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Links and Notes for March 19th, 2021

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

COVID-19

European Medicines Agency continues to endorse the safety of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)

“According to the vaccine maker, 37 such events have been reported among 17 million people who have received the vaccine. According to Reuters, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is investigating reports into 30 cases among 5 million people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. The EU regulators are expected to release the results of their investigation on Thursday. For certain, they will be examining the rates of blood clots in the general population compared to those vaccinated. Additionally, investigations are taking place into possible manufacturing defects.”
“Dr. Penelope Ward, Professor of pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, placed this into context in speaking with the Financial Times: “In the UK, about 165 people a day might suffer a thrombotic episode, some of which will be fatal. In contrast, the number of reports from the ongoing vaccine program in the UK and EU, which includes 20 million individuals vaccinated to date, is just 37. By chance alone, at least 15,000 such events might have been expected from a population this size.””


Rich, developing nations wrangle over COVID vaccine patents by Reuters Staff (Reuters)

“South Africa and India renewed their bid to waive rules of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement, a move that could allow generic or other manufacturers to make more vaccines.”
“The South Africa and India proposal was backed by dozens of largely developing countries at the WTO, but opposed by Western countries, including Britain, Switzerland, EU nations and the United States, which have large domestic pharmaceutical industries.”
“In its eighth discussion on the topic since it was first raised in October, the WTO’s TRIPS Council spent three hours debating, but failed to agree. Proposals need backing by a consensus of the WTO’s 164 members to pass.”

Economy & Finance

ECB to accelerate supply of ultra-cheap money by Nick Beams (WSWS)

“It seems that whatever the state of the economy, the response of central banks is the same: pour more money into the financial system, so that investors and speculators can continue to make vast profits on the basis of ultra-low interest rates.

“When the economy is down, more money is needed to stimulate it. If it starts to grow, more money must be supplied to stop interest rates going up and damaging the recovery.”

“The ECB statement said “preserving favourable financing conditions” was essential, and noted that “market interest rates have increased since the start of the year, which poses a risk to wider financing conditions.””

What is the end goal here? Once an interest rate has gone down, it can never go back up? Or will we ever have the patience to wait out investors? The way they’re talking, this is the new normal. No interest rates for anyone else, but money pumped into the financial markets. At the first sign of a change, pump it up again. There is no plan to get back to interest rates that benefit anyone but the already wealthy.

The economy would have to somehow magically become “healthy” on its own, creating conditions under which it would be acceptable for interest rates to rise—because businesses were investing enough already. As it is, they don’t invest because no-one’s buying anything because people have no jobs and no money and can’t go out anyway (and stores are restaurants are closed). Pumping into this economy just pours the money straight into the .01%’s coffers.

“Banks used the risk-free rate on bonds as the baseline for setting rates, and “sizable and persistent increases in these market rates,” if left unchecked, “could translate into premature tightening of financial conditions for all sectors of the economy,” it said.”

To translate for Lagarde, this means that “unchecked”, zombie companies would die and take down the zombie economy with it. Instead of letting any adjustment happen, they preserve the status quo. Somehow, this means that they companies don’t just survive but flourish, making millions, if not billions, in profits. Instead of having a bad year, many of the most highly subsidized business had their best years ever. When policy turns a bankruptcy into lottery winnings for key players, that’s all you need to know about how the world works.

“The inflow of money into financial markets from central banks, starting in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, and then accelerated in response to the pandemic, has created a mountain of fictitious capital, such that a rapid increase in market rates has the potential to set off a financial crisis.”

Although they pay lip service to maintaining a steady 2% inflation (for the ostensible purpose of keeping as close to full employment as possible), the ECB, just like the Fed, has other goals in mind. To whit,

“[…] if inflation were to reach the ECB’s stated target, it would completely ignore that, in line with its real objective of continuing to shovel money into the hands of the financial oligarchs, which, together with other central banks, it serves.”


Another 770,000 new U.S. unemployment claims filed as unprecedented job losses continue one year into pandemic by Jacob Crosse (WSWS)

“In the last 52 weeks, there has not been a single week where combined state and federal claims did not exceed 1 million. There also has not been a single week in which state claims have not exceeded the previous weekly high of 665,000 weekly claims, set in March 2009 during the Great Recession, or the record high of 695,000 claims registered in October of 1982.

In the past year 81,790,000 state claims have been filed, nearly seven times the yearly average of 13 million. Even as millions of workers have lost their jobs, sold their belongings and cut back on food in order to survive, and over 550,000 in the US tragically and needlessly succumbed to COVID-19, “pandemic profiteers” such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla’s Elon Musk have seen their wealth soar, as billionaires the world over added nearly $4 trillion to their wealth last year.

“While over 22 million jobs were lost when lockdowns were first implemented in March and April, the over 80 million claims filed in the last year do not correlate directly to over 80 million job losses. The figure is more a result of technologically outdated and purposely confusing state unemployment systems which in many cases force jobless workers to apply multiple times in order to qualify for benefits, only to be followed by requests to reapply again in order to maintain or re-up the eligibility of said benefits.”

“In contrast to jobless workers who are forced to wait weeks for unemployment or stimulus checks, on Wednesday Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell confirmed that no expense would be spared in propping up the stock market through the purchase of $120 billion-a-month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

“Unlike the federal unemployment benefit, which Biden and the Democrats reduced from the $600-a-week in the CARES Act, to $400 and then $300, the $120 billion-a-month purchasing spree by the Fed has not been reduced since it began last June, totaling over $1.2 trillion so far, or enough for at least two more rounds of $1,400 stimulus checks for everyone in the United States.”


What the Heck is an NFT? by Daniel L. McAvoy (National Law Review)

“While this isn’t the only use case for NFTs, at their most basic they are a digital representation of a real, unique asset.”

It sounds like an NFT is the kind of thing that can only exist in a world a small group of people have way too much money.


Citi Is Still Mad About That $500 Million by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“A basic dumb rule of thumb for big companies is that investors (1) do not like debt (ooh, scary debt), but (2) love accounts payable (ooh, you’re so powerful and so efficient with your cash, you can get your suppliers to wait a long time for payment so you can hang on to your cash). So transforming “debt” into “accounts payable” is a good accounting trick; it makes a company look more valuable, without actually changing anything of substance.


SEC Goes After Analyst Foreshadowing by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

AT&T did not experience its “revenue miss” as a failure by analysts to estimate revenue correctly. Nor did it exactly experience it as a failure by AT&T to earn enough revenue. It experienced it as a failure by AT&T to tell its story correctly, through analysts, so that the analysts’ revenue estimates would be just a hair below what AT&T actually reported.”
“The IRS mostly lost in Tax Court though; here is the opinion. Basically the judge found that the perpetual-motion machine works and is non-taxable; if you buy gift cards with your credit card, use the gift cards to buy money orders, and use the money orders to pay your credit card bill, then it’s not taxable income. Seems wrong philosophically, but it’s based on the IRS policy that credit card rewards are not income.”
“Who is the “victim” here? Who paid him the $310,000? In a sense the answer is American Express, but it doesn’t seem to have cared. Anikeev’s “actions never offended American Express,” says the judge, and why should it? Presumably Amex charged grocery stores at least as much in interchange fees as it paid in rewards. Presumably the losers here were the grocery stores who sold $500 gift cards for $475 or something (net of Amex interchange fees) and then had them redeemed for $500 money orders.


Libor Is Going Away for Real by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“[…] It has become an increasingly untenable way to calculate an interest-rate benchmark, insofar as (1) the banks were lying about their borrowing costs for a while and (2) the interbank unsecured funding market is a lot less robust than it was back before the financial crisis, so it’s hard to answer that question truthfully even if you’re trying to.”
“I do think there are some real advantages to owning physical paintings. I’d rather have the original Mona Lisa in my living room than look at it on my computer. But the traditional markets for baseball cards and sports memorabilia are harder to distinguish from NFTs. The scuffed baseball that Barry Bonds hit into the stands for his 73rd home run in 2001 is not a particularly interesting physical object; you can buy a dozen nicer, newer, cleaner baseballs for $17.85 on Amazon. The home-run ball is a unique pointer to a memorable event, but it is not intuitively obvious that you should ascribe any value to that. A Mickey Mantle rookie card is a piece of cardboard with a picture and some stats printed on it, who cares. Why not print it on the blockchain.”
“In a video posted on the BurntBanksy Twitter account and on YouTube, a representative of the company explains that, come on, they had to burn the physical piece because, if it still existed, the value would remain primarily there, rather than in the digital asset. So you can buy a unique digital pointer to a physical work of art that does not exist. You can prove your exclusive ownership of the absence of a work of art. Great! The possibilities are dizzying.”

You’ve got to be heavily divorced from reality to buy into this. I sometimes wish the fucking revolution would come and focus people on important aspects of life instead of letting them masturbate into large piles of money they obtained from the starving masses through inheritance or quasi-financial machinations of no real value.

“Third, I am going to download the YouTube video of them burning that Banksy, then I am going to delete the YouTube video, and then I am going to sell a token giving you ownership to the deleted video. Fourth, I am going to sell tokens proving ownership, on the blockchain, of the same Banksy painting that they destroyed. Prove me wrong! You buy a token from Injective Protocol proving that you own that Banksy; your friend buys a token from me proving that she owns that Banksy. You say “no I own the real one.” Your friend says “okay then go redeem your token for the painting.” You’re like “well they burnt the painting.” I think you lose this argument! But what do I know about art.”
“Amid the deep winter freeze that knocked nearly half of power generation offline, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as Ercot, set the price of electricity at the $9,000-a-megawatt-hour maximum – standard practice during a grid emergency. But Ercot left that price in place days longer than necessary, resulting in massive overcharges, according to Potomac Economics, an independent market monitor hired by the state of Texas to assess Ercot’s performance. In an unusual move, the firm recommended in a letter to regulators that the pricing be corrected and that $16 billion in charges be reversed as a result.”
“Goldman Sachs Group Inc. could gain more than $200 million from the physical sale of power and natural gas and from financial hedges after spot prices surged across much of the U.S., according to people with knowledge of the matter. Morgan Stanley’s gains could come in under $200 million, according to a person with familiar with the matter, and Bank of America Corp. stands to rake in profits as well. But those gains in their totality may prove elusive given the crisis’s fallout – tipping energy companies into bankruptcy, triggering legal challenges and prompting government intervention. The uncertainty is such that Goldman executives estimate that the bank may realize less than half of its paper gains […]”

So they only make $100M on it. Also even they end up losing money on balance because of other soured positions, they still lost less. This is not the story. The story is not the mega-bank that lost a tiny portion of its weekly revenue. The story is all of the people who lost a large part of their future earnings.

“My baseline assumption was always that GameStop would go up and then come down, as generally happens with bubbles, but I was jokingly open to the possibility that instead GameStop would become a permanent store of value for purely social and self-referential reasons. I suppose the third possibility is that GameStop will go through a series of monthly boom and bust cycles, that it will sometimes trade at $20 and sometimes at $400, in rapid alternation, forever. If the source of GameStop’s value is that it’s fun, it needs to keep being fun to keep being valuable.

Public Policy & Politics

Plain Clothes in Plain Sight by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“Had Howse known these guys were cops, had they been in uniform, in a marked RMP, even just displaying shields, he likely would have capitulated to their “commands,” even though they violated his constitutional rights, just to avoid being arrested, not to mention beaten. But if some random guys displaying no indicia of being police officers start questioning your right to be on your front porch then tackle and beat you, you react like a normal person at your own risk.

“Neither the Sixth Circuit nor the Supreme Court faces the conundrum that these two guys could just have easily turned out to be robbers or killers as far as Howse knew, and yet they would have required him to take a beating, or maybe die, just in case they had shields hidden in their pocket.


Stop Trying To Create a Zero-Risk Society by Veronique de Rugy (Reason)

“Yet, as economist Steve Horowitz recently wrote to me on Facebook, “The reality is that we can never achieve” a zero-risk society, and “the costs of trying to are enormous, in terms of both material resources and human freedom.””

Honestly, just fucking knock it off. Nobody wants a zero-risk society. We just want to maybe not have a high-risk society because all the fucking filthy lucre is being funneled into five pockets. That’s all. The point isn’t to eliminate risk, but not to die or get sick or suffer just for the sake of making a few people rich. It’s not that the money isn’t fucking around for every other dipshit thing like war or military hardware or cops or giant fucking boondoggles like the stock market and tech companies. Stop blowing smoke up our asses, Veronica. Maybe you call everyone out for wasting money—I don’t know, I don’t really follow your oeuvre. But it doesn’t matter because no-one who matters does. They start fucking whining about the deficit and the debt—just like you do in your article—as soon as the 99% would benefit rather than the 1%.

On the other hand, a title like Billionaire Wealth Gains Could Pay for Two-Thirds of Covid Relief Bill by Rebekah (Inequality.org) is also supremely unhelpful. I haven’t read the article, but the clickbait lede compares two large numbers with no real relation. The money the government is spending actually exists—or, at least, it can create it—which the increased value of billionaires’ assets is a phantom temporarily buoyed and wafted about by the hot air of the market. It cannot be transformed into anything useful. It came from nothing and there shall it return, probably sometime soon. It’s not liquid. It’s useless other than to let them wield power based on its magic might. That works well enough because everybody believes in the fantasy of asset-based wealth, regardless of the underlying asset.


Biden's Corporate Unity, Taylor Guitar Co-Op, & Indian Farmers' Protest w/ Vijay Prashad by Jacobin Weekends (YouTube)

At 44:39, Nando does a good deep-dive/description of of worker-owned companies.

Nando: If you really boil it down to its essence, politics is about who gets what in our society. As Marx said: it is a struggle between capital and labor. Capitalists—or the bourgeoisie—are the people who own things , or land. Labor are those people who do the work, in exchange for the wage that the capitalist gives them. And a good way to look at that struggle in its most basic form is to see what percentage of the overall economic pie goes to capital and what percentage goes to labor.”

There follow a couple of segments showing that what was a traditional split of 2/3 for labor and 1/3 for capital was already intolerable—because capitalists comprise far fewer than 1/3 of the population, leading to wealth (and power) funneling upward—but it’s gotten even worse over the last 4 decades.

Nando: So what we on the left want to do is reverse that trend and increase labor’s share of the pie, at the expense of capital. Eventually, we would like it if labor gets 100% of the pie. So, how we do that? There are essentially two ways to do that: the first is to increase workers’ power. The main way to do this is through labor unions. […] The second is ownership reforms. Basically, who owns the firms? Eventually, we want the workers to own all of the firms. […] thinking about who own the companies that we work at is an important piece of the puzzle.”

Nando goes on to provide many examples and ideas to reach this goal. This is super-interesting and described well.

At 1:19:00, after discussing the worker uprising and strikes in India, protesting a very corrupt system of government, Vijay makes a good point about India and China

Vijay: This pandemic has revealed how rotten this system is. It’s not that the pandemic has made the system rotten. The system was rotten—the bloody system has been rotten for hundreds of years. This pandemic has just shown its rottenness. Meanwhile, look at China. I mean, what are we talking about? This is a system that has, at least mostly, been able to break the chain of infection and during the pandemic, they’ve been able to declare and end to absolute poverty. 850M people raised out of poverty. You know…if you are an agricultural worker in India today, you would wish you were born in China.”


Biden peddles national self-delusion on pandemic anniversary by Patrick Martin (WSWS)

“The language of collective loss, suffering and sacrifice, however, ignored the brutal fact that one section of American society, the super-rich, has lost nothing at all from 12 months of the worst pandemic in a century.

“While 527,000 Americans died, the billionaires increased their wealth by $1.4 trillion. While the economy collapsed, millions lost their jobs and hundreds of thousands of small businesses closed their doors forever, the stock market reached new record highs, a process that continues to this day.

“Far from Biden’s rosy picture of happy Fourth of July gatherings, the likely prospect of his campaign to reopen the schools is a new wave of mass infections and mass death that turns the summer into a more terrible version of the winter months when the death toll rose above 3,000 a day.”

That’s honestly what I’m afraid of, as well. I fervently hope they’re right and I’m wrong, but it seems rash, going against the advice of the best scientists—those who’ve been right every step of the way.


Bonus: PMC Shopping feat. Catherine Liu by Chapo Trap House on March 05, 2021 (YouTube)

“The American Left was increasingly dominated by these college-educated people, who held certain counter-cultural values, but mostly thought the working class of America was a “retard a terre”, literally “retarded” and “backwards”. So this class didn’t use to always have this kind of contempt for the working class. If you look at a history of professionals: doctors, managers, white-collar workers, social workers—they were terrified of the working class, at the end of the 19th century, when there was all of this working-class unrest.

“And they did kind of want to come in and provide solutions. They were a much smaller class then. They were much less powerful. Huge working class, small white-collar, salaried employees. And then, its numbers exploded as capitalism became more complicated and there was more division of labor. Today, it really dominates what we call “content production” and content consumption, the creative industries, what Barbara Ehrenreich called the liberal industries.

“And I feel like their values are kind of like the air we breathe. And it’s poisoning us. So I wrote this very polemical thing […] I don’t want to add to the discourse of the PMC [Professional Managerial Class] […] You know what? Marx doesn’t live in 2021. Ok, little know-it-all, this is a new class formation and it is dominating our world. It dominates you. It alienates you at work.

“[…an example:] Union organizing is just completely paralyzed in New Zealand. Our housing costs are going through the roof. But, as long as we treat the Maoris like they’re magic, we’re actually OK on the progressive thing. So I’m thinking that PMC people actually treat minorities like they’re magic. And that magic has to do with suppressing class.”


504 − Me Me Madness by Chapo Trap House on March 09, 2021 (YouTube)

They discuss the pinnacle of Louise Linton’s film oeuvre Me You Madness, “a film that dares ask the question ‘what if a bisexual woman HAD mental health issues?’”. At one point, Matt Christman describes it as “this strikes me as the movie that Christopher Moltisanti would have made. Very Cleaver.”


502 − Units of One feat. Adam Curtis by Chapo Trap House on March 03, 2021 (YouTube)

This was an excellent interview in which they just let him talk. The documentary they discuss is his most recent one, Can’t Get You Out of My Head (the link is to a YouTube playlist of all 4 hours in 4 videos. The videos were published by “Adam Curtis Documentary” and were aired on the BBC, so there’s a good change that they’ll survive.

He did another interview in Can’t Get You Out of My Head w/ Adam Curtis by Red Scare that was just as good. The discussion were similar—they interviewed Curtis about the same 4-hour series, so his talking points are similar—but they’re different enough to be worth listening to.

At 19:30

Adam: The real question is: can you have nationalism that doesn’t just kind of inexorably lead to a kind of etho-racism or to fascism. I don’t know. No-one’s ever told me. We’re terrified of it, because the last time it was tried, it led to horror. […] In a way, you could argue that that’s why we tried to live in a world without big stories—and we’re now paying the price for that. Because the left has sort of got itself frozen. It’s terrified of embracing nationalism, but it’s too frightened to try and imagine something new. And, therefore, what it tries to do is just tinker with the little bits. The voting pattern in your election of last year, just shows that millions and millions of people are angry, and want to vote, want to press that button that says “fuck off”. Despite that Donald Trump did absolutely nothing of what he promised, and despite the fact that he handled the pandemic so atrociously. They still want to vote for him. That’s real power. It’s not going to go away.

Anna/Dasha: Well, I think the vast majority of people are not as invested in stability as the managerial technocratic class is—because things have gotten so bad for them.

Adam: I just think that, if stability is all you’ve got to offer as your ideology—and no story—then you’re in quite a weak place, given that history is a dynamic force. And the people outside your stable world don’t really care whether things are stable or not—and are quite happy to let it rip because they’ve got nothing to lose.”

At 1:19:30

Adam: I think it’s a generation who come out of that modernism of our time, that somehow thinks that you can reinvent the world and just cut that past off, that you can just do it. […] The past haunts all of our societies. I know you’re skeptical of Black Lives Matter, but it did something very similar as Brexit did in my home country. What it did was remind you that you’re haunted by the past. […] That past still preys upon you. And until the left and the liberals acknowledge that, they’re going to always have problems, because it’s inside their heads as well.”

At 1:40:00

Adam: The question no-one has quite answered is whether mass democracy is possible in the age of hyper-individualism. […] It was born out of mass democracy—individualism—but then it starts to eat away at it. And what you get are these strange figures who are powerful […] but they corrode collectivism. And what we’re waiting to see if whether the politicians of the future can somehow find a way of combining that very powerful force of individualism with the new force of collectivism. If they can, then mass democracy is going to flourish in a way that we can’t possibly imagine—and it will be fantastic. If they don’t, then we might be heading toward a B.F. Skinner world where you just simply observe, get and gather the data, and give them the treats to get them to do what you want to. I don’t know which. I hope it’s the former.”

Adam: What B.F. Skinner said was, in a way, sort of religious. He said that human beings are not liberated when they are controlled by their feelings. Human beings are actually imprisoned by their feelings. Because if what guides you is all that stuff that goes on in your head, minute by minute, then actually you’re terrible prisoner—of the strange, weird shit that goes on inside your head. […] What I hope is that, really, individualism is just beginning. […] How do we get that individualism to work together in a collective way without denying its individualistic nature? And I think that’s the key thing of our time. But, quite frankly, worrying about whether Putin gave you Donald Trump is a blockage against thinking about those things. That’s the problem. It’s the distrust and the subconscious distrust that the liberals have at the moment.

Anna/Dasha: It’s not only an abdication of freedom, it’s also deeply undignified.

Adam: Yes, that’s another way of putting it. Very good.”


Trump Never Told Georgia’s Lead Election Investigator To ‘Find the Fraud’ by Robby Soave (Reason)

“It matters because many White House reporters have increasingly come to rely upon anonymous reporting. The public needs to have confidence that when The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, etc., supply information from a confidential source, that information is accurate. When a source’s name is used in an article, readers can place a greater degree of trust in the information—since that person has put his or her reputation on the line—but an anonymous source is shielded from criticism, putting the onus on the journalist to get it right. That clearly didn’t happen here.”


Kremlin: Putin’s offer of a call with Biden was to save ties by Vladimir Isachenkov (ABC News)

“t the same time, Putin noted that Russia would still cooperate with the United States where and when it supports Moscow’s interests, adding that “a lot of honest and decent people in the U.S. want to have peace and friendship with Russia.”

“He proposed the phone call with Biden in the next few days to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, regional conflicts and other issues, and he suggested that the conversation be open to the public.

“Peskov said Putin’s offer to make the call public was intended to prevent Biden’s statement from inflicting irreparable damage to the already-frayed ties.

““Since Biden’s words were quite unprecedented, unprecedented formats can’t be excluded,” Peskov said. “President Putin proposed to discuss the situation openly because it would be interesting for the people of both countries.”

“Peskov said the Kremlin hasn’t heard back from the White House on the offer of a call, adding that it wasn’t going to repeat the proposal.

““The request has been made,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “The lack of response would mean a refusal to have a conversation.”

“Calls between heads of states are normally conducted out of the public eye, but in one exception last June, the opening part of Putin’s video call with French President Emmanuel Macron was televised.”

Putin wants it to be public so they can see him dance circles around Biden.

“On Wednesday, the U.S. national intelligence director’s office released a report finding that Putin authorized influence operations to help Trump’s reelection bid. The Biden administration warned that Russia would face sanctions soon over its attempt to influence the election and the massive SolarWinds hacks.”

““It really is not acceptable or palatable for a head of state to use such an expression against the head of a state such as Russia,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. He praised Putin’s response as “very astute and elegant.”

“Erdogan’s comments came as Turkey’s efforts toward a reset of its troubled relations with the U.S. remain unanswered. Since Biden’s inauguration in January, he has not held a telephone call with Erdogan.”

What the fuck is going on? This is far worse than Trump ever did. They’re putting the U.S. on a war footing for real?


V. Putin Ain’t No Corn Pop by James Howard Kunstler (Clusterfuck Nation)

“The alleged president went on to tell Mr. Stephanopoulos that Mr. Putin was “a killer” who would “soon pay a price” for interfering in the 2020 election. In turn, Mr. Putin promptly called the Russian ambassador back home “for consultations,” which is generally what happens when one country makes warlike noises to another country.

“Mr. Putin added a tantalizing taunt days later, saying. “I’ve just thought of this now. I want to propose to President Biden to continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it basically live, as it’s called. Without any delays and directly in an open, direct discussion. It seems to me that would be interesting for the people of Russia and for the people of the United States. I don’t want to put this off for long. I want to go to the taiga this weekend to relax a little,” Mr. Putin went on. “So, we could do it tomorrow or Monday. We are ready at any time convenient for the American side.”


Is China Committing Genocide? Behind the US Government’s Propaganda Campaign by Dan Cohen (MintPress News)

Is China Committing Genocide? Behind The US Government’s Propaganda Campaign by Dan Cohen (YouTube)

“Meanwhile, Zenz’s study accusing China of forced sterilizations didn’t contain any proof of coercion. The Grayzone showed how “Zenz consistently framed the expansion of public healthcare services in Xinjiang as evidence of a genocide in the making.” Characterizing expanded access to birth control as genocide is what the Christian Right does. So it makes perfect sense that Zenz – an evangelical fundamentalist himself – holds this view.”
“In reality, the decrease in birth rate is a normal, predictable outcome of economic development. When people are more financially secure, they choose to have fewer kids and do it later in life. In fact, China is pouring money into Xinjiang to develop its economy. According to a 2015 U.S. government study, “To decrease ethnic instability in Xinjiang, the Chinese government’s plan is to economically develop the region.””
“Then there’s Tursunay Ziyawundun. She’s the central character in the forced-sterilization narrative cooked up by Adrian Zenz. She’s delivered teary testimonies for the BBC, CNN and Democracy Now. A few months before those reports, however, she told Buzzfeed News, “I wasn’t beaten or abused.” Again, why did she change her story? And why did all of these media outlets fail to do a basic check into her past statements?
“Xinjiang is the heart of China’s Belt and Road initiative, the economic plan that connects Asia to Europe and the Middle East. It’s an alternative model to the dictatorship of the U.S. dollar, where the World Bank and International Monetary Fund turn countries into neo-colonies for American corporations – a system backed up with the constant threat of military invasion. The U.S. can’t deal with legitimate competition, so it’s resorting to smears in an attempt to isolate China diplomatically and slow its economic growth.

This is an interesting theory. We have two opposed viewpoints: one is that the Chinese is government is simultaneously trying to enslave and exterminate an ethnic population. They are doing this not through actually killing them in large numbers, but by forcing them into reeducation/labor camps and controlling their numbers with birth control. At the same time, they are injecting money into the region because they are economically interested in it. As with nearly every other government on the planet, they would, presumably, like their own elites to benefit from it rather than the locals that actually provide the value. This is classically capitalist. It is still a rather convoluted way of orchestrating a genocide. Perhaps it’s the modern, 20th-century way of doing so.

I honestly think that this campaign is very similar to the U.S.‘s desire to be in Afghanistan. It was only initially about revenge for 9-11—we’ve leave discussion of that misguided and abhorrently criminal justification to the side for now. It is now—and has been for quite some time—about keeping troops close to China. It is about disrupting trade routes and keeping an eye on things. It is about setting up non-Chinese resource routes, like oil pipelines.

This story about the Uighurs, with its relatively sparse and seemingly unreliable and self-serving sources with dubious paychecks seems very much like exactly the kind of propaganda the U.S. needs to keep its people focused. It’s like the U.S. pretending to care about women’s rights in Afghanistan—well, anywhere, really—it’s like the babies being tossed from incubators in Iraq, it’s WMDs in that country, it’s anything about Qaddafi. They’re all just pedestrian lies told to get enough support to provide political cover for projects that would otherwise look to authoritarian and war-like. Far better to pretend, at least superficially, that one was forced into war rather than that one sought it out for personal gain.

The show Redacted Tonight: Whose War Crimes? by Lee Camp on March 19th, 2021 (Portable.TV) provides a good overview of this effect through the lens of a war-crimes lie that I’d forgotten above: Assad using chemical weapons on his own people. The west has accused Assad of this 3 times (I think) and each time it’s been nearly completely evidence-free. Camp shows how 60 Minutes provided a very recent report that continues to promulgate this myth without addressing any of the multiple refutations from investigators actually involved there.


Bandaging the Corpse by Chris Hedges (MintPress News)

“This act will, at best, provide a momentary respite from the country’s death spiral, sending out one time checks of $1,400 to 280 million Americans, extending $300 weekly unemployment benefits until the end of August and distributing $3,600 through a tax credit for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 starting on July 1. Much of this money will be instantly gobbled up by landlords, lenders, medical providers and credit card companies. The act does, to its credit, bail out some 1 million unionized workers poised to lose their pensions and hands $31.2 billion in aid to Native communities, some of the poorest in the nation.
The elites collectively sold out the American public to corporate power. They did this by lying to the public about the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade deals, dismantling welfare, revoking Glass-Stegall, imposing austerity measures, deregulating Wall Street, passing draconian crime bills, launching endless wars in the Middle East and bailing out the big banks and financial firms rather than the victims of their fraud. These lies were far, far more damaging to the public than any of the lies told by Trump. These elites have been found out. They are hated. They deserve to be hated.
“Truth and verifiable fact have been sacrificed. Russiagate is as absurd as the belief that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. Pick your fantasy.”
“The goal is to herd the public back to Democratic Party allied news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. But these media outlets, which in the service to corporate advertisers have rendered the lives of the working class and the poor invisible, are as reviled as the ruling elites themselves.
“More than 18 million American[s] depend on unemployment benefits, as businesses contract and close. Nearly 81 million Americans struggle to meet basic household expenses, 22 million lack enough food and 11 million say they can’t make their next house payment.


The Sovietization of the American Press by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The new, cleaved media landscape advances the same tiny intersection of elite opinion, except in the post-Trump era, that strip fits inside one party. Instead of appearing as props in a phony rendering of objectivity, Republicans in basically all non-Fox media have been moved off the legitimacy spectrum, and appear as foils only. Allowable opinion is now depicted stretching all the way from one brand of “moderate” Democrat to another.
“Can he legitimately claim to be more pro-union than his predecessor? Sure, but a news story that paints the Biden experience as stretching from “hero to the middle class” to “hero to the poor,” is a Pravda-level stroke job.
“Even the ongoing (and in my mind, ridiculous) moral panic over Substack ties in. Aimed at people already banished from mainstream media, the obvious message is that anyone with even mildly heterodox opinions shouldn’t be publishing anywhere.
“All of this has created an atmosphere where even obvious observations that once would have interested blue-state voters, like that Biden’s pandemic relief bill “does not establish a single significant new social program,” can only be found in publications like the World Socialist Web Site. The bulk of the rest of the landscape has become homogenous and as predictably sycophantic as Fox in the “Mission Accomplished” years, maybe even worse.


Journalists Start Demanding Substack Censor its Writers: to Bar Critiques of Journalists by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“That is precisely why they are so furious. They cannot stand the fact that journalists can break major stories and find an audience while maintaining an independent voice, critically questioning rather than obediently reciting the orthodoxies that bind them and, most of all, without playing their infantile in-group games and submitting to their hive-mind decrees.

Assange led the way and has been punished more than anyone for his insolence.

“[Please permit me to pause here just a moment and marvel at the towering irony that a journalist who spent years at BuzzFeed doing absolutely nothing of value and then got fired for serial plagiarism (again: he got fired for ethical breaches by BuzzFeed) is now, with a straight face, holding himself out as the Guardian and Defender of Real Journalism. Even more amazingly, he believes he is fulfilling that role by demanding that I — not a journalist but just a “troll” who is the enemy of Real Journalism despite having more impactful scoops and journalism awards and, as I detailed yesterday, resulting persecution campaigns from governments than all of these petulant fragile babies combined — be silenced in the name of saving journalism and protecting real reporters like him and his friends from harassment].”
“Do you see how these online journalists have been taught to think about themselves and the world? Do you see the bottomless sense of entitlement and self-regard and fragility that defines who they are and how they behave? They specialize in trying to ruin people’s reputations and wreck their lives — not just other journalists but private citizens — but the minute someone objects to their journalism or what they say or do, they summon a team of teachers, psychologists, therapy dogs, digital police officers and tech executives to demand that their critics be silenced and their anguish be treated. They really do believe that the world should be organized so as to authorize them to attack whoever they want, while banning anyone who criticizes them when they do it.
“The reason these little hall monitors do not consider this to be “real reporting” is because they do not care about — except when they venerate — real power centers like security state agencies (CIA/FBI/NSA/DHS) or the Pentagon, Wall Street hedge funds, Silicon Valley monopolies, repressive regimes. They think “reporting” means writing what those agencies and power centers tell them to say, or ruining the reputations of people for saying bad words on 4Chan and expressing prohibited thoughts with Facebook memes and Clubhouse chats. That is all they recognize as journalism; everything else is “harassment” because real reporting makes the lives of elites and people who wield real influence more difficult.


Biden’s Relief Package Is a Huge Step Forward for Workers by Rebekah Entralgo (Inequality.org)

“Provisions in the package, like expanding the Child Tax Credit alone, will bring nearly 4 million kids out of poverty, cutting child poverty nearly in half. Combined with $1,400 relief payments, $300 in extra unemployment insurance, and other provisions, the Urban Institute estimates the package will reduce poverty in this country by over a third.

I want to believe this is true, but I’m skeptical. The provisions are only until the end of the year. The program does will almost certainly not be renewed or extended. What happens in 2022? Do those children go back to poverty once they are no longer politically expedient?

“One of the more under-the-radar victories is that more than a million union workers and retirees can expect to see their troubled pensions rescued. The relief package sets aside $86 billion in direct aid for approximately 200 pension programs that are at risk of running out of funds.


Criticizing Public Figures, Including Influential Journalists, is Not Harassment or Abuse by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“With this framework implanted, there is no way to express criticisms of Taylor Lorenz’s work and the use and abuse of her journalistic platform without standing widely accused of maliciously inciting a mob of violent misogynists to ruin her life — that’s quite a potent shield from accountability for someone this influential in public life.”
“The advent of the internet has empowered the riff-raff, the peasants, the unlicensed and the uncredentialed — those who in the past were blissfully silent and invisible — to be heard, often with irreverence and even contempt for those who wield the greatest societal privileges, such as a star New York Times reporter.”
“During Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign, one of the most common tactics used by her political and media supporters was to cast criticisms of her (largely from supporters of Bernie Sanders) not as ideological or political but as misogynistic, thus converting one of the world’s richest and most powerful political figures into some kind of a victim, exactly when she was seeking to obtain for herself the planet’s most powerful political office.
“Somehow, a narrative was peddled under which one of the multi-millionaire titans of the global neoliberal order was reduced to a helpless victim, while the far less powerful people questioning the ethics and integrity of her conduct became her persecutors.
“This transparent tactic is part-and-parcel of the increasingly ideological exploitation of identity politics to shield the neoliberal order and its guardians from popular critique.”
“Not only do studies demonstrate that a barrage of online criticism can adversely affect one’s mental health, I can speak from personal experience — vast, sustained, and intense personal experience — about what it is like to be the target of coordinated, bigoted and threatening attacks because of one’s reporting.”
“If you do journalism well, then you’re going to make people angry, and if you’re making people angry, then they are going to say unpleasant and hurtful things about you. If you’re lucky, that is all that will happen. The bigger your platform, the more angry people there will be, and the angrier they will be. The more powerful the people angered by your work, the more intense the retaliation. That is what it means to call someone “powerful”: they have the capacity to inflict punishment on those who impede them.
“Journalists who are murdered or imprisoned or prosecuted for their work are victims of real persecution. Journalists who are maligned with words are not, especially when those words come not from powerful state officials but from random people on the internet.
“Imprisoning Julian Assange for publishing documents is a dangerous press freedom attack; mocking Wolf Blitzer’s intellect is not.”
“What I ultimately find most repellent and offensive about this incessant self-victimization from society’s most powerful and privileged actors is the conceit that they are somehow unique or special in the treatment they receive, as if it only happens to people like them.”
“Knowing that you will be vilified as some kind of brute abuser if you criticize a New York Times reporter is, for many people, too high of a price to pay for doing it. So people instead refrain, stay quiet, and that is the obvious objective of this lowly strategy.


Adam Curtis Talks to Jacobin About Power, Politics, and His New Film by Miles Ellingham (Jacobin)

“You can’t dismiss these people, you have to take them seriously. You don’t have to agree with them or believe that their racism is right, but you have to take them seriously and understand their feelings. It’s the same in the US, where people dismissed Trump supporters as duped by Putin, leaving them to wallow with crumbling infrastructure and a booming opioid epidemic.”


As a crop, cannabis has enormous carbon emissions by John Timmer (Ars Technica)

“Obviously, cannabis could also be grown outdoors—the authors estimate that switching to outdoor production would drop greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent and lower Colorado’s total emissions by 1.3 percent. Even switching to a greenhouse, which would handle many of the security issues, would cut emissions nearly in half. Of course, Colorado would have to make changes to its legalization statutes in order to make off-site agriculture a reasonable option.”


A Short History of Uighur Resistance by Louis Proyect (CounterPunch)

“Now, Grayzone’s attention is riveted on the Uighurs. In five different articles published since August 23, 2018, its reporters have warned about an unarmed and largely quiescent population, which is .0084 of the dominant Han nationality, becoming a mortal threat to China. All of these intrepid anti-imperialists at Grayzone have probably never thought much about how Muslims speaking a Turkic language ever ended up as part of China. Anybody with the slightest familiarity with American history would instinctively understand that when Texas became part of the USA, it was the result of an expansionist foreign policy, especially since the indigenous population did not speak English and showed little sympathy for the invading army. So what’s the difference between that and China’s colonization of Xinjiang?

Fucking Louis Proyect nearly always manages to be a supercilious arrogant know-it-all troll who feels he’s 100% right and that everyone else fails his purity test. God help you if you enjoyed an Avengers movie instead of some obscure Iranian socialist documentary. He is the very definition of off-putting and ally-killing every time i read him.

Here, he’s got his panties in such a bunch over Grayzone that he thinks he can just slander them as fake anti-imperialists and accuse them of talking about the threat of the Uighurs to the Han Chinese. They do not, as anyone who actually reads their articles already knows. Proyect is engaging in fabrication because he knows no-one will actually go check his accusations. That’s also why he conveniently doesn’t link or cite anything. It’s just underhanded.

The Grayzone has never argued that China is not authoritarian or that the Uighurs are not an oppressed minorty. Quite the opposite. They simply argue for truth and evidence, especially as relates to the charge of genocide, something that Proyect conveniently ignores—like how his support of the accusation of genocide against China can be interpreted as implicit support of the U.S. imperial project.

It’s propaganda from one authoritarian state against another and the Grayzone advises not to believe it. Proyect talks about how the Uighurs are oppressed—often with very eloquent historical context—but it’s a different topic than what the Grayzone reports on, generally. They’re technically on the same side, but Proyect has to burn all potential allies because he’s a pompous ass.

“The USA annexed Mexico in 1845. Showing the same kind of alpha male drive, the Qing dynasty annexed East Turkistan in 1759, henceforth to be called Xinjiang, or new territory.”

I only know this isn’t satire because Proyect doesn’t have a sense of humor.

“Unfortunately, Sheng’s identification with Soviet leaders included a willingness to imitate Stalin’s ruthless police state controls.”

So telling that this is considered unfortunate, because Proyect is desperate to retain an ally in Sheng. Thus, he uses much softer and more forgiving language to forgive the latter’s actual descent into authoritarianism. The Grayzone, on the other hand, he considers to be a bunch of faux-intellectual faux-anti-imperialist nigh war criminals just for reporting about the suspicious origins of the Chinese genocide trope we’re seeing today.

“In October 1944, the Soviets helped the Uighurs mount a revolt across Xinjiang that led to a major step forward. Armed with Soviet weapons, they were able to secure a victory that led to the formation of the East Turkistan Republic (ETR).”

This is what he deems self-determination—assistance from one authoritarian power against another. Perhaps he supports a similar effort on the part of the U.S., which clearly shares the same moral high ground that the 1944 Soviet did. It’s amazing that the Soviets had time to help the Uighurs in 1944, right when they were fighting the Japanese on one front and the Germans on the other.

“In this sense, it was no longer a matter of 19th century colonialism but up-to-date imperialist predation, all of which Grayzone defends as “anti-imperialist” in Orwellian fashion.”

That’s a filthy lie putting that in quotes. After that coherent and informative history, why keep taking shots at Grayzone, especially by making shit up? Again, he has no link to help his readers verify that what he’s saying is true. Links and references aren’t necessary when you’re preaching to a choir.

This tack of Proyect’s is completely misguided. Grayzone is not the enemy. They may be overdoing it sometimes, but they are allies in spirit. They point out the lie of genocide. Thats important too. They do not say everything is otherwise rosy.

“[…] only they were Communists rather than the 21st century’s emerging number one imperialist power cheered on by the neo-Stalinists at Grayzone.”

This dude is such a dick. He’s smart and well-read but utter poison for a revolution. He will alienate everyone, splitting into factions.


With a Second War on Terror Looming, a New Film Explores the Grave Abuses of the First by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Even when he finally left the camp, after fourteen years in due-process-free captivity, Slahi was not fully free. The U.S. conditioned his release on the agreement of the compliant regime in Mauritania that it would seize his passport and not permit him to travel outside the country. As a result, almost twenty years after his multi-nation nightmare began, his liberty is still radically restricted despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime. His mother died while he was imprisoned, and he has a young son in Germany who he cannot travel to see.”


The Prophet Of The Trump Era by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Christie parked himself in the middle of Waterloo’s annual “Irish fest” street fair, waiting for an Iowan to ask for a souvenir campaign handshake. He had his hand out and thumb stuck upwards, like an Iguanodon. Nobody came. Kids ran around him like he was a shrubbery. Two young women, giggling about something that clearly had nothing to do with him, walked his way, separated just long enough to avoid hitting him, then linked up again a few yards down.”
“Many analysts had noted the disruptive power of the Internet, but what made Gurri unique is that he also predicted with depressingly humorous accuracy how traditional hierarchies would respond to this challenge: in a delusional, ham-fisted, authoritarian manner that would only confirm the worst suspicions of the public, accelerating the inevitable throw-the-bums-out campaigns.”
“Gurri also noted that public revolts would likely arrive unattached to coherent plans, pushing society into interminable cycles of zero-sum clashes between myopic authorities and their increasingly furious subjects. He called this a “paralysis of distrust,” where outsiders can “neutralize but not replace the center” and “networks can protest and overthrow, but never govern.” With a nod to Yeats, Gurri summed up: “The center cannot hold, and the border has no clue what to do about it.””
“Gurri predicted throughout that entrenched authorities would be unable to distinguish between legitimate criticism and illegitimate rebellion. Once they lost control “over the story told about their performance,” they’d denounce clearly factual evidence of public discontent as lies. Gurri would later talk about centralized authority being “institutionally unable to grasp that it has lost its monopoly over political reality.” This in turn would stimulate even more “distrust and loss of legitimacy.””
“They believed as a matter of religious tenet that this belching phantasm of a candidate had to falter because, as the New York Times put it, “elite support” was “necessary” for victory. There was no such thing as a candidate winning the presidency without elite permission: it was a logical impossibility.
“When I asked Gurri about this, he talked about the lack of a pipeline for developing leaders. We develop hot-takers and critics at light speed, and the dominant theologies on both the left and right stress the tearing down/opting out of hegemonies — from “dismantling the patriarchy” to “taking the red pill.” Where, even in theory, are people being taught to hold things together? “Outside of the military, which still demands a code of conduct from its members,” he says, “I don’t see where people are trained to govern today.””
“To future generations, the question he poses — how does a society whose old system of governance has lost legitimacy, but hasn’t yet imagined a replacement, survive? — might seem obvious. However, it’s just as obvious that we’re nowhere near an answer yet, in part because the question is still taboo.”


The Great Erasure Of (Special) Education by Tamuira Reid (3QuarksDaily)

“By fighting to keep NYC schools closed – or by sending typically-developing kids back to school at a ratio the same as disabled learners – an elitist, culturally negligent learning system stays in place. These students are not asking for anything more than what their abled peers already have; access to an education.”

How can she not notice that demanding these rights is a luxury in a scarcity? That is, she described quite eloquently the large amount of effort, investment, and personnel that goes into keeping her child advancing forward. Because of his developmental difficulties, the amount of time and effort required is far more than for a child without them. What is society supposed to do when things get tight? How can it keep up all of the promises that it made when things were going well? There’s an argument to be made that there is still more than enough wealth to go around, but that’s not the argument she’s making.

“What would you tell my son – and all the 220,000+ children with disabilities in the NYC public schools system – if you were face to face with him? How would you rationalize the decision to use your privilege against him as he handed you his last Skittle?”

Sachlich. That’s not manipulative at all. I get it, she’s trying to get help for her son. But why her son and not another? Why not ten others who have much simpler needs? Again, this isn’t zero-sum for the kids—there’s plenty of resources and wealth available to fund these programs, all squirreled away in foreign bank accounts. But that’s not the argument she’s making.

I understand that this is an anguished cry for help from a mother with a child who’s struggling more than most in the COVID-19 crisis. It still feels manipulative.


“Censor”: When a Word Means Everything, It Means Nothing by Thomas Knapp (CounterPunch)

“[…] Apple, Google, and Amazon colluding to destroy one of those other platforms (Parler), seemingly on behalf of government officials who think it’s their business who says what and where. Thankfully Parler survived and returned, but we’ve definitely got some “edge cases” going that certainly at least resemble censorship, and that I was admittedly somewhat asleep at the switch on until that wake-up call.”

Yeah, “thankfully”, they survived. How many more body blows can that company take? We shouldn’t so easily dismiss the massive damage these other companies are capable of doing. Parler is much weaker than it once was. It had the #1-downloaded app on both iOS and Android stores when they were deleted. Where are they now? How much damage have these titans been able to do to their competition? And Knapp thinks that we should be “thankful” that they somehow weren’t able to finish the job of killing Parler completely.

And there’s also the lesson the big players were able to teach to all other up-and-comers.

Science & Nature

When Will the Planet Be Too Hot for Humans? Much, Much Sooner Than You Imagine. by David Wallace-Wells on July 9th, 2017 (New York Magazine)

“The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade. Two degrees of warming used to be considered the threshold of catastrophe: tens of millions of climate refugees unleashed upon an unprepared world. Now two degrees is our goal, per the Paris climate accords, and experts give us only slim odds of hitting it.”

This article predates his 2019 book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (my notes).


The Zen Anti-Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics by Scoot Aaronson (Shtetl-Optimized)

“As Sidney Coleman famously argued, what needs reinterpretation is not QM itself, but all our pre-quantum philosophical baggage—the baggage that leads us to demand, for example, that a wavefunction […] either be “real” like a stubbed toe or else “unreal” like a dream.
“OK, but are the quantum states “ontic” (really out in the world), or “epistemic” (only in our heads)? Dude. Do “basketball games” really exist, or is that just a phrase we use to summarize our knowledge about certain large agglomerations of interacting quarks and leptons? Do even the “quarks” and “leptons” exist, or are those just words for excitations of the more fundamental fields? Does “jealousy” exist? Pretty much all our concepts are complicated grab bags of “ontic” and “epistemic,” so it shouldn’t surprise us if quantum states are too. Bad dichotomy.
“What is an “observer”? It’s exactly what modern decoherence theory says it is: a particular kind of quantum system that interacts with other quantum systems, becomes entangled with them, and thereby records information about them—reversibly in principle but irreversibly in practice.”
“But how could we possibly know whether anything “breathes fire” into the other branches and makes them real, when we have no idea what breathes fire into this branch and makes it real?
The most fundamental tenet of the Zen Anti-Interpretation is that there’s no shortcut to actually working through the Bell inequality, quantum teleportation, Shor’s algorithm, the Kochen-Specker and PBR theorems, possibly even a … photon or a hydrogen atom, so you can see quantum probability in action and be enlightened.”


Programmable optical quantum computer arrives late, steals the show by Chris Lee (Ars Technica)

By using photon-number-resolving detectors, scientists are no longer limited to states encoded in a single photon. Now, they can make use of states that make use of the photon number. In other words, a single qubit can be in a superposition state of containing a different number of photons zero, one, two and so on, up to some maximum number. Hence, fewer qubits can be used for a computation.”
“[…] the researchers were simply able to design and order their quantum optical chip from a fab, something unthinkable less than a decade ago. So, in a sense, this is a story that is 20 years in the making of the underlying technology.”
“As each qubit exits an interferometer, the direction it takes is determined by its state and the internal setting of the interferometer. The direction it takes will determine which interferometer it moves to next and, ultimately, where it exits the device. The internal setting of the interferometer is the knob that the programmer uses to control the computation. In practice, the knob just changes the temperature of individual waveguide segments.”
“The researchers will have to reduce photon losses in their waveguides, and they will have to reduce the amount of leakage from the laser that drives everything (currently it leaks some light into the computation circuit, which is very undesirable). The thermal management will also have to be scaled.”
“In superconducting qubits, each qubit is a current loop in a magnetic field. Each qubit generates a field that talks to all the other qubits all the time. Engineers have to take a great deal of trouble to decouple and couple qubits from each other at the right moment. The larger the system, the trickier that task becomes. Ion qubit computers face an analogous problem in their trap modes. There isn’t really an analogous problem in optical systems, and that is their key advantage.

Art & Literature

2021 Academy Awards nominations: Sticking their heads in the sand by David Walsh (WSWS)

“One can disagree sharply with how Fincher’s Mank treats these matters, but Rosenberg’s approach is essentially a right-wing, anti-historical, identity politics critique, far more smug, insular and self-absorbed than Mank itself. The Post column and the general reaction to this year’s nominations constitute further proof that the slogan of “diversity” under the present conditions often actually amounts to a narrowing of filmmaking’s scope.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Click the Boats by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“We are trainers of AI and watchers of targeted ads. The mesh between our ancien-régime job-tasks and our new service to big data is so inextricable as to make any idea of opting out a pure fantasy. Every time I log in to Zoom to teach, for example, I have to go through my Facebook account to do it; I’m told there’s another way, but like everyone I have limited time and cognitive resources to find it.

Even the smartest people are so unwise and lazy about technology.

“One way or another, and with exceptions here and there, a way will be found to make the stay-at-home order endure in perpetuity. What this means for the future of work is perhaps the most pressing question of our era.”

That’s pretty dark, but Smith is also in France, where the reaction to the pandemic has been alternately much more lax and much more authoritarian than it has been in Switzerland. To what purpose would they impose a permanent lock-in? To curb climate change?

“In my more pessimistic moments I feel rather more as if those of us still wrapped up in the archaic ceremonies of the ancien régime are much like the loyal butlers on some noble estate after the country has been occupied by the Prussian army. The officers are drinking up all the port, and the count and countess have gone into exile, and we just keep polishing the silver because we don’t know what else to do.
“Unlike many other people who believe that some degree of social stratification is inevitable, perhaps even desirable (at least faute-de-mieux, given the undesirable effects of any overly ambitious program of egalitarization), it should be clear by now that I do not believe intelligence can or does play any role in this. But this in turn follows from my commitment to the much more general view that we have no coherent idea at all of what intelligence is.
“[…] there simply is no meaningful sense in which you may say that a philosophy professor is “more intelligent” than a chimpanzee, or indeed than a fish or a plant. All of these life forms are, simply, fit, which is to say adapted to whatever challenges the environment throws their way. Evolving a large neocortex and running around on two legs is one such successful adaptation; putting down roots and evolving a ramified structure, which enables you to have 95% of your body eaten by mountain goats and still survive, is another. In fact, from a certain point of view that’s an exceptionally “intelligent” arrangement, which may in part explain why, on the earth’s surface, plants weigh 225 times more than all animals combined.”
“I generally find that our willingness to call a person “intelligent” is highly circumstantial, and if we try to isolate the behavioral trait that gives the appearance of intelligence, it is generally something like a single-minded focus.
“We all get something or other imprinted on us, and we make our way forward from there, pursuing things that are variously valued or condemned by others; we are variously praised or blamed for our manner of being, all of us more or less ignorant of who we are, where we are headed, or why.
“So my view is by one measure much more radical than that of, say, Freddie deBoer, who insists we must overcome the “cult of smart”, while still presuming that smartness is a real trait of human beings just like height or eye color; and it is at the same time much more conservative, as I tend to believe the system of meritocratic filtration should be preserved in at least some form. It is just that I think getting through this filter in fact should only ever require interest and determination, not any innately superior mental capacity.
“[…] it is increasingly clear that the main requirements for entry into the cultural elite are no longer the signs of what people once naively called “intelligence”, in the sense of knowing what “tyro” means or how an isosceles triangle differs from a scalene. Rather, the requirements involve principally a mastery of a certain number of social cues or shibboleths that have only recently been stipulated into existence.
“[…] the passwords for the portals of entry to the cultural elite are now being updated with alarming frequency, and to try to keep up with them feels little different than trying to find the boats, […]”
“In elite cultural settings in the US, it is not only that the range of acceptable opinions is astoundingly narrow, but much more than that, the range of acceptable interests more or less ensures that speech remains reduced there to a recitation of in-the-know allusions and easy cultural identifiers.
“As for me, I just want a bit of security and the freedom to speak my mind. For now, I am grateful to be working in one cultural-linguistic setting (France), and writing and commenting from afar about another (the United States), in the safety of exile.”
“[…] showing a persistent desire to talk about things too far removed from this list is a surefire way to get yourself removed from elite spaces. One becomes a “contrarian” (as opposed to what? a conformist?) not only by believing the wrong things, but also by staring at maps, as it were, when one is supposed to be listening to the teacher — that is, by thinking out loud about the things one really cares about for inward inscrutable reasons, rather than adhering to the shared, official, public curriculum.

Technology

Apple bent its rules for Russia—and other countries will take note by Lily Hay Newman (Ars Technica)

“Questions remain about whether Russia’s end goal is to completely isolate and disconnect its Internet from the wider world or whether the government prefers a hybrid network. But from the Kremlin’s perspective, the opportunity to promote certain apps on iOS is a boon either way.

“Apple could have simply allowed Russia to pre-install whatever apps it wanted on iOS devices, but the company also could have taken a radical stand against such interference. Instead, it found a middle ground, one that other countries may well seize on to suit their own autocratic interests.

This is written by a woman who lives in the country that already controls all of the companies that make all of the apps on every phone around the world. It’s sad that she can’t even imagine why another country would think it’s not a great idea to let that stand unchallenged, especially when the U.S. is so heavily politicizing its software right now.

Those dastardly autocratic Russians—forcing U.S. companies to allow them to ask their citizens if they’d like to install non-U.S. propaganda on their phones. Obviously, no Russian will install state software, though, right? I dunno. Probably Yandex? Or Telegram?

She did later write:

“From both an economic and national security standpoint, it’s understandable to a degree that governments would want to promote domestic software to their own citizens. But in practice, the Internet’s growing balkanization is eroding Internet freedom worldwide and undermining the entire concept of a decentralized, global web.”

“Balkanization” meaning the 100% control by U.S. firms is eroding somewhat. But not much. But enough that it can elicit pants-shitting terror and projection on an international scale, accusing the Russians of trying to do what we’ve been doing all along.

Just listen to how this is written:

“The situation with Russia’s mandatory apps is not the first time Apple has faced invasive legal requirements from an authoritarian government—nor the first time the company has conceded to these demands.”

This from a woman living in a country that is considering broadening the already-existing requirements to force backdoors into secure software. A country whose NSA already did that and continues to do that all the time. In Europe, they’re trying to do the same thing. Again. But these efforts are called “promoting democracy” instead of “authoritarian”. It matters who’s trying to do it, right? And that’s not even what Russia is doing: they just want Apple to ask their users if they would like to install some standard Russian software. They can just say no and continue on with their day. Nothing about making people worldwide do it, nothing about backdooring existing software, nothing about changing iOS.

“[…] the suggested apps aren’t pre-installed, and users can opt not to download them.”

That sounds pretty autocratic.

Programming

Learn Snowpack: A High-Performance Frontend Build Tool by Jack Franklin (SitePoint)

“You can see that it found Preact, and created an ES Modules bundle ready for us to use. If you look in the Network tab of the developer tools, you’ll see a request to app.js, api.js and preact.js, which is the file Snowpack created for us from the Preact dependency. What’s nice about Snowpack’s approach is that now it’s created that Preact file, it will cache it and only ever change it if Preact changes. Given that Preact is a dependency, we’re probably not going to be changing it regularly, so it shouldn’t have to do that work often. This is one of the ways Snowpack keeps development nice and snappy.”

That’s a huge advantage of Snowpack’s approach of using modules: compilation speed and reduced watcher complexity.


Why are video games graphics (still) a challenge? Productionizing rendering algorithms by Bart Wronski

“Dense geometry like foliage – a “feature” that inspired this post – is an enemy of most rendering algorithms.

“The main problem is that with very dense geometry (lots of overlapping and small triangles), many “optimizations” and assumptions become impossible.

“Early Z and occlusion culling? Very hard. 

“Decoupling surfaces from volumes? Very hard.

“Storing information per unique surface parametrization? Close to impossible.

“Amount of vertices to animate and pixels to shade? Huge, shaders need simplification!

Dense geometry through which you can see (like grass blades) is incompatible with many techniques, for example lightmapping (storing a precomputed lighting per every grass blade texel would be very costly).”

“Rendering of a single frame requires tens of discrete passes that are designed to work with each other, tens of intermediate outputs and buffers.”
“E.g. for Bokeh/Depth-of-field, you can “[…] create depth proxies by hand, sort and reorder some things manually, alpha blend depth (wrong but can look “ok”), tweak depth of field until artifacts are not distracting… Lots of manual work and puzzles “which compromise is less bad”!”, even without 100% depth buffers.”
Producing accurate motion vectors is not trivial – for every pixel, you need to estimate where this part of the object was in the previous frame. This can mean re-computing some animation data again, storing it for the previous frame (extra used memory), or can be too difficult / impossible (dealing with occlusions, shadows, or texture animations).”
“But what happens when the camera cuts with all the per-pixel temporal accumulation history for TAA/temporal supersampling? How about all the texture streaming that suddenly sees a completely new view? View-dependent amortized rendering like shadowmap caching? All solvable, but also a lot of work, or might introduce unacceptable delay / popping / prohibitive cost of the new frame. A colleague of mine also noted that this is a problem for physics or animations – often when the camera cuts and animators adjusted some positions, you see physical objects “settling in”, for example a necklace move on a character. Another immersion breaker that requires another series of custom “hacks”.
Robust occlusion culling (together with the LOD, streaming etc. below) is in many ways an unsolved problem – all existing solutions require compromises, precomputation, or extremely complex pipelines.”
“When I joined the AC4 team at Ubisoft and saw all the “open world” tech for streaming, long distance rendering and similar, or the long range shadows elements for Far Cry, I was amazed with how specialized (and smart) work was needed to fit those on consoles.

“Capturing a chair with a neural implicit representation is easy, but can you change the color of the seat, make some part of it longer, and maybe change the paint to varnished? Or when the art director decides that they want a baroque style chair, are you going to look for one?

Generally most artists are skeptical of procedural generation and capture (other than to quickly fill huge areas of levels that are not important to them) as they don’t have those controls.”


How Swift Achieved Dynamic Linking Where Rust Couldn’t by Alexis Beingessner (Gankra)

“It’s worth noting that the Swift devs disagree with the Rust and C++ codegen orthodoxy in one major way: they care much more about code sizes (as in the amount of executable code produced). More specifically, they care a lot more about making efficient usage of the cpu’s instruction cache, because they believe it’s better for system-wide power usage. Apple championing this concern makes a lot of sense, given their suite of battery-powered devices.”
“Unfortunately, all of these require us to have the foresight to do them while also changing the way users make use of our API. In some sense, the API becomes less “idiomatic” to accommodate future changes. Additionally, we will forever be burdened with this complexity even if we eventually determine that the API is complete enough to guarantee its details.
“Swift needs to be able to generate witness tables at runtime to deal with the fact that generic type substitutions can’t be statically predicted in the face of dynamic linking of generic code, […]”
“[…] polymorphically compiled generic code is really quite similar to code that handles resilient types. In both cases the basic value-witnessy properties of the type aren’t statically known, and so stack values need boxing. The generic code just needs to be able to find the generic type’s protocol implementations too. We can get that from the type’s protocol witness tables which can be acquired using the same machinery we use for the value witness tables.”
“Abstractly, we could pass in minimal information and have the polymorphic code look up all the witness tables, but that’s really wasteful (consider calling the function in a loop). So instead Swift’s actual implementation has the caller pass in pointers to every required witness table as extra arguments (automatically handled by the compiler).

Awesome idea, solve the problem and make it work for the compiler before making it easy for manual callers (e.g. From C, where you’d need to do more than just add a CDECL macro: you have to marshal the witness tables, in the right order but hopefully with macro support.

“If Vec4 were resilient, it would instead have to be passed by-reference. But remember, not all code that works with a type needs to handle it resiliently. For instance, if a dynamic library defines Vec4 resiliently, it should ideally still be able to handle it non-resiliently inside of itself.”
“Instead Swift uses reabstraction thunks. These thunks simply wrap a function with the wrong ABI in a function with the right one.

This sounds very much like WebKit’s layered JS execution engine.

“reabstraction also allows a single implementation to be used in several different contexts without having to compile different versions of it. So for instance we can reabstract a concrete protocol implementation into a polymorphic one by just wrapping all the functions in reabstraction thunks. A nice code size win!”
“Getters and setters are actually a first class feature of Swift that can be used explicitly, but for resilience the compiler will implicitly introduce those getters and setters just to hide the fact that the fields physically exist, in case you change your mind.”
“That said, cloning in Swift (they just call it copying) is always just bumping reference counts. Other non-trivial operations, like copying an array’s buffer to a new allocation, are only performed by mutations that trigger CoW. Note also that this means that if you trigger CoW on an array of arrays, you will get two independent outer arrays that still point to the same inner arrays (which are now primed to CoW if either side mutates them).”

This seems … Involved.

“Swift’s exceptions (which are implemented more like Result and less like unwinding) have the error type always boxed. The caller initializes the “swift error” register to 0, and if there’s an exception the callee sets that register to hold the boxed error’s pointer. This makes error propagation really fast (just don’t change the register), and also doesn’t require a Result to actually be materialized in the success case (avoid a ton of copies).

This is a neat insight into how a compiler lowers /transforms to a different representation, more easily optimized and analyzed. This abstraction, in turn, must eventually map to actual target registers and memory locations. Swift to internal to llvm input to llvm internal to target … So many layers.

Swift decouples size from stride to distinguish trailing padding from actual content. Trailing padding shows up in the stride so that arrays properly align their contents. Trailing padding doesn’t show up in size so that things like enum tags and neighboring fields can use that space. It’s really neat!”


The biggest threat to Rust’s sustainability by Sylvain Kerkour

“[…] there is one thing that makes me anxious about its future: the 6-week development cycles. It’s one of the causes of an unhealthy problem: features bloat. It’s also the cause, in my opinion, of another problem: the immaturity of the ecosystem.”
“What I want instead? 4 or 6 months release cycles and a more conservative approach to adding features. For example, instead of a nightly channel, I want a playground channel where a lot of features are experimented, and very few are promoted to stable.”