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2:00PM Water Cooler 5/4/2023 | naked capitalism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I had a ProtonMail outage right in the middle of production. So there will be more orts and scraps than usual, some actually important! So please check back –lambert UPDATE Finished!

Bird Song of the Day

European Starling, Famosa Slough, San Diego, California, United States. “Flock on wire.”

* * *


“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

Biden Administration

“Harris meets with CEOs about artificial intelligence risks” [Associated Press]. • For purely ceremonial purposes, obviously, even if you believe Harris would be trusted with anything serious; the material below has obviously been in the works for awhile–

“FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Promote Responsible AI Innovation that Protects Americans’ Rights and Safety” [White House]. “The Administration is announcing an independent [lol] commitment from leading AI developers, including Anthropic, Google, Hugging Face, Microsoft, NVIDIA, OpenAI, and Stability AI, to participate in a public evaluation of AI systems, consistent with responsible disclosure principles—on an evaluation platform developed by Scale AI—at the AI Village at DEFCON 31.” Good to see the Screen Writers Guild involved in this so-called “evaluation,” since their livelihoods are directly affected. Oh, wait… More: “This will allow these models to be evaluated thoroughly by thousands of community partners and AI experts to explore how the models align with the principles and practices outlined in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and AI Risk Management Framework.” • Let’s ask the foxes about henhouse design! (Clearly, I have to put on my yellow waders for this one. Dear Lord.)

The Supremes

“Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition” [Pro Publica]. “In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in the foothills of northern Georgia. The boy, Mark Martin, was far from home. For the previous decade, he had lived with the justice and his wife in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Thomas had taken legal custody of Martin when he was 6 years old and had recently told an interviewer he was ‘raising him as a son.’ Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009, buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow. The payments extended beyond that month, according to Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school. Crow paid Martin’s tuition the entire time he was a student there, which was about a year, Grimwood told ProPublica. ‘Harlan picked up the tab,’ said Grimwood, who got to know Crow and the Thomases and had access to school financial information through his work as an administrator. Before and after his time at Hidden Lake, Martin attended a second boarding school, Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia. ‘Harlan said he was paying for the tuition at Randolph-Macon Academy as well,’ Grimwood said, recalling a conversation he had with Crow during a visit to the billionaire’s Adirondacks estate. ProPublica interviewed Martin, his former classmates and former staff at both schools. The exact total Crow paid for Martin’s education over the years remains unclear. If he paid for all four years at the two schools, the price tag could have exceeded $150,000, according to public records of tuition rates at the schools.” • I wouldn’t call $150,000 a lot of money, but it’s certainly more than Thomas would find under the couch cushions. I wonder if he ever expressed his gratitude to fascist weirdo Nazi memorabilia collector Crow in any material way?


“Trump has an electability problem. The GOP doesn’t seem to know — or care” [WaPo]. “Republicans as a party have been conditioned for this moment by Trump and the acquiescence of party leaders. By building a pronounced persecution complex and failing to engage in difficult but necessary conversations about their electoral defeats, they’ve created a permission structure for people to both doubt Trump’s electability problem and disregard its importance.” • “Created a permission structure” is the most PMC phrasing and concept ever. Whatever Republican “people” are about — and I didn’t come up in the Republican Party, so I’m learning a lot of new things, entertaining! — “nudge theory” is not one of them. (That weird term “guardrails” I keep flagging is, I suppose, a permission structure. (Bourdieu would point out, I’m thinking, that with permission structures the key aspect is not the nature of the permissions, but which (self-appointed?) class of people gets to establish them.

“Blinken’s Immaculate Conception Defense: Why Things Are Likely to Get Worse for the Secretary of State” [Jonathan Turley, The Hill]. “In a Fox interview, Blinken suggests that he is free of blame in the creation of the 2020 letter from former intelligence officials claiming that the Hunter Biden laptop story was likely Russian disinformation. Despite the primary organizer of the letter naming him as the Biden campaign adviser who first raised the claim, Blinken insists that he remains without sin. All of the letter signatories are taking the same position…. With an enabling media, Joe Biden was able to use [the letter] to dismiss the evidence of possible influence peddling and criminal conduct on the laptop. During the presidential debate, an irate Biden cited the letter as proving that the laptop story was ‘garbage’ and part of a ‘Russian plan.’ He added that ‘nobody believes’ that the laptop was real. Media and social media companies then buried the story, including some like Twitter banning its discussion before the election. In the close election, the false story worked to negate a damaging scandal of corruption involving millions of dollars from foreign sources, including some involving figures associated with foreign intelligence.” Too bad Trump went with voting machines instead of Hunter’s laptop. Such a strategy would have had the merit of attacking his real enemies. Ah well, nevertheless…. More: “After the Republican takeover of the House, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell was called before Congress to give a statement. When pressed on how this letter came about, Morell reportedly did not hesitate: Blinken. He said Blinken was ‘the impetus’ of the false claim. Morell then organized dozens of ex-national security officials to sign the letter claiming that the Hunter laptop story had ‘all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.’” Shouldn’t that have been “hallmarks,” not “earmarks”? More: “On Monday, Blinken told Fox News State Department correspondent Benjamin Hall that ‘with regard to that letter, I didn’t — it wasn’t my idea, didn’t ask for it, didn’t solicit it. And I think the testimony that the former deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morell, put forward confirms that.’ Morell said that it was Blinken who ‘striggered’ his interest in crafting the letter. So perhaps Blinken is trying to dance on the semantic pinhead of being the impetus as opposed to the ‘solicitor’ of the claim.” • I hope Blinken isn’t too stressed by this. He’s got a war to lose!

Republican Funhouse

“The (Republican) Party’s Over” [Michael Tomasky, The New Republic]. “New Republic editor Michael Tomasky gathered four close observers of the party’s decline and fall via Zoom in early March to discuss the current and future state of the Republican Party: Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011; Juleanna Glover, who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft; Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist and author of The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right; and Nicolle Wallace, who was President George W. Bush’s communications director and senior adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign and now hosts MSNBC’s Deadline: White House.” More:

MICHAEL TOMASKY: My first question is a really simple one. Is the Republican Party as currently constituted salvageable?


(general laughter)

There’s probably a joke to be made about Ionesco and RINOs, but I must hustle along…

“Kevin & The 20: A Love-ish Story” [Puck]. “Perhaps most terrifying for Democrats, as Biden prepares to confront Republican leaders at the White House next week, is the prospect that the House G.O.P. comity holds. Indeed, when I recently spoke with sources connected to the so-called Taliban 20—the group of far-right representatives who took McCarthy’s speakership hostage in exchange for a power-sharing agreement earlier this year—they expressed something I have frankly never heard from any of them: admiration for McCarthy and trust that the man they once considered the ultimate RINO can deliver for them. “McCarthy’s coalition government is more stable than either the media or the Biden administration would like to believe,” a source close to The Twenty told me.” • Let’s wait and see.

Our Famously Free Press

“Carlson’s Text That Alarmed Fox Leaders: ‘It’s Not How White Men Fight’” [New York Times]. The deck, just a wee bit hazy on causality: “The discovery of the text message contributed to a chain of events that ultimately led to Tucker Carlson’s firing.” Here’s the whole message:

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?

Naturally, the liberal Democrat dogpile is skipping everything after “Yet suddenly” which shows a degree of self-awareness on Carlson’s part. We’re none of us as pretty on the inside as we think. Remember this tweet from a couple days ago?

I would say Carlson is perhaps more in touch with his shadow side than most liberal Democrats.

That said, Carlson should clearly recognize that “It’s not how white men fight” is also part of his dark side (as “That’s not who we are“, generally applied to episodes, like torture, or massacres, or the taking of trophies, that are a direct consequence of how we run out empire, and are very much “who we are”). Begin with the fact that Carlson’s claim is categorically false (if we accept Carlson’s racial categories): There’s a group of people who identify as white and identify as men, ganging up one other person. But people, no matter how categorized, do that all the time! I would also put forward the idea that the wealthy, being as the ruling class class conscious, “gang up” on the rest of us much more often than most, an idea that Carlson might also wish to give consideration.

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:

The Democrat Party is the political expression of the class power of PMC, their base (lucidly explained by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal!). ; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. . (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

* * *

“Records Reveal Extent of CIA’s Mishandling of Sexual Misconduct” [The Intercept]. “A CIA OFFICER lied to a female employee about opening an investigation into a male co-worker she said was sexually harassing her — and then rejected her complaint for being untimely. Another agency employee was retaliated and discriminated against after reporting an instance of sexual assault. A third woman resigned from her contract position with the intelligence agency because she felt she had no recourse against a male colleague who was harassing her. These are just some of the allegations made in dozens of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appeals filed by CIA employees and contractors over the last decade. The previously unreported legal documents lend credence to recent reports of a widespread breakdown in the CIA office charged with responding to allegations of misconduct, describing often invisible aspects of the CIA’s process for dealing with such reports and detailing the barriers people face when appealing to internal agency mechanisms for protection and adjudication.” • One can only wonder what the Democrats will do about this, given that the Democrats, the intelligence community, and the Beltway press have merged into a gelatinous mass of Flexians, as the Twitter Files show. Probably nothing. Even though several of the CIA Democrats are women….

Complete and utter collapse, failure, debacle of liberals, progressives, the left, the NGOs, whatever (very much including Sanders, the Squad, Jayapal, all of ’em):

Collectively and institutionally, they threw the working class under the bus, along with Biden. When you’re talking deaths on the scale of hundreds of thousands, the purity of their motives doesn’t really matter, does it? I mean, the least they could do is something performative, and we don’t even see that.

Realignment and Legitimacy


“I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.” –William Lloyd Garrison

Resources, United States (National): Transmission (CDC); Wastewater (CDC, Biobot; includes many counties); Variants (CDC; Walgreens); “Iowa COVID-19 Tracker” (in IA, but national data).

Lambert here: Readers, thanks for the collective effort. We are now up to 50/50 states (100%). This is really great! (It occurs to me that there are uses to which this data might be put, beyond helping people with “personal risk assessments” appropriate to their state. For example, thinking pessimistically, we might maintain the list and see which states go dark and when. We might also tabulate the properties of each site and look for differences and commonalities, for example the use of GIS (an exercise in Federalism). I do not that CA remains a little sketchy; it feels a little odd that there’s no statewide site, but I’ve never been able to find one. Also, my working assumption was that each state would have one site. That’s turned out not to be true; see e.g. ID. Trivially, it means I need to punctuate this list properly. Less trivially, there may be more local sites that should be added. NY city in NY state springs to mind, but I’m sure there are others. FL also springs to mind as a special case, because DeSantis will most probably be a Presidental candidate, and IIRC there was some foofra about their state dashboard. Thanks again!

Resources, United States (Local): AK (dashboard); AL (dashboard); AR (dashboard); AZ (dashboard); CA (dashboard; Marin); CO (dashboard; wastewater); CT (dashboard); DE (dashboard); FL (wastewater); GA (wastewater); HI (dashboard); IA (wastewater reports); ID (dashboard, Boise; dashboard, wastewater, Central Idaho; wastewater, Coeur d’Alene; dashboard, Spokane County); IL (wastewater); IN (dashboard); KS (dashboard; wastewater, Lawrence); KY (dashboard, Louisville); LA (dashboard); MA (wastewater); MD (dashboard); ME (dashboard); MI (wastewater; wastewater); MN (dashboard); MO (wastewater); MS (dashboard); MT (dashboard); NC (dashboard); ND (dashboard; wastewater); NE (dashboard); NH (wastewater); NJ (dashboard); NM (dashboard); NV (dashboard; wastewater, Southern NV); NY (dashboard); OH (dashboard); OK (dashboard); OR (dashboard); PA (dashboard); RI (dashboard); SC (dashboard); SD (dashboard); TN (dashboard); TX (dashboard); UT (wastewater); VA (dashboard); VT (dashboard); WA (dashboard; dashboard); WI (wastewater); WV (wastewater); WY (wastewater).

Resources, Canada (National): Wastewater (Government of Canada).

Resources, Canada (Provincial): ON (wastewater); QC (les eaux usées); BC, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: Art_DogCT, B24S, CanCyn, ChiGal, Chuck L, Festoonic, FM, FreeMarketApologist (4), Gumbo, hop2it, JB, JEHR, JF, JL Joe, John, JM (9), JW, KatieBird, LL, Michael King, KF, LaRuse, mrsyk, MT, otisyves, Petal (5), RK (2), RL, RM, Rod, square coats (11), tennesseewaltzer, Utah, Bob White (3).

* * *


I should probably file this under Zeitgeist watch:

I thought deru kui wa utareru was only for that famously group-oriented and conformist culture, Japan. Guess not.


“Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance for Early Detection of New SARS-CoV-2 Variants” [CDC]. “Travelers are an important population to consider when tracking new and emerging infectious diseases. Travelers move from place to place quickly and can get and spread infectious diseases. U.S. airports are visited by more than 1 billion travelers each year and can serve as the front line for public health officials to detect variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in arriving international travelers…. The Traveler Genomic Surveillance program (TGS), run by the Travelers’ Health Branch at CDC in partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks and XpresCheck, plays an important role in U.S. national surveillance by testing travelers to detect new variants entering the country and fill gaps in global surveillance… As part of the TGS program, to participate and provide nasal swabs that get batched into pools (5–25 swabs per pool) at the airport. These pooled samples are sent to Gingko’s lab network for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing. All positives undergo genomic sequencing. Pooled sampling is a unique and valuable approach that allows the detection of multiple variants while conserving resources. Select samples from TGS are shared with CDC’s lab for viral characterization which can help provide information on a variant’s transmissibility, virulence, and response to current treatments or vaccines.” • Oh, it’s voluntary. So does CDC think that travelers who know or even suspect they’re infected are going to self-select into their testing program? What a farce!


“Impact of supplementary air filtration on aerosols and particulate matter in a UK hospital ward: a case study” [Journal of Hospital Infection]. ” Aerosol spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a major problem in hospitals, leading to an increase in supplementary high-efficiency particulate air filtration aimed at reducing nosocomial transmission. This article reports a natural experiment that occurred when an air cleaning unit (ACU) on a medicine for older people ward was switched off accidentally while being commissioned….The ACU reduced the PM counts considerably (e.g. PM1 65.5-78.2%) throughout the ward (PAerosols migrated rapidly between the various ward subcompartments, suggesting that social distancing alone cannot prevent nosocomial transmission of SARS-CoV-2 as this fails to mitigate longer-range (>2 m) transmission. The ACU reduced PM levels considerably throughout the ward space, indicating its potential as an effective intervention to reduce the risk posed by infectious airborne particles.” • This study is a smoking gun. In my varied albeit I grant unsystematic perusal of Hospital Infection Control publications, I’ve noticed a mental tendency for IPC people to focus on material, visible objects like hands, clothing, bowls, etc. (i.e. on fomite tranmission) and controlling transmission in spaces (e.g., separate wards for people with respiratory illnesses). The focus on fomite transmission leads to the promotion of handwashing as a universal solution. The focus on spaces leads to concepts like “Aerosol Generating Procedures,” which occur only in operating rooms. We might even raise this mental tendency to the level of a paradigm; readers will correct me. Obviously, what this study shows is that the IPC paradigm is not only obsolute, but actively harmful to those whom airborne transmission infects Aerosols are not “objects”; they are not visible and seem immaterial. And aerosols do not respect spaces; as this study whos, they “migrate rapidly between… subcompartments.” Current IPC paradigms cannot cope with any of this; and so you can see why any use of “airborne” was at once censored, both at WHO and at CDC. Of course, calling out this paradigm also gives an account to IPCs fanatic resistance to functional masking (at this point we recall that Dr John Conly, of Cochrane “fool’s gold” study ill-fame, is from the Infection Control world); it’s more than a matter of masks as a budget line item (thought that does play a part). Once you admit masking, you admit that control of objects and spaces is the wrong paradigm entirely. Note that the Journal of Hospital Infection is a peer-reviewed journal; any Hospital Infection Control administrator should be aware of its findings as a professional obligation. I certainly hope some clever lawyer works all this out and sues them for a packet of the money that means so much to them.


“Assessment of COVID-19 as the Underlying Cause of Death Among Children and Young People Aged 0 to 19 Years in the US” [JAMA]. “The findings of this study suggest that COVID-19 was a leading cause of death in [children and young people (CYP)]. It caused substantially more deaths in CYP annually than any vaccine-preventable disease historically in the recent period before vaccines became available. Various factors, including underreporting and not accounting for COVID-19’s role as a contributing cause of death from other diseases, mean that these estimates may understate the true mortality burden of COVID-19.” • Remember when children weren’t supposed to get Covid at all? Good times.


“What the Fight Against HIV Can Teach Us About Surviving the COVID Era” [Vice]. “[S]urvivors of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s have been noticing unsettling patterns of human disconnection and disposability through both pandemics. They warn that society will continue repeating these deadly systemic cycles if we ignore past failures. But, they say, if we choose to learn from them, we can create a fairer and more caring society…. Since [AIDS] seemed to only impact groups that society already deemed undesirable—mostly racialized, queer, sex worker, incarcerated and substance-using communities—there was no urgency to develop effective testing, treatments or vaccines. [Jade Elektra, known as Alphonso King Jr. out of drag] says she’s seeing the same thing being done with COVID using misinformation. Current public messaging emphasizes that only the sick, disabled, and elderly face serious risks if they contract COVID—disproportionately so for racialized and other marginalized groups—but that the healthy, able-bodied, and young should be prioritizing the health of the economy.” Importantly: “From Elektra’s perspective, many are also reckless choices during COVID that remind her of what she witnessed at the height of the HIV epidemic…. Elektra says while she understands why people want to gather and enjoy themselves after months or even years of isolation, many friends she lost to HIV also ‘just wanted to have a good time.’…. But she doesn’t blame the individual alone. Institutions are shifting the burden of cost of COVID prevention away from themselves by cutting corners on costly systemic solutions like contact tracing and air quality control. This is exacerbated when government funding is set-up ‘like the Hunger Games,’ explains Elektra, who has worked in HIV advocacy and witnessed organizations being pitted against each other, with the smaller grassroots groups that do the groundwork often receiving the least money.” • Yep. History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes with a rhyme scheme, and sometimes the rhyme schemes are very, very similar….

Elite Maleficence

“Meet Mary Wakefield, the Nurse Administrator Tasked With Revamping the CDC” [KFF Health News]. From September 6, 2022. Whatever Wakefield has been doing, she’s been keeping awfully quiet about it.

I’m not the only one after scalps from Infection Control:

Prather’s no lightweight, and did great work on aerosols.

The missing element in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is, of course, elite gaslighting and misinformation. There’s nothing spontaneous about the transformation:

* * *

Lambert here: I’m getting the feeling that the “Something Awful” might be a sawtooth pattern — variant after variant — that averages out to a permanently high plateau. Lots of exceptionally nasty sequelae, most likely deriving from immune dysregulation (says this layperson).

Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data from May 1:

Lambert here: Unless the United States is completely, er, exceptional, we should be seeing an increase here soon. UPDATE Indeed, a slight uptick. Let’s wait and see. A chart of past peaks:

For now, I’m going to use this national wastewater data as the best proxy for case data (ignoring the clinical case data portion of this chart, which in my view “goes bad” after March 2022, for reasons as yet unexplained). At least we can spot trends, and compare current levels to equivalent past levels.

• Another way to think about “waves”:


NOT UPDATED From CDC, April 29, 2023. Here we go again:

Lambert here: Looks like XBB.1.16 is rolling right along. Though XBB 1.9.1 is in the race as well.

Covid Emergency Room Visits

From CDC NCIRD Surveillance, from April 29:

NOTE “Charts and data provided by CDC, updates Wednesday by 8am. For the past year, using a rolling 52-week period.” So not the entire pandemic, FFS (the implicit message here being that Covid is “just like the flu,” which is why the seasonal “rolling 52-week period” is appropriate for bothMR SUBLIMINAL I hate these people so much. Anyhow, I added a grey “Fauci line” just to show that Covid wasn’t “over” when they started saying it was, and it’s not over now. Notice also that this chart shows, at least for its time period, that Covid is not seasonal, even though CDC is trying to get us to believe that it is, presumably so they can piggyback on the existing institutional apparatus for injections.


A kind reader discovered that Walgreens had reduced its frequency to once a week. No updates, however, since April 11.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

Lambert here: So this data feed, er, came alive again.

Total: 1,161,935 – 1,161,387 = 548 (548 * 365 = 200,020 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

Excess Deaths

NOT UPDATED Excess deaths (The Economist), published April 23:

Lambert here: Based on a machine-learning model. (The CDC has an excess estimate too, but since it ran forever with a massive typo in the Legend, I figured nobody was really looking at it, so I got rid it. )

• “COVID-19 Mortality Working Group – Excess mortality continues in January 2023, but with less non-COVID excess mortality than in 2022” [Actuaries Digital]. “Total excess mortality for the month of January 2023 is 8% (+1,100 deaths) i.e. there were 1,100 more deaths than would have been expected if the pandemic had not happened. Two-thirds of the excess mortality is due to deaths from COVID-19 (+760 deaths), with another +230 COVID-19 related deaths, and the remaining excess of +150 had no mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate. The proportion of excess deaths that are not from or related to COVID-19 was lower in January 2023 (13%) than we saw across 2022 (33%).” • Hmm. I’m not an excess deaths maven. Can readers comment?

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose by 13 thousand to 242 thousand on the week ending April 29th, surpassing market expectations of 240 thousand. The result compounded recent data that points to a marked softening of the US job market, caving to a prolonged series of aggressive interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve.”

Employment Situation: “United States Challenger Job Cuts” [Trading Economics]. “US-based employers announced 66.995K job cuts in April of 2023, the least so far this year, and 25% less than in March.”

Labor Market: “United States Nonfarm Unit Labour Cost” [Trading Economics]. “Unit labor costs in the US nonfarm business sector rose an annualized 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2023, accelerating from an upwardly revised 3.3 percent increase in the previous period and above market expectations of a 5.5 percent gain, preliminary data showed. It reflects a 3.4 percent increase in hourly compensation and a 2.7 percent decrease in productivity.” • Hmm. Can’t have that.

* * *

Banks: “Europeans drain billions from banks, fed up with shrinking savings” [Reuters]. “European savers are pulling more of their money from banks, looking for a better deal as lenders resist paying up to hold on to deposits some feel they can currently live without. The trend emerged as some of the region’s biggest lenders outlined a profitable start to the year in results that also offered a glimpse of a phenomenon dubbed a “bank walk” – a slow but notable outflow of customer cash. Lenders wasted little time in charging more for loans when interest rates rapidly rose from an almost 15-year slumber around zero last year, but most have dragged their feet on boosting deposit rates paid to millions of their customers. That has boosted profits at many major banks beyond many analysts’ expectations but left savers disgruntled, raising fresh questions over the longer-term stability of the sector.” • The article doesn’t say, but I wonder if the numbers differ for France, especially. Those protests don’t look likely to stop, and perhaps people want to hang onto their cash?

Tech: “How aspiring influencers are forced to fight the algorithm” [MIT Technology Review]. “How often are creators thinking about the possibility of being censored or having their content not reach their audience because of algorithmic suppression or moderation practices?I think it fundamentally structures their content creation process and also their content promotion process. These algorithms change at whim; there’s no insight. There’s no direct communication from the platforms, in many cases. And this completely, fundamentally impacts not just your experience, but your income. They would invest so much time and labor in these grassroots experiments and would talk about ‘I would do the same kind of content, but I would vary this thing one day. I would wear this kind of outfit one day, and another kind the next.’ Or they’d try different sets of hashtags. People would say they have both online and offline interactions with their creator community, and they would talk about how to game the algorithm, what’s okay to say, what can potentially be flagged. There are some important forms of collective organization that may not look like what we would traditionally think of as organized workers but are still powerful ways for creators to band together and kind of challenge the top-down systems of power.” • “Creators.” “Influencers.” Platform talk.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 52 Neutral (previous close: 51 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 58 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 4 at 1:17 PM ET.

Class Warfare

“AI is Just Someone Else’s Intelligence” [Zdziarski]. “It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in the field of ML (or what some call AI), and we’ve come a long way from simple language classification with Bayes and neural nets to what’s being casually called generative AI today. While technology has made a lot of advances, the concepts of machine learning have remained much the same over time: a training set is provided as input into a system, which identifies patterns to create models (traditionally using weighted methods and statistics).” And: “The danger of this type of ML is not that it will take jobs (it definitely will, and already is), but why it will take jobs. It will take jobs not because the computer is replacing the thinking of one worker. It will take jobs because the computer is using the thinking of a million other workers – how can any one worker compete with that? Training material is, at a deconstructed level, the critical patterns of other people’s thoughts, ideas, writings, music, theology, facts, opinions, poetry, and so on. ML has proven wildly successful at identifying these critical patterns and gluing them back together in some different way that delivers the desired result, but at the end of the day all of its intelligence indeed belongs to the other people whose content was used to train it, almost always without their permission. In the end, generative AI takes from the world’s best artists, musicians, philosophers, and other thinkers – erasing their identities, and reassigns credit to its output. Without the proper restraints, it will produce the master forgeries of our generation, and blur the lines between what we view as human ideas and synthesized ones.” • In other words, AI is theft on a previously unheard of scale. The author seems to believe that “proper restraints” are possible. Under capitalism? Really? In any case, the whole piece is worth a read.

“As inflation chews up worker pay, top CEOs got 7.7% raise last year” [CBS News]. “For nearly two years, worker pay in the U.S. has fallen short of crushing increases in the cost of living. But a handful of the highest-paid CEOs have comfortably stayed ahead of inflation. Average pay for top chief executives last year rose 7.7%, according to a report from Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. That raise comfortably beat out inflation, which was 6.4% in December.”

“This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense” [HuffPo]. “Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.”

“Institutional Courage: An Antidote to Institutional Betrayal and Broken Trust” (abstract only) [Nurse Leader]. “An emerging area of interest is how institutional betrayal among nurses might lead to issues of nurse well-being, such as burnout and turnover. In this phenomenon, the organization, whether by explicit actions or the abstract ethos of the work environment, can become a contributing factor to psychological well-being. Within health care, the systemization and corporatization of medical services has contributed to a more institutional identity. Institutional actions that defy the expectation for safety and violate relationships between individual and institution are termed institutional betrayal. In any case or among any population of nurses, the key element of institutional betrayal is a violation of trust. If trust is lacking and the relationship with the organization is broken, then the person would feel a psychological weight or some sort of strain on their ethos that wears on their resilience. For nurses, this fractured relationship then makes patient care feel more like work than caring, which then cascades to burnout. In a system depleted of institutional trust, nurses might feel useless and wasted in the churn of the “system,” so they become depersonalized and bitter. Building back institutional trust becomes a pivotal way to counteract the trauma of betrayal. Rebuilding trust takes acts of courage. It is not easy for an organization or institution to admit it harmed people, and likely even more difficult as public relations and brand image become critical factors in health care business practices. But to admit these faults and take bold action is an act of institutional courage, one that can help heal the wounds experienced by nurses and larger society.” • All true. But “institutional courage” seems sorely lacking, especially in the upper reaches of the public health establishment and hospital administration. Perhaps the profit motive is not conducive to it.

News of the Wired

“4 reasons why you should read old, classic books” [Big Think]. “[D]on’t approach older books the way we did in school. These aren’t burdens you need to bear to become educated or cultured or pass some hidden life exam. There is no grade to be had. Instead, wait until a particular classic calls to you. If you’re not ready for the philosophies of Plato, try the plays of William Shakespeare or the Romantic poetry of John Keats. If neither of those speaks to you, the Victorian era has some fantastic mysteries and ghost stories to get lost in (both favorites of mine). Humanity’s collective library is vast, more than anyone can read in a lifetime. You’ll find something if you look…. These works have waited a long time, in some cases centuries, to reach your bookshelf. What’s a few more years of waiting? Just as long as we give them the chance and are receptive when that time finally arrives to take them off the shelf.” •

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Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) 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. From AM:

AM writes: “6:57 pm on Pier 26 along the Hudson River in TriBeCa , NYC. Nice to have daylight on my evening walk and the beginnings of leaves on the birch trees. The white flowers on the bushes are not something I have seen before.”

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! 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 donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

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