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Links and Notes for May 7th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.

Table of Contents


COVID in India by Kenneth Surin (CounterPunch)

However, in the space of just 12 days, India’s Covid infection rate doubled to 17%, reaching 30% in Delhi. Hospitals have filled to capacity, with most beds occupied by the young; in Delhi, 65% of cases are under 40 years old.”
“Like his American friend “Dolan Trum”, the smug Modi would not pause campaigning while the pandemic was in full flow. India proceeded to hold 5 state elections in April, and an unmasked Modi presided over huge political rallies, with crowds not social distancing and without masks like their leader. Modi was also criticized for allowing millions of Hindus to take a dip in the Ganges during the Kumbh Mela festival, again without social distancing and without masks.
“To quote The Guardian: “Scenes of migrant workers massing at bus and train stations, fleeing lockdowns in Indian cities for their villages, are ominous to doctors in the country’s hinterlands. They know that many of those in the crowds will be returning with Covid-19 strains that are ravaging urban India, leading to record numbers of daily infections this week and the country’s highest daily death tolls since the virus emerged. In parts of rural West Bengal state, where politicians were holding mass election rallies until late this week, the surge has already started”.”

Reinfections of COVID-19 after natural infection or vaccination by Angelo Perera, Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)

“Vaccinations have shown to be safe and highly effective at reducing hospitalization and death. Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that out of 75 million people that had been fully vaccinated, there had been 5,800 reported infections, of which 396 required hospitalization, of which 74 died. While the deaths might appear to be literally one in a million, many of the 75 million continued to quarantine and social distance, and so were protected by other means than just the vaccine.
“A study led by Nuno Faria, a virologist at Imperial College London, titled “Genomics and epidemiology of a novel SARS-CoV-2 lineage in Manaus, Brazil” published in March, found that within seven weeks, starting from early November, the fraction of samples classified as P.1 increased from zero to 87 percent. By February, P.1 had taken over completely. Dr. Faria and his colleagues conducted an experiment that estimated that in 100 people infected with non-P.1 lineage in Manaus last year, somewhere between 25 and 61 could have been reinfected if they were exposed to P.1 in Manaus.”
“A recent study of 149 people in Israel who became infected after vaccination with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (BNT162b2) found that the South African variant (B.1.351) was eight times more likely to cause breakthrough infections on infections that occurred at least a week after the second jab.
“Dr. Haseltine concluded his article with a warning that without effective public health mitigation measures, the evolution of the virus could become a severe threat to vaccine effectiveness.
The American ruling class has pushed the mismanaged and entirely inadequate nationalist program of vaccination as a sufficient response to a pandemic that is causing 60,000 new infections and 700 deaths every day, as computed by a seven-day moving average.”

Economy & Finance

How Wall Street feeds on death by Nick Beams (WSWS)

“The central feature of the speculative binge—and this is what points to its diseased character—is the complete divorce of so-called market value from the underlying real economy. This week, Tesla announced a profit of $400 million, more than $100 million of which came from trades in bitcoin. Tesla now has a market capitalisation greater than that of Ford and GM combined. But Ford’s sales of cars in the first quarter of this year in the US alone were more than double the total global sales of Tesla for a year.

The rise of stocks and other financial assets does not represent the expansion of value. These assets are what Karl Marx termed fictitious capital. They are a claim on the future value to be extracted from the exploitation of the labour of the working class.

“This is why the capitalist ruling classes, in every country, have refused to carry out effective measures, such as lockdowns with compensation for those affected, because they would impact on the flow of value needed to sustain the mountain of fictitious capital.

“[…] the unions have become increasingly integrated into the financial markets as the source of the income to maintain their apparatuses and the payment of their officials. They manage investment funds, health funds, pension funds, superannuation funds and so on.

“Thus, they are dependent for their material existence on the continued rise of the markets. Any independent struggle by the working class, however, terrifies the markets and therefore the union apparatuses move to suppress it at all costs.

More Than 300 Manufacturers Just Asked Biden To Repeal Trump’s Steel Tariffs as Prices Skyrocket by Eric Boehm (Reason)

“According to SteelBenchmarker, an industry publication, one metric tonne of American-made hot-rolled band steel is now priced at over $1,500. That’s nearly three times more expensive than it was at this same time last year.
“And while higher domestic steel prices could, in theory, nudge American steelmakers to invest in expanding plants and hiring more workers, that doesn’t seem to have happened either. Even amid surging prices, U.S. Steel announced this week that it was canceling plans for a $1 billion expansion of one of its major steel plants in Pennsylvania—an expansion Trump had touted as evidence that his tariffs were working. Bank of America, meanwhile, is warning that high steel prices are likely a “bubble” that will soon burst, rather than a stable long-term situation that would encourage steelmakers to invest in more capacity.

Will “Goldman Penis Envy” Crash the Economy Again? by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“In the triggering episode, Goldman was the first bank to smell a rat in AIG’s financial products division and demand collateral calls to AIG swaps, just before AIG imploded. Goldman ultimately got bailed out in its AIG dealings by the Fed and the taxpayer to the tune of a hundred cents on the dollar, while the collapse of Lehman’s portfolio of bonehead deals sent them into bankruptcy and helped trigger a global chain reaction of losses that cost Americans $10 trillion in 2008 alone.
The current legend is that each of the banks thought they were the only ones doing the bad thing. Even the “smartest guys on the Street” at Goldman supposedly did not put two and two together, or wonder if Hwang was peddling the same trade to other shops. As a result, Hwang was allowed to keep bidding up and up until it all came crashing down in late March.”
“With firms like this in a race to shower even the most preposterous clients with unlimited funds, the grim reality of finance in the post-CARES Act era is that anyone with a tie and a business card can borrow enough to blow a $100 billion hole in the economy without being detected.
“Another common factor between 2008 and now is the hyper-availability of leverage, distributed on tap by Too Big To Fail Banks to all comers. Then the inappropriate borrower might have been an ordinary person buying too much house, or a company like AIG writing millions in synthetic mortgage insurance it never planned on honoring. This time it’s a known, SEC-sanctioned freak show taking out billion-dollar bank loans to bet on black at the roulette table. The issue isn’t that people like Hwang are out there, it’s that all of Hwang’s bankers went along with this game, hugely amplifying the irresponsible gambling.
“With a few exceptions, financial professionals don’t mind being ripped as unethical. The dirty secret they do want covered up is that they’re not that smart. In the Covid-19 age especially, there’s a lot of subsidized mediocrity.

If people think you’re scum but you just made billions off of them, what do you care? That’s not a downside to them.

“[…] even better when 70-80% of your “performance” comes from being lent money by Goldman or Morgan Stanley or Credit Suisse, and even better still when you and your bank artificially drive up your gains together by pumping up the market. With limitless leverage, banks and hedge funds can in this way partner up to print themselves profits forever, until of course something goes wrong.”

Ignoring the Rules Sometimes Works by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If you are going to fail it is better to ask permission, because forgiveness will not be forthcoming. If you are going to succeed, sure, it is better to ask forgiveness. “There’s nothing to forgive, you’re perfect, you little scamp,” everyone will reply.”
“If you are certain that you will succeed brilliantly in all your endeavors, then often the optimal strategy will sometimes be to ignore the law, or at least the parts of the law that stand in the way of your vision. Not, like, the objectively optimal strategy, but the strategy that you consider optimal given your subjective certainty that everything will work out for you.
“For a venture capital fund, you want high-variance strategies; you want to make as many bets as possible that succeed spectacularly (and give you unlimited upside) or fail spectacularly (and you lose your modest investment).”
“Another model you could have is that IPOs sort of sell themselves, the same big investors buy every deal, they do their own work without relying too much on the banks’ pitches, hot IPOs always go up and so any investor should be happy to buy any IPO even without doing any valuation analysis, and the banks are hired and paid as a reward for their past relationship-building work rather than because they are most qualified to sell the IPO.

Tesla Sold Some Bitcoins by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Obviously if you are a transformative electric car company it is better to make your profits by selling transformative electric cars than by moving the price of cryptocurrency with your tweets. Selling the cars is better for the environment, better for the world; it has higher growth potential; it deserves a higher multiple. My point is only that, for Elon Musk right now, moving the price of cryptocurrency with his tweets is really easy and lucrative and, in the short term, sustainable. Among the things he tweets about, it is probably the one that distracts him least from his work, and the one with the highest returns for shareholders. He should do it every quarter.”
“I know nothing about the deli but I prefer to imagine that it’s that sort of art project. There it is, off in New Jersey, a deli that is never open with a stock that never trades, but that is somehow a $2 billion public company, just because it can be.”
“If you have $100 and you give it to charity, you (1) are out $100 but (2) have a $100 tax deduction. If you have a lot of income and your tax rate is 40%, that deduction should save you $40. Net, you are out $60.”
“If you own stock worth $100 with zero basis, and you sell it, you pay 53% total taxes and keep $47. If instead you donate it, you get a $100 tax deduction, which should save you $53 on your income taxes (assuming you have lots of ordinary income with a marginal tax rate, state plus federal, of 53%). And 53 is more than 47, so this is a good trade and you should donate the stock.
“In practice this seems to be a huge deal in the art world, where works are non-fungible and value is subjective. If you sell a work of art, it’s worth what someone will pay you for it. But if you donate a work of art to a museum, it’s worth what you and the museum and an appraiser say it’s worth. You all have incentives to inflate that number, and it is hard to check the market value of a unique piece of art that rarely trades. This is a well-known trick that sometimes gets people in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.”
“We show that insider giving is far more widespread than previously believed. In particular, we show that it is not limited to officers and directors. Large investors appear to regularly receive material non-public information and use it to avoid losses. Using a vast dataset of essentially all transactions in public company stock since 1986, we find consistent and economically significant evidence that these shareholders’ impeccable timing likely reflects information leakage. We also document substantial evidence of backdating – investors falsifying the date of their gift to capture a larger tax break. We show why lax reporting and enforcement encourage insider giving, explain why insider giving represents a policy failure, and highlight the theoretical implications of these findings to broader corporate, securities, and tax debates.”

“You have zero-basis stock that is “really” worth $100, but that happens to be trading at $300 right now because the market doesn’t know the bad news that you know. If you sell it, you get $300, pay 20% tax, keep $240, and go to prison for insider trading. Or you can wait until the news is public, sell it for $100, pay 20% tax, keep $80 and avoid prison.

But if you donate it while it’s still trading at $300, you get a $300 tax deduction, which is worth $120, which is more than $80. And you don’t go to prison because you never traded the stock while you had inside information.”

“If you set the bar really low — “I am just gambling for fun and fully expect to lose my money, whaddaya got for me?” — then a lot of things become attractive investments. The bar is not always that low! Right now it is.

Money for Nothing: The more complex crypto seems, the higher the pyramid schemes can go by Vicky Osterweil (Real Life)

“This effect is only strengthened the more people there are agreeing that the matter at hand is “cool,” “interesting,” or “complicated” — a process of mass, self-inflicted intellectual gaslighting.
“It is understandable enough to want to participate in such collective delusions. It’s much more fun to be awed by not getting a movie than to realize that you do get it and it’s just boring. This same idea also helps explain speculative bubbles. It’s more fun to believe in magic than to recognize how much of financialized capitalism is just scams and pyramid schemes. Nonetheless, if the popular press is full of explainers “clarifying” what a “very complicated” investment phenomenon is all about, hide your wallet: You are being shilled into a game of Three-Card Monte.
“That is, we immediately grasp that the transfer of value doesn’t depend on physical objects but on a system of accounting, sustained by a series of socially agreed upon relations and representations”
“[…] and the consequences are likely to be the same: NFTs don’t dismantle the “art world” and its institutionalized processes for producing monetary value out of aesthetical aspiration; they simply put some of its workforce out of a job, replacing them with way more electricity.
“As a commodity whose existential value can’t be questioned but can be worked out and realized only by a nebulous group of experts, art allows capitalists to launder money across borders, invest, increase, and turn over liquid capital while also accruing social legitimacy and respectability.
“For now, the bubble seems unpoppable. In this strange long moment of suspended economic animation — our Wile E. Coyote economy ran off the cliff in 2007 but has managed to run in place without looking down ever since — the line just seems to go up for all kinds of assets, whether it’s stocks, houses, artworks, or cryptocurrencies. Never mind the millions facing precarity and penury and the intense proletarian struggle and fascist backlash across the globe: As long as the music is playing, it seems like there are chairs enough for everyone.
“As with all bubbles, the details may be obfuscating, but the basic phenomenon is very simple: The more people who can be brought to agree that some arbitrary object is valuable, the more valuable it becomes. In other words, crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and crypto-related investments like NFTs are a pyramid scheme disguised by the Nolan effect.”
“Its arbitrariness, its apparent uselessness, allowed it to more easily approach the status of money itself — a pure medium of exchange whose value seems only to grow with every trade. Yet as with all commodities that increasingly appear to be but aren’t money, people will eventually notice that the emperor has no clothes, try to cash out, and cause a collapse.
“Yet every time a new commodity appears to be like money — be it tulips, tech stocks, and real estate or art, NFTs, and crypto — a certain population of opportunistic investors will convince each other that finally the mystery of value has been solved. The hot air has become solid at last.”
“The value of art under capitalism is justified by a recognition of the historical importance of aesthetic experience that supposedly transcends sociopolitical relations, whereas crypto attempts to produce value through the art of code and the power of electricity. But both of these are just differing ideological fig leaves for the actual source of value — human labor power.”
“For example, delivery apps make it feel “easy” to order food, when in fact we are spending much more in buying the phone, keeping it charged, paying our data plan, paying our subscriptions, and so on, for every order — in other words, we are using more hours of our labor to do so.”
“But with a paper menu, restaurants have to do that only once, whereas you need to marshal the same amount of energy each time you use the app. By the third or fourth time you order takeout from a particular place, suddenly the paper menu is looking like an ecological marvel.
Silicon Valley uses scale (in this instance, the speed and reach of the internet) and the ability to invest (read: lose) VC money to keep prices down until they take enough market share and push out competitors. If that sounds familiar, it’s because there’s nothing novel about it: It’s what Walmart and then Amazon did, using “loss leaders” to undercut competition until they have a sufficient hold on the customer base. They can then use monopoly conditions to bring prices back up.”
“But what does Silicon Valley actually provide? It provides a technical way, via hardware and software, to seem to turn electricity into value, when in fact it merely uses electricity to redistribute costs and labor down social hierarchies.
“Without the extractivists, there is no way that the innovations of Silicon Valley, which amount to little more than privatization by way of electrification, would produce any profit.”
“Truly, will there ever be a greater work of capitalist art than the total destruction of the climate that made it possible?”

New Jobs Report Shows the Government Gets the Unemployment It’s Paying For by Christian Britschgi (Reason)

“A disappointing new jobs report shows that hiring is down and the unemployment is rate is up, even as wages climb and employers complain about a shortage of workers. That apparent paradox has some policy wonks pinning the blame on expanded jobless benefits that pay workers more than what they could expect to earn working.

Or maybe the economy is massively fucked and has been for a while and this is more an indication that the piper is coming for payment.

Instead, the author takes this odd data to mean that his hobby horse that people are happy to not be working as long as they’re not starving to death is definitely what’s at play here. Or maybe all of those glorious jobs that are available just pay shit—as they always have—but now might also carry a death sentence from COVID. Or just getting sick from COVID without health insurance is enough to scare anyone into staying at home.

“President Joe Biden, at a press conference today, disputed the idea that generous unemployment benefits were behind today’s anemic jobs report, citing the number of jobs the economy did post, while also urging patience about the recovery.

““We knew this wouldn’t be a sprint. It would be a marathon. Quite frankly, we’re moving a lot more rapidly than I thought we would,” he said, according to The Washington Post.

“Expectations: managed.”

In this case, Britschgi, I think you’re both wrong, but ol’ Joe is more right than you are.

Public Policy & Politics

Canceling Student Debt Would Be an Insult to Trade Workers by John Stossel (Reason)

“Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe points out that students’ demand for loan forgiveness is “kind of self-involved.”

““I know guys who worked hard to get a construction operation running. Some had to take out a loan on a big old diesel truck. Why would we forgive the cost of a degree but not the cost of a lease payment?

“It’s a good question.

““For some reason,” continues Rowe, “we think a tool that looks like a diploma is somehow more important than that big piece of metal in the driveway that allows the guy to build homes that you…are in.”

“The political class does focus on subsidizing college.

““Now everybody is armed with a degree. What kind of world is that?” asks Rowe. “Everybody dreams of being in the corner office, but nobody knows how to build the corner office?””

At Mexico’s Tourist Resorts, Exploitation Is the Bottom Line by Ximena González (Jacobin)

“According to its official website, people should consider moving to Riviera Nayarit “to improve your quality of life” while reducing the cost of living. But this is not how it plays out for the local workers, who earn low wages and lack protections. According to Numbeo, the monthly cost of living for a family of four in the Puerto Vallarta region is $1,657 USD, not including rent. In 2020, the monthly median salary in Riviera Nayarit was about $500 USD, less than one-third of that figure.”

People move because it costs less money. But they’re less secure and they’re stepping on other people’s necks.

“Instead of organizing to better their conditions, tourism workers at Riviera Nayarit attempt to leverage the “unique growth opportunities” provided by their employer. “People have been upgrading their skills,” Gradilla said. “You can find people who started as a janitor and now they manage the building maintenance department.”

We constantly excuse unfair salaries by explaining that you personally don’t have to do it, which is somehow just fine with more than enough people that the system works. Not everyone can be the manager, by definition. Everyone’s job should be meaningful to them.

“Both permanent and short-term tourism workers are at constant risk of losing their contracts. In her last job as a sales associate at a resort, Jimenez would work twelve-hour days, six days a week, during the high season. “We worked so many hours that obviously weren’t paid,” she recalls.”

Was she selling time-shares?

“While the pandemic has been a blow to the livelihoods of the locals, international resorts seem to be cashing in. Two new luxury resorts opened last fall at Riviera Nayarit, and four more are expected in 2021. When the COVID-19 restrictions slowly started to lift in June, many permanent workers were called back to their jobs, but independent contractors are still waiting.”
““The Riviera Nayarit continues to attract national and international hotel groups, which contributes to its growth in terms of tourism offerings,” Marc Murphy, managing director of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in the destination’s official blog last summer. “We’re very happy, because despite the pandemic, investors continue to place their faith in the destination.”

Of course they do. You don’t pay a proper price for labor. People care only that they’re not the ones who get fucked, not that no-one gets fucked. They know that the speed at which they personally make money is directly proportional to the number of people that get fucked at the same time. It’s zero-sum, baby; always has been.[3]

[3] That is not what I believe it has to be. It absolutely doesn’t have to be. There are so many opportunities for symbiotic and mutual benefit. We just happen to live in a system that ignores them, for the large part.

The U.S. is Trying to Light the Match of Islamic Extremism in China’s Xinjiang by Vijay Prashad & Jie Xiong (CounterPunch)

“There is no point in merely treating this like a war—such as the U.S. did in Afghanistan. This is not a war that can be won by violence, said Zakir, but it must be won by education and by economic development. Asked about vocational education, Zakir explained, “Some residents there [in Xinjiang] have a limited command of the country’s common language and a limited sense and knowledge of the law. They often have difficulties in finding employment due to limited vocational skills. This has led to a low material-basis for residents to live and work there, making them vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of terrorism and extremism. There is still a long way to go for southern Xinjiang to eradicate the environment and soil of terrorism and religious extremism.””

Sounds a bit like the “deplorables” of America.

“Officials in China tell us that the government has long ignored the economic development of Xinjiang and has not been able to fully handle the various grievances of the minority ethnic groups. But the answer to these problems is not to deliver Xinjiang to disaffected affiliates of Washington’s jihads. As with Syria and Libya, Washington once more plays a reckless game with Islamic extremism.”

‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’ by Arundhati Roy (The Guardian)

“At the top end, you might need to sell your land and home and use up every last rupee for treatment at a private hospital. Just the deposit alone, before they even agree to admit you, could set your family back a couple of generations.

And that’s how you take an investment in a middle class and push it upward—likely to the destination it had all along. The money was only ever temporarily parked with in anyone else’s account, just waiting to move on to a worthier destination in the clutches of the oligarchy.

You have to put effort into it to prevent money from gravitating to the oligarchs. While the rest of us relax once in a while, satisfied with what we have, that’s literally all they do all day—it’s like a giant attractor for wealth.

“Things will settle down eventually. Of course, they will. But we don’t know who among us will survive to see that day. The rich will breathe easier. The poor will not. For now, among the sick and dying, there is a vestige of democracy. The rich have been felled, too. Hospitals are begging for oxygen. Some have started bring-your-own-oxygen schemes. The oxygen crisis has led to intense, unseemly battles between states, with political parties trying to deflect blame from themselves.”
“These are villages where people die of easily treatable diseases like diarrhoea and tuberculosis. How are they to cope with Covid? Are Covid tests available to them? Are there hospitals? Is there oxygen? More than that, is there love? Forget love, is there even concern? There isn’t. Because there is only a heart-shaped hole filled with cold indifference where India’s public heart should be.
“There is no hospital in Kevadia. There’s only the Statue of Unity, built in the likeness of the freedom fighter and first deputy prime minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who the dam is named after. At 182 metres high, it’s the tallest statue in the world and cost US$422m. High-speed elevators inside take tourists up to view the Narmada dam from the level of Sardar Patel’s chest. Of course, you cannot see the river valley civilisation that lies destroyed, submerged in the depths of the vast reservoir, or hear the stories of the people who waged one of the most beautiful, profound struggles the world has ever known – not just against that one dam, but against the accepted ideas of what constitutes civilisation, happiness and progress. The statue was Modi’s pet project. He inaugurated it in October 2018.”
“Now, as voting closes, Bengal is poised to become the new corona cauldron, with a new triple mutant strain known as – guess what – the “Bengal strain”. Newspapers report that every second person tested in the state capital, Kolkata, is Covid positive. The BJP has declared that if it wins Bengal, it will ensure people get free vaccines. And if it doesn’t?
“Under Modi, India’s economy has been hollowed out, and hundreds of millions of people who were already living precarious lives have been pushed into abject poverty. A huge number now depend for survival on paltry earnings from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which was instituted in 2005 when the Congress party was in power. It is impossible to expect that families on the verge of starvation will pay most of a month’s income to have themselves vaccinated. In the UK, vaccines are free and a fundamental right. Those trying to get vaccinated out of turn can be prosecuted. In India, the main underlying impetus of the vaccination campaign seems to be corporate profit.”
The system hasn’t collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps “failed” is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity. Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds of thousands in the coming months, perhaps more.”
“Fredrick Douglass said it right: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” How we in India pride ourselves on our capacity to endure. How beautifully we have trained ourselves to meditate, to turn inward, to exorcise our fury as well as justify our inability to be egalitarian. How meekly we embrace our humiliation.
“So here we are now, in the hell of their collective making, with every independent institution essential to the functioning of a democracy compromised and hollowed out, and a virus that is out of control.”
The crisis-generating machine that we call our government is incapable of leading us out of this disaster. Not least because one man makes all the decisions in this government, and that man is dangerous – and not very bright. This virus is an international problem.”

Focusing Purely on Injustices in China and Russia with a Cold War Mindset Damages Human Rights Everywhere by Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch)

The essence of such propaganda is not lies or even exaggeration, but selectivity. To give one example, the focus was kept on very real Soviet oppression in Eastern Europe and away from the savage rule of Western-backed dictators in South America. The political weaponisation of human rights was crude and hypocritical, but it was extremely effective.”
“Western governments and media unrelentingly criticise China for the persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, but there is scarcely a mention of the repression of Kashmiri Muslims in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Diplomatic and media outrage is expressed when Russia and the Syrian government bomb civilians in Idlib in Syria, but the bombing of civilians during the Western-backed, Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, remains at the bottom of the news agenda.

My Dinner With George by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“He wasn’t a saint, George. He wasn’t a bad dude either, though he could be when he was high and angry. Reinventing George into a saint is ludicrous, although of an entirely different level of wrong than not caring about his life. There are millions of George Floyds and they deserve to live just like you or I, even if they’re not saints. We aren’t either. You don’t need to be a saint to deserve to live.

“And I was there as they cried when poor George Floyd was killed. Sometimes by cops. Sometimes by another George Floyd.

“Watching the outpouring of adoration for George Floyd now, after his death, after the conviction of Derek Chauvin, after his family got a $27 million settlement, is sadly unshocking. You love George Floyd dead. You turn him into a saint. You take to the streets in his name, filled with passion and outrage.

Alive, you wouldn’t give George Floyd the time of day. You would cross the street to get away from him. You would have called the cops on George Floyd too. You would never have eaten dinner with George. You never would have sat across a desk from him, learning who he was, what his life was like, and trying to help him make it better. Like he was just another human being, flawed but deserving to live.

Journalism & Media

How US government fronts shape media coverage of Myanmar upheaval, propagandize for Western intervention by Kit Klarenberg (The Grayzone)

“That entirely innocent people have been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned illegitimately by Myanmar’s military regime is hard to doubt. After all, political persecution of dissenters and protesters is regularly practiced inside self-proclaimed liberal democracies. But AAPP’s loose, highly subjective definition of what constitutes a political prisoner opens the door for labeling literally anyone arrested as a persecuted dissident – even those actually guilty of serious crimes, which wouldn’t mark them as political prisoners by most objective conceptions of the term. Such slanted methodology can only raise questions about whether the AAPP’s casualty figures should also be accepted at face value.
Unsupported claims of impending or ongoing “genocide” issuing from individuals who could hardly be considered impartial observers have previously provided justification for destabilizing Western interventions in Kosovo, Libya, Syria and elsewhere. These apocalyptic warnings have later been found to be false, while in many cases, opposition elements in these conflicts deliberately attacked authorities in order to precipitate harsh retaliation.”
“Indeed, the US embassy in Myanmar had been paying local groups in Kachin that opposed the Chinese project, even as it acknowledged the dam would help remedy the “acute electricity shortages that plague the country.””
“Within three years, Aung San’s saintly façade had comprehensively cracked under the sheer pressure of reality, all accolades and baubles bestowed upon her stripped away, save for the Nobel Peace Prize, and only then because no provision for its revocation existed. Her active, conscious and unabashed complicity in the government-directed butchery of Rohingya Muslims, which included blocking an attempted visit by United Nations investigators, defending their ethnic cleansing, and her determined defense of malicious prosecutions of reporters attempting to cover the catastrophe, was so brazen it couldn’t be concealed or ignored.

CNN’s New “Reporter,” Natasha Bertrand, is a Deranged Conspiracy Theorist and Scandal-Plagued CIA Propagandist by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“The most important axiom for understanding how the U.S. corporate media functions is that there is never accountability for those who serve as propagandists for the U.S. security state. The opposite is true: the more aggressively and recklessly you spread CIA narratives or pro-war manipulation, the more rewarded you will be in that world.
“Goldberg is now the editor-in-chief of that magazine and thus one of the most influential figures in media. In other words, the person who wrote what is arguably the most disastrous article of that decade was one most rewarded by the industry — all because he served the aims of the U.S. security state and its war aims.”
“Goldberg is now the editor-in-chief of that magazine and thus one of the most influential figures in media. In other words, the person who wrote what is arguably the most disastrous article of that decade was one most rewarded by the industry — all because he served the aims of the U.S. security state and its war aims. That is how U.S. corporate journalism functions.”
“The commentator Luke Thomas detailed many of these transgressions on Monday and correctly observed that “arguably no single reporter has contributed more to the deranged and paranoid national security fantasies of the center-left than Natasha Bertrand. She’s an embarrassment to her profession and will, therefore, fit right in at CNN.””
“Once again we see the two key truths of modern corporate journalism in the U.S. First, we have the Jeffrey Goldberg Principle: you can never go wrong, but only right, by disseminating lies and propaganda from the CIA. Second, the organs that spread the most disinformation and crave disinformation agents as their employees are the very same ones who demand censorship of the internet in the name of stopping disinformation.”

ACLU Again Cowardly Abstains From an Online Censorship Controversy: This Time Over BLM by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“In the place of brave lawyers and activists defending the constitutional rights and civil liberties even of those people and groups most despised, we have instead a corporate spokesman emailing The New York Times with excuses about why it cannot and will not speak up about a major censorship controversy that has been brewing for two weeks. In that decline one finds the ACLU’s sorry trajectory from stalwart civil liberties group into a lavishly funded arm of the Democratic Party’s liberal political wing.

Why “Securing Democracy” Will Be Taught in Journalism Schools by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“If folks like Kopplin want to keep score, that’s the second history-altering scoop of Greenwald’s career, two more than me, and two more than pretty much everyone else in this business, with one or two living exceptions (they know who they are!). The first time around, the “bane of their resistance” won the highest awards “they” give out, a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar, for helping former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blow the whistle on a massive domestic surveillance program.”

Seymour Hersh is one of those living exceptions.

MT: How did you evaluate the hacker as a person? Were you comfortable the whole time, or did you have doubts? Greenwald: I did have doubts, and I think maybe I kind of got spoiled by having worked with Snowden who was like the Boy Scout of whistleblowers. Not only was Snowden unfailingly truthful, and displayed the greatest integrity throughout, but he was also extremely cautious. Everything he did had been meticulously planned. He was insisting on the highest levels of encryption and security right up until the time we met him in Hong Kong, where there was all this cloak and dagger.”
“The reason they do it is so that you get scared. Like, “Hey, you came this close to having your husband in one of our prisons and before our courts on terrorism charges. Maybe think twice the next time you go to publish one of our documents.” That’s really the tactic, and you just have to make sure it doesn’t work.

MT: So you do this huge story that gets a prominent left-leaning politician released from prison, and vastly increases the likelihood that there will be a change in the course of Brazil’s leadership in the future, away from a Trump-style rightist. How do you square that with the fact that you’re regularly denounced as a right-leaning figure now?

Greenwald: I don’t know, Matt. Maybe you can help me figure that out.

“In my case, if you look at all of my journalism devoted to what has always been associated with traditional left-wing causes is just amazing. Especially a year after I got fucking criminally charged by a far-right government in defense of a left-wing leader, to hear at the same time that I’m actually some right-wing operative.”
“I do think there are a lot of journalists within these outlets who want to do different things, but they look around and they see jobs disappearing and they know the last thing they want to do is stick their head up and give someone a reason to make them be the next one laid off. Or, they give an editor a reason when they have 30 or 50 or 100 applications for the next journalism position to just easily throw theirs away on the grounds that they once said something off-key on Twitter that made people angry, and the editors think, “Well, there’s 90 other people to choose from, why do I need to put up with this…?” So that’s how repressive and homogenized that climate has become, and it’s both making the people in it miserable and ineffective, and it’s also making that industry fail.
“And there’s a disconnect between what they’ve been taught to think about their rightful place in the world and what their actual place in the world has become, and I’m not sure why but it’s not fostering any self-analysis. It’s just fostering bitterness and anger and resentment, and kind of just a desire to blame everybody but themselves and their industry and their culture for these failures.
“I wanted millions of people to realize that the NSA was the danger. I wanted millions of Brazilians, not just like 100,000 highly educated ones, to realize that this judge that they had been taught to worship was actually corrupt and that their vision of Lula as being himself a criminal was based on a lie. I wanted society to know that that was important to me. Not just to reveal it, but to connect that to their perceptions of the world. That’s what journalism is, you have to inform the public. If you’re not informing the public because they’re not paying attention to what you’re saying, really what you’re doing is kind of inconsequential.

Science & Nature

Biden’s Climate Plan: It’s Too Late for Gradualism by Howie Hawkins (The Guardian)

“The climate emergency demands a radical and rapid decarbonization of the economy with numerical goals and timetables to transform all productive sectors, not only power production (27% of carbon emissions), but also transportation (28%), manufacturing (22%), buildings (12%), and agriculture (10%). That emergency transformation can only be met by an ecosocialist approach using public enterprise and planning.”
“This drawdown scenario is based on maximizing the global potential for soil and forest restoration to absorb atmospheric carbon. The hope in this scenario is that the 350 ppm safety zone will be restored in time to avert tipping points that initiate self-reinforcing climate processes that could make catastrophic global warming irreversible.”
“We shouldn’t have to wait for mass starvation a decade from now to instigate an emergency response to climate change.”
“At $2.3 trillion over 8 years, the Biden plan’s spending is a small fraction of what the climate movement and Green New Dealers have been projecting as needed to address the climate emergency. After subtracting the $400 billion for home and community-based care for the elderly and disabled, only about $1.9 trillion will be spent on developing physical infrastructure that could affect carbon emissions.
“Synthetic chemicals accumulate to disrupt ecosystems and the health of organisms. Detergents replaced soaps. Plastics replaced paper. Nylon replaced cotton. Pesticides replaced crop rotation, inter-cropping, and natural pest predators. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers replaced manure and nitrogen-fixing crops. We have to stop pollution at the point of production by converting to ecological production technologies that don’t produce pollutants.
An effective climate plan would first determine what labor, materials, and new production systems are needed to decarbonize the economy and then figure out to finance it. Biden’s plan does it backwards. It determines what it can spend based on what it can raise in the plan’s tax proposals that feature higher corporate tax rates.”
“Progressive economists calling for infrastructure investment on the scale of the THRIVE Agenda’s 10-year $10 trillion program say the economy has ample fiscal space to absorb the stimulus without triggering inflation in an economy operating at full capacity. However, we must acknowledge that the massive investments needed to meet the climate challenge have inflationary potential, particularly on the scale of the $41.7 trillion 10-year spending in our Ecosocialist Green New Deal.”

We’ve easily found that amount of money—about $16T since 2008—but only to prop up fortunes. We also spend well over a trillion per year on the military. There’s money around, just not for this. We will die in darkness and ignorance, clutching our weapons and dollar bills, muttering our paranoid fantasies to ourselves, while the world burns. Pity.

“The monthly unemployment analysis by the National Jobs for All Network (NJFAN) for March 2021 found the real jobless number to be 22.4 million (13.4%) compared to the official number of 9.7 million (6.0%). The NJFAN analysis includes part-timers who want full-time work (5.8 million) and discouraged workers (6.9 million) who want jobs but were not looking and not counted at the time of monthly government survey.
“With far and away the world’s largest carbon footprint, what the U.S. does about it in the next decade is crucial to the future habitability of the planet. The U.S. has the world’s largest cumulative carbon emissions by far (25%, over 400 GtC). The U.S. carbon footprint remains the highest per capita and second highest in total annual carbon emissions after China.
“Around half of deaths due to transportation pollution are attributed to diesel exhaust. Trucking accounts for 60% of the ton-miles and 85% of the value of freight even though freight trains use far less fuel. Moving a ton of freight 500 miles per gallon, trains use only 25% of the diesel fuel per ton-mile as over-the-road trucks.
“Using their per mile estimate, it would cost $1.1 trillion to expand an electrified national rail network to the peak of 430,000 track miles that the nation had in the early 1930s.”

The US has only 1/3 the rail capacity it had 100 years ago. The power of lobbying.

“Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal budget figured it would take $5.1 trillion over 10 years to transform the power production system to zero carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. Our plan relies on public ownership and planning to make a rapid transformation of power production and distribution based on the need, not the profits of investor-owned companies that will delay investments in clean renewables and a smart grid at least until their existing power plants and servo-mechanical grids wear out.
“Biofuels are touted as carbon-neutral because they presumably recycle carbon already in the biospheric carbon cycle instead of releasing new carbon that was sequestered underground in fossil fuels. But this view doesn’t account for the carbon released by the degradation of living soils in the monocultural industrial farming required to grow and harvest the biomass crops like corn, switchgrass, and sugarcane.”
“Solar panels produce over 100 times as much energy as biofuels per acre and can be placed on non-arable land.”
“A Union of Concerned Scientists study released in March just prior to the release of Biden’s plan, “‘Advanced’ Isn’t Always Better,” warns that the so-called advanced nuclear designs are not safer, are not more economical, increase risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and still produce radioactive waste that must be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years.”
“The problem of making a rapid transition to renewables under capitalism is that investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have no incentive to shut down operating fossil and nuclear power plants in order to switch to renewables. This capitalist barrier to renewables is why we must socialize the power sector and operate it at cost for public benefit instead of for private profit.
“Because profit-seeking industries want wear out the carbon-intensive production systems they currently use before they will consider replacement technologies, the Ecosocialist Green New Deal would socialize industries where needed in order to speed the transition to clean technologies.
“About half of the world’s original forests have been cut down. Fostering the regrowth of natural forests with all their biodiversity and ecosystem benefits, as opposed to planting monocultural tree plantations, would absorb 9 GtC per year over the first 30 years, equal to about 23% of current annual carbon emissions. Scientists have estimated that restoring the world’s original forests that have been cut down could draw down 205 GtC when the forests mature, which is about two thirds of the 300 GtC of extra carbon that exists in atmosphere as a result of human activity, primarily from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, soil degradation, and cement making.”
“Capitalism is structured to grow endlessly without any balance or reciprocity with ecosystems at the foundation of the human economy. Incumbent for-profit industries fight to continue using the energy sources and technologies they now have and profit from. We cannot restore the climate to the safe zone in an economy where capitalism is the dominant mode of production.

Roaming Charges: We Who Are About to Get Shot, Salute You by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

The Sierra Nevada snowpack is down to a mere 15% of average to date. The situation in the Southern Sierra is even more grim, where the snowpack is only 9% of the average. The cause: Far below-normal snowfall during the winter and record snowmelt rates in the Sierra over the last two months. The fire season is going to be really ugly in Cali again this summer.”
“A Beyond Meat-commissioned Life Cycle Assessment found that the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, 99% less water, and 93% less land use than a burger made from U.S. beef.”

How the Rich Caused Climate Change w/ Matt Huber by Jacobin (YouTube)

At 13:00,

“Industry is about 32% of total global emissions, and it dwarfs buildings, transport combined. This is the […] core of climate change. […] steel and cement are estimated to account together constitute almost 15% of global emissions alone.”

 Greenhouse gas emissions by economic sectors

 CO2 by income deciles

AFOLU = Agricultural, Forestry, or Land Use

Against Intelligence by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“It strikes me that a good deal of our representation of the world around us is like this, not just of qualitative degrees of difference, but also, or perhaps especially, of quantitative differences of scale. For example (to return to one of my favorite themes), we systematically misrepresent the relative proportions of biomass on Earth according to phenomenological salience in human social reality (plants are around 265 times more present than all animals combined, and by far the most animal mass is made up by insects). And similarly, although I grew up with Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions” echoing in my head, if you were to ask me on the spot how many stars there are, a large part of me still wants to respond: “About 500 or so?” That part of me is the one that remains grounded in the “closed world” described by Alexandre Koyré, the premodern cosmos of concentric spheres, and of celestial bodies lodged in these spheres at distances from one another —and from us— that are conceivable on more or less the same scale as the distance from the Earth to the moon, or from Paris to the Antipodes. Too far to travel, but not too far to think.
“Our default folk-theory of the sky and its objects, as a vestige of the closed world cosmology, is one in which distances between star systems is not significantly different from those between the planets of our own system.

And even those distances we grossly underestimate. The planets are light minutes if not light hours apart.[4] Months and years of even the most optimistic feasible journey time. But this lack suffuses most of how most humans—most animals—experience the world: in bewildered miscomprehension of the most basic mechanisms affecting our lives.

Most of us don’t know any more about how our world works—what supports us and what we are breaking—than the so-called brute animals. At the simplest level, we don’t know how the things that we’ve become dependent on work, on any level. Cars? Phones? Constructions? Transportation? Any technology? We haven’t the foggiest idea how anything works—not even how it might work. We are woefully underequipped to reason about the world.

Because we’re not even aware of an alternative explanation, we don’t even notice that we’ve actually made a choice to believe in our fantasies of how the world works—with each of us at the smack-dab center, in the starring role—with a religious fervor that we would never, ever lend to science or logic or even, heaven forbid, morality or ethics.

We don’t know how to deal with pandemics, we don’t have a clue how to address climate change. We will go down without a fight, a look of uncomprehending ignorance on our dumb faces as the curtain goes down and the house lights come on.

“I have no positive idea of my own of what a filament is. It’s either a place-holder for someone else’s technical term —like “black hole” or “dark matter” or “string”— or it’s a cartoon, pleasing to the imagination but more or less disconnected from the thing itself.
“What we often leave out, though, is that the crisis was not just moral or existential, but cognitive: an ordinary person cannot be expected adequately to comprehend our current best cosmological models, and one result is that we are compelled simply to learn mantras repeated by experts — for example the phrase “billions and billions”. That some people are resistant to this passive acceptance, and either flee into fringe alternative models or passively default to what I have called the folk-model whenever they are caught off guard or are relaxing at a safe distance from the experts, should come as no surprise,”
“In other words, dematerializing your atoms and making them reappear light-years away is relatively easy (if we can measure degrees of ease between two currently impossible scenarios) when compared with the alternative strategy of taking those atoms and putting them in a space-bus and physically transporting them 40 trillion kilometers (Mars is 55 million kilometers away at the closest point in its orbit).”
“Our difficulty in comprehending the difference between millions and trillions of kilometers seems to follow the same pattern as the difference between the stove and the sun. I think this is fairly clear, and that readers will have remained with me up until this point.”
“Those beings are worth contacting, namely, that are intelligent, while intelligence is an honorific notion masquerading as a descriptive one: those beings are intelligent that are capable of appreciating the audiovisual lessons we have gone to the trouble of giving them.

This is kind of how we approach any creation—as a mirror, like Narcissus.

“One obstacle to opening up our idea of what might count as intelligence to beings or systems that do not or cannot “pass our tests” is that, with this criterion abandoned, intelligence very quickly comes to look troublingly similar to adaptation, which in turn always seems to threaten tautology. That is, an intelligent arrangement of things would seem simply to be the one that best facilitates the continued existence of the thing in question; so, whatever exists is intelligent.
Ubiquitous living systems on Earth, that is —plants, fungi, bacteria, and of course animals—, manifest essentially the same capacities of adaptation, of interweaving themselves into the natural environment in order to facilitate their continued existence, that in ourselves we are prepared to recognize as intelligence.
“But, some human exceptionalists will say, it is not so much the fact that we have an audiovisual sensory apparatus that justifies calling us “intelligent” —spiders and fish have this too—, but rather that we use this apparatus coupled with our capacity for symbolic representation of reality using “higher” cognitive capacities. Likewise, we should expect any extraterrestrial being that encounters the Pioneer plaque not just to “see” it, or to have the plaque within its visual field, but to see it as a representation. That’s the kind of alien we want to meet.”
“Thus I see a stylized pastel image of palm trees on my screen, or on a pizza box decaying in the gutter; I have no idea how these images came about, but the causal chain leading back to an actual human intention seems far away indeed. What I see, everywhere, is mimetic exuberance. This is what an extraterrestrial visitor, equipped with the right visual organs, would see as well, and there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the visitor would or should be more impressed with the design on the pizza box than with the serrated edges of an insect’s abdomen that look so like a leaf.
“There is in sum no good reason to think that evolutionary “progress” must involve the production of artifices, whether in external tools or in representational art. In fact such productions might just as easily be seen as compensations for a given life form’s inadequacies in facing challenges its environment throws at it. An evolutionally “advanced” life form might well be the one that, being so well adapted, or so well blended into its environment, simply has no need of technology at all.
“Such life forms are, I contend, all around us, all the time. Once we convince ourselves this is the situation here on Earth, moreover, the presumption that our first encounter with non-terrestrial life forms will be an encounter with spaceship-steering technologists comes to appear as a risible caricature.

[4] See Distances Between Planets (The Planets) and Convert astronomical unit to light minute (Convert Units) to find out that, for example, Mars is about .5AU away from Earth, which translates to about 4 light-minutes[5]. Mars can get as close as .4AU at perigee, but can also be farther away. The table in the source above seems to be using an average. Jupiter is over 4 AU away (over ½ light-hour) and Saturn is twice that (over one light-hour). Uranus is 2½ light-hours away, while Neptune is 4 light-hours away.
[5] At 1 AU = 8.31675 light-minutes.

Philosophy & Sociology

How the N-Word Became Unsayable by John McWhorter (NY Times)

““Nigger” first appeared in English writings in the 1500s. As it happens, the first reference involved “aethiops,” as it had come to refer to Ethiopia, or at least that term as applied sloppily to Africa. We heard of “The Nigers of Aethiop” in 1577, and that spelling was but one of many from then on. With spelling as yet unconventionalized, there were “neger,” “nigur,” niger,” “nigor” and “nigre” — take your pick.
“And this sort of thing went on through the 1700s and 1800s. Just as “cunt” was a casual anatomical term in medieval textbooks, “nigger,” however spelled, was simply the way one said “Black person,” with the pitiless dismissiveness of the kind we moderns use in discussing hamsters, unquestioned by anyone.
“Its use straddling the 19th and 20th centuries is especially interesting: While America was becoming recognizable as its modern self, its denizens said “nigger” as casually as today we do “boomer” or “soccer mom.”
“So in the film “Gone With the Wind” no one utters it, but in the book it was based on, which almost everyone had read, Scarlett O’Hara hauls off with, “You’re a fool nigger, and the worst day’s work Pa ever did was to buy you.” And she then thinks, “I’ve said ‘nigger’ and Mother wouldn’t like that at all.” As in, there was now a veil coming down, such that one was supposed to be polite — approximately in the book, conclusively in the movie. But still, it was always just under the same surface that our Marine saw “nig”-ness through.
“George calls his white neighbor Tom Willis “honky,” and Tom petulantly fires back, “How would you like it if I called you ‘nigger’?” Then, that read as perfectly OK (I saw it and remember); But today, for Tom to even mention the word at all would be considered beyond the pale — so to speak.”

“George calls his white neighbor Tom Willis “honky,” and Tom petulantly fires back, “How would you like it if I called you ‘nigger’?” Then, that read as perfectly OK (I saw it and remember); he was just talking about it, not using it. But today, for Tom to even mention the word at all would be considered beyond the pale — so to speak.

“The outright taboo status of “nigger” began only at the end of the 20th century; 2002 was about the last year that a mainstream publisher would allow a book to be titled “Nigger,” as Randall Kennedy’s was. As I write this, nearly 20 years later, the notion of a book like it with that title sounds like science fiction.

“In fact, only a year after that, when a medical school employee of the University of Virginia reportedly said, “I can’t believe in this day and age that there’s a sports team in our nation’s capital named the Redskins. That is as derogatory to Indians as having a team called Niggers would be to Blacks,” the head of the N.A.A.C.P., Julian Bond, suggested this person get mandatory sensitivity training, saying that his gut instinct was that the person deserved to simply be fired. The idea, by then, was that the word was unutterable, regardless of context.

What are you, 12? There’s no “deserves” by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

“If you are a self-identified leftist getting mad about her salary, you are betraying a bourgeois concern with individual morality at the expense of the structural forces of capital. Do better.”
Some could look at any argument against inequality and assume that it’s an argument about just des[s]erts. It isn’t. Arguments against economic inequality are perfectly sensible and compelling when derived from entirely amoral pragmatic considerations, such as the impossibility of meeting minimal quality of life thresholds for some when inequality is too high, the inevitable resulting corruption of political equality, and the aforementioned concerns of declining marginal utility, among others.”
“The point to emphasize is that you don’t need to believe in “deserves” as a meaningful economic concept to believe that all people are entitled by moral principle to economic security. This entitlement stems from beliefs about what human beings are universally entitled to, no different from the way that we believe that all humans are entitled to not be sold into slavery. You are owed a safe, comfortable, fulfilling life. You don’t deserve it.
“It is OK to be angry when you are facing economic hardship, but I would hope adults would be able to recognize that there are more and less constructive ways to express that anger.”
“You can ponder the ineffable question of why people like things you don’t for the rest of your life. Or you could just do good work.”


Practical SQL for Data Analysis by Haki Benita

“In this article I demonstrate how to use SQL to perform fast and efficient data analysis.”

That is underselling this amazing article. This person can really make PostgreSql sing. There are a lot of very useful tips—printing it yields a 56-page PDF chock-full of examples and results—for building up data sets. There are a lot of tips about built-in functionality of PostgreSql that are extremely powerful.

Professional Open Source: Maintaining API, Binary, and Wire Compatibility by Aaron Stannard

“Compatibility matters because there are real risks and uncertainty that go into upgrading a dependency developed by a third party. If I upgrade to a new version of Akka.NET and suddenly my code can’t compile, learning why that happened and what to do about it presents a new and perhaps totally unexpected cost from me. Users don’t like those types of surprises.
By following a scheme like SemVer and explicitly maintaining strict versioning rules over time, you reduce the uncertainty for consumers by both accurately and meeting their expectations. Projects that do this consistently become less risky over time and are rewarded for it with increased trust and adoption.

“Behavioral compatibility is the expectation that all of the functions in Akka.NET v1.4.10 perform the same role they did as v1.4.11. If you change a default configuration value or an internal implementation of a method in such a way that it radically alters that features’ scope or behavior, you’re effectively introducing a “breaking” change even though that change may be binary and source compatible.”

Think you’ve mastered the art of server performance? Think again. by Poul-Henning Kamp (ACM Queue)

“The really short version of the story is that Varnish knows it is not running on the bare metal but under an operating system that provides a virtual-memory-based abstract machine. For example, Varnish does not ignore the fact that memory is virtual; it actively exploits it. A 300-GB backing store, memory mapped on a machine with no more than 16 GB of RAM, is quite typical. The user paid for 64 bits of address space, and I am not afraid to use it.”
“It would of course be unjust and unreasonable to blame Williams for not realizing that Atlas had invalidated one of the tacit assumptions of his algorithm: only hindsight makes that observation possible. The fact is, however, 46 years later most CS-educated professionals still ignore VM as a matter of routine. This is an embarrassment for CS as a discipline and profession, not to mention wasting enormous amounts of hardware and electricity.”
“The B-heap builds the tree by filling pages vertically, to match the direction we traverse the heap (figure 6). This rearrangement increases the average number of comparison/swap operations required to keep the tree invariant true, but ensures that most of those operations happen inside a single VM page and thus reduces the VM footprint and, consequently, VM page faults.
“The order of magnitude of difference obviously originates with the number of levels of heap inside each VM page, so the ultimate speedup will be on machines with small pointer sizes and big page sizes. This is a pertinent observation, as operating system kernels start to use superpages to keep up with increased I/O throughput.”
“We lack a similar inquiry into algorithm selection in the face of the anisotropic memory access delay caused by virtual memory, CPU caches, write buffers, and other facts of modern hardware.”
“The Atlas drum took 2 milliseconds to deliver a sector; instructions took approximately 2 microseconds to execute. You lost around 1,000 instructions for each VM page fault. On a modern multi-issue CPU, running at some gigahertz clock frequency, the worst-case loss is almost 10 million instructions per VM page fault. If you are running with a rotating disk, the number is more like 100 million instructions. What good is an O(log2(n)) algorithm if those operations cause page faults and slow disk operations? For most relevant datasets an O(n) or even an O(n^2) algorithm, which avoids page faults, will run circles around it.

How Complex Systems Fail by Richard I. Cook, MD

“A corollary to the preceding point is that complex systems run as broken systems. The system continues to function because it contains so many redundancies and because people can make it function, despite the presence of many flaws. After accident reviews nearly always note that the system has a history of prior ‘proto-accidents’ that nearly generated catastrophe. Arguments that these degraded conditions should have been recognized before the overt accident are usually predicated on naïve notions of system performance. System operations are dynamic, with components (organizational, human, technical) failing and being replaced continuously.
“Because overt failure requires multiple faults, there is no isolated ‘cause’ of an accident. There are multiple contributors to accidents. Each of these is necessarily insufficient in itself to create an accident. Only jointly are these causes sufficient to create an accident. Indeed, it is the linking of these causes together that creates the circumstances required for the accident. Thus, no isolation of the ‘root cause’ of an accident is possible. The evaluations based on such reasoning as ‘root cause’ do not reflect a technical understanding of the nature of failure but rather the social, cultural need to blame specific, localized forces or events for outcomes.
“That practitioner actions are gambles appears clear after accidents; in general, post hoc analysis regards these gambles as poor ones. But the converse: that successful outcomes are also the result of gambles; is not widely appreciated.
“All ambiguity is resolved by actions of practitioners at the sharp end of the system. After an accident, practitioner actions may be regarded as ‘errors’ or ‘violations’ but these evaluations are heavily biased by hindsight and ignore the other driving forces, especially production pressure.
“Complex systems require substantial human expertise in their operation and management. This expertise changes in character as technology changes but it also changes because of the need to replace experts who leave. In every case, training and refinement of skill and expertise is one part of the function of the system itself. At any moment, therefore, a given complex system will contain practitioners and trainees with varying degrees of expertise.
“Post-accident remedies for “human error” are usually predicated on obstructing activities that can “cause” accidents. These end-of-the-chain measures do little to reduce the likelihood of further accidents.

Has UML died without anyone noticing? by Ernesto Garbarino (Garba)

“But it wasn’t UML that got killed, per se. In fairness, UML was just collateral damage. The massacre was in the entire requirements engineering field encompassing business analysis and design. Agile was the assassin and user stories were her deadly, poisonous arrow heads (pun intended).”
“In a model in which you pour user stories into a sausage machine, and you get a demo at the end of it (or a feature production release in a DevOps shop!) there is no room for purposeful, structured problem analysis anymore.
Today’s paradigm, though, is that we are hopeless at understanding the problem anyway. Digital transformation gurus tell us that we should deploy into production and let the users tell us what the business requirement is, rather than formulating it ourselves a priori. We can take multiple shots until we get it right. Yes, fail fast, and often.”
Multi-million systems, upon which your life and finances depend, are devised, funded and executed entirely on the back of said masala diagrams, with often no more additional collateral than a bunch of epics and user stories.”
Has the world gone mad? No, it’s just that we have just given up on the engineering side of software. It is just a coding affair for now. I am not saying that those who write software aren’t engineers themselves; they largely are. The point is that, at the organisational level, software isn’t being engineered any longer, as per the equivalent processes and artifacts found in disciplines such as mechanical engineering.”

Video Games

The game Metro Exodus has been re-released as Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition. This edition is has only a ray-tracing–based engine. It is jaw-droppingly realistic.

Exclusive: Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition Analysis − The First Triple-A Game Built Around Ray Tracing by Digital Foundry (YouTube)

The video is 40 minutes long, but it’s all pretty fascinating and really well-done, with a lot of side-by-side comparisons Do yourself a favor and check out the video—where the real-time effects are even better—but here are a few screenshots that I took of my favorite parts.

It’s really in the outdoor scenes where you see the massive improvements. The indoor ones are also highly improved, but more subtly—and static lighting was better at faking things in indoor settings. See this analysis of how candles now cast real shadows to get a feel for how groundbreaking the immersion will be from here on out.