2:00PM Water Cooler 11/11/2021 | naked capitalism


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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

This reminds me of a Philip Glass composition…

* * *

#COVID19

Patient readers, I have started to revise this section, partly to reduce my workload, but partly to focus more as an early warning, if that is possible. Hopefully I will have a variant tracker map soon. In the meantime, I added excess deaths.

Vaccination by region:

The numbers bounce back. (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)

58.5% of the US is fully vaccinated (CDC data. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Turkey in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). We are back to the stately 0.1% rise per day. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the virus…

Case count by United States regions:

I think we’re beyond fiddling and diddling to a very modest upward trend. And a good thing Bubba came through, or we’d really be in the soup! This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling. That said, I don’t think the past rise is the surge some of us Bears have been waiting for. The rise is, however, at odds with the current Narrative.

Here is a chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, and plots case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model results (grey area). I have helpfully highlighted the “fiddling and diddling” of the case data:

Now, it’s fair to say that the modest upward trend is within the tolerance of the models; it does not go outside the grey area. It’s also true that when we see an upward trend (lower right quadrant) it’s much later than where we are now. But maybe we’ll get lucky, and the problem, if indeed it is a problem, will go a dway before Thanksgiving travel begins.

Even if hospitalizations and the death rate are going down, that says nothing about Long Covid, the effect on children, etc. So the numbers, in my mind, are still “terrifying”, even if that most-favored word is not in the headlines any more, and one may be, at this point, inured.

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report November 10, 2021” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

California going yellow again!. Arizona not out of the woods. New Mexico better. Minnesota much improved. New Hampshire somewhat better. (New Hampshire is concerning, because Southern New Hampshire is in essence a bedroom suburb for Boston.) Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

Speculating freely: One thing to consider is where the red is. If air travel hubs like New York City or Los Angeles (or Houston or Miami) go red that could mean (a) international travel and (b) the rest of the country goes red, as in April 2020 and following. But — for example — Minnesota is not an international hub on the scale of LAX or JFK/EWR. If Minnesota goes red, who else does? Well, Wisconsin. As we saw. Remember, however, that this chart is about acceleration, not absolute numbers. This map, too, blows the “Blame Bubba” narrative out of the water. Not a (Deliverance-style) banjo to be heard. (Red means getting worse, green means bad but getting better.)

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 780,254 778,511. Ticking downward again. But at this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):

Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is the United States. Needless to see, this is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment’s duty to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital.)

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

Chile, Brazil, and Portugal accelerate once more. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

* * *

Politics

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Mice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Capitol Seizure

“Democrats Are Profoundly Committed to Criminal Justice Reform — For Everyone But Their Enemies” [Glenn Greenwald]. “Why are so many Democrats simultaneously chanting radical criminal reform slogans to abolish or greatly reduce the police and the prison state while simultaneously demanding harsh prison terms for so many people under the classic law-and-order ideology they claim to oppose? The answer is clear: Democrats believe that the only real criminals, or at least the worst ones, are those who reject their political ideology and are their political adversaries. And thus, while they work with one hand to usher in radical reforms to the policing and prison state, they work with the other to concoct theories to justify the long-term imprisonment of their political opponents, even when their alleged crimes involve no violence.” • Another blockbuster from Greenwald…

“Bringing Counterterrorism Back Home” [The Tablet]. “As with every information operation that political operatives, intelligence officials, and the media have run the last several years, the goal is not simply to smear opponents, but also to obtain from the federal government political and legal instruments to wield against them. The hysterical media coverage of Jan. 6 first gave rise to a congressional committee designed to target Jan. 6 protesters, and GOP officials, as domestic terrorists. The next step, it seems, is anti-domestic terror legislation. Hoffman has explained in interviews since Jan. 6 why he backs domestic terror statutes: “It would require the federal government to gather data and statistical information on terrorist incidents in the United States,” he said in April. In other words, it would create work for contractors, consultants, and analysts who research terror-related issues, like … Bruce Hoffman.” • And:

Which is more likely? That the Biden administration is pulling its punches, or that the offenses are mostly no more serious than, say, the Occupation of the Wisconsin state Capitol in 2011, by Democrats (albeit Democrats later thrown under the bus by the national Democrats). From JJ McNab, who follows right wing groups closely:

Most of the rioters, perhaps, would be in categories 1) and 2). Meanwhile, four years for this guy?

Really?

Biden Administration

“Joe Biden announces effort to ID toxic air issues in veterans” [Bangor Daily News]. “President Joe Biden, the father of an Iraq war veteran, is using his first Veterans Day in office to announce an effort to better understand, treat and identify medical conditions suffered by troops deployed to toxic environments. It centers on lung problems suffered by troops who breathe in toxins and the potential connection between rare respiratory cancers and time spent overseas breathing poor air, according to senior White House officials. Federal officials plan to start by examining lung and breathing problems but said they will expand the effort as science identifies potential new connections.” • This is very good and no doubt long overdue. Now could we do ventilation in schools, based on accepting aerosol transmission?

“Biden Visits Port of Baltimore” [Maritime Logistics Professional]. “President Joe Biden on Wednesday made a stop at the Port of Baltimore where he addressed ongoing supply chain issues set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic…. The infrastructure package includes $17 billion in investments to help ports, including dredging to allow for larger ships and capacity expansion. Biden said the bill will help ease shortages, combat inflation and unclog the nation’s ports as goods ordered months ago from abroad wait at sea to be unloaded and transported inland. Issues like port congestion and inflation have turned Biden’s White House into an economic emergency response team. Biden on Tuesday talked to companies including Walmart Inc, United Parcel Service Inc, FedEx Corp and Target Corp to ensure they are ready for demand to skyrocket during the Christmas holiday rush. His aides worked with the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to move goods around the clock.” • But not the unions! (Also, Biden seems to be hitting the trail more than usual.

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, the Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, the Democrat Party has more working parts than Stoller suggests, and they all reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community. Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all that. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

* * *

Be a lamp in the window for my wandering boy:

Or a wandering Clintonite bag-man….

Trump Legacy

Well, this is interesting:

Not so much a straw in the wind as an entire bale….

Realignment and Legitimacy

A word on the coming moral panic on the Rittenhouse trial. I read some local reporting on the back-and-forth in court, and it doesn’t seem like an open and shut case, at least not for all the charges (and I have strong priors on guns, as readers now). From Carlos Mucha (inventor, as “Beowulf,” of the platinum coin):

And:

Stats Watch

There are no official statistics of interest today.

* * *

Tech: “Why Facebook’s Metaverse Is Dead on Arrival” [New York Magazine]. “We live in a capitalist society — money equals options. The people with the most options in the world, specifically Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, either want to be off the planet or they want to create a different universe on this planet. It feels like the mother of all abdications. ‘We don’t want to improve the world, we want to go to a different world.’ It seems somewhat nihilistic and strange….. Just as I have reveled in the train wrecks that were Portal and Libra, this is the next $10 billion insect hitting the windshield of reality for Facebook.” • Well worth reading in full.

Tech: No:

No.

The Bezzle: “Zuckerberg Avatar Enthusiastically Greets Staff In VR Office As Catatonic Body Lies In Hospital Bed” [The Onion]. • Seems legit.

The Bezzle: “The Intellectual Incoherence of Cryptoassets” [Stephen Diehl]. “Early in my career one of my mentors gave me one of the best pieces of common sense advice on trading that I ever received. Never buy financial products you don’t understand. And in today’s market there’s one very pathological psuedo-asset class, that despite all the sound and fury, I dare say nobody fully understands: crypto assets…. Crypto assets are the synthesis of a speculative mania and a financial scam built around an opaque technology, phoney populism, with a tolerance for intellectual incoherence at its core. And it is a novel type of a scam, one that we don’t have a precise term of art for. They share the obscured and circular payouts of Ponzi schemes, the cult-like recruiting of multilevel marketing schemes, the ephemeral nature of high-yield investment fraud, and payout mechanics of pyramid schemes but strictly speaking they aren’t exactly like any of the classical scams. They’re something entirely new that we don’t have a word for yet. Some people have cleverly suggested we adapt the German compound word schneeballsystem or snowball scheme to refer to this new type of scam…. These investments are effectively a game of libertarian musical chairs where participants gamble on timing the market hoping not to be left holding the bag when the music stops. The only novel element is that our new media landscape has effectively distorted the public’s sense of epistemology so drastically that they’re willing to convince themselves of the emperor’s luxurious clothing far longer than they would have in the past. Eventually though, reality always has a way of asserting itself since madness is not a stable state of being.” • “… longer than you can stay solvent.” Well worth a read; great fun.

The Bezzle: “Sold: World’s best known Da Vinci replica goes for €210,000 in Paris auction” [EuroNews]. “A faithful copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa dating from more than 400 years ago has sold for €210,000…. But this version, dating from around 1600, is so similar to the original that experts say it is likely that the artist had close access to Leonardo’s version.” • Ha. I assumed from the headline this was a digital copy, but no.

Supply Chain: “Many Logistics Firms Are Avoiding Covid-19 Vaccine Requirements Amid U.S. Mandate Debate” [Wall Street Journal]. “Freight transportation companies are cautiously stepping around a Covid-19 vaccination requirement while trade groups fight the federal mandate in court. Companies including United Parcel Service Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and others that manage warehouse staffers, truck drivers and other employees across logistics networks in general aren’t requiring employees outside of some office workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Many firms say they are encouraging staffers to get vaccinated while mandating protection measures in workplaces. The federal mandate, which is slated to go into effect Jan. 4, exempts workers who are exclusively outdoors and don’t report to a workplace where they interact with others. So it may leave out many truck drivers but not the office and warehouse workers who help move goods from factories to stores and residences.”

Manufacturing: “Investors really believe in the future of the electric-vehicle market. Startup Rivian Automotive is walking away with $12 billion from a blockbuster initial public offering…. as shares rose nearly 30% in their debut and the company’s market value topped $100 billion on a fully diluted basis” [Wall Street Journal]. “That exceeds the market value of several other large auto makers and provides a boost for both the Irvine, Calif.-based startup and other companies looking to bring electric vehicles into the transportation market. E-commerce giant Amazon is in the picture with its own roughly 19% stake in Rivian, which has electric package-delivery vans on its drawing boards. Rivian lost $2 billion in the first half of this year. But the new backing will help it expand manufacturing and the projected launch of an all-electric parcel van by the end of the year could change the financial picture.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 82 Extreme Greed (previous close: 82 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 82 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Nov 11 at 12:13pm.

The Biosphere

“Air-scrubbing machines: are they a serious tool in fighting climate change?” [South China Morning Post]. “The Iceland plant, called Orca, is the largest such facility in the world, capturing about 4,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. But compared to what the planet needs, the amount is tiny. Experts say 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide must be removed annually by mid-century…. Leading scientific agencies including the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that even if the world manages to stop producing harmful emissions, that still won’t be enough to avert a climate catastrophe. They say we need to suck massive amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air and put it back underground – yielding what some call “negative emissions”… As dire warnings have accelerated, technology to vacuum carbon dioxide from the air has advanced. Currently, a handful of companies operate such plants on a commercial scale, including Climeworks, which built the Orca plant in Iceland, and Carbon Engineering, which built a different type of direct air capture plant in British Columbia. And now that the technology has been proven, both companies have ambitions for major expansion. At Climeworks’ Orca plant near Reykjavik, fans suck air into big, black collection boxes where the carbon dioxide accumulates on a filter. Then it’s heated with geothermal energy and is combined with water and pumped deep underground into basalt rock formations. Within a few years, Climeworks says, the carbon dioxide turns into stone.”

“The Most Detailed Map of Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution in the U.S.” [Pro Publica]. “ProPublica’s analysis of five years of modeled EPA data identified more than 1,000 toxic hot spots across the country and found that an estimated 250,000 people living in them may be exposed to levels of excess cancer risk that the EPA deems unacceptable. The agency has long collected the information on which our analysis is based. Thousands of facilities nationwide that are considered large sources of toxic air pollution submit a report to the government each year on their chemical emissions. But the agency has never released this data in a way that allows the public to understand the risks of breathing the air where they live. Using the reports submitted between 2014 and 2018, we calculated the estimated excess cancer risk from industrial sources across the entire country and mapped it all.” • There’s a lot of good mapping going on just now. If only there were an interoperability standard that allowed them to be merged.

“What drives roots’ decomposition and carbon storage in grassland soils?” [Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!]. “You most likely know that roots are important for grasses to grow, but the roots help do other things, too. They build soil carbon and support other life forms in soil. But did you know that various management tactics can force grass roots to break down, decompose, and add to the stored carbon pool in soil? As plant roots die off and decompose, nutrients and carbon are released to soils. The same is true for grasses. The dead roots also become part of the important organic matter in soil. Microbes that live in the soil use this as food for energy and form organic matter. Decomposition of roots is a major source of soil carbon and important aspects of ecosystem function.The driving factors behind root decomposition and how fast the process happens are largely unknown.” And: “With more food sources, there was greater root decomposition and ultimately greater soil organic carbon and organic matter storage. Soils under native grass roots had approximately 14% greater carbon than the non-native forage, which corresponded to an 11% greater root decay for native prairie grasses. These results suggest that the decomposition of native grass roots may be the source of more soil carbon.”

Water

“Climate Change Is Acidifying and Contaminating Drinking Water and Alpine Ecosystems” [Scientific American]. “[There is a] color code of stream ecology: rusty red or orange for iron oxide, chalky white for aluminum, and yellow for manganese. Such colors reveal the presence of minerals that wash down mountainsides; the results can be hostile to local aquatic life and dangerous for drinking water systems. Some mineralization and acidification occur naturally. But decades of research show some is also a result of historic excavations and waste disposal practices at regional gold, silver and other mines, often found in mountainous regions. Now, climate change seems to be speeding up the process. The chemistry starts in high mountain valleys, many of which have long served as the world’s natural water towers. Climate change is raising temperatures and increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts in those high-elevation alpine environments, where mines typically are located. A growing body of research links these hotter, drier conditions to increasingly acidic water, which causes rocks to shed more minerals into waterways. And the list of what’s entering those waters continues to grow. These trends could potentially compromise water quality in watersheds anywhere in the world where mountains contain high concentrations of minerals, from the Rocky Mountains to the Himalayas to the Andes.”

Games

“It’s Time for Some Game Theory” [Lapham’s Quarterly (anon y’mouse)]. “In March 2021 the American Historical Review included three video games in its review section, a first for the self-proclaimed ‘journal of record for the historical profession in the United States.’ All three games selected for review are installments of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, which takes as its central conceit a centuries-long struggle between two shadowy organizations: the Templars, who seek to control and manipulate humanity for their own ends, and the Assassins, who champion human freedom and creativity and are usually (though not always) cast as morally superior. Throughout the franchise players are tapped by one or both factions to hunt for powerful artifacts called Pieces of Eden, each of which was hidden or lost long ago. Finding these artifacts requires accessing the past by means of a fictional technology called the Animus, which generates lifelike, interactive virtual-reality worlds from ancient DNA samples taken from the remains of long-dead witnesses to the Pieces of Eden’s fates…. The most tantalizing loose end for me, a casual player of the games and a holder of a PhD in history, is the brief editorial note that introduces the section, which justifies the AHR’s decision to branch into video-game reviewing as coming out of concern for what nonhistorians derive from playing historically themed video games. ‘For good or for ill,’ it explains, ‘many young people receive their initial impressions of historical epochs, characters, and events in this visually compelling ludic format, and historians should pay attention to these virtual renderings of the past.’” • “Ludic format”! Holy moley! I’m not about to be taking up game-playing, but this piece is well worth a read, and I’d like very much to hear what Assassins Creed players in the commentariat — surely there are some? — think of this article.

Sports Desk

“I Will Create A Winning Basketball Program At The University Of Austin” [Defector (audreyf)]. This is great. Here is the first place where I laughed out loud: “The name of Leon Kass, an octogenarian University of Chicago type, rang a bell for me for reasons I couldn’t quite pin down; it turned out I remembered him because, during his time on George W. Bush’s bioethics council, it emerged that he had written disapprovingly about people eating ice cream in public, ‘a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive.’” • Cat-like is good! And here is the second: “Anyway that is what the University of Austin is. Now I would like to talk to you about how I plan to build a winning basketball program there.” And the third: “I believe that can and will be able to compete with the best and best-resourced programs in Conference USA.” • I’m so glad those private equity [glass bowls] blew up Deadspin and as a result we have the (employee-owned) Defector.

“California Golden Bears football coach Justin Wilcox says team followed COVID-19 protocols” [ESPN]. “California coach Justin Wilcox said his team followed all the proper protocols before a COVID-19 outbreak that led to dozens of positive tests and the first postponement of a major college football game this season…. ‘We have followed the guidelines through the athletic department, the university and the city of Berkeley,’ Wilcox said Wednesday. ‘We have health professionals housed in our building, at our practices, on our planes, in the weight room and the training room. There are people here to help us with all that on a daily basis. Is everybody perfect and following every protocol? I don’t know that I could say that. We do the best that we can.’… The Berkeley Public Health department released a statement Tuesday night saying there was a ‘ongoing failure to abide by public health measures’ that contributed to the 44 lab-confirmed positive tests. Specifically the department said people in the program didn’t get tested when they were sick, stay home when they were sick or wear masks indoors. ‘These simple measures keep people safe,’ the statement said. ‘Failing to do so results not only in individual infections, sickness, and worse, but also threatens the safety of all around them — especially those with compromised immune systems.’” • So, the football team followed the protocols, except it didn’t. If the players were this sloppy on the field, Wilcox would have an aneurysm. But public health, meh. Wilcox: “Jones, you blew that tackle.” Jones: “I did the best I could, Coach!” Is that how it works?

Groves of Academe

“A “proliferation of administrators”: faculty reflect on two decades of rapid expansion” [Yale Daily News]. • Administrators: 5,066. Faculty: 4,937. Undergraduates: 4,664. Priorities!

Naked Capitalism Cooking Community™

“Robert Pattinson: A Dispatch From Isolation” [GQ]. A little bit rambling, but I found a nugget:

He puts on latex gloves. He pulls out some sugar and some aluminum foil and makes a bed, a kind of hollowed-out sphere, with the foil. He holds up a box of penne pasta that he had in the house. “All right,” Pattinson says. “So obviously, first things first, you gotta microwave the pasta.”

I watch as he pours dry penne into a cereal bowl, covers it with water, and places it in the microwave for eight minutes. He says using penne is already new territory for him. Usually he uses…well… “Do you know the pasta that’s, like, a little, it’s like a blob, a sort of squiggly blob?”

“Gnocchi?”

“No, no, no, no, it looks like—what would you even call it? It looks like a sort of messy…like, the hair bun on a girl.”

“I have literally no idea what you’re talking about,” I say.

“There was one type of pasta that worked. It definitely wasn’t penne.”

Nevertheless, penne and water in the microwave for eight minutes. In the meantime, he takes the foil and he begins dumping sugar on top of it. “I found after a lot of experimentation that you really need to congeal everything in an enormous amount of sugar and cheese.” So after the sugar, he opens his first package of cheese and begins layering slice after slice onto the sugar-foil. Then more sugar: “It really needs a sugar crust.”

Then he realizes that he’s forgotten the outer layer, which is supposed to be breadcrumbs but today will be crushed-up cornflakes, and so he lifts the pile of cheese and sugar and crumbles some cornflakes onto the aluminum foil before placing the sugar-cheese back on top of it. Then he adds sauce, which is red. The microwave dings, and Pattinson promptly burns himself on the bowl of pasta. He sighs, heavily, looking at it. “No idea if it’s cooked or not.” He dumps the pasta in anyway. At this point, his spirits have visibly begun to flag. “I mean, there’s absolutely no chance this is gonna work. Absolutely none.”

The little pillow now mostly built, he pours more sugar on top of it and then produces the top half of a bun, which he hollows out, places it on top of the rest of whatever the hell this thing is, and…begins burning the top of the bun with the giant novelty lighter. “I’m just gonna do the initials.…”

“You look like you’re cooking meth,” I say, because he does.

“I’m really trying to sell this company. I’m doing this for my brand.”

There’s more. Miuch more. Before, and after. Maybe I should have filed this under Guillotine Watch?

Guillotine Watch

“Revolt of the Goldman Juniors” [New York Magazine]. “hen Goldman Sachs sent its analysts home at the beginning of the pandemic, they figured their jobs would stay largely the same: the same 80-hour weeks, the same urgent but menial tasks, the same imagined riches a few years down the line. And they figured they could rely on the essential sustenance Goldman had always provided: Seamless. In the in-office era, analysts had been able to expense around $30 worth of dinner when working after hours, plus another $25 or so if they toiled past midnight. For analysts — the youngest employees at the bank, enrolled in what’s essentially a two-year boot camp — the meal allowance was sacrosanct, less a privilege than an entitlement. Of course they’d get free dinners when work shifted to home. And so when Goldman eliminated the Seamless stipend in the spring of 2020, the reactions came in shades of disbelief and outrage. ‘The free-dinner thing is a very big perk out of college,’ a Goldman analyst who quit last year told me. ‘JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley were giving free meals, and we felt that we deserved that. When we went work-from-home, they gave us nothing — literally nothing.’… The bank’s reasoning: If it paid for dinner at people’s homes, where workers technically had access to a kitchen, Goldman would owe taxes on that compensation, whereas in-office meals were deductible. The rationale grated on first-year analysts making an $85,000 base salary plus bonus. ‘You guys have billions of dollars,’ said a second Wall Street analyst. ‘We’re just trying to eat.’” • Oh, the humanity!

Class Warfare

“We Don’t Fix This Because We Just Don’t Care About Old People’” [Politico]. “Long-term care — or what’s now called long-term services and support — is essential for millions of people who are elderly or people with disabilities who cannot do basic things such as feed, clothe or bathe themselves. But delivering such care is enormously costly, and Washington has addressed the issue only haltingly over the years. It seemed like this time might be different. President Joe Biden made care-giving a key piece of his agenda and he proposed spending a whopping $400 billion in his Build Back Better plan, with a focus on letting people stay at home rather than being forced into a nursing home. Moderate resistance to the legislation’s broader price tag, however, has whittled that figure down to $150 billion in new Medicaid funds. That’s still a historic sum for home care, assuming the bill is ultimately passed by squabbling lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But it barely scrapes the surface of what’s needed. And with Democrats in danger of losing their majorities next year, it’s clear the best shot at finally tackling one of the biggest holes in American health care is slipping away. The architects of the plan are projecting optimism, but even they acknowledge it’s only a start.” • I hate to think like this, but looking at things at the scale of decades, we seem to be slaughtering subpopulations in tranches (above and beyond “normal” slaughter, of course, that we can “live with”). Simplifying: Urban blacks with the crack epidemic, working class whites with deindustrialization and deaths of despair, elders in nursing homes from Covid (Hi, Andy! [waves]). One more like this, and I’ll start to think there’s some sort of pattern. Perhaps there are tranches that I’ve missed.

“Cory Doctorow: The Unimaginable” [Cory Doctorow, Locus]. “TINA is part of a philosophy, ‘capitalist realism,’ a phrase coined by Mark Fischer in the early 2000s. Fischer said that capitalist realism is best captured in the quote ‘It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism’ (this quote has been vari­ously attributed to the philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the literary critic Fredric Jameson). Žižek (or possibly Jameson) got a lot closer to the problem than Thatcher ever did. For while it’s easy to imagine something after capitalism, imagining capitalism’s sunset is far harder….. It is easier to imagine the end to the world than it is to imagine a nonviolent end of capitalism. But we should still try. In many ways, we are already living in a postcapitalist society. Many of our most important jobs – parenting, caring for elderly relatives or friends – are unpaid. And virtually none of our great businesses or their industries would be profitable save for vast state subsidies: the huge public subsidy inherent in the climate emergency. Companies profit by pushing off the highest cost of doing business to the rest of us, in the form rising seas, hurricanes, wildfires and droughts. If compa­nies had to carry this cost on their balance sheet, most firms would have to drastically restructure or go out of business. It’s a bloody form of postcapitalism, one where vital hard work is unwaged and only costs – not profits – are socialized. But there is an alternative. We just have to imagine it.” • Worth a read, especially for Kim Stanley Robinson fans.

News of the Wired

“Scammers impersonate guest editors to get sham papers published” [Nature]. “Hundreds of articles published in peer-reviewed journals are being retracted after scammers exploited the processes for publishing special issues to get poor-quality papers — sometimes consisting of complete gibberish — into established journals. In some cases, fraudsters posed as scientists and offered to guest-edit issues that they then filled with sham papers. The retractions come after the publishers each issued expressions of concern earlier this year, covering hundreds of articles. Science-integrity experts expect that more investigations will come in the months ahead as other titles realize that they have been duped. ‘It is very worrying,’ says Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse in France, who has worked to uncover nonsense science papers in special issues. He adds that it is shocking to see such papers in journals from ‘flagship’ publishers and that ‘‘. A Springer Nature spokesperson said that an investigation had revealed ‘deliberate attempts to subvert the trust-based editorial process and manipulate the publication record’.’ They added that they did not yet know who was responsible.” • I’m glad the publishers are cleaning house. How will we know that they’re finished?

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (IM):

IM writes: “Fall foliage from Van Dusen gardens in British Columbia.”

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