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Links and Notes for April 16th, 2021

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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Governments are constitutionally permitted to provide ‘vaccine passports’ – some may also be constitutionally obligated to do so by Kevin Cope and Alexander Stremitzer

“While full restrictions on certain fundamental life activities typically trigger the highest level of U.S. constitutional scrutiny, treating people differently based on engaging in certain voluntary acts, like not receiving a vaccination, often involve the lowest level. In fact, U.S. courts have repeatedly upheld schools’ and state requirements that exclude or penalize those who do not receive certain vaccinations.
“As we approach wider vaccine availability, however, that is no longer the case. Now, facilitating mass immunity – and exempting the immunized from restrictions – is not only the least liberty-restricting method for ending the pandemic through herd immunity, but the most effective one. Some vaccines are over 90% effective at preventing infection (and nearly 100% effective at preventing serious cases). There is a growing body of evidence that fully vaccinated people with no COVID symptoms pose little risk of transmitting the virus to others. Given this evidence, governments will be hard-pressed to maintain that continued universal lockdowns are the least restrictive way – or even a rational one – of fighting the pandemic.
“Constitutional choices sometimes involve trading liberty for safety. This is not one of those times. Vaccine passports bridging the period to herd immunity would increase both liberty and safety, while responsibly catalyzing a return to (near) normalcy.”


Cmv: If Covid-19 was a dry run to see how we act in a crisis, we’re all doomed by meadfreak (Reddit)

“Whilst I have seen some amazing acts of humanity, I have also witnessed enough to believe that this just isn’t going to happen any time soon and we’re going to be the architects of our own downfall. Sorry for the pessimism it’s been a long year! Hope I’m wrong I really do, but can anyone give me something to make me feel optimistic about the world my children will grow up in?”

miguelguajiro answered:

“It depends on your lens. In the big picture: we raced toward a preventative vaccine, managed to convince the vast majority of people to change their habits, and prevented a lot the resulting economic damage through centralized action.”

There are no points for trying. There are no participation trophies. The virus has basically won in the west. The way we’re handling it right now, it’s lockdowns on and off for at least 2021, if not also 2022. That’s pathetic.

This is exactly the mindset that gets us in trouble. We fail to understand that this is pass/fail, not getting a bad grade, but still making it through. We’re that guy jumping the canal, but only getting 95% of the way across. That sounds pretty good, but that missing last 5% is where where he lost of all his teeth on the way down into the water.

We’re stuck in a half-trying limbo where we just never really finish the job. We keep letting our opponent back up off the mat instead of going for the pin.


Roaming Charges: Just a Shot Away by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“The specter of “Vaccine Passports” is the latest bugaboo on the right. But vaccine “passports” are not a new thing. Here are the vaccines currently required for a visa to enter the US:”
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Influenza
  • Influenza type b
  • Measles
  • Meningococcal
  • Mumps
  • Pneumococcal
  • Pertussis
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids
  • Varicella
“It’s worth noting that you still can’t drive across the border from Oregon into California while carrying fruit or vegetables, a restriction designed to protect the health of the state’s Ag Industry from invasive insects and diseases. It doesn’t seem too onerous that similar restrictions might be imposed to protect the public health.”

Economy & Finance

BlackRock Borrows Against Diversity by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“When Archegos defaulted on its margin calls, the banks terminated its swaps, which means that they were no longer economically short enormous amounts of stock to Archegos. One result of this is that they were economically long enormous amounts of stock, unhedged: The huge quantities of stock that they had owned as hedges for their huge swaps were now just naked long positions; the banks were economically exposed to whatever happened to the stocks.”
“It was unsporting for Morgan Stanley to do this to those hedge funds, and those funds should be mad at Morgan Stanley and maybe refuse to trade with it for a little while, but also it was totally the right call for Morgan Stanley to do this, and they’d do it again if they had to. If you are looking at billions of dollars of potential losses, and you can avoid them by burning some clients, you burn the clients. And then they are justifiably mad at you, and they say mean things to the press and you lose some prospective business, but you save the billions of dollars. Seems better than the alternative.”
“Collectively, our evidence suggests that 1) WSB DD posters have skill and 2) retail investors may have some ability to discern report quality. Our evidence is in sharp contrast to the conventional view that WSB only attracts uninformed investors and to regulators fears that following the advice of user reports on WSB results in significantly less informative retail trading.”
“Critics of big banks sometimes believe that they secretly love doing lots of big risky prop trades, but (1) I’m not convinced that’s especially true, (2) if it’s true, it’s in weird areas where banks have informational advantages, not just in owning a ton of one company’s stock, and (3) the appetite for risky outright prop trades is for trades *that the bank picks*: It’s one thing to take $10 billion of risk on a stock that you love; it’s another thing to take $10 billion of risk on a stock that you bought as a client facilitation trade for a client who vanished.


Imaginary Invoices Are Hard to Collect by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Prospective receivables financing is necessarily speculative, long-term, unsecured lending: You give the client money today in the hopes that it will build its business and attract new customers and sell them new products and bill them for the products and eventually, one day, you will collect on those bills.”

Seriously, how is this a thing? This can only exist in a bull market.

“But as I type it, it all seems absurd, and if you were not deeply involved in the day-to-day relationship between Greensill and its clients, you might be shocked to learn that Greensill would lend a client money against “receivables” from “customers” who had never even heard of the client.
“The point is just that if you are in the business of financing real receivables and also fake receivables, any time someone finds a fake receivable and says “aha, fraud!” you can say “no no no we meant to do that, that was an intentionally fake invoice, you just don’t understand how the prospective receivables financing business works.”
“I do not envy Grant Thornton. Their job right now is pretty much going around to companies, presenting them with invoices, and getting laughed out of the room: “That’s not our invoice, we’ve never even heard of Liberty Commodities or Greensill, get outta here.” And then they go back to Greensill with their findings and get laughed out of the room again: “Of course it’s not their invoice, they were just a potential customer, how could you be so naive?” And then Grant Thornton has to tentatively ask, “Well, okay, but then who is going to pay this invoice?” And then there is a long awkward silence.”
“You build a Collateralized SPAC Obligation (CSPACO), put some SPAC shares in a box, issue tranches of claims on the box, convince the ratings agencies that SPACs never default, get the senior 95% tranche rated AAA, sell it to money-market funds at a 0.2% yield and you are in business. The thing about SPACs is that they are both a wild speculative way to bet on unproven — even unnamed — new companies, and also a boring but complicated safe cash investment. Not, usually, at the same time. The SPAC glut came about due to enthusiasm for wild speculation; the discount-SPAC glut, though, is about the yield on the boring safe investment. Wall Street knows how to make boring safe investments fun. I will personally be a bit disappointed if the SPAC boom doesn’t give way to a SPAC securitization boom.

Seriously, this is not investment advice. Doubtless, though, there are people doing this. Probably AIG.


Archegos Got Too Big for Its Banks by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“But in fact there is suggestive evidence that in many of these stocks, the stock price was driven as much by Archegos’s large growing levered positions as it was by any fundamentals. If Archegos was buying all of a stock, it would go up; if it was buying all of a dozen stocks, they’d all go up. If it stopped, they’d all go down. “Correlations would go to one,” for Archegos’s stocks, because it was such a huge whale in those stocks that its trading set the price. Archegos’s banks might not have seen that, because that’s not generally how a portfolio of large-cap stocks is supposed to work, and because they did not have a full picture of its positions until it was too late.
“This is a kind of market manipulation, but it is a legal kind, and one that people think is valuable; the theory is that investors will be more willing to buy stock in IPOs if the underwriters are planning to stabilize the stock after it prices. Buying stock in a new IPO is risky, and if the banks protect investors from that risk they will be more willing to pay more for the stock.”

Why is that legal? because otherwise IPOs would always fail to fid investors. This is artificial inflation of the price. This is not a free market, at all. If it fails, it fails. This mechanism allows for far weaker birds to leave the nest, sucking up capital despite a plausible lack of faith in the business model.

Public Policy & Politics

Roaming Charges: Just a Shot Away by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“58% of the West is now in a ‘severe’, ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought — up from 4% of the West a year ago. This latest extreme dry spell follows two decades of mostly dry years intensified by rising temperatures.”
“According to the California Department of Water Resources, 2021 has been the third-driest water year on record for the Golden State, The department’s annual snow survey released this month recorded precipitation levels at 50 percent below the annual average. The odds are increasing for another deadly wildfire, season after last year’s record-shattering blazes.”


Der Mann, der dauernd falsch liegt, aber immer wieder als Corona-Experte gebucht wird by Christian Schwägerl und Joachim Budde (Über Medien)

“Fehler einzugestehen und zu korrigieren ist ein wesentliches Merkmal von seriöser Wissenschaft. Doch Hendrik Streeck hat etwas anderes gemacht: Er hat seinen verharmlosenden Kurs trotz neuer Erkenntnisse durchgezogen. Er hat sich ausgerechnet von denen einspannen lassen, die jeweils zu früh Restriktionen aufheben oder zu spät auf gefährliche Entwicklungen reagieren wollten. Bewusst oder unbewusst hat er zudem ein Bedürfnis vieler Medien nach Polarisierung bedient, deren Frage nicht war: Wer weiß es besser als Drosten? Sondern: Wer bringt die härteste Gegenposition ein?”
“Denn nicht nur geht diese Strategie mit einem sehr langen Zeitraum einher, in dem ein erheblicher Teil der Bevölkerung krank ist und mit ständiger Gefahr, dass Krankenhäuser überlastet sind. Sondern diese Strategie lässt zudem außer Acht, dass auch Menschen mit anfangs milden Symptomen erhebliche Spätfolgen von Covid-Erkrankungen zurückbehalten können.
“Streecks Mantra: Das Virus „in unseren Alltag integrieren“, „mit ihm leben lernen“. Die mehr als 60.000 Verstorbenen haben das demnach einfach nicht geschafft.
“Hendrik Streeck geriert sich so lange als besonnener Verteidiger der bürgerlichen Freiheit vor Coronaauflagen, als aufgeklärter Mahner aus der Wissenschaft vor Eingriffen des Staates, bis er die Position wirklich nicht mehr halten kann.”
“Hendrik Streeck blendet das Leid dieser Menschen aus und nimmt in Kauf, dass allein in Deutschland viele Millionen Menschen zusätzlich unter Long Covid leiden würden, wenn die Politik seinen Kurs einschlagen würde.
“Dank der Leistungen der Impfstoff-Entwickler wird es nun aber möglich sein, durch Restriktionen und den medizinischen Immunschutz weltweit Millionen Menschen das Leben zu retten und noch mehr Menschen schwere Nachwirkungen von Long Covid zu ersparen.”
“[…] muss man als Redaktion in Frage stellen, ob man diesem Forscher ein Millionenpublikum bieten sollte.”
“[…] wenn sich neben den Fachkolleg:innen auch Vertretungen der Wissenschaft wie die Nationalakademie Leopoldina oder die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft zu fein dafür sind, Kritik an jemandem zu äußern, der als Vertreter der Wissenschaft auftritt, aber sehr oft falsch liegt und Irrtümer verbreitet, dann gibt es ein Problem.”
“Es bringt die Öffentlichkeit nicht weiter, wenn Einzelstandpunkte von Wissenschaftlern, die längst widerlegt sind, in den Medien aufgeblasen werden.”


Biden budget calls for record military spending, nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles by Andre Damon (WSWS)

“Such flagrant misuse of society’s resources for the preparation of reckless and destructive wars is doubly criminal while the world is in the grips of an out-of-control pandemic. While capitalist governments declare that the population must “live with” COVID-19 because containing it is too expensive, unlimited resources are made available to plan and prepare for wars that could potentially kill billions of people.


The Liberal Contempt for Martin Luther King’s Final Year by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon (ScheerPost)

“From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, our country was on the “wrong side of a world revolution” — suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Global South, instead of supporting them.”

Always has been.

“King critiqued the economics of U.S. foreign policy, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” And he castigated U.S. federal budgets prioritizing militarism: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”


Nitro Edition: None of This is New by Freddie DeBoer

“The real reasons so many people believe that this is an inflection point in history are a) as human beings we are sure Now is unique/special/important because we live Now and we believe we are important so Now must be important; b) claiming a crisis inspires people to adopt a cause without pondering whether it makes any sense, such as when trying to solve thorny political questions with shortcuts; and c) a lot of people desperately need to believe that Trump was a totally unique figure in human affairs, rather than a garden variety demagogue, to flatter themselves that they lived under authoritarianism.”
“The “cyber-libertarian” ethos of the early internet was a very brief flash of genuinely unregulated activity where the technical barriers to entry kept user numbers down sufficiently that capital didn’t bother to colonize the space.
The problem isn’t that there are liars; there will always be liars. The problem is that people believe them. You will never stop the flow of haters, but you can produce a populace wise and caring enough to reject them. If as a species we can’t solve that essential problem then we’ll never fix any of it.”

Soooo…I guess we’ll never fix any of it. I don’t hold out much hope that we’ll figure this out before we blow ourselves to smithereens.

“Our endless culture war was literalized on January 6th and people have been investing that ugly and pathetic civil disturbance with mythical power. Meanwhile people who do vastly more damage, including specifically to people of color and other marginalized groups, talk and dress and act in ways approved by college educated liberals and so escape all scrutiny.
“For example, a group of energy industry executives and their enablers in media and politics engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to mislead the world about the danger and imminence of climate change. Only unlike the Capitol rioters they operated with both power and impunity, virtually unremarked upon while spreading deliberate misinformation in perfect compliance with the law.”
“Somehow they remain unchallenged by this type of liberal censoriousness. These masters of the universe are slowly heating the planet to levels certain to bring catastrophic consequences to human quality of life, but they don’t say nasty words on Twitter so they’re never targeted. They exert vast and malign influence over this country and yet Egan doesn’t even think to censor them. And they will reign as powerful old white men forever while liberals spend the rest of their lives screaming about a radical fringe of chubby losers with chinstrap beards.”
“The idea that the pathetic fringe that the Capitol rioters represent ever held anything like meaningful material power was always a fantasy. Meanwhile guys in red suspenders in the Financial District cause immense human suffering with their arbitrary decisions every day and nobody gives a shit.


The Origins of a Distinguished Diplomatic Career and the U.S.-China Fight for Primacy—BPR Interviews: Chas Freeman by Sam Kolitch (Brown Political Review)

The basis of diplomacy is empathy. It is the ability to understand how and why someone else sees things in order to persuade them of your position. Good diplomacy is all about persuading others to redefine their interests in order to conform with yours. It is also about forming relationships with people so that you can make them want to cooperate with you—not oppose you.
The Chinese now can stop us from running through their defenses. So this is a threat: we’re not all-powerful anymore. We are in danger of losing primacy. But there’s not much evidence of China wanting to replace us. They are displacing us in some spheres because they’re big and growing and successful. Do they want to take on our global dominion and hegemony role? No, but we assert that they do. We posit that China thinks and behaves like us […]”
“So the problem we have conceptually is that the only way we, the United States, know how to think about international affairs is in military terms. Our foreign policy is very militarized and is driven by military considerations.”
“I hate to keep coming back to American hypocrisy, but why does the Muslim world not line up with us on the Uighur situation? Because when was the last time we said anything about the Palestinians, Kashmiris, or Chechens? There are Muslims being oppressed all over the world, and we don’t say anything. So selective outrage isn’t very effective.”
“If we really care about the Uighur and Hong Kong situations from a humanitarian point of view, we need to try to find a way to chip away at them—not just condemn them. Condemning things doesn’t do anything but make people angry and less receptive to your arguments. These issues ought to be addressed seriously.”
“We’re talking about contesting the territory of a nuclear power. Does anybody think about that? There is an underlying assumption, probably born from the thirty years since the end of the Cold War, that we’re invulnerable and omnipotent.
“think that instead of trying to bring China down, which we won’t be able to do, we should be trying to leverage its growing prosperity to increase our own prosperity.
China has the world’s best technology for building infrastructure. We have infrastructure that is falling apart. Maybe their technology can be licensed. Maybe bonds could be issued against tolls on repaired roads or traffic on revamped rail lines.”
“I think, actually, our country needs to come to a point where we rediscover what made us great in the beginning: an openness to foreigners, foreign ideas, and best practices from abroad so that we can apply them at home. We should not be approaching the world with the attitude that we have all the answers.


Two Lives, Simultaneous and Perfect by Becca Rothfeld (Cabinet Magazine)

“And in the painfully wracked penultimate scene, the most beautiful in this and maybe any movie, he dries her off as she emerges from the shower, sliding the towel lower and lower until at last she is gleamingly naked and he is on his knees. The image is so luscious that it is almost unbearable, like snow so bright it blinds. You can neither look nor look away, live neither one life nor the other. But just as Frédéric is about to capitulate, he catches sight of himself in the mirror with his sweater scrunched up around his face. The pose is ridiculous, reminiscent of a goofy stance he once adopted to make his daughter laugh. He is jolted back to drab conscientiousness. He flees to his wife, presumably for good, and they embrace in tears.”


The Two Faces of Joe Biden by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

Obama in other words won a contentious primary against Hillary Clinton by snowing reporters like me into hyping him as the clean hands guy who’d push aside Clintonian transactional politics. Then he turned around a year later and passed his signature program with help from the worst industry actors, paying for it by killing the progressive parts of the plan.”


As US continues New Cold War, Russia and China forge new ties by Aaron Maté/Grayzone (YouTube)

An interview and discussion with,

“Lyle Goldstein, research professor and founding director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College. [Note: Speaking in a personal capacity. Opinions don’t reflect in any way the official assessments of the US Navy or the US government.]”

02:00 Great overview of the situation with China. Really strong. Worth watching.

At 19:00 A question about the Xinjiang region. Talking about terrorism that led to repression (though he hastens to add that the terrorism doesn’t justify the subsequent crackdown).

China’s guilty of collective punishment of an ethnicity for the actions of the separatist movements. Many countries do this, including the U.S. In particular, the U.S. wholeheartedly and financially supports Israel in doing exactly this for decades.

At 19:50, a discussion of Zenz

Goldstein: What do they do in the [camps]? Well, they sing patriotic songs and learn Chinese. […] The leap that has occurred from a few satellite photos and some stories from ex-pats to genocide is totally inappropriate. I think what you have here is a lot of people looking at this with ideological lenses, looking for something to beat up China on—and they found it. I’m not trying to sugar-coat this relationship. It’s bad out there. Unquestionably. I don’t think, if you looked at reservations for Native Americans in our country, I don’t know that the situation is any less bleak.

Maté: Or the Gaza Strip, which Israel is occupying, with full U.S. support.

Goldstein: There’s a number of places around the world where you can see this kind of terrible repression going on. I wouldn’t say that this is at all the worst of many repressions out there. I don’t think that this should be a major part of U.S.-China relations. And I really think that we’re probably making it worse for the Uighurs—and for the Tibetans and the Mongols and other people in China—by putting them at the center of the relationship. We’re putting them in the crosshairs. The Chinese respond by locking down even harder, by isolating them even more. And we should be seeking the opposite. We should […] open it up. If you worried about human rights in Xinjiang, you should support engagement.”

At 25:15,

“There seems to be a realization in both Moscow and Beijing that, even if people in Washington want a cold war, this is not what they want. And that shows a lot of maturity and a lot of restraint and I think that’s quite admirable. Now, if we continue to push as hard as we can […turning the QUAD into a sort of NATO…] I think we could expect Russia and China to respond with a full-on alliance, maybe even including Iran. […] This would be a very foolish move on our part. We don’t want to go back to the 1950s.”

The feeling here is that the ball is in America’s court and it’s choosing to play as harshly as it possibly can. It wants regime change in China, which seems a gobsmackingly stupid and arrogant goal.

At 29:00,

“As I read the Russian press pretty much every night, I can tell you, Russia is on edge. They really are. I read their military press and they are convinced that there are drones—NATO and U.S. military drones—flying up and down along the borders and all around the borders along Ukraine, by Crimea. They’re watching the forces going in and out of the Baltics which, as you know, are within a hundred miles of St. Petersburg. They were concerned about what would happen in Belarus. And then the buildup up north, with the new tensions in the arctic. Now we have B1 bombers flying into Norway—this is totally unprecedented.

“Look, I lived in Russia. I speak Russian. I can tell you, Russians, I think—it’s a stereotype, but it’s quite true—is that they’re quite paranoid. But if you look across their history, of course they’re paranoid. By the way, Chinese are quite paranoid as well.”

As are the Americans, no? Americans see a threat literally everywhere, even where there is literally none. They manufacture threats to be afraid of. Their paranoia is rooted not in being in actual danger, but it in being in danger of losing out on potential wealth, influence, and power that would accrue to someone else, someone undeserving.

At 30:30,

“Russia’s defense budget is […] well under 10% of the NATO total defense budget. […] And nobody’s talking about this, but we need Russia’s help on climate change. And not just because Russia’s a big place where we could plant trees, but because they’re selling a huge amount of fossil fuels and we need them to slowly, slowly, de-link their future from that. That’s going to an incredibly arduous process and that’s what we should be working on. And not building up more and more nukes and stimulating dangerous situations all over the place. We’re talking about from Syria to the Caucasus to Ukraine, Moldova, to the Baltics, to the Arctic, we are full up in a very dangerous space with Russia. The Ukraine situation remains very hot and you can see both sides [Ukraine and Russia] are girding for possible return to active military hostilities. […] You don’t want to drive the bear into a corner.”

At 36:25,

“They’ve gotten rid of so many arms-control treaties over the years. […] The point is, this isn’t a new thing. For 20 years, they’ve been convinced that we’re out to get them. Between NATO expansion and demolishing all these arms-control treaties. Now China? It’s going to be very hard to get China in, because China is substantially weaker on the nuclear front. […] Right now, China is—I hate to say it—preparing for the worst. And, believe me, they will have their nuclear deterrent. It will be very solid at that moment when the balloon goes up over Taiwan. […] We need to pull back from brink with China and we need to start building some good feeling that could be a good basis for starting to talk about arms control. It’s going to be very hard to get there, though, especially by pulling out of the Iran deal, by being so truculent on the North Korea front. […] Believe me, in Moscow and Beijing, they’re planning as if the U.S. can only be deterred … only “speaks the language of force” […] That’s increasingly how we’re viewed around the world, which is a very—from the point of view of global stability, nuclear stability, but also just preventing wars. It’s a very dark place to be in. Work is cut out for diplomats, but also for journalists […] to try to pull us back from the brink in these very difficult times.”


US sends two warships into the Black Sea as Russia warns of “full-scale hostilities” with NATO-backed Ukraine by Clara Weiss (WSWS)

Last Friday, Zelensky met with US president Biden, who assured him of full US support against Russia. In response to these provocations, Russia has amassed troops on the borders to Ukraine, announced military exercises and is reinforcing its navy in the Black Sea.”
“In speaking of “Russian aggression,” the imperialist powers, Kiev and their lackeys in the media are turning reality on its head. It is Ukraine, backed by NATO and the US, not Russia, that has been systematically escalating the situation and pushing the region to the brink of all-out war.”
“Vladimir Putin’s government has given the West numerous warnings over the years that attempting to make Ukraine a NATO military client crosses a bright red line in terms of Russia’s security.” Carpenter warned that the situation could escalate into a nuclear confrontation between Russia and the US.”


Amid war danger in Black Sea, Turkey threatens Montreux Convention by Barış Demir (WSWS)

Washington and Berlin responded with an attempted military coup against Erdoğan in 2016, while Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president. The coup’s failure further undermined Ankara’s relations with NATO.”
“Sections of the navy are objecting to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s talk of using plans for an Istanbul Canal to scrap the Convention, which limits warship deployments to the Black Sea. This could allow NATO to deploy warships from the Mediterranean, at will, to threaten Russia’s coast.


U.S. Imposes Stiff Sanctions on Russia, Blaming It for Major Hacking Operation

This is madness. These are the words of war criminals. Naturally, the Times has to write the Trump only gave Russia “wrist slaps” because he failed to completely decimate the Russian economy. Thank goodness we’ve now got a firm hand on the rudder who will be willing to go the extra mile to really make the Russian citizenry suffer. Like Iran.

 New York Times rejoices in War against Russia


US government strikes back at Kremlin for SolarWinds hack campaign by Dan Goodin (Ars Technica)

The usual suspects chime in.

“US officials on Thursday formally blamed Russia for backing one of the worst espionage hacks in recent US history and imposed sanctions designed to mete out punishments for that and other recent actions.”
“Russian government officials have steadfastly denied any involvement in the SolarWinds campaign.”
“Besides attributing the SolarWinds campaign to the Russian government, Thursday’s release from the Treasury Department also said that the SVR was behind the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny with a chemical weapon, the targeting of Russian journalists and others who openly criticize the Kremlin, and the theft of “red team tools,” which use exploits and other attack tools to mimic cyber attacks.”

Because why not kitchen-sink it?


Joe Biden’s Demonic Phase by James Howard Kunstler (Clusterfuck Nation)

“Three weeks ago, Ol’ White Joe called Vladimir Putin “a killer.”  This week, Ol’ Joe called Vlad on the phone and suggested a friendly in-person meet-up in some “third country.” In the meantime, Ol’ Joe essayed to send a couple of US warships into the Black Sea to assert America’s interest in Ukraine, the failed state whose American-sponsored failure was engineered in 2014 by Barack Obama’s State Department. Turkey, which controls the narrow entrance to the Black Sea, was notified that two US destroyers would be steaming through its territory. Hours after the announcement, the US called off the ships. Then, hours after Ol’ Joe proffered that summit meeting, his State Department imposed new economic sanctions on Russia and tossed out a dozen or so Russian embassy staff. How’s that for a coherent foreign policy?”
“[…] the mentally weak Joe Biden is merely projecting the picture of a weakened and confused USA […]”

I think that’s right. Trump embodied the belligerent, unsophisticated, ignorant, lowbrow asshole/bully America’s always been. Biden embodies what comes after: the senility of an empire that was already ineffective but, in not even realizing it, evinces that character even more, with every bewildered lurch.

“[…] the blundering team of Sec’y of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who went to Alaska recently to tell the Chinese delegation that they were morally unworthy of conducting trade negotiations, thereby torpedoing the trade negotiations that they went to Alaska to conduct. Smooth move fellas.”

It’s hard to ascribe this ham-handed diplomacy to an “8-dimensional chess” strategy. Occam’s Razor implies that these chronic war-hawks are just not good at dealing with countries as equals (diplomacy) because they don’t believe they have to and are unaware of how the world has changed since they last formed an opinion or learned a fact, about 30 years ago. Likely also playing a factor is their utter lack of morality or ethics or self-awareness—especially of their own hypocrisy. They don’t know and they don’t care. There will be consequences.


Rachel Maddow is Bill O’Reilly by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Then a funny thing happened. We invaded Iraq, the WMD case went splat, and O’Reilly, grudgingly of course, admitted he was wrong. “Well, my analysis was wrong and I’m sorry,” he said, on Good Morning America. “What do you want me to do? Go over and kiss the camera?”

“Who knew that would end up looking like a proud moment in TV history?”

I had no idea that he’d actually apologized on TV for his errors. That is inconceivable nowadays.

“[…] the Russians, in order to direct with more potency the awe-inspiring barrage of $46,000 in Facebook memes bought prior to the 2016 election — like the one in which Jesus placed a hand on a struggling boy’s shoulder over the caption, “Struggling with the addiction to masturbation? Reach out to me and we’ll beat it together” — the Russians infiltrated the Trump campaign in order to sneak out polling data.”

This is one of the memes that Russia paid for in 2016.

 Let's beat it together

“Trump incidentally spent $44 million on Facebook ads between June and November of 2016, which is about 1000 times what the Russians were alleged to have spent — even more if you separate out the memes that had nothing to do with Trump. Why the Russians couldn’t just do what the Saudis, Israelis, Chinese, and other self-respecting meddlers do and just funnel cash to their man does not seem to interest the conspiracy spinners.


Bombast From Washington: Joe Biden’s Russia Sanctions by Gilbert Doctorow (Antiwar.com)

“Were the sanctions intended to sabotage the call for a summit meeting? As a practical matter the sanctions will at a minimum postpone the setting of any date for a summit, and quite possibly end in the cancellation of any meeting. But I doubt this was the intent of the sanctions’ sponsors or of Biden himself. Rather it is a demonstration of the utterly ignorant and self-focused way that U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle propose to deal with the world.

US policy is based on scenarios written by political scientists with the intellectual capacity and life experience of college sophomores.

“Let us define this “position of strength” notion in very contemporary and instantly understandable words: it means the US knee on the neck of a supine Russia. “I can’t breathe” is the only response that these militants want to hear from the Russians before they sit down and talk about the way forward in mutual relations.

“This is precisely what Russia under Vladimir Putin resists tooth and nail, saying that Russia will negotiate only under conditions of mutual respect and equal treatment of national interests.

In the Oliver Stone interviews, Putin repeatedly says that it is clear that the U.S. does not see any other country as any ally or trading partner, but only as “vassals”.

The sanctions were bombast, which Google Search defines as “high-sounding language with little meaning, used to impress people.” The ‘free world’ and ‘democratic values’ defenders who pack the Biden administration are big talkers and cowardly actors.

“The Russians understand that very well, even if it eludes nearly all American commentators. The Russians point to the decision taken by the US on Tuesday NOT to send its two warships into the Black Sea, as had been previously announced. Instead the vessels turned back before entering the Dardanelles and were sent to Cyprus to do some unspecified repair work.

“[…advisors from the Pentagon] knew that the Russians could and would, if necessary, neutralize the two US Navy vessels in a matter of minutes by electronic warfare weaponry.”

“[…] there is absolutely no sense to convene a U.S.-Russia summit at present or in the foreseeable future. It will resolve nothing.”

In the postscript to his article, Doctorow included a list of the details of the Russian response to the sanctions:

  • U.S. diplomats now limited to 25-mile radius of their station (instead of unfettered access to the Russian Federation (RF))
  • U.S. missions not allowed to hire “Russians or third-country nationals”
  • U.S.-sponsored NGOs and foundations must leave the RF
  • Barred some high-ranking U.S. citizens from entry (e.g. Susan Rice and John Bolton)
  • “[P]ublicly recommended that the US ambassador to Russia go home for extended consultations”

Russia is clearly indicating that, if the U.S. does not want to have discussions on an equal and diplomatic footing, then Russia is not interested in discussions at all. Russia doesn’t need the U.S. for anything.

Science & Nature

The Coming Antibiotic-Resistance Pandemic that Could Make COVID Look Like the Flu by Alan Macleod (MintPress News)

“Ultimately, the problem of antibiotic overprescription is structural in nature, and there is little end to it in sight. As Dr. Sulis told MintPress: “The industry has no interest at all in raising awareness on the importance of using antibiotics wisely and the potential implications of inappropriate use, including overprescription,” although she noted that it was difficult to accurately weigh up the proportion of blame they deserved and to disentangle their role from other key drivers of the crisis.”
“Since the adoption of penicillin in the 1940s, the widespread use of antibiotics is estimated to have extended average life expectancy by 20 years. Dr. Gautham noted that “as antibiotic overuse keeps increasing, then all those antibiotics that we have today will slowly become ineffective against even the most common infections.””
“[…] cesarean sections, and other common surgeries will be in major jeopardy, as they require antibiotics to prevent any post-surgical and opportunistic infections. Healthcare costs will spike as conditions that were treatable in a few days will draw on for weeks, and some cases may not be recoverable.”

Art & Literature

In the Tank by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“And so of course in no time the DDoS attacks on users of Google Calendar and similar platforms began. Resurrecting the name of some ancient Byzantine heresy, those who continued to use the old dates were targeted as “Calendarists”, complacent perpetuators of an anti-liberatory chronology. It was time to start over again from scratch, to move the clock back, to restart the years and rename their intervals:”
“Who can tell what’s a joke and what’s not a joke in this shattered world?”
“For the SLPI can now function for its owner as the unique anchor of selfhood in perpetuity. Thanks to the distributed-ledger technology on which NFTs are based, an SLPI is permanently linked to the entity of which it is a token, even under conditions of that entity’s apparent absence or unlocatability.
“This is how I came to mint the first “Stable Locus of Personal Identity”. I billed it as a “revolutionary blockchain technology for solving an old metaphysical problem”.”
“This assertion of state power also meant a radical post-war transformation in the role computers play in society. They are as ubiquitous as they ever were, but their use is much more streamlined, much more integrated with life itself, much more passive and stupid. Wikipedia is gone. Open searches are gone. Keyboards are still technically illegal.


On Midnight’s Children at 40: ‘India is no longer the country of this novel’ by Salman Rushdie (The Guardian)

“In a later novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, I used the acronym “Hug-me” to describe the language spoken in Bombay streets, a melange of Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi and English. In addition to those five “official” languages, there’s also the city’s unique slang, Bambaiyya, which nobody from anywhere else in India understands.

Technology

Couchbase vs RavenDB: Performance at Rakuten Kobo (RavenDB)

“The ID of the document is composed of the following parts “highlights/{userId}-{ebookId}/{highlightId}”. The reason for this document id setup is to allow us to perform the most common queries by user and by user and book, using a simple prefix search on the document ID.”
“Couchbase cluster of three nodes with a total of 96 cores and 384 GB RAM was unable to sustain 250 queries per second. A single RavenDB node running on a Raspberry PI 4 with 4 cores and 4 GB of RAM was able to answer 500 queries / second in under 200ms in the 99 percentile. If the system can be engineered to ensure that requests are dominated by high performance prefix queries, even at the smallest cluster composed with nodes of 2 cores with 8GB of memory, the querying system can sustain 10,000 requests per second within the 200ms threshold for the 99-percentile.
““We’re able to keep up with every minor release. Shutting down a node, upgrading the RavenDB version and restarting it is a non-event and one that takes under a minute. That’s unthinkable with what happens with Couchbase and its auto-rebalancing.” Trevor, Rakuten Kobo CTO”


How a speedrunner broke Super Mario Bros.’ biggest barrier by Kyle Orland (Ars Technica)

“Wrong warp: Super Mario Bros. can only load one value at a time in the memory slot for “where does a pipe/vine go?” By carefully scrolling Mario’s position on the screen or backtracking just as the next pipe value is loaded, you can fool the game into loading the wrong value and warping Mario to an unintended location. This is useful for skipping the vine-climbing animation in World 4-2 and skipping a large section of World 8-4.”
“One-time record-holder somewes at one point performed over 6,000 streamed attempts on the game and only achieved sub-4:56 pace up to World 8-4 on two of them (both of which failed at the wall jump later in that level). Back in 2018, many thought this sub-4:56 performance was approaching Super Mario Bros. perfection.”


Blockchain and Trust − Schneier on Security by Bruce Schneier on February 12th, 2019

“Much has been written about blockchains and how they displace, reshape, or eliminate trust. But when you analyze both blockchain and trust, you quickly realize that there is much more hype than value. Blockchain solutions are often much worse than what they replace.
“[…] the third element is the currency. This is some sort of digital token that has value and is publicly traded. Currency is a necessary element of a blockchain to align the incentives of everyone involved. Transactions involving these tokens are stored on the ledger.”
“His second is leviathan trust, which corresponds to institutional trust. You can see this working in our system of contracts, which allows parties that don’t trust each other to enter into an agreement because they both trust that a government system will help resolve disputes. His third is intermediary trust. A good example is the credit card system, which allows untrusting buyers and sellers to engage in commerce.
“Blockchain enthusiasts point to more traditional forms of trust — bank processing fees, for example — as expensive. But blockchain trust is also costly; the cost is just hidden. For bitcoin, that’s the cost of the additional bitcoin mined, the transaction fees, and the enormous environmental waste.
Honestly, cryptocurrencies are useless. They’re only used by speculators looking for quick riches, people who don’t like government-backed currencies, and criminals who want a black-market way to exchange money.”
“How can trust be abused in the new system, and is this better or worse than the potential abuses in the old system?

Programming

Fundamentals of Optimal Code Style by Aleksandr Skobelev

“Taking these principles into account turns out to be important in the case of perceptual search or perception, because, if the information is organized in accordance with these principles, the solution of the problem posed requires less effort since the perceptual field is subjected to grouping, and a smaller proportion of common resources are successively allocated to the formed groups of elements. The distribution of resources within each group is approximately equal.

“The tasks of visual search are usually complicated by the addition of irrelevant objects (distractors). However, in the case when distractors form visually compact groups, allowing them to be ignored as a whole, their addition, on the contrary, can greatly facilitate the search.

“Syntactically, programs are laid out and organized differently than natural language texts. They feature greater use of formally defined structures and multiple forms of indented layout (both horizontal and vertical). The second difference is semantic. Natural language text is typically understood in two concurrent phases: text (how it is written down) and domain (what it means). Source code comprehension however needs a third dimension of comprehension: execution. Thus, to understand a program’s goals, programmers must be able to trace source code execution to discover its operational semantics.”

“In general, using actual words rather than abbreviations leads to better comprehension. Identifiers that violate certain guidelines have lower code quality (more bug patterns) than ones that don’t. Longer names reduce correctness and take longer to recall.

“In an eye-tracking study analyzing the effect of identifier style (camel-case and underscore) on the accuracy, time, and visual effort, with respect to the task of recognizing a correct identifier in a phrase, it was shown that, although no difference was found between identifier styles concerning the accuracy, results indicate a significant improvement in time and lower visual effort with the underscore style.

Good luck with that. These days, the religion has shifted to only allow for CamelCase and PascalCase. SnakeCase is not considered possible in most popular programming languages. The earthli WebCore is written in SnakeCase, following the style guidelines laid out in OOSC2.

“[…] in a function definition, we need to visually separate the function declaration, including its name, return type, parameter list, and function body. Inside the body of the function, it is necessary to separate the initialization code of the initial variables, the body of the main algorithm, the formation and return of the result. In turn, within the initialization code, we need to separate the scope of types, variable names, and values assigned to them.”
Syntax highlighting can greatly facilitate the perception of the program. However, in the case of an incorrect visual structure, the effect of it can be the opposite. Considering also that since the programmer has no control over the syntax highlighting, it should not be taken into account when assessing whether a program’s particular visual representation is readable and correctly reflects its structure. (Emphasis in original)”
“The absence of a hard constraint on the right does not mean that there is no constraint at all. Centuries of typography and decades of web designers’ experience agree that the optimal line length for comfortable reading is approximately 45-75 characters.
“Large monitors are not always available or program text may be displayed in a much smaller area. In this case, the line either does not fit in the scope and requires scrolling, or the line is split into several lines and this, as a rule, destroys the structure of the program in the entire scope.”

“[…] there are cases when we are not interested in the structure of the expression (for example, when outputting a debug message to the program log), and using a long string may be preferable to structuring a long expression by splitting it into several lines since it makes this code less massive and therefore less significant for the ambient vision.

“All this means that the restriction on the length of the string is not strict and is only one of many parameters that optimize the overall visual representation of the program text.

The longer the name, the more difficult it is to read, remember and recall. Long names usually lead to long lines, which also makes reading and search difficult. The requirement of expressiveness means that in the scope of the context of use, the name must allow to unambiguously determine the role of the program element it denotes.”
“These guidelines are reasonably consistent with the boundaries given in Steve McConnell’s book: 10-16 and 8-20. Now we can somehow explain them.”
“The main strategy for optimizing readability can be formulated as making more efficient use of ambient vision and reducing the load on the focal one.

The author recommends:

  • Use spaces between program elements, even when not required by the language (e.g. between parameters, where a comma technically suffices).
  • Wrapped arguments should be indented relative to the function call, not the line.
  • The indent should be 4 spaces to improve grouping with the function
  • Braces should be on separate lines, in order to improve grouping, finding opening/closing braces, and separation of definition vs. body or condition vs. statements
  • else if can be one the same line as the closing brace; the final else should be on a separate line, in order to separate it better
  • He suggests using inner alignment for arguments and argument labels (though labels really don’t come up too often in the programming languages that I use). The author’s examples use Swift, which has a lot of argument labels.
  • Maximum line-length of about 75 characters.
  • snake_case for identifiers
  • Space after the function name and before the arguments (e.g. before the opening parenthesis)

I concur with the line-length argument and have been shortening them in my style regularly. Wrapping longer parameter lists not only makes them much easier to read, it makes it much easier to merge (either automatically or manually) and much easier to diff, when there are generally two lines next to each other, reducing even a wide monitor to only 50% of its capacity.


Robustness and least power by Jeremy Keith in 2018

“[…] whereas the KISS principle can be applied within a specific technology—like keeping your CSS manageable—the rule of least power is all about evaluating technology; choosing the most appropriate technology for the task at hand.

“There are some associated principles, like YAGNI: You Ain’t Gonna Need It. That helps you avoid picking a technology that’s too powerful for your current needs, but which might be suitable in the future: premature optimisation. Or, as Rachel put it, stop solving problems you don’t yet have:”

“So make sure every bit of code added to your project is there for a reason you can explain, not just because it is part of some standard toolkit or boilerplate.”
“There’s no shortage of principles, laws, and rules out there, and I find many of them very useful, but if I had to pick just two that are particularly applicable to my work, they would be the robustness principle and the rule of least of power.


Bitemporal History by Martin Fowler

“Bitemporal history is a way of coming to terms that communication is neither perfect nor instantaneous. Actual history is no longer append-only, we go back and make retroactive changes. However record history itself is append only. We don’t change what we thought we knew about Sally’s salary on Feb 25. We just append the later knowledge we gained. By layering an append-only record history over the actual history, we allow the actual history to be modified while creating a reliable history of its modifications.”
“Anything that can record a history will have its own record timestamps for when it learns information. Depending on that data we may say that an enterprise will choose a certain agent to be the defining agent for recording certain kinds of data. But agents will cross lines of authority − however big the company, it won’t change the recording dates of the tax authorities it deals with. A lot of effort goes into sorting out problems caused by different agents learning the same facts at different times.