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Links and Notes for December 24th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Thousands of flights canceled worldwide due to rising infections among airline workers by Jerry White (WSWS)

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday announced it was shortening the recommended time infected people should isolate from 10 days to five days if they are asymptomatic. The quarantine period for someone exposed to an infected person was also reduced to five days if they are vaccinated, the CDC said, and people who are fully vaccinated and boosted may not need to quarantine at all.

Economy & Finance

Wall Street Is No Fun Anymore by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If depositors are guaranteed not to lose value by keeping their money in lira, then there is no reason for them to sell lira to buy dollars, so no one will sell, so the lira won’t go down, so Turkey won’t have to pay anything out on this guarantee.”

That’s a neat trick. HODL with fiat currency. Don’t anybody sell and nobody gets hurt (loses value). But if you can’t move your money, you also can’t use it. You can only use it as collateral when borrowing other money—which maybe you can use?—which seems to be the way of the world now: everyone is supposed to “make their money work for them” as if they had enough of it to actually do so and as if they were already rich.

The gravestone on the next financial crisis will have the epitaph fake it ‘til you make it on it, because this seems to be the only mantra anyone seems to know anymore. I suppose we’re all just spoiled into thinking that Maslow’s pyramid is so taken care of—and in a way that could never be endangered—that we can spend all of our time circle-jerking with bullshit, cooing to ourselves about how pretty and rich and popular we are.

“I’ve seen lots of different descriptions of Erdogan’s new plan, with some arguing that it amounts to a backdoor rate hike and others saying that it looks like a clandestine currency peg. Then there’s the DeFi interpretation. There are shades of ‘HODL’ and (3,3) here, two of the crypto market’s biggest memes. The first saying is an enjoiner to encourage people to hold onto their crypto when times are tough (rather than selling), while (3,3) was created by OlympusDAO to describe the game theory behind its OHM coin.”
“The ordered pair represents payoffs for you and for the other player in this game; the numbers are arbitrary.”

I’m super-wary of “everyone wins” stuff like this because it’s patently not true nearly all of the time. If it is true, you’re taking value from someone not in the game…because you’re certainly not creating any. If it’s not true, then you’re the sucker losing his shirt.

When I first read this explanation in the OlympusDAO documentation, I laughed and laughed. “Well yes right,” I thought, “the way a Ponzi scheme works is that early ‘investors’ get rich as long as later investors keep buying more.” Sure, (3, 3). “If we all keep buying this thing its price will go up and we will be rich” is absolutely the main financial theme of 2021, but it is an irreducibly silly theme and I would be embarrassed to formalize it with game theory.”
““The value of a currency depends on its widespread social acceptance, though it can be influenced in the short term by the interest rate that you can get in that currency” is such normal everyday stuff that you don’t think about it much. But if you’re reinventing currency from scratch, you do.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We actually have something that works fine. It’s not nearly perfect, but making it better also isn’t nearly our top priority, as a society. But people are trying to waste time and energy better spent elsewhere making a new version of currency that is just as inherently valueless but benefits a different group of assholes (for now; I’m sure the old group of assholes, not particularly well-known for being good losers, will inveigle themselves soon enough, if they haven’t already).

The new assholes don’t deserve the wealth any more than the old ones in the old system because they haven’t created anything of value. They want credit and riches now for possible knock-on third-order effects later. Effects which may or may not arise and may or may not be due to their “efforts” anyway.


JPMorgan Sent the Wrong Emails by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“I just want to stress how far this is from a “move fast and break things” model. There are tons of startups and tech companies and crypto projects that have under-invested in compliance and formality and record-keeping, and have justified it by saying “we have a good culture and trust our people to do the right thing without a lot of rules,” or “it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission,” or “ehhhh those laws are pretty antiquated, what are the odds that they apply to us?” And here are JPMorgan’s bankers very earnestly discussing deals with colleagues and clients in the wrong text boxes on the wrong phones, and they paid a $200 million fine.

Yeah but they get the goose that lays the golden egg because they comply. Compliance is mandatory and that’s fine that way, I think. They agreed to jump through certain hoops with certain transparency in exchange for being able to be humongous and have ludicrous margins for what is essentially an easy job of “lending money to people who need it”.

The government expects them to play by certain rules while it allows them to get/assists them in getting filthy, filthy rich with relatively little risk (they’re huge and can absorb the occasional losses, but also the government plays lender of last resort, often jumping in before anything worse than a little boo-boo has happened, e.g. when a bank runs the nigh-annihilating risk of making less profit than the year prior).

In exchange for that, they have to (A) not do criminal stuff and (B) communicate in channels with oversight so that their fucking sugar daddy can make sure they’re not cheating. Failing to do that got them a fine that is about the size of the bonuses their top management make. Cry. Me. A. River.

“I’m closing in on 2 million followers on Twitter. We have many, many millions of views on YouTube. Now we’ve gone from being one of 100 enterprise software companies to being the best known enterprise software company to being probably one of the best known software companies. … That market attention, again, it’s come from Twitter, it’s come from YouTube, it’s come from CNBC and other popular media, and it drives prospects into our pipeline and it helps us drive sales growth. And of course, it also makes our employees more effective. Our sales teams are more effective because our brand is well known. It’s easier for us to recruit, because our brand is better known.

Note that he hasn’t actually said that his company is good at anything or that it has gotten better at anything or that it is better than any of its competitors at what it purports its main business to be. Its main business appears to be talking about how awesome it is and convincing a bunch of rubes that this is true.

It’s almost a truism that they are better at touting their awesomeness than their competitors would be were they to even try doing such a thing, because it would be silly. But that’s what’s happening and there are millions of people eating it up and kissing ass, hoping to catch some fame or wealth in the wake of these utter shysters.

They are all courtiers of emperor with no clothes. Instead of laughing, they revere and hope to be showered with beneficence so that they, too, can check out of life as millionaires and funders and revered geniuses, leaving the hoi polloi to toil in the dungeons while they enjoy the good life that they so obviously and richly deserve for the rest of our days, long may they be.

This is, of course, completely backwards. They literally built a good name for themselves, but not because they did good work. Because they paid for it. The business world is a circle jerk. This is madness.

“So one day instead of getting the title to your house through some archaic title registry where you have to go down to the basement of a courthouse and leaf through ancient paper documents and figure out if there are liens on the house, it will all be on the blockchain and home sales will be easy and you can own a fraction of a home and get a mortgage instantly, etc., etc., etc. And I am not saying that I expect all that stuff to happen in the near term, but it is at least an interesting vision for something, and the concept of “non-fungible token” is part of it.”
“In 10 years maybe everyone will spend thousands of dollars on their avatars and only crusty weird nerds will be like, “No, I will just wear a burlap sack to promenade in the plaza, it keeps the wind out, that’s all I need.””
“[…] people used to get meaning out of being seen promenading in the plaza in fancy clothes, now they get meaning out of being seen promenading on Twitter with fancy Bored Ape avatars, and we are finding ways to create artificial scarcity and gradations of status there and sell those gradations for a lot of money.””

Thank god for that.

Public Policy & Politics

Episode 582: Heaven: Out of Order feat. Slavoj Žižek by Chapo Trap House (YouTube)

This is 90-minute interview with Slavoj Žižek. I loved every minute of it. Transcribed by me. I cleaned up a bit for clarity, leaving out some of Žižek’s less-famous filler words, but leaving in his more-famous ones.

At 08:50

Žižek: I am a bad guy—which I am not, at least not at this level—I’m regularly beating my wife. Then, once my wife eats something, which almost chokes her. You know, one of the strategies, you put your body forward, of the person who is being suffocated, you beat her on her back, so that it comes out. So you catch me doing this, and you attack me! That it wasn’t really the fear of strangulation, I just used this an excuse to make her suffer.

“But this is a very unfortunate example because, for me, it’s difficult to say, ‘no, I can prove it to you. I helped her. I saved her life’. You see the parallel? We shouldn’t attack the establishment at the level where it’s even doing something which may be, at least, up to a certain level, helpful.

“[…] Pick an example where we are really abused totally. Where we are really controlled. Don’t make it easy [for] them!

At 10:28,

Žižek: […] The pandemic was used to make a passage in today’s global capitalism much faster, the passage which is so radical—again, Varoufakis, my friend, even claims (maybe he goes a little bit too far here, but I think basically he is right), and Jodi Dean in the Unites states basically claims the same—that we are passing from what we called neoliberal capitalism—rule of the market, and so on—to something called—corporate neofeudalism.

At 28:00,

Žižek: We all expected from the state, local communities, and so on, to do something to make our lives livable, in ways which are not done with regard to the profitability. We were all in panic. Let’s call it. This was de-facto a step toward communism.

“But, HAHAHA, now I know how the establishment tried to turn this around, the money which was printed … in Europe, there is an incredible example, described by Varoufakis how this money was used. DeutscheBank gave Volkswagen a couple of billions of euros to survive the crisis and what Volkswagen did was it used this money to buy back stocks that were not already owned by Volkswagen.

“This is a horrible story. But what is happening is that, is that it is no longer for me just the choice betweeen neoliberal capitalism or—whatever we call it—socialism. No. Liberal capitalism—that should be the lesson—is, in the form that we all knew, disappearing. And the real choice today is neo-feudalism—corporate rule—or what I am calling communism.

At 58:00,

Žižek: I am here, again, a moderately conservative communist. I think that we should abandon this liberal-left, marginalist stance. So what we should do—now comes my conservative communism—take from the right, don’t be afraid of the majority of ordinary people. Many of them are just confused, but they’re basically honest people—we should trust them.

“Or, to use my provocative formula—which I regularly use. Our message should be—and Bernie Sanders knew how to play this game—our message should be we are the true moral majority. You know, if you mention to a liberal leftist “moral majority”, ooooh, but what about the minorities? They immediately think about some crazy concern [? garbled]. No, they are the crazy minority. They are the exception. We shouldn’t be afraid to go this way.

At 01:22:00,

Žižek: Do you know that [Squid Game] was a greater his in the west than in South Korea itself? (I was told.) Second thing: be careful, it’s not immer [German for always] perceived as anti-capitalist. I know a guy who knows the creator of the series, and he confirmed this for me. The message is not the one that is taken over by North Korean media. No.

“The obsession of the guy is that he has nothing against the game, as such. The point is that the game is twisted, spin, you know, … it’s not a fair game. […] The basic premise is: yes, life is too dull today. We need such violent games. But they should be fair, just games. No cheating. So the whole direction is against cheating! It’s for honest capitalism!

“It’s totally false to perceive it as a radical critique of capitalism. […] This is the big danger today of pseudo anti-capitalism. It pretends to be anti-capitalist but, if you look at it closely … you know, […] there is another leftist paranoia to be avoided here. You know, the idiots who think everything is already corporated, there is no space. No! It’s not as simple as that. Just don’t look for subversive elements in places which are the most obvious.


Episode 576: The Wonder Twins by Chapo Trap House (YouTube)

This whole episode is about a documentary about Pete Buttigieg.

At 31:30,

Matt Christman: We watched this and one of the big questions that comes up is: how [could] this absolute zero, briefly, be one of the real, top contenders for the Democratic nomination? In the polls and in everything. It’s because of the fucking media.

“Because this guy’s clear, reptilian hollowness is least perceptible to the people who are most influential in determining the narrative of who runs for president. That is how fucked it is.

“We’ve got a situation where the people who basically have no lizard-detectors are in charge of determining political narratives, while everybody else is interacting with the real world, and most of them see Buttigieg as this hollow bullshit artist—unless you’re a journalist.”


The Equality That Socialists Care About Most Is Equality of Power by Ben Burgis (Jacobin)

“[…] you can think that a society’s resources should be distributed reasonably equally without demanding exactly-as-many-blueberries-in-every-muffin equality. In 2020, for example, the average CEO earned three hundred fifty times more than the average worker. You can think that’s far more inequality than justice allows without insisting that every single person have the same amount in their bank account.
“The obscene level of income inequality within capitalist firms flows from this basic inequality of power. Instead of everyone at a company democratically deciding how to divide up the revenue generated by their collective effort, someone like Jeff Bezos can unilaterally decide to keep enough of Amazon’s profits that he can literally buy his own spaceship. This is what socialists mean when we talk about “exploitation” — the share of collectively produced revenue that an owner gets not because he has some compelling claim that he can convince workers to accept, but simply because he has the power to take it from them.
“You don’t end up with some people making hundreds of times what others do when everyone gets to vote on pay scales. It might be possible to convince your fellow workers that you should get a little extra if you take on more stress or responsibility, or you have to do particularly dirty or dangerous tasks. But good luck persuading them that you need to earn so much that you can buy your own spaceship.
“Even in capitalist countries with strict campaign finance laws, politicians have every reason to placate owners. After all, capitalists have a trump card in their back pocket: they can exercise their “business veto” over policies they dislike by shutting down and relocating elsewhere.
“Without particular people being empowered to make particular decisions on a day-to-day basis without having to consult everyone on every detail, very little will get done. If the people giving orders aren’t democratically accountable to the people taking them, however, you end up with some human beings being dependent on the whims of others in a way that’s innately degrading.
“If I want to sit around getting high and watching Harold and Kumar movies in the privacy of my home, it shouldn’t matter that you think this is a bad use of my time because we’re equals and you shouldn’t have the power to make decisions for me. But if I’m your boss and I want to upend your life by shutting down the grocery store where you and dozens of other people work, I shouldn’t be able to make that call for exactly the same reason.


No, Large-Scale Societies Don’t Need Massive Inequalities: An Interview with David Wengrow by Astra Taylor (Jacobin)

“Turgot tried to get Graffigny to change the ending of the book so that Princess Zilia sees the error of her ways and realizes that, to live in a technologically sophisticated society, you need division of labor and money — both of which imply class differences. Graffigny said no, published her book as intended, and Turgot spent the next few years getting his intellectual revenge.”
“There’s a closed hermeneutic about what a city is, which we try to break apart in the book. In particular, we argue against this constant shifting of the goalposts. When you have a society scaling up that doesn’t produce class stratification and rigid hierarchies, you can’t suddenly go blind.


Loudoun County Epilogue: A Worsening Culture War, and the False Hope of “Decorum” by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“From the beginning of the Trump years, the operating premise of the culture war from the Democratic point of view has been the essential irrationality, unreasonableness, and threatening nature of the other side. These voters are crazy, evil, or both, and therefore unreachable by normal political means. This is why the Trump movement is universally described now as a security problem.

“Loudoun revealed a multi-layered conflict over complex issues, inspiring legitimate differences of opinion among a variety of groups, with nearly everyone involved being college-educated and affluent relative to the rest of the country. Many of the political combatants are neighbors who when not talking politics take care of each other’s kids, share dinners, do favors for one another. Disputes between such people can’t and shouldn’t be dealt with as security problems. They have to and can be worked out. The idea that this is impossible is our culture’s central political myth. “Decorum,” code for authoritarianism, doesn’t work. When you decide to stick people in parking lots for disagreeing in places like this, you’re not finding the “antidote” for populist anger. You’re breeding it.


The secret truth of the student debt crisis by Ryan Cooper (The Week)

Most student debt will be canceled sooner or later, because an ever-growing share of borrowers cannot possibly repay their loans. Ever. The only question that matters is whether President Biden and Democrats in Congress can grapple with reality and fix America’s colossally stupid system of funding higher education.”
“Most student debt will be canceled sooner or later, because an ever-growing share of borrowers cannot possibly repay their loans.”

But why have they stopped paying? You can’t not pay loans for a car (it gets repoed), so how can you not pay student loans? Is it that there are no wages to garnish? Is it that too many people have realized that this was all a scam on the part of educational institutions qua hedge funds that games the system by pretending that their costs had risen an order of magnitude more than anything else in society just to soak up more money from the government wallet?

“The looming repayment crisis inspired the Obama administration to set up an income-driven repayment (IDR) scheme, which was expanded several times, particularly in 2016. This allowed distressed borrowers to pay only a set fraction of their income, and theoretically after a number of years or doing certain public service tasks, get the loan forgiven (though few have actually been approved so far).”

Ah, that’s how it works. This makes sense, of course. A sensible society puts brakes on the percentage of money that any one thing can draw on small incomes. A less sensible society allows debts to increase through interest when nothing is paid because the debtor cannot pay anything. The article notes that most outstanding sums are growing over time, which is why it concludes that they will never be paid back. If, over the course of 10 years of trying to pay off a loan, it’s only grown, simple extrapolation suggests that this loan will never be paid back. It’s not socialism; it’s pragmatic.

If the income is large, then a 50% drain doesn’t put the earner in any danger of falling onto assistance programs. There are those that would argue that damage or danger, in that case, is that the earner is in danger of losing the will to earn because why even be rich if Uncle Sam is going to take away half of it, even if it’s only half of an increasingly abstract number that has nothing to do with the lifestyle one can afford.

But no matter, it’s the way the person feels that’s important. If an earner—nay, a job creator—is going to jump ship and live a life on the margins and in the warm, loving arms of Mother State—because that’s what everyone else does and look at how awesome the lives of the poor are relative to those of the rich, who carry all of these parasites on their proud, strong backs—then society should do everything it can to make sure that that doesn’t happen because think of all of the lost jobs and productivity and economic activity. Instead, it should coddle these rare geniuses, letting them grow exorbitantly rich and powerful, if only they will continue to bless us with the magnanimousness of their very existence, exercising their God-given powers of entrepreneurship and sprinkling the fairy-dust of their beneficence over us all.

“In a sense, the U.S. is starting to fund its higher education system with a payroll tax on people who go to college but are too poor to pay for it out of pocket — except we then force them to sit under an enormous load of basically imaginary debt for decades while doing it.”
“It’s easy to imagine a solution for this problem. Simply get rid of the debt, most of which is not going to be paid back anyhow, and in future finance public higher education directly. Then use that leverage to force schools to get their costs under control.

The schools are basically ripping off the government. Bad incentives. Again.

“What has happened with higher education bears a marked resemblance to what has happened in health care over the last several decades. In each case the government has shoveled ever-greater indirect subsidies into a greedy and often outright predatory sector, which gobbled up the subsidies with ever-higher prices.”


The “Thucydides Trap” Does Not Explain Geopolitics by Richard Hanania (SubStack)

“Unsurprisingly, official Washington never latches on to a theory that says the US is safer from foreign threats than any other country in the history of the world, and our meddling abroad causes more harm than good. While such a theory isn’t useful to powerful interest groups, it happens to be true.”


Inflation Comes From Printing Money For The Rich by Nick Pemberton (CounterPunch)

“In summary, the left frames inflation as something that helps the working class and the right frames inflation as something that comes from helping the working class. Both are so wrong it’s unbelievable. Inflation comes from helping the ruling class. The political system relies on the scapegoating of the working class by Republicans and the willful misrepresentation of the working class by the Democrats in order to animate the Republicans. QE is useful for reactionary politics because it does not have an immediate effect. The bad news for the ruling class is that nothing, not even socialism, can be kept off forever.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Reneging Prosocially by Duncan_Sabien (Less Wrong)

“You pass on the left and not the right because that’s what people are expecting. You signal your lane changes so that people know what you’re about to do. If you drive erratically, everybody else has to change the way they’re driving around you, and then nobody knows how to coordinate. It breaks the pattern, and we rely on the pattern to stay safe.””
“[…] or he could have been running late, or he could have just had a different sense of what constitutes safe driving and traffic violations than my father.”

I always think that maybe it’s a medical emergency.

“You can treat the person in the other car as a black box, and treat my father as a black box, and simply ask “are the behaviors emerging from these black boxes likely to combine smoothly and effectively, or not?”
“Saying “yes, I’m sorry, I made this commitment and also I’m not following through on it, and I get that you might dock me points for this, and be less willing to trust me in the future, and I’m not going to take umbrage at that reasonable update that you’re making, because this is in fact what happened and I don’t expect you to pretend it didn’t happen.””
“Separate from all of that, I give my social partner the bad news, and validate the damage. It’s important to explicitly acknowledge that I told them one thing and am doing another, and that I recognize the degree to which this imposes costs (and forces them to make a negative update on my reliability).”
“When looking at the world from the black box perspective, I’m choosing whether to let them solidify a prediction that I won’t, or to try to overcome evidence that I’ve given them with stronger evidence in the other direction.
We all make mistakes. We all overpromise, from time to time. We’ve all been there, when things go just a little bit wronger than we thought, when we have just a little less gas in the tank than we expected. That’s life. It’s just a lot easier to sympathize—and to empathize, and to forgive and forget and start all over—when there’s a credible signal that the other person counted for more than zero.


Actors and scribes, words and deeds by Benjamin Ross Hoffman (Compass Rose)

“Robin Hanson reports that he can get students to mimic an economic way of talking, but not to think like an economist:”
“After eighteen years of being a professor, I’ve graded many student essays. And while I usually try to teach a deep structure of concepts, what the median student actually learns seems to mostly be a set of low order correlations. They know what words to use, which words tend to go together, which combinations tend to have positive associations, and so on. But if you ask an exam question where the deep structure answer differs from answer you’d guess looking at low order correlations, most students usually give the wrong answer.
“Even for those of us who habitually think structurally, it would be surprising if the mimetic component to language ever totally went away. Plenty of times, I’ve started saying something, only to stop midway through realizing that I’m just repeating something I heard, not reporting on a feature of my model of the world.


All in all, another brick in the motte by Scott Alexander in 2014 (Slate Star Codex)

“If you’re debating the Pope or something, then when you weak-man, you’re unfairly replacing a strong position (the Pope’s) with a weak position (that of the guy who wants to kill gays) to make it more attackable.

“But in motte and bailey, you’re unfairly replacing a weak position (there is a supernatural creator who can make people out of ribs) with a strong position (there is order and beauty in the universe) in order to make it more defensible.

So weak-manning is replacing a strong position with a weak position to better attack it; motte-and-bailey is replacing a weak position with a strong position to better defend it.

“This means people who know both terms are at constant risk of arguments of the form “You’re weak-manning me!” “No, you’re motte-and-baileying me!“.”

“If you have an actual thing you’re trying to debate, then it should be obvious when somebody’s changing the topic. If working out who’s using motte-and-bailey (or weak man) is remotely difficult, it means your discussion went wrong several steps earlier and you probably have no idea what you’re even arguing about.


Annus constrictivus by Justin E.H. Smith (The Hinternet)

“I’m not a child anymore and I have no idea what my favorite color is. I also have no idea whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert or an “empath” or whatever. I’m just a human being like everyone else, who struggles to make connections and sometimes fails. And I similarly have no idea whether I’m an optimist or a pessimist.”
“(Why, incidentally, do only 0.8% of you click the links I provide? I’ve studied my stats and I know all about your reading behavior. Trust me, this one is worth clicking.)”

Because I read you on an e-book. I rarely get back to the original article in order to see where all of the links are.

“To be honest I don’t really understand why new literature should be prioritized in any way. If it’s good now, it will be good ten years from now, so what’s the rush?”

So you can opine on it publicly. So you can flare your tail-feathers. Duh.

“Otherwise, it seems to me that what the reader is in search of —what most readers are in search of— is not the good at all, but just something to chatter with one another about,”

Bingo.

“Sometimes I begin to fear that […] if we do not keep bearing up the world through speech and experience, its structure will shift to the point where the elements that used to compose it will appear as nothing more than ruins.”

Programming

GraphQL is not meant to be exposed over the internet by Jens Neuse (Wundergraph)

“If we want to define a new JSON-RPC API, all we have to do is create a new file containing a set of GraphQL Operations. Each Operation has a unique name. This name becomes the function name of the JSON-RPC. The Operation variables become the input of the RPC call.


Low Latency Microservices, A Retrospective by Peter Lawrey (Vanilla Java)

“Ultimately, this lead to the support of Trivially Copyable objects, a concept adopted from C++, where the majority (or entire) Java object could be copied as a memory copy without any serialization logic. This allowed us to support passing complex market data with around 50 fields between microservices in different processes at well under a microsecond most of the time.
“This gave our customers the flexibility of running parts of the system as a compound microservice in the test environment while they could still deploy individual microservices independently in production.”