2:00PM Water Cooler 12/13/2021 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

A migratory bird with an unexpectedly pretty song.

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#COVID19

On the word “mild.” To me, “mild” means “status quo,” i.e. “We’re enduring the present situation, and what is to come will be no worse.” Well, the present situation, whether you look at cases, deaths, or hospitalizations — isn’t mild at all. In a civilized country, 812,205 deaths — we lost 750,000 in the Civil War — would be regarded as a catastrophe. Yet we soldier on. It’s weird. I don’t understand the mass psychology at all.

Lambert here: From Yves’ cross-post Friday, it looks like CDC’s vaccination numbers are off, whether accidentally or on purpose we do not yet know. However, given that “Everything is like CalPERS,” one would certainly give consideration to the latter thesis. The question is how far the rot goes. It would be remarkable if CDC, so bungling in other respects, were able to game all all of its data (particularly since data collection and processing are so fragmented, and also because Johns Hopkins ought to be serving as a check). It also occurs to me that “Vax vax vax” gives CDC a strong incentive to massage that particular dataset, and the rationalization to do so; the public health establishment lies all the time, as we know. In any case, all the data is already known to be bad, because this is America. It’s useful to cross-check the official narrative, however, since nobody can look at cases, hospitalization, and deaths, even as they are, and assume that the pandemic is anything like over. The same was true for “Hot Vax Summer.” So, for now, I will carry on, but do add a truckload of salts to the Vaccination data. Of course, I could always curate a wastewater collection instead; there’s a reasonable number of them now.

Vaccination by region:

A roller coaster. More data problems? (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.)

60.8% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, such as it is, as of December 9. Becker’s is pretty good for a trade journal. So we’ll watch to see what they say on CDC’s potentially massaged vax data.) We have broken the important 60% psychological barrier! Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Peru in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday). Over the weekend, the stately 0.1% rise per day returns. I would bet that the stately rise = word of mouth from actual cases. Or perhaps the numbers are being managed, like earnings. However, as readers point out, every day those vaccinated become less protected from severe illness and hospitalization, especially the earliest. So we are trying to outrun the Delta… With Omicron coming up fast on the outside!

Case count by United States regions:

Fiddling and diddling (which often happens at peaks), now on the way down. As happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for now other reason. The Midwest’s numbers are down, so here is that chart:

Not as encouraging as it might be. The drop, and hence a big part of the fiddling and diddling, is due to Illinois.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). Here is the current version of the 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 current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted the case data discussed above. Not updated:

Case data (black dotted line) has been within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within aggregated predictions (the grey area).

I wrote: “It’s too early to say ‘Dammit, CDC, your models were broken’; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. The case data still looks like it’s trying to break out of the grey area. We shall see.” The case data has now broken out of the grey area (see at “Oopsie!”). Since the models are aggregated conventional wisdom, it’s not fair to call them propaganda, exactly. Nevertheless. conventional wisdom is looking a little shaky, and anybody who relied on them to predict that we would be “back to normal” by early next year should be taking another look at their assumptions. And this is — I assume — before Omicron!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, not updated:

A steep drop in the average, like the last peak. We’ll see if gets choppy again, or not.

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” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

West Coast better, Maine worse. More flecks of red. Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out.

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 817,956 815,413. Modest rise. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid), not updated:

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 America. Needless to see, this death rate 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:

South Africa’s rise looks linear, even though this is a log scale. In fact, it accelerates. 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 Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Biden Administration

College debt:

“Biden sharply criticizes Kellogg’s plan to replace striking unionized workers” [NBC]. • Thank you for sharing your feelings. Now do something! (I suppose a “sharp criticism” is one level above a “sternly worded letter,” but doesn’t rise to the level of a “rebuke.”

“Harris announces private investments in Central America” [ABC]. “Vice President Kamala Harris is announcing $1.2 billion in commitments from international businesses to support the economies and social infrastructure of Central American nations.” • A billion? A mere billion? And not even government money?

“One year in, Kamala Harris says she won’t be distracted by ‘ridiculous’ headlines” [San Francisco Chronicle]. I read this carefully, and this is the only decent quote: “‘When the team goes up it goes up, when the team goes down it goes down, but they’re a team — and I think they have operated as a team and a partnership,’ [Donna] Brazile said. ‘I often tell my friends in the media, why would you separate them, because they were a ticket? How do you have mashed potatoes without gravy? Well, you can have mashed potatoes, but you can’t have the presidency without the vice presidency.” • I’m having a hard time disentangling that metaphor. Is the gravy gravy of color, to counteract the whiteness of the mashed potatoes

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!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party 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. (Note that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. 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.

For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.

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.

Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.

And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…


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“Drought Conditions w/Special Guest Jennifer Briney” (podcast) [The West Wing Thing]. “Jen Briney from Congressional Dish joins us to witness a truly massive return to Sorkinian misogyny on this week’s episode. Plus, Josh cries while reading his acceptance speech.” • This podcast is gradually turning into a political show, and a very good one (though not abandoning its “West Wing Brain” roots). There’s guest coverage of the San Francisco recall elections, Briney also covers the Infrastructure Bill, and I think I heard somebody crying while they read Clinton’s never-before-given victory speech. I like this podcast a lot. (Also, the voices are such that I can fall asleep listening, a key requirement for me.)

Stats Watch

Inflation: “United States Consumer Inflation Expectations” [Trading Economics]. “US consumer inflation expectations for the year ahead edged up to a fresh record of 6% in November of 2021 from 5.7% in October. Consumers conveyed increased uncertainty about future inflation. Year-ahead spending growth expectations rose to a new series high. Home price growth expectations declined slightly (5% vs 5.6%, the lowest since March), while remaining elevated. Also, medium-term inflation expectations edged down to 4% from 4.2%, the first decline since June 2021, and only the second decline since October 2020. ”

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The Bezzle: “What Intellectuals Still Don’t Get About Crypto” [Michael J. Casey, CoinDesk]. A rejoinder to Stoller’s article. “Not doing so is where Stoller sells himself short. In describing – and thereby dismissing – cryptocurrencies as “a social movement based on the belief that markings in a ledger on the internet have intrinsic value,” he loses sight of how that exact same description can be applied to all money. As we’ve discussed in prior editions of this column, the essence of money doesn’t lie in the thing we use to represent it – the gold coin, the banknote, the wampum – but in its function as a record-keeping device, the means by which society keeps track of everyone’s debit and credits and by which our debts to each other are cleared. Money is, quite literally, “markings in a ledger” – albeit one that now integrates bank account entries with the physical transfer of tokenized “counting tools” (coins and banknotes).” • Lol. The dollar has value has value because you can and must pay your taxes with it (q.v. MMT). When crypto does that, it too will have all the power the dollar does. Which would doubtless make a lot of crypto people rich, if they’re willing to sacrifice any vestige of ideological consistency.

The Bezzle:

Tech: “Startup Pitched Tasing Migrants From Drones, Video Reveals” [The Intercept]. “BRINC, a rising star among the many companies jockeying to sell drones to police, has a compelling founding mythology: In the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, its young founder decided to aid law enforcement agencies through the use of nonviolent robots. A company promotional video obtained by The Intercept, however, reveals a different vision: Selling stun gun-armed drones to attack migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The company’s ascendant founder and CEO, Blake Resnick, recently appeared on Fox Business News to celebrate a venture capital coup: $25 million from Silicon Valley A-listers like Sam Altman, ex-LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s Next Play Ventures, and former acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. The 21-year-old Resnick, [is] a Thiel fellow and a new inductee to the prestigious Forbes ’30 Under 30? list in the category of social impact….” • Peter Thiel, eh? Maybe Resnick could be spreading some positive energy by using his money for good. Like robot drones to deliver Thiel blood bags….

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 30 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 25 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 13 at 11:34am.

Rapture Index: Close up one on Oil Supply/Price. “Oil prices have bounced back from recent lows” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 184. (Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing, so higher is better.) Wait ’til Roe….

Health Care

“Ebola: translational science considerations” [Journal of Translational Medicine]. From 2018, still germane, for reasons that will appear. Contrary to conventional wisdom, (1) it’s possible that Ebola virus (EBOV) might spread asymptomatically. “[I]t is widely believed that transmission of EBOV can only occur from a patient who clearly manifests symptoms [1,2]; however, ‘…there is no proof that a person infected – but lacking symptoms – could not spread the virus to others…’ (David Willman, Ebola experts urge greater caution, Los Angeles Times, Tuesday October 7, pp. A1 & A10). In fact, the rationale for this position, strictly on immunopathological grounds is unclear at best and at worst categorically unfounded. The statement is apparently based on the findings obtained from the previous outbreaks. Nonetheless, scant data are available to generate statistical inference of sufficient power to warrant such assertion. In brief, .” Also, (2) EBOV, originally thought to spread by contact, might spread via aerosols. “The aggressive nature of the outbreak presently in course seems to suggest that the current species of EBOV may in fact already have mutated and evolved into a more virulent form than originally expected, with contagion potential beyond exposure to body fluids of patients actively showing symptoms, as Richard E. Besser, MD, former CDC acting director, suggests. and Tim Skinner, CDC spokesman, added that CDC is presently exploring whether and how the US should modify its policy to face this world-wide health threat. The contributions of environmental factors to EBOV transmission are not fully understood to this date.” • Asymptomatic spread, airbone spread, not the conventional wisdom…. Does any of this sound familiar. At this point, we remember that Ron Klain, Biden’s Chief of Staff, was Obama’s Ebola czar. So one might wonder whether Klain cleaves to the conventional wisdom and, if so, whether his experience with Ebola predisposed him to react to Covid in a particular way.

“Torn Muscle? Hold the Drugs or Surgery—Massage May Be the Best Medicine” [Nautilus]. “If you’re an athlete—even a very occasional one—odds are you’ve dealt with a muscle injury at some point. After all, muscle injuries account for 10 to 55 percent of sports traumas. Often they’re just a nuisance—say, a minor strain that takes you a couple days to get back on your feet. But severely injured muscles, such as muscles that have been torn, frequently require treatment involving medication and invasive surgeries, and recovery can take a long time. However, recent research suggests that something as simple as massaging the injury site can speed up healing. A study recently published in Science Translational Medicine found that massage therapy can directly improve the regeneration of severely injured muscles. Not only that, but the benefits from “mechanotherapy”—the scientific term for massage—may be comparable to the more invasive pharmaceutical and surgical interventions.” • Interesting….

The Biosphere

Lambert here: A bit of a pantry clear-out on the biosphere today.

“Natural Capital” (International Advertorial) (Paid Post For HSBC) [CNBC]. “Perhaps the greatest irony in finance is that the world’s oldest asset class is also its least understood and invested in. Natural capital consists of a web of biodiverse ecosystems which deliver essential services to mankind. Not just air, food, and water, but building materials, energy sources, and medicines. In short, almost everything we need to survive and thrive…. The World Economic Forum estimates that over $40 trillion of economic value generation, more than half the world’s output, is moderately or highly dependent on nature. Yet around a fifth of countries are at risk of ecosystem collapse.” • Here it comes….

“Wildfires of Varying Intensity Can Be Good for Biodiversity” [Quanta]. “The longer that Roberts and other ecologists have studied fire-prone landscapes, the more they are discovering that these regular conflagrations play a key role in driving and maintaining the area’s biodiversity. Studies of Northern California’s parched hills and other areas in the western United States testify to that conclusion, along with abundant research from South Africa and Australia…. Many plants depend on fire, said Alexandra Syphard, a senior research associate at the Conservation Biology Institute, and ‘certain critters depend on those plants, [and] other critters depend on those critters. And so there’s an entire structure of dependency,’ she said. ‘Fire, because it occurred at a certain frequency naturally, is an integral part of that system.’ Far from destroying life, she said, wildfires help to stimulate its rebirth. It’s a major shift from more than a century of U.S. Forest Service policy that made fire suppression a top priority. But as wildfires continue to increase in frequency and severity in the American West and around the world, biologists are beginning to rethink their long-held beliefs about fire. The idea of allowing some wildfires to burn has been popular in conservation for a while, but only recently — because of the wealth of data made available from terrible fires in the past decade or so — have ecologists been able to quantify the effects on biodiversity and to recognize the levels of nuance and complexity at work. Viewing fire as a positive force in biodiversity and evolution will create a positive feedback loop that not only improves the world around us but also helps to prevent future megafires, said Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada group director at Point Blue.”

“Wildfire response to changing daily temperature extremes in California’s Sierra Nevada” [Science]. “Burned area has increased across California, especially in the Sierra Nevada range. Recent fires there have had devasting social, economic, and ecosystem impacts. To understand the consequences of new extremes in fire weather, here we quantify the sensitivity of wildfire occurrence and burned area in the Sierra Nevada to daily meteorological variables during 2001–2020. We find that the likelihood of fire occurrence increases nonlinearly with daily temperature during summer, with a 1°C increase yielding a 19 to 22% increase in risk. Area burned has a similar, nonlinear sensitivity, with 1°C of warming yielding a 22 to 25% increase in risk. Solely considering changes in summer daily temperatures from climate model projections, we estimate that by the 2040s, fire number will increase by 51 ± 32%, and burned area will increase by 59 ± 33%. These trends highlight the threat posed to fire management by hotter and drier summers.”

“Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada could disappear in just 25 years” [San Francisco Chronicle]. “As the climate continues to warm, more and more of the snow falling on California’s mountains will be replaced by rain. Already in recent decades, the snow season has shrunk by a month, according to one estimate, while snow levels have moved upward by 1,200 feet, according to another. Scientists and water managers say that at some point California’s snowpack could simply disappear. This would leave the state without the crucial spring and summer melt-off that fills rivers and streams, nourishes plants and animals, and provides a huge chunk of the water supply. It would also be devastating for the ski industry. This snowless future, according to a new study led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, could arrive in California’s Sierra Nevada in as soon as 25 years. The study is among many to detail the decline in snow, but it’s unique in synthesizing decades of research to nail down exactly when the snow might be gone. And it offers a timeline that is alarmingly short.”

“Climate change increases rare earth elements in Colorado’s Snake River” [High Country News]. “[T]he Snake [River] could be heading for troubled waters: According to a recent study, climate change-driven changes in its hydrology are releasing more rare earth elements. It’s a finding that could have broader implications for water quality across the West. The study, published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that higher levels of rare earth elements — a group of chemically similar metals — are ending up in Colorado’s water supply due to lower stream flows caused by drought and a shrinking winter snowpack. Lower stream flows mean that metals are not as diluted as they’ve been in the past. While previous research has connected this phenomenon to an increase in zinc concentrations, the latest study is the first to look at rare earth elements.”

“Is Your Neighborhood A Toxic Wasteland?” [The Brockovich Report]. “Her love for Kalamazoo stayed strong, and she bought another home in her neighborhood in Kalamazoo. Within days of moving in, her eyes started burning when she stepped outside. She bought some eye drops but they didn’t help. She went back to her doctor for allergy eye drops, but those didn’t work either. She started talking to her neighbors in the predominantly Black community. It turned out that many of them had asthma as well, along with COPD and burning eyes. She contacted the local wastewater plant and found out that they had been monitoring for hydrogen sulfide, but the public hadn’t been notified about it. She kept researching, making Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the city of Kalamazoo. She found an odor study from 2009 that showed gas leaks at Graphic Packaging and the wastewater treatment site (located next to the plant). And there were more violations.” • Battle ongoing. Basically, this:

“Battle over Jordan Cove energy project is over after developers pull plug” [Oregon Public Broadcasting]. “The bitter and protracted battle over the Jordan Cove Energy Project has finally come to a close. The Calgary-based Pembina company formally asked federal energy regulators Wednesday to withdraw authorizations for the proposed pipeline and liquified natural gas export terminal in southwest Oregon. Pembina’s plan called for a 229-mile-long natural gas pipeline that would have run from Malin, Oregon, on the California border, over the Coast Range to Coos Bay. The gas would then have been super-cooled into a liquified form (LNG), loaded onto ships and exported to Asia. The proposal raised concerns about environmental impacts to waterways and wildlife habitat. It was also expected to become the largest single emitter of greenhouse gasses in Oregon. Jordan Cove was given a key permit in March 2020 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which included the right of eminent domain. That would have allowed the company to force property owners along the pipeline route to sell land to Pembina. But proceeding with construction under that authorization was contingent on Jordan Cove obtaining required permissions from the State of Oregon. After several rounds of back-and-forth, Pembina was unable to convince Oregon state regulators that the proposal could meet environmental standards. Last May, Jordan Cove officials announced they were ‘pausing’ the project to consider their options. A coalition of affected landowners — plus environmental groups, tribes and the State of Oregon — appealed to FERC to rescind its authorization of the Jordan Cove project. When FERC declined, the group appealed to federal court. A recent ruling in the District of Columbia Circuit sent the case back to FERC, which led the commission to ask all parties to submit updated briefs. In particular, FERC asked Pembina to ‘clarify’ their intentions. In response, Jordan Cove on Wednesday filed a brief effectively pulling the plug on the project, more than a decade in the making.” • Battle won! (Note the involvement of the tribes. I would like to know whether involving the tribes is a leading indicator for success in these battles. I’m guessing yes.)

“After Years of Pushing for Prairie Strips, This Ecologist Won a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant” (interview) [Lisa Schulte Moore, Civil Eats]. “Ecologist Lisa Schulte Moore is changing the agricultural landscape one prairie strip at a time. These swathes of native prairie strategically planted on farmland as contour buffers or edge-of-field filters are an ecological wonder. Not only do they help control erosion and mitigate climate change, but they also improve soil health, water quality, and biodiversity. And few have done more to promote their use than Schulte Moore, who has worked across communities and disciplines to bring the benefits of prairie strips to the Corn Belt and beyond.” Schulte Moore: “Ongoing research is demonstrating a clear climate benefit. Javed Iqbal [a soil scientist at Iowa State] published a paper looking at nitrous oxide conditions: If you have the prairie strip on the lower quarter of a hill’s slope—the portion of the slope that tends to be more inundated with water and prone to nitrous oxide [the most potent greenhouse gas] emissions—you reduce those emissions by 75 percent. Nitrous oxide has nearly 300 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide. We also have data on storage of soil organic carbon. What we’re seeing is a consistent rate of removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and storage of soil organic carbon.”

““Vulture bees” evolved a taste for flesh—and their microbiomes reflect that” [Ars Technica]. “According to the authors—entomologists who hail from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Columbia University, and the American Museum of Natural History—most bees are essentially ‘wasps that switched to a vegetarian lifestyle.’ But there are two recorded examples of bumblebees feeding on carrion dating back to 1758 and 1837, and some species are known to occasionally feed on carrion in addition to foraging for nectar and pollen. (They are considered ‘facultatively necrophages,’ as opposed to vulture bees, which are deemed ‘obligate necrophages’ because they only eat meat.)…. The vulture bees often entered a carcass via the eyes, similar to maggots, and Roubik made particular note of just how efficiently they could consume a carcass. A large lizard was reduced to a skeleton over two days, while the bees took just eight hours to remove all feathers and flesh from the head of a dead passerine. They reduced two frogs to skeletons in six hours. Because they fed on carrion rather than collecting pollen, this species had a distinctive hind leg, with a drastically reduced pollen basket compared to ‘vegetarian’ bees.” •

“How Vermont Became an Unlikely Hotbed for Saffron” [Modern Farmer]. “Renowned for its flavor, aroma and brilliant red-gold color for centuries, saffron is one of the world’s most prized—and expensive—spices, regularly selling for thousands of dollars per pound. And while the vast majority of the world’s saffron is grown in Iran and Spain, a burgeoning community of Vermont farmers are finding that the crop grows extraordinarily well in their climate, too…. The Pennsylvania Dutch have been growing saffron in America for 300 years, Skinner points out, so cultivating the brilliant purple, red gold-filled flowers isn’t new to the US, or to the East Coast. ‘But commercially, it is,’ she says, and it’s a good fit in many ways. Saffron blooms in late fall, after most other crops are done for the year in the Northeast, providing farmers extra income in the off-season. ‘It lends itself to really being able to supplement another larger agricultural business,’ adds Leven, who, in addition to his two tunnels of saffron, also grows mushrooms and horseradish.”

Sports Desk

“Army Receives 15-Yard Penalty For Drone-Striking The Kicker” [The Onion]. “You’ve got to save those drone strikes for ball carriers, and keep the drone strikes to a minimum on special teams.”

Zeitgeist Watch

First-ever Dash For Cash. $5,000 is up for grabs for teachers to use in their classrooms. The exclamation point in “Here they go!” really gets to me:

If they gave those teachers guns, you’d really have something.

“You Don’t Need Permission For Joy” [Defector]. “On a whim one of those days, I decided to spend my day online listening to BTS videos on YouTube. I started with “Dynamite,” then hopped around some. At some point the algorithm gave me a live performance of the song “Lie,” off the group’s 2016 album Wings. It’s a dark song, enough so that I compulsively apologize to people when I tell them it’s the song that sent me head-first into BTS fandom. I wish I had a happier answer—the pastel joyride of “Boy With Luv” or the chest-thumping boldness of “MIC DROP.” But it was “Lie.” Somehow, even before I tracked down the song’s lyrics translated into English, I knew what the song was about, a lament on staving off darkness, impostor syndrome, and doubt. The singer is Jimin, the last member to join the group, the one with the shortest training period, the one management had considered kicking out of the group, the one with a notorious perfectionist streak. I hadn’t learned any of that yet, but I heard the song and I understood it. I watched this video on a loop dozens of times. Then, I messaged my friends that I totally understood this whole BTS phenomenon now, and was going to go all-in.”

L’Affaire Joffrey Epstein

“Analysis: Accusers place Ghislaine Maxwell at center of Epstein’s abuse, experts say” [Reuters]. “Two weeks of emotional, explicit testimony at Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex abuse trial from four women who said the British socialite groomed them as teenagers for deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein could largely undercut the defense’s argument that prosecutors are using Maxwell as a scapegoat, legal experts said. The women – who say they met Maxwell at different times in places as far flung as Florida, New Mexico and London – all portrayed her as central to the sexual encounters they had with Epstein.”

“Ghislaine Maxwell Trial: Day 10” (podcast) [TrueAnon]. “Trial day 10. Annie Farmer.” • TrueAnon are present at the trial. Listen for the sensibility, not legal subtleties. That said, this episode gradually became so creepy I had to stop listening. Epstein and Maxwell are not nice people, not nice people at all. Peter Thiel’s blood bags, Cuddle puddles. American gentry. I am no prude, gawd knows, but…. These are not nice people. Not nice people at all. On the bright side, at least they’re not lizards. (Oh, it has occurred to me that one reason the prosecution rested so soon, and the defense so ham-handed, is that nothing, nothing, nothing pertaining to Epstein’s little black books (or the flight logs) must be put on the record….

Class Warfare

“A TikToker said he wrote code to flood Kellogg with bogus job applications after the company announced it would permanently replace striking workers” [Business Insider]. “Kellogg announced on Wednesday that it would replace almost 1,400 unionized workers after the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union rejected a pay deal. The workers have been on strike since October over what they say is unfair pay and benefits…. An activist on TikTok posted code online meant to flood the Kellogg website with fake job applications in protest against the company’s decision to permanently replace striking workers…. A user with the handle BloominFunions posted links to the four job applications and encouraged the subreddit’s 1.3 million-strong membership to individually submit fake applications, or as they put it, ‘clog their toilet of an application pipeline.’” • Also, boycott:

News of the Wired

“Meet your new A.I. best friend” [Fortune]. “Imagine a future where people elect to have an A.I. companion whose relationship with you begins at birth, reading everything from your grades at school to analyzing your emotions after social interactions. Connecting your diary, your medical data, your smart home, and your social media platforms, the companion can know you as well as you know yourself. It can even become a skilled coach helping you to overcome your negative thinking patterns or bad habits. It can provide guidance and gently nudge you towards what you want to accomplish, encouraging you to overcome what’s holding you back. Drawing on data gathered across your lifetime, a predictive algorithm could activate when you reach a crossroads. Your life trajectory, if you choose to study politics over economics, or start a career in engineering over coding, could be mapped before your eyes. By illustrating your potential futures, these emerging technologies could empower you to make the most informed decisions and help you be the best version of yourself. For some, this may seem like a tech invasion, an infringement of our capabilities as independent beings. But a new generation of digital natives is welcoming these new technologies, with studies from KPMG [I’ll bet] revealing that Gen Z and millennials are almost twice as trusting of A.I. than their boomer counterparts. By deeply integrating A.I. into our everyday lives from birth, it can become a second self who can take us on a journey and even give us a glimpse into our future.” • Do any readers know anybody, of any generation, who thinks this doesn’t describe a dystopia?

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) 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 (WB):

WB writes: “The garlic chives are loving the first real snowfall of the year.” Gorgeous!

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Readers, thank you for all the plant pictures!

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

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