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Links and Notes for July 23rd, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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

Symptomatic breakthrough COVID-19 infections rare, CDC data estimates by Arielle Mitropoulos (ABC News)

 Ratio of vaccinated to infections to deaths

“Although reports of breakthrough COVID-19 cases occurring among fully vaccinated Americans are garnering much attention, as the country experiences a viral resurgence, new data illustrates just how rare these breakthrough infections are likely to be, and further shows that the vast majority of those becoming severely ill are the unvaccinated.
With more than 156 million Americans fully vaccinated, nationwide, approximately 153,000 symptomatic breakthrough cases are estimated to have occurred as of last week, representing approximately 0.098% of those fully vaccinated, according to an unpublished internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document obtained by ABC News. These estimates reflect only the adult population and do not include asymptomatic breakthrough infections.”


The Drug Companies Are Killing People by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

“While suspending patent rights by itself could lead to a substantial increase in vaccine production, if we took the pandemic seriously, we would want to go much further. We would want to see the technology for producing vaccines fully open-sourced. This would mean posting the details of the manufacturing process on the web, so that engineers all over the world could benefit from them. Ideally, the engineers from the pharmaceutical companies would also be available to do webinars and even in-person visits to factories around the world, with the goal of assisting them in getting their facilities up-to-speed as quickly as possible.
“Suppose Pfizer and the other manufacturers refuse reasonable offers. There is another recourse. The governments can make their offers directly to the company’s engineers who have developed the technology. They can offer the engineers say $1-$2 million a month for making their knowledge available to the world. This sharing would almost certainly violate non-disclosure agreements these engineers have signed with their employers. The companies would almost certainly sue engineers for making public disclosures of protected information. Governments can offer to cover all legal expenses and any settlements or penalties that they faced as a result of the disclosure.
“Suppose that during World War II Lockheed, General Electric, or some other military contractor developed a new sonar system that made it easier to detect the presence of German submarines. What would we do if this company refused to share the technology with the U.S. government so that it was better able to defend its military and merchant vessels against German attacks?
“From the industry perspective, the downside is that if they made their technology more widely available, then other companies may be able to step in and use it to develop their own vaccines against cancer and other diseases. In other words, the big fear is that we will see more advances in health care if the technology is widely available, pretty much the exact opposite of the story about how this would impede further innovation.
“In the vaccine context, open-source means not only sharing existing technology, but creating the opportunity for improving it by allowing engineers all of the world to inspect production techniques. While the industry would like to pretend that it has perfected the production process and possibilities for improvement do not exist, this is hardly plausible based on what is publicly known.”
China was able to distribute more than 560 million vaccines internally, in the month of June, in addition to the doses it supplied to other countries. Unless the country had a truly massive stockpile at the start of the month, this presumably reflects capacity in the range of 500 million vaccines a month. The Chinese vaccines account for close to 50 percent of the doses given around the world to date.”
“We could have had the whole world vaccinated by now, if the United States and other major powers had made it a priority. Unfortunately, we were too concerned about pharmaceutical industry profits and scoring points against China to go this route.


Delta Is Driving a Wedge Through Missouri by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)

“This dramatic surge is the work of the super-contagious Delta variant, which now accounts for 95 percent of Greene County’s new cases, according to Towns. It is spreading easily because people have ditched their masks, crowded into indoor spaces, resumed travel, and resisted vaccinations. Just 40 percent of people in Greene County are fully vaccinated. In some nearby counties, less than 20 percent of people are.”
“While experts are still uncertain if Delta is deadlier than the original coronavirus, every physician and nurse in Missouri whom I spoke with told me that the 30- and 40-something COVID-19 patients they’re now seeing are much sicker than those they saw last year.
“Meanwhile, the hospitals’ own staff members are exhausted beyond telling. After the winter surge, they spent months catching up on record numbers of postponed surgeries and other procedures. Now they’re facing their sharpest COVID-19 surge yet on top of those backlogged patients, many of whom are sicker than usual because their health care had to be deferred.”
“She also suspects that Missourians in 1918 might have had a “better overhead view of the course of the pandemic in their communities than the average citizen has now.” Back then, the state’s local papers published lists of people who were sick, so even those who didn’t know anyone with the flu could see that folks around them were dying. “It made the pandemic seem more local,” Orbann said. “Now, with fewer hometown newspapers and restrictions on sharing patient information, that kind of knowledge is restricted to people working in health care.”
“Delta is moving fast. Even if the still-unvaccinated 55 percent of Missourians all got their first shots tomorrow, it would still take a month to administer the second ones, and two weeks more for full immunity to develop. As current trends show, Delta can do a lot in six weeks.

Economy & Finance

Bitcoin’s gold rush was always an illusion by Will Dunn (New Statesman)

“[…] the modern reality is that almost all Bitcoin investors own less than one per cent of one Bitcoin. These “retail” investors make up more than 75 per cent of addresses, but own a tiny fraction − 0.22 per cent − of the market. The top 100 Bitcoin accounts own more of the currency than the bottom 38 million. In the crypto economy, businesses and wealthy individuals control currencies more actively than any central bank.”
“For the first time, researchers were able to see inside the normally opaque world of cryptocurrency trading, and to associate 18 million trades with accounts. Neil Gandal, a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University, led a study into the data. The study confirmed that what looked like many different accounts were in fact two “bots” − automated trading software − that were named Markus and Willy by the traders who identified them. The bots were controlled by a single entity.
“Gandal’s paper showed that Willy and Markus greatly inflated the amount of trading that appeared to be happening on Mt Gox − and with it, the price of Bitcoin. “On the [50] days when they were active”, says Gandal, “Bitcoin’s price… went up by five per cent [per day]. And on the 40 days they weren’t active, Bitcoin’s price actually dropped.”
“This time, Bitcoin’s price wasn’t pumped by a few hundred dollars, but by thousands of dollars. In December 2017, its price reached almost $20,000 dollars and the total value of the Bitcoin market exceeded $237bn. Griffin is confident that at least half of this price rise was manufactured using Tether.
“Tether issued a simple, two-page breakdown of its reserves. It claimed that 76 per cent of Tether’s value was covered by cash or cash equivalents – but mostly equivalents, and mostly “commercial paper“ (corporate debt, borrowed by unknown parties on unknown terms). The actual cash in the bank behind each Tether appeared to be less than three cents.

Public Policy & Politics

The Trillion-Dollar Lie by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The phrase “Just asking questions” today often carries a negative connotation. It’s the language of the conspiracy theorist, we’re told. But sometimes in America we’re just not told the whole story, and when the press can’t or won’t do it, it’s left to individual people to fill in the blanks. In a few rare cases, they find out something they weren’t supposed to, and in rarer cases still, they learn enough to beat the system. This is one of those stories.”
“The 2005 Bankruptcy Act says former students can’t discharge loans for “qualified educational expenses,” i.e. loans given to students so that they might attend tax-exempt non-profit educational institutions. Historically, that exemption covered almost all higher education loans. What if America’s universities no longer deserve their non-profit status? What if they’re no longer schools, and are instead first and foremost crude profit-making ventures, leveraging federal bankruptcy law and the I.R.S. code into a single, ongoing predatory lending scheme?
““As long as it’s collateralized at Navient, they can borrow against that,” Smith says. “They say, ‘Look, we’ve got $3 billion in assets, which are just consumer loans in negative amortization that are not being repaid, but are being artificially kept out of default so Navient can borrow against that from other banks. “When I realized that, I was like, ‘Oh, my god. They’re happy that the loans are growing instead of being repaid, because it gives them more collateral to borrow against.’””
“[…] the one thing we know for sure is that the current system is the worst of both worlds, enriching all the most undeserving actors, and hitting that increasingly prevalent policy sweet spot of privatized profit and socialized risk. Whether it gets blown up in bankruptcy courts or simply collapses eventually under its own financial weight — there’s an argument that the market will be massively disrupted if and when the administration ends the Covid-19 deferment of student loan payments — the lie can’t go on much longer.”


Extinction Rebellion’s Liberal Moralism Can’t Save the Planet by Mark Montegriffo (Jacobin)

“Groups like XR are keener to focus on anti-human myths than on the root cause of the climate problem; namely, capitalism’s necessity for infinite growth, production, and exploitation on a finite planet. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk escaping to space is a clear opportunity to show where capitalist climate destruction leaves the elite, while workers toil in a burning planet.


The Overlooked Factors in Police Abuse Cases by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The English-Canadian Gladwell may be the most bankable writer in the American publishing market. The #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list is as much his home as the Super Bowl is for Tom Brady. There’s an intellectual drive-thru quality to his approach, which takes an idea and draws it out in bite-size chapters built around familiar pop culture episodes. He does this again in Talking to Strangers, a book about police brutality that somehow contains chapters about Amanda Knox, Bernie Madoff, Jerry Sandusky, and the TV show Friends. Gladwell makes it capital-E Easy for the medicine of thought to go down, a talent I once grumbled at, almost surely out of jealousy. I now see it’s a blessing in the United States, a country where a fair portion of the mass audience is capable of losing at tic-tac-toe.
“For years now, the national conversation about policing has been dominated by emotional mob reactions to pebble-bits of information on social media or snippets of video that we debate ragefully and at length, often without even a pretense of trying to learn the underlying context first.
“Once upon a time, famous policing theorists like Orlando “O.W.” Wilson were convinced the patrol car would completely eliminate crime. Kelling in Kansas City tested that proposition. He got a grant to divide the city into three sectors. In one, patrols remained the same, in another patrols were doubled, and in the third, patrols were cut off in all cases, with police responding only when called. The results shocked cops everywhere: there was zero difference between the sectors. People didn’t feel safer with increased patrols. Crime didn’t go up or down. Patrol cars just didn’t matter.
“This is the backdrop of the Bland case. Brian Encinia was and is the poster child for the automotive stop-and-frisk policies that took America by storm. His record at the time of the Bland arrest was incredible, having already written 1,557 tickets in under a year. He’d stopped three people just in the twenty-six minutes before he stopped Bland!
“Individual police got most of the blame, and in some cases deserved it, but it’s politicians desperate for revenue or lower crime numbers who artificially heighten stranger contacts, jack up numbers of bogus summonses and tickets, and push people like Brian Encinia to fudge pretexts for thousands if not millions of stops and searches.
Saying it’s all about race or white supremacy isn’t just inaccurate, it lets bad actors off the hook — especially city politicians and their upscale yuppie donors who vote for these interventionist policies, and are all too happy to see badge-wearing social janitors from middle-class towns in Long Island or Westchester take the rap when things go bad.”

Journalism & Media

Please Don’t Let Political Contrarianism Turn You Into a Lunatic by Freddie DeBoer (SubStack)

A country that rules both Maine and Guam has limited credibility in regards to opposing expansionism, but I agree that the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan seem to oppose Chinese domination and I support their democratic preferences. The true reality of Chinese crimes against the Uyghurs is almost impossible to understand from within Western media − there’s no doubt that the situation is a horrible crime against humanity, and also no doubt that essentially all Western media is dedicated to exaggerating anything bad done by America’s antagonists, so it’s hard to say.”
“I am not often in the habit of agreeing with the political and military leadership of Western elites of whatever era, but I will gladly praise them for not reducing the world to an unlivable post-apocalyptic hellscape because we had to prove a point to Kruschev. You would think this commitment, at least, would be bipartisan, the acceptance that it’s a good thing the Cold War never went hotter than it sometimes did. But apparently believing this is impermissible for the same reason as it’s impermissible to accept the fact that China will be a superpower for decades to come. It doesn’t show resolve, or whatever.”
“The United States is slinking out of Afghanistan after 20 years. The usual suspects are decrying this as, more or less, appeasement towards the Taliban, not seeming to understand that the Taliban live there, and we don’t, and thus they will always ultimately have more say than we do and cannot be waited out. American will in Afghanistan was irrelevant, and if the goal is something as crude as keeping China from dominating East Asia, our will is going to prove to be irrelevant there as well.

Art & Literature

The Road Not Taken by Harry Turtledove

“Travel between the stars was simply like that. Stinks and darkness were part of the price the soldiers paid to make the kingdom grow.”

But why make it grow? Cui bono? Why is the U.S.. so big? China? Russia? So many disparate cultures, interests, ways of life—all welded by an artificial national spirit indoctrinated in citizens from the very first. Switzerland is a good size, but also welds disparate cultures—but all with the same similar mindset, right? Same basic ethics? Which came first? The mindset or the indoctrination?


A Total Work of Art by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“The relationship here is essentially no different from that of Puff Daddy/P. Diddy to The Police: take something at least passably good from a few decades ago, make it bad in pursuit of money, but convince your audience through publicity (i.e., through capital) that there is no signal loss, that an extended sample or remix of anything good cannot fail to share in that same original quality.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Last Exit to Socialism by Slavoj Žižek (Jacobin)

At the beginning of July 2021 in southern Iraq, temperatures swelled to over 50°C (122°F), and what occurred simultaneously was a total collapse of the electricity supply (no air conditioner, no refrigerator, no light), which made the place a living hell. This catastrophic impact was clearly caused by the enormous state corruption in Iraq, with billions in oil money disappearing to private pockets.”
“In 1958, at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward, the Chinese government declared that “birds are public animals of capitalism” and set in motion a large campaign to eliminate sparrows, suspected of consuming approximately four pounds of grain per sparrow per year. Sparrow nests were destroyed, eggs were broken, and chicks were killed; millions of people organized into groups, and hit noisy pots and pans to prevent sparrows from resting in their nests, with the goal of causing them to drop dead from exhaustion.
“These mass attacks depleted the sparrow population, pushing it to near extinction. However, by April 1960, Chinese leaders were forced to realize that sparrows also ate a large number of insects in the fields, so, rather than being increased, rice yields after the campaign were substantially decreased: the extermination of sparrows upset the ecological balance, and insects destroyed crops as a result of the absence of natural predators. By this time, however, it was too late: with no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the ecological problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward, including widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides. Ecological imbalance is credited with exacerbating the Great Chinese Famine in which millions died of starvation. The Chinese government eventually resorted to importing 250,000 sparrows from the Soviet Union to replenish their population.
“The answer to the heat dome in the United States and Canada is not just to help the affected areas but to attack its global causes. And, as the ongoing catastrophe in southern Iraq makes clear, a state apparatus capable of maintaining a minimal welfare of the people in catastrophic conditions will be needed to prevent social explosions. All these things can — hopefully — be achieved only through strong and obligatory international cooperation, social control and regulation of agriculture and industry, changes in our basic eating habits (less beef), global health care, etc.”
“A much stronger executive power capable of enforcing long-term commitments will have to be combined with local self-organizations of people, as well as with a strong international body capable of overriding the will of dissenting nations. I am not talking here about a new world government — such an entity would give opportunity to immense corruption. And I am not talking about communism in the sense of abolishing markets — market competition should play a role, although a role regulated and controlled by state and society.