/2:00PM Water Cooler 5/27/2019

2:00PM Water Cooler 5/27/2019

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, this is Memorial Day, which I would normally take off. However, I’m going to be doing some traveling later in the week, so you get a Water Cooler today to make up for the open threads you’ll get later in the week. –Lambert


“Port Report: Maersk issues downbeat outlook on world trade” [Freight Waves]. “‘The moderation of container demand growth reflects a broad-based slowdown in all the main economies, following the recovery of 2016 and 2017, as well as negative effects from fast-forwarding of U.S. imports in the fourth quarter 2018 when retailers prepared for a tariff hike,’ Maersk said in a statement.”

States Trump is unlikely to win (NY, CA, IL) or are a lock (TX):


“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): “Choosing Battles” [Amber A’Lee Frost, The Baffler]. “If you are among those Democrat voters who find Biden’s actions damning, you are likely a part of a progressive feminist-minded cultural minority—one that is overrepresented in entertainment and media, but whose cultural values don’t resonate with the vast majority of Americans—men or women. The elusive subjectivity of the professional managerial class is a recurring theme of their political failures. Just look at all the high profile women who found Hillary Clinton ‘inspiring’ and assumed every other woman would do so as well. Liberals often have little to no understanding of the political landscape. They emphasize categories like ‘women’ when what they really mean is ‘a few specific women.’” • Somebody should take out a business model patent on creating category errors.

Buttigieg (D)(1): “Buttigieg pushes for massive fundraising haul to cement top-tier status” [Politico]. “Buttigieg is encouraging moneyed supporters to juice his campaign’s fundraising with a new bundling program, details of which were recently circulated to some donors and obtained by POLITICO. Members at different levels of the program pledge to raise anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 for Buttigieg over the course of the primary campaign and receive special perks, including briefings with the candidate and senior campaign staff.” • Ooooh, perks!

Gravel (D)(1):

Sanders (D)(1):

Sanders (D)(2):

Good move by Sanders going on this show (here’s the YouTube).

Sanders (D)(3): “Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tours the River Region, decries inequality across the area” [Montgomery Advertiser]. “His first visit brought him to the doublewide home of Pamela Rush, a woman living in Tyler, Alabama in rural Lowndes County. She has straight-pipe plumbing, where the sewage from her home that drains directly onto the ground outside — an issue that the Montgomery Advertiser wrote extensively about in a series last summer.” • Scroll down to the end for the photo at the Mt. Zion AME Church in Montgomery, AL (on a Monday, not a Sunday). Sanders looks to be getting a not unfriendly response from the people behind him; I can’t judge whether its enthusiastic by the standards for the congregation. I also don’t know the layout of the church, so I don’t know who the people behind him are: the chorus, the vestry, a Committee, organizers of the event… Nonetheless, a smart and well-advanced move by the Sanders campaign.

Sanders (D)(4): “Sanders, ‘Disgusting’ and ‘Pushy’. I am ‘Scum’: A Pulitzer Winner Speaks” [John Halle]. “So universal is the hatred for Sanders among the elite media class that the poster simply assumed that he could issue his one word attack [‘disgusting’] and receive universal approval in the comment thread. When I failed to deliver it, he referred to me as not being ‘house broken.’” • Well worth read for the detail. Lotta venom being carried around in those NPR tote bags.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“The Battle For Ballot Access is a Century Old. It’s Time to Break it Open” [Black Agenda Report]. “In 1916 a socialist ran for president of the United States…. The 1916 socialist candidate got 600,000 votes, about 3% of the total…. In 1920, another socialist, Eugene Victor Debs ran for president. By then a widespread crackdown on socialists in public life was underway, and Debs was imprisoned for his opposition to World War 1. Debs got 900,000 votes, 4% of the total cast from his cell in a federal prison in Indiana…. In 1924 another socialist, Robert LaFollette ran for president on the ticket of the Progressive Party and got 5 million votes, one sixth of the total votes cast for president that year. The establishment was in a sort of panic. The lords of capital, the bankers, the industrialists, represented today as they were a hundred years ago by the Democrats and the Republicans were not about to allow themselves to be simply voted out of power. So they passed a briar patch of restrictive laws on the state level to make it increasingly difficult or impossible for socialist candidates to get on the ballot in the first place. These barriers to ballot access are so high,and have been in place so long that the left has for the most part accepted them like laws of gravity, unspoken, immutable, unchangeable and unnoticed.” • Very good (and this is where I picked up that Howie Hawkins is the presumptive Green candidate for President in 2020. Good!)

I had no idea that non-citizen voting was ever a thing. Thread:

Somebody in the US should copy this:

“Stop the nonsensical generational warfare” [The Week]. “Such generalizations are nearly always nonsense — motivated by a desire to score points in a present-day ideological dispute by assigning all of the people born between certain years to one side of a fractured political debate.”  • Yep. A way of signaling about political outcomes without thinking about how to build the political power to achieve them.

Stats Watch

There are no statistics today; the markets are closed.

Commodities: “In Malaysia, a snag in US search for alternative to Chinese rare earths” [South China Morning Post]. “[T]he extraction of these important elements is a dirty business that brings environmental damage many countries are unwilling to tolerate, and the squabbles born from this ‘not in my backyard’ attitude are being seen in Malaysia…. [The extraction of these important elements is a dirty business that brings environmental damage many countries are unwilling to tolerate, and the squabbles born from this “not in my backyard” attitude are being seen in Malaysia…. The US-China trade war, said the current chairman of Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, Tan Bun Teet, had put pressure on Lynas to find solutions in a short space of time. But in February, Lynas auditors flagged a material risk to the business after the firm said it would not be able to export the water leach purification residue by September 2, the date its licence expires.” • The article includes some photos of a rare earth mine in China. The working conditions look awful, and I’m sure contamination is high, too.

Tech: “Let’s make laptops from radium. How’s that for planned obsolescence?” [The Register (Vlade)]. “Still, the principle of manufacturing products from fast-degrading materials could, to coin a phrase, strike two politicians with the same milkshake. Rather than wasting all that R&D expense on coming up with better hardware – or at least PR expense tricking customers into believing that’s what you’ve done – manufacturers could design products that actually need replacing. No more thinking up hidden ways for your branded kit to slow down and eventually stop working! Just build them so they physically fall to bits after a pre-determined period!”

Tech: “Opening the machine learning black box” [Bank Underground]. “We have seen that machine learning models can be evaluated and communicated very similarly to linear regression models using the Shapley regression framework. This is likely to help decision makers to make the most of the advantages of these models. On a broader level this may also help to accelerate advances in AI research. Particularly in the presence of ever larger and richer datasets (Big Data), this approach can help to make state-of-the-art models more transparent and reduce or even avoid biases.” • I can’t evaluate this article technically. But perhaps we have some banking experts — that’s the field to which the “the Shapley regression framework” will be applied — can chime in.

Rapture Index: Closes up one on earthquakes. “An 8.0 quake hits South America” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 181. Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing. (It’s been awhile since I looked at the Rapture Index; it’s still hovering just above the 180 floor.

The Biosphere

“Exploring the Origins of the Apple” [Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History]. “Several recent genetic studies have demonstrated that the modern apple is a hybrid of at least four wild apple populations, and researchers have hypothesized that the Silk Road trade routes were responsible for bringing these fruits together and causing their hybridization. Archaeological remains of apples in the form of preserved seeds have been recovered from sites across Eurasia, and these discoveries support the idea that fruit and nut trees were among the commodities that moved on these early trade routes. Spengler recently summarized the archaeobotanical and historical evidence for cultivated crops on the Silk Road in a book titled Fruit from the Sands, published with the University of California Press. The apple holds a deep connection with the Silk Road – much of the genetic material for the modern apple originated at the heart of the ancient trade routes in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan. Furthermore, the process of exchange caused the hybridization events that gave rise to the large red sweet fruits in our produce markets.”

“Cost of flood buyouts has been rising over past decade” [Associated Press]. “The residents of [Mosby, MO, a] small riverside town have become accustomed to watching floods swamp their streets, transform their homes into islands and ruin their floors and furniture…. Finally fed up, [Elmer] Sullivan and nearly half of the homeowners in Mosby signed up in 2016 for a program in which the government would buy and then demolish their properties rather than paying to rebuild them over and over. They’re still waiting for offers, joining thousands of others across the country in a slow-moving line to escape from flood-prone homes….. Over the past three decades, federal and local governments have poured more than $5 billion into buying tens of thousands of vulnerable properties across the country…. The AP analysis shows those buyouts have been getting more expensive, with many of the costliest coming in the last decade after strong storms pounded heavily populated coastal states such as Texas, New York and New Jersey. This year’s record flooding in the Midwest could add even more buyouts to the queue. The purchases are happening as the climate changes.”

“Climate change can drive animals into vulnerable state of low genetic diversity” [Earth.com]. “An international team of researchers led by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has discovered that the alpine marmot has the least genetic diversity of any known animal to date. A genome study revealed that the species lost its genetic diversity during extreme climate events and has never been able to recover… ‘Our study shows that climate change can have extremely long-term effects on the genetic diversity of a species. This had not previously been shown in such clear detail,’ explained Dr. Ralser. ‘When a species displays very little genetic diversity, this can be due to climate events which occurred many thousands of years ago. It is remarkable that the alpine marmot managed to survive for thousands of years despite its low genetic diversity.’”


“‘Avoid’ PFAS foam, new Michigan signs warn” [Mlive (MN)]. “The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is posting signs about the foam in advance of Memorial Day weekend [Van Etten Lake shoreline adjacent to the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda]. The signs follow a DHHS warning last month that people should avoid touching the foam, which is known to contain high PFAS levels… Pushback against health advisories is not new to Oscoda, where signs posted in 2012 warning people not to consume fish due to PFAS have been stolen or shot full of bullet holes.”

Game of Thrones

“Anarchist Arya Stark: This Game of Thrones Meme Breaks Down Characters by Political Organizing Tactics” [Teen Vogue]. I think this is the best one: “Speaking of Dany (Emilia Clarke), she doesn’t fare much better in this meme than her character does in the show. Dany is ‘The Nonprofit Executive Director’ who ‘Lets her ego drive all her decisions … [then] burns out.’ The analogy here is to someone running a major nonprofit organization who might be in it more for themselves than for the cause — something that rings true with Dany.” • Ouch!

“‘Game of Thrones,’ War Crimes, and the American Conscience” [Foreign Policy]. “Audiences were horrified when, in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen, a leader often portrayed as a human rights defender, torched a city full of terrified civilians from astride her dragon…. Like survey experiments, pop culture—and audiences’ reaction to it—can be a window into a society’s values. What Game of Thrones has revealed more clearly than any survey is that most Americans care more about fighting wars justly than some political scientists would have us believe…. In a working paper recently presented at the International Studies Association, we asked 2,250 Americans whether or not they agreed with the statement that targeting civilians in war is categorically wrong. Eighty percent “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with this statement…. Respondents were also asked to explain their answers: Why is it wrong to target civilians? The results were striking. Many of those who strongly agreed that targeting civilians is wrong refused to even answer. They declined to weigh cost-benefit calculations or consider the moral culpability of the civilian population or even invoke such explanations as the Geneva Conventions. ‘It’s just wrong,’ they said in their open-ended comments. Or: ‘You just can’t.’ One wrote: ‘Why would you even ask such a thing?’… [W]atching beloved characters turn into war criminals will always be deeply disturbing for American audiences.” • Good thing the Presidency isn’t a television series, eh? I have mixed feelings about this piece. On the one hand, for a country whose population doesn’t like to burn cities from the air, we’ve certainly done our fair share of it. On the other, it makes sense that moral thinking about war among the general population would be more nuanced than academics expect; and the since we live in an oligarchy, it’s unlikely that “the better angels of our nature” have a voice where it counts.

Health Care

“Washington state to offer first health ‘public option’” [Detroit News (MS)]. “A set of tiered public plans will cover standard services and are expected to be up to 10% cheaper than comparable private insurance, thanks in part to savings from a cap on rates paid to providers. But unlike existing government-managed plans, Washington’s public plans are set to be available to all residents regardless of income by 2021…. Instead, the state will dictate the terms of the public option plans but hire private insurance companies to administer them, saving the state from having to create a new bureaucracy – and guaranteeing a role for the insurance industry in managing the new public option.” • We tried this in Maine with Dirigo Health Care (folded into ACA): ” Insurance companies were expected to trim their costs, negotiate better rates with providers and reduce overall cost growth so that a fee assessed on insurers could be absorbed by cost savings and not passed on to premium payers…. As a result, the industry succeeded in allowing the fee to be passed on to premium payers.”

Our Famously Free Press

We are ruled by Harkonnens:

“Local-newspaper giant GateHouse Media is laying off journalists across the US in cuts their CEO is calling ‘immaterial’” [Poynter Institute]. “Over 115 layoffs have been documented at 45 local newsrooms in states including Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, California, and Massachusetts, with potentially more to come…. When Business Insider talked to Mike Reed, CEO of GateHouse’s parent company New Media Investment Group, he downplayed the cuts, calling them “immaterial,” without providing a specific number of cuts but denying the 200 number, calling it ‘a lie.’ ;We have 11,000 employees, a lot to me is 2,000,’ he said… But posts on social media and local journalists are telling a different story. Reporter Andrew Pantazi of the Florida Times-Union, a GateHouse publication, is the unit chair of the paper’s guild and is tracking the layoffs in a spreadsheet. He says through Twitter DMs, emails, and texts, that he’s confirmed at least 115 layoffs…. Also on Thursday, New Media Investment Group announced that it would extend its $100 million stock buyback program for another year.” • Lol. Priorities!

“More Ohio Journalists Slashed as Gatehouse Media Continues to Purge” [Cleveland Scene]. “Dispatch editor Alan Miller wrote in a column Friday that the paper ‘lost several colleagues on Thursday to layoffs resulting from the significant pressures on the newspaper industry.’ These significant pressures, which undoubtedly exist, have been used to excuse the disemboweling of the American press by get-rich-quick investors like Gatehouse’s New Media Invesment Group, a company that has grown in infamy for its acquisitions and ensuing staff reductions. ”

“GateHouse Media lays off journalists across the country” [Poynter Institute]. “This is the second round of layoffs for GateHouse in 2019. Around 60 were laid off in January and February amid first-quarter losses… The company ended 2018 with a $18.2 million profit on revenues of $1.53 billion.”

“The Ponzi scheme of marauding news conglomerates” [Jim Rich, Medium]. “Just what the hell is the end game or business model for these companies as they continue to cut their newsrooms to oblivion? The answer is simple, if painful, and the business model is as equally straightforward: A small group of executives at each corporation finding a way to maintain the ability to draw enormous, disproportionate salaries from these conglomerates. How do they do that? By showing shareholders/Wall St. that these newspapers are eking narrow profits.” • “Jim Rich is former Editor-in-Chief at the NY Daily News & Executive Editor at HuffPost.” And here he is, posting at Medium. Anyhow, the whole article is worth a read; the vultures wouldn’t be picking over the carcass of the news business if Silicon Valley (Google, Facebook) hadn’t already destroyed it.

Meanwhile, somebody’s got to get the paper out:

Class Warfare

“The Massive, Overlooked Role of Female Slave Owners” [History]. “Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, a history professor at the University of California-Berkeley, is compiling data on just how many white women owned slaves in the U.S.; and in the parts of the 1850 and 1860 census data she’s studied so far, white women make up about 40 percents of all slave owners… Slaveholding parents ‘typically gave their daughters more enslaved people than land,’ says Jones-Rogers… They bought, sold, managed and sought the return of enslaved people, in whom they had a vested economic interest. Owning a large number of enslaved people made a woman a better marriage prospect. Once married, white women fought in courts to preserve their legal ownership over enslaved people (as opposed to their husband’s ownership), and often won. ‘For them, slavery was their freedom,’ Jones-Rogers observes in her book.” • Sheds new light on the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their invention and propagation of the Lost Cause myth (comparable in its insane destructiveness to the Dolchstoßlegenden).

“It’s Never Been Easier to Be a C.E.O., and the Pay Keeps Rising” [New York Times]. “Despite all the structural forces aiding companies’ bottom lines and stock prices, boards continue to act as if C.E.O.s have unique powers to deliver better returns — and have gone to great lengths to compensate them. The most prominent example: Tesla approved a pay package to Elon Musk valued at as much as $2.3 billion. It’s not just the highest sum for last year; it’s the biggest ever, according to compensation experts…. C.E.O. pay increased at almost twice the rate of ordinary wages.”

“Book Review: ‘A Theory of Imperialism’ shines light on the history of capitalism and way forward” [Ajit Singh, Medium]. “Examining historical data for several countries, primarily India, the Patnaiks marshal extensive evidence to demonstrate that increasing use of the tropical landmass to satisfy metropolitan demands, in terms of exports, results in declining in per capita foodgrain output and availability in the periphery. Decreasing foodgrain availability has the effect of increasing absolute poverty, in the form of declining per capita caloric and protein intake over time. The income deflation and immiseration imposed on working peoples of the periphery so that the metropolis can obtain increasing supplies of tropical commodities while warding off the threat of increasing supply prices and ensuring the stability of the value of money under capitalism, is an essential feature of imperialism — a feature that capitalism cannot do without.”

About living in your car in Silicon Valley. Thread:

Why I have a soft spot for Felix Salmon.

News of the Wired

“End the Plague of Secret Parenting” [The Atlantic]. “Thankfully at least some research exists on what you might call ‘secret parenting,’ even if much of it is more qualitative than strictly data-based. One example is a 2014 paper in Gender, Work & Organization based on interviews with 26 mothers of small children. The women returned again and again to the issue of secrecy: “Hiding being a mother and engaging in strategies for secrecy were ubiquitous themes in our interviews,” the authors wrote. ‘Many women who had gone back to work tried to conceal that they had small children or pretended that their children’s interests were of little importance to them.’ Thankfully at least some research exists on what you might call ‘secret parenting,’ even if much of it is more qualitative than strictly data-based. One example is a 2014 paper in Gender, Work & Organization based on interviews with 26 mothers of small children. The women returned again and again to the issue of secrecy: ‘Hiding being a mother and engaging in strategies for secrecy were ubiquitous themes in our interviews,’ the authors wrote. ‘Many women who had gone back to work tried to conceal that they had small children or pretended that their children’s interests were of little importance to them.’”

For some reason, the Twitter thinks this image may “contain sensitive material”:

I’m balking at pie charts.

The most neoliberal business model ever (you have to keep watching):

“‘Wow, What Is That?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects” [New York Times]. Caption of the video: “Videos filmed by Navy pilots show two encounters with flying objects. One was captured by a plane’s camera off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 20, 2015. That footage, published previously but with little context, shows an object tilting like a spinning top moving against the wind. A pilot refers to a fleet of objects, but no imagery of a fleet was released. The second video was taken a few weeks later.” • Checking to see if the quarantine should stay in place, is my theory.

* * *

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 plant (CR):

Lee Frost

CR writes: “Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 4/27/19.” Oooh, snow melt!

* * *

Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity
not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So do feel free to make a contribution today or any day. Here is why:
Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of small donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals. So if you see something you especially appreciate, do feel free to click this donate button:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

South China Morning Post

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email