2:00PM Water Cooler 1/2/2020 | naked capitalism


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Readers, I thought I’d relive my lost youth and read How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan. It’s informative, but oddly — considering the subject matter, psychedelics — doesn’t seem revelatory to me in the way that The Botany of Desire did. It could also use tighter editing. I think I’m going to move on to Hate, Inc. next. I’m a little hung up on Taleb.
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“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

Here is a second counter for the Iowa Caucus, which is obviously just around the corner:

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Alert reader dk (not to be confused with DK) is in the process of developing the following interactive chart.
Nationally, we have our first polls of the New Year, and YouGov confirming a with a nice big Morning Consult sample as of 1/2/2020, 12:00 PM EST. The pattern of Biden first, Sanders strong second, then Warren and Buttigeig is stable. On to Iowa!

And the numbers:

And here is the same polling, represented in small multiple form:

As before, it does look like Sanders is slowly closing on Biden, that Warren is continuing her slow decay — while performing her essential functions of splitting the left and unselling voters on #MedicareForAll — and that Bloomberg is buying his way out of the cellar. The slope of Bloomberg’s curve is concerning.
CAVEAT I think we have to track the polls because so much of the horse-race coverage is generated by them; and at least with these charts we’re insulating ourselves against getting excited about any one poll. That said, we should remember that the polling in 2016, as it turned out, was more about narrative than about sampling, and that this year is, if anything, even more so. In fact, one is entitled to ask, with the latest Buttigieg boomlet (bubble? (bezzle?)) which came first: The narrative, or the poll? One hears of push polling, to be sure, but not of collective push polling by herding pollsters. We should also worry about state polls with very small sample sizes and big gaps in coverage. And that’s before we get to the issues with cellphones (as well as whether voters in very small, very early states game their answers). So we are indeed following a horse-race, but the horses don’t stay in their lanes, some of the horses are not in it to win but to interfere with the others, the track is very muddy, and the mud has splattered our binoculars, such that it’s very hard to see what’s going on from the stands. Also, the track owners are crooked and the stewards are on the take. Everything’s fine.
I think dk has started a really neat project, and in the near future we’ll seek your feedback (within reason) for the tool “live.”
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UPDATE Bloomberg (D)(1): “Michael Bloomberg addresses his prior support for city’s handling of Central Park Five case” [CBS]. Bloomberg: “There was an awful lot of evidence presented at that time that they were involved. There’s been questions since then about the quality of that evidence. And so it’s, I’ve been away from it for so long, I just really can’t respond because I just don’t remember.” • Why didn’t Bloomberg run as a Republican? He certainly could have. If there are, indeed, any never Trumpers, they certainly would have voted for him. Bloomberg could certianly outspend Trump. Perhaps beating Sanders is more important to Bloomberg than beating Trump.
Buttigieg (D)(1): Getting owned by Ted Cruz. Words fail me:

“Slavery is an evil of Colossal magnitude & I am utterly averse to the admission of slavery into the Missouri Territories. It being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by law.” John Adams, founding father, 2nd POTUS https://t.co/ch9gCMFUn7
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) December 31, 2019

Buttigieg (D)(2): “Buttigieg’s Syria ‘Do Somethingism’” [The American Conservative]. “Buttigieg’s foreign policy has become more conventionally hawkish over the last year, and here the former mayor seems to be embracing full-blown liberal interventionism. We see the familiar moralizing rhetoric, the condemnation of ‘inaction,’ and the demand that something ‘must’ be done without first asking whether there is anything constructive that can be done. What is Buttigieg really calling for here? It sounds as if he is proposing a ‘humanitarian’ intervention that would put the U.S. in direct conflict with the Russian and Syrian governments. This is the same problem that has confronted interventionists in Syria for more than seven years. Are they prepared to use force against these governments, and if so how do they think that will improve the situation? If Buttigieg has an answer to that, I doubt it will be any more persuasive than the ones we have heard in the past.” • Probably just Buttigieg signaling to The Blob that he’s “a safe pair of hands.”
Buttigieg (D)(3): “Pete Buttigieg took big swings and declared ‘South Bend is back.’ Is it really back?” [South Bend Tribune]. “So is South Bend really back? The answer may come down to how you interpret the question, and your perspective. As with any mayor, the record offers a mixed bag of answers, with some clear wins and some glaring setbacks.” • One festering sore: “Another set of numbers has more recently drawn attention: the number of black police officers in South Bend has dropped nearly in half since Buttigieg took office, to 15 (out of a total force of about 230 officers). The mayor has admitted that recruiting a diverse police force was one area where he fell short. ‘I couldn’t get it done,’ he said during a Democratic primary debate in June.”
Buttigieg (D)(4): “Your Complete, One Stop Guide to Why Buttigieg is the Wrong Choice (Part I)” [Medium]. “Pete Buttigieg has clearly done some fine work as mayor of his small city, and there’s evidence that he’s learning from his mistakes, but his police force has been running rogue for years, and the economic gains he touts have not been equally shared across the community. One wonders what part of his record suggests he’s ready to run the country.” • A handy compendium.
UPDATE Castro (D)(1): “Julián Castro Drops Out of Presidential Race” [New York Times]. “Though he created some memorable moments as he championed progressive policy and challenged his rivals on the campaign trail, Mr. Castro did not catch on with voters and was unable to break into the upper tier of a crowded primary field. His exit is the latest departure of a candidate of color from a field that began as the most racially diverse ever in a Democratic primary.”
Sanders (D)(1): “Sanders delivers blowout fundraising number” [Politico]. “Bernie Sanders raised more than $34.5 million in the final three months of 2019, a substantial sum that exceeds the two other Democratic presidential candidates who have announced their hauls so far in that period… The campaign’s average donation was $18….. Sanders said nearly 300,000 new donors gave to him last quarter. … The Sanders campaign said it received contributions from 40,000 new donors on the last day of the year…. The Sanders campaign said that the most typical occupation listed by his donors in the final quarter was teacher. Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target and the United States Postal Service were the most frequent employers, according to the campaign.” • That 300,000 new donors figure has to be encouraging if you believe it’s a good proxy for bringing new voters into the system. And 40,000 on the last day! Holy moley!
UPDATE Sanders (D)(2): “Bernie Has Always Had A Path To Victory. The Media Missed It (Again)” [The Federalist]. “Trump shot through Republican favorites Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb! Bush before screaming straight at Her, propelled by a populist rage. It was born in the despair left behind when America’s elites made trillions sending jobs overseas, in unending wars the politicians and generals have no idea how to win, and in a true feeling of being completely ignored by an increasingly global elite. The president has made large strides to help those people, but he has few allies in either party, so ask yourself: Has this discontent dissipated? Have the feelings in this country subsided? Is all calm now? Are we good? Or might Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination for president?” • “Large strides” is, to say the least, debatable. When you think about it, Trump has delivered on “Make America Great Again” about as well as Obama delivered on “Hope and Change.”
Trump (D)(1): “Do not underestimate Trump’s re-election chances” [Financial Times]. “It is hard to overstate the fatalism of the country that elected him and stands to do so again. By a gap of around 20 points, voters believe the US to be moving in the wrong direction. (The margin has been in the double digits for a decade now.) According to Pew, super-majorities expect it to become weaker in the world, less equal at home and more politically divided over the next 30 years. Declinism is no longer just a trope of current affairs non-fiction. It is the national mood, and it predates Mr Trump. Of all the US founders, one of the least lionised, John Adams — to whom there is still no monument in Washington, for lack of donations — most reflects the contemporary spirit. The great sceptic always winced at the idea of inexorable progress, of America as celestially favoured among nations. It follows that, if voters are resigned to the unimprovability of things, the performance of the president is neither here nor there. It is impossible to disillusion the never-illusioned.” • Interestingly, Cruz (above) quotes Adams. I don’t know what to make of that.
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“The Senate and the public need to hear from Mulvaney and Bolton” [Editorial Board, WaPo]. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is withholding two articles of impeachment from the Senate, pending assurance that the Republican leader of that body, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), will agree to a full and fair trial of the House’s charges against President Trump.” • So, first Pelosi rushes through the two (weak) articles — without even letting the courts resolve challenges to witnesses. Next, Pelosi wants the Senate to call the witnesses she did not. How does this make any sense? If this is strategic genius, I’m not seeing it.

Realignment and Legitimacy

UPDATE “If President Donald Trump loses in 2020 (and it is by no means certain that he will), his defeat will come at the hands of a coalition led by the Democratic Party that will be composed, in the main, of energized and angry Democrats. In swing states, they could get the support of a small but important cadre of independents and surburbanites who tended to vote Republican in the past, and an even smaller handful of disaffected former Republicans for whom tax cuts and judges were not enough to keep them in their party” [Tom Nichols, USA Today]. • Conventional wisdom erases not merely Sanders, but his electoral strategy of expanding the base.
UPDATE “Someone went into Barnes & Noble and replaced the covers of Trump Jr.’s new book” [Daily Kos]. • I remember, back in 2003-2004, going into Barnes & Noble and turning over books of Bush hagiography so the front covers didn’t show. There were a lot of them. Fat lot of good it did me. So, fifteen years later, we’re still doing that.
UPDATE “They Can’t Get Enough of ‘The West Wing’ Right Now” [New York Times]. “[T]o its many liberal and independent-leaning fans, in particular, [the West Wing] has become something more than just a nostalgic drama from a time when men’s suits with pleated pants are fashionable and Twitter does not yet exist. For many in the Trump era, the show is an idealistic alternative reality, an escape from the vitriol and ill-will that they see coursing like poison through contemporary politics. Much as people may return to the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to remind themselves that feeling worthless does not mean you have no worth, or to the children’s book ‘Goodnight Moon’ to remember that bedtime once meant being enveloped in a cocoon of love, fans revisit ‘The West Wing’ to recall an era — even a fictional one — when it seemed possible for the three branches of government to be populated by public servants of integrity, intellect and wit.” • Oy. Josiah Bartlet as Mr. Rogers for grown-ups, so-called. It’s a beautiful day on the Acela!

Stats Watch
Shipping: “Parcel carriers are taking aim at the flood of oversize items pouring into their networks. FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. are starting 2020 by levying $24 fees on packages weighing more than 50 pounds… escalating a financial tug-of-war in distribution networks that has grown as consumers have gotten more comfortable buying big, bulky items online” [Wall Street Journal]. “Package carriers are wrestling with the higher handling costs of rising e-commerce volumes and the new charges suggest they’ll continue to fine-tune their pricing to reflect changes in parcel shipping patterns.” • More aching backs for workers.
Shipping: “The relentless decline in North American rail volumes over the past year is bringing pain to financial institutions. [Banks] own hundreds of thousands of railcars, and… a business they once viewed as a dependable source of revenue has turned into a headache” [Wall Street Journal]. “Tepid railroad demand and changes in commodity markets have turned railcar ownership into an example of how the freight rail downturn is echoing across the U.S. economy.” • Also, “precision railroading.”
Manufacturing: “Sales of cargo vans used to transport packages and other internet-ordered items are booming… providing a lift to manufacturers as the surge in online consumer sales begins to change the shape of parcel delivery” [Wall Street Journal]. “Auto makers are notching record van sales and adding features to the traditionally no-frills vehicles as they vie for a bigger share of a category that executives expect to outpace the broader auto market in coming years.” •
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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 96 Extreme Greed (previous close: 93 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 93 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 2 at 12:30pm.
Rapture Index: Closes unchanged. [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 182. Remember that bringing on the rapture is a good thing. I would expect the Rapture Index to jump if evangelicals thought impeachment was likely to hurt Trump. So it looks to me like this index is delivering a verdict on impeachment as well.
The Biosphere
“Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now” [Michael Mann, Guardian]. • Predictable and predicted. 1992:

A gardening thread:

1/Gardening removes so many of the problems inherent in agriculture and it’s because of the loops and connections that are required. and there are ways to keep improving the garden-ecosystem analogy.
— Build Soil 🦠🍂& Plant Chestnuts🌰🌳 (@BuildSoil) April 9, 2019

Not sure about some of the claims, but lots of good info for soil fans.

Feral Hog Watch
“Feral Pigs Are Invasive, Voracious and Resilient. They’re Also Spreading” [Smithsonian]. “But even within the continental United States, feral pigs are expanding their range rapidly. As Mary Bates reported for PLOS Blogs in 2017, research has shown that feral pigs are moving northwards at an accelerated rate. ‘If this trend persists, invasive wild pigs are predicted to reach most U.S. counties in 30-50 years,’ Bates explained, “but likely faster if a southward expansion from Canada continues.’” • Wait. 30-50. In 2017?!?!? Either Bates is a time-traveling troll, or reality itself is…
New Year’s Post Mortem
“The Worst People of 2019” [Jacobin (NippersMom)]. • Not even ten? And the Best People of 2019 are mostly unheralded, I would say Naturally.
“Damn, We Wish We’d Written These 17 Stories” [FiveThirtyEight (LR)]. • This is a good wrap-up. but don’t some smaller, non-Acela Corridor venues also need — and deserve — the hits?
“I Hate New Year’s Day” [Antonio Gramsci, n+1]. “I hate these New Year’s that fall like fixed maturities, which turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with its neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management. They make us lose the continuity of life and spirit. You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions, and you regret your irresolution, and so on, and so forth. This is generally what’s wrong with dates.” • From 1916…
“From Desire to Development? A Multi-Sample, Idiographic Examination of Volitional Personality Change” [Journal of Research in Personality]. From the abstract: “In large part, volitional personality change desires did not predict actual change. When desires did predict change, (a) desired increases in Extraversion, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness corresponded with decreases in corresponding traits, (b) participants perceived more change than actually occurred, and (c) decreases in Emotional Stability predicted perceptions of personality change. Results illustrate the difficulty in purposefully changing one’s traits when left to one’s own devices.” • So miuch for New Year’s resolutions….
Class Warfare
“2019 was one of the decade’s worst years for job cuts in the US” [Business Insider]. “The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said Thursday that employers announced plans to eliminate 592,556 jobs last year, a 10% rise from 2018 levels. That was the largest annual total since 598,510 were announced in 2015. Over the past decade, job cut announcements were only higher in 2009 and 2011… Companies said bankruptcy or restructuring were most often behind the changes, according to the report.”
“This Holiday Season, Thank a Janitor” [Jacobin]. • Or an adjunct.
“Harvard Graduate Students To End Strike Without A Contract” [WBUR]. “After more than a year of negotiations, the union and the university have failed to reach agreements on key issues like healthcare, pay, and grievance procedures for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. The parties are scheduled to reopen negotiations in January with the assistance of federal mediators. According to union officials, Harvard has expressed a desire for a finished contract before the spring term starts on January 27. “[This] is the first time they’ve put any sort of timeline on these negotiations, and so we were heartened by that,” says Lee Kennedy-Shaffer, a PhD student in biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a member of the union bargaining committee.” • Deans playing sitzfleisch, as they do.
“NY farmers sue to block law that gives workers overtime, right to unionize” [Syracuse.com]. “A coalition of New York dairy and vegetable farmers filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo asking for a temporary delay in the law’s implementation until the state clarifies how the law will be enforced. The farmers’ say they are concerned that the law, as written, classifies farm owners, their family members and supervisors as “farm laborers” who technically have the right to engage in collective bargaining and other union activity with other employees. But those same farm owners, family members and supervisors, representing the farm business, are prohibited by federal law from discouraging union activity or assisting in the formation of a union.”
“Amazon threatened to fire two workers who criticized company’s environmental policies: report” [The Hill]. “Amazon has threatened to fire several employees who have spoken out about their concerns surrounding the company’s environmental impact, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post. The emails, sent to several employees who spoke previously with the newspaper about Amazon’s partnership with companies that exploit fossil fuels, advises them that their interviews with the Post and other media outlets violate the company’s external communications policy. Further violations, the emails reportedly warn, could ‘result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon.’”
News of the Wired
Unknown history:

TIL during the Shuttle-Mir program, astronaut Grunsfeld called into Car Talk to describe “problems” with his vehicle, without the hosts knowing he was on space station Mir.
— Zach Weinersmith (@ZachWeiner) December 29, 2019

The thread includes the tape.
I love this genre (and if Twitter give you a stupid warning, it’s perfectly safe):

Actually impressive pic.twitter.com/jvo8n3MFAs
— Old Row (@OldRowOfficial) January 2, 2020

Here we have a visual snowclone (ditto the Twitter warning):

the #1 most popular meme of 2019 was also perhaps the GOAT meme pic.twitter.com/1nrGLUyD9q
— Philosophy Matters (@PhilosophyMttrs) January 2, 2020

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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 (IM):

IM: “A wintry west coast scene on the UBC endowment lands.”
Once more, if any of you go out on your New Years’ walks with camera (or, I suppose, phone), I’m running out of plants. Wintry plants would be especially appreciated!
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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:

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

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!


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