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Links and Notes for December 10th, 2021

Published by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

Table of Contents

COVID-19

Omicron Update: Dec 13 by Katelyn Jetelina (Your Local Epidemiologist)

“T-cells are critical to our immune system because they are our second line of defense. If neutralizing antibodies can’t catch the virus before it infects our cells, then T-cells kick in. T-cell protection is harder for viruses to escape because their protection spans virtually the entire spike protein, whereas antibody responses tend to focus on relatively few regions. As hypothesized, the results from the studies look great— T-cells continue to work against Omicron. So even though the number of infections will substantially increase, we will largely stay out of the hospital.


Fact check: No evidence Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines cause miscarriage by Daniel Funke (USA Today)

“An August analysis from the CDC looked at nearly 2,500 people from the V-safe Pregnancy Registry who received an mRNA vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Researchers found a miscarriage rate of about 13%, which they wrote is “similar to the expected rate of miscarriage in the general population.”

““Miscarriage is relatively common, occurring in 11%-16% of pregnancies,” Dr. Eva Pressman, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester, said in an email. “The rates of miscarriage after COVID vaccination have been in this same range.””


Omicron Update: Dec 17 by Katelyn Jetelina (Your Local Epidemiologist)

“The UK continues to breaks case records. On Wednesday, the UK reported 78,610 new cases—their biggest one-day increase on record. Then, on Thursday they broke that record again and reported 88,376 new cases. France also recorded their biggest one-day increase on record with 65,713 cases.

I’m impressed with England’s testing capacity. France and Germany as well. I think Switzerland’s is stalling between 10,000 and 12,000. I’m not sure we can test more. Positivity is at about 18%, which is not great, not even good. Happily, daily deaths in all of these countries is staying low, but hospitals are filling up here. As predicted.

Now the numbers no-one’s really talked about much is that the lethality has been quite stubbornly above 1%. That’s high! About 1.5 people out of a 100 who get COVID die of it. That’s shockingly bad for something that people are saying “let ‘er rip”. Of course, we have to remember that that percentage includes all of the people who got it before we had vaccines. I would love to see numbers broken down by age cohort and (optionally) excluding cases before a certain date (e.g. January 2021, after which vaccines/therapies were widely available and taken).

“I do disagree with this graph hitting 1 million cases. We don’t have the testing capacity to record this many cases. We will run out of tests, reagents, and plastic. Lab capacity is finite. We would hit a plateau in case reporting, while the “true” cases may continue to increase.”

A friend of mine made an excellent point: that self-tests at home are largely unreported. I don’t think most sites make a distinction between self-tests and PCRs, either. They are probably mostly just PCR results.

Yes, it’s all a bit less exact than what we’ve been spoiled to assume by the rest of the Internet. However, we can derive some information from the data we have available … especially, if, as you say, we can determine that the numbers are not only HIGH, but also probably LOWER than reality.

“For those without a booster, the first line of defense is down: neutralizing antibodies aren’t going prevent infection nor transmission of Omicron. However, T-cells should still keep a lot of people out of the hospital.

“Those with boosters will be most protected. That’s because boosters restimulate the immune system and increase the number of antibodies. The more antibodies we have, the more they can find the the limited landing spots on Omicron. This will decrease breakthrough cases and decrease transmission.


Scientists warn of looming catastrophe as Omicron spreads globally by Evan Blake (WSWS)

“The fall semester has decimated schools throughout the country, as the total absence of mitigation measures has allowed COVID-19 to run rampant and infect masses of students and educators. In response, the Johnson administration is actively recruiting elderly, retired educators as substitutes in under-staffed schools, setting the stage for a spike in breakthrough infections and deaths in this section of retirees.”
“The most serious and principled scientists are issuing increasingly stark warnings of the looming tidal wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Dr. Michael Osterholm warned, “I think we are going to see a viral blizzard literally descend upon the world with Omicron.””
“T-cell immunologist Dr. Anthony Leonardi tweeted about the potential long-term damage that the Omicron surge could cause, writing, “This coming wave with Omicron will probably infect at least half the world’s population. If 10 percent get Long Covid, we are looking at a #MassDisablingEvent.””
“He also warned that the extraordinary transmissibility of Omicron creates the conditions whereby a new and potentially more dangerous variant could evolve more rapidly than previous variants.


Clear signs of a turning of the tide by Makr Crispin Miller (News from Underground)

“1- Americans are moving past Covid-CCP. More and more polls show we are are ready to move on with living and deal with illness as we always have. It is inevitable as humans to catch viruses and get sick from them.

What a primitive thing to say. Should we also stop developing medicines? Preventative measures that keep too many people from getting sick? These are the ravings of fools mentally overpowered by the simplest of concepts. It’s not even the complexity of the world that overwhelms their intellect—it’s simple concepts that people generations ago already grasped.


How effective are vaccines against omicron? An epidemiologist answers 6 questions by Melissa Hawkins (The Conversation)

Vaccine uptake – the proportion of a population that gets vaccinated – can also influence vaccine effectiveness. When a large enough proportion of the population is vaccinated, herd immunity begins to come into play. Vaccines with moderate or even low efficacy can work very well at a population level. Likewise, vaccines with high efficacy in clinical trials, like coronavirus vaccines, may have lower effectiveness and a small impact if there isn’t high vaccine uptake in the population.”

“Despite the lowered effectiveness of vaccines against omicron, it is clear that vaccines do work and are among the greatest public health achievements. Vaccines have varying levels of effectiveness and are still useful. The flu vaccine is usually 40%-60% effective and prevents illness in millions of people and hospitalizations in more than 100,000 people in the U.S. annually.

“Finally, vaccines protect not only those who are vaccinated, but those who can’t get vaccinated as well. Vaccinated people are less likely to spread COVID-19, which reduces new infections and offers protection to society overall.”


Omicron Post #7 by Zvi (Less Wrong)

“This is mostly the same measures they would have called for without Omicron. It contains nothing that has any hope of actually stopping Omicron. If you’re not willing to close schools, the game is already super over. Yes, it’s good to prepare the health systems and have good surveillance data available, and absolutely we should work on new vaccines and therapies and distribution of vaccines, that’s all very good, but how does all of that possibly help us in time?”


The Biden administration is lying: Scientists warned about Omicron threat by Andre Damon (WSWS)

““We didn’t see [the] Delta [variant of COVID-19] coming,” Harris said in an interview published by the Los Angeles Times on Friday. “I think most scientists did not—upon whose advice and direction we have relied—didn’t see Delta coming. We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.””

Welcome to class, Kamala. Nice to see you bothered to show up. No wonder no-one in America believes anything their politicians or media say. This is just terribly mendacious in that she’s not even really trying. Obviously, the article goes on to list all of the high-profile scientists and advisors who literally told the administration—as early as December 2020—that there would certainly be variants and that they need to prepare for them by making sure infrastructure was available. What kind of infrastructure? According to virologist virologist Kristian G. Anderson,

“The need for vaccinating the world, while also ensuring the need for boosters. The need for better facemasks, provided free. The need for widespread, cheap, rapid testing.”

Instead, we spent our money on other things—like making Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and their whole class richer, for example. Free facemasks? Nope. Free tests? Nope. Widespread testing? Nope. The U.S. is known not to sequence tested material nearly as much as you would expect such an advanced country to do. Switzerland also lags in that department. Free tests are (partially) back in Switzerland. But the testing infrastructure here is also woefully inadequate for Delta and Omicron. There is a lot of illness going undetected—and therefore spreading more.


Diseasonality by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“If it was just vitamin D…look, it’s not vitamin D. Nothing is ever vitamin D. People try so hard to attribute everything to vitamin D, and it never works. The most recent studies show it doesn’t prevent colds or flu, and I think the best available evidence shows it doesn’t prevent coronavirus either. African-Americans, who are all horrendously Vitamin D deficient, don’t get colds at a higher rate than other groups (they do get flu more, but they’re vaccinated less, so whatever).”

Economy & Finance

The Trump SPAC Did a PIPE by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Trump is selling about 23% of his company for $293 million, but the public market says that that stake is worth about $1.7 billion. The public market, I should emphasize, is saying that based on nothing. As of last Friday, there was absolutely no financial or technical or business information about TMTG available to the public; so far there is almost no sign that TMTG is actually building a social network or a streaming platform or anything else. But the market says that TMTG is worth $44.97 per share. And TMTG is selling stock — to DWAC — at $10 per share. Seems like sort of a bad deal.”
“See, this art gallery has a really good painting that it wants to sell you, but it’s too big to remove it from the gallery, so they’ll sell you an NFT of it and they’ll hang on to the painting itself for you. Why not. Everything should work like that. I bought a new stove a while back and the delivery guys had a really hard time maneuvering it into my kitchen; it would have been a lot easier if I could have just bought an NFT of the stove and left it in the warehouse.
“Rumble Inc., another right-wing media-techthing going public by SPAC, announced on Twitter (and Edgar) that it was “confirming $DWAC and Trump Media Group using @rumblevideo / $CFVI for cloud and distribution services.” Something, I guess?”


The Trump SPAC Pitch Is Weird by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

Nunes, who boasts of being a dairy farmer, will begin his new career despite having no apparent prior experience working in the tech industry or as an executive,” says CNBC, but he did once unsuccessfully sue Twitter for allowing people to make fun of him. So of course he is the natural choice to run a social media company whose mission is to “fight for the First Amendment protections and freedoms of all Americans” against “Tech Monopoly Censorship” and to “encourage an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.””
“Anyway here’s a fun Wall Street Journal article about the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, which (1) is the largest mutual fund in the world at $1.3 trillion, (2) represents 10% of all U.S. stock mutual fund assets and 2.8% of the whole U.S. stock market, and (3) is the largest investment in my personal account, disclosure. Vanguard wanted an index that tracked all the stocks, so it commissioned one:”


Six Things You’re Not Hearing About Inflation by Julia Rock & David Sirota (Jacobin)

“Have you noticed that all the media fearmongering about wage inflation hasn’t mentioned the soaring salaries of corporate executives? Have you noticed how most of the headlines about price increases haven’t mentioned medicine, health insurance, and housing prices that have been skyrocketing for years? Have you noticed that stories about expensive essential goods don’t mention the record profits of the companies selling them?”
““The thing about crises is that the normal forces of supply and demand don’t work well,” Tucker told The Daily Poster. “Firms who have a lot of power in the economy know that, and can use that information to charge people much more than the increased costs that they are experiencing because of the crisis.” Price controls can tackle that problem, said Tucker: “The government and the public aren’t at the mercy of private forces here.””

They’re backing its way into a centrally controlled economy, with preordained winners.


Don’t Throw Away Your Bitcoins by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Eventually DeFi will figure out the benefits of (1) centralized executive decision-making and (2) carefully constructed investor checks on those decisions.”
“The whole “decentralized autonomous organization” concept has from the beginning struck me as very odd. That’s … a … corporation?
“Honestly imagine watching the ConstitutionDAO experience and thinking “ah yes that is the way to fund projects from now on: Raise $40 million from small contributors, fail to do the project, offer to return the money, and then have huge chunks of it get burnt up in transaction fees.” Yes! Terrific! The joke is that a blockchain is an expensive slow database, and also it is not a joke, and also people desperately want that.


What Does Payment for Order Flow Buy? by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If they buy stock on the stock exchange, probably some smart hedge fund is selling, and it will probably go down. So they need to buy at a fairly low price ($9.98) and sell at a fairly high price ($10.02) to compensate for this risk of “adverse selection,” this risk that whoever they trade with knows something that they don’t.”
“Basically buying an in-the-money call option like that is a way to get a lot of leverage on a stock: You pay, say, $60 for an option on a share worth $240; you get four-to-one leverage, which is more than you can get in a U.S. margin account. Then if the stock goes up to $300, you get back $100, for a $40 profit on a $60 investment. If the stock goes down to $200 you get back nothing, for a $60 loss.”
“Just in general I will say that the broad trend toward legalization of gambling in the U.S. allows everyone to be a bit more honest about all of this. If “investing” is good and “gambling” is bad, then when you set up a crypto trading platform (or an options brokerage!) you have to mutter something about capital formation and hedging and funding decentralized competitors to incumbent internet giants, mutter mutter mutter. Whereas if everyone agrees that gambling is fun and good then you can just put a big crypto trading floor in your downtown Manhattan casino and everyone is like “ah yes cool casino.”
“Second, I wrote the other day that “the basic innovation of crypto is the production of artificial scarcity,” and I added, somewhat sarcastically, “it is an interesting economic question whether this artificial production of scarcity could actually create value.””


Time to Overhaul the Global Financial System by Jeffrey D. Sachs (Project Syndicate)

“Rich-country governments that borrow internationally in their own currencies do not face the same risk of a sudden stop, because their own central banks act as lenders of last resort. Lending to the United States government is considered safe in no small part because the Federal Reserve can buy Treasury bonds in the open market, ensuring in effect that the government can roll over debts falling due.”

They can sell debt because other countries are willing to buy it. Neat ouroboros.

“For example, Ghana’s debt-to-GDP ratio (83.5%) is far lower than Greece’s (206.7%) or Portugal’s (130.8%), yet Moody’s rates the creditworthiness of Ghana’s government bonds at B3, several notches below those of Greece (Ba3) and Portugal (Baa2). Ghana pays around 9% on ten-year borrowing, whereas Greece and Portugal pay just 1.3% and 0.4%, respectively.

Wow.

“Moody’s, for example, currently assigns an investment grade to just two lower-middle-income countries (Indonesia and the Philippines).”

Those are big trading partners. EPZs. You’re either in the club or you ain’t. It’s a mafia.

“Trillions of dollars in pension, insurance, bank, and other investment funds are channeled by law, regulation, or internal practice away from sub-investment-grade securities.”

See? It’s a mafia. They even know whether they’re actually reliable, but make sure they can charge exorbitant interest rates, knowing also that it will be paid…because they know that the countries to which they’re loading want to be seen as reliable, and they’re segregated and desperate. They’re a captive market to generate low-risk, high-yield returns while also providing ample opportunity for congratulating yourself for helping the indigent.

Public Policy & Politics

Can we save Assange? We will not give up! Abby Martin, Snowden, Chomsky & others speak out! (YouTube)

  • Yanis Varoufakis
  • Paul Jay
  • Abby Martin
  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Jill Stein
  • Tariq Ali
  • John Pilger
  • Nils Melzer
  • John Kiriakou
  • Jennifer Robinson
  • Stella Morris
  • Taylor Hudak
  • Srećko Horvat
  • Angela Richter
  • Glenn Greenwald
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Edward Snowden
  • Vivienne Westwood

These people all support Julian Assange whole-heartedly. Most others couldn’t care less. They don’t care what America is doing to a journalist. They don’t care what that act might signify. They do not relinquish their support for America. People continue to dream of months-long cross-country road-trips in an RV, going from town to town, city to city, meeting average Americans because “they’re nice, welcoming people”, not at all like the standoffish people at home. When America tells the world who the enemy is, the rest of the world listens. Julian Assange must be crushed? Great Britain agrees. The Chinese Olympics must be boycotted? Germany feels guilty for not doing the same. The U.S. gives “human rights abuses” as the reason? The world nods sagely, rather than laughing derisively, which would be the only sane response.


Are Autocrats Always Adversaries? by Patrick Buchanan (Antiwar.com)

“Most autocrats are nationalists, not transnational crusaders.

“It is not Putin who is dividing the world based on ideology.

“It is Biden who sees the world as divided between saints and sinners, democrats and autocrats and, by coercion and conversion, seeks to grow the camp of the saints. Pakistan is invited to the democracy summit, while NATO ally Hungary is blackballed.

“In the great power struggle of the present, among America, Russia and China, it is the Americans who are waging relentless ideological wars. And ideological wars often end in shooting wars.”


Roaming Charges: Recycling History: First as Tragedy, Next as Farce…Then What? by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“How are things going in Biden country? This week they shelved Build Back Better, killed the Child Tax credit, mocked the idea of sending Americans quick at-home COVID tests and signaled that instead of being forgiven, as promised, student loan repayments will start again next month.
“The media hysteria about retail theft is little more than scaremongering to draw attention away from the fact that no one wants to work for them anymore or buy shit in their stores. Nationwide, retail theft is barely up (0.2%), all of the losses they can probably write off…if, and that’s a big one, they’re paying any taxes at all.

Scaling the Practice of Architecture, Conversationally by Andrew Harmel-Law (MartinFowler.com)

“So what makes a good architectural principle? Firstly, it must provide a criteria with which to evaluate our architectural decisions (which in practice means it must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and testable, aka “S.M.A.R.T”). Secondly, it must support the business’s strategic goals. Thirdly, it must articulate the consequences / implications it necessarily contains within it.


Biden-Putin Summit: Who Won the Match of Wills? by Gilbert Doctorow (Antiwar.com)

“[…] it is a safe guess that there will now be a war between Russia and Ukraine only if Kiev launches a military assault on the Russian backed rebel provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk. It is now crystal clear that no Western military aid will come to save the necks of the Ukrainians when the Russians move in, as they will definitely do to save their Donbas brethren, many of whom are Russian Federation passport holders.


In bid to blow up nuclear talks, US imposes sanctions, steals Iranian oil by Bill Van Auken (WSWS)

“On Wednesday, the US Justice Department announced that it had carried out the “successful forfeiture” of 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum products seized by the US Navy from four tankers bound for Venezuela. Seized in separate acts of US piracy in the Arabian sea were Iranian weapons, including surface-to-air and anti-tank weapons, allegedly bound for Yemen to aid Houthi rebels in their protracted struggle against the US-backed forces of the Saudi monarchy. The proceeds from the “forfeitures”—court orders allowing the government to sell seized goods—amounted to nearly $27 million, according to the DOJ.

Just not even hiding it. Flagrant piracy.

“When the Trump administration tore up the agreement in 2018, Tehran remained in full compliance with the agreement’s demands that it curtail up to 80 percent of its civilian nuclear program and submit to an unprecedentedly intrusive international inspections regime. This was despite the fact that the US never offered any significant sanctions relief. Tehran continued to maintain its strict observance of the agreement’s terms for another year after the US abrogation, taking steps to increase its levels of uranium enrichment and stockpiles only after it had become clear that the Western European signatories to the JCPOA would do nothing to challenge Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign.”


Few Pro-Lifers Actually Think Abortion is Murder by Nicholas Grossman (Arc Digital)

Government violating a person’s right to bodily autonomy is a big deal, which is why advocates of anti-abortion laws need abortion to be murder. Wherever one marks it — conception, heartbeat, reactions to stimuli — the fetus must be a person, morally and legally, deserving the same rights as any other. Only then can deliberately terminating a pregnancy be murder. Only then would the unborn child’s right to life clearly outweigh the pregnant woman’s right to liberty.”
“This moral intuition is evident in public opinion, such as this AP-NORC poll from June 2021, which found that 83 percent of Americans think at least some abortions should be legal in the first trimester, with 61 percent thinking it should be legal in all or most cases, but by the third trimester, 54 percent think it should be illegal in all cases.”
“Viability is typically marked at 23 or 24 weeks — and thanks to improving technology, some hospitals now provide treatment to babies born at 22 weeks — which is more than half of the way through the second trimester. 41 states legally restrict abortion after this point (16 states after 22 weeks, four states after 24 weeks, 20 states at the point of viability, and one state after the second trimester).
“Murder is a very serious crime. Killing can be legal and morally justified (e.g. in self-defense), but murder cannot. With abortion, the doctor is arguably the killer, but that still makes the woman who chooses to get one an accessory or conspirator. Murderers and accessories to murder face criminal charges. But most pro-lifers don’t think women who get abortions should be thrown in prison.
“[…] the incident showed that many pro-lifers don’t actually think a fetus is the same as a born baby. If a woman brought a baby to someone and asked to have it killed, and gave the killer financial compensation, she could face criminal charges, and few would object.
“The state forcing a woman to carry her rapist’s baby seems especially harsh — and it is — which inherently acknowledges that making a woman spend months pregnant against her will is an imposition on her freedom.
“if the state gets involved — if people go beyond expressing moral disapproval and enact a ban— that treats consensual sex like a contract signing over custody of the woman’s uterus, forfeiting the right to bodily autonomy in the event of pregnancy.”
“Far more people, including people who identify as pro-life, find it difficult to balance a pregnant woman’s right to liberty and a fetus’s right to life. Most think the calculus changes as a fetus develops. And most recognize that birth is an important threshold, because the baby is no longer inside the mother, which changes the bodily autonomy side of the equation. That’s why 45 percent think third trimester abortions should be legal in at least some cases, but vanishingly few think infanticide should be.
“According to CDC data, about 92 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester, and another six percent happen in the first half of the second trimester. Those abortions, the ones a majority of Americans think should be legal, are what new laws are trying to ban.”


The Small Business Utopia of Schitt’s Creek by Aaron Giovannone (Jacobin)

“For workers, however, small businesses often pay less, offer fewer benefits, and provide more dangerous workplaces than their larger counterparts. Mom-and-pop enterprises are the public-relations-friendly face for business writ large — they present workers fighting for higher wages or better conditions as opponents of well-meaning and hardworking families. Because they are more vulnerable to the ravages of the market than their larger competitors, small businesses are forced to ruthlessly exploit their staff.

This is the problem. The model we have means larger businesses weather crises better. They are also subsidized better. Two strikes. It should the other way around. It would be better for employees (who should be co-owners), communities (also potentially invested), and owners.

“In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels criticized a species of utopianism they called “petite bourgeois socialism.” Believing everyone can be a business owner, these utopians “wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.” What these dreamers miss is that profit comes from exploitation, and competitive market dynamics force a business to increase exploitation or to risk failure.


The Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Is an American Satyricon by Chris Hedges (Mint Press News)

“But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill-fed, ill-clothed people. They poison us morally and physically; they kill the happiness of society; they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime; we all fear poverty.””
George Bernard Shaw
“The misguided belief in charity and philanthropy rather than justice is a communal crime. “You Christians have a vested interest in unjust structures which produce victims to whom you then can pour out your hearts in charity,” Karl Marx said, chastising a group of church leaders.”
“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said of society that “some are guilty, but all are responsible.” The crime of poverty is a communal crime.”
“The Earth, and all forms of life on this planet, must be revered, and protected if we are to endure as a species. This means inculcating a different vision of human society. It means building a world where domination and ceaseless exploitation, in all its forms, are condemned, where empathy, especially for the weak and for the vulnerable is held up as the highest virtue.

Journalism & Media

Gen Z probably doesn’t care about Madonna’s Instagram by Ryan Broderick (Garbage Day)

“This whole little story is both very funny and also basically how everything works now — a reaction of a reaction of a reaction to a thing that didn’t actually really happen. Yeah, Madonna posted a nipple pic to Instagram, but it wasn’t the faux socially progressive Gen Z puriteens who were upset about it, it was American conservatives and prudish middle-aged millennials on Instagram, many of whom only decided to comment on the story because they had read a news story or watched a View segment incorrectly claiming that Gen Z was “offended” by it. And then, most hilariously, by the time the conversation actually went viral, it wasn’t about Madonna at all, but, instead, just thousands of people dunking on Ben Shapiro’s sister and making jokes about how good Nancy Reagan was at performing oral sex.”


The Economics of Culture War Commentary by Alex Nowrasteh (Arc Digital)

“The number of proofreaders has declined by a factor of seven while the number of non-TV reporters and editors has halved since 1980.”
“There are fewer editors that are less choosey overall who also have to fill more space, all of which boosts publications’ demand for writings.”
“[…] the number and share of writers and authors has more than doubled since 1980. Few of these writers have the knowledge or expertise to write about many topics. Fortunately for them, writing about cultural issues doesn’t require expertise—it’s based on the ability to churn out hot takes laced with outrage, which is why so many are crowding into that space.”
“What happened with the recent relative increase in the production of self-published novels for Amazon Kindle is happening with writing and media of all types. In fiction and online, the quality of the median writer has declined.
“[…] without data and models to interpret them, it’s difficult to say anything intelligent about cultural phenomena—to say nothing of the problems with collecting cultural data. Anecdote-driven writing is a story about individual occurrences that may be correlated with broader trends—but how would you know?
“The range of possible positions is much larger, but it’s harder for people to figure out what’s broadly true as a result—especially on cultural issues that are less meaningful in one’s own life but may affect a person’s worldview.”
There are a multitude of websites that will publish just about anything, social media encourages the most ignorant and angry to comment the loudest, there are huge numbers of podcasts, and these entrepreneurs need something interesting to talk about to attract readers and listeners.”

Science & Nature

The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works. by Natalie Wolchover (Quanta)

“Even in outer space, the Earth, moon and sun all still heat the telescope too much for it to perceive the dim twinkle of the most distant structures in the cosmos. Unless, that is, the telescope heads for a particular spot four times farther away from Earth than the moon called Lagrange point 2. There, the moon, Earth and sun all lie in the same direction, letting the telescope block out all three bodies at once by erecting a tennis court-size sunshield. Shaded in this way, the telescope can finally enter a deep chill and at long last detect the feeble heat of the cosmic dawn.
“Ball Aerospace delivered actuators capable of nudging each of the gold hexagons in 10-nanometer increments, one ten-thousandth the width of a hair. Mather said the motors work by “flexing,” or “converting a big motion into a tiny motion,” though Ball’s design, despite being taxpayer-funded, is proprietary. “When we take a picture of the telescope we have to make sure no one could see the motors,” he said.”

Naturally. Why not? Publicly funding, private profit. It’s the way our society works, even in grand endeavors like these.

“The exact date of the shipping container’s departure from California was kept quiet — a precaution against piracy on the high seas — but in early October it voyaged through the Panama Canal to French Guiana, a region near the equator where the European Space Agency launches its plus-size Ariane 5 rocket to exploit the extra kick of Earth’s rotation.

Ariane? Interesting. The subsequent launch was in French. 🙂

“When Natasha was eight and living in Brazil, her mother asked her and her siblings to draw an astronomer. Natasha drew a white man, and Natalie asked her why. “This was crazy for me, the daughter of a Latinx scientist and a female scientist; I still had these stereotypes ingrained in my mind,” Natasha said. She suddenly felt empowered by the thought that she could belong in science.”

What the heck is this horseshit? This has nothing to do with the James Webb. It’s Just woke posturing. I didn’t even have a sentence to highlight. I don’t think this should have been in the article at all. It is nearly literally a non sequitur. This from a “senior editor”.

“Just as her mother had been inspired by Ride, Natasha decided to become either an astronomer or an astronaut. She dreamed of being the first person on Mars.”

Oh FFS. Did she dream that? What, when she was eight years old? C’mon. This article could have been much, much, much shorter if the author had focused on the telescope and the people instead of putting together a Disney movie plot.

“Detecting the weaker signals from rocky, possibly habitable planets’ skies will require JWST. Not only will the telescope have close to 100 times Hubble’s resolution, but it will see exoplanets far more clearly against the background of their host stars, since planets emit more infrared than optical light, while stars emit less. Importantly, Webb’s view of exoplanets won’t be obscured by clouds, which often prevent optical telescopes from seeing the densest, low-altitude layers of atmosphere.”
“The exoplanet community elected Natalie Batalha to lead transit spectroscopy studies of three gas giants as part of these early observations. Her team will also develop data pipelines and processing techniques for the community to copy.

That second job sounds like something completely different from what an astrobiologist does. It’s kind of weird that once you’re involved in a science, it’s just assumed that you can program. Not only program, but write code that handle massive data volumes, that you can be in charge of data pipelines for gigabytes, if not terabytes of data.

Art & Literature

Our Country Friends Is a Disquieting Vision of the Post-COVID America to Come by Ryan Napier (Jacobin)

“The American writer in the middle of the 20th century,” wrote Philip Roth, “has his hands full in trying to understand, and then describe, and then make credible much of the American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Why We Are Not Pagans by Justin E.H. Smith (The Hinternet)

“The tremendous controversy between the Vatican and the liberalizing Jesuits in China that unfolded at the dawn of the eighteenth century concerned precisely the question whether Chinese converts to Catholicism should be permitted to go on practicing “ancestor worship”. The missionaries in the field maintained there was no other way to gain converts than to exhibit tolerance in this matter; the armchair bishops in Rome considered rites of reverence to the dead to be a “deal-breaker”.

We have always known best, despite being terrible at everything but empire.


You Don’t Have to Be a Marxist by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

“it’s OK to want to be left of liberal and to not be a Marxist. It’s OK to favor revolutionary social change and to not be a Marxist. It’s OK to envision a more humane, more progressive, more nurturing economy and society and to not be a Marxist. It’s OK to demand an end to capitalism and imperialism and to not be a Marxist. It is OK to be the left wing of the left wing and to not be a Marxist. It’s OK. The left pursues the new, and if the new is moral and uncompromising and wise, that will be enough.
It’s something of a quirk of history that communism (the political program of Marxism, which is a philosophical theory of history and economics) became the preeminent socialist philosophy and the great counterpart to capitalism in the 20th century.”
“[…] what “Marxism” means to a majority of the people who now invoke it positively, particularly the young and online, is a vague and formless embrace of a politics that is rhetorically left of liberalism and angry at liberals for failing to advance a meaningful alternative to free market capitalism, but which nevertheless holds no positions fundamentally antagonistic to those of liberal capitalists.”
I still believe that no political or philosophical tradition better describes our world or its economy, and I still believe in the human potential for an economy that is free from the exploitation inherent to the concept of profit and wages.”
“To be a Marxist is to believe that a sufficiently advanced understanding of the world can describe a fundamental relationship between workers, the means of production, and the owners of the means of production which implies the inevitable triumph of the producing class over the rentier class as the internal contradictions of capitalism assert themselves.”
Marxism does not demand an end to personal private property. This one is like a CIA op or something, honestly. The means of production are socialized. No one ever said you have to share your pants.”
“Baked into the Marxist vision of a communist future is the assumption that capitalism is a necessary stage of history, where the incredible developmental muscle of the market will bring society to a state of abundance which can then be liberated from the systems of exploitation.
“[…] there will be plenty of substantive inequality in a fully communist society. Some people will still be smarter than others in a communist society, and some will still be more charismatic, and some will still be more attractive, and so on. It’s impossible that this inequality in human capital, which is intrinsic to our species, won’t result in some form of material inequality. But, again, ending inequality is not the purpose of communism. The purpose of communism is to end the fundamentally exploitative relationship between workers and capital as described in the theory of surplus value.”
“That does not imply, and was never meant to imply, a utopian society of perfect material equality. Inequality is a part of our biological reality. But exploitation and poverty are something we choose, and we could choose something else.”
“[…] there is nothing in Marxism proper that implies a rejection of typical rights regarding free speech, assembly, or dissent against the government.”
“Marx’s work acknowledges the inherently counterrevolutionary tendencies of the state and suggests (albeit incompletely) a future of semi-autonomous communities ruled by participatory democracy, operating under the principles of shared work and shared abundance.”
“[…] would not call Marxism an anti-statist philosophy either, in any manner similar to that espoused under anarchism. But then, after the transformations a true Marxist revolution would entail the very concept of a state loses some of its coherence.
“Signing on to Marxism without a strong commitment to the labor theory of value is like converting to Islam without being particularly invested in the Quran. It doesn’t make me mad; it makes me confused. What’s the point?”
“Marxism was written long ago. Socialism can be written right now. Look, people are animated by a profound feeling that everything is wrong, by a passionate demand for a better world, and by the churning desire for revenge against the privileged and their greed. Those are excellent feelings to be animated by.”

Programming

Old CSS, new CSS by Evee in February 2020 (fuzzy notepad)

This is a long, but eminently useful and informative history of CSS from the very, very beginning (tables), to floats, to inline-blocks, to flexbox, and, finally, to the latest and greatest (grids).


Backwards compatibility as a profunctor by Mark Seemann (Ploeh)

“I often run into programmers who’ve learned that a test method may only contain a single assertion; that having multiple assertions is called Assertion Roulette. I find that too simplistic. You can view appending new assertions as a strengthening of postconditions. With the assertion in listing 11.3 any 500 Internal Server Error response would pass the test. That would include a ‘real’ error, such as a missing connection string. This could lead to false negatives, since a general error could go unnoticed.

“When you add test cases to an existing test, you increase the size of the input set. Granted, unit test inputs are only samples of the entire input set, but it’s still clear that adding a test case increases the input set. Thus, we can view such an edit as a mapping a -> a’, where a ⊂ a’.

“Likewise, when you add more assertions to an existing set of assertions, you add extra constraints. Adding an assertion implies that the test must pass all of the previous assertions, as well as the new one. That’s a Boolean and, which implies a narrowing of the allowed result set (unless the new assertion is a tautological assertion). Thus, we can view adding an assertion as a mapping b -> b’, where b’ ⊂ b.

This is why it’s okay to add more test cases, and more assertions, to an existing test, whereas you should be weary [sic] of the opposite: It may imply (or at least allow) a breaking change.


Weeknotes: Trapped in an eternal refactor by Simon Willison

“I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea that it’s OK to ignore all of the current batch of JavaScript frameworks and libraries and just write code that uses the default browser APIs. Browser APIs are pretty great these days, especially given things like backtick literals for multi-line strings!”


You Can’t Buy Integration by Brandon Byars (Martin Fowler)

<table><tr> <th>Principle</th> <th>Description</th></tr><tr> <td>Design your interface from your users’ perspective</td> <td>Your APIs are themselves digital products, designed to facilitate your developers and system integrators to tackle complexity. As any product manager knows, a good product interface is meant to make your users lives easier, not yours.</td></tr><tr> <td>Abstract the capability, not the system</td> <td>The underlying system is an implementation concern. Avoid leaky abstractions and provide a simplified view of the underlying capability.</td></tr><tr> <td>Hide implementation complexity, even through evolution</td> <td>Build abstractions that can evolve over time, even if that means a more complicated implementation.</td></tr><tr> <td>Create the future; adapt the past</td> <td>Resist the temptation to expose the underlying complexity of legacy integration to your consumers, as the alternative is forcing each of your consumers to wrestle with the complexity with much less contextual understanding of it than you.</td></tr><tr> <td>Integration is strategic to your business</td> <td>At scale, the only way to rationalize the complexity of your business is to build simplifying abstractions behind clean interfaces. </td></tr></table>


The Liskov Substitution Principle as a profunctor by Mark Seemann (Ploeh Blog)

“As Postel’s law suggests, a method should be liberal in what it accepts. If it understands ‘what the caller meant’, it should perform the desired operation instead of insisting on the letter of the law. Imagine that you receive a call where min is midnight June 6 and max is midnight June 5. While wrong, what do you think that the caller ‘meant’? The caller probably wanted to retrieve the reservations for June 5. You could weaken that precondition by swapping back min and max if you detect that they’ve been swapped.

Oh, no. I mean, you could do that, but you’re not enforcing a contract then. The caller may be mixing up min and max and is perhaps even storing them into the incorrect fields. But no-one will ever tell that caller because the API bends over backwards to make assumptions about what the caller meant. I think that this is a more weighty decision to make than Seemann suggests. You could log out that you’ve swapped arguments (but the caller would probably never know, nor is there really a good way to indicate this). It’s entirely possible that the caller is making an error on its own side, but that it’s harmless, so why throw an exception or return an error? Maybe generosity is the better answer here. It’s not an easy call. As a caller, I’d rather know that I was passing in the arguments incorrectly and be able to fix my code.

“This implementation retains the weakened precondition from before, but now it also explicitly sorts the reservations on At. Since no client code relies on sorting, this breaks no existing clients. While the behaviour changes, it does so in a way that doesn’t violate the original contract.”

“Since no client code relies on sorting” would be better stated as: since sort order was not part of the original contract. The callee actually has no idea whether a client depended on the previous ordering, just that they would have done so without a guarantee.


Blockchains don’t solve problems that are interesting to me by William Woodruff (ENOSUCHBLOG)

“All human systems are subject to fraud and abuse. But removing humans from the system does not remove the fraud — it just incentivizes novel forms of fraud automation, and promotes reversible accidents into irreversible ones. I dread to think of a world where a cosmic bitflip sends my paycheck to the wrong blockchain address, either flushing my money into the void or sending it to someone who has no formal reason to help me get it back.”


Should you Abstract the Database? by Vladimir Khorikov (Enterprise Craftsmanship)

“You will always have both sides, no matter the decision. Not discussing the unintended consequences of your particular decision is either ignorance or lying to yourself.
“But people rarely account for its downsides because they are unseen. Once you introduce additional complexity to enable database switch, you perceive it as a given. You just don’t have anything to compare it with, and so the additional time it took you to maintain this abstraction remains unnoticed. But that additional time is huge. As the saying goes: Weeks of coding can save you hours of planning. 👆👆 This is exactly how I feel when I see someone bragging about saving 2 days on a database switch.
Introducing an abstraction is not just a one-off activity, you will have to maintain it for the whole duration of your project, even if you never need to do another switch ever again.”
“Another issue with abstracting your database (aside from having to maintain the abstraction itself) is that you can’t use advanced functionality present in your current DBMS.