2:00PM Water Cooler 1/7/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 1/7/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Racy stuff!

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Politics

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

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter Thompson

Capitol Seizure

“The Histrionics and Melodrama Around 1/6 Are Laughable, but They Serve Several Key Purposes” [Glenn Greenwald]. A fun read. One nugget: “The Huffington Post’s senior politics reporter Igor Bobic unironically expressed gratitude for ‘the four legged emotional support professionals roaming the Capitol this week, helping officers, staffers, and reporters alike’ — meaning therapy dogs.” • Oh come on [throws tablet across the room in exasperated disgust].

“The Jan. 6 Insurrectionists Aren’t Who You Think They Are” [Foreign Policy]. “Our new analysis at the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats of the demographics of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and multiple nationally representative surveys paint a new, startling reality: The insurrectionist movement is mainstream, not simply confined to the political fringe. Consider the economic profile of the 716 people arrested or charged, as of Jan. 1, 2022, for storming the Capitol. Of the 501 for which we have employment data, more than half are business owners, including CEOs, or from white-collar occupations, including doctors, lawyers, architects, and accountants. Only 7 percent were unemployed at the time, almost the national average, compared with the usual 25 percent or more of violent right-wing perpetrators arrested by the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement from 2015 to mid-2020.” • I came pretty close on January 18, 2021, when I tabulated the data then available: “The conclusion we can draw from Table 3… Well, I gotta say, the top three occupations being ‘owner,’ ‘cop,’ and ‘real estate broker’ screams ‘petite bourgeoisie‘ to me. Granted, the owners are mostly owners of small firms, like florists or fishing charter operators, but firms they are. (The cops are not the Capitol hill cops, but cops who came from elsewhere.) It’s also extremely suggestive that there are no credentialed members of the PMC present at all; only one lawyer, no accountants, no psychiatrists; the closest we come is an occupational therapist. There are also no labor aristocrats, save one union VP. The working class rioters are flexible in their arrangements; no Amazon workers, but a contractor, a programmer, an arborist/chimney sweeper, etc. This flexibility shades over into the lumpenproletariat: ‘Supplier’ is my polite coinage for dealer.” • Petite bourgeoisie, yes, but from the Foreign Policy article, it looks like I was wrong on “credentialed members of the PMC” not being present; I would speculate they are just harder to arrest and possibly lawyered up, and so hadn’t shown up in the records yet. I will have to dig deeper into the University of Chicago data.

“The Capitol riot’s roots in the New Left” [The Week]. “The respectable backgrounds of many of the rioters didn’t look much like the ‘peasant army’ that populist commentator Patrick Buchanan threatened to lead against the political establishment in the 1990s. Nor were their anarchic tactics reminiscent of the highly organized ‘suburban warriors‘ who flocked to Reagan. More than the public faces of the postwar American right, the theatrical flair, indifference to law and constituted authority, and threat of serious violence on display last Jan. 6 resemble the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. The defiant, moralistic, revolutionary spirit that animated the Yippies, Weathermen, and Black Panthers hasn’t disappeared — but it now lives on the right, too.” • If so, the powers-that-be have nothing whatever to worry about.

“Jan. 6’s Wounds in Congress Run Deep, Trump Keeps Them Fresh” [Bloomberg]. “Cheney and her father, who served in three Republican presidential administrations, were greeted warmly by some Democrats in the chamber despite sharp disagreements over policy in the past. The former vice president, who once represented Wyoming in the House as his daughter does now, criticized current Republican leaders for not being present. ‘It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,’ he said.” • Any “wound” that causes you to fraternize with a ghoul like Dick Cheney… Well, that’s some wound.

“How 1/6 changed Congress” [Politico]. “‘A CLOUD OF SADNESS’ — In the year since the Jan. 6 insurrection, the far-right ecosystem has seen a massive expansion. More than 150 people have pleaded guilty to storming the Capitol. Scores of protesters from that day are now running for office. Congressional staffers worry about their personal safety. The Cheney family has become a hero to Democrats. [Politico] spoke with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA officer, during the Capitol riot last year….” • The last person I want to hear from is a CIA Democrat. But the rest of the lead is acute; the knock-on effects of the event are more important than the event itself. An insurrectionist running for office. The idea!

“The insurrection is only the tip of the iceberg” [Sidney Blumenthal, Guardian]. The deck: “Behind the insurrection of 6 January was a coup plot that was months in the making, and which involved a dastardly cast of characters.” This is, at least, a coherent narrative. But I think it gets the character putatively at the center — Trump — all wrong. One personal characteristic I think everyone would agree Trump has: He’s expert at sniffing out weakness. Yet at every point in the “plot” Blumenthal outlines, Trump would have had to depend on people over whom he had no leverage; people whose weaknesses he had not sniffed out. In particular, Mike Pence: As we know, Pence never dines with a woman not his wife. Not so cray cray now, given what we know of elites! But the most obvious of elite weaknesses — Hi, Andy Cuomo [waves] — was not present for Pence, because Pence took good care that it not be present. If indictments for any of all this are brought down, I’ll be very happy to study then, but until then…. Yarn diagrams.

Biden Administration

“Biden vaccine policies face Supreme Court test amid nationwide COVID-19 surge” [SCOTUSblog]. “With over 100,000 Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 as a result of the highly contagious Omicron variant, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument Friday in two sets of challenges to the Biden administration’s authority to take action to combat the pandemic. In the first case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, the justices will consider the Biden administration’s attempt to impose a vaccine-or-test mandate for workers at large employers. In the second case, Biden v. Missouri, they will consider a vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities that receive federal funding.” • Being live-blogged by Jonathon Turley:

“Infection control,” but whatever.

2022

“Oregon elections officials say Nick Kristof does not qualify to run for governor” [Oregon Public Broadcasting]. That’s a damn shame. “In an announcement Thursday, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced that her office was rejecting Kristof’s bid to run for office, because he does not meet the state’s three-year residency requirement. That decision is likely just the start of a legal fight that will be decided by the courts…. Among her reasons for deciding Kristof did not meet residency requirements, Scroggin cited his decision to vote as a New York resident in 2020 and his possession of a New York driver’s license in 2020. Both factors, she wrote, indicated Kristof ‘viewed New York as the place where you intended to permanently return when you were away.’… [T]here’s no clear legal precedent for what being a resident of Oregon actually means in that context. Kristof, by way of his lawyers, has said what matters most is intent. In their formal response to the state’s questions, his attorneys documented his upbringing in Oregon, his history of spending summers at his family’s Yamhill farm and his recent efforts to rejuvenate that farm. Kristof has said he moved to Oregon full-time in 2019, though he voted in New York state in November 2020. And, he says, even when he split time between Oregon and New York, he considered himself an Oregonian.”

Democrats en Deshabille

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!). It follows that the Democrat Party is as “unreformable” as the PMC is unreformable; if the Democrat Party did not exist, the PMC would have to invent it. If the Democrat Party fails to govern, that’s because the PMC lacks the capability to govern. (“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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“DNC staff votes by ‘overwhelming margin’ to unionize” [Politico]. “Former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) determined, as an independent neutral observer picked by staff and management, that 67 percent of DNC staff had affirmed their desire to join Local 500 of the Service Employees International Union via card count.”

Trump Legacy

“Trump social media app to launch on President’s Day: report [The Hill]. “Former President Trump’s media company, the Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), is set to launch a new social media app on President’s Day, The Guardian reported, citing the release date on an Apple App Store listing. Truth Social is TMTG’s alternative to Twitter, where Trump is permanently suspended. It will offer features similar to Twitter, including trending topics and the ability to follow other users, according to The Guardian. TMTG also plans to launch a subscription service offering entertainment, news and podcast videos on demand called TMTG+ and, as indicated by a November investor meeting, a podcast network.” • We’ll see.

Realignment and Legitimacy

The best unity poll by the best unity organization with the best unity result:

OK, Twitter couldn’t resist. Nevertheless.

“Republicans Are Moving Rapidly to Cement Minority Rule. Blame the Constitution” [Corey Robin, Politico]. “We have one party, in other words, currently out of power in the national government, trying to legislate a future in which it can lose elections but legally acquire or hold on to power. We have a second party, currently in power, doing little to stop the first…. Driving the initiatives of the Republicans and the inertia of the Democrats are two forces. The first is the right’s project, decades in the making, to legally limit the scope and reach of democracy. The second is the Constitution, which makes it difficult for the national majority to act and easy for local minorities to rule. What happened on Jan. 6 is far less significant than what happened before Jan. 6 — and what has and has not happened since then….. Equal representation of the citizenry hasn’t become the enemy of the contemporary Republican Party. It has been the enemy for more than a half-century. Ronald Reagan opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act from the beginning, explaining later that he believed it was ‘humiliating to the South.’… Democracy is not just the enemy of the Republican Party. It is also the enemy of the Constitution. Americans associate the Constitution with popular liberties such as due process and freedom of speech. They overlook its architecture of state power, which erects formidable barriers to equal representation and majority rule in all three branches of government. The Republicans are not struggling to overturn a long and storied history of democratic rules and norms. They’re walking through an open door…. If there is any solace to be gained from this sorry story, it is that it is a typical American story. We are not facing the importation or imposition of a new mode of rule. We need no labored analogies or showy theories to make sense of it. We are in the same constitutional steeplechase that generations past have had to hurdle across or hurl themselves through. Whether we are at the start, middle, or end of that course is now, as always, an open question.”

“Is a Civil War Ahead?” [David Remnick, The New Yorker]. “[Barbara F. Walter] is careful to say that a twenty-first-century American civil war would bear no resemblance to the consuming and symmetrical conflict that was played out on the battlefields of the eighteen-sixties. Instead she foresees, if the worst comes about, an era of scattered yet persistent acts of violence: bombings, political assassinations, destabilizing acts of asymmetric warfare carried out by extremist groups that have coalesced via social media. These are relatively small, loosely aligned collections of self-aggrandizing warriors who sometimes call themselves ‘accelerationists.’ They have convinced themselves that the only way to hasten the toppling of an irredeemable, non-white, socialist republic is through violence and other extra-political means. Walter makes the case that, as long as the country fails to fortify its democratic institutions, it will endure threats such as the one that opens her book: the attempt, in 2020, by a militia group in Michigan known as the Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The Watchmen despised Whitmer for having instituted anti-covid measures in the state—restrictions that they saw not as attempts to protect the public health but as intolerable violations of their liberty. Trump’s publicly stated disdain for Whitmer could not have discouraged these maniacs. The F.B.I., fortunately, foiled the Wolverines, but, inevitably, if there are enough such plots—enough shots fired—some will find their target.” • Wowsers. Remnick — but then you knew this — is shameless. Buzzfeed: “[S]ome of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them. A longtime government informant from Wisconsin, for example, helped organize a series of meetings around the country where many of the alleged plotters first met one another and the earliest notions of a plan took root, some of those people say. The Wisconsin informant even paid for some hotel rooms and food as an incentive to get people to come. The Iraq War vet, for his part, became so deeply enmeshed in a Michigan militant group that he rose to become its second-in-command, encouraging members to collaborate with other potential suspects and paying for their transportation to meetings. He prodded the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot to advance his plan, then baited the trap that led to the arrest.”

#COVID19

I promised I would run the CDC models and excess deaths on Friday. I will put excess deaths near the death chart, but now I’m going to allow myself a little fun. I last ran the CDC model, then “Round 9,” before the holidays. To introduce that version of “Round 9” of the model, I wrote:

One of the sources of the idea that Covid is on the way out, I would speculate, is the CDC’s modeling hub (whose projections also seem to have been used to justify school re-opening). Here is the current version of the chart from the CDC modeling hub, which aggregates the results of eight models in four scenarios… and plots current case data (black dotted line) against the aggregated model predictions (grey area), including the average of the aggregated model predictions (black line). I have helpfully highlighted [in yellow] the case data…”

Here is Round 9 today:

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And I commented, before the holidays:

Case data (black dotted line) has been within the tolerance of the models; it does not conform to the models’ average (black line), but it stays within aggregated predictions (the grey area).

I wrote: “It’s too early to say ‘Dammit, CDC, your models were broken’; but it’s not too soon to consider the possibility that they might be. The case data still looks like it’s trying to break out of the grey area. We shall see.” The case data has now broken out of the grey area. Since the models are aggregated conventional wisdom, it’s not fair to call them propaganda, exactly. Nevertheless, conventional wisdom is looking a little shaky, and anybody who relied on them to predict that we would be “back to normal” by early next year should be taking another look at their assumptions. And this is — I assume — before Omicron!

Look at the case data (highlighted in yellow) now. The conventional wisdom as embodied in these models was not merely worthless, it enabled bad policy; people who relied on it killed other people. Hilariously, CDC cancelled “Round 10,” writing “Due to the Omicron variant, Round 10 results are no longer pertinent,” and have now moved on to Round 11. At last, I can say: “Dammit, CDC, your models were broken!” I ran this stupid chart every day for weeks [lambert preens] because I knew this day would come, and now it has. Now I don’t have to run this chart any more.

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Case count by United States regions:

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A lessening of the increase. The last time we saw this, it was data, and not the approach of a peak. Note that this increase is small relative to the previous few days, but compared to the chart as a whole, it is still very large. Again, if anything, this count is an underestimate. Counts from the long New Year’s weekend look suspiciously low, and at least one state was so overwhelmed it didn’t supply data at all. (I wrote: “As happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for no other reason.” Here we very are. This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.) It would sure be nice if “rise like a rocket (and fall like a stick)” applied, but we can’t know that yet. To be fair, previous peaks — how small the early ones look now — have been roughly symmetrical on either side. But the scale of this peak, and the penetration into the population, is unprecendented.

The official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” and that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), and “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over” (Bill Maher) is completely exploded. What a surprise!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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The MWRA, too, needs a bigger chart.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) service area includes 43 municipalities in and around Boston, including not only multiple school systems but several large universities. Since Boston is so very education-heavy, then, I think it could be a good leading indicator for Covid spread in schools generally.

“Summary of Global SARS-CoV-2 Wastewater Monitoring Efforts by UC Merced Researchers” [COVIDPoops19]. Interactive map:

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Sadly, this only gives the locations of the projects. It does not aggregate the data.

From CDC: “Community Profile Report” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

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No data from in California, Arizona, Colorado, Arkansas, and Alabama. Systems are breaking down.

The previous release:

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Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

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Makes you wonder when the entire map will be orange, especially since hospitalizations lag cases (Note trend, whether up or down, is marked by the arrow, at top. Admissions are presented in the graph, at the bottom. So it’s possible to have an upward trend, but from a very low baseline.)

On “decoupling” cases from hospitalization. In the US, maybe yes, maybe no:

Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 855,843 853,612.

Excess deaths:

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Hard to believe we have no excess deaths now, but very fortunate if so. (CDC explains there are data lags).

Covid cases in top us travel destinations (Statista):

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Might was well check out where we go, in case we bring something back (as from Italy to New York in 2020). This is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away. (The data is from 2019, and so subject to subsequent events, but this is the best I can find.)

The CDC modeling hub and excess deaths charts will appear weekly, on Friday.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Non Farm Payrolls” [Trading Economics]. “The US economy added a meagre 199K jobs in the last month of 2021, well below market forecasts of 400K.” • Oof.

Employment Situation: “United States Unemployment Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The US unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent, the lowest since February 2020, pointing to a sustained recovery in the job market helped by a fast-recovering economy and strong demand for labor. The rate was still slightly above pre-crisis levels amid reports of severe labor shortages, but should decline further in the coming months as companies fill widespread vacancies.”

Consumer Credit: “United States Consumer Credit Change” [Trading Economics]. “Consumer credit in the United States increased by USD 16.897 billion in October of 2021, following a downwardly revised USD 27.8 billion gain in the previous month and below market expectations of a USD 25 billion rise.”

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Big Ag: “Can $1 billion really fix a meat industry dominated by just four companies?” [The Counter]. “The Biden-Harris Administration announced on Monday that it would dedicate $1 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to curb consolidation and boost competition in the livestock industry, which it blames for rising prices at the grocery store. The plan was well received by farm groups and some supporters of stronger antitrust laws, including organizations like the Farm Action and the Open Markets Institute. But it also received pushback from some of the very factions the move was intended to please…. [C]ritics of the plan argue that the White House largely excluded from its announcement a concrete timeline by which it would enforce the robust competition laws that already exist.”

The Bezzle: “Tech Startup Wants To Gamify Suing People Using Crypto Tokens” [Vice]. “A new tech startup plans to become ‘the stock market of litigation financing’ by allowing everyday Americans to bet on civil lawsuits through the purchase (and trade) of associated crypto tokens. In doing so, the company hopes to provide funding to individuals who would otherwise not be able to pursue claims. ‘Ryval’s goal is to make access to justice more affordable,’ said Kyle Roche, a trial lawyer and one of the startup’s founders. ‘What I want to do is make the federal court system more accessible for all.’ Roche believes the U.S. federal court system is one of the best in the world, but that navigating it is cost prohibitive for the average American. As a result, he believes, potential whistleblowers are too often hesitant to defy ‘well-resourced’ corporations and other entities due to the potential cost of legal action. Through Ryval, Roche wants to ‘make lawsuits happen that maybe might not have happened.’” • “Initial Litigation Offerings.”

Tech: “Log4j flaw hunt shows how complicated the software supply chain really is” [ZD Net]. “The challenge with the Log4j flaw (also known as Log4Shell) is not only that admins need to patch the flaw – which got a ‘critical’ rating of 10 out of 10 – but that IT folk can’t easily discover whether a product or system is affected by the vulnerability in the component. Google has calculated that approximately 17,000 Java packages in the Maven Central repository – the most significant Java package repository – were found to contain the vulnerable log4j-core library as a direct or transitive dependency. And now security firm JFrog has found more by identifying additional packages containing the Log4j vulnerability that would not be detected through dependency scanning – that is, packages containing vulnerable Log4j code within the artefact itself.”

Manufacturing: “Lithium batteries’ big unanswered question” [BBC]. “Currently, lithium (Li) ion batteries are those typically used in EVs and the megabatteries used to store energy from renewables, and Li batteries are hard to recycle….. In your average battery recycling plant, battery parts are shredded down into a powder, and then that powder is either melted (pyrometallurgy) or dissolved in acid (hydrometallurgy). But Li batteries are made up of lots of different parts that could explode if they’re not disassembled carefully. And even when Li batteries are broken down this way, the products aren’t easy to reuse…. disassembling Li batteries is currently being done predominantly by hand in lab settings, which will need to change if direct recycling is to compete with more traditional recycling methods.” • Yes, I would say so.

Mr. Market: “Ford vs Ferrari Tesla” [The Big Picture]. “Everybody knows Tesla has been on a tear, becoming of the 10 largest companies by market cap, making Elon Musk the richest man in the world. TSLA’s stock performance was stellar, adding 49.8% in 2021. It’s just a shame how badly TSLA lagged F, which had gains of 137.5% in 2021 — nearly tripling the market performance of the pioneering EV company…. Ford’s narrative is less known but also intriguing: The only US automaker that did not need a bailout in the GFC, whose quality and designs have improved enormously. The company’s Mustang Mach E was a minor EV hit, the Lightning, a new electric version of the Ford 150 pick up (America’s best selling vehicle) has presold 200,000 units. The new Bronco is also a smash success, with an EV version sure to follow…. Ford is currently trading at 1/10th of Tesla’s market cap. Can you imagine any scenarios where a decade from now, they are at (or close to) parity? Where both Ford and Tesla have market caps of say $500B? I think there is at least a 25% possibility that might come to pass.”

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 53 Neutral (previous close: 51 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 62 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 7 at 1:17pm.

Class Warfare

Wow:

News of the Wired

“Atrocious but efficient: How ranchers used barbed wire to make phone calls” [Texas Standard (KatieBird)]. “In 1897, The Electrical Review, reported that ‘on a ranch in California, telephone communication had been established between the various camps . . . by means of barbed wire fences.’ The article says the novel use of the phone was a great success and was being used in Texas as well. That same year, the New England Journal of Agriculture was impressed that two Kansas farmers, living a mile apart, had attached fine telephone instruments to the barbed wire fence that connects their places and established easy communication. From the Butte Intermountain in 1902 we see this notice: ‘Fort Benton’s latest development is a barbed wire telephone communication.’ The article points out that people of the range were not all that happy with barbed wire, which they thought was an ‘evil’ that had arrived with the railroad, but they had decided to look at the practical side of its existence and use it to create a telephone exchange that would connect all the ranches to Fort Benton.” • News you can use!

Dad.

* * *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. Today’s plant (ET):

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ET writes: “Summer picture monarch on Zinnia.” One more reason to plant zinnias. And summer is approaching more rapidly than you may think!

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