Links and Notes for March 12th, 2021
Published by marco on
Below are links to articles, highlighted passages, and occasional annotations 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.
“A woman on Twitter can’t get it straight. ‘We’re supposed to air out our houses five times a day but put on a mask as soon as we step outside ?’ (I paraphrase.) A doctor in Bayonne, looking a hell of a lot healthier than anyone I know after the last year, thinks she’s right, and reminds people that tuberculosis patients used to be sent to the shore and the mountains to recover, and that wearing a mask when no one’s around is, well, maybe a bit paranoid.”
“France right now teeters on the edge of another brutal confinement, its stores open and its economy limping, while Germans can only stare in the windows of shuttered stores. Politicians in each European country race far behind the virus, argue over vaccines and pray people put up with their straight-faced bungling.”
“Confinement has been imposed in various degrees in entire countries and half the world has been restricted to their homes. An extreme and brutal measure which it is hard to understand because the Covid pandemie is absolutely not a new ‘Black Plague.’ Its level of mortality, even before confinement, remains definitely higher than the flu but in no way bears comparison to SARS or Ebola.”
This is only partially true. Both of those other diseases are so deadly that they blow themselves out with their own ferocity. COVID, on the other hand, it contagious but not deadly enough to not spread. It will infect a lot more people and will end up causing much more misery and death than a SARS-I or Ebola could. Neither of those can infect enough people to fill the hospitals because the symptoms were so obvious and death so quick that the asymptomatic contagion common with COVID-2 was not possible. So, while the mortality rate percentage is lower, the overall damage is much higher because many more people will be affected, if it’s allowed to run at its own pace.
“Nevertheless, as Woody Allen put it, we’ve known ever since man has been around that, “Life is a sexually transmitted illness, with a 100% mortality rate.” 600,000 persons die every year in France.”
“This debate on the economic consequences of total confinement, the cost-benefit approach, has sadly not taken place and we’ll pay dearly for it.”
“If the French are infantilised by their state, they too are responsible because they have a childish rapport with their government. They expect everything from it, as one waited for the king to do everything, but they won’t accept being governed and constantly dream of replaying the Revolution.”
“The formation of our elites doesn’t help at all : when you have never had contact with the real world because you went from Louis le Grand to ENA before taking your place in the army of the State all without ever leaving Paris, that hardly puts you in a postion to understand the Gilets Jaunes.”
“As René Cassin, the father of Declaration of Human Rights, put it, “The right to life, but not the right to just any life.” The philosopher André Comte-Sponville expressed it another way. “I’d rather catch Covid-19 in a democracy than not have it under a dictatorship.””
“[…] government agencies whose first reflex is to suspend liberties and to employ ineffective remedies; citizens who panic-shop and don’t hesitate to accuse neighbors, as in Bordeaux, where 70% of the calls to the Police were denunciations. It’s pathetic.”
“We have decided to sacrifice the younger generations in order to save those who are over 80. Why not ? But this at least requires a debate. I’m 62 and I prefer to give a happy future to my children. If we are going to go into confinement every time a pandemic arrives, we’re going to return to the Middle Ages in terms of living standards.”
“Researchers who followed people infected with the coronavirus for up to nine months – the longest follow-up to date – found that 30% were still reporting symptoms, and more than that reported a worse quality of life than before they got the virus, according to a research letter published Friday.
“Most of the people followed –150 out of 177 – had ‘mild’ disease and had not been hospitalized.”
“But it’s perfectly reasonable, I think, for people not to want to be the early adopters here. It’s a new vaccine, and like all new things it could have unforeseen problems. The experts tell us it seems pretty safe, and they’re probably right, but we can’t be sure—and the more time passes, the more we’ll know about any possible problems. So long as there’s not enough vaccine to go around, it seems to me quite sensible for suitably skeptical people to yield their place (for now) to someone who has a different guess about the relative risks, and to put off getting vaccinated until more is known.”
It may be sensible and reasonable but it’s also selfish. Essentially “let some other idiot risk themselves to get us all herd immunity.” We already did that. Hundreds of thousands of heroes around the world volunteered for the Phase-3 trials to get us to the point where I can turn my nose up at it anyway.
I suppose the individual choice won’t have much impact, as usual. I guess you can console yourself that you just wanted to be extra-sure, not like those other suckers who went ahead and made the world safe for us to once again be able to go outside, among people.
Economy & Finance
“The problem was, this marketplace doesn’t exist, because there is a third person: the capitalist. Not only that, but he owns and controls everyone’s labor. So commodities actually end up not being produced for use by other people at all and exchanged in a fair marketplace, they are produced solely for the capitalist’s profit, and this only loosely corresponds to the wants and desires of the consumers.”
“The capitalists themselves don’t even care why they were produced, they only care if they will turn a profit, so the goods and services become mere abstractions to them.”
We see here a simple case of not noticing when the means became the ends. Society started off trying to provide for its citizens. Once societies got big enough, tribes fell apart. Kings arose and were deposed, replaced with trade and merchants.
We noticed that the profit motive tended to optimize price and quality (at least at first). We want to optimize price and quality. This is a good thing. That’s what the price-finding mechanism of the market is meant to do (although it couldn’t care less about quality directly, simply assuming that this will be taken of by price).
So society used the profit motive as a tool to get quality and value, which led to fed and mostly happy citizens. Then it forgot what the original goal was and just started optimizing for the profit motive and hoped for the original goal as a nice side-effect. At this far end of this phase, it could no longer care less about the side-effect. People are taking notice.
Fed chair Powell’s remarks spark Wall Street sell-off by Nick Beams (WSWS)
“The Fed would continue its asset purchases of $120 billion a month until “substantial further progress” had been made and that it would be “some time” before conditions emerged where it would even contemplate a rise in its base interest rate. But Wall Street considered that this was not enough.”
Well, kind of. Wall street indicated that it would not keep buying stocks at increasingly stupid prices with their own money. The stock market has to come down eventually. A staid reduction is preferable to running for the exits. We should be happy that the Fed is not giving them all they need to keep growing. Let them begin to devour their excess fake value with an orderly retreat. I doubt we’ll get one, but multiple short dips are easier to adjust to than a giant crash.
“This was viewed as an indication, at least in some quarters, that the Fed would take action to buy more bonds and halt the upward movement in yields.”
“Upward movement in yields” means “shitty bonds are finally incurring the higher interest they should have had all along, in a sane world”.
“But the metrics of the past no longer apply. The rise of the market over the past year, in the midst of the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression, is entirely the result of the availability of money at ultra-low rates and the trillions of dollars provided by the Fed to the financial system.”
“In what were once regarded as “normal” times, a rise in bond yields, resulting from the prospect of an uptick in economic growth and inflation, would be regarded as a positive sign.”
“With the US government set to issue trillions of dollars of debt in order to finance the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the fact the market could not absorb even a relatively small debt offering set in motion a US and global bond sell-off.”
“The $21 trillion US government debt market is the bedrock of the entire global financial system. It is supposedly the most liquid market in the world—the safe haven for financial investors. But that is now being called into question.”
“But the class dynamics are already clear. The Fed will pull out all stops in support of Wall Street and attempt to prevent a collapse of the mountain of fictitious capital which its own actions have helped create. At the same time, because sky-high stock market valuations ultimately depend on the extraction of surplus value and profit from the working class, the latest crisis will see an intensification of the attacks on wages, jobs and working conditions, whatever the empty promises of the Biden administration that it will promote economic recovery.”
“I’m not sure that’s correct—I have some sympathy for Robinhood’s view that it is democratizing investing, though also plenty of sympathy for Massachusetts’ view that it is gamifying it—but if you do want to prevent the gamification, banning confetti does very little.”
“As a former lawyer I am tempted to say, sure, fine, whatever, counterintuitive old doctrines are what make law school fun and keep lawyers employed. “Citi just sent us money by mistake, do we have to give it back,” the hedge fund analyst asks, and instead of saying “of course duh we live in society,” the portfolio manager replies “hang on, let me consult with a lawyer,” and the lawyer says “hang on, let me consult with my firm’s specialist in Finders Keepers Law,” and the Finders Keepers specialist consults some dusty old tomes of arcane lore and says “lemme tell you about the doctrine of discharge for value.” And she bills the hedge fund $2,000 an hour and is absolutely worth it. We live in a particular kind of society.”
““We expect that common stock holders would not receive a recovery through any plan,” said the prospectus for Hertz’s at-the-market offering, unless debt holders were paid in full, “which would require a significant and rapid and currently unanticipated improvement in business conditions.” The unanticipated improvements, as anticipated, did not occur, and the shareholders will get zero. You can’t say they weren’t warned. “Hi, we are bankrupt, would you like to buy some worthless stock from us,” Hertz asked its retail investors, and they said “heck yes here’s our money,” and they got back stock and it was worthless.”
“He’s gonna take over the SEC and spend all his time figuring out how much animated confetti is too much to celebrate a retail options trade. I worry that GameStop has broken finance, that everything everyone thinks about will have to be just a little bit dumber forever because GameStop happened.”
“Clubhouse is not buying Tinder, but a thing named Clubhouse is buying a thing named Tinder, more or less. Clubhouse Media, which until recently was known as Tongji Healthcare Group Inc., is up 626% year-to-date as of yesterday’s close, possibly because people confuse it with Clubhouse the app. It was up as much as 7.5% earlier this morning, possibly because of the Tinder merger, why not, why not, why not.”
“I have previously quoted Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s argument that “Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons”: “The one who doesn’t look the part, conditional of having made a (sort of) successful career in his profession, had to have much to overcome in terms of perception.” One way to put this is that there might be excessive pattern-matching in investment management, and people who don’t fit the obvious pattern will have had to be better than people who do.”
“The dirty secret of American politics going back decades is an ongoing cycle of popped speculative bubbles followed by government-aided rescues, with both parties embracing the concept of trickle-down “recoveries” built on statistical deceptions.”
“This was exacerbated by what was going on at the other end of the curve, where the crisis never dented those at the top of the distribution:”
“To make a long story short, Trump won, at least in part because of anger about a gamed financial system. However, after three years of a frothy economy that presented a mixed picture on the wealth inequality front, the pandemic saw Trump preside over a grotesque repeat of the 2008-2009 bailout strategy he once denounced. From March through October of 2020, billionaires increased their net worth by $637 billion, while 40 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. In his campaign against Biden, Trump resorted to waving the K-shaped recovery at crowds, asking things like, “How’s your 401K?” — apparently unaware that most people no longer have one.”
“For decades now, we’ve watched our politicians continually make decisions that widened wealth and influence divides, while blowing off possibilities of backlash from below. For a long time, there was a rationale behind this, because the big-money capture of both parties left the Volk without obvious avenues for revolt. The two parties didn’t need to govern with the bottom half of the country in mind, so they didn’t.”
“The way an S&P 500 exchange-traded fund works is roughly that the fund holds a big pile of all the 500ish S&P 500 stocks, and if anyone wants to buy or sell shares of the ETF they can trade with each other on the stock exchange. Sometimes people want to buy more shares than are for sale on the exchange, and so they will want to buy new shares from the ETF itself. But you can’t really buy new shares in the ETF, like you could in a mutual fund (you give the fund cash, it buys the underlying stocks, it gives you back shares).”
“Similarly sometimes a lot of people will want to sell ETF shares, and an authorized participant will do a redemption trade in which it hands ETF shares back to the ETF and gets, not cash, but a basket of underlying stocks. (Which it can then sell for cash.) This creation/redemption mechanism—in which the ETF doesn’t buy or sell the underlying shares itself, but does in-kind trades with authorized participants—is good for the ETF’s expense efficiency (it doesn’t explicitly pay to trade) and for its tax efficiency (it doesn’t realize taxable gains).”
“Several factors are behind this contrast between equity and bond ETFs. First, the nature of the underlying assets is different. Compared with equities, bonds are generally less liquid and trade in a market with fewer potential buyers and sellers. In addition, bonds mature, whereas equities do not. Second, the minimum trading amount of bonds is much larger than that of equities, which constrains the feasible trades.”
“In times of stress, bond ETFs will trade below net asset value, but the redemption mechanism means that you kind of can’t get your money back, or not efficiently, so you don’t redeem (that is, authorized participants don’t redeem to arbitrage away the discount), so there is no run on the ETF, so there is no need for it (or its authorized participants) to dump bonds at fire-sale prices, so there is no broader collapse in bond prices and no contagion. The ETF trades below its net asset value because it is, in effect, absorbing stress on the bond market, rather than transmitting it.”
“The rush to expand trading could lead to fraud and manipulation, says Stephen Diamond, a professor of law at Santa Clara University who has studied private secondary transactions. “All too often in Silicon Valley, people want to basically ignore the consequences of unhealthy market structures,” Diamond says. I’m not especially convinced that trading shares of big unicorns on private secondary markets is all that much worse than trading shares of special purpose acquisition companies on public markets. People want to overpay for startups without knowing much about them! They are going to find ways to do it.”
Kind of. That’s supposed to be what regulation is for. I suppose the stratospheric increase of dumb money is evidence that our meritocracy is measuring something other than merit.
“If you own Berkshire Hathaway stock, what you are hoping for is for Warren Buffett to go out and find new exceptional businesses and acquire them at a discount to their true value. You get an ever-expanding portion of exceptional businesses because Buffett uses his huge pile of cash to acquire an expanding list of exceptional businesses. “The exceptional businesses are the same as last year but now you own a slightly higher share of them”: Perfectly fine! Reasonable use of cash, if you can’t find new exceptional businesses! Better than overpaying for bad businesses, etc. Just kind of uninspiring. Too much of this particular good thing is obviously bad; if Berkshire announced “we’re done building the company and are just gonna buy back stock” no one would be happy about it.”
Public Policy & Politics
Biden renews US “state of emergency” against Venezuela by Bill Van Auken (WSWS)
“US President Joe Biden Tuesday formally renewed a declaration of a state of national emergency initiated by the Obama administration in 2015, branding Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
“This declaration, maintained in effect under the Trump administration, is the legal foundation for a series of draconian and escalating unilateral US economic sanctions aimed at starving the Venezuelan population into submission and achieving regime change in Caracas.”
“Alena Douhan, a UN human rights special rapporteur, called for the immediate lifting of economic sanctions and for the governments of the US, the UK and Portugal to grant Caracas immediate access to billions of dollars in Venezuelan funds that are frozen in those countries so that they can be used to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe gripping the South American country.
“In her preliminary findings, Douhan, a Belarusian lawyer, stated that both the US 2015 national emergency declaration and the subsequent rounds of escalating sanctions violate “international law” and “the principle of sovereign equality of states,” while constituting “an intervention in the domestic affairs of Venezuela.””
“While Guaidó retains Washington’s sponsorship, with tens of millions of dollars being funneled through the hands of him and his cronies, he enjoys increasingly scant popular support in Venezuela itself, and a number of governments have dropped the fiction that he is the “interim president” of anything.”
“The Maduro government’s accommodations to both the Venezuelan right and world imperialism are driven by its principal concern: a challenge from below to the wealth and privileges of the sectors of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie that constitute its main constituency.
“Washington will not be satisfied, however, until it is able to install a US puppet regime in Caracas. Its aggression against Venezuela is driven by US imperialism’s determination to counter growing Chinese and Russian influence in its “backyard.””
“This is how apocalyptic cult leaders always function. When the end of the world did not materialize on January 6, Collins insisted that January 20 was the day of the violent reckoning. When nothing happened on that day, he moved the Doomsday Date to March 4. The flock cannot remain in a state of confusion for too long about why the world has not ended as promised by the prophet, so a new date must quickly be provided with an explanation for why this is serious business this time.”
“Ever since January 6, those who were not referring to the riot as a “coup attempt” — as though the hundreds of protesters intended to overthrow the most powerful and militarized government in history — were required to refer to it instead as an “armed insurrection.””
“The argument then, and the argument now, is that the threat was being deliberately inflated and exaggerated, and fears stoked and exploited, both for political gain and to justify the placement of more and more powers in the hands of the state in the name of stopping these threats. That is the core formula of authoritarianism — to place the population in a state of such acute fear that it acquiesces to any assertion of power […]”
“The current state of Democracy in America: It’s apparently going to take a vote of 2/3s of the Senate to raise the minimum wage and no votes from the Senate to bomb Syria. If de Tocqueville could see us now!”
“After weeks of faux-drama, Kamala Harris broke the inevitable tie and Biden’s watered-down Covid aid bill advanced 51-50. So, all of those “compromises” yielded not even a single GOP vote.”
The Democrats lie. The bill they made is the one they wanted.
“The first Trump COVID checks phased out fully at an income level (2019) of $99,000, the second round at $87,000. The Biden checks will phaseout fully at $80,000. (Limiting the benefit results in about $12 billion in savings in a $1.9 TRILLION package.)”
“Riots Pay!…Capitol police today requested a budget increase of $103.7 million, a 20% increase from the $515 million they just got for 2021, a figure that is already 10 more than the entire budget for the operations of the Congress itself.”
““As has been known for decades,” the statement continued, “these allegations are categorically false. Multiple agencies investigated them at the time and found that, whatever Dylan Farrow may have been led to believe, absolutely no abuse had ever taken place… While this shoddy hit piece may gain attention, it does not change the facts.””
“In his book, Apropos of Nothing, Allen mounts a convincing defense against the molestation charges. He refers to the two major investigations carried out, one by “the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at the Yale–New Haven Hospital, whom the police used to look into such matters, and one by New York State Child Welfare. Unlike so many women who complained of sexual misconduct only to have their complaints swept under the rug and not taken seriously, [Mia Farrow’s] accusation was taken most seriously.””
“The Yale–New Haven report found that “Dylan was not sexually abused by Mr. Allen,” and, further, “we believe that Dylan’s statements on videotape and her statements to us during our evaluation do not refer to actual events that occurred to her on August 4, 1992.” The clinic concluded that either Dylan made up her statements or the child “was coached or influenced by her mother, Ms. Farrow… We believe that it is more likely that a combination of these two formulations best explain Dylan’s allegations of sexual abuse.” Allen also points out that “the molestation accusation was dismissed by New York State Child Welfare investigators who examined the case scrupulously for fourteen months, and came to the following conclusion. From the letter received on October 7, 1993, I quote: ‘No credible evidence was found that the child named in this report has been abused or maltreated.’””
“The fact that Allen has never been charged, let alone convicted, of any misconduct does not give the #MeToo crusaders who made and participated in Allen v. Farrow pause for thought, devoid as they are of any democratic sentiments and even the most elementary humanity.”
“[…] the perception that traditional news outlets have become tools of the very corporate and political interests they’re supposed to be overseeing. Roberts complains about lines between opinion and reporting being blurred at Substack […], but the “blurring” problem at those other organizations is far more severe. Are newspapers like the New York Times checks on power, or agents of it?”
“Because this is not a bug but a feature, these same types of errors have been repeated over and over, to the point where papers like the Times and the Washington Post eventually became little more than conduits for anonymous intelligence sources spouting unconfirmable fairy tales like the pee tape. The major “traditional” cable networks, as well as many of the bigger daily newspapers, have for years now been engaged in mad hiring sprees of ex-spooks, putting whole nests of known perjurers and Langley goons on their payrolls as contributors, where they regularly provide “commentary” on news stories in which they themselves have involvement. And Roberts wants to lecture us about “disclosure of compromise”?”
“Many of those people weren’t politically conservative at all (in fact, often quite the opposite). They’d just been trained to do the job in a more dispassionate way, and were being pushed by an increasingly monolithic newsroom culture to run with simplistic, hot-taking versions of the news (as one reporter put it, describing the BLM protests, “I’m sympathetic, but every story had to be Viva la revolución”). The choice for many of these people was to go along, or get out, and where a lot of them got out was to Substack.”
“In short, I’m trying hard to prove that the subscriber concept can work as a viable alternative to the corporate press, which has become increasingly, arrogantly dysfunctional as traditional competition in the form of local newspapers and urban alt-weeklies has died out. None of us has the formula nailed yet, but the notion that the handful of us who are trying comprise a “threat to journalism” is elitist insanity of the highest order.”
“What the U.S. hates and will act decisively and violently against is not dictatorship but disobedience. The formula is no more complex than this: any government that submits to U.S. decrees will be its ally and partner and will receive its support no matter how repressive, barbaric or despotic it is with its own population. Conversely, any government that defies U.S. decrees will be its adversary and enemy no matter how democratic it was in its ascension to power and in its governance.”
In a nutshell.
“In sum, human rights abuses are never the reason the U.S. acts against another country. Human rights abuses are the pretext the U.S. uses — the propagandistic script — to pretend that its brute force retaliation against noncompliant governments are in fact noble efforts to protect people.”
“The Saudis continue to deny this allegation, but it is nonetheless the official and definitive conclusion of the U.S. Government.”
Is the evidence solid for this? Or do we believe it because it runs counter to what we think the government would want us to believe? That is, since the U.S. is denouncing an official ally, we’re more prone to believe the evidence that it presents? Does that make sense?
“Even worse, the White House is concealing the names of the seventy-six Saudi operatives to whom they are applying visa bans for participating in Khashoggi’s assassination, absurdly citing “privacy” concerns — as though those who savagely murder and dismember a journalist are entitled to have their identities hidden.”
Slow down there, Greenwald. In many other cases, you very rightly question the veracity of the official US position. Here you’re sounding a bit like Maddow—calling for blood and doxxing of people who’ve only been accused by a highly unreliable source—the U.S. government.
“Both the Bush and Obama administrations took extraordinary steps to conceal what was known about Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attack. Indeed, one grand irony of the still-ongoing War on Terror is that the U.S. has bombed close to ten countries in its name — including ones with no conceivable relationship to that attack — yet continued to hug closer and closer the one country, Saudi Arabia, which even many D.C. elites believed had the closest proximity to it.”
“The reason so many D.C. mavens are so upset with Trump isn’t because they hate his policies but rather despise his inability and/or unwillingness to prettify what the U.S. does in the world.”
“Nobody captured this dynamic and the motives behind it better than Noam Chomsky, when asked why he devotes so much time to the crimes of the U.S. and its allies rather than those of Russia and Venezuela and Iran and other U.S. adversaries:”“That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else.”“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that: namely, I can do something about it. So even if the US was responsible for 2% of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2% I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment.”
“[…] distract Americans’ attention away from the crimes of their own ruling class (I’m too busy reading about what’s being done to Nalvany — by a government over which I exercise no influence — to care about the civil liberties abuses by the U.S. Government.”
“[…] what it reveals about how easily propagandized the U.S. media class is. They can watch Biden hug and protect Mohammed bin Salman one minute, send General Sisi massive amounts of arms and money the next, announce that his DOJ will continue to pursue Assange’s imprisonment, and then somehow, after seeing all that, say and believe that we have to go to war with or bomb or sanction some other country because it’s the role of the U.S. to protect and defend freedom and human rights in the world. If the U.S. Government can get people to actually believe that, what can’t they get them to believe?”
“The science that elucidates this social death is known to the ruling elites. The science that warned us of this pandemic, and others that will follow, is known to the ruling elites. The science that shows that a failure to halt carbon emissions will lead to a climate crisis and ultimately the extinction of the human species and most other species is known to the ruling elites. They cannot claim ignorance. Only indifference.”
“Even with vaccines, we lack the national infrastructure to distribute them efficiently because profit trumps health. And those in the global south are, as usual, abandoned, as if the diseases that kill them will never reach us. Israel’s decision to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to as many as 19 countries while refusing to vaccinate the 5 million Palestinians living under its occupation is emblematic of the ruling elite’s stunning myopia, not to mention immorality.”
“The fighter jets, satellites, aircraft carriers, fleets of warships, nuclear submarines, missiles, tanks and vast arsenals of weaponry are useless against pandemics and the climate crisis.”
“A decade from now we will look back at the current global ruling class as the most criminal in human history, willfully dooming millions upon millions of people to die, including those from this pandemic,”
“It is not that most people have faith in the ruling elites. They know they are being betrayed. They feel vulnerable and afraid. They understand that their misery is unacknowledged and unimportant to the global elites, who have concentrated staggering amounts of wealth and power into the hands of a tiny cabal of rapacious oligarchs.”
“The evil that makes this social murder possible is collective. It is perpetrated by the colorless bureaucrats and technocrats churned out of business schools, law schools, management programs and elite universities. These systems managers carry out the incremental tasks that make vast, complicated systems of exploitation and death work. They collect, store and manipulate our personal data for digital monopolies and the security and surveillance state. They grease the wheels for ExxonMobil, BP and Goldman Sachs. They write the laws passed by the bought-and-paid-for political class.”
“Hannah Arendt in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” writes that Adolf Eichmann was motivated by “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement.” He joined the Nazi Party because it was a good career move. Arendt continued: The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”
“Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not withdraw and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs and desires? We are all complicit, paralyzed by the overwhelming force of the megamachine and bound to its destructive energy by our allotted slots within its massive machinery.” — Filip Müller to Claude Lanzmann, “Shoah””
“Albert Camus writes that “one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”
““A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,” Camus warns. “But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.””
“The city of Hambantota lies at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, a few nautical miles from the busy Indian Ocean shipping lane that accounts for nearly all of the ocean-borne trade between Asia and Europe, and more than 80 percent of ocean-borne global trade.”
“Armed with the Ramboll report, Sri Lanka’s government approached the United States and India; both countries said no. But a Chinese construction firm, China Harbor Group, had learned about Colombo’s hopes, and lobbied hard for the project. China Eximbank agreed to fund it, and China Harbor won the contract.”
“By 2014, Hambantota was losing money. Realizing that they needed more experienced operators, the SLPA signed an agreement with China Harbor and China Merchants Group to have them jointly develop and operate the new port for 35 years. China Merchants was already operating a new terminal in the port in Colombo,”
“When Sirisena took office, Sri Lanka owed more to Japan, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank than to China. Of the $4.5 billion in debt service Sri Lanka would pay in 2017, only 5 percent was because of Hambantota. The Central Bank governors under both Rajapaksa and Sirisena do not agree on much, but they both told us that Hambantota, and Chinese finance in general, was not the source of the country’s financial distress.”
“Over the past 20 years, Chinese firms have learned a lot about how to play in an international construction business that remains dominated by Europe: Whereas China has 27 firms among the top 100 global contractors, up from nine in 2000, Europe has 37, down from 41. The U.S. has seven, compared to 19 two decades ago.”
“As one Malaysian politician remarked to us, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss how Chinese finance featured in that country’s political drama, “Can’t the U.S. State Department tell the difference between campaign rhetoric that our opponents are slaves to China and actually being slaves to China?””
“[…] in stressing education as the primary means to get ahead in society, the party’s educated elites have come to offer an increasingly narrow pathway to a decent life. In doing so, they have rationalized the rampant inequality of the past four decades and often demeaned less educated people and their contributions to society.”
“As a critique of meritocracy and an explanation of today’s populist resentment toward educated elites, The Tyranny of Merit is a compelling book. But Sandel’s tentative suggestions for remedying the harms of meritocracy focus far too much on liberal elites, while failing to address the much more significant ways in which business elites have harmed workers.”
“Sandel shows how that promise is a lie. Inequality has skyrocketed since the ’70s, while intergenerational social mobility has declined. The top tier of workers has turned itself into a self-reproducing elite, flattering itself as a natural aristocracy superior to the losers in the race to succeed. And it has recruited the institutions of higher education—especially elite colleges and universities—to perform the task of sorting, ranking, and credentialing individuals to feed the meritocratic job-allocation machine.”
“The job of meritocratic sorting and ranking, Sandel continues, also ultimately undermines the mission of education itself. Students feel that they must pile on credentials, grub for grades, and even cheat to succeed, leaving them with little time or energy for exploration, critical reflection, and learning for its own sake.”
“Seeing themselves as having earned their success through their own hard work and neglecting the enormous socioeconomic advantages and supports they enjoyed along the way, they feel entitled to grab all they can for themselves.”
“However socially necessary their jobs may be, their contributions to the common good are disparaged by elites as uncredentialed and “low skill.” This adds insult to the injury of stagnant wages and precarity that many working-class Americans face.”
“Elites, puffed up by the conceit that their superior positions are entirely due to their own strenuous efforts, lack gratitude for the social advantages that enabled their success and have little sympathy for or solidarity with the less fortunate. Their meager conception of the common good is limited to a technocratic obsession with growth, whether of the GDP or test scores.”
“Colleges and universities, absorbed in the sorting-and-ranking project, have abandoned civic education, while their students, caught up in the credentials race, rarely reflect on the common good and have not learned practical wisdom in the scramble to the top. Living in class-segregated neighborhoods and overwhelmingly marrying and befriending members of their own class, elites are out of touch with the working class and ignorant of its concerns and problems.”
“No wonder the non-college-educated have erupted in populist revolt. Vividly aware of the reality that hard work does not enable them to rise and resentful of condescending elite judgments, many gravitate toward populist authoritarian leaders who channel their grievances and promise to restore them to their former centrality in the nation and the culture.”
“To undermine the relentless sorting-and-ranking function of universities, he suggests that the most elite schools expand enrollment and admit by lottery applicants who pass a basic threshold of academic qualification.”
This is just woeful. Can’t you just have merit-based enrollment? Like everywhere else? Switzerland has some great universities and technical schools. You have to pass a test to get in—debate club and yearbook committee are of no help at all.
“Sandel argues that alongside these changes to education must come a cultural shift: We need to honor all work that contributes to the common good. This requires a focus on contributive justice. It’s a fundamental human need to be appreciated and recognized by others in society.”
“we must challenge the meritocratic assumption that income is a good measure of an individual’s contribution to society. The rich get much of their income from worthless, destructive, or merely extractive activities, […]”
“This discussion may deviate from liberal neutrality about conceptions of the good, but it’s needed to dislodge the morally obnoxious pretense that the market offers a neutral way to value people’s contributions.”
“As the socioeconomic policy differences of the two elites have narrowed, politics has shifted to cultural and identity issues. Piketty argues that the center-left’s abandonment of the working class has enabled the right to appeal to working-class members of the ethnic majority through populist appeals that activate fear and resentment of oppressed groups and hence also of the educated elites who defend them.”
“Sandel passes by most of these developments in silence. While his account makes right-wing populist revolt against liberal elites understandable, it also obscures how business elites turned working-class jobs into shit jobs—poorly paid, insecure, dead-end, and despised. He thereby reinforces the same patterns of attention preferred by the merchant right, which fans the flames of resentment against the highly educated to divert our attention away from how it is robbing workers blind.”
“[…] it isn’t enough to repudiate the condescension of meritocratic liberals or to take higher education out of the meritocratic sorting-and-ranking game. The whole battery of merchant-right strategies for disempowering workers must be dismantled as well.”
“Without an empowered working class, democratic institutions will remain in the grip of disdainful elites—not just the highly educated elites whom Sandel criticizes, but also the wealthy business elites who promote populist authoritarian politics to escape accountability for the damage their actions inflict on everyone else.”
Science & Nature
Triptonide is a reversible non-hormonal male contraceptive agent in mice and non-human primates by Zongliang Chang, Weibing Qin, Huili Zheng, Kathleen Schegg, Lu Han, Xiaohua Liu, Yue Wang, Zhuqing Wang, Hayden McSwiggin, Hongying Peng, Shuiqiao Yuan, Jiabao Wu, Yongxia Wang, Shenghui Zhu, Yanjia Jiang, Hua Nie, Yuan Tang, Yu Zhou, Michael J. M. Hitchcock, Yunge Tang & Wei Yan (Nature)
“Single daily oral doses of triptonide induces deformed sperm with minimal or no forward motility (close to 100% penetrance) and consequently male infertility in 3–4 and 5–6 weeks in mice and cynomolgus monkeys, respectively. Male fertility is regained in ~4–6 weeks after cessation of triptonide intake in both species. Either short- or long-term triptonide treatment causes no discernable systematic toxic side effects based on histological examination of vital organs in mice and hematological and serum biochemical analyses in monkeys.”
In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Dangers
by Moises Velasquez-Manoff & Jeremy White (New York Times)
“The clearest example began about 12,800 years ago. Glaciers that had once covered much of North America and Europe had retreated considerably, and the world was almost out of the deep freeze. But then, in just a few decades, Greenland and Western Europe plunged back into cold. Temperatures fell by around 10 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit, in parts of Greenland. Arctic-like conditions returned to parts of Europe.
“The cold snap lasted perhaps 1,300 years — before reversing even more abruptly than it began. Scientists have observed the sudden changes in the pollen deposited at the bottom of European lakes and in changes in ocean sediments near Bermuda.”
I absolutely love how we go about proving things about the deep past, examining sedimentary layers millions of years old, comparing them to others from other places, finding index fossils, correlating, examining chemical composition, extrapolating atmospheric conditions, it’s impressive as hell. This is real detective. There should be a whole set of TV shows about it.
“In 2015, Dr. Rahmstorf and his colleagues published a seminal paper arguing that the AMOC had weakened by 15 percent in recent decades, a slowdown they said was unprecedented in the past 1,000 years. He and his colleagues recently published another paper that used additional reconstructions of sea temperature around the North Atlantic, some going back 1,600 years, to determine that the recent slowdown began with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, then accelerated after 1950.”
“[…] a shutdown of the AMOC could exacerbate global heating. The ocean absorbs nearly one-third of human carbon dioxide emissions. But the sinking of salty, dense water — the overturning portion of the AMOC — is critical to that absorption. So, if the AMOC stops or greatly slows, and that water stops sinking, the accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere could accelerate.”
“Cerletti proceeded anyway, in the first of the millions of instances that were to follow, and which continue today, of people being given this treatment despite clearly stating they don’t want it. After another, larger electric shock, which did produce a convulsion, the engineer couldn’t recall being shocked; the first of millions of instances of the short-term memory loss caused by this treatment.”
“This was a common failing of studies at this time but ECT researchers had a genuine excuse. Because of the frequent fractures of the spine and other injuries, a disguisable placebo was impossible.”
“What seems amazing is that the most recent of these 11 studies was conducted in 1985. So, despite the unimpressive and inconclusive outcomes of the first 11 studies, and the obvious dangers of this highly controversial treatment, psychiatry has made no attempt to determine whether it works, with a placebo-controlled study, for the past 36 years.
“This becomes even more alarming when one understands just how methodologically inadequate the first 11 studies were. Their average sample size (counting both groups) was just 37. None are definitely double-blind studies, in which neither the patients nor the raters know who is in which group. Five report only some of their findings and omit others. Only four report any ratings by patients, and none have any ‘quality of life’ measures.”
“For example, a study in the flagship British Journal of Psychiatry claimed that the proportions showing at least ‘moderate improvement’ were: depression, 100 per cent; schizophrenia, 97.6 per cent. The entire methodology section describing how improvement was measured was just six words long: ‘A record was kept of progress.’”
“In a recent study, the largest to date, the 14,810 patients in the ECT cohort were 16 times more likely than the 58,369 matched controls to kill themselves in the year after ECT. Even after controlling for pre-treatment levels of suicidality, and other variables, the ECT group was still 1.31 times more likely to have died by suicide (a statistically non-significant difference).”
“Given the high risk of permanent memory loss and the small mortality risk, this longstanding failure to determine whether or not ECT works means that its use should be immediately suspended until a series of well-designed, randomised, placebo-controlled studies have investigated whether there really are any significant benefits against which the proven significant risks can be weighed.”
What It’s Like To Treat Opioid Addiction in Appalachia by Nick Gillespie (Reason)
“While there’s no question that OxyContin was a particularly potent painkiller whose potential for abuse was criminally downplayed by its makers, it was merely the latest in a long line of legal and illegal substances used by people in the region to ease physical and psychological suffering.”
“One of the most pernicious myths of the opioid epidemic is that of the accidental addict. The idea that you go to the doctor and he gives you an opioid—not necessarily OxyContin. Only 4 percent of all prescriptions for pain were written for OxyContin, although they were always preferred by people who abused pills. Overwhelmingly, studies will show that fewer than 1 percent [of users with prescriptions become addicted] is a common finding. You find some that are about 8 percent. The meta-analyses that separated out studies that exclude patients with a history of addiction, or a concurrent problem with depression or anxiety, found these rates of under 1 percent.”
“You can imagine getting in an accident, having a completely otherwise normal psychiatric history, but the accident is devastating. You’ve lost your job. You’ve lost function. It’s a deeply depressing and demoralizing and terrifying state, and these drugs are not only good for physical pain, they’re excellent for psychic pain. Those are the folks who are vulnerable. Those are the folks we have to watch.”
“Much more often, they’re abused by people who were never prescribed them at all. There is a nice graphic from a government agency showing that only 22 percent who misused prescription painkillers got them from a doctor.”
“The truth about addiction is that people seek whatever it is they seek. When your life eventually strikes you as unlivable, these drugs become what I call obliviants. I mean, we call cocaine stimulants and alcohol depressants, but opioids are obliviants. They can numb you. They can make all kinds of distress bearable.”
“I spoke to about 16 physicians who were all in their 60s and 70s, so they really saw the evolution of this problem. They knew that some of their patients would be selling the drugs to make rent or because their husband had just lost his job. They didn’t like doing it, but they felt sympathy for these folks. They also knew that there was no pain program to send them to.”
“That’s a sign of desperation. People would dive into dumpsters outside of nursing homes, and there was that whole culture of if your loved one died of cancer, don’t mention that in the obituary because that’ll put a red flag on your house that you’ve got a lot of pills there.”
“It is so hard to get a measure of heroin. It’ll be maybe half a million or less when you look at government statistics. I don’t think there has been an increase in people using opioids for the past few years; it’s more of an overdose phenomenon, because the drug used now, fentanyl, is just so powerful.”
“[…] you’ve got people who are not well-educated and don’t see much promise. You have families that don’t work. That kind of discipline is not internalized of having to be somewhere, of being responsible. How to delay gratification, how to control impulses, how to develop trust, how to have relationships—that kind of development really gets derailed. You have people with a triple whammy: They live in environments where the boredom is crushing, their future doesn’t look very bright, and they don’t have these inner strengths. It’s easy to understand why these substances have appeal.”
“I prefer calling addiction a symptom rather than a disease. I’m not going to argue with someone, especially someone in recovery, who conceptualizes their problem as a disease. Whatever works for them. But from a conceptual standpoint, I do have a significant problem with the disease model, especially with the formulation of brain disease.”
“This is something that the National Institutes of Health has been pushing since 1995. I understand why that has appeal, because the more you medicalize something, the theory goes, the more you take it out of the realm of the criminal justice arena, the less you think in terms of punitive responses, and the more you think about therapy and funding for treatment and funding for research. It’s an anti-stigma kind of strategy. I appreciate that and I like those ends. I just don’t feel that they’re accomplished well by reducing one of the most complex behaviors to a slice of brain tissue.”
“If my choices are saying addiction is a disease vs. it’s a sin or it’s a crime or it’s evidence of moral failing, well, damn, I’m going to pick disease. But it’s a condition, a behavioral phenomenon that responds to contingencies, that responds to consequences, and that people engage in for -reasons. In Ironton and D.C., there’s not one patient who walked into a clinic and didn’t say that they were there because their wife was going to leave them, their boss is going to fire them, their probation officer is going to punish them, or their kid’s going to hate them. The point is they’re responding to something in their environment. If I had Alzheimer’s disease, which is to me a classic brain pathology, it wouldn’t matter what was going on in the environment or in my cognition or in my view of myself.”
“When you go to a place like Ironton, you can see how medicine and even public health are necessary but not at all sufficient. What do you do when you finally do get somebody sober but they’re in an environment that doesn’t appear to offer much?”
“So many were not happy people—they had a lot of problems with making good decisions and with controlling their impulses—but they weren’t mentally ill in a classic way, and they weren’t people who were going to be responsive to medication. They needed help, but not in the domain of psychiatry.”
“We criminalize severely mentally ill people. On the one hand, we over-medicalize, and on the other, we have people with real brain diseases and we don’t pay enough attention to them.”
“The trauma field, which consists of the most brilliant psychiatrists and psychologists I know and the most two-bit counselors, is often reduced to a system of: This happened to you, it’s horrible, and it’s ruined your life. You can’t do anything about it, and you should forever stew in the resentment of what was done to you.”
Art & Literature
TK Newsletter: The Appalling Death Of An Extremely Strange Genius by Matt Taibbi (TK News)
“Gogol saw with brutal clarity everything that was absurd, ignoble, vain, and ignorant in people, and though his portraits were rendered with extraordinary care and devotion, love even, the results were savage and hilariously unflattering to the society in which he lived.”
“As one of his characters explained, there’s no such thing as being full. A stomach is like a village church that only seems packed: if the Mayor shows up, a place is quickly found. For all the darkness he saw, Gogol noticed one beautiful thing about us. For the good things in life, especially a laugh, we always find room for the Mayor.”
“HTTP 100 is a response from a server that the request is ok so far, and the client should keep going. Most of the time, this is a no-op. If you’ve started sending a request, you were probably going to keep going anyway, although it’s always nice to have the server’s support & encouragement.”
“HTTP 101 is also used to upgrade from HTTP/1.1 to HTTP/2 on the same connection, and you could use it to transform HTTP connections into all sorts of other TCP-based protocols too.”
“[…] websockets are always HTTP/1.1 right now).”
“HTTP 102 tells the client that the server is still processing the request, and it’ll respond soon. This differs from 100 in that the whole request has now been received, and all the action is now happening on the server side, with the client just waiting.”
“When the server receives a request that takes a little processing, it often can’t fully send the response headers until that processing completes. HTTP 103 allows the server to immediately nudge the client to download other content in parallel, without waiting for the requested resource data to be ready.”
“Unfortunately though, websockets ignore CORS entirely, assuming instead that all websocket servers are modern & sensible enough to correctly check the Origin header for themselves. Many servers do not, and most developers I’ve mentioned this to weren’t aware of it.”