/2:00PM Water Cooler 7/11/2019

2:00PM Water Cooler 7/11/2019

“Cargill reports sharp drop in fourth-quarter earnings” [Financial Times]. “Cargill has reported a sharp drop in fourth-quarter earnings as it battled extreme weather events, the spread of a deadly pig virus and the fallout from the US-China trade spat…. Cargill is part of a small group of companies which dominate trade in global agricultural commodities. It has been a vocal proponent of free trade and under Mr MacLennan’s leadership it has executed a sweeping series of deals to focus on food and agricultural businesses where it best competes.”

“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] (average of five polls). As of July 10: Biden down at 27.1% (27.3%), Sanders up at 15.3% (14.9%), Warren down at 13.7% (13.9%), Buttigieg down at 5.0% (5.3%), Harris having jumped, flat at 15.0% (15.0%), others Brownian motion. Sanders, Harris, Warren now clustered, Biden having rebounded in the past few days, putting the busing controversy behind him, I’m guessing.

“Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race, and Bernie Sanders” (interview) [Public Books]. First I’ve read of Reed’s personal history; it’s very interesting to see him situate himself. (He’s retired now, and writing a book on the left since World War II, which is, I think, the book we need).

[REED:] it is kind of interesting to me to see how open the alliance between the identitarian and the corporate wings of the Democratic Party are about their shared commitment to defeating the left. That’s a plus, too, because sometimes it’s in these critical moments that people show you where they are coming from.

It’s dangerous as hell, this moment. The big challenge for us now, and the big opportunity, is that we have issues, public support, and sentiment that we haven’t had before to help us try to build the broad and deep movement that we need.

“Welcome to the Hellfire Club” [The American Conservative]. Quite a rant:

Surely I’m not the only one who noticed that the Epstein sex abuse timeline is nearly identical to the Catholic Church sex abuse timeline. Both investigations were initiated in the early 2000s. Both revealed that the exploitation of children was an open secret in the highest echelons of power. Both investigations were closed a few years later, though not resolved. We assumed justice would take its course, and slowly began to forget. And then within two years of each other, both scandals emerged again, more sordid than ever. And on both occasions, we realized that nothing had changed.

Whew. Now I get why people become communists. Not the new-wave, gender-fluid, pink-haired Trots, of course…

No: I mean the old-fashioned, blue-collar, square-jawed Stalinists. I mean the guy with eight fingers and 12 kids who saw photos of the annual Manhattan debutantes’ ball, felt the rumble in his stomach, and figured he may as well eat the rich.

Stats Watch

Jobless Claims, week of July 6, 2019: “The labor market opens July with significant strength as new jobless claims for the July 6 week came in below expectations” [Econoday].

Consumer Price Index, June 2019: “Jerome Powell back in May was right, apparel prices were destined to recover which headlines a June consumer price report that will not be raising expectations any further for a rate cut at the month-end FOMC” [Econoday]. “The jump in apparel will be getting the headlines but housing is the important key, rising 0.4 percent for rents (3.9 percent on the year) and up 0.3 percent for owners’ equivalent rent (3.4 percent on the year). These are fundamental costs for the consumer and the tangible pressure provides a steady to rising floor for the core.”

Banking: Over the transom from alert reader JM:


So now the price of entry for a bank account is a smartphone or a PC (unless you want to queue up in a public library). But looking on the bright side: Screwing really poor people out of overdraft fees they never hear about could be a nice little earner! Readers, have any of you recieved letters like this?

The Bezzle: “Tesla Revamps Autopilot Team amid Pressure to Deliver on Elon Musk’s Promises” [Car and Driver]. “According to sources cited in The Information, one of the biggest challenges for Autopilot to advance beyond the current capabilities is adapting to the challenges of city driving, which brings complications not encountered in a limited-access highway settings such as pedestrians, parked cars, and obscured signs.” • I read this and started laughing. It is true that controlling scope is the key to project success, but who signed off on the requirements document — or whatever those agile kids use these days — for an “autonomous vehicle” software system that didn’t need to handle “pedestrians, parked cars, and obscured signs”? (Note that Google’s captcha system, for which I assume I am doing free labor to train some machine-learning algo, hasn’t even gotten to pedestrians yet.) Anyhow, Musk fired a bunch of engineers. That should solve the problem.

Tech: “Google employees are eavesdropping, even in your living room, VRT NWS has discovered” [VRT News]. “VRT NWS was able to listen to more than a thousand excerpts recorded via Google Assistant. In these recordings we could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information. This made it easy for us to find the people involved and confront them with the audio recordings…. VRT NWS listened to more than a thousand excerpts, 153 of which were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘Okay Google’ was clearly not given. But as soon as someone in the vicinity utters a word that sounds a bit like ‘Okay Google’, Google Home starts to record. This means that a lot of conversations are recorded unintentionally: bedroom conversations, conversations between parents and their children, but also blazing rows and professional phone calls containing lots of private information.” • So, does “Okay” sound like “Okay Google”

Tech: “Banned Chinese Security Cameras Are Almost Impossible to Remove” [Bloomberg]. “U.S. federal agencies have five weeks to rip out Chinese-made surveillance cameras in order to comply with a ban imposed by Congress last year in an effort to thwart the threat of spying from Beijing.But thousands of the devices are still in place and chances are most won’t be removed before the Aug. 13 deadline. A complex web of supply chain logistics and licensing agreements make it almost impossible to know whether a security camera is actually made in China or contains components that would violate U.S. rules.” • So how many of these cameras are really needed? Can we just turn them off?

Tech: Stop it, stop it, stop it. Thread:

All I want is to subscribe to accounts and have Tweets from those accounts appear in reverse chronological order. That is all I want. Stop it. Go away, algos. Stop it.

Manufacturing: “Five Basic Facts About Boeing Missing From Coverage Of the 737 MAX Story” [Forbes]. • tl;dr: Boeing is TBTF. Worth reading for the bullet points, though.

Manufacturing: “Southwest updates safety information cards to avoid Boeing 737 Max confusion” [USA Today]. “Southwest Airlines used to tuck the same safety information card into the seat back pockets of its Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 737 Max 8s…. In mid-May, Southwest quietly introduced separate cards for the two planes. Now the 737-800 is the only plane listed on the safety card for that aircraft. Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said the move was made ‘to alleviate any confusion from customers so they know exactly what aircraft type they are on.’” • Ouch.

Manufacturing: “American Airlines’ toll so far from the 737 Max groundings: $185 million and 7,800 canceled flights” [Dallas Morning News]. “American Airlines lost $185 million and canceled 7,800 flights during the second quarter after regulators grounded Boeing 737 Max jets.” However: “American Airlines has 24 737 Max series aircraft in its fleet, accounting for about 1.4 percent of all flights.” • AA also “a labor dispute with union mechanics seeking a new contract,” so it’s not clear how many of the cancelled flights are due to the 737, and how many to AA’s failure to sign a contract.

The Fed: “Powell Confirms July Rate Cut” [Tim Duy’s Fed Watch]. “What pushed them over the edge to a rate cut was the potential disruption triggered by President Trump’s repeated use of tariffs as a negotiating club. The uncertainty caused by the actions was sapping business confidence and threatening to force force [sic] to endure [sic] the costly process of reworking current global supply chains. The Fed felt they had little choice but the respond with lower rates just as they would with any adverse economic shock. In other words, Trump got the Fed to cut rates, but had to damage the economy to do it.” • When you think about it, what does “damaging” “the” (whose?) “economy” even mean? Unless you have some sort of commitment to maintaining the “current” global supply chain as it is.

The Biosphere

Storm surge pricing:

“Writing the Inner Life of Trees” [To the Best of Our Knowledge]. Review of Richard Powers’ The Overstory, and interview with the author.

Steve Paulson: Most novelists who want to write about the more-than-human world write about animals. We can identify with them, at least to some degree. Why did you want to write about trees?

Richard Powers: It’s interesting that you said how much easier animal empathy identification is. Of course, that’s the way we’ve been shaped by natural selection — to be extremely sensitive to things that look like us. That empathy is only grudgingly given outwards beyond the circle of the human. And I thought if we really want to get to the heart of why we feel so alone here — what psychologists call “species loneliness” — that we should take the problem directly in hand and say, what would it take for a human being like me to look at a tree and say, “I will give this the sanctity that I ordinarily only give to my own kind”?

SP: Was it your goal to create empathy for trees?

RP: I think it was the goal of the book. I would also call it a necessary first step for whatever transformation is going to be required of us to live stably on this Earth.

“Retrofitting the Suburbs for the Energy Descent Future” (PDF) [Holmgren Design]. From 2012, still germane:

I believe the evidence of global instability leading to energy descent if not total collapse is so overwhelming that it is incumbent on everyone to begin taking personal and household responsibility for reorganising their lives to adapt in place (or consolidate with family or friends). Paying off debt, teaching our kids to garden, and turning our hobby into a business is not going to solve the problems unleashed by permanent energetic and economic contraction, but after forty years of public policy denial of the limits to growth conundrum by government, the media and other sources of power and public policy, the bottom up adaption strategy is the only one with any remaining utility.

I don’t see this as being a contradiction to collective action, but as a complement to it.

“Tracking the Agrichemical Industry Propaganda Network” [U.S. Right to Know]. “The public has a right to know about the industry ties of industry PR and lobbying aides. U.S. Right to Know has uncovered many documents that shine light on how the hidden corporate connections of front groups, academics, journalists and regulators who oppose transparency and public health protections for genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The following fact sheets provide more information.” • A useful aggregation.


“Trump administration threatens veto of bill that combats PFAS contamination” [Free Press]. “The White House this week issued a statement saying the president’s advisers will recommend he reject the annual defense authorization bill currently being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives, in part because it includes measures aimed at reducing the level of chemical contamination nationwide that they believe go too far…. The White House this week issued a statement saying the president’s advisers will recommend he reject the annual defense authorization bill currently being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives, in part because it includes measures aimed at reducing the level of chemical contamination nationwide that they believe go too far.” • thanks to alert reader MN for keeping us posted on PFAS.


It would be nice if this perspective took hold over there in Barber’s #PoorPeoplesCampaign:

Our Famously Free Press

This is very sad:

2019 – 114 = 1905, so the paper had survived several technical and social revolutions already. It’s almost as if there’s something uniquely and lethally toxic in today’s business environment.

Class Warfare

Missed this in June, still germane:

See, neoliberalism is working.

“Delta workers seeking to unionize say they are ‘under siege’ by management” [Guardian]. “Delta workers described break rooms, bathrooms and daily group briefings as loaded with anti-union content from Delta. Televisions in break rooms play anti-union videos, in addition to posters and flyers containing anti-union material. New hires are given an anti-union briefing, though deemed voluntary, which workers noted new hires are under pressure to attend.”

“‘A white-collar sweatshop’: Google Assistant contractors allege wage theft” [Guardian]. “”It’s smoke and mirrors if anything,” said a current Google employee who, as with the others quoted in this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “Artificial intelligence is not that artificial; it’s human beings that are doing the work.”

News of the Wired

“Metallica to publish children’s book, The ABCs of Metallica” [Guardian]. • Is your child getting enough metal?

“Logan Co. man allegedly driving stolen vehicle filled with uranium, a rattlesnake, and Kentucky Deluxe” [Oklahoma News 4]. “Sgt. Gibbs said “[t]he uranium is the wild card in that situation.’ The uranium hasn’t resulted in charges. Guthrie police are still trying to figure out exactly what the suspects were going to use it for. There are no charges from the rattlesnake either. ‘It happens to be rattlesnake season at the time, so he can be in possession of this rattlesnake because he has a valid lifetime hunting and fishing license,’ Sgt. Gibbs said.” • A busy day for Sgt. Gibbs.

“Man ridicules Olive Garden’s demand letter over trademark dispute” [Ars Technica]. • Very funny, and I can’t think how I missed it at the time. “Mr. Forcements—may I call you Branden?”

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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 plant (JN):

software system

An extremely red flower against an extremely blue sky.

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Southwest Airlines

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