies will go public at huge valuations.”
The nominal trading value of Tesla options has averaged $241bn a day in recent weeks, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with $138bn a day for Amazon, the second most active single-stock option market, and $112bn a day for the rest of the S&P 500 index combined.
The basic deal with options is that when you buy an option from a dealer, the dealer will hedge the option by buying or selling the underlying stock; in particular the dealer will adjust its hedge by buying the stock when it goes up and selling it when it goes down. This makes the stock more volatile: When it goes up, options dealers are buying and pushing it up more; when it goes down, they’re selling and pushing it down more. Dealers who sell options are said to be “selling volatility.” They produce volatility with their trading and sell it to customers. Customers want a lot of Tesla volatility. So a lot of Tesla volatility is produced and delivered to them. The market gives people what they want.”
“With web3, you could announce your goal publicly. People who are interested will reach out. You can quickly see what they’ve done (see above) and choose the team that meets your requirements. You can create a coin or token and distribute it among the team members. You can have a system that grants more of these coins when someone is recognized by the rest of the team for a helpful contribution. Ownership, then, will be dynamic and will reflect real activity. When the thing you all are building launches, the profits can be distributed through the coin system, and the people who added the most value will get the most reward.
“Some transactions occur in the market using the price mechanism, but it would be a pain to hire a new group of freelancers and negotiate their pay every time you want to do a new project, and so in practice companies exist with permanent salaried employees who can be told to do new projects without going through new market transactions.”
“So-called “gas” fees vary wildly and depend on how busy the Ethereum network is at any given moment and the complexity of the transaction. Right now, gas fees on Ethereum are very high, and a highly complex operation could end up costing hundreds of dollars in fees. In our case, we paid a $75 gas fee to contribute roughly $75 to the project. Of the initial $200 we bought in ETH, $90 was eaten up in fees simply to donate to ConstitutionDAO. … In order to get a refund, we have to do this in reverse, basically. And so to get our ETH back from Juicebox, we would have to pay gas fees again, meaning essentially the entirety of the amount invested would be wiped out.


The Establishment Panic at Cryptocurrency by Binoy Kampmark (CounterPunch)

“The current cryptocurrency market is worth $2 trillion, a remarkable thing given that crypto only came into being in 2009.”

Dude, it’s largely unregulated. Wash sales are not uncommon. They just pump up the valuation and everyone believes them. This is ridiculous. It has to stop. None of these things are worth that much. Just because one fool paid a certain amount for a coin or a stock, we just multiply that stupidly high number by all the extant shares or coins and call that the “valuation”. Cool system, bro. Makes a lot of sense.

Bitcoin and Ethereum, together, consume as much electric energy per annum as Indonesia. It leaves a generous carbon footprint along with a growing electronic waste problem. Now that’s a worry.”


What China Learned From U.S. Capitalism’s Development by Richard D. Wolff (CounterPunch)

“By the 1970s, the reset stalled. U.S. employers had so vanquished labor and the left that they indulged opportunities to enhance profits without fear of or even much concern about employee reactions. Many U.S. employers relocated their production abroad where wages were far lower, making the U.S. companies’ profits much higher.”
“The United Kingdom, but especially the United States, developed that economic system with a strong emphasis on its private enterprise forms. The USSR developed that system with a strong emphasis on its public enterprise forms. China, meanwhile, developed that economic system by mixing private and public enterprise forms (as Scandinavia and Western Europe also did), but with an emphasis on strong central control to coordinate and mobilize both private and public enterprises to achieve prioritized social goals.”

Public Policy & Politics

Kyle Rittenhouse Is Not the Enemy. He’s the Latest Product of the Outrage Industry by Jonathan Cook (Mint Press News)

“Rittenhouse claimed self-defence – and the jury found in his favour. That was because the videos they saw, taken from all sorts of angles, show that, in a night of mayhem and a special kind of American madness, Rittenhouse did indeed give every appearance of defending himself. They show that, had he not had a gun that night, one of the three men he shot might well have ended up in the dock accused of murdering him.
The legal matter the jury needed to resolve was whether he genuinely feared for his life each time he pulled the trigger. And the video evidence suggests he did. He was repeatedly chased. By a man with mental health problems shouting out that he would cut out Rittenhouse’s heart, backed by the sound of gunfire, who lunged at him to take his rifle. As Rittenhouse fled that shooting, he was knocked down and hit across the shoulder by a man with a skateboard who also tried to seize his rifle. And finally, he was leapt on by someone pointing a handgun at him. However we look at it, the jury had more than enough reasonable doubt to work with.
“it has nothing to do with the real human being – not the abstraction – called Kyle Rittenhouse. He is not personally to blame for the political, social, economic and moral mire that is the modern United States, even if he is suspected of being a Trump supporter.”
Our expectation should not be that Rittenhouse is treated by the police and the legal system the same way as a black man. It is that black men, and women, should be treated like a white Rittenhouse; that police forces should treat the black and white population alike; that legal facts should count whatever your skin colour.
If we call for vengeance against Rittenhouse – of the physical or verbal variety – then the truth is we are no better than the person we presume Rittenhouse to be. He is not the problem. And to think he is is to make ourselves the problem.”
“It is not Russia and China destabilising the US. It is the fabulously wealthy US power-elites – and their media – destabilising the US public to keep everyone feuding over the latest domestic outrage, the latest Rittenhouse.

Journalism & Media

The First Privilege Walk by Christian Parenti (Nonsite)

“[…] the biographical sketches of Ricky Sherover-Marcuse that litter the web never mention that she was the daughter of a very rich man; the daughter of an actual capitalist, even if that capitalist was some fading shade of Red. In light of Ricky’s efforts to change the subject from economic exploitation to the more general field of oppression this omission seems to betray not only oedipal rage, but also a guilty conscience. The charge could be: Rich girl convinces people to focus on race and gender instead of class.
“I looked into Re-evaluation Counseling, or RC, as it is often called. Doing so was like finding an evolutionary missing link: RC is to the origins of left psychobabble as the Lucy fossil was to the paleontology of human evolution.
Research suggests that when people engage in embarrassing behaviors in front of a group they are inclined to exaggerate the benefits gained from group membership. Given what they have been through, they are in urgent need of some justification for their behavior. Who wants to admit having just made a prize fool of oneself? Counseling individuals in front of large crowds at workshops, while encouraging the strong display (or dramatization) of extreme emotion, unleashes precisely this dynamic within RC.””

It’s hazing, no different from frat houses or the military. They wrap it in leftish psychobabble but the dynamic is the same as abhorred, authoritarian institutions. They know it works and claim to be using it for good. It is manipulative and produces false outcomes, but the end justifies the means (for them). Even if the end isn’t true, the process indoctrinates enough people to make them believe the lie because they become invested in it. They believe themselves to be on the side of good. Anyone different or who disagrees, even slightly, can be eradicated guilt-free—indeed, heroically—because they are definitionally evil.

“Translated into more familiar terms, we have something like “original sin” or the source of all adult discontent usually linked to childhood trauma, a process of confessions and expiation, a coming to the light or rebirth and redemption by way of accepting the totalizing belief system of a group and its founder or leaders or messengers.

Cult behavior: the abnegation of self and, therefore, responsibility.

“As American society became ever more unequal and the Northern California Left drifted away from class, Willow Simmons drifted toward the pseudo-populism of the right-wing media where one can still hear mention of “the working class” and “the ruling class.” Tucker Carlson uses the phrase “ruling class” at least twice a week. Amy Goodman, on the other hand, seems to have almost never used the phrase. If you doubt me, do a keyword search of their transcripts.
“[…] we have three women on the Supreme Court, yet the average woman is poorer than was the average woman in 1975.”
The decoy radicalism of a politics fixated on language and manners avoids the question of what is produced, and for whom? Thus, it avoids class struggle. Instead, its divisive, horizontal war of all against all, and its solipsistic turn inward toward pseudo-spiritual self-interrogation and ritual self-abnegation, have produced a, now officially recognized, opposition. But it is an opposition that the system is entirely capable of managing and even using to manage society as a whole. The struggle against horizontal oppression is now officially deployed by hierarchical institutions such as the military and corporations so as to engender new forms of consent and legitimacy.”

Science & Nature

Copout26: Cheap Shots And Red Herrings by Thomas O'Dwyer (3 Quarks Daily)

“The fact that fossil lobbyists swarmed inside the deliberations while activists were confined mainly to the streets outside could only undermine the conference.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Tuesday Talk*: Are “Minor-Attracted People” A Subject For Discussion? by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“Walker’s purpose isn’t to gain approval of pedophilia, but to destigmatize the attraction, rather than the action, much like people have sought to destigmatize mental illness and drug addiction. By making it less shameful, if not horrible, people can seek help without fear that they will destroy their lives by revealing their worst flaws.”
“There is, of course, an entirely separate issue here, that Walker’s freedom as an academic engaged in the study of perhaps the most taboo subject possible is being precluded because it’s a subject too cringey, too disgusting, to be studied. There is no question that robust academic freedom should encompass the study of all aspects of human existence, even those like “minor-attracted persons.” They exist, even if we don’t want them to, and pretending otherwise by condemning their study isn’t going to make them go away.”


Nature Is Becoming a Person by Justin E.H. Smith (Foreign Policy)

When the Ecuadorian Constitution’s Article 71 specifies that nature “has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes,” we might similarly suspect this declaration translates faithfully into a conservationist imperative. The apparent inescapability of an anthropocentric motivation for conservation, moreover, seems to appear in the constitution’s Article 27, where a prior right is identified for human beings “to live in a healthy environment that is ecologically balanced, pollution-free and in harmony with nature.” Could it be that Article 71 simply restates, from an attempted nature-centric angle, what has already been claimed in Article 27 but in the more familiar terms of human rights?”
“It is common to hear animistic metaphors applied to such collectivities—that they are “rapacious,” for example. Significantly, the wealth these collectivities accumulate has typically come from the extraction of natural resources and ecosystem complexes, such as rivers and mountains, which Indigenous people attribute a status akin to personhood to. It is not that the Maori are particularly susceptible to fictional thinking about a certain kind of nonhuman collectivity while Europeans recognize only those entities that are, in metaphysical rigor, plainly and uncontroversially persons. Rather, on both sides, we observe personalization of nonhuman entities. Which sort of entities get personalized is a question of values rather than facts.
“As environmental protection rapidly takes on a degree of existential urgency, whatever people believe about how the world works, there may indeed be some value in placing the mask of personhood on other entities than those who have been at the center of our attention for the last several centuries: to let rivers speak or to let people attuned to what rivers are speak for them.”


The New York Times’ Jake Silverstein concocts “a new origin story” for the 1619 Project by Tom Mackaman (WSWS)

“[…] the intentional disregarding of objections made by the project’s own handpicked “fact-checkers.” Silverstein penned the devious reply to leading historians who pointed to the project’s errors. He then organized surreptitious changes to the already published 1619 Project, and, when exposed, claimed that it had all been a matter of word choice.

I am utterly uninterested in replacing one set of self-serving lies with another. The original set of lies about American history is deeply imbedded. People want it gone, replaced—seemingly with anything. For them, the replacement doesn’t have to be true. (For me, it does.) It just has to sound true to their modern sensitivities. The new lies don’t matter to them, even if those lies form the base without which the whole falls apart.

It does not seem to occur to Prof. Jones, Silverstein or Hannah-Jones that the racial claim to true knowledge of history negates their own position. If only black historians can truly know what is at stake in “black history,” it must follow that only whites must be able to know “white history.” It follows that black historians should not concern themselves with episodes of history in which the actors were predominantly white—for example, the political history of the American Revolution or Civil War. This viewpoint is obviously reactionary to its marrow.
“It may seem odd, given his aims, that Silverstein passes over in silence this, among the most racist of all iterations of American historiography.”

Is it surprising that those who can’t do the research of journalism fail to do high-level and tedious scholastic research? I’m not surprised at all. These people who cover themselves in accolades and award and whom so many admire for their vast intellectual capacities are, in the end, pedestrian intellects, doing the minimum to get by, hustling to get whatever advantage they can, interested only in the minimal-effort scam, but certainly not any sort of principled truth.

“Silverstein’s failure to mention Dunning is odd only on the surface. The 1619 Project’s approach to American history is actually Dunning’s mirror image. Like the 1619 Project, the Dunning School—among whose practitioners was Woodrow Wilson, the president of Princeton University before becoming New Jersey governor and then US president—saw the Civil War as the accidental outcome of overheated politics.”
“Heavily influenced by pseudoscientific racial theories of the day—theories that emerged to justify and rationalize the eruption of American imperialism abroad and capitalist exploitation at home—the Dunning School saw whites and blacks as separate “folk” with different interests that required segregation for the protection of each, much like Critical Race Theory proposes “safe spaces” for different races today.
“He insinuates that Quarles predicted the 1619 Project’s claim that the American Revolution was a counterrevolution waged to defend slavery. This is in fact not at all what Quarles thought.

But it’s what they think he should have thought—because he’s a famous black historian and they want him as an ally. But they don’t want to adjust their thesis or story…so they adjust his instead. He can’t defend himself (he’s dead) and they know that justice is on their side, so what matter if they base their arguments on a little (or a lot of) dishonesty? It serves a greater purpose. And there are people even more dishonest whose hearts aren’t even in the right place. But if you base your thesis on dishonesty, how do know when you’ve gone too far? When you’ve proven what you want to be true, but it isn’t. Are we then the baddies?

There was, in fact, no historiography behind the 1619 Project when it was released. There were no sources listed; no historians referenced. Ex post facto, a group of historians have rallied to the banner of the 1619 Project. These include Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina, David Waldstreicher of City University of New York and Nicholas Guyatt of Cambridge University. Evidently motivated by career interests, or to be on the right side of the current fad, these historians are perfectly willing to lead non-collegial and intemperate attacks on those who have criticized the 1619 Project. Their efforts to lend scholarly legitimacy to the 1619 Project only serve to undermine the credibility of their own work.
“Good history avoids the deadly condition E.P. Thompson called “the enormous condescension of posterity,” by which the past is evaluated according to the prejudices of the present, prejudices that, wittingly or not, very often reflect aspects of the ruling ideology.”
“In their way of seeing the past, one story is just as good as any other. What actually happened is of secondary interest, and historical context—the conditions that shaped the past—counts for nothing at all. History is rummaged through as a junk drawer. That found to be useful can be packaged together with the item up for sale. Those stubborn facts that refuse to obey are cast aside.
“Hannah-Jones professes outrage over the African slavery of the past. But how will the future view the fact that she accepts sponsorship from the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, the scourge of Africa in the present?”
Is Silverstein unaware, or just indifferent, to the fact that the world’s most critical journalist, Julian Assange, is right now shackled, and muzzled, in a maximum-security British prison for daring to expose the lies propagated by the Times about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Technology

Social live audio isn’t actually social by Ryan Broderick (Garbage Day)

“Obviously, there might be something a little lost if you could no longer see the Therapy Gecko, but, he and many other Twitch channels have already figured out “live social audio” and are using a platform much better equipped for it. It just seems weird that an entire universe of janky walled-off apps have appeared all promising something you could achieve by turning off your webcam while you stream to Twitch and throwing a Google Voice number up on the screen.”


Yesterday Once More by Grafton Tanner (Real Life Magazine)

“[…] the goal of a recommendation algorithm isn’t to surprise or shock but to affirm. The process looks a lot like prediction, but it’s merely repetition. The result is more of the same: a present that looks like the past and a future that isn’t one.