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Links and Notes for December 31st, 2021

Published by marco on

Updated 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Personal Response to Omicron by jefftk (Less Wrong)

“I think if it were critical that I or a housemate didn’t get Omicron, it would be possible, but very difficult. We would need to go back to isolating the way we were in Fall 2020, treating vaccinated people as about as risky as unvaccinated people, pulling the kids out of school, and never going indoors anywhere. Given the likely effects of contracting covid as a child or boosted adult, this is not worth it for us or I suspect most people.

“Instead, I expect that I, the people in my house, and pretty much everyone who doesn’t take intense and careful effort to avoid it will be exposed to Omicron at some point in the next ~month. It’s not a good thing, but it is what it is. Afterward, people’s immune systems will have had yet another covid exposure, and I expect cases to go low until next fall. So I’m not going to stress about it: I’ll follow official guidance and mask regulations, cheerfully go along with precautions others need, and test+isolate when sick, but I’m not going to go above and beyond to attempt to reduce spread the way I did for earlier parts of the pandemic.


Thousands of American Workers Are Being Forced to Work With COVID by Alex N. Press (Jacobin)

“If an employer says workers should report symptoms or a positive COVID test and mandates that they take, per the new guideline, five days off, but those days are unpaid, then many workers will choose not to report in the first place. One wants to protect one’s coworkers, or customers, or whoever else one may interact with while coming and going from work, but bills must be paid, and five days is 25 percent of a monthly income. Every person is on their own, and no state support is on the horizon. That is where we have landed.


Why is Covid Surveillance so Hard? by Tornus (LessWrong)

Many of the core information systems were built by epidemiologists. They’re smart people who are good at what they do, but they aren’t professional coders or data scientists. Most of them know just enough code to be dangerous.”
“Until COVID, reportable condition pipelines were optimized for ease of analysis, not for throughput. All of a sudden, throughput is critically important: many systems are pushing 100 times as much data as they were two years ago. I’m aware of a critical daily data pipeline that takes 8 hours to run, assuming nothing goes wrong.”
“Many of those sources are in different formats and many are incomplete, erroneous, or malformed. Many of the points of origin have never before conducted any kind of medical testing and are completely new to reporting lab results. There are numerous third party systems dumping data into the main pipeline and every one of them has the ability to break the entire pipeline by introducing malformed data.
“For example, determining whether a given case is a reinfection requires figuring out whether the patient has ever had a previous positive test (keeping in mind that they may have moved, changed their name, etc. in the interim). Calculating breakthrough cases requires matching test results to vaccination records. None of those operations are easy, and none of them are computationally cheap.

Economy & Finance

Wall Street Banks Have an Alibi for their $11.23 Trillion in Emergency Repo Loans from the Fed – It’s a Doozy by Pam Martens (Wall Street on Parade)

“the Fed’s data illustrates Goldman Sachs’ outsized grab of a repo loan on November 25, 2019. The repo (repurchase agreement) market is an overnight market. Banks, corporations, money market funds and others borrow from each other overnight against safe collateral such as Treasury securities. But the Fed’s version of the repo market in 2019 morphed from overnight loans to making 14-day term loans to making 42-day term loans. The fact that a major Wall Street bank needed the comfort of a loan from the Fed that stretched out for 42 days is a strong indicator that there was a serious liquidity crisis going on in the fall of 2019.”


These Charts Are the Smoking Guns in the Fed’s 2019-2020 Emergency Repo Loan Bailouts by Pam Martens (Wall Street on Parade)

“[Deutschebank] was having serious financial difficulties. Its attempt to merge with Commerzbank had fallen through in April 2019. On July 7, 2019 it announced a plan to fire 18,000 workers and had plans to create a good bank/bad bank, moving its toxic assets that it hoped to sell to the bad bank. Deutsche Bank had also reported losses in three of the prior four years. Its share price had lost 90 percent of its value over the prior dozen years and was trading close to an historic low in September of 2019”
JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, was heavily interconnected to Deutsche Bank. Any fallout from problems at Deutsche Bank were going to have “net spillover” to JPMorgan Chase.”
“[…] neither the Fed, nor Congress, nor the banking regulators have stopped these banks from holding tens of trillions of dollars of derivatives with questionable counterparties on the other side. Even worse, in the U.S., the derivatives are held at the federally-insured banking units of the megabanks […]”


The Inflation Red Herring by Joseph Stiglitz (Project Syndicate)

“Reduced spending by indebted households is unlikely to be offset by those at the top, most of whom have accumulated savings during the pandemic. Given that spending on consumer durables remained robust during the past 16 months, it seems likely that the well-off will treat their additional savings as they would any other windfall: as something to be invested or spent slowly over the course of many years. Unless there is new public spending, the economy could once again suffer from insufficient aggregate demand.
“The past decade-plus of near-zero interest rates has not been economically healthy. The scarcity value of capital is not zero. Low interest rates distort capital markets by triggering a search for yield that leads to excessively low risk premia. Returning to more normal interest rates would be a good thing (though the rich, who have been the primary beneficiaries of this era of super-low interest rates, may beg to differ).”


Fresh Hell: The Musical by Jason Arias (The Baffler)

I have seen the future of the economy and it is nonsense.

“In order to afford the real deal in this economy, you’ve got to learn to hustle. For inspiration, we look to the likes of former 90 Day Fiance star Stephanie Matto. She had been making a killing farting into jars and then selling them on the internet for $1,000 each, but when her high-fiber diet landed her in the hospital, she wasn’t sure what to do next. She simply couldn’t go on farting into jars and selling them at the rate she was, or else she might end up dead. So she pivoted—to selling fart jar NFTs [at $175.- apiece]. “These NFTs are just as beautiful, unique, and rare as my actual poots! You can practically smell how delightful they are through the screen,” Matto reports. “Just use your imagination!”

At least she’s honest about it. People are still buying them. Just use your imagination! Because the value is imaginary! You not only have to pay for it, but you have to invest your imagination in it to make it valuable. Sure, sure. This is obviously going to end well.

On a side note, how crazy is it that the best category for this bit of news was in “Economy and Finance”?

Public Policy & Politics

Afghans protest Washington’s starvation strategy by Bill Van Auken (WSWS)

Treating the government of a country of 39 million people and all of its agencies as a “foreign terrorist organization,” Washington has frozen nearly $10 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves held in the US, in effect stealing them from the country in violation of international law. The action has choked off the flow of cash, meaning that the minority of the population with jobs are going unpaid and those with bank savings are unable to access their money. Businesses are unable to purchase supplies or meet payrolls and are shutting down.”
“Washington has glibly claimed that it has carved out exemptions from its sanctions regime for humanitarian assistance, but, as in the case of Iran and other countries targeted by such punitive measures, the sanctions are so sweeping and threatening that few financial or corporate entities have any interest in tempting fate by entering into dealings with Afghanistan’s government.
“Amiri will beat the women’s rights drum to justify Washington’s murderous policy. A key propaganda point will center on the right of girls to attend school. This as Washington’s financial stranglehold is preventing teachers from being paid and forcing the closure of schools throughout the country, even as the children who would have attended them are starving to death.


The Histrionics and Melodrama Around 1/6 Are Laughable, but They Serve Several Key Purposes by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

Putting the events of January 6 into their proper perspective is not to dismiss the fact that it was a lamentable event — any more than opposing the exploitation of 9/11 and exaggeration of the domestic threat of Muslim extremism, which I spent a full decade doing, meant that one was denying the heinousness of that attack. The day after the 1/6 riot, I wrote in this space that “the introduction of physical force into political protest is always lamentable, usually dangerous, and, except in the rarest of circumstances that are plainly inapplicable here, unjustifiable.” I still believe that to be the case. There was nothing virtuous about the 1/6 riot.”
“Hapless defendants who are not even accused of using violence have been held in harsh solitary confinement for close to a year, then sentenced to years in prison — while self-styled criminal justice reform advocates say nothing or, even worse, cheer.
“[The Democratic party’s] only ideologies — neoliberalism, corporatism, militarism — are widely despised failures, but they are imprisoned by their donor base from offering anything else.
“What happened on January 6 was ugly and disturbing. But it was nowhere near an insurrection, a coup, or anything threatening in a fundamental or sustained way. That core truth — that it was a protest that turned into a three-hour riot killing nobody except four of the protesters — destroys its value. Only the false narrative that has been constructed over the last year and consecrated by today’s inane festivities can convert this banal episode into some world-historic event that at once makes heroes out of those who were there to oppose it and justifies everything and anything done in the name of preventing its repetition.


A Tale of Two Authoritarians by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“I don’t mean to understate the seriousness of January 6th, even though it’s been absurdly misreported for over a year now. No one from a country where these things actually happen could mistake 1/6 for “a coup .” In the real version, the mob doesn’t take selfies and blaze doobies after seizing the palace, and the would-be dictator doesn’t spend 187 minutes snacking and watching Fox before tweeting “go home.” Instead, he works the phones nonstop to rally precinct chiefs, generals, and airport officials to the cause, because a coup is a real attempt to seize power. Britannica says the “chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” We saw none of that on January 6th, but it’s become journalistic requirement to use either “coup” or “insurrection” in describing it”
“The reason it wasn’t worse is because Trump has also been constantly mislabeled as a Hitler, Stalin, or Pinochet. The man has no attention span, no interest in planning or strategy, and most importantly, no ability to maintain relationships with the type of people who do have those qualities (like Steve Bannon). Even if he wanted to overturn “democracy itself” — I don’t believe he does, but let’s say — Trump has proven over and over he lacks the qualities a politician would need to make that happen.”
“All those things Trump is rumored to be, Dick Cheney actually is. That’s why it’s so significant that he appeared on the floor of the House yesterday to be slobbered over by the Adam Schiffs and Nancy Pelosis of the world. Dick Cheney did more to destroy democracy in ten minutes of his Vice Presidency than Donald Trump did in four years.
“You don’t have to like Donald Trump to recognize the dire threat represented by a clique of mediocrities with just enough brains to use their offices to organize the criminalization of their opposition.


Student Loans: A Silent Scandal No More by Ted Rall

“Student loan lending is predicated on the assumption that graduates will be able to pay back what they owe, plus compound interest, out of the higher income they will earn compared to non-graduates. But 57% of student loan borrowers never graduate from college. Most borrowers, therefore, are naïve teenagers with bleak job prospects. Lending to them is as predatory as it gets.
“Freeing a generation from debt slavery would provide flexibility and capital for new entrepreneurs and allow do-gooders to pursue work in helping professions with low wages. It would add liquidity to the nearly half of Millennials who report that their loan debts forced them to delay buying a first home by an average of seven years.

We always just want to put things back the way they were.. No vision. First, get everyone buying a home again as if we’d never had a pandemic or one scam after another, bilking people out of real lives. Then, once we’ve put everything back the way it was—plus, of course, replaced the missing growth from the empty years—we can maybe take a look at doing something about our growth economy and how it promotes climate change. I understand that the wrong people are suffering, but the solution is not to get them purchasing homes more quickly. Our vision is utterly limited, much too limited to even conceive of how we would solve such a large problem. No, the only way we get anything done is to let it all shatter on the floor and then see how we pick up the pieces.

“Any college or university that raises overall tuition, housing and other costs faster than inflation should not qualify for federally-subsidized loan payments from their students and ought to lose any federal contracts.”


How the U.S. Government Was Sold to a Hedge Fund by Steve O'Keefe (CounterPunch)

“As long as there are hedge fund billionaires with tax problems, they’ll be looking to hire someone for president who will forestall collection. As long as corporations face fines and prosecution for blatantly illegal acts that demonstrably harm the public, they will be looking to hire a president who will look the other way. As long as fossil fuel companies hold reserves, they’ll want a president who will prevent those reserves from becoming worthless. As long as pharmaceutical, hospital, and medical insurance CEOs make 7-, 8- and 9-figure compensation packages, they will cheerfully spend millions to keep their lucrative gigs going.

Journalism & Media

Episode 172: Secret Rulers of the World w/ Jon Ronson by QAnon Anonymous (Soundcloud)

At 13:00, they sum up the real problem with conspiracy theorists: it’s not that they’re 100% wrong, but that they can’t resist embellishing what they get right with obvious absurdities. Ronson hypothesizes that it’s narcissism, but I think it’s also the market model that pushes them into ever-crazier flights of fancy.

Q-Anon Anonymous: There’s lots of horrifying things that you could dive into with the Epstein story, but the Q-Anon people…they kept adding on extra things, like the belief that Epstein Island had many underground lairs, where children were sacrificed and eaten. Which there’s simply no evidence for. That’s not a defense of anyone; that’s just a fact, that no-one has ever provided this kind of evidence. […] I always want to try and give it to the conspiracy theorist when they get something kinda right, whenever they sort of have a point, but it’s so frustrating that they add so many extra, sort-of exciting lies on top of what was already a worthwhile story to tell.

Ronson: It’s so odd. I think narcissism must have something to do with it because part of that is wanting to be the smartest person in the room, and to have special knowledge that other people don’t have. So, I guess that’s why Alex [Jones] felt why he couldn’t leave Bohemian Grove with the same knowledge that I had. By the time we got back to the motel that night, he was already, he was already starting to spin lies to the truth. I remember him saying that he overheard two men saying ‘yeah! We’re going to get him elected!’ And I said, ‘you know, Alex, that’s exactly what you would like to have overheard in Bohemian Grove—two men plotting the election of someone…’”


Dear Self; We Need To Talk About Social Media by Elizabeth Van Nostrand (Aceso Under Glass)

“Don’t go to Netflix or other streaming sites and look for something to entertain you. Maintain a watchlist on another site, and when you’re in the mood for a movie, figure out what kind of thing you’re in the mood for ahead of time and look for something on your list. This will prevent some serendipity, but the world is going to get much better at making things that look like they are for you but never pay off.

Science & Nature

Brussels Airlines Operates 3,000 Empty Flights To Keep Airport Slots by Helen Coffey (The Independent)

Lufthansa Group, confirmed that 18,000 flights had been flown empty, including 3,000 Brussels Airlines services, reports The Bulletin.

“EU rules require that airlines operate a certain percentage of scheduled flights to keep their slots at major airports.

“Under these “use it or lose it” regulations, prior to the pandemic carriers had to utilise at least 80 per cent of their scheduled take-off and landing slots.

“This was revised to 50 per cent as coronavirus saw travel become increasingly difficult – but airlines are still struggling to hit this target.”

Philosophy & Sociology

The Gift of It’s Your Problem Now by Apen Warr

When politicians rail against communism it is because they don’t want you to notice the ever-growing non-communist authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is self-reinforcing. Once some people or groups start having more power, they tend to use that power to adjust or capture the rules of the system so they can accumulate more power, and so on. Sometimes this is peacefully reversible, and sometimes it eventually leads to uprisings and revolutions. People like to write about facism and communism as if they are opposite ends of some spectrum, but that’s not really true in the most important sense. Fascism blatantly, and communism accidentally but consistently, leads to authoritarianism. And authoritarianism is the problem.
Healthy society is created through constant effort, by all of us, as a gift to our fellow members. It’s not extracted from us as a mandatory payment to our overlords who will do all the work. If there’s one thing we know for sure about overlords, it’s that they never do all the work. Free software is a gift.”