/2:00PM Water Cooler 5/24/2019

2:00PM Water Cooler 5/24/2019

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, you will be happy to know I regained control over my iPad, and moved my production work onto ProtonMail — leaving my send-mail-to-myself workflow otherwise the same (with one exception: I have the ProtonMail app on my iPad, synched with the desktop, so I get a notification bong when the mail I send arrives, confirming that my mail isn’t being held up because some damn algo thinks I’m a spammer*). This at least makes me no longer dependent on Yahoo, with its horrible practice of asking me to authenticate myself and change my password, always at the worst possible time, which I swear is a dark pattern to get me to authorize their new terms of service, which is always the end-point of the authentication process. If ProtonMail works out, I may change everything over to it, but for now, my current email address is still the one to use for correspondence. –lambert

NOTE * Why not simply copy and paste URLs into the app? For starters, tapping my way through sending mail is quicker and easier than copying and pasting on iOS, which is insanely cumbersome, one more reason Tim Cook is a moron if he thinks the iPad will ever be a professional tool without serious UI/UX work.

But enough of this epic. I am sure, readers, that you are heartily tired of it!

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“New China Tariffs Increase Costs to U.S. Households” [Liberty Street Economics]. “Our recent study found that the 2018 tariffs imposed an annual cost of $419 for the typical household. This cost comprises two components: the first, an added tax burden faced by consumers, and the second, a deadweight or efficiency loss…. [A] tariff-induced shift in supply chains is therefore called a deadweight or efficiency loss. Economic theory tells us that deadweight losses tend to rise more than proportionally as tariffs rise because importers are induced to shift to ever more expensive sources of supply as the tariffs rise. The deadweight efficiency loss arises regardless of whether consumers switch to more expensive foreign sources or to a more expensive domestic source. As a result of this expenditure switching, we estimate that the annualized deadweight loss increases from $132 to $620 per household, bringing the total annual cost of the new round of tariffs to the typical household to $831. In sum, according to our estimates, these higher tariffs are likely to create large economic distortions and reduce U.S. tariff revenues.” • Somebody who knows more about economics than I do will have to tell me if “deadweight loss” is handwaving or not. What I note is the assumption that a global supply chain is somehow not, in and of itself, a “large economic distortion.” I also note the implicit assumption that consumer welfare is the highest good for trade policy (much as in concentration policy). Really?



“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination” [RealClearPolitics] (RCP average of five polls). Biden (38.3% 34.7%) and Sanders (18.8% 17.7%) both drop, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg up, as of May 23.

* * *


Biden (D)(1): “How Joe Biden’s Policies Made the Opioid Crisis Harder to Treat” [Politico]. • Opioids… So that’s why the sunglasses!


Buttigeig (D)(1): “Exclusive Interview with 2020 Presidential Candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg” [Our Daily Planet]. On climate change: “We need to have the conversation be about what’s happening on the ground instead of these kinds of theories that people poke holes in because the time has come and gone to debate whether this is real. The other thing I think we need to do is shift and frame the narrative to have it be less about whether this is happening or not and have it be over who’s got a better plan. Because if they have a problem with our plan, they should propose a better one. Somebody who has no plan at all, who doesn’t think we need one is going increasingly to be left behind and it’s another example of how just the terms of the debate need to change.” • I had to check the About page to make sure this was a publication for adults.

Sanders (D)(1): Alert reader Alice Marshall throws this over the transom: “I tweeted this criticism of Bernie’s healthcare bill”:


The response from Bernie people was uniformly supportive. There was no:

  • Bernie is smarter than you
  • or don’t be a purity troll
  • or emoprog
  • or any of the other insults that Obama people trafficked in.

Bernie supporter are single payer supporters. It is not a cult, it is a political movement.

A single anecdote, to be sure. But suggestive!

“What the polls can’t tell you about the coming campaign” [Matt Bai, Yahoo News]. “With this many candidates, though, the horse race conceit doesn’t really fit. The best metaphor I can think of is a reality show competition, like ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol.’ Slowly but steadily, candidates will start to face elimination, either because they have no momentum or no money, or both. And the question isn’t who can amass an insurmountable lead, as in a horse race, but rather which contestants can build a solid enough base of support to avoid elimination and move on to the next round.” • That’s a useful corrective. If only there were some precedent for a reality show candidate actually winning….


AOC shining more light. Thread:

DK comments: “Drawing back the curtain on Congressional staffer role is HUGE. Appointed staffers are the proxies and extensions of our own elected reps, their conduct and decisions are broadly consequential, often critical to success/failure of legislation, inquiry and investigation (as here), the rep’s positions and policy formations.” • Remember, though, that Big Pharma has defense in depth. This is only a hearing. It’s not enough to be heard.


“An ‘obvious trap’? Democrats weigh political cost of impeachment” [Roll Call]. “After last fall’s historic midterm gains, Democrats control 31 seats in districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016, and they need to win them again next year to keep their majority. It’s hard to find any Democratic strategist involved in competitive House races who thinks impeachment would help that effort. Democrats have talked repeatedly about how health care and the economy helped them win in 2018, and how that’s their winning message heading into 2020. But while he wasn’t on the ballot, Trump was a powerful backdrop last fall, and many Democrats flipped GOP seats by offering to be a check on the executive branch.” • Well, if they can’t be a check, they can at least simulate being a check. Best of both worlds!

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Democrats Cozy Up to Wall Street While Shunning Corporate Cash” [Bloomberg]. “The mayor of South Bend, Ind., the senators from California and Minnesota, and the ex-vice president are among the Democratic presidential candidates disavowing corporate cash, lobbyist checks, or the super PAC system. They’re trying to outdo each other with promises to finance their campaigns with grassroots contributions. But while they play down the role of money and influence, longtime Wall Street donors who have both say little has changed. ‘I’ve talked to about half of them, and I have not run into a single one who said, ‘Hey, you worked at Goldman Sachs, I can’t take your money,” says Heyman, who helped elect Barack Obama by collecting checks from friends, and later became his ambassador to Canada. ‘I’ve not heard that—ever.’” • “Became” his ambassador. Ka-ching…

“Why I Love the D.S.A.” [Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs]. “One thing that makes the DSA somewhat exciting is that it’s a “big tent” of the left, and so all the issues that the left had differences of opinion on get hashed out within the organization. Should we be more “centralized” or “decentralized”? How can the labor movement and the environmental movement keep from being in tension? How can “class politics” and “identity politics” be reconciled? What kinds of compromises are necessary and useful, and what kinds are capitulation? DSA members range from those who are simply to the left of the Democratic Party establishment to hardcore Marxists and anarchists, and so there are real internal tensions. That may make the thing sound like a mess, and to some degree it always will be. But I think in the Trump era, there is a determination among most on the left that we can’t let our differences lead to the same tendencies that tore apart prior left movements—we can’t become a circular firing squad.”

“‘Mind control’: The secret UK government blueprints shaping post-terror planning” [Middle East Eye]. “A number of the people involved in the advance planning of ‘controlled spontaneity’ clearly have some misgivings about the way in which emergency planning for the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks is being combined with propaganda techniques that are intended to influence the responses of the public.” • Yikes. This is, of course, the UK. Nevertheless [genuflects], Obama did do away with the Smith-Mundt Act.

Stats Watch

Durable Goods Orders, April 2019: “There’s no Boeing-related catastrophe yet but manufacturing is indeed slumping, confirmed by a broadly weak durable goods report for April” [Econoday]. “The big 737 fallout, if there will be one, has yet to hit but what is hitting is generally sliding demand for manufactured goods in what reflects generally weak global demand. But it’s the decline in capital goods that headlines April, pointing to lack of momentum for business investment going into May and the breakdown of US-China trade talks.”

Real Estate: “Southern California builders, swamped with unsold homes, cut construction to 3-year low” [Orange County Register (TonyinSoCAL)]. “Southern California builders, stuck with the largest supply of unsold homes in seven years, have slashed construction to the slowest pace since 2016. First-quarter data from MetroStudy shows 3,750 new homes went unsold in the four counties covered by the Southern California News Group — an increase of 688 units in a year or 22% and up 37% vs. the five-year average. It was builders’ largest inventory of unsold units since 2012’s first quarter.” • Well, heck. Who needs a home when you’ve got an RV?

Retail: “It’s a Good Thing That Shopping on Your Phone Is the Worst” [OneZero]. “According to research on consumers’ mobile shopping behavior, there are two types of purchases people tend to make on their mobile devices: ‘hedonic purchases‘ and ‘habitual purchases.’ A hedonic purchase could be a pair of stylish shoes that you buy on a whim from an Instagram ad — something you want very much, not something that you need. A habitual purchase is the sort of product a consumer buys regularly, like house supplies or beauty products, that are a part of the person’s regimen already…. Ying Zhu, an assistant professor of management at the University of British Columbia, has studied how consumers differentiate their purchases depending on the device. In her 2017 research, she found [that] different devices may encourage different types of thinking. Smartphones, she says, ‘enhance your experiential thinking mode. You’ll be drawn towards hedonic products like ice cream and chocolate.’ But because of how we typically use desktop computers — it’s where we do much of our day-to-day work — we approach their use in a ‘rational’ thinking mode. And when that’s the case, you’re more capable of asking questions and making comparisons…. Zhu notes that as we grow more and more dependent on mobile, we could end up transitioning our rational thinking from desktop to mobile out of necessity. We’ll be doing more work and completing more tasks on our phones, so that mode of thought will follow. Or we could lose access to that rational thinking mode, making it harder for us to make thoughtful purchases that require more than a split-second decision. In other words, we’ll be dumber about things we need to think about before buying.” • I think I know how this movie is going to end…

The Bezzle: A VC dude asks a good question:

The Biosphere

One more for #WorldBeeDay:

“The smallest McDonald’s in the world is a…bee hive?” [It’s Nice That]. “After Pornhub decided in its infinite wisdom that the best way of raising awareness of the 70 or so species of bee set to perish in the near future was to invite hardcore adult entertainment stars like Will Pounder and Domino Presley to voice bee-themed, pollen-probing short films, several Swedish branches of McDonald’s have found themselves playing home to fully functioning beehives. … Six french fry-flinging franchises across the country now find themselves in possession of the so-called McHives. Designed by Nicklas Nilsson – a set and costume designer who has previously worked with the likes of David Bowie and film director Roy Andersson – was recruited by the world’s number one fast food restaurant to aid with its ongoing sustainability drive. The bees, we are told by a representative at [Scandinavian agency NORD DDB], ‘enter the hive through the main entrance and the restaurant also has a McDrive and seating outdoors.’” • I suppose this is good…


* * *

“Climate change: sea level rise could displace millions of people within two generations” [The Conversation]. “Structured Expert Judgement is a method from a study one of us published in 2013. Experts give their judgement on a hard-to-model problem and their judgements are combined in a way that takes into account how good they are at assessing their own uncertainty. This provides a rational consensus…. We gathered together 22 experts in the US and UK in 2018 and combined their judgements. The results are sobering. Rather than a shrinking in the uncertainty of future ice sheet behaviour over the last six years, it has grown. If the global temperature increase stays below 2°C, the experts’ best estimate of the average contribution of the ice sheets to sea level was 26cm. They concluded, however, that there is a 5% chance that the contribution could be as much as 80cm.” • Hmm. Tail risk? I don’t know how to assess the “Structured Expert Judgement” methodology, however. Readers?

“Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing” [Pro Publica]. “I looked at projects going back two decades and spanning the globe and pulled together findings from academic researchers in far-flung forest villages, studies published in obscure journals, foreign government reports and dense technical documents. I enlisted a satellite imagery analysis firm to see how much of the forest remained in a preservation project that started selling credits in 2013. Four years later, only half the project areas were forested. In case after case, I found that carbon credits hadn’t offset the amount of pollution they were supposed to, or they had brought gains that were quickly reversed or that couldn’t be accurately measured to begin with. Ultimately, the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO₂, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last.” • Because markets.

“Shade” [Places Journal]. Taking for granted that shade is good: “There are nearly 1,900 official bus shelters in Los Angeles city limits, but only a handful within two miles of Tony’s Barber Shop [on an exposed stretch of Figueroa Street near the Pasadena Freeway]. Who decides where the shade goes? You might imagine that transit planners call the shots — strategically placing shelters outside grocery stores and doctors’ offices on high-frequency routes, according to community need — but Los Angeles, like many cities, has outsourced the job. The first thousand shelters were installed in the 1980s by billboard companies in exchange for the right to sell ad space, and they tended to show up in wealthy areas where ad revenue surpassed maintenance costs. In 2001, the mayor signed a deal to double the number of shelters and give public officials greater control over their placement. The new vendor agreed to install and maintain shelters throughout the city and offset its losses with freestanding ad kiosks in lucrative areas. But when politically savvy constituents complained about the coming spate of advertising, the city withheld permits, and the deal broke down. As the contract nears its end, the vendor, Outfront/Decaux, has installed only about 650 new shelters, roughly half of the projected number.” • Because markets.

“Springs are arriving earlier, but New England’s woodland wildflowers are slow to catch on” [Yale Climate Connections]. “In New England’s forests, wildflowers are some of the first signs of spring – often blooming before trees leaf out and shade the forest floor. [As we have seen! –lambert] Heberling: ‘This high light period before the trees leaf out is really critical for how these wildflowers grow.’ That’s Mason Heberling, assistant curator of botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He says that as the climate warms, this critical period is getting shorter. He worked with Boston University scientists who studied tree and flower leaf-out dates in Concord, Massachusetts. They found that, compared to 160 years ago, the trees now produce leaves about two weeks earlier. But wildflowers are only leafing out about one week earlier than before. Heberling: ‘Essentially wildflowers have one week less of high light before they’re shaded out by the overstory.’” • So, smaller and less colorful wildflowers — although no doubt adaptation is taking place.

“DNA from 10,000 year old chewing gum reveals the secrets of Stone Age Scandinavians” [Phys.org]. “Scientists have recovered DNA that is nearly 10,000 years old from gum that was chewed by people in Scandinavia during the Mesolithic—or Stone Age—period. This gum was used as glue to make tools—the chewing is believed to have helped make it more pliable and sticky…. Two of the three individuals whose genomes were successfully sequenced were female. There has been a perception among some archaeologists that females in prehistory were relegated to a purely domestic role and had little to do with “masculine” tasks such as making tools…. If females were making tools, were they also using them to hunt? What was the life of a Mesolithic child in Scandinavia like? Did Mesolithic people chew gum for recreational, hygienic and medicinal reasons, as other cultures did?”

Guillotine Watch

“School Made Six-year-old Girl Do ‘Cafeteria Walk Of Shame,’ Return Lunch, Because She Didn’t Have Enough Money” [Newsweek]. “Dwight Howard said his granddaughter Anya Howard was ‘lunch shamed’ and urged Southwest Elementary School in Greenwood, Indiana, to review its cafeteria policies. Last Friday, Anya had a tray of hot foot but was forced to return it because she did not have the $2.25 in her account needed to pay for it. She then went to the back of the line to wait for an alternative lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She said that she was ‘sad’ because she was laughed at.” • Unsurprisingly, the Harkonnens have become educators. NOTE Howard would have used EZ School Pay to pay for her lunch, according to the Greenwood School site, from Harris School Solutions. Presumably, EZ School Pay is budgeted for by the School Committee, and doesn’t just take a cut from Anya’s $2.50. Idea: Get rid of the whole system and make lunch free. As it should be.

“Rich Uber Passengers Can Now Demand Silence From Their ‘Contractor’ Drivers Through the App” [Jalopnik]. “Last night, the company announced an ‘enhanced Uber Black experience,’ referring to the company’s luxury car service. This will include an option to tell your driver to change the temperature, help you with luggage, or more pointedly, to just shut the f*ck up. Of course, that’s not how Uber describes it. The company bills it as a ‘Quiet Mode’ riders can select before getting into the car, so that ‘if you need to respond to emails or are in the mood for a nap, make your trip a quieter one with just one tap.’ The product page adds that ‘if you’re in the mood to chat, that’s an option too.’ No one will select this. But in some ways it’s just as bad as the Shut The F*ck Up Mode. It also creates an unfair expectation for someone who is not being paid to be your therapist or whatever. This is the core hypocrisy of the contract labor market. The purveyors of the gig economy reserve the right to ask its workers to do pretty much anything to please the customer but insist on paying them as if their job description is vanishingly narrow.” • Putting quotes around “Contractor” in the headline is a nice touch. Kudos, Jalopnik!

Neoliberal Epidemics

“The devastating biological consequences of homelessness” [Nature]. “Since 2013, a team led by Margot Kushel, director of the university’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, has followed a group of about 350 older homeless adults in Oakland, California, to determine why this group ages in hyper-speed. Although the participants’ average age is 57, they experience strokes, falls, visual impairment and urinary incontinence at rates typical of US residents in their late 70s and 80s.” • Everything’s going according to plan!

Class Warfare

“An RV Camp Sprang Up Outside Google’s Headquarters. Now Mountain View Wants to Ban It” [Bloomberg]. ” Thousands of people live in RVs across San Francisco and the broader Bay Area because they can’t afford to rent or buy homes. In December, Mountain View police logged almost 300 RVs that appeared to be used as primary residences. Palo Alto, Berkeley and other Bay Area towns have similar numbers. Some Silicon Valley towns have cracked down in recent months, creating an even more uncertain future for RV residents. At a March city council meeting, Mountain View voted to ban RVs from parking overnight on public streets. The ban hasn’t taken effect yet, but soon, the town’s van dwellers will need to go elsewhere.” • They have jobs, too, in Silicon Valley. You’d think that a Democrat one-party state like California — “optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward” — wouldn’t be treating a large part of its working class like garbage. Live and learn.


See the genuinely frightening Into Thin Air for the problems here.

News you can use:

Above chart from Harrison, Marissa & M. Hughes, Susan & Jordan Gott, Adam. (2019). Sex Differences in Serial Killers. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences. From the abstract: “Using the mass media method to collect archival data, we obtained information about 55 [Male Serial Killers (MSKs)] and 55 [Female Serial Killers (FSKs)] (matched for age of first murder) who committed their crimes in the United States from 1856 to 2009. We found that MSKs more frequently act as “hunters,” stalking and killing targeted strangers in dispersed areas, while FSKs more frequently are “gatherers,” killing those who are around them and familiar to them and gaining profit from their crimes.” • Oh. (No data visible on absolute numbers by sex.)

News of the Wired

“Landmark Algorithm Breaks 30-Year Impasse” [Quanta]. “Last month, László Babai, of the University of Chicago, announced that he had come up with a new algorithm for the ‘graph isomorphism’ problem, one of the most tantalizing mysteries in computer science. The new algorithm appears to be vastly more efficient than the previous best algorithm, which had held the record for more than 30 years….” • This is really neat. Now we can determine whether all the CT string diagrams are the same diagram with different labels, or whether they are really different. And ditto for subgraphs of Zuck’s social graph…

Why we love the Post Office. Thread:

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant)
here. Today’s plants (KS):


Bleeding hearts from the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforest. Nice use of depth of field.

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