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Links and Notes for July 9th, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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-19

Das Impftempo in der Schweiz erlahmt. Was dies für den Weg aus der Krise bedeuten könnte, zeigen verschiedene Szenarien. by Bettina Zanni & Céline Krapf (20min)

“Bis im Herbst ist in kaum einem Kanton eine Impfquote von deutlich über 60 Prozent zu erwarten.

“Nähmen die Hospitalisationen und Todesfälle nicht zu, seien auch steigende Fallzahlen von sekundärer Bedeutung, sagt ein Anwalt für Gesundheitsrecht.

«Bei der aktuellen Impfbereitschaft verschleppen wir die Pandemie ins Jahr 2022 und 2023», sagt ein Infektiologe.

“«Die überdurchschnittlich hohe Durchimpfungsrate bei den älteren Menschen könnte uns auch bei einer tiefen Impfbereitschaft in der jüngeren Bevölkerung vor einer Welle mit schweren Verläufen retten», sagt Andreas Faller, Anwalt für Gesundheitsrecht und Ex-Vizedirektor des BAG.”
“Viele Leute wiegten sich in einer falschen Sicherheit und liessen sich nicht impfen, da die Fallzahlen aktuell insgesamt tief seien.”
“«Wenn ein Viertel nicht geimpft ist, wird das Virus ohne Schutzmassnahmen unter diesen Leuten stark zirkulieren», sagt Gesundheitsminister Alain Berset (SP) zur «NZZ». Sorgen bereitet ihm auch die tiefe Impfquote der über 80-Jährigen (20 Prozent) und die tiefe Impfbereitschaft beim Pflegepersonal und der Spitex.
“Laut Andreas Cerny, Infektiologe am Moncucco-Spital in Lugano, sind steigende Fallzahlen nach den Sommerferien möglich. «Weil dann Reisende aus Gebieten zurückkommen, in denen das Virus stärker zirkuliert.» In der Folge komme es vermehrt zu Übertragungen in den Schulen. «Das Virus wird sich dort ausbreiten, wo man die Türen offen lässt.»

“«Manche Menschen brauchen noch Zeit, um ihr Vertrauen in die Impfung aufzubauen.» Sobald sich eine vierte Welle abzeichne, seien wohl wieder mehr Menschen bereit, sich impfen zu lassen.

“Auch Andreas Cerny ist optimistisch. Weltweit seien mehrere Milliarden Menschen gegen Covid geimpft worden. «Es zeigt sich, dass die Impfung keine grossen Sicherheitsrisiken birgt.» Auch deuteten immer mehr Daten auf einen verlängerten Schutz hin. «Es ist daher möglich, dass diese Erkenntnisse der Kampagne noch einen entscheidenden Schub verleihen.»”

It will all be much slower than it had to be. This “wait and see” attitude is going to end up causing twice as much damage as without it.


The Case Against the Covid-19 Lab Leak Theory by Lindsay Beyerstein (The New Republic)

“Despite the allure of this contrarianism, though, 20 years of post-SARS research into the origins and spread of bat coronaviruses point to a natural origin for Covid-19. Upon closer inspection, the so-called “new” evidence that has entranced pundits is neither new nor compelling. Lab leak theory proponents are also glossing over serious flaws in their proposed narratives of Covid-19’s origin. And loose talk about a lab leak elevates tensions between China and the United States, undermining the collaborative research we need to understand this pandemic and prevent the next one.
“[…] it’s not that surprising that the first major outbreak of Covid-19 happened in Wuhan, a city of 11 million spread over 3,200 square miles, which is known as the Chicago of China because it so accessible by air, rail, road, and water. You can get on the fast train in Wuhan and be in Guandong Province, the home of the original SARS outbreak, in under four hours.
“There is no evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or anyone else, ever had any strain that similar to Covid-19. Lab leak boosters argue that the WIV is highly suspect because it was doing risky gain-of-function research with bat coronaviruses. But if it didn’t have wild viruses almost exactly like Covid-19, it couldn’t have engineered it, period.
“As far as anybody knows, the closest strain the WIV had is a bat virus called RaTG13 that’s 96 percent similar to Covid-19, but the gulf between 96 percent and >99 percent is vast. The two viruses probably shared a common ancestor between 25 and 65 years ago, which is practically geological time for fast-mutating viruses.
“[…] Covid-19 differs from RaTG13 by over 1,000 point mutations spread through the virus like raisins in a pudding. Nobody knows what any of these little mutations do; most of them probably don’t do anything. They look like the genetic noise that accumulates in 50 years of viral evolution. They’d be a nightmare to clone in by hand, and there would be no reason to do so.
“These are entirely valid criticisms, but on their own, they don’t move the needle on the likelihood of a lab leak. The fact that China is being secretive about Covid-19 isn’t evidence for any particular theory. China is a totalitarian regime that is notoriously secretive about everything. It should be noted that the origins of both SARS and MERS were shrouded in troubling official secrecy before they were confirmed to be natural phenomena.”


The 3 Simple Rules That Underscore the Danger of Delta by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)

“The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reduce the risk of symptomatic infections by more than 90 percent, as does the still-unauthorized one from Novavax. Better still, the available vaccines slash the odds that infected people will spread the virus onward by at least half and likely more. In the rare cases that the virus breaks through, infections are generally milder, shorter, and lower in viral load. As of June 21, the CDC reported just 3,907 hospitalizations among fully vaccinated people and just 750 deaths.
“But the coronavirus can cause serious problems without triggering severe infections. Because people can develop long COVID without ending up in the hospital, could Delta still cause long-term symptoms even if vaccines blunt its sting? The anecdotal reports of long-haulers whose symptoms abated after vaccination might suggest otherwise, but “we don’t know enough to say,” Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard, told me.”
“accinated people are safer than ever despite the variants. But unvaccinated people are in more danger than ever because of the variants. Even though they’ll gain some protection from the immunity of others, they also tend to cluster socially and geographically, seeding outbreaks even within highly vaccinated communities.”

That’s what they’re counting on, of course, but it won’t work. If they are exposed to Delta, they are 2.5x as likely to catch COVID as they were 16 months ago.

It’s as if two cops went on patrol, but only one of them wore a kevlar vest. It’s not 100% protection, but it’s a lot better than not having a vest. But the other cop is unperturbed, safe in the knowledge that at least one of them is wearing a vest. How would one cop wearing a vest confer security on the other? By what mechanism? You could try to argue that criminals would be less likely to confront or be around cops that were armored?

This is the same logic as the unvaccinated have for feeling “safe” because other people are vaccinated. They look at the numbers falling, at the low number of cases and think that the problem has disappeared. It will come back, and much faster than they will be able to react with a vaccination. The vaccination takes six weeks to reach full efficacy.

Immunocompromised people may not benefit from the shots. Children under 12 are still ineligible. And unlike in many other wealthy countries, the pace of vaccinations in America is stalling because of lack of access, uncertainty, and distrust. To date, 15 states, most of which are in the South, have yet to fully vaccinate half their adults.”

Granted, some are not to blame for not having vaccinated yet. Some have valid medical reasons or the vaccine has not yet been approved for their age group. However, many have adopted a “wait and see” attitude that is utterly incommensurate with the gravity of the situation. And they are voluntarily refusing a vaccine that is readily available to them while the rest of the world doesn’t even get the choice.

Of the 3 billion vaccine doses administered worldwide, about 70 percent have gone to just six countries; Delta has already been detected in at least 85. While America worries about the fate of states where around 40 percent of people are fully vaccinated, barely 10 percent of the world’s population has achieved that status, including just 1 percent of Africa’s. The coronavirus is now tearing through southern Africa, South America, and Central and Southeast Asia. The year is only half over, but more people have already been infected and killed by the coronavirus in 2021 than in 2020.
“Many nations that excelled at protecting their citizens are now facing a triple threat: They controlled COVID-19 so well that they have little natural immunity; they don’t have access to vaccines; and they’re besieged by Delta. At the start of this year, Vietnam had recorded just 1,500 COVID-19 cases—fewer than many individual American prisons. But it is now facing a huge Delta-induced surge when just 0.19 percent of its people have been fully vaccinated.
“We’re unlikely to be as vulnerable as we were at the beginning of the pandemic. The vaccines induce a variety of protective antibodies and immune cells, so it’s hard for a variant virus to evade them all. These defenses also vary from person to person, so even if a virus eludes one person’s set, it might be stymied when it jumps into a new host. “I don’t think there’ll suddenly be a variant that pops up and evades everything, and suddenly our vaccines are useless,” Gupta told me.


This is a good breakdown of some of the evidence for a lab-leak along with good arguments against much of it. The author has been a very reliable source for a long time, has no agenda, and does good research on sources.

More 'man-made' SARS Cov-2 lab-leak malarky by potholer54 (YouTube)


UK will see millions of COVID-19 infections this summer by Thomas Scripps (WSWS)

“Johnson has said bluntly that the UK “must reconcile [itself] to more deaths” and that infections will rise to 50,000 a day. Javid, demanding the population “learn to live with the existence of Covid”, admitted that daily case totals could reach 100,000 before the end of summer. Professor Neil Fergusson, an epidemiologist and modeller for the government, has warned that there is “the potential for the UK to have a very large number of cases, 150,000 to 200,000 a day.”

“The Guardian newspaper reports that there could be a staggering two million cases in the remaining six weeks of summer, but this is based on a very conservative estimate of an average 35,000 cases a day between now and July 19 and 60,000 from then until August 16.”

“Modelling by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggest there will be 1,300 COVID hospitalisations a day by late July-early August, if daily cases reach 100,000. Coronavirus admissions are already surging, rising by 70 percent in England in the week to July 5 to 416 people.”
“Vast numbers of people will also contract debilitating Long Covid. The British Medical Association (BMA) told the Independent that as many as 10,000 people a day could develop the condition, with 20 percent of them likely to be unable to work, study or do normal day-to-day activities for more than a year. Two million people have so far been affected by Long Covid and 385,000 have lived with it for more than a year—only 9 percent of those were hospitalised when they were first infected. Dr David Strain, speaking for the British Medical Association, said there is currently no evidence of vaccines causing a decline in the 10-17 percent of infections estimated to result in Long COVID.


Scientists demolish “Wuhan lab” conspiracy theory of coronavirus origins by Andre Damon (WSWS)

“Wade’s narrative was embraced by the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, all of which published editorials or major op-eds citing Wade without explaining his background. According to Wade, leading US, Chinese and other international scientists secretly collaborated on “gain of function” research, accidentally released the virus, then covered up the incident so effectively that no evidence of the conspiracy can be found to this day.

“The “Wuhan Lab” theory consists of piling speculative leaps on top of one another and claiming they add up to a convincing argument. The scientists’ response takes each of these speculations—for which there is no evidence to begin with—and explains their impossibility.

“The Wuhan Lab theory has never been a real “theory,” in the sense of a scientific explanation rooted in empirical evidence. It is a “theory” driven by purely political considerations: to deflect attention from those responsible, to justify the continuation of a policy that has led to millions of deaths and to serve as ammunition in the geopolitical conflict with China.”


US sees a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain by Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)

“The US should only look to the UK to see what happens when the Delta variant becomes totally dominant. The average daily COVID-19 hospital admissions have increased by 47 percent in the last week. […]

“As Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding had remarked in one of his tweets, the US is only a month behind the UK.


“Unchallenged Orientalism”: Why Liberals Suddenly Love the Lab Leak Theory by Alan Mcleod (MintPress News)

One hypothesis requires a colossal cover-up and the silent, unswerving, leak-proof compliance of a vast network of scientists, civilians, and government officials for over a year. The other requires only for biology to behave as it always has, for a family of viruses that have done this before to do it again. The zoonotic spillover hypothesis is simple and explains everything. It’s scientific malpractice to pretend that one idea is equally as meritorious as the other.”
“Earlier this week, The Lancet, which came in for considerable criticism for its previous publication condemning lab leak conspiracy theorists, refused to back down, maintaining that the idea “remain[s] without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it” (It did however, include a conflict of interests section this time, tacitly accepting that this part of Wade’s criticism was indeed valid). Its authors also directly warned of the danger of scapegoating China. “Recrimination has not, and will not, encourage international cooperation and collaboration,” they wrote. “It is time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry if we are to be better prepared to stem the next pandemic, whenever it comes and wherever it begins.”
The lab leak theory bears a striking resemblance to the weapons of mass destruction hoax of 2002-03, not only in the fact that one of its key players is literally the same journalist using potentially the same anonymous sources, but also in the bipartisan political and media support for the project, all while ignoring the opinions of the scientific community.”


European states scrap social distancing as COVID-19 pandemic surges by Jacques Valentin, Alex Lantier (WSWS)

“On July 1, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge had said: “Last week, the number of cases rose by 10 percent, driven by increased mixing, travel, gatherings and easing of social restrictions.” He also warned that the Delta variant will dominate in Europe by August, under conditions where 63 percent of Europe’s population still has not received its first vaccine dose. Half the elderly and 40 percent of health care workers are unvaccinated. On this basis, he warned that “there will be a new wave in the WHO European region.””

Economy & Finance

Wall Street rise continues amid warnings of instability by Nick Beams (WSWS)

“A much sharper warning about the state of the US and global financial system has been delivered by economist Nouriel Roubini, who came into public prominence because of his warnings prior to the financial crash of 2008.

“In a comment in the Guardian last Friday, he warned that conditions were ripe for a repeat of the 1970s stagflation and the 2008 debt crisis.

“He noted that debt ratios today were much higher than in the 1970s, while a mix of loose economic policies threatened to fuel inflation, rather than the deflation that occurred after the 2008 crisis.

“For now, loose monetary and fiscal policies will continue to fuel asset and credit bubbles, propelling a slow-motion train wreck,” he wrote, and pointed to the warning signs.

“These included: high price to earnings ratios for shares, inflated housing and tech assets, irrational exuberance surrounding special purpose acquisition companies (firms that are floated on the stock market on a cash only basis, with the aim of taking over another firm seeking a public listing) the crypto-currency sector, the level of high yield corporate debt (junk bonds), collateralised loan obligations, the increased use of private equity, meme stocks and runaway retail daily trading.

At a certain point this would trigger a loss of confidence and a crash, but in the meantime, loose monetary policies will continue to drive inflation, creating the conditions for stagflation, when the next economic shock arrives.

And that shock can come from anything. The system is so fragile—so unprepared for eventualities—that actual real-world events could affect it again (unlike recently, where it proved impermeable to COVID, drought, poverty). There isn’t any slack in the system. What if all of those people land on the streets due to eviction? Are the job numbers real? Are the jobs real jobs? What about the wage improvements in the States? Are those real? Or are they “correct” numbers but with little real-world impact for people?

Nothing in our recent history suggests that they would be. The percentage of unemployed workers commonly cited is a real number, calculated from real data, but it’s laughably low, especially when used as a scale to measure the health of the workforce. People are underemployed and underpaid. Wages at the low end are rising, but they were so abysmally low in the first place that a rise of 6% sounds like a lot, but it’s not nearly enough to make a difference.

What if the climate crises start to affect business even more than they have? What about the drought? What about the fires? What about the monsoons on the East Coast? The early and severe tropical-storm season? What happens if COVID wave #4 shows up in the States? What about any heatwaves this summer? Any of these things could tank the economy and it has absolutely no slack in it to absorb these impacts.

“The risks of a self-reinforcing spiral, inherent in the operations of highly leveraged hedge funds, “crystallised in the US Treasury market in March 2020. … Notably, hedge funds unwound US Treasury positions following severe portfolio losses and margin calls, contributing to a sharp rise in yields [interest rates] and market illiquidity.

“As the blog noted “large-scale intervention by the Federal Reserve managed to restore market liquidity and break the self-reinforcing loss spiral.”

“But as other reports on the March crisis have noted, none of the underlying issues that produced it have been resolved, and no solutions were advanced by the Bank of England blog to prevent a recurrence.”


The US Economy: Progress, But Not Home Yet by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

“Crude prices have been rising consistently since last fall, with the current price hovering near $75 a barrel, roughly the same as the peak levels in the years just before the pandemic.

“It’s not clear if this sort of price can be sustained long. There are many places in the world where oil can be profitably produced at $75 a[t] a barrel, but not at $50 or even $60 a barrel. Production was shut down in these areas in the pandemic, but we can expect many to be coming back on line in the next few months.

“There is also another factor that could put serious downward pressure on oil prices. If oil producers take seriously the commitments to electric cars and clean energy by the United States and other major consuming nations, then they will realize that they have an asset whose value is likely to plummet in coming years. In that context, it makes sense to try to produce as much as possible while the price is still reasonably high.

“Clearly this is not happening now, and most projections show oil demand continuing to rise modestly throughout the decade. But it is possible to imagine that aggressive moves towards clean energy could change this picture and create a climate of fear among oil producers.”

Since we have too few regulations, this is likely what will happen:

  1. The price of oil is high because of pandemic-related reduced capacity
  2. The pandemic is over! Fire ‘em all up again.
  3. The price drops below the margin/profitability of a certain percentage of the producers
  4. They produce and try to sell even more to lock in before the price drops even more
  5. Fear that demand for fossil fuels will drop among consumers pushes manufacturers to make hay while the sun shines, driving prices down
  6. But…consumers on the fence about fossil fuels see the cheap gas and think that everything’s “back to normal” and resume or increase their consumption patterns
  7. Also, it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, which is when gas prices always rise, regardless of supply/demand/economics.
“We may not see more months of 850,000 job growth, but it certainly is reasonable to believe that we can stay in a range between 500,000 and 700,000 at least through the rest of the year. Since we are still down 6.5 million jobs from before the pandemic started, this means we won’t make up the jobs lost until the winter. It will be even longer until we can get back to the pre-pandemic trend and get back jobs that should have been created over the last year and a half.

There is still a huge hole in the economy. We’ve only just started shoveling.

If Congress can use the summer to pass legislation dealing with longer term problems, like addressing global warming, improving child care and home health care, fixing Medicare, and making health care more affordable generally, the picture will be even better.”

Oh my goodness, Mr. Baker’s hope springs eternal. None of that will happen. Not a lick of it. According to Leaves Must be Canceled. All Hands on the Congressional Deck. by Ralph Nader (CounterPunch),

“[…] After returning for four weeks, the Senate is supposed to break by Aug. 6 for more than four weeks of the beloved August recess. That’s a nearly 75-day run from late June through Labor Day in which current planning would have senators here voting about 16 days.

“[…] When members of the House leave town July 1, they are slated to be in session just two of the next 11 weeks. […] From July 2 through Sept. 19, the House is only in session for nine days.

“[…] Even when Congress is in session, Senators and Representatives usually work a three-day week – Tuesdays to Thursdays – with time to rush to nearby campaign offices and dial for campaign dollars.”

Yeah, they’re not going to do anything this summer, Dean. I’m sorry.


Robinhood’s Investors Have Fun by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

““As of the end of March 2021, our customers had seen appreciation of their assets of approximately $25 billion,” says the S-1. “We are only six years into our journey,” it also says, and in the last six years the S&P 500 has roughly doubled, so you can’t necessarily attribute this to the trading acumen of Robinhood’s customers or the quality of Robinhood’s educational materials.


Pump and Dump and Pull the Rug by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“[…] more important, though, they keep depositing money into the liquidity pool. The price is now high, and there is a lot of money in the liquidity pool. Then what you do is, you sell your tokens — the ones that you kept — for all the Ethereum in the liquidity pool. There is an automated market maker, a smart contract that has a bunch of Ethereum and will give it to you, for PumpCoins, on a purely formulaic basis. You take advantage of this by selling PumpCoins to the smart contract until it has no Ethereum left. Then you close up the project and move on to your next scam. This is a thing that people very much do. It is called a “rug pull.” It has … certain … advantages over the classic stock pump and dump. One is that legally crypto, and especially DeFi, is totally the Wild West, and there is no norm of, like, registering new tokens with the SEC and getting them audited. I am not going to say that rug pulls are legal — they seem … not … legal? — only that the law does not seem to be a huge practical limitation.

“[…] The other advantage is that the market maker is automated and has its liquidity pool all ready to go, which means that when you decide to do the dump — the rug pull — you can sell all your tokens at once into predictable demand.

““The whole thing is just fake – people get fake yields, they get fake balances and then eventually the founders just take everything. A competitor platform is offering 10%, so I say I can get you 20%. You send me your money and then I run,” said Stephane Ouellette, chief executive and co-founder of FRNT Financial. “All the platforms are perpetuating this stuff because it trades actively, but there is just so much junk and this is only going to continue to get worse.”
“But “while this is a sad story for the victims, it’s not a big deal. $2 million frauds are everyday occurrences,” he said. “If the crooks aren’t doing them in crypto, they’re selling fake stock, or worthless gemstones, or phantom gold, or real estate they don’t own.” He’s not wrong. Still, my point in going through the mechanics like that is that DeFi seems to offer some real innovation in making these sorts of scams more efficient, predictable and reliable. Old-school finance relied on trust and messy human intervention; DeFi automates a lot of those processes, which can make scamming easier.
“Robinhood signed up a lot of inexperienced customers and encouraged them to trade complicated options strategies; then it turned out that Robinhood didn’t understand those strategies itself and sent them incorrect account statements, with occasionally tragic results. Or, before Robinhood briefly shut down trading in meme stocks in February for complicated clearing reasons, it had a reputation for shutting down trading in all stocks from time to time, occasionally for an entire trading day, particularly in volatile markets, just because its computers sometimes stopped working. If you are trying to buy or sell stocks in a volatile market, to avoid horrendous losses or to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it is very bad for your broker’s computers to break.
“One lesson you could take away from this is that antitrust law is sort of generative of other forms of government regulation. If everyone in the AI business thinks there should be a rule against evil AI, it is risky for them to just get together and agree on it. But if some government agency regulates AI, then all the people in the business can lobby that agency to make a rule about it. (Similarly, if everyone in the taxi industry thinks that there should be safety regulations, or minimum-price regulations, it’s better for them to lobby a taxi commission to make those rules than to agree on them themselves.) It is tricky for industries to self-regulate, because self-regulation might look like collusion, so they have to ask the government to regulate instead.


Facebook Is Big But Maybe Not a Monopoly by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

Yesterday a U.S. federal judge dismissed two antitrust lawsuits against Facebook Inc., brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general, claiming that it has a monopoly on social networking. Facebook investors celebrated by buying its stock and pushing its market capitalization above $1 trillion, which is maybe a little on the nose? “What, little old us, a monopoly? No, alas, we’re just a scrappy little startup doing our best to survive in this crazy world,” Mark Zuckerberg could say, nervously trying to stand between you and the ticker showing that his company is now worth a trillion dollars. I dunno, doesn’t a trillion dollars sound like a monopoly?
“Although the Court, as just explained, finds the contours of the asserted product market plausible, the Complaint is undoubtedly light on specific factual allegations regarding consumer-switching preferences. Given that thin showing, and the fact that the PSN-services product market is somewhat “idiosyncratically drawn” to begin with, the Court must demand something more robust from Plaintiff’s market-share allegations.”
“As the Supreme Court explained in Twombly, itself an antitrust case, “[A] district court must retain the power to insist upon some specificity in pleading before allowing a potentially massive factual controversy to proceed.” Here, this Court must exercise that power. The FTC’s Complaint says almost nothing concrete on the key question of how much power Facebook actually had, and still has, in a properly defined antitrust product market. It is almost as if the agency expects the Court to simply nod to the conventional wisdom that Facebook is a monopolist.
“[…] whatever it may mean to the public, “monopoly power” is a term of art under federal law with a precise economic meaning: the power to profitably raise prices or exclude competition in a properly defined market. To merely allege that a defendant firm has somewhere over 60% share of an unusual, nonintuitive product market — the confines of which are only somewhat fleshed out and the players within which remain almost entirely unspecified — is not enough. The FTC has therefore fallen short of its pleading burden.
““It’s not hard to look at these cases and come away with the sense that antitrust law, as it stands, is not capable of handling the problems posed by dominant technology companies,” said Blake Reid, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School.”
“And by literally advertising literally free money, they were able to sign up a bunch of customers, which (1) you might think would be easy but (2) was apparently hard enough that no one else did it. And then they partnered with banks to get PPP loans for the customers, and they took vast chunks of the banks’ fees for themselves, and now their founders are dynastically wealthy from spending one year shoveling government money to small businesses. I hope the founders use their billions to fund libertarian think tanks and seasteads and cryptocurrency projects.”
“There was a genuine macroeconomic and, frankly, humanitarian problem that the U.S. government really wanted to solve: It wanted to rapidly pump out billions of dollars to small businesses to keep the economy together during the Covid pandemic. Doing this, in turn, required certain loan-administration and business-evaluation skills that the government lacks but banks have, so the government contracted the problem out to banks; it also required solving certain user-interface and customer-acquisition problems that neither banks nor the government are great at, so they effectively contracted those problems out to some tech companies on a speculative basis. The tech companies who solved the problems did an important service and got very rich. Still, another way to put it is that the U.S. government paid these people $3 billion to set up some websites and buy some bus ads, which feels, with the benefit of hindsight, weird.”

Also, the agencies that availed themselves of the service massively overpaid. I wonder why? I wonder which companies were selected? Were there the standard winners in this sweepstakes? This would seem “odd” in a climate where everything wasn’t otherwise corrupt. In the environment of the United States as it is in 2021, the burden of proof lies on those claiming it isn’t corruption.

“The Fed is in the business of providing an electronic ledger where a relatively small number of relatively sophisticated banks and institutions can keep their dollars. Getting into the business of providing an electronic ledger where millions of regular people can keep their dollars would require different skills, and those skills are not, in practice, trivial. You gotta run bus ads, and tell people how to reset their passwords if they forget.”
“The absolute most generous true description you can apply to Great Jones is that it conducts arbitrage on cheap pastel-colored cookware with flimsy enamel cladding, made by other companies with less robust brands. But the truest thing you can say is that Great Jones, like so many other companies, is a skimming operation: It launders somebody else’s actual manufacture through its own aggressive branding, and takes a cut of the proceeds. The company can have the best quarter of its existence despite having no full-time employees, despite having literally no capacity to do anything other than exist as a legal fiction, because it never actually did anything. Anything! It never did anything.


Book Review: How Asia Works by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“There was nothing predetermined about this. These countries started with nothing. In 1950, South Korea and Taiwan were poorer than Honduras or the Congo. But they managed to break into the ranks of the First World even while dozens of similar countries stayed poor. Why?
“Unfortunately, most countries practice bad economic policy, partly because the IMF / World Bank / rich country economic advisors got things really wrong. They recommended free markets and open borders, which are good for rich countries, but bad for developing ones. Developing countries need to start with planned economies, then phase in free market policies gradually and in the right order. Since rich country economists kept leading everyone astray, the only countries that developed properly were weird nationalist dictatorships and communist states that ignored the Western establishment out of spite.

The book Pushing Away the Ladder by Ha-Joon Chang explains how this was deliberate policy, not just “rich country economists kept leading everyone astray” by accident.

“Studwell uses the analogy of the hobbyist gardener vs. the giant commercial farmer. The hobbyist gives loving care to every single plant, hand-weeds their plot, arranges pots and planters and trellises and poles in the right positions, and knows weird tricks like intergrowing tall plants that produce shade and smaller plants that thrive in it. Meanwhile, the giant commercial farmer just runs his tractor over the land and calls it a day. As a result, the gardener’s plot is much more productive; Studwell calculates that a carefully-tended garden in the US might produce $16.50 per square meter per year; a commercial farm would produce $0.25. This doesn’t mean the commercial farmer is doing anything wrong! He ends up making much more than the gardener, because he has an entire giant farm; it would be impossible to tend the whole farm as carefully as the gardener tends his tiny plot. Both are maximizing a certain type of efficiency: the gardener is treating labor as cheap and maximizing yield per unit land; the farmer is treating land as cheap and maximizing yield per unit labor.

We are now in a situation, and arguably always have been, where we need to maximize yield per unit land. Since the whole world is currently built up not to do that, there is no chance that the powers-that-be will change anything unless forced to at gunpoint.

“The American efforts owe a lot to US diplomat Wolf Ladejinsky, one of the heroes of this book. He was a Russian immigrant to America whose experiences under communism gave him a better idea what peasants wanted than most of his colleagues, and he pushed for land reform when everyone else thought it sounded too communist. His work was crucial in East Asia, but the US establishment sidelined him before he could influence the rest of the world.”
“Will we witness an economic transformation like Japan, Korea, Taiwan or China’s again? The answer is quite possibly not, for one simple reason. Without effective land reform it is difficult to see how sustained growth of 7-10 per cent a year − without fatal debt crises − can be achieved in poor countries. And radical land reform, combined with agronomic and marketing support for farmers, is off the political agenda. Since the 1980s, the World Bank has instead promoted microfinance, encouraging the rural poor to set up street stalls selling each other goods for which they have almost no money to pay. It is classic sticking-plaster development policy.
“Aren’t there good free-market arguments against tariffs and government intervention in the economy? The key counterargument is that developing country industries aren’t just about profit. They’re about learning. The benefits of a developing-country industry go partly to the owners/investors, but mostly to the country itself, in the sense of gaining technology / expertise / capacity. It’s almost always more profitable in the short run for developing-world capitalists to start another banana plantation, or speculate on real estate, or open a casino. But a country that invests mostly in banana plantations will still be a banana republic fifty years later, whereas a country that invests mostly in car companies will become South Korea.
“So the job of a developing country government is to try to get everyone to ignore profits in favor of the industrial learning process. “Ignore profits” doesn’t actually mean the companies shouldn’t be profitable. All else being equal, higher profits are a sign that the company is learning its industry better. But it means that there are many short-term profit opportunities that shouldn’t be taken because nobody will learn anything from them. And lots of things that will spend decades unprofitable should be done anyway, for educational value.
“One gets the impression that Park thought of great entrepreneurs and leaders the same way he thought of eg construction cranes. They were a useful tool which could be used to produce great things, and you would happily pay a lot of money to continue to have them. But you had to direct them at useful projects, otherwise they would be wasted.
“[…] working with foreign companies who already have the technology you need seems like a good way to get a leg up. But they usually try to do all the exciting high-tech stuff themselves and just use you for menial labor. Remember, when you get a steel company to produce a million tons of steel, you’re mostly not buying steel, you’re buying learning. If a foreign company makes and runs the factory, they’re the ones learning more about steel, on your dime. Park Chung-Hee had a simple, straightforward strategy for dealing with foreign companies: partner with them only long enough to steal all of their technology. Malaysia tried actually partnering with them, and so a lot of foreign companies produced large parts of Malaysian goods and Malaysia barely benefitted.”
“Studwell devotes a separate chapter to finance, but it’s really a corollary of the industrial policy section. Developing country financial systems need to support industrial policy by preferentially offering great loans to industrial learning projects. This won’t work under a free market system. Under a free market system, banks will offer the best loans to whatever is most profitable, probably some short-term resource extraction scheme that nobody learns anything from.
“[…] overall it was surprising how well their bureaucracies worked. Programs intended to reward companies that exported successfully really did reward companies that exported successfully, unlike in eg Malaysia where they rewarded companies based on connections or race. Ordinary citizens were surprisingly willing to go along with plans that required they work very hard in factories their entire lives and earn negative interest rates on their savings. Entrepreneurs mostly did as they were told instead of trying to cheat the system, and weren’t powerful enough to take over the government and torpedo the industrial plan in favor of one that let them make more profit. Overall, even if it was the good policy that made the difference, all the policy-makers involved deserve a lot of credit for implementing the policy fairly and efficiently and sticking to it even when it got hard.


Bitcoin myths: immutability, decentralisation, and the cult of “21 million” by David Gerard

“Bitcoin is not about the technology. It’s never been about the technology. Bitcoin is about the psychology of getting rich for free. People will say and do anything if you tell them they can get rich for free. You don’t even have to deliver. Bitcoin also has an elaborate political mythology — which is largely delusional and literally based in conspiracy theories. The marketing pitch is that the actual-money economy will surely collapse any moment now! And if you get into Bitcoin, you can get rich from this. If you want to get rich for free, take on this weird ideology. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the ideology yet — just keep doing the things, and you’ll get rich for free!
“Satoshi’s way around this was to require some form of unfakeable commitment before you’d be allowed to validate the transactions, and win the coins. He came up with using an old idea called “proof-of-work” — which is really proof of waste. You waste electricity to show your commitment, and the competitors win bitcoins in proportion to how much electricity they waste.
“[…] from 2014 on, Bitcoin mining was indisputably centralised. In 2015, the men controlling 80% of Bitcoin mining stood on stage together at a conference. Three or four entities have run Bitcoin mining since then. The only thing preventing miner misbehaviour is wanting to avoid spooking the suckers — it’s completely trust-based. Bitcoin now uses a country’s worth of electricity [] for no actual reason. You could do the transactions on a 2007 iPhone.
Bitcoin is not very fast. It can process a theoretical maximum of about 7 to 10 transactions per second (TPS) — total, world-wide, across the whole network. In practice, it’s usually around 4 to 5 TPS. For comparison, Visa claims up to 65,000 TPS.”
“This is ridiculously impractical. You’re not going to send money back-and-forth with a random coffee shop — you want to give them money and get your coffee. Lightning’s promise of thousands of transactions per second can obviously only work if you have large centralised entities who almost everyone opens channels with. You could call them “banks,” or “money transmitters.””
“Bitcoin Cash launched in September 2017, and wanted to take over the “BTC” ticker on exchanges. This failed — it had to go with BCH. But Bitcon Cash did have a chance at the “BTC” ticker for a while there; exchanges were watching to see if Bitcoin Cash became more popular. Bitmain mined BCH furiously instead of mining BTC — and BTC’s block times went from ten minutes to over an hour. As it happened, Bitcoin was in the middle of a bubble — so nobody much noticed or cared, because all the number-go-up action was happening on exchanges, and not on chain.
“The bit where proof-of-work mining uses a country’s worth of electricity to run the most inefficient payment system in human history is finally coming to public attention, and is probably Bitcoin’s biggest public relations problem. Normal people think of Bitcoin as this dumb nerd money that nerds rip each other off with — but when they hear about proof-of-work, they get angry. Externalities turn out to matter.
“The overriding consideration for any change to Bitcoin is: it must not risk shaking the faith of the most dedicated suckers. They supply the scarce actual-dollars that keep the casino going.

Public Policy & Politics

The democratic issues in Bill Cosby’s release by Eric London (WSWS)

“Though differing in their reasons, all seven judges agreed that the conviction violated Cosby’s fundamental right to due process and a fair trial under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. The violation was so severe that the majority barred the prosecution from retrying the case.

“Four of the seven judges (three Democrats and one Republican) ruled the conviction violated Cosby’s due process right to protection against forced self-incrimination, ordering his release. Two judges (both Democrats) concurred in part and dissented in part, agreeing with the majority’s ruling but stating they would have ordered a new trial instead of releasing Cosby outright.

The argument that violations of due process are acceptable to ensure that guilty people do not “get away with” crimes has always been a hallmark of right-wing “tough on crime” campaigns that have resulted in the incarceration of millions of impoverished people in the US. It flies in the face of Blackstone’s democratic adage, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent person suffer.””
“The fact is that the #MeToo proponents vocally demanded prosecutors take actions which the highest court in Pennsylvania has now ruled violated constitutional due process. The claim that the court’s ruling was based on a “technicality” is aimed at covering up this embarrassing fact which exposes the right-wing character of the #MeToo initiative.
“The court then explained the constitutional basis for its decision: “Due process is a universal concept, permeating all aspects of the criminal justice system. Like other state actors, prosecutors must act within the boundaries set by our foundational charters… The privilege constitutes an essential restraint upon the power of the government, and stands as an indispensable rampart between that government and the governed.””
“The corporate media is not trying to hide its sanctimonious anger over Thursday’s decision. “Cosby no longer lives in prison, but he will always live in shame,” writes Eugene Robinson in the morally-pure Washington Post, which the same day published another op-ed piece titled, “Donald Rumsfeld was a great man, whose lessons I will never forget.”
“For socialists, the principle of the defense of democratic rights is not determined by the personality or even the actions of the accused. Only dishonest people claim defending due process means endorsing the conduct of the defendant. These arguments—and the MeToo campaign as a whole—serve the interests of historical and political reaction.”


Corporate media blacks out admission that witness against Assange lied for US indictment by Oscar Grenfell (WSWS)

“The US incorporated Thordarson’s lies into a superseding indictment against Assange, issued in June 2020, precisely to bolster this narrative, and to obscure the fact that the attempted prosecution was an attack on press freedom. Thordarson’s tales of having conspired with Assange to secretly record the conversations of Icelandic politicians, hack into banks and commit other cyber-crimes, are presented in the indictment as fact, and proof that the WikiLeaks founder is nothing more than a common criminal.

“When the indictment was released, Thordarson’s credibility was already low. He had previously been convicted in an Icelandic court of impersonating Assange, stealing tens of thousands of dollars from WikiLeaks, and molesting underage boys. The psychiatric assessment presented to those hearings was hardly a glowing character reference, describing the Icelandic man as a sociopath.

The indictment and Thordarson, however, received limited media scrutiny, because his lies dovetailed with those of the corporate press. Now that he has walked back the claims, nothing is said or written.

“The Stundin episode again demonstrates that any perspective of securing Assange’s freedom by issuing plaintive appeals to the official institutions of capitalist society, including the corporate media, amounts to a fool’s errand.

“In its own way, the media silence indicates the real constituency for the defence of Assange and all democratic rights. The blackout of the Thordarson revelations is a tacit acknowledgement that if the details of Assange’s plight were widely known and discussed, they would provoke mass outrage and opposition from ordinary people.


Tense Day At A Spa by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“Whether trans women are women is an ideological choice, but penises are not vaginas. Perhaps the complaint is that we ought to get past genitalia and not make a big deal about being exposed to body parts we don’t possess. But that, too, is a separate issue from discrimination against transgender people. Would “get over it” be the same reaction if the person exposing his penis made no claim to being transgender, and he was just showing his man penis to young girls?
“The point isn’t to take a side in the “trans women are women” debate, but rather to note that the ramifications have never been made clear and transparent. By focusing the debate on bathrooms, consideration has largely gotten caught up in the nuts and bolts of toilet stalls and urinals rather than the far broader issues of how this will effect societal change and create social conflicts that nobody considered.
“This will assuredly not be the only issue that could potentially arise, and there are likely a great many more banal problems, such as what happened at Wi Spa when women who did not accept the premise that their “women’s only” privacy would include children’s exposure to male genitalia. I get it, You think they’re wrong, stupid, discriminatory and their feelings about such exposure are unworthy of recognition. Why their sensibilities don’t matter while others sensibilities must be respected no matter what is where this dives down the irrational rabbit hole of ideology.


Japanese defense official questions the “One China” policy by Ben McGrath (WSWS)

“Neither Tokyo nor Washington is concerned about democratic rights in Taiwan, which Japan ruthlessly ruled as a colony from 1895 to 1945. The characterization of Taiwan as “democratic” ignores the island’s history of military dictatorship, and is aimed at poisoning public opinion towards China, in preparation for war.

“Taiwan first reverted to China’s control after World War II. Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (KMT) then fled to Taiwan, following their defeat in the 1949 Chinese Revolution. As throughout China, the KMT was deeply unpopular on the island.

“Under martial law, the government suppressed free speech and the right to assembly. It strictly controlled newspapers, even down to the number of pages, with anti-government sentiment barred from publication. New political parties were also banned. The Taiwan Garrison Command, the island’s secret police until 1992, arrested at least 140,000 people, with many of them sentenced to long prison terms and tortured. Approximately 8,000 people were executed. The real totals are believed to be much higher.
The anti-democratic framework established under the KMT dictatorship remains in place today, supported by the DPP. As workers in Taiwan and throughout the Asia-Pacific region increasingly move into confrontation with capitalism, these same anti-democratic laws will be used to clamp down on political dissent.”


Making Sense of Sex and Gender by Robert Jensen (CounterPunch)

“Stock points out why this should worry everyone, even people who may never have direct experience with transgender policies or are not interested in philosophical debates:”
“treating males with female gender identities as women in every possible context is a politically inflammatory act. In effect it sends a contemptuously dismissive message to women already conscious of unequal treatment of their interests. This message says: the interests of males with female gender identities are more important than yours.


Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) Speaks Out On Reining in Big Tech and Why Many House Members Refuse by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“The report narrated that these “companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.” And it concluded that “these firms typically run the marketplace while also competing in it — a position that enables them to write one set of rules for others, while they play by another, or to engage in a form of their own private quasi regulation that is unaccountable to anyone but themselves.””
“Along with his GOP Senate colleague Mike Lee (R-UT), Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Cicilline, Buck announced last week that this bipartisan group is urging new Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan “to pursue antitrust enforcement action against Facebook.”

Greenwald wrote in response to a foolish commentator who thought to explain to him the nuances of how a free-market economy works.

“I didn’t wade in on economic policy. I interviewed the extremely conservative ranking member of the House subcommittee on antitrust law about his efforts to ensure compliance. If you want to abolish laws against monopolies and antitrust, that’s your right to try, but while those are laws, Google, Facebook and the others shouldn’t be allowed to get away with violating them and using anti-competitive practices because they drown both parties with campaign cash and pay lobbyists to sabotage regulatory efforts to ensure compliance.”


Mike Gravel and An Ongoing Road to Courage by Matthew Hoh (CounterPunch)

“Courage only matters when there are real consequences to your actions and there is a difference between consequences to yourself and consequences to others. The consequences to my own vanity and career are what kept me in the wars and kept me taking part in that organized murder. Personal consequences did not scare Mike Gravel. Senator Gravel was afraid of the consequences to others of his inaction. He was afraid of the consequences of what would happen if someone of his standing and position did not act with truth and justice as their intention.
“Oh, if Mike Gravel had been president. What might have been? Rest in peace Senator Gravel. Thank you for what you did and attempted to do for our country and for the world. Thank you for what you did for me and for what you have done for countless others. Your spirit, your courage and your example will live on through those you inspired.”


American Sadism (talk transcript) by Chris Hedges (Scheer Post)

“Chris Hedges gave this talk on American Sadism at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, New York on Sunday June 27.”
The leaked pictures from Abu Ghraib are the true face of America, the hooded Man, a dark-caped figure standing on a box, arms outstretched, wires attached to his fingers or the naked leashed man lying at the feet of the female American soldier in camouflage pants who holds his leash, one end wrapped around his neck, in her hand.”

Not the true face of its people; the true face of the country, the government.

““They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals,” Conrad wrote of Kayerts and Carlier: whose existence is only rendered possible through the high organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.
““Honor, justice, compassion and freedom are ideas that have no converts,” Conrad writes. “There are only people, without knowing, understanding or feeling, who intoxicate themselves with words, shout them out, imag[in]ing they believe them without believing in anything else but profit, personal advantage and their own satisfaction.” “Man is a cruel animal,” Conrad wrote. “His cruelty must be organized. Society is essentially criminal—or it wouldn’t exist. It is selfishness that saves everything—absolutely everything—everything that we abhor, everything that we love.””
“As Engels wrote: When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live—forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence—knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.
“This entrepreneurial tyranny reduces political choice to the sadistic prescriptions provided by corporate power. It creates a society where there is an absence of nearly all positive social and political constructs. Even social change, reduced to identity politics and multiculturalism, has been effectively emasculated by corporate propaganda. A sense of agency, personal power and social status comes almost exclusively from, as Nietzsche foresaw, serving the sadistic machinery.”
“Yes, the decorum of the Biden presidency differs from that of the Trump presidency. But the underlying mercenary exploitation and sadism of American society remains untouched. Biden’s American Jobs Plan will never create “millions of good paying jobs—jobs Americans can raise their families on” any more than NAFTA, which he supported, would, as was also promised, create millions of good paying jobs. His mantra of “buy American” is worthless. The vast majority of our consumer electronics, apparel, furniture and industrial supplies are made in China by workers who earn an average of one or two dollars an hour and lack unions and basic labor rights. His call to lower deductibles and prescription drug costs in the Affordable Care Act will never be permitted by the corporations that profit from health care. His promises of fair taxation, despite the world’s richest men—Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros—paying a true tax rate of 3.4 percent will not be altered. The corporate subsidies and tax incentives he proposes as a solution to the climate crisis will do nothing to halt oil and gas fracking, shut down coal-fired plants or halt the construction of new pipelines for gas-fired power plants.
The 81 million Americans that struggle to meet basic household expenses, the 22 million that lack enough food and the 11 million that can’t make their next house payment are about to hit a wall as the meager benefits from the COVID relief bills run out and the moratorium is lifted on evictions and foreclosures.”
The grinding machinery of predatory capitalism, and the sadism that defines it, will poison the society as mercilessly under Biden as it did when Trump was conducting his Twitter presidency.
“Biden is bereft, like von Papen, of new ideas and programs. He will keep the machinery of repression well oiled, a machinery he was instrumental throughout his political career in constructing. Those that resist will be attacked as agents of a foreign power and censored, as many already are being censored, through algorithms and deplatforming on social media. The most ardent dissidents, such as Julian Assange, will be criminalized.
“The growing ressentiment of the dispossessed is stoked and fed by a mass media that has divided the public into competing demographics. Media platforms target one demographic, feeding its opinions and proclivities back to it, while shrilly demonizing the demographic on the other side of the political divide. This has proved commercially successful. But it has also split the country into irreconcilable warring factions that can no longer communicate. Truth and verifiable fact have been sacrificed.”
“Zoonotic diseases—diseases that jump from animals to humans—such as HIV/AIDS, which has killed approximately 36 million people, Avian flu, Swine flu, Ebola and COVID-19, which has already killed some 4 million, will ripple across the globe in ever more virulent strains, often mutating beyond our control. The misuse of antibiotics in the animal agriculture industry, which accounts for 80 percent of all antibiotic use, has produced strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant and fatal. A modern version of the Black Death, which in the 14th century killed between 75 and 200 million people, wiping out perhaps half of Europe’s population, is probably inevitable as long as the pharmaceutical and medical industries are configured to make money rather than protect and save lives.
“[…] those in the global south are, as usual, abandoned, as if the diseases that kill them will never reach us. Israel’s decision to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to as many as 19 countries while refusing to vaccinate the 5 million Palestinians living under its occupation is emblematic of the ruling elite’s stunning myopia, not to mention immorality.”
What is taking place is not neglect. It is not ineptitude. It is not policy failure. It is social murder. It is murder because it is premeditated. It is murder because a conscious choice was made by the global ruling classes to extinguish life rather than protect it. It is murder because profit, despite the hard statistics, the growing climate disruptions, and the scientific modeling, is deemed more important than human survival.
“[…] challenge the megamachine, to name and condemn its death wish, is to be expelled from its inner sanctum. There are, no doubt, some within the megamachine who fear the future, who are appalled by the social murder, who worry what will happen to their children, but they do not want to lose their jobs and their social status to become pariahs.

Future generations, if there are any, will look back at the current global ruling class as the most criminal in human history, willfully dooming billions of people to mass death. These crimes are being committed in front of us. And, with few exceptions, we are being herded like sheep to the slaughter.

The radical evil that makes this social murder possible is perpetrated by the colorless bureaucrats and technocrats churned out of business schools, law schools, management programs and elite universities. Demonic nonentities.”

“They carry out the evictions. They enforce the laws and the regulations. They do not ask questions. They live in an intellectual vacuum, a world of stultifying minutia. They are T.S. Eliot’s “the hollow men,” “the stuffed men.” “Shape without form, shade without color,” the poet writes. “Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.”
“These systems managers, uneducated in all but their tiny technical specialty, lack the language and moral autonomy to question the reigning assumptions or structures.
“Mass demonstrations outside state capitals at the same time pressured state legislatures to block the collection of overdue mortgage payments. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the south unionized. The Department of Labor called their collective action a “miniature civil war.” The unemployed and the hungry throughout the country squatted in vacant homes and on vacant land forming shantytowns that were known as Hoovervilles. The destitute took over public buildings and public utilities. This constant pressure, not the good will of FDR, created the New Deal. He and his fellow oligarchs eventually understood that if there was not reform there would be revolution, something Roosevelt acknowledged in his private correspondence.”
“History has amply illustrated how this process works. It is a game of fear. And until we make the ruling elites afraid, until a terrified Joe Biden and the oligarchs he serves look out on a sea of pitchforks, we will not blunt the culture of sadism and social murder they have engineered.”


Biden’s Lawless Bombing of Iraq and Syria Only Serves the Weapons Industry Funding Both Parties by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“To begin with, how can U.S. airstrikes carried out in Iraq and Syria be “defensive” in nature? How can they be an act of “self-defense”? Nobody suggests that the targets of the bombing campaign have the intent or the capability to strike the U.S. “homeland” itself. Neither Syria nor Iraq is a U.S. colony or American property, nor does the U.S. have any legal right to be fighting wars in either country, rendering the claim that its airstrikes were “defensive” and an “act of self-defense” to be inherently deceitful.”
Invocation of Iran has no purpose other than to stimulate the emotional opposition to the government of that country among many Americans in the hope that visceral dislike of Iranian leaders will override the rational faculties that would immediately recognize the deceit and illegality embedded in the Pentagon’s arguments.”
There is no conceivable Congressional authorization — none, zero — to Biden’s dropping of bombs in Syria. Obama’s deployment of CIA operatives to Syria and years of the use of force to overthrow Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad never had any Congressional approval of any kind, nor did Trump’s bombing of Assad’s forces (urged by Hillary Clinton, who wanted more), nor does Biden’s bombing campaign in Syria now. It was and is purely lawless, illegal. And the same is true of bombing Iraq.
“Many have forgotten that President Obama not only involved the U.S. in a devastating regime-change war in Libya without congressional approval, but so much worse, continued to do so even after the House of Representatives voted against providing him authorization to use force in Libya. Obama ignored the House vote and kept troops in Libya anyways as part of a NATO mission, claiming that NATO and U.N. authorization somehow entitled him to do this despite his own country’s Congress voting against it, reflecting overwhelming opposition among the citizenry. (The U.N. authorization — even if it could somehow supplant the U.S. Constitution — only allowed the use of force to protect civilians, not to overthrow the Libyan government, which quickly and predictably became the NATO mission, making it clearly illegal).”
The executive power theories that were adopted — that the president has the right to do whatever he wants under Article II regardless of congressional laws or any other acts by courts or the citizenry, even including spying on American citizens without warrants — was [sic] the pure expression of authoritarianism and lawlessness.
“That is what endless war means: a war that is designed never to terminate, one that is as far removed as possible from actual matters of self-defense and manufactures its own internal rationale to continue it.”
“As they are told that they cannot enjoy a sustainable let alone quality standard of living without working two or three dreary hourly-wage, benefits-free jobs for corporate giants, and while more Americans than ever continue to live at home and remain financially unable to start families, the U.S. continues to spend more on its military than the next thirteen countries combined. This has continued for close to two full decades now because the establishment wings of both parties support it.


The Capitol Police, Armed With $2 Billion in New Funding, Expanding Operations Outside of D.C. by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“As a result of AOC’s craven act in refusing to join with the other three Squad members in uniting with the GOP to stop it, there is now yet another federal law enforcement agency attempting to assert its power outside of Washington: the Capitol Police. They intend to open “regional offices” in two of the country’s largest states with plans to grow even further. Perhaps even more significantly, they are turning themselves into a preventative “intelligence-based” private police force for Congress which, by definition, will monitor and spy on Americans beyond what the FBI, NSA and CIA already do.
“The unleashing of a newly empowered law enforcement agency, commanded by Congress, has been enabled by one tactic: the ongoing weaponization and exaggeration of the events of January 6 and the supposed grave domestic threat it reflects. Even before Joe Biden was inaugurated, he was making clear that he intends to initiate a new domestic War on Terror, with new legislation to empower it if necessary. Yet thus far, even without new laws, the U.S. security state has amped up both its rhetoric and its operations in the name of fighting “domestic extremism.”

Journalism & Media

Stop Debating Definition by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

I note with some distress that many people seem to have become inclined to argue almost exclusively by defining extremely narrow terms by which a given issue “should” be debated, and then engage only by relentlessly policing those terms rather than trying to reason more broadly in a way that actually deepens understanding. Yes, defining terms is important; it is useful to know, for example, what different people mean when they use the term “critical race theory,” particularly the progenitors of that term. We should though recognize that all terms, even previously-obscure academic terms, have shifting boundaries and definitions that are subject to public evolution. More importantly, argument about definition is very rarely fruitful. […] Meanwhile, things are happening that deserve public debate. Some people want to change the way that race is taught in American K-12 schools. Some people are oppose[d] to those changes. The way to determine whose feelings should reign is not by endlessly arguing over whether these changes do or do not constitute critical race theory but rather by deciding what is true and what is good.


Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

“[…] none of us have any more reason to trust the people panhandling for money, clout, and fame through the auspices of social justice than we do reason to trust the guy trying to take our dollar bills for the whales. We are all being told, by progressive consensus, that we have to mindlessly donate, ask no questions, never wonder about motives, and never, ever consider the efficacy of their efforts. We either blindly fall in line when they say to give them whatever they want, including the adoption of extremely contentious policies in a polarized democratic country, or we’re on the other side, the bad side, and we have to live with the black mark of being “part of the problem.””
What has Ibram Kendi’s ideology accomplished, beyond enriching Ibram Kendi? Can we point to, like, a graph that shows the outcome of his good works? It certainly seems that we can’t. Since this is the case, why does 95% of the journalism that references Kendi make literally no mention of the basic concept of efficacy?
“The policy on lefty Twitter is that you never ask hard questions about #BlackLivesMatter, ever, and most people in establishment media write for the approval of lefty Twitter above and beyond any other motivation. $10.6 billion dollars were sucked up into a vague and amorphous social movement that has no defined boundaries or parent organization, and yet many of the biggest players in the media haven’t once asked where it went!
“[…Chris Hayes is] not doing any segments on his show about the plain fact that this supposed racial reckoning has clearly completely stalled out and now we’ve enter a period of pure commerce. No to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; yes to billions and billions spent on DEI training that literally no one will pay attention to. Is this not a condition that we should worry over? Think about? If you care about BlackLivesMatter, you are enjoined by principle to defend it from itself, and that means being willing to express unpopular opinions, such as the reality that the movement has absolutely no sense of direction, no broadly agreed-upon goals, and no idea about how it would achieve them if it did.
The most obvious fact about this horseshit “great awokening” we’re going through than that it’s all powered by condescension. Just steeped in the most intense and obvious and dehumanizing condescension. You know why some white liberals are opposed to standardized testing? Not because they currently produce racially stratified results, but because they think they will always produce racially stratified results. Because they quietly assume Black people will never be able to succeed in that kind of assessment. You know why the immense numbers of white liberal journalists on Twitter who cheered on the movement last year and put “BLM” in their Tinder profiles never ask hard questions about the movement and whether it was using its political capital and economic resources wisely? Because they think Black people are the fucking junior varsity of politics.
“On the Media, stop your affluent white guilt struggle session long enough to, like, think about a very glaring aspect of media. Poynter Institute, check this fact: BlackLivesMatter has existed for seven years and it’s resulted in more new houses for Patrisse Cullors than pieces of national legislation. Media, do your fucking job. Prove me wrong.”


Robin DiAngelo Is Very Disappointed in the White People Making Her Rich by Matt Welch (Reason)

“Nice Racism is an unrelentingly sour book, depicting the fight against systemic oppression as a joyless, never-ending slog through minefields of potential missteps, while relying to a comical degree on DiAngelo’s exasperated encounters with people who have the temerity to disagree with her approach.

Science & Nature

Climate Change Disaster Isn’t a Future Threat — It’s Already Here by Chris Saltmarsh (Jacobin)

“Central Asia and the Middle East already contain some of the hottest places on Earth. Over the last week, Jacobabad in Pakistan reached temperatures reported as “hotter than the human body can handle” with highs at 52°C (126°F). This is all in a context where air conditioning is limited, blackouts mean there is regularly no electricity, and 40 percent of Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty.

“In the Middle East earlier in June, countries reaching highs of 50°C (122°F) included Oman, Kuwait, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates. We are on a trajectory where parts of the region will likely become uninhabitable within our lifetimes, and even faster than expected.

“We should not accept from the ruling class a future where we live with the extreme weather of climate change — but we must prepare to do so. The Left and the climate movement should of course prioritize leveraging the state to meet those needs through a Green New Deal, but we cannot put all our eggs in the basket of political success. We need to prepare for multiple possibilities, including that we do not capture state power in the necessary timeframe, and the inevitability that capitalist states will not step up to the mark at the eleventh hour.


Cruelest Summer by Andru Okun (The Baffler)

“[…] ground temperatures in Siberia have reached 118 degrees, melting chunks of permafrost containing tons of pent-up, planet-warming methane. Every new high is a harsh reminder that the climate crisis is upon us. There is no subtlety left to climate change—it is merely wreaking the havoc we were all amply warned of. The bad weather is here to stay.
“Much of Eric Dean Wilson’s new far-reaching study of air-conditioning—After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and The Terrible Cost of Comfort—deals directly with this question. While it may not be a surprise to learn that Euro-American standards of comfort have been largely dictated by rich and sweaty white men, how exactly this standard was set makes for a fascinating narrative of technological innovation and environmental destruction.
“While the use of CFCs tapered off, the use of air-conditioning increased. Alternative refrigerants—namely hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—allowed us to continue keeping things cool. However, HFCs are potent greenhouse gases that heavily contribute to global warming. “Beyond the energy consumption of individual systems, the appearance of HFCs as a solution pushed us even further into the climate crisis by encouraging the overall spread of air-conditioning, a growth that assumed we could increase our consumption of energy without significant cost to the planet,” Wilson writes.”
“In one passage, Wilson quotes James Baldwin: “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.” Over half a century later, Baldwin’s words still feel like they’re referencing a moment that has yet to arrive. Wilson posits that at the time of Baldwin’s writing, white, middle-class prosperity was weakening the resolve of Americans, making the comfortable “less likely to risk creating short-term personal instability for the possibility of a better world.” Comfort became something that could be purchased by an individual rather than attained by a collective. What’s more, America exported this standard of comfort to the rest of the world. The consequences have been catastrophic. In China, sales of air-conditioners have grown fivefold since 2000, as have carbon dioxide emissions.


You Don’t Understand Neural Networks Until You Understand the Universal Approximation Theorem by Andre Ye (Medium)

“The key point in the Universal Approximation Theorem is that instead of creating complex mathematical relationships between the input and output, it uses simple linear manipulations to divvy up the complicated function into many small, less complicated pieces, each of which are taken by one neuron.
“Extrapolation, or the ability to make reasonable predictions outside a given trained range, is not what neural networks are designed to do. From the Universal Approximation Theorem, we understand that neural networks are not really intelligent at all but just good estimators hidden under a guise of multidimensionality, which makes its ability — which would seem ordinary in two or three dimensions — seemingly impressive.”
“Instead, it is up to the intuition and experience of machine learning engineers to construct neural network architectures that suit the given problem such that it can approximate the multidimensional space well, knowing that such a network exists, but also to balance how realistic the computational bill is. The Theorem lets machine learning engineers know that there will always be a solution.”


If we want to fight the climate crisis, we must embrace nuclear power by Bhaskar Sunkara (The Guardian)

“New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, a key figure behind the move, said that the shuttering of Indian Point brought us “a big step closer to achieving our aggressive clean energy goals”. It’s hard to reconcile that optimism with the data that’s recently come out. The first full month without the plant has seen a 46% increase in the average carbon intensity of statewide electric generation compared to when Indian Point was fully operational. New York replaced clean energy from Indian Point with fossil fuel sources like natural gas.
“Like New York, Germany coupled its transition away from nuclear power with a pledge to spend more aggressively on renewables. Yet the country’s first plant closures meant carbon emissions actually increased, as the production gap was immediately filled through the construction of new coal plants. Similarly, in New York the gap will be filled in part by the construction of three new gas plants. For the Germans, investment in renewables did eventually pay dividends, but it largely replaced the old nuclear plants’ output rather than reducing existing fossil fuel consumption. The carbon intensity of German electricity is higher than the EU average.”
“Batteries and other forms of energy storage are great, and we need much more funding of research and development to make them even better, but until huge technological leaps occur, sustainables are hindered by the need for cooperative weather.
“The amount of waste produced by plants has been reduced dramatically, and most of what remains can be recycled to generate more electricity. These worries are not particularly unique to nuclear, either. Renewable energy produces waste of its own – solar, for example, requires heavy metals like cadmium, lead and arsenic, which unlike nuclear waste don’t lose their toxicity over time. As an article in Science points out: “Current electric vehicle batteries are really not designed to be recycled” and could pose public health problems as battery cells decay in landfills.”
“Other objections to nuclear power, like its reliance on mining, are also not unique to nuclear. Renewables require destructive extraction to unearth lithium and other critical minerals. The answer to those concerns is simple: we should demand environmental and labor regulations from the state and defend good working conditions as our primary consideration.
“For those of us looking for a solution to climate change, the least we can ask is that no plants like Indian Power close until we have a clean, dependable and scalable alternative already in place.

Art & Literature

Max Isn’t Marginalized, Matriarchy Isn’t Feminist by Freddie deBoer (SubStack)

Feminism is not about women replacing men in an equally stratified and undemocratic structure as the patriarchy that preceded it; that’s a parody of feminism. Feminism is about equality, diversity, communalism, and radical democracy. Indeed, the movie models consensus and communal deliberation for us. When they stop and discuss whether to continue on the salt flats or turn back for the Citadel, Max and Furiosa do most of the talking, but everyone weighs in and is heard. Furiosa doesn’t lead by fiat. She listens and becomes convinced, as do the rest, and they all make a plan together. Max isn’t erased; he’s a valued and essential part of the whole, just as white men will be in the new world of democracy and equality we are building.

Philosophy & Sociology

Skip the Intro? by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“Is there any bit of popular philosophical wisdom more useless than the pseudo-Epictetian injunction to “live every day as if it were your last”? If today were my last, I certainly would not have just impulse-ordered an introductory grammar of Lithuanian. Much of what I do each day, in fact, is premised on the expectation that I will continue to do a little bit more of it the day after, and then the day after that, until I accomplish what is intrinsically a massively multi-day project.
I’ve been reflecting these last days on something I strangely had never noticed before: the strict impossibility of recording your thoughts as they are happening. You just can’t do it, since the very instant you take your thoughts themselves as the object of your attention, you are no longer simply “having thoughts”. If I were accurately recording my thoughts when I set out to record my thoughts, what I would in fact be recording is an account of the effort to pay attention to them, and this would necessarily be discontinuous with whatever I was thinking before I began the effort.”
“If all recording is recording of memory, and all memory is really just consciousness seeking to fix into place the sort of stable moments that may be seen as constituting a life, it follows that everything we say about our inner lives is fiction […]”
Literature that has given up on the incantatory function of language has freed itself of cliché, perhaps, but in so doing has simply blended into the “real world” whose richness it was aspiring to reflect.”
“[…] part of the responsibility for the world’s richness was in any case up to us, and depended on our descriptive power in attention to worldly objects of our choice. This isn’t an anti-realist point, but rather an expression of what I’ve taken to calling “selective realism”. The world is real, but it’s still up to you to pick out the parts of it you wish to acknowledge, and to ignore those you don’t.
Social media is pure temporality unstructured by narrative. You move from stimuli to lulls to stimuli, from lulls to lulz and back again, but there is no development or progression or conceivable sense of possible completion. In this sense, social media is also the opposite of poetry, again conceived as the condensing of an idea, perhaps an idea with some narrative dimension to it, into a single instant or point.”
“The freshman who shares the meme about how her being a freshman feels like the central conceit of some imaginary show is, then, getting something right: the new entertainment industry, and the people whose attention this industry seeks to hold captive, have converged in their parallel evolutionary paths upon exactly the same “feel”: the feel of abandonment, of pointless addiction, of desire for more, without any idea of what eventual fulfillment of that desire would even look like.
“I have said that while the commandment to live each day as if it were your last sounds wise, it neglects the fact that life requires a presumptive projection into the future that in part shapes what we do on the present day. This projection is “prosaic”, to the extent that it requires an image of life as a temporal unfolding or progression.”

Programming

Group thousands of similar spreadsheet text cells in seconds by Luke Whyte (Towards Data Science)

“A Document Term Matrix is essentially an extension of the Bag of Words (BOW) concept […] BOW involves counting the frequency of words in a string. […] A Document Term Matrix (DTM) extends BOW to multiple strings (or, in the nomenclature, “multiple documents”).”
“To calculate TF-IDF scores, we multiply the amount of times a term appears in a single document (Term Frequency or TF) by the significance of the term to the whole corpus (Inverse Document Frequency or IDF) — the more documents a word appears in, the less valuable that word is thought to be in differentiating documents from one another.”
“N-grams are a way of breaking strings into smaller chunks where N is the size of the chunk.”
“The important takeaway is that, for each word in our Document Term Matrix, if we replace the word count with a TF-IDF score, we can weigh words more effectively when checking for string similarity.”
“Our matrix of N-Grams has 237,573 rows and 389,905 columns. […] That’s pretty sparse […] The important takeaway is that the CSR format saves memory while still allowing for fast row access and matrix multiplication.”

“Cosine similarity is a metric between 0 and 1 used to determine how similar strings are irrespective of their length.

“It measures the cosine of the angle between strings in a multidimensional space. The closer that value is to 1 (cosine of 0°), the higher the string similarity.”

“Now we have a CSR matrix representing the cosine similarity between all our strings. […] The fastest way to do this is to convert our CSR matrix to a Coordinate (COO) matrix. A COO matrix is another representation of a sparse matrix.”


Thoughts on Async/Await Conversion in a Desktop App by Rick Strahl

“This cascade occurs because there’s no reliable way in .NET to call asynchronous code synchronously. And yes, I tried to go down that path, but − as anybody who’s tried it or who understands the Task based async APIs in .NET will tell you (they did!) there are no reliable solutions for calling async code and wait for it to complete built into the framework.

“Seems crazy right? There are properties (.Result) and methods (.Wait(), .GetResult()) to wait synchronously on async operations, but they are not actually safe to use in busy environments and they are prone to deadlocks. They work in some scenarios where operation is isolated and infrequent, but if you need to repeatedly call code using these async->sync transitions they are very likely to deadlock.

There are a few hacks that can make this better by using GetAwaiter().GetResult() and a number of others, but ultimately these workarounds just reduce the probability of a failure marginally, and they problem of deadlocks is still an issue.

“Note that async void generally should be avoided in favor of async Task, as async void can cause exceptions to bubble out of the call context and fire unpredictably in another context. This may or may not be a problem depending on how the application runs and disposes of code, but it can end up causing unexpected crashes especially if exceptions are not caught before a shutdown.”
“Async is viral. You make it reliable by changing the entire call chain.”
David Fowler

Sports

Penalty, zweiter Ball im Spiel und Laser-Attacke – Fussballfans sind ausser sich by Tobias Wedermann (20min)

“Sterling fällt im Strafraum, Schiedsrichter Danny Makkelie zeigt auf den Punkt – Elfmeter. Keine glasklare Fehlentscheidung, aber dennoch eine sehr harte Entscheidung, die weder zur Linie des Turniers noch zur bisherigen Linie von Schiri Makkelie passte.
“«Da muss abgepfiffen werden, bevor Sterling der alte Schwalbenkönig überhaupt zur Tat schreitet. Schiri steht direkt daneben und sieht diesen zweiten Ball nicht. Unglaublich!», schreibt etwa Twitter-User Maxi Wittkop. «Zwei Bälle auf dem Feld und der Schiedsrichter lässt Sterling so lange laufen, bis er fällt und pfeift erst dann. Unfassbar!», beurteilt ein weiterer User die Situation.”