2:00PM Water Cooler 9/21/2023 | naked capitalism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Moustached Grass-Warbler, Nairobi NP, Nairobi, Kenya.

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

The Constitutional Order

“The Dry Run: The Ouster of a County Official as an ‘Insurrectionist’ Creates Ominous Precedents for Trump” [Lawfare]. From 2022; this has been brewing for some time. “A judge today removed a county official from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, the hoary post-Civil War provision that bars certain people from holding office if they have “”engaged in insurrection”” against the United States. Judge Francis Mathew, of the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, ousted Otero County (N.M.) Commissioner Couy Griffin, due to his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. According to lawyers who brought the case, it represents the first time a court has disqualified an official under Section 3 since 1869. (Congress refused to seat a U.S. congressman, Victor Berger, under the section in 1919.) Mathew’s 49-page ruling also marked the first formal judicial finding that the Capitol riot amounted to an “”insurrection”” within the meaning of that constitutional provision. The decision could have enormous repercussions for the nation’s next presidential race, as advocacy groups have vowed to try to bar Trump from appearing on state ballots on the grounds that his role in instigating the Capitol riot disqualifies him from holding federal office. Asked by Lawfare for comment, Griffin, who represented himself in the case, said in an email: ‘Perfect example of tyranny. To use the civil courts and the ruling of a liberal district court judge to subvert the will of the people who already spoke thr[ough] a failed recall [vote] is tyranny in its purest form. Maybe this is the start of the Biden regime[‘]s war on ultra maga Americans.’”

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“The Sweep and Force of Section Three” [William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen, University of Pennsylvania Law Review]. I highly recommend this piece (and the ensuing discussion at NC, starting here). As a former English major and a fan of close reading, I’m not averse to “originalism,” of which Baude and Paulsen provide a magisterial example, in the sense that understanding the law as a text must begin with understanding the plain, public meaning of the words used when the text was written. That’s how I read Shakespeare, or Joyce, so why not the Constitution? Just as long as understanding doesn’t end there! In any case, I’m working through it. One thing I notice is that there do seem to have been rather a lot of rebellions and insurrections, not just the Civil War. To me, this is parallel to one lesson I drew from Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast (episode 1): There are rather a lot of revolutions, too. Alert reader Pensions Guy summarizes Baude and Paulsen as follows:

The authors go through an exhaustive textual and originalism analysis of Section Three, and their Federalist Society leanings do not deter them from reaching their conclusion that officials in every State who are charged with determining candidate qualifications should conclude that Donald Trump is disqualified from being on ballots because of the oath he took on Inauguration Day 2017 and subsequently violated through his role in the insurrection that took place on January 6, 2021.

Taking “insurrection” as read (I need to do more reading), this has been more of my continuing coverage of Section Three.


Time for the Countdown Clock!

* * *

“How Donald Trump’s DOJ gave Biden a major assist in the coming impeachment probe” [Politico]. “In January 2020, the Donald Trump-led Justice Department formally declared that impeachment inquiries by the House are invalid unless the chamber takes formal votes to authorize them. That opinion — issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — came in response to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump without initially holding a vote for it. Not only is it still on the books, it is binding on the current administration as it responds to Tuesday’s announcement by Speaker Kevin McCarthy to authorize an impeachment inquiry into Biden, again without a vote…. Biden, as the president, would have more flexibility about whether to heed the OLC opinion. But he could simply choose to follow Trump’s precedent. He also may have grounds to assert executive privilege that could similarly tie up GOP investigators — claims Trump also lodged to jam his own inquiry.”

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“The Democrats’ Deal With the Devil” [Wall Street Journal]. “The existential threat to the Democratic establishment as the 2020 presidential primaries unfolded was Vermont’s socialist senator, Bernie Sanders. Coming off a big win in the Nevada caucuses, Sen. Sanders headed to South Carolina with a leading delegate count of 45—and momentum. The Democrats’ No. 2 vote-getter then wasn’t Joe Biden. It was, incredible to recall, Pete Buttigieg, holding 26 delegates after the voting in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Mr. Biden was third, with 15 delegates after a poor showing in Nevada. Trailing was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive who lacked Bernie’s mysterious charisma. The Clyburn endorsement, which sent a signal to the state’s black voters, boosted Mr. Biden to a 48.6% win in South Carolina…. Let’s understand what happened back in South Carolina…. The conceit now, or euphemism, in every conversation or poll is that Mr. Biden is “”too old.”” As in the 25th Amendment’s capacity concerns. But the Biden inner circle knew in February 2020 that the former vice president was already on the brink of being ‘too old.’ Thus the Delaware-basement campaign. But by committing to Mr. Biden, the Democrats got possession of the powers of the presidency for four years… Now that fellow on the other side of Faustian bargains has shown up to tell the Democrats their payment is due. After giving them four years of extraordinary power, he’s taking back Joe Biden. What lies ahead for the Biden-less party could be a hard slog.”

“As GOP slams Garland over Hunter Biden probe, he keeps repeating he had no role” [FOX]. “As Garland repeated his basic answers with robotic precision – he’s stayed out of it, Weiss a Trump appointee, he had the authority, I promoted him at his request, I can’t discuss ongoing criminal investigations – he gave no ground. Usually Cabinet members facing a hostile panel will take a couple of jabs back, but Garland never abandoned his Sphinx-like demeanor. Maybe a couple of Republicans wished they had put him on the Supreme Court.” • Video:

The dude in the horn-rimmed glasses is entertaining.

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“Eric Clapton helps raise $1 million for RFK Jr. campaign” [The Hill] but “Eric Clapton Raises $2M for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Campaign in California [Hollywood Reporter]. Half when to Kennedy’s PAC.

“Who’s Funding the DNC?” [Liam Sturgess, The Kennedy Beacon]. “It’s time to ask directly: who is funding the DNC and thus deciding the party’s nominee?” Plenty of names. This caught my eye: “[T’here are additional donors contributing directly to the DNC. The largest individual donor is Michael Sacks, Chairman and CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management (GCM), an ‘alternative investments‘ firm in Chicago. Sacks is a part-owner of the Chicago-Sun Times newspaper, which ran a story in July titled Don’t let RFK Jr. kill you. The piece is filled with vitriol towards Kennedy and re-interpretations of his criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA, and the CIA’s established complicity in the murder of his uncle and father. Sacks is also on the board of directors for the Obama Foundation [of course], whose namesake declared in June that he didn’t anticipate ‘any kind of serious primary challenge to Joe Biden,’ and that the Democratic Party was unified in support of the incumbent. With his trifecta of influence in finance, politics and the media, Sacks’ donations are not difficult to view as conflicts of interest.” • Then of course there’s the question of where the money goes. From five years ago, questions not answered then, and not answered to this day:

First words: “This smells.” Indeed.

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“3 Economic Risks That Could Decide the 2024 Race” [Eric Levitz, New York Magazine]. “The linchpin of the case for Democratic optimism, however, is the assumption that public sentiment about the economy will only improve between now and November 2024. By all appearances, widespread antipathy for inflation and other forms of post-pandemic economic dysfunction has weighed on Biden’s approval ratings over the past two years. But in recent months, price growth has slowed while employment has remained high. The so-called misery index — the unemployment rate combined with the inflation rate — is now at a lower level than it had reached during the reelections of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.” And: “It’s unclear precisely how much of the public’s displeasure with the economy reflects objective material conditions and how much derives from media coverage or a diffuse discontent with post-pandemic life.” From the commentariat, as material as the digits to the right of TOTAL on a ton of receipts. More: “Here, three risk factors that threaten to undermine the U.S. economy — and thus Biden’s reelection prospects — next year: 1. Oil prices could rise and then remain elevated…. 2. Americans might suddenly start feeling the pain of the Fed’s rapid interest-rate hikes…. 3. Consumer spending could drop precipitously as households’ reserves are exhausted.” • Let’s wait and see.

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“Democrats keep winning special elections in battleground states” [The Hill]. “Brent Peabody of the Center for a New American Security has tracked Democrats’ overperformance in more than 20 state elections in 2023. The party’s candidates have outpaced Biden’s 2020 performance by substantial margins. Noting the same trend, ABC News reported that Democrats had ‘outperformed the partisan lean‘ by an average of 10 percent in an analysis of 23 special elections in 2023. That doesn’t mean they always won, as 10 percent would not be enough in deep red districts. But it is a good sign for Democratic presidential hopes in 2024 battleground states.”

PA: “Democrats retain narrow control of Pennsylvania House after special election” [Associated Press]. “Democrats will retain their one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after voters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday elected former congressional aide Lindsay Powell. Powell’s victory gives Democrats a 102-101 majority in the House. Republicans have a 28-22 majority in the Senate….” • Important, since PA is a swing state.

Republican Funhouse

“The new conservative dilemma” [The New Criterion]. “In setting forth this new strategy for the Left, Marcuse broke with Marxism in some important respects. He did not see workers as a revolutionary group, because affluence and consumerism had lulled them into support for capitalist America. Marcuse looked instead to new groups—students, intellectuals, blacks, and feminists—to carry forward the revolution against capitalism. Marcuse claimed that the number of allies and allied groups would expand as the capitalist system created demands for more teachers, professors, government workers, and the like. More important, Marcuse called for a cultural revolution rather than a proletarian seizure of power—in other words, a gradual revolution in values that would destroy consumerism, eliminate racism, change the relations between the sexes, transform educational practices, and eventually wreck the existing bourgeois culture that sustained the capitalist order. While conservatives were celebrating victories in the Cold War and the restoration of free markets and lower taxes in the United States, radicals were busy penetrating the system in preparation for an opportunity to overthrow it—an opportunity they seized in 2020.” • “Some important respects” is doing a lot of work there! 

“Inside the Next Republican Revolution” [Politico]. “In truth, the program laid out by [Paul] Dans and his fellow Trumpers, called Project 2025, is far more ambitious than anything Ronald Reagan dreamed up. Dans, from his seat inside The Heritage Foundation, and scores of conservative groups aligned with his program are seeking to roll back nothing less than 100 years of what they see as liberal encroachment on Washington. They want to overturn what began as Woodrow Wilson’s creation of a federal administrative elite and later grew into a vast, unaccountable and mostly liberal bureaucracy (as conservatives view it) under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society… The Project 2025 team is scouring records and social media accounts to rule out heretics — effectively administering loyalty tests — and launching a so-called Presidential Administration Academy that tutors future MAGA bureaucrats with video classes in ‘Conservative Governance 101.’ Dans says 17 lectures have been prepared (with titles such as ‘Oversight and Investigations’ and ‘The Federal Budget Process’), with another 13 in production, and nearly a thousand potential new bureaucrats recruited from around the country are already in training. These efforts are intended to ensure that the chaos and high-level defections of Trump’s first term never happen again, along with prosecutions like the ones the ex-president now faces.” • Well worth a read; I mean, at least they’re thinking of how to solve the problem of Trump not being able to hire good help. That said, the Bushies had the same issue: As it turned out, it really wasn’t possible to run the country (or win the Iraq War) with conservative activists and graduates from Christianist law schools. I doubt that Project 2025 will scale, at least in the short term; sending in some cherub who’s watched a few videos to deal with one of Neera Tanden’s fixers — or, more to the point, a spook — isn’t a recipe for success. 

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.

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There is a sort of polishing or optimization process that every Democrat seems to undergo. It happened to AOC. Now Fetterman demonstrates fealty (and may not even know that’s what he’s doing):

Now, I like picador work as much as the next man; no problem there. But “fully support” Ukraine? Besides being mealy-mouthed (unlike, say, “jagoff”, or “save democracy by wearing a suit”) what does that even mean? Boots on the ground? Nuclear weapons?

NOTE To pre-empt vacuous dogpiling, I consistently expressed admiration for Fetterman’s “Every County, Every Vote” campaign, while reserving judgment on the candidate himself. Also, clinical depression is a terrible disease (though I have wondered what I would feel if I encountered The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body™ for the first time. Situational depression, at the very least, seems like an entirely rational response).


“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; Wastewater Scan, includes drilldown by zip); Variants (CDC; Walgreens); “Iowa COVID-19 Tracker” (in IA, but national data). “Infection Control, Emergency Management, Safety, and General Thoughts” (especially on hospitalization by city).

Lambert here: Readers, thanks for the collective effort. To update any entry, do feel free to contact me at the address given with the plants. Please put “COVID” in the subject line. Thank you!

Resources, United States (Local): AK (dashboard); AL (dashboard); AR (dashboard); AZ (dashboard); CA (dashboard; Marin, dashboard; Stanford, wastewater; Oakland, wastewater); 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: anon (2), Art_DogCT, B24S, CanCyn, ChiGal, Chuck L, Festoonic, FM, FreeMarketApologist (4), Gumbo, hop2it, JB, JEHR, JF, JL Joe, John, JM (10), JustAnotherVolunteer, JW, KatieBird, LL, Michael King, KF, LaRuse, mrsyk, MT, MT_Wild, otisyves, Petal (6), RK (2), RL, RM, Rod, square coats (11), tennesseewaltzer, Utah, Bob White (3). 

Stay safe out there!

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Covid is Airborne

CSA = Canadian Standards Association:

And the sociology of standards-writing:

Sounds like HICPAC….

Elite Maleficence

“Northeastern University granted $17.5 million by CDC to become infectious disease detection, prep center” [FOX]. “The Center for Advanced Epidemic Analytics and Predictive Modeling Technology, or EPISTORM, will ‘help detect and prepare the United States for the next outbreak of infectious disease, especially in rural areas,’ according to the university’s Northeastern Global News (NGN). The funds will be used to coordinate the work of various consortium members across the U.S. to prepare local communities for outbreaks, including RSV and the seasonal flu.” But: “The EPISTORM center will lead a group of universities, health care organization and private companies in the research. Neighboring Boston University, as well as Indiana University, the University of Florida, and the University of California at San Diego are the educational institutions in the consortium. Other group members include Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Concentric Ginkgo Bioworks, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health. New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists are also represented in the group.” • It would be nice to see wastewater and aerosol scientists at the table (nobody from the University of Colorado, for example?

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Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data, September 18:

Lambert here: The national drop is due exclusively to the South. Other signals — scattered and partial though they be — also converge on a drop: ER visits, positivity. We shall see. (I would include CDC’s wastewater map for comparison, but it’s eleven days old.)

Regional data:

The same regional variation also appears in the Walgreen’s positivity data. Interestingly, the upswing begins before July 4, which neither accelerates nor retards it.


NOT UPDATED From CDC, September 16:

Lambert here: Top of the leaderboard: EG.5 (“Eris“). Still BA.2.86 here, not even in the note, but see below at Positivity.

From CDC, September 2:


Lambert here: Not sure what to make of this. I’m used to seeing a new variant take down the previously dominant variant. Here it looks like we have a “tag team,” all working together to cut XBB.1.5 down to size. I sure hope the volunteers doing Pangolin, on which this chart depends, don’t all move on the green fields and pastures new (or have their access to facilities cut by administrators of ill intent).

CDC: “As of May 11, genomic surveillance data will be reported biweekly, based on the availability of positive test specimens.” “Biweeekly: 1. occurring every two weeks. 2. occurring twice a week; semiweekly.” Looks like CDC has chosen sense #1. In essence, they’re telling us variants are nothing to worry about. Time will tell.

Covid Emergency Room Visits

NOT UPDATED From CDC NCIRD Surveillance, September 16:

Drop coinciding with wastewater drop.

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. 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.


Bellwether New York City, data as of September 20:

Drop continues. I hate this metric because the lag makes it deceptive.

NOT UPDATED Here’s a different CDC visualization on hospitalization, nationwide, not by state, but with a date, at least. September 9:

Note the slight drop, consistent with Walgreens. At least now we now that hospitalization tracks positivity, which is nice. Even if we don’t know how many cases there are.

Lambert here: “Maps, charts, and data provided by CDC, updates weekly for the previous MMWR week (Sunday-Saturday) on Thursdays (Deaths, Emergency Department Visits, Test Positivity) and weekly the following Mondays (Hospitalizations) by 8 pm ET†”. So where the heck is the update, CDC? 


NOT UPDATED From Walgreens, September 18:                                                                                       

-8.3%. An enormous drop (so not Labor Day data). However, I cannot recall seeing the map so polarized; so much deep green, so much deep red. The absolute numbers are still very small relative to June 2022, say. Interestingly, these do not correlate with the regional figures for wastewater. (It would be interesting to survey this population generally; these are people who, despite a tsunami of official propaganda and enormous peer pressure, went and got tested anyhow.)

NOT UPDATED Cleveland Clinic, September 16:

Lambert here: I know this is just Ohio, but the Cleveland Clinic is good*, and we’re starved for data, so…. NOTE * Even if hospital infection control is trying to kill patients by eliminating universal masking with N95s.

NOT UPDATED From CDC, traveler’s data, August 26:

A drop! And here are the variants:

No BA.2.86 for two of the long-delayed collection weeks. I have highlighted the two leaders: EG.5 and FL.1.5.1. Interestingly, those are the two leaders within the United States also, suggesting the national and international bouillabaisse is similar. Or we’re infecting the world.


NOT UPDATED Iowa COVID-19 Tracker, September 13:

Lambert here: The WHO data is worthless, so I replaced it with the Iowa Covid Data Tracker. Their method: “These data have been sourced, via the API from the CDC: https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Conditions-Contributing-to-COVID-19-Deaths-by-Stat/hk9y-quqm. This visualization updates on Wednesday evenings. Data are provisional and are adjusted weekly by the CDC.” I can’t seem to get a pop-up that shows a total of the three causes (top right). Readers?

Total: 1,175,495 – 1,175,395 = 100 (100 * 365 = 36,500 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

The Economist, September 21:

Lambert here: This is now being updated daily again. Odd. Based on a machine-learning model.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits plummeted by 20,000 to 201,000 on the week ending September 16th, the lowest since late January and well below market expectations of 225,000. Meanwhile, continuing claims fell by 21,000 to a near eight-month low of 1,662,000 in the earlier week, indicating the unemployed are having an easier time finding new work. The data added to evidence that the labor market remains at historically tight levels, pointing to added resilience to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive tightening cycle and adding leeway for a potential hike in November.”

Manufacturing: “United States Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index in the US fell to -13.5 in September 2023, down from 12 in August and worse than market forecasts of -0.7.”

* * *

Finance: “Airlines Are Just Banks Now” [The Atlantic]. “Here’s how the system works now: Airlines create points out of nothing and sell them for real money to banks with co-branded credit cards. The banks award points to cardholders for spending, and both the banks and credit-card companies make money off the swipe fees from the use of the card. Cardholders can redeem points for flights, as well as other goods and services sold through the airlines’ proprietary e-commerce portals. For the airlines, this is a great deal. They incur no costs from points until they are redeemed—or ever, if the points are forgotten. This setup has made loyalty programs highly lucrative. Consumers now charge nearly 1 percent of U.S. GDP to Delta’s American Express credit cards alone. A 2020 analysis by the Financial Times found that Wall Street lenders valued the major airlines’ mileage programs more highly than the airlines themselves. United’s MileagePlus program, for example, was valued at $22 billion, while the company’s market cap at the time was only $10.6 billion. Is this a good deal for the American consumer? That’s a trickier question. Paying for a flight or a hotel room with points may feel like a free bonus, but because credit-card-swipe fees increase prices across the economy—Visa or Mastercard takes a cut of every sale—redeeming points is more like getting a little kickback. Certainly the system is bad for Americans who don’t have points-earning cards. They pay higher prices on ordinary goods and services but don’t get the points, effectively subsidizing the perks of card users, who tend to be wealthier already. Like the federal reserve, airlines issue currency—points—out of thin air. They also get to decide how much that currency is worth and what it can be spent on. This helps explain why the points system feels so opaque and, often, unfair. Online analysts try to offer estimates of points’ cash value, but airlines can reduce these values after the fact and change how points can be redeemed.” • Hmm. Readers?

Tech: “‘Harry Potter’ audiobook narrator Stephen Fry said AI was used to steal his voice, and warned that convincing deepfake videos of celebrities will be next” [Business Insider]. “He added: ‘It could therefore have me read anything from a call to storm Parliament to hard porn, all without my knowledge and without my permission. And this, what you just heard, was done without my knowledge. So I heard about this, I sent it to my agents on both sides of the Atlantic, and they went ballistic —  they had no idea such a thing was possible.’ Fry said he warned his agent that this was just the beginning. ‘It won’t be long until full deepfake videos are just as convincing,’ he said.” • Please don’t tell the Ukrainians. Though they probably already know.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 46 Neutral (previous close: 47 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 54 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Sep 21 at 1:41:53 PM ET.

The Gallery

“A 19th Century Masterpiece That Scandalizes Still” [Vulture]. Olympia, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The Black model is Laure. We do not know her last name, though like Meurent she posed for Manet multiple times. She is dressed in a light pink, holding a bouquet of flowers…. Manet has not painted her crudely or without tenderness, and there is an awareness of Laure’s presence and her thoughts as she looks upon Meurent’s prone figure….. He described Laure in his journal as being ‘very beautiful.’…. He is a master of the color black; few artists have ever painted such rich combinations of this shade. His brush handling is simultaneously studied and quick, deft and unpredictable. …. Although it took a long time for western audiences to even see Laure properly, there is something in her pose that breaks with other conventions of perspective. Like the viewer, she is looking at Meurent. But the viewer can see her too. So here lies another reading of the painting: It is almost as if Manet were asking us to see the courtesan, this modern Venus representing the depths and peaks of European culture, through another set of eyes, dimly glimpsed in the background.” • I dug out my copy of Bourdieu’s Manet from the avalanche next to my bedside table; he has this to say (pp 241-2):

Only one person — using a pseudonym, Ravenez — understood that Olympia was a parody of Titian’s Venus of Urbino. which is at once shocking and problematic: How could anyone fail to see this?

Many commentators focus on the position of the sitter’s hand in Olympia: Oddly enough, this is one of the things about the painting that generated the most outrage. Manet was exasperated by the poses that studio models were asked to strike. He kept saying: ‘Come on, do you really act like that when you are going about your life?’…. It seems fair to say that he wanted a natural pose, but what was the purpose of the hand in a nude? It served as a fig leaf. So he painted a hand which does indeed serve as a fig leaf…. [We should] bear inmind that understanding [Olympia‘s] specific formal revolution means seeing it as a parody, that is to say, as an act of symbolic violence perpretrated against a dominant symbolic form.

Perhaps if any of our New York readers go to the show, they can report back.

Class Warfare

“Tesla is the next biggest union target in the United States. Sorry, Elon Musk” [Guardian]. “Though it doesn’t sell as many cars in America as the big three, the total value of Tesla (thanks to an army of cult-like investors) is more than five times the value of the Big Three companies combined. Despite years of effort from the UAW, Tesla is not unionized. The company has been found guilty of illegal union-busting tactics, including firing workers who were trying to organize. Such tactics are fully in line with the attitude of Musk himself, who has routinely made anti-union statements and publicly threatened to take away employees’ stock options if they unionized…. When the large majority of an industry is unionized, big strikes can raise standards for everyone, raising the floor for union and non-union workers alike. When only part of an industry is unionized, though, the non-union companies will always feel like they have an economic advantage – and, as a consequence, the unionized companies will fight harder against union demands, because they fear being undercut by their non-union competitors…. This dynamic is playing out in the auto strike right now. Tesla already pays its workers significantly less than the big three, and as long as Musk has no union to answer to, he will sit back and savor a UAW win against his competitors that widens that gap. There is a straightforward solution to this: unionize Tesla.”

“Michigan businesses offer discounts to UAW workers on strike against Big Three” [MLive]. “Some Michigan businesses are offering discounted prices to United Auto Workers as an act of solidarity in the ongoing strike against automakers Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis…. UAW members can stop by Ella Mae’s Place, a soul food restaurant in Detroit, to receive 10% off their order, too.” • I would swear I remembered Ella Mae’s Place, possibly from a previous election. Can’t find anything though!

News of the Wired

“Wine’s True Origins Are Finally Revealed” [Scientific American]. “A large international group of researchers collected and analyzed 2,503 unique vines from domesticated table and wine grapes and 1,022 wild grapevines. By extracting DNA from the vines and determining the patterns of genetic variations among them, they found some surprises…. Genetic data indicate that 400,000 and 300,000 years ago grapes grew naturally across the western and central Eurasian continent. Roughly 200,000 years ago a cold, dry, ice-age climate slowly killed off vines in the central Mediterranean Sea region, cleaving vine habitat into two isolated areas: one to the west of the sea (today Portugal, Spain and France) and one to the east (roughly Israel, Syria, Turkey and Georgia). Around 56,000 years ago the eastern region separated again into smaller isolated areas: the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and western Asia (Israel, Jordon and Iraq)…. humans in western Asia domesticated table grapes around 11,000 years ago. Other people, in the Caucasus, domesticated wine grapes around the same time— although they probably didn’t master winemaking for another 2,000 or 3,000 years. Early farmers, the revised story goes, migrated from western Asia toward Iberia and brought table vines with them. Along the way the farmers crossbred the table vines with local wild grapevines. The earliest crossbreeding probably happened in what is now Israel and Turkey, creating muscat grapes, which are high in sugar—good for eating and fermenting. Gradually the table grape was genetically transformed into different wine grapes in the Balkans, Italy, France and Spain.” • Neat!

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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 MT jefe:

MT jefe writes: “Wild iris and lupines, Montana.”

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