2:00PM Water Cooler 7/22/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. Our five problem states, with New York for comparison:

Another few days of this and I’ll have to call a peak (though not, I think, without another deep dive into the data-gathering). And then look for a multiplying growth in smaller states…..

“How to Understand COVID-19 Numbers” [Pro Publica]. “The first thing I asked experts was: What metric would you recommend I track if I wanted to understand what was going on in my state? Both Matthew Fox, professor of epidemiology and global health at Boston University, and Youyang Gu, a data scientist best known for his COVID-19 prediction models, advised looking at three measurements together: number of cases, case positivity rates and number of deaths. ‘Cases going up or down tells you a fair bit about what’s going on at the moment in terms of transmission of the virus — but it’s only valid if we’re testing enough people,’ Fox said. • What I would really like is a source that combines all three on one chart. Concluding: “The bottom line: We don’t have the pandemic under control.” • As I kept saying before the problem five exploded — based on case counts 🙂

UT: “Politicians and Business Interests Pushed Health Officials Aside to Control Reopening. Then Cases Exploded” [Pro Publica (ES)]. “Email correspondence and interviews with more than a dozen state and local officials in Utah show that the health of the state’s businesses was prioritized over the health of the public, as officials stopped slowing the spread of the virus and instead calculated how many sick people its health system could bear…. And in Utah, infections are rising. The percentage of tests that come back positive is at 10% as of July 13, compared with 3% to 5% in April. On July 14, the state reported its highest number of deaths on a single day since the pandemic began. Since late May, the seven-day average of daily case counts statewide has quadrupled. Utah’s story is mirrored in states across the country, where leaders sidelined public health experts and forged ahead without meeting criteria scientists say are necessary to reopen.” It certainly would have been helpful if Pelosi, back when she had the most leverage, had gotten the states and localities — the non-currency issuers — help with revenue when they needed it. No commerice, no state taxes, no state (and everything else the state funds, which also includes health care).

“For its COVID-19 response, Utah leaned on business consultants to steer logistics” [Salt Lake Tribune (ES)]. “A group of business consultants is playing a behind-the-scenes role in Utah’s coronavirus response, advising the state budget and management heads who have at times supplanted health officials in decisions about fighting the disease…. Representatives of Goldratt Consulting, who have close ties to the state’s chief budget officer, have facilitated discussions about the creation of a $2.75 million mobile app meant to assist the state in contact tracing, email records show. They offered input about securing data gathered through the TestUtah survey, designed to screen people for possible coronavirus testing. Goldratt even built the economic model that spat out the numbers for the state’s COVID-19 testing targets, a high-ranking state public health official says.”


“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

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

The electoral map. July 17: Georgia, Ohio, ME-2 move from Leans Republican to Toss-up. Continued yikes. On July 7, the tossup were 86. Only July 17, they were 56. Now they are 91. This puts Biden at 278, i.e. over 270.

So, taking the consensus as a given, 270 (total) – 204 (Trump’s) = 66. Trump must win 66 from the states in play: AZ (11), FL (29), MI (16), NC (15), PA (20), and WI (10) plus 1 to win not tie = 102. 102 – 66 = 36. So if Trump wins FL, MI, NC, and PA (29 + 16 + 15 + 20 = 80), he wins. That’s a heavy lift. I think I’ve got the math right this time!


Biden (D)(1): “Joe Biden’s advantage over Trump with Black voters is currently smaller than Hillary Clinton’s was” [CNN]. ” Trump continues to do something perhaps unexpectedly among Black voters: Hold his own against Biden relative to many people’s expectations. There have been over 10 national live interview polls since the protests began for which I could assess Black voter sentiment in the presidential race. Altogether, we’re looking at well more than 1,000 interviews…. Biden leads in those polls by an 83% to 8%, or 75-point, margin. That, of course, is a huge advantage for Biden, but it also represents a small improvement for Trump since 2016. Hillary Clinton was ahead of Trump by a 79-point margin among Black registered voters in the pre-election polls taken right before the 2016 election, as compiled by the New York Times’ Nate Cohn. Biden, for what it’s worth, is equaling Clinton’s 83% in those polls. Trump’s picking up a lot of the vote that went to third-party candidates. Given the way margins of error work (i.e. it gets smaller as the result gets more extreme), this slight improvement for Trump from 2016 is statistically significant. Biden currently has such a large lead overall that Trump’s small gain among Black voters doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of the 2020 election. But if the race for president tightens, Trump’s small gain with Black voters could make a difference.”

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Obama Legacy

Finally, a comic who could do Obama

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Democrats Call for 2024 Party Reforms After Iowa Caucus Mess” [Bloomberg]. “A group of Democrats want the party to make changes that could lead to a new presidential primary calendar and the elimination of caucuses after the messy Iowa caucus earlier this year…. “The Democratic Party must continue to push forward structural reforms that engage more and new participants in the Democratic Party, inspire confidence with voters, and continue to build a strong and inclusive party ready to win elections up and down the ballot,” reads the resolution the group submitted to the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday.” • It coudln’t be more obvious that the Democrat Establishment wants nothing to do with “new participants” in the Democrat Party (unless they’re Republicans).

“Americans tune in to ‘cancel culture’ — and don’t like what they see” [Politico]. I’m skeptical any polling on this topic can be meaningful. Matt Taibbi: “One of the reasons I took up the subject is that I have a lot of discussions with people who work in the media who in the last few months have said they are afraid to pitch a certain kind of story because they don’t want it to get around that they’re interested in a certain topic because they might end up on the radar of people in the union or those who are very politically engaged in the newsroom. He gave the example of a colleague who wanted to do a story about a pharmacy in a small town that was damaged during protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and resulted in the sick and elderly unable to fill prescriptions.” Osita Nwanevu: “You often see pluralities or majorities saying this stuff goes too far. But then if you ask whether we ought to be more concerned about sexual harassment or racism or whether certain specific kinds of speech ought to be sanctioned, then you start to see the that fundamental ideas behind these freighted terms are more popular than the terms themselves.” • Which in a way is Taibbi’s point.

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Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

Trucking: “Trucking Industry Growth Improved In June 2020 But Still In Contraction Year-over-Year” [Econintersect]. “Headline data for the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the CASS Freight Index show that truck volumes improved but show the year-over-year growth deep in contraction… The CASS index is deeply in contraction year-over-year whilst the ATA index is barely in contraction year-over-year. The CASS index is inclusive of rail, truck, and air shipments. The ATA truck index is inclusive of only trucking industry member movements (ATA’s tonnage data is dominated by contract freight). I put a heavier weight on the CASS index year-over-year which is consistent with rail and ocean freight. It is not logical that truck freight goes up when industrial production and ocean freight decline – not to mention the continuing effects of the trade war and the coronavirus shutdown.”

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Entertainment: “With Hollywood On Hold, Celebrity Stylists Navigate Life Without The Red Carpet” [HuffPo]. “When the film and TV industry halted production, there was a ripple effect throughout the entire ecosystem. It’s obvious that the lives and careers of movie stars, producers, directors and studio heads are impacted, but what about crew members? Boom operators, film editors, hair and makeup artists, gaffers and production assistants are out of steady jobs for the foreseeable future. Marketing teams have little, if anything, to promote. Ushers at cinemas are deemed useless. …. The life of a celebrity stylist seems luxurious when compared to what others are facing in our country right now. But like many working professionals, they’re freelancers who are trying to find gigs, secure some sort of salary and fight for their own worth as the pandemic looms large. And their work, in part, makes the fashion industry go ’round.”

Retail: “What Shopping in New York City Looks Like Now” [The New Yorker]. “Shopping in New York City, at least in the Before Times, was all about the schlep. The schlep—heaving heavy shopping bags across the city, often between boroughs and on several forms of public transportation—was rarely a planned activity…. I did not expect to miss the schlep when nonessential retail stores first closed down, in mid-March, as the coronavirus took hold of the city. Anything I needed I could summon to my doorstep; anything I didn’t need I was scared to let pass the threshold for fear of contamination…. It will be a long while before flânerie-style shopping will fully return to the five boroughs. While much of the rest of the country has reopened nonessential retail (a move that, given the spike in coronavirus cases in some states, may well have been premature), New York has taken a more cautious approach.” • Flaneur is the right word; lots of food for thought here if you are in retail — or if you want to think about how people move through streets and retail spaces.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 65 Greed (previous close: 65 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 62 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jul 22 at 12:21pm.

The Biosphere

“After 40 years, researchers finally see Earth’s climate destiny more clearly” [Science]. Hold onto your hats: “It seems like such a simple question: How hot is Earth going to get? Yet for 40 years, climate scientists have repeated the same unsatisfying answer: If humans double atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from preindustrial levels, the planet will eventually warm between 1.5°C and 4.5°C—a temperature range that encompasses everything from a merely troubling rise to a catastrophic one. Now, in a landmark effort, a team of 25 scientists has significantly narrowed the bounds on this critical factor, known as climate sensitivity. The assessment, conducted under the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and publishing this week in Reviews of Geophysics, relies on three strands of evidence: trends indicated by contemporary warming, the latest understanding of the feedback effects that can slow or accelerate climate change, and lessons from ancient climates. They support a likely warming range of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C, says Steven Sherwood, one of the study’s lead authors and a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. ‘This is the number that really controls how bad global warming is going to be.’ … Humanity has already emitted enough CO2 to be halfway to the doubling point of 560 parts per million, and many emissions scenarios have the planet reaching that threshold by 2060. The report underscores the risks of that course: It rules out the milder levels of warming sometimes invoked by those who would avoid emissions cuts…. In recent years, another uncertainty in the climate future has also narrowed: Global emissions seem unlikely to reach the worst-case scenarios IPCC helped craft 15 years ago, ruling out some forecasts of extreme warming.” • Worth reading in full. And above my paygrade to assess the study. Readers?

“EPA proposes mild first-ever aircraft emissions standards” [The Hill]. “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday proposed new regulations to hinder emissions from air travel, prompting criticism the agency is codifying standards many aircraft makers have already met. The proposal from the EPA would adopt 2017 emissions standards from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations’s top aviation authority, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new aircraft by 4 percent over 12 years. But both critics and the EPA found the standards would do little to improve emissions as they mirror advancements the industry is already making.”

Health Care

A video of Christo’s “Gates,” in Central Park.

When I saw “Gates,” it was not a windy day. Every so often, one of the orange fabric gates would move, seemingly of its own volition, but in reality making visible the capricious movement of breezes over the landscape. And if #COVID-19 really is spread as an aerosol, as I believe, that is how we are going to have to think of it: As capricious. We are going to have to give an account of the wind and the breeze we cannot see. Even indoors.

“Why United Airlines Is Cranking Up The A/C In A Pandemic” [Forbes]. “[Y]esterday United Airlines announced that, starting July 27, it will begin maximizing air flow volume through aircraft HEPA filtration systems during the entire boarding and deplaning processes. This will make ‘the air onboard a plane significantly cleaner than what people typically experience in restaurants, grocery stores, schools or even some hospitals,’ according to a statement….. Here’s how HEPA filtration works on a plane: Fresh air from outside the aircraft is constantly pulled in through the engines. That fresh air then flows downward into the cabin from ceiling vents and exits the cabin at the floor and sidewalls, and is then routed through the HEPA filters and mixed with more fresh, outside air before returning back to the cabin.” • Wouldn’t it be better if the air flowed up? Taking what we breathe out away from us? Can ventilation mavens in the readership comment?

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“Planning ahead: U.S., Canada order 177M more COVID-19 vaccine syringes from BD” [Fierce Biotech]. “And now, as promising data begins to trickle in from a number of drugmakers, the U.S. is nearly quadrupling its orders for needles and syringes made by BD. åThe U.S. ordered an additional 140 million injection devices from the medtech giant, bringing its total to 190 million. Meanwhile, Canada just about doubled its order, from 38 million to 75 million. BD said a majority of the international orders it’s received, including over 100 million from the U.K., are slated to be delivered before the end of the year, in anticipation of a coronavirus vaccine being approved in late 2020 or early 2021. The company is also preparing for future vaccines to require two doses per person. the company said it does not expect these new COVID-19 orders to impact its other injector production plans, aimed at the annual flu season and other vaccination campaigns. BD is one of the largest producers of injection devices in the world, making billions of syringes and needles annually through a global manufacturing network.” • BD is located in Nebraska.

“FDA relaxes regulations for producing viral transport media required for COVID-19 tests” [Fierce Biotech]. “The demand for widespread COVID-19 diagnostics has strained every aspect of the enterprise, including the production of swabs, reagents and sterile containers. Now, the FDA has loosened its oversight of viral transport media, the liquid solution that keeps samples viable as they wait to be tested, in a move the agency says will help boost waning supplies. Most of the molecular and antigen-based diagnostic tests granted emergency authorizations require some form of viral transport media or different types of sterile saline solution. Now, the FDA is allowing commercial manufacturers to ship their products immediately, without submitting the formal, 90-day notifications typically required for a new medical device. In addition, the agency said it does not intend to enforce its product quality system and manufacturing regulations during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as Unique Device Identifier requirements, as long as the company maintains compliance with certain ISO standards.” • Hmm.

“Civil War-era smallpox vaccination kits offer new insights on how the virus was eradicated” [CNN]. “A new study published in Genome Biology on Sunday, carried out by scientists and historians from McMaster University, the Mütter Museum and the University of Sydney, identified five vaccine strains used by Civil War-era physicians to protect people from smallpox… Between Jenner’s early trials and the diffusion of modern and standardized vaccination practices that led the World Health Organization to declare smallpox eradicated in 1980, physicians practiced human-to-human vaccination. That involved harvesting infectious materials from one individual and applying them to a wound on a healthy person to cause an immune reaction.” Cowboys! More: “Traces of these types of materials were found in the vaccination kits examined in the study. The vaccination kits were serendipitously found in a drawer in the phlebotomy section of the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.” • When I lived in Philly, I could never bring myself to go to the Mutter Museum. Too creepy!

“Man Suffers 4 Hour Erection With Covid-19 Coronavirus Infection” [Forbes]. “They stuck a needle into the blood vessels of his penis…. The blood sample had dark blood clots and high carbon dioxide and low oxygen contents. This was consistent with ischemic or low-flow priapism. Ischemia basically means not getting enough blood to certain body parts. Blood was probably not flowing out of his penis due to blood clots blocking the exit. When blood stays in the same place and can’t return to the lungs, it gets depleted of oxygen and loaded more and more with carbon dioxide. The doctors injected a medication, ethylephrine, into, yes, his penis. This medication can stimulate the sympathetic nerves in that area, which in turn can relax the blood vessels in the penis. Things then calmed down so to speak…. Why did the man have blood clots, given that he didn’t have any history of blood clots prior having Covid-19? Well, there continues to be more and more reports of patients with Covid-19 coronavirus infections suffering blood clots.” • Yikes. Not a joke!

Groves of Academe

“Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt is working to launch a university that would rival Stanford and MIT and funnel tech workers into government work” [Business Insider]. “Schmidt is teaming up with former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work to form a federal commission and kick off a university called the US Digital Service Academy that would train new classes of coders for the US. The school would offer degrees and coursework for digital skills such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. According to the report, the new academy has the backing of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an agency launched by Congress in 2018 to help the US prioritize artificial intelligence in response to China’s advancement in that arena. The organization voted unanimously Monday to recommend the university to Congress. Commissioner and former head of the Federal Communications Commission Mignon Clyburn also emphasized during the Monday hearing the need for inclusion when recruiting students to the school/ Stanford University — the school Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page attended — and MIT have historically been the primary talent pools for the tech industry. According to the report, the Digital Service Academy would serve as a third reservoir for the best and brightest technology workers, but one that would ideally produce graduates imbued with a sense of government duty.” • Just what we need: énarques.

Class Warfare

“7 On Your Side Investigates: Testing centers in many non-white neighborhoods likely to be more crowded” [WABC]. “Health experts have repeatedly said early detection of COVID-19 is key to preventing the virus’ spread, but new analysis by the 7 On Your Side Investigates data team, ABC News and FiveThirtyEight found where Americans live and how much money they earn has impacted their access to tests in major cities from coast to coast. The New York Metro Area ranked among the top 10 major US cities with testing disparities, behind other cities such as Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas. In New York City specifically, we looked at nearly 400 testing sites active through at least June 18 and found predominantly black and Latino communities were likely to face testing sites up to 26% busier than testing sites in communities with a greater percentage of white residents. We found a greater concentration of testing sites per capita in wealthier areas of Manhattan reducing the likelihood of long waits for tests, compared to certain predominantly minority communities in parts of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.” • NO WAY! (And notice how the editor erased class when they wrote the headline.)

“There’s a Divide in Even the Closest Interracial Friendships Including ours.” [New York Magazine]. Maybe it’s me, but this is one of the more creepy things I’ve read recently: “A lot of her white friends were grandmothered in under a more lax regime.” • Maybe this is what friendship in the PMC is all about? One’s own personal HR department? Worth reading in full. Is this as creepy as an old codger like me thinks? And, to be fair, I am a WASP’s WASP, in an extremely white state. Maybe I’m not seeing the real difficulties?

News of the Wired

“The ‘Friends’ reunion special is happening. And yes, every cast member is on board” [Los Angeles Times]. No. No, no, no, no, no, no. Who can afford an apartment like that?

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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 and coral 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 (moss):

And this kind note:

I’m moss, a very occasional commenter here as being in nz I seem to read NC way into the night EST as so it’s way past any discussion time on most threads. Just now reading your Mekong thread and not even sure whether you’d see a reply now if I posted one.

All this aside, however, I noted your comment on the fascination of this river system and indeed the area on the map where the parallel river systems run through the upper parts of Yunan is a region of considerable botanic interest and and the source of many unique plants – rhododendrons and azaleas, camellias, meconopsis etc. Frank Kingdon-Ward the UK botanist who spent many years there wrote a wonderful book on it, Land of the Blue Poppy among others.

I moved house two years back and my present garden redevelopment is too much a work in progress to warrant sending you pics, but here’s two snaps of my last garden in which I did all the rockwork – which included barrowing down an 8m drop on the goatpath from the road about 5 cubic m of basalt which alone took several months. One is in spring, the other autumn.

The stone wall, and the S-curve!

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