Sign In

2:00PM Water Cooler 12/22/2022 | naked capitalism

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Pine Bunting, Istomino, Buryatia, Russia. “Songs from a male perched high in a birch in a small stand of trees adjacent to the lake.”

* * *


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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

Biden Administration

“The Challenges of Leading in a Historically Divided Congress” [Charlie Cook, Cook Political Report]. “American politics are likely to be as wild in 2023 and 2024 as we have ever seen, and given the last seven or eight years, that’s really saying something. With the country so narrowly divided, even slight changes in support can tip races for the House, the Senate, and the presidency in a way that’s rarely happened before.” Hence, tribalism (as opposed to actually delivering for voters, let alone expanding the voting base, because who wants that? More: “Heading into Christmas, it is anything but clear whether current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be elected the 55th speaker on Jan. 3. Actually, one wonders whether anyone can muster a majority of the members of the House who are present and voting anytime soon. It has been exactly 100 years since a speaker’s race has gone beyond a first ballot. You can almost depend on it now. Today, McCarthy’s odds look to be about 50-50, but after that, does any individual have more than a single-digit-percentage chance? McCarthy’s challenge is akin to threading a needle in a moving car. To his right he is buffeted by a large element of the 45 or so members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, with the mob led by five “Never Kevin” members: Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Matt Rosendale of Montana, and Bob Good of Virginia. Not all members of the Freedom Caucus will oppose McCarthy; in fact, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been a vocal advocate of his cause, presumably because he has pledged to restore her committee assignments, or even improve them. But opposition by even a fifth of the Freedom Caucus could cost him the job….. On the Democratic side, expectations will remain low for incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, not the worst circumstances for on-the-job training. For Schumer, though, this is the time when he has to not only step up and assume Democrats’ alpha-dog leadership role that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has occupied for the better part of 20 years, but also defend the majority with a 2024 map that is very ugly.” • Exciting!


“Biden mulls 2024 plans as Democrats weigh generational shift” [The Hill]. “Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University, said Pelosi and Hoyer stepping aside when the House flipped this month won’t stop Biden from running for another term…. For Democrats, Lichtman said, ‘The last thing you would want is Biden to step down and have an open seat.’ Since 1920, there have been nine open seats during presidential elections and only twice did the party controlling the White House win — in 1988, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected to replace President Reagan after Reagan’s second term, and in 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge did not run for reelection and was succeeded by fellow Republican Herbert Hoover, then the secretary of Commerce. ‘Democrats do not want an open seat and don’t want a party fight for the nomination,’ Lichtman said.”


“Where History Rhymed and Where It Didn’t” [Amy Walter, Cook Political Report]. From November, but with some anti-triumphalist true facts. “Two of the hardest things to do in politics are: 1) holding a governing trifecta (White House, House, Senate majorities) for more than two years and: 2) not losing House seats in a midterm. This year, Democrats failed to break this well-established precedent. … The closest races once again all broke the same way at the end. Since 2006, the final House and Senate races we’ve rated as Toss-Ups have broken decisively in one direction. What was different about this cycle, however, is that both the House (69 percent) and Senate (currently 75 percent), broke for the White House party…. Partisan consolidation continued at both the federal and state level… As my colleague Jessica Taylor and I noted throughout this cycle, the biggest unknown factor for Senate control was whether voters’ low opinions of the president were more/less important than their low opinions of the GOP senate candidates. Recent history suggested that presidential approval would be the bigger factor…. This year, however, Democratic senate incumbents Catherine Cortez Masto, Mark Kelly and Maggie Hassan all won re-election in states where Biden’s job approval ratings ranged from a ‘high’ of 45 percent (Nevada), to a low of 42 percent (New Hampshire). In Georgia, Sen. Warnock garnered the most votes in the race despite Biden’s dismal 41 percent job approval rating in the state. In every one of those races, however, exit polls showed that voters found the GOP candidate to be ‘too extreme’. For example, in Arizona, 54 percent of voters said GOP nominee Blake Masters was ‘too extreme, compared to just 43 percent who said the same about Democrat Mark Kelly.”

Republican Funhouse

“Conservative Judges Are Helping the “Freedom of Contract” Stage a Dramatic, Dangerous Comeback” [Balls and Strikes]. From November, still germane. “Earlier this month, in Golden Glow v. Columbus, a three-judge panel of Fifth Circuit judges disposed of a lawsuit filed by a tanning salon owner against the City of Columbus, Missouri, over COVID-19 lockdowns that forced the business to temporarily close while places like churches, Walmarts, and liquor stores stayed open. In the opinion, Judge Edith Jones explained that the panel felt boxed in: Although ‘subsequent experience strongly suggests that draconian shutdowns were debatable measures’ and ‘inflicted enormous economic damage,’ she wrote, they were ‘constrained’ to affirm. But Ho wasn’t happy just signing onto a bog-standard Fifth Circuit case that grumbled about COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Instead, he had to write his own concurrence based on the premise that it’s time to start thinking about ‘the right to earn a living’ as a constitutional right. In it, Ho complains that the Supreme Court’s approach to ‘unenumerated’ rights, including the right to privacy, ‘privileges a broad swath of non-economic human activities, while leaving economic activities out in the cold.’ He also grumbles about government grants of monopolies, quoting James Madison, who referred to them as ‘justly classed among the greatest nuisances in government.’… [Ho’s concurrence] is a thinly-veiled call for the revival of the ‘freedom of contract,’ which the Supreme Court tossed into the dustbin of history nearly a century ago. In 1905, in Lochner v. New York, the Court held that worker safety laws that limited bakers’ work hours ran afoul of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Ho writes in terms of the ‘right to earn a living,’ but this is a distinction without a difference.) The logic of Lochner was ascendant until 1937, when the Court, in the midst of the Great Depression, changed its mind and upheld a minimum wage law, holding that economic regulations are generally permissible—a case that forms the legal foundation for basic workplace safety rules to this day. Ho and his ilk are not fans of unenumerated rights when it comes to, say, abortion, so it’s easiest to read this opinion as a particularly lazy troll job: If you love some unenumerated rights, he argues, you have to love his favorite one, too.” • What a concept: Selling your labor power to survive as a Constitutional right. As opposed to, say, a collective right to the fruits of our labor (and catch a lilberal supporting that).

“What Is the Federalist Society and Its Connection to Supreme Court Judges?” [Teen Vogue]. From November, still germane: “The society was founded by conservative law students at Yale and University of Chicago in 1982, coinciding with Ronald Reagan’s presidency and a growing national interest in conservative politics. They felt conservative legal theory was underrepresented in their curricula and that conservative students were reluctant to openly express their views. …. Federalist Society chapters were established at other law schools and in cities across the US, where local conservative lawyers could come together to discuss varied legal issues. Today, the organization boasts a membership of more than 10,000 law students and 65,000 legal professionals, and maintains close proximity to powerful conservatives in Washington, DC. Records show the Federalist Society had over $22 million in revenue in 2021. Early in its founding, some of that money came from high-powered, right-wing donors such as the Olin Foundation, a now defunct grant-making entity established by the head of a chemical and weapons manufacturing company. … The Federalist Society is a 501c3 nonprofit, which makes it exempt from taxes but limits its political work; however, the network of politicians, donors, conservative lawyers, and activists with links to the organization are under no such restrictions.” • The article goes on to a takedown of so-called “originalism.” I’m pleased to see material like this in Teen Vogue!

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.

* * *

“Fall of the Progressive Boy King” [New York Magazine]. “Inside of a decade, McElwee had gone from being an intern at a libertarian think tank to being heralded as an avatar of a rising generation of millennial leftists, eventually advising both the White House and a billionaire his age. The past few dizzying years culminated in an even more dizzying month when his relationship with Bankman-Fried suddenly became a liability and, in an echo of the criminal charges against the disgraced billionaire, he was fired by the organization he founded for allegedly pressuring an employee into being a straw donor for Democratic causes.” Handy chart, which I think broke this story:


[Sean] and his younger brother, Gabe, started a nonprofit advocacy organization called Guarding Against Pandemics and a super-PAC called Protect Our Future, which paid Data for Progress to do polling. In the vein of effective altruism, the ostensible purpose was to support Democrats who talked about pandemic preparedness and the long-term risks to humanity. But a lot of those candidates were also pro-crypto, or at least reluctant to criticize it at a time when Bankman-Fried was pushing the federal government for a light regulatory touch. “This was not just about directing donations to candidates; this was about Sean running a political strategy designed to shield crypto from government oversight so that crypto billionaires could continue to rip off working people,” said Max Berger, a onetime McElwee ally and a progressive strategist. “That’s what Sam Bankman-Fried was paying Sean McElwee for. From a progressive-politics perspective, it is unforgivable.”

Oops. How unexpected.

FL: “How to Fix the Pathetic Florida Democratic Party” [In These Times]. The deck: “To reverse their dismal midterm election performance, Florida Democrats need to embrace working people, the environment and Unite Here.” • Let me know how that works out….

Our Famously Free Press

No dog who’s part of a pile needs courage:

Not merely link rot; content rot:

Of course, for individual posts, there’s the Wayback machine. And Naked Capitalism is in the Library of Congress. But it’s telling the Blue Checks want another platform, dominated by goodthinkers like themselves. None of them thinks about recreating the blogosphere, or misses it. Some of them, of course, climbed that ladded before throwing it away.

Realignment and Legitimacy


Lambert here: I am but a humble tapewatcher, but unlike Eric Topol, I’m not calling a surge, because the last peak was Biden’s Omicron debacle, and after an Everest like that, what’s left? Topol’s view is the establishment view: Hospital-centric. Mine is infection-centric. I do not see the acceleration or doubling in cases that I would expect to see based on past surges. There is also the TripleDemic aspect, which I don’t know enough about.

I am calling a “Something Awful.” It’s gonna be bad, in some new way, and we don’t know how, yet. Wastewater has taken off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, right on time, two weeks after Thanksgiving. Those are not only in themselves large cities, they are all the sites of international airports (reminiscent of the initial surge in spring 2020, which emanated, via air travel, from New York). Wastewater is a leading indicator for cases, which in turn lead hospitalization (and death). In addition, positivity has begun to increase again (Walgreens), and BQ.1* has taken over. Finally, I’m hearing a ton of anecdotes (and do add yours in comments).

Stay safe out there! If you are planning to travel on Xmas, do consider your plans carefully.

* * *

• Maskstravaganza: Another summary of infection control goon and WHO gatekeeper John Conley’s anti-masking paper:

Ouch! And correct.

* * *

• “Impact of SARS-CoV-2 variants on inpatient clinical outcome” [Clinical Infectious Diseases]. From the Abstract: “Although risk of severe disease or death for unvaccinated inpatients with Omicron was lower than Delta, it was similar to ancestral lineages. Severe outcomes were less common in vaccinated inpatients, with no difference between Delta and Omicron infections.”

* * *

• Now kids, don’t get excited:

* * *

• “At-home kit available to test for the ‘tripledemic’ of viruses in circulation” [Good Morning America]. “Labcorp’s combined home collection kit, called The Pixel, is for COVID, flu and RSV only. The FDA authorized the emergency use of the kits ‘for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, influenza A and/or influenza B, and RSV, not for any other viruses or pathogens,’ according to a Labcorp press release. Unfortunately, results don’t come in 15 minutes like a rapid antigen test, but the results are processed in a lab, using the amplification process of PCR, so the results may be more accurate. Potential test-takers go to a website and fill out a questionnaire. If they meet the criteria, they are sent the kit via overnight service. The user then swabs their nose to collect a sample and sends the kit back to Labcorp for testing. Results take one to two days after the samples have arrived back at the lab, so it takes about three to five days at the earliest to receive final results. The kit is available for use by individuals age 2 and older, without the need for a prescription, according to the press release. The test also has no out-of-pocket cost for those with insurance and who meet the criteria in the questionnaire. For those who are uninsured, it runs $169.” • The article doesn’t say what the lab does with the data.

* * *


Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map”). (This is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.) The map updates Monday-Friday by 8 pm:

NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.


From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published December 21:

1.2%. Increase. NOTE: Of course, it’s an open question how good a proxy Walgreen’s self-selected subjects are for the general population, especially because they didn’t go the home-testing route, but we go with the data we have.


Wastewater data (CDC), December 18:

Too much red (especially with Ohio back online). JFK/LGA (Queens County, NY), ORD (Cook County, IL), SFO (San Francisco, CA), and LAX (Los Angeles) are all red. For grins, here’s the red dot for ATL (Cobb County, GA):

December 17:

And MWRA data, December 20:

Lambert here: Up in the North, down in the South, but the trend is still clear. Presumably we’ll see a drop when the students leave town.


Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (Walgreens), December 11:

Lambert here: BQ.1* dominates, XBB coming up fast on the outside. Not sure why this data is coming out before CDC’s, since in the past they both got it from Pango on Fridays.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), November 26 (Nowcast off):

BQ.1* takes first place. Note the appearance of XBB. Here is Region 2, the Northeast, where both BQ.1* and XBB are said to higher, and are:

• As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated December 21:

Up slightly after a short plateau.

• Hospitalization data for Queens, updated December 19:

We’ll see what is hospitalization is like about two weeks into January, after holiday travel has ended.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

I don’t know why this chart has turned red. Perhaps they’re holding a masque?

Total: 1,114,931 – 1,113,808 = 1123 (1123 * 365 = 409,895 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).

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 2,000 to 216,000 in the week ending December 17th, below market expectations of 220,000 and extending signals of a stubbornly tight labor market, adding to hawkish projections for the Federal Reserve along with the upward revision to the US GDP.”

GDP: “United States GDP Growth Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The US economy grew an annualized 3.2% on quarter in Q3 2022, better than 2.9% in the second estimate, and rebounding from two straight quarters of contraction.”

Manufacturing: “United States Kansas Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Kansas City Fed’s Manufacturing Production index fell to -13 in December of 2022 from -10 in the previous month, driven by decreased activity in printing, wood products, machinery manufacturing, and food manufacturing. The monthly employment index fell from 3 to 0, its lowest level since 2020 but still indicative of flat employment for the month.”

Consumer Spending: “United States Real Consumer Spending QoQ” [Trading Economics]. “Consumer spending in the US expanded an annualized 2.3% on quarter in Q3 2022, the strongest gain in three quarters and higher than 1.7% in the second estimate.”

* * *

Tech: “U.S. FCC proposes record $300 mln fine for ‘auto warranty’ robocalls” [Reuters]. “The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday proposed a $300 million fine against an auto warranty robocall campaign, the largest-ever penalty proposed by the agency over unwanted calls. The FCC said that in the scheme run by two California men, Roy Cox, Jr. and Michael Aaron Jones via their Sumco Panama company and other entities, more than 5 billion apparently illegal robocalls were made to more than half a billion phone numbers during a three-month span in 2021 ‘using pre-recorded voice calls to press consumers to speak to a ‘warranty specialist’ about extending or reinstating their car’s warranty.’”

Tech: “Amazon strikes deal with EU to close anti-trust probes” [ENCA]. ” Online retail giant Amazon has reached an agreement with the European Commission to close two inquiries into anti-competitive tactics, notably using third-party seller data to improve its own sales. EU vice-president Margrethe Vestager announced Amazon’s commitments and hailed them as a victory for smaller retailers selling products on Amazon’s online marketplace. Amazon, and its software, will be forbidden from analysing non-public third-party seller data, and will treat all sellers equally when deciding which offer to put in the best screen location. Sellers will also be allowed to choose their own delivery firm, rather than being obliged to use the service chosen by Amazon’s ‘Prime’ premium service. ‘And this means that by next summer. Amazon will have to end any preferential treatment towards its own retail and logistics operations in Europe,’ Vestager told reporters.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 33 Fear (previous close: 38 Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 44 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 22 at 2:01 PM EST.

Xmas Pregame Festivities

“Why do Christmas lights always get tangled?” [LiveScience]. This is extremely neat: ” It seems that no matter how neatly these twinkling strands are packed away each winter, they somehow end up in a ball of torment the following holiday season. So what causes this mangled mess? In 2007, researchers published a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) explaining what causes this headache-inducing phenomenon. For the experiment, they put varying lengths of string inside a box and mechanically shook it so that the strings would get tossed around like a load of laundry in the dryer. They repeated the process more than 3,400 times and noticed that knots began forming within seconds of the box being rotated. Throughout the experiment, more than 120 types of knots formed. ‘It didn’t take very long for the knots to form — maybe about 10 seconds. We were surprised by that,’ study co-author Douglas Smith, a professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), told Live Science. ‘We immediately started seeing these complicated knots begin to form. It was all very rapid.’ The researchers also learned that the length of the string affected the likelihood of knots forming. Not surprisingly, as the length of the string increased (the longest length used in the study was 15 feet, or 4.6 meters), the probability of a knot appearing also rose, eventually becoming 100% guaranteed. The material the string was made of also had an effect, with more flexible strings experiencing more gnarls compared with rigid strings, according to the study. But perhaps the most important factor leading to the knots was whether the ends of the strings were loose, allowing them to move freely to form tangles. ‘The ends are really what get a knot to form,’ Dorian Raymer, the study’s lead author and a former UCSD student who now works as a consulting systems engineer, told Live Science.” • This is extremely neat. I wonder what other phenomena can be modeled after tangled Christmas lights?


“It’s not just winter weather — some holiday travelers also face sliding service quality” [NBC]. “While travel demand is roaring back, many hotels, airlines, cruise operators and airports are still racing* to hire and train workers. Some companies are tightening access to perks and amenities, in a few cases by raising prices. That means the level of customer service will likely take a hit, industry experts say. NOTE * A fine example of my theory that when the words “race” or “racing” are used, the cause of the racing will always be endogenous to the framing of the article; either not mentioned, or mentioned tangentially.

“The Asian nation where 35% of people say they’ll ‘never travel’ again” [CNBC]. Sensible Japanese. “A survey of 16,000 adults in 15 countries by the global intelligence company Morning Consult found that Asia is home to the highest percentage of people who said they’ll ‘never travel’ again. Some 15% of South Korean and 14% of Chinese respondents indicated they would never travel again, according to Morning Consult’s ‘The State of Travel & Hospitality’ report published in August. North America isn’t far behind, with 14% of American and 11% of Mexican respondents indicating the same. Yet, no country came close to the travel reluctance shown in Japan, where some 35% of respondents said they don’t intend to travel again. ” • For American carriers, even 14% is a lot (although doubtless some of that population is comprised of introverted homebodies who wouldn’t travel a lot anyhow).

“Rare Historical Photos Show The Inside Of The Hindenburg Zeppelin” [Aviation Humor]. • The Hindenberg actually looks pretty neat. I wouldn’t mind a four-day trip in the air across the Atlantic, as long as they had WiFi. I don’t think 70 passengers would be enough, though.

Under the Influence

“Tiktok Is Divided on Buccal Fat Removal” [MIC] The deck: “Are you a round-face girlie or a chiseled-cheek stan?” More: “[B]uccal fat removal refers to a plastic surgery procedure that eliminates ‘a naturally-occurring pad of fat in the cheek hollow area,’ according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Those who undergo the procedure often aim to achieve a “slimming” effect in their midfaces, and to make their cheekbones and jawlines appear more prominent. From a historical standpoint, full, cherub-like cheeks have often been considered as a sign of youth and beauty — just look at this spread of French Regency paintings. But as stars like Bella Hadid and Lea Michele (neither of whom has said they’ve ever had the procedure, per Harper’s Bazaar) sweep the red carpets and dominate Instagram feeds with chiseled cheekbones, it seems increasingly more people are looking to cosmetic procedures to replicate the look. The #BuccalFatRemoval hashtag on TikTok currently has more than 140 million views; the videos include people analyzing celebrity before-and-after photos, sharing their own buccal fat removal journeys*, and pushing back on the trend. While buccal fat removal is a newly trending topic, the procedure has actually long been one of Hollywood’s worst-kept “secrets,” New York-based plastic surgeon Lara Devgan, MD, told The New York Times… With a 92% rating on RealSelf, a healthcare marketplace where patients can research procedures and connect with plastic surgeons, buccal fat removal seems to have a pretty high satisfaction rate among patients who have undergone the procedure.” • Awesome. A social media-fueled market for body modification emerges, so that’s what physicians do, instead of, well, practicing medicine. Tell me it’s not a great country! NOTE * I loathe that use of the word “journey.” When and where is the index patient?

Groves of Academe

“The War on Merit Takes a Bizarre Turn” [City Journal]. Ugh:

For years, two administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) have been withholding notifications of National Merit awards from the school’s families, most of them Asian, thus denying students the right to use those awards to boost their college-admission prospects and earn scholarships. This episode has emerged amid the school district’s new strategy of ‘equal outcomes for every student, without exception.’ School administrators, for instance, have implemented an ‘equitable grading‘ policy that eliminates zeros, gives students a grade of 50 percent just for showing up, and assigns a cryptic code of “NTI” for assignments not turned in. It’s a race to the bottom.

An intrepid Thomas Jefferson parent, Shawna Yashar, a lawyer, uncovered the withholding of National Merit awards. Since starting as a freshman at the school in September 2019, her son, who is part Arab American, studied statistical analysis, literature reviews, and college-level science late into the night. This workload was necessary to keep him up to speed with the advanced studies at TJ, which U.S. News & World Report ranks as America’s top school.

Last fall, along with about 1.5 million U.S. high school juniors, the Yashar teen took the PSAT, which determines whether a student qualifies as a prestigious National Merit scholar. When it came time to submit his college applications this fall, he didn’t have a National Merit honor to report—but it wasn’t because he hadn’t earned the award. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a nonprofit based in Evanston, Illinois, had recognized him as a Commended Student in the top 3 percent nationwide—one of about 50,000 students earning that distinction. Principals usually celebrate National Merit scholars with special breakfasts, award ceremonies, YouTube videos, press releases, and social media announcements.

But not at TJ. School officials had decided to withhold announcement of the award. Indeed, it turns out that the principal, Ann Bonitatibus, and the director of student services, Brandon Kosatka, have been withholding this information from families and the public for years, affecting the lives of at least 1,200 students over the principal’s tenure of five years.

In Fairfax County, Virginia. Naturally.

Class Warfare

“Why Petulant Oligarchs Rule Our World” [Paul Krugman, New York Times]. • Reading this, it seems Krugman believes the petulance is the issue, not oligarchs.

“Entering Class Profile” [Berkeley Law]. “Berkeley Law students are astoundingly accomplished and come from a wide range of backgrounds, interests, life experiences, and perspectives.” Handy chart:

• Notice anything missing? I do. And it’s not missing by accident. It’s missing because of ideology.

News of the Wired

“You’re Not a Fearmonger. You Have Sentinel Intelligence.” [OK Doomer]. “Sentinel intelligence refers to a special cognitive capacity that allows someone to detect threats before anyone else. Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy talk about this trait in their book, Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. They review a number of natural and economic disasters throughout history. As they write, ‘in each instance a Cassandra was pounding the table and warning us precisely about the disasters that came as promised.’ Not only were they ignored, but ‘the people with the power to respond often put more effort into discounting the Cassandra than saving lives and resources.’ It just keeps happening. Maybe you can relate. If you have sentinel intelligence, then your brain can aggregate and sift through extraordinary amounts of information in a very short period of time, especially when it comes to seeing latent or hidden dangers. You don’t get stymied by what Clarke and Eddy call the ‘magnitude of overload.’ In a lot of ways, it’s a superpower.” • But not all ways.

“Is Your Phone Actually Draining Your Brain?” [Scientific American]. “Past studies on brain drain looked primarily at five cognitive functions: working memory, sustained attention, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and fluid intelligence. [Doug] Parry lumped together data for each of these functions individually and then did a sixth analysis where he looked at all the results together. In the end, he looked at 56 effect sizes on how phones affect our minds from 27 studies in 25 publications. So looking at the five separate analyses–of the five, the only statistically significant result was for working memory. Whereas for the other four cognitive functions, no statistically significant effects of the presence of a smartphone were found across the various effects included in those analyses. And that is somewhat consistent with Ward and colleagues. So they found a negative effect for working memory, but they didn’t find a negative effect for sustained attention. Though it is similar to what Ward found, Parry’s analysis also revealed the impact on working memory was much smaller than initial studies indicated.” • Sorry, what?

* * *

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 Angie Neer:

This “skyscraper” is very well seen!

* * *

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!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Rayna Prime

Rayna Prime

Rayna Prime Editor