2:00PM Water Cooler 1/17/2024 | naked capitalism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Volcano Junco, Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE), Cartago, Costa Rica.

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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


Less than a year to go!

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“The Ruin That a Trump Presidency Would Mean” [David Frum, The Atlantic]. “What kind of people are Americans, anyway? Trump has made clear, without illusions, that his ballot issue in 2024 is to rehabilitate and ratify his attempt to overturn the election of 2020. He is running to protect himself from the legal consequences of that attempt. But even more fundamentally, he is running to justify himself for attempting it. In 2016, Trump opponents warned that he might refuse to leave office if defeated. In 2024, Trump himself is arguing that he was right to refuse to leave office when defeated, and he is asking Americans to approve his refusal.If he should return to the presidency in 2025, we have no reason to expect him to leave in 2029. So maybe the issue on the ballot in 2024 is not a choice at all, but a much more open-ended question. We know who Biden is. We know who Trump is. Who are we?” • I think Frum is a little rusty, perhaps from the tears? Just because Democrats want 2024 framed as “our democracy” doesn’t mean that Trump, of all people, was to adopt that frame, as Frum does here (and may be so deeply embubbled he doesn’t even know it’s a frame). Oh, and apparently the “ruin” will happen in Ukraine and to NATO. But Ukraine is a lost cause, and cutting the cord to NATO takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Dave, better horribles in your parade, pleaes/

“Trump’s potential return to the White House is a top conversation topic at Davos” [CNBC]. “‘Every question I’ve gotten as I’ve walked up and down the [Davos] Promenade today is, ‘is he coming back?” Tim Adams, president of the Institute of International Finance, told CNBC on Tuesday…. For Bill Winters, CEO of Standard Chartered, one of the main questions is how would a new U.S. leader interact with China, following years of tensions between Washington and Beijing. ‘The slight reengagement that we’re seeing through the Biden administration are an indication to me that the U.S. is looking to stabilize [relations with China],’ the top bank CEO said, giving a nod to recent trips by U.S. officials to China. ‘If Trump becomes president, we know that he’s a transactional president, and there’s probably a transaction in there someplace, that keeps the economy on an even keel, without fundamentally disrupting that relationship. But of course, we watch all the time, and we’re well aware that there could be either unintended consequences or accidents,’ Winters said.” • Hmm. I wonder how the ventilation is, this year?

“Appeals court won’t revisit Twitter’s fight against Trump probe warrant” [Politico]. “All four Republican-appointed judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals extolled the virtues and importance of the president’s right to confidential communications and advice, even though they concluded that the underlying dispute over Smith’s access to Trump’s private Twitter messages was moot. Last February, as part of Smith’s investigation of Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election, prosecutors obtained a voluminous trove of Trump’s Twitter data after secret court proceedings. A district judge ordered the company, now known as X, to turn over the data without informing Trump, and a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit later upheld that decision. That precedent, the D.C. Circuit’s Republican-appointed judges worried Tuesday, could lead federal and state prosecutors to invade a sitting president’s privileged materials — without advance notification — by simply accessing the materials via a third party like a social media or phone company.” • Chalk up another win for the Censorship Industrial Complex.

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“Art dealer told Congress that Joe Biden called and met him while he sold Hunter Biden’s paintings” [Just the News]. “he art dealer who sold Hunter Biden’s paintings told Congress that President Joe Biden both called and met him at the White House as he was pitching Hunter’s artwork and that the first son also made an unusual request to be informed about who bought his pieces, according to testimony that directly undercuts the White House narrative on the sales. The Biden White House repeatedly told the public that Hunter Biden’s art sales were covered by an ethics agreement to ensure they were arms-length and that the first family — Hunter included — was blinded to the identity of buyers. But George Berges, owner of the prestigious Berges art galleries based in New York and Berlin that sold Hunter Biden’s painting from 2020 to 2023, told congressional impeachment investigators that the first son likely knew the identity of 70% of the buyers – the largest who were Democrat donors – and that Hunter Biden’s first contract made an unusual request when the relationship started. ‘I believe in the first contract, he was—he was able to know who the buyers were,’ Berges told investigators for the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees in a transcribed interview last week that was reviewed by Just the News. ‘…I don’t know how it was phrased or—but I remember that there—that that was the difference.’ ‘Is that normal or unusual, or where’s that? Is it a normal kind of contract?’ Berges was asked. ‘That part was different. Normally, the gallerist does not let the artist know who the collectors are,’ the art dealer answered.” • Laundries are normal. But coin-operated?

“Joe Biden’s chances do not look good. The Democrats have no plan B” [The Economist]. “With most states so partisan that they are not worth contesting, the presidential campaign will be centred on six where the outcome is actually uncertain: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Early polling in these states also shows Mr Biden several points behind. And some Democrats fear that these polls may be underestimating Mr Trump’s support, because his conspiracy-minded voters may not be open with those taking the surveys.” Handy chart:

So much, as I keep saying, for the “Coalition of the Ascendant,” which the Democrats have been relying on to carry them to victory since 2004. It was evidently at best lazy and at worst a collapse into a welter of identity-driven verticals, but the sclerotic party leadership hasn’t figured out a new strategy (and since all their NGOs are vertically-driven anyhow, there’s no incentive (especially from funders who are happy their vanity projects rendered the party dysfunctional)).

“‘We all have concerns’: Hill Democrats see flawed Biden campaign” [Roll Call]. “[Quentin Fulks, principal deputy campaign manager for Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris] and other senior Biden campaign officials on a call with reporters earlier this month described a long-game strategy largely based on an assessment that most voters have not yet started thinking about the general election as a race between Biden and Trump. Asked about Biden’s dismal poll numbers, Fulks said on the Jan. 3 call that the campaign intends to ‘scale up’ its efforts and staffing — including paid media buys — so that the operation is ‘fully operational’ when voters are more seriously thinking about the election. And when they do, Fulks and other officials said, the president and his surrogates will be making the case that voters have a clear ‘choice’ between Biden and Trump.” • If both parties wrap the nominations up even before Super Tuesday, then there’s plenty of time before the party conventions for Biden to slip a cog and Trump’s plane to go down. So keep calm.

“Biden Needs to Govern Like the Polls Are Right” [Slate]. “Yes, polls are flawed, and we’re still a ways out from Election Day. But they’re not that flawed. Trump just trounced the field in Iowa, just as polls predicted. And there’s a pattern here, a steady drumbeat since early last year of bad vibes, miserable polling numbers, and rock-bottom favorability figures for Biden. There’s only one thing left to do, legislatively. The president and his cabinet need to start governing like there’s no tomorrow—or rather, with the urgency of a team with only 10 months left to live (politically). They need to use the relatively tiny window of the remaining year to push through whatever remains of the Democratic agenda and to take the necessary preparations to minimize the damage of another Trump term. Troublingly, we haven’t seen enough of that.” • The article goes on to discuss what Biden is focusing on: cutting a deal with Republicans to shovel more money to Ukraine. Can somebody explain the winning aspect here? On immigration, people will vote for the real Republican, not Republican Lite (as always). On Ukraine, who cares?

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“Love vs. Politics: How News Coverage Triggers Fights in Divided Couples” [Study Finds]. “The team at [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] set out to investigate what impact this has had on the estimated 30 percent of American adults in relationships with partners who do not share their political views. Communication professor Emily Van Duyn held in-depth interviews with 67 people dating someone with opposing political views. For these couples, study authors explain, decisions that appear mundane on the surface like choosing which TV channel to watch can be ‘especially difficult.’…. When the news began to take a negative toll on some participants and their relationships, many couples decided to avoid the news altogether and stopped sharing articles or videos with each other. It just wasn’t worth the toll it was having on their emotional intimacy. Prof. Van Duyn notes that certain participants who adopted news avoidance did so because of conflicts within their relationship or mental health concerns like anxiety.” • For the Romanovs vs. the Bolsheviks, I could see it. For Democrats and Republicans?

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IA: “Donald Trump Coasts to Victory in the Iowa Republican Caucuses” [Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker]. “At the events I’ve attended, the crowds have been smaller and the mood friendlier than in 2016: I’ve seen none of the precipice-of-violence energy that characterized just about every Trump rally during his first campaign*. The Times, reporting from Iowa, found that ‘voters casually toss around the prospect of World War III and civil unrest.’ I’ve occasionally heard that too, from voters at events and from insiders, but, if that were the case, you might expect an atmosphere of hyper-engagement. Instead, the campaign so far has mostly been about a general disdain for both Trump and Biden. Trump is angry. The electorate is exhausted.” • Ah, Dean Phillips’ “exhausted middle” trope gets a little traction…. NOTE * I’m really not sure about “characterized just about every Trump rally”; the rally Trump rally I attended in 2016 — eight long years ago — had no such energy. Nor did the rally Tracie McMillan Cottom attended, though I’m too lazy to find the link. I’d like to think that the New Yorker didn’t send their best, but Wallace-Wells is one of their best.

IA: “Why that ‘landslide’ win in Iowa could spell trouble for Trump” [Arizona Republic]. “If you think of Trump as run of the mill, just another Republican competing to lead the ticket, then Monday’s result is a noteworthy triumph. If you think of Trump as an incumbent, the ground beneath his feet is shaking. In 2020, Trump won the Iowa caucuses with 97% of the vote. That’s dominance. That’s shooting everyone on Fifth Avenue while none of your voters blink. That’s also running against no one, because no Republican of substance dares enter the race…. That’s not the field today. Two legitimate challengers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, have cut into Trump’s support, signaling some serious discomfort with Trump in the Republican base. Taken together — including business executive Vivek Ramaswamy, who has since dropped out of the race — the ‘not Trump’ coalition of candidates won nearly half the vote in a state that ABC News calls ‘overwhelmingly white and rural.’ In other words, these were ideal conditions for a Trump landslide. But Iowa is not the national electorate. And Trump’s Iowa triumph can hardly serve as a bellwether for the fall.” • As I muttered yesterday, this is pretty much where I am. Trump took 50 of the Republican vote in Iowa. Take that as a proxy for the national vote. I don’t see a real challenger to Trump emerging (modulo spook we teams). But 50% of the base in one party is not enough to govern; it’s the mirror image of the Democrat Party trying to govern from their overly narrow (and deeply insular) based in the PMC.

IA: “Iowa blowout proves Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee” [David Bossie, Washington Times]. “Everyone knows Donald Trump is New York tough, but this is now the stuff of legend.” • The David Bossie of Citizens United.

IA: “Trump flexes and the rest of the field fades: 5 takeaways from a big night in Iowa” [Politico]. “‘One of the things I’ve been watching is does [Haley] make a pivot and focus on unaffiliated voters?’ asked Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chair. ‘It seems to me that if she’s going to be competitive here, maybe half of her vote is going to come from unaffiliated voters. To date she has not had the direct appeal to that group.’”

NH: “Inside the ‘weird’ write-in campaign needed to help Biden win New Hampshire” [NBC]. “Last year, Biden tried to end New Hampshire’s 100-year reign as the nation’s first presidential primary state when he directed the Democratic National Committee to overhaul the 2024 primary calendar by putting South Carolina (which he won in 2020) ahead of New Hampshire (which he lost). His allies are now waging what has to be one of the most unusual campaigns in American presidential history ahead of next week’s vote: A write-in campaign with a shoestring budget on behalf of the most powerful man in the world, trying to help him win a contest in which he is not technically competing and one which he would rather see not even exist. New Hampshire, whose political class holds the primary as sacred as the Red Sox, just went ahead and scheduled its primary in its usual place right after Iowa’s caucuses, essentially telling the DNC to go pound granite and even threatening the committee with legal action. (As a result, the DNC says it won’t seat New Hampshire’s delegates at the summer nominating convention.)…. For Biden, the upshot of the standoff is a bizarre no-win situation. He is prohibited by his own party rules from competing in the Jan. 23 primary since it is officially ‘meaningless,’ according to the DNC. The party will not recognize its results. And he did not even put his name on the ballot, so his supporters will have to write in his name. But his performance against weak opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and self-help author Marianne Williamson will nonetheless be judged as a measure of his political health at a moment when Democrats are already anxious about his campaign.” • That’s a damn shame. And speaking of Dean Phillips:

NH: Not so bad:

NH: “Manchin to meet Biden, urge move to center as he eyes 2024 run” [FOX]. “West Virginia senator and possible independent presidential candidate Joe Manchin said he will meet with President Biden in the coming days to try to “move him to the center,” a possible determining factor in whether he will enter the race for the White House in 2024. Manchin made these remarks at a private gathering in Darien, Connecticut, at the home of Robert Dilenschneider, a prominent communications specialist and founder of the Dilenschneider Group. Manchin spoke for about an hour, stressing the need for a return to civility in politics that is missing from the leadership of both major parties. Over the past year, Manchin has made no secret of the need for a third party in the form of No Labels, an independent organization aiming to represent the interests of more centrist Republicans and Democrats.” • And then–

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Vivek, we hardly knew ye:

Republican Funhouse

“Lawmakers questioned Fauci about “lab leak” COVID theory in marathon closed-door congressional interview” [CBS]. “Members of Congress, their staffers and one of the world’s most famous doctors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, sat for 14 hours over two days last week around a long conference table in a private office in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. They took breaks to munch on sandwiches, salads, cookies and chips. And the two main players shook hands at the very end. The marathon closed-door interview sessions with Fauci, who helped spearhead the federal government’s response to the COVID pandemic, are setting the stage for a higher-profile public hearing and interrogation in late spring or early summer, according to multiple sources who spoke with CBS News. And the questioning will happen in the middle of a heated election year, as some Republicans continue to blister Fauci with criticism over his role in the government’s response to the pandemic.” • So looking forward to the crafting of an election narrative about Covid centered on China and ZOMG!!! lockdowns that doesn’t mention aerosol transmission, droplet dogma, non-pharmaceutical interventions, or Long Covid (especially its effect on the labor force). A narrative crafted by both parties, I might add!

Realignment and Legitimacy

From a “Justin Amash” independent:

“More than half of US’s 25,000 cities are predicted to become ghost towns by 2100… so, will YOUR area be affected?” [Daily Mail]. “Half of the nearly 25,000 cities in the US could become ghost towns by 2100, a study suggests. Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago found that in a modest scenario, around half of cities could lose up to a quarter of their resident populations by the end of the century. If fertility rates continue to decline and the exodus from cities gets worse, as many as two-third of cities could see their populations shrink significantly. The team warned: ‘The implications of this massive decline in population will bring unprecedented challenges, possibly leading to disruptions in basic services like transit, clean water, electricity and internet access’ as cities shrink and populations age.” • Hmm.

“Why American cities are squalid [Chris Arnade, Unherd]. “The Thursday before Christmas, I woke up in downtown Sofia, leisurely drank a coffee, and jumped on a metro that took me directly to the airport. In less than an hour, I was at the gate for my flight to New York’s JFK. My plan was to get the last bus upstate that evening, so I could be in my own bed a little after midnight. But it would only work if the flight landed on time — and if passport control took under an hour and a half. The first happened, but the second didn’t even come close. To describe Terminal One that Thursday night as a shitshow is unfair to shitshows, which are at least darkly entertaining. This was bureaucratic hell: lines of exhausted travellers snaking out into dreary linoleum hallways festooned with disconcertingly cheery posters welcoming us to NYC. It took close to an hour to even reach the main hall, and then we endured another hour of slow shuffling up to the 10 or so border security agents. Ever since I began my project to walk around the world, it has always been jarring to come home to the US, often from much poorer countries — in this case Bulgaria — to find that our infrastructure is infinitely worse.” • Well worth a read. I picked the lead paragraphs, because JFK is such a low-ceilinged, mourgue-ishly lit, grotty, dirty introduction to The Greatest Country In The World™. Hasn’t anyone with the power to fix it even noticed?


“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 (wastewater); BC, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: Alexis, 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, Tom B., Utah, Bob White (3).

Stay safe out there!

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You make bank because of the Koch Brothers, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a fool:

Testing and Tracking

“Correspondence of SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences obtained from wastewater samples and COVID-19 patient at long-term care facilities” [Science of the Total Environment]. From the Abstract: “In this study, we performed a quantitative and qualitative investigation with a genetic-level comparison of SARS-CoV-2 between COVID-19 patients and SARS-CoV-2 positive wastewater samples at long-term care facilities. Wastewater samples were collected via passive sampling from manholes, and SARS-CoV-2 load in wastewater was determined by qPCR…. Mutation analysis revealed high sequence similarity of SARS-CoV-2 variants between wastewater and patient samples (>99 %). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating that WBE is also effective in predicting predominant SARS-CoV-2 variant at facility-level, which is helpful to develop early-warning system for outbreak occurrence with predominant variant.” • If anybody wants to be warned, of course.


“Depicting SARS-CoV-2 faecal viral activity in association with gut microbiota composition in patients with COVID-19” [Gut]. From the Abstract: ” Faecal viral metagenome of three patients continued to display active viral infection signature… up to 6 days after clearance of SARS-CoV-2 from respiratory samples… This pilot study provides evidence for active and prolonged ‘quiescent’ [Gastro-Intestinal (GI)] infection even in the absence of GI manifestations and after recovery from respiratory infection of SARS-CoV-2. Gut microbiota of patients with active SARS-CoV-2 GI infection was characterised by enrichment of opportunistic pathogens, loss of salutary bacteria and increased functional capacity for nucleotide and amino acid biosynthesis and carbohydrate metabolism.” • Not sure “six days” = “prolonged” or “six days” = reservoir. Nevertheless.


“Intestinal helminth infection impairs vaccine-induced T cell responses and protection against SARS-CoV-2” (preprint) [bioRxiv]. “In this study, we evaluated the impact of intestinal helminths on SARS-CoV-2 spike vaccine responses using a mouse model of hookworm infection. Although intestinal helminth infection did not substantively affect vaccine-induced antibody responses, T cell responses were impacted. The T cell defect was evident regardless of whether Hpb was given prior to the prime or booster vaccine dose, suggesting helminth infection likely interferes at multiple stages of T cell maturation.” • Helminths are a soil-transmitted parasite, and “recent community studies and case reports from small-scale farms and areas of high rural or inner-city poverty reveal the potential for persisting helminth infections in distinct populations of the country.” Fortunately, there’s treatment.

Elite Maleficence

College cheer:

“What’s the color of horse-sh*t? Brown! Brown! Brown!” (1):

“What’s the color of horse-sh*t? Brown! Brown! Brown!” (2):

A golden oldie. If gold is the color I want…

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Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data, January 16:

Lambert here #3: Slight decrease in slope, due to the Northeast and the West (unless it’s a data issue). Personally, I wouldn’t call a peak, based entirely on the anecdotes I’m scrolling through, which are not encouraging, particularly with regard to the schools. Very unscientific, I agree! Let’s wait and see. Note that I don’t accept the PMC “homework” model, whose most famous exponent is Sociopath of the Day Bob Wachter, where you adjust your behavior according to multiple sources of (horrible, gappy, lagged) data about infection levels (ignoring “risk of ruin”). Just stick with your protocol day in and day out, my advice. K.I.S.S. However, tracking these trends, besides having intrinsic interest, is pragmatically useful for major decisions, like travel, cruises (surely not, readers), relocation, family events, communication with recalcitrant HCWs, etc.

Lambert #4: Looks like I was too pessimistic! (Of course, half the cases under the curve take place after the peak….)

Regional data:

Big decline in the Northeast!


NOT UPDATED From CDC, January 6:

Lambert here: JN.1 now dominates. That was fast.

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

From CDC NCIRD Surveillance, January 13:

Lambert here: Consistent with Biobot data.

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. And of course, we’re not even getting into the quality of the wastewater sites that we have as a proxy for Covid infection overall.


NOT UPDATED Bellwether New York City, data as of January 12:

Lambert here: Continued decrease!

NOT UPDATED Here’s a different CDC visualization on hospitalization, nationwide, not by state, but with a date, at least. January 6:

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, January 15:

-0.7%. (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 From Cleveland Clinic, January 13:

Lambert here: Percentage and absolute numbers down.

NOT UPDATED From CDC, traveler’s data, December 25:

Up, albeit in the rear view mirror. And here are the variants for travelers, December 25:

Note the chart has been revised to reflect that JN.1 is BA.2.86.1 (the numbers “roll over”).


NOT UPDATED Here is the New York Times, based on CDC data, January 6:

Stats Watch

There are no official statistics of interest today.

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Mr. Market: “Apple and Tesla may no longer be ‘safe investments’ as China’s troubles grow” [MarketWatch]. “In a note to clients, Mike O’Rourke, chief technical strategist at JonesTrading, observes how Magnificent Seven stocks have been under pressure to shore up the S&P 500 in a bumpy 2024. ‘Key leaders Apple and Tesla continue to be bombarded by daily negative headlines regarding their fundamental businesses. While it barely draws much attention, it does not help that they are also the two most China exposed companies,’ says the strategist. Apple and Tesla have lost 4% and 11% respectively this year, the worst performers of the seven.” • “Magnificent Seven” = Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, BYD, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Tesla.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 60 Greed (previous close: 70 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 74 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 17 at 12:27:52 PM ET • Big drop after a long run of stability.

Zeitgeist Watch

“Quebec man who blamed wildfires on government pleads guilty to setting 14 fires” [BBC]. “A Quebec man who posted conspiracy theories online that forest fires were being deliberately set by the government has pleaded guilty to starting a series of fires himself that forced hundreds of people from their homes.” • Oh.

Guillotine Watch

“Billionaire backers of new California city reveal map and details of proposed development” [Associated Press]. “California Forever, the company that stealthily snapped up more than $800 million of Solano County land in recent years, envisions a new community on roughly 30 square miles (75 square kilometers) between Travis Air Force Base and the tiny city of Rio Vista, according to a presentation by the group…. [Voters] in 1984 backed protections against turning farmland into urban space. That’s why Jan Sramek, CEO and founder of California Forever, and the project’s backers are turning to the ballot. He’ll speak about the project and the proposed ballot initiative Wednesday, and the group must collect about 13,000 signatures from county voters to place it on the November ballot… [Critics] remain skeptical of Sramek and the project’s backers, who include philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen…. ‘This is a pipe dream,’ said Democratic U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, who was furious with backers for their secrecy about property close to a U.S. Air Force base. He said the proposed development, which he also was briefed on, makes no sense ‘in the middle of areas surrounded by wind farms, gas fields, endangered species, no water, no sanitation system and no road system let alone a highway system..” • If you’re so rich, why ain’t you smart?

News of the Wired

“‘It hasn’t delivered’: The spectacular failure of self-checkout technology” [BBC]. “It’s a common sight at many retail stores: a queue of people, waiting to use a self-checkout kiosk, doing their best to remain patient as a lone store worker attends to multiple malfunctioning machines. The frustration mounts while a dozen darkened, roped-off and cashier-less tills sit in the background. For shoppers, self-checkout was supposed to provide convenience and speed. Retailers hoped it would usher in a new age of cost savings. Their thinking: why pay six employees when you could pay one to oversee customers at self-service registers, as they do their own labour of scanning and bagging for free? While self-checkout technology has its theoretical selling points for both consumers and businesses, it mostly isn’t living up to expectations. Customers are still queueing. They need store employees to help clear kiosk errors or check their identifications for age-restricted items. Stores still need to have workers on-hand to help them, and to service the machines. The technology is, in some cases, more trouble than it’s worth.” • The same thing happened with robot cars, and may well happen with AI.

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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 KW:

KW writes: “Jackson Creek, Bloomington, Indiana, 12/26/23.” Brings back the Midwest for me. I get there’s no snow, but what lovely, soft colors!

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