2:00PM Water Cooler 12/2/2022

2:00PM Water Cooler 12/2/2022 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Bird Song of the Day

Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Bolívar, Venezuela.

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“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

Biden’s happy dance:

Of course, Biden doesn’t have to sign the bill. He could still jawbone the railroads. As if he would!

“Railroad Engineer on the Imposed Contract: “It Really Fell Short of Railroad Workers’ Needs” (interview) [Jacobin]. Jonah Furman interviews Russ Grooters: “I’d point to Sara Nelson and the Association of Flight Attendants, which has found ways to work within the RLA to put pressure on their employers to bargain. Instead of declaring a nationwide strike, the flight attendants have figured out that they even under the RLA they can have rolling strikes that are unpredictable. So say today they strike in Atlanta, Georgia, and shut down that airport, and it causes disruptions across the system: flights are cancelled, et cetera. It’s a short window, it might be a day, it might be eight hours. They do this over a series of dates, and it puts pressure on the airlines to negotiate. Something like that could be tried with the railroads. Whether it would have the same effect remains to be seen. The railroads might react very differently from the airline industry. But it’s definitely something that could be attempted. I’d point to Sara Nelson and the Association of Flight Attendants, which has found ways to put pressure on their employers to bargain. This is the root of where we’re at today. A lot of this takes organizing membership. It takes having conversations and getting membership activated to be involved in the process. That’s step one. It wasn’t even until this year that these contract negotiations were on railroad workers’ radar, really. The last two years without a contract, things had been quiet. And that’s because there’s a disconnect between leadership and membership. Leveraging the power of the rank and file to do things like informational pickets, getting stories out there — all that work that could put pressure on the bosses wasn’t done. For whatever reason, rail labor has removed that from the process.” • Commentary:



Of course, we’re assuming that “union leadership” and “Democratic operatives” are not synonomous.

“On the Wrong Track: Why Biden Abandoned Rail Workers” [The Nation]. “‘The thing that people need to understand is: Rail bosses have been banking on this result the whole time,’ says Maximillian Alvarez, editor in chief of The Real News Network, host of the Working People podcast, and author of The Work of Living. ‘It is because they always expected that any president and any Congress—Democrat or Republican—would bail them out in the end and force a contract down workers’ throats rather than risk a rail shutdown that the carriers have seen no reason to bargain in good faith for the past three years or seriously consider addressing any of the dire quality of life and workplace-safety issues workers have been screaming about.’”

“Senators Help Donors Derail Paid Sick Days” [Lever News]. “In August, a federal report prepared by the Biden administration stated that the railroads contend that their enormous profits do not reflect “any contributions by labor.” The railroads, meanwhile, have waged a full-court press to have Congress implement an agreement negotiated by the Biden administration that only includes one day of paid sick leave, after refusing to agree to any paid sick days in three years of talks with unions. Buffett’s BNSF, a wholly-owned subsidiary of his nearly $700 billion conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, raked in $1.4 billion in the last quarter… Another major rail operation, the Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern, reported $958 million in profits in the quarter ending September 30…. Union Pacific, based in Omaha, Nebraska, brought in $1.9 billion in profits in the quarter, up $200 million from the same period a year ago…. Jacksonville, Florida-headquartered CSX generated $1.1 billion in profits in the quarter ending on September 30, up $143 million from the same period the year before…. Canadian Pacific brought in $664 million in profits in the quarter — double the haul from the same period last year…. Finally, Montreal-based Canadian National brought in more than $1 billion in profits in the quarter, a 44 percent increase over the same period last year…. Railroad workers will return to the bargaining table again in 2025. Railway union sources told The Intercept Thursday that their next step would be to push for sick leave in an anticipated Biden executive order mandating a week of paid sick days for federal contract workers.” • Commentary:


“AP sources: Biden tells Dems he wants SC as 1st primary vote” [Associated Press]. “President Joe Biden has declared that Democrats should give up ‘restrictive’ caucuses and prioritize diversity at the start of their presidential primary calendar — dealing a major blow to Iowa’s decadeslong status as the state that leads off the process. In a letter Thursday to the rule-making arm of the Democratic National Committee, Biden did not mention specific states he’d like to see go first. But he has told Democrats he wants South Carolina moved to the first position, according to three people familiar with his recommendation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. The president’s direction came as the DNC rules committee gathered in Washington on Friday to vote on shaking up the presidential primary calendar starting in 2024. Members now expect to approve new rules putting South Carolina first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on the same day a week later. Georgia and Michigan would move into the top five as new early states, and each would hold primaries in subsequent weeks, committee members say. The two battlegrounds were critical to Biden’s 2020 victory over then-President Donald Trump, who had won both states in his 2016 White House campaign.” • So, a payoff for Clyburn, and a veto for the corrupt and reactionary Black Misleadership Class. And sadly, Iowa Democrats get nothing for having screwed over Sanders in 2020. Nobody likes a betrayer, I suppose.

Republican Funhouse

“Trump and the Fight Republicans Need to Have” [Peggy Noonan]. “In the coming 18 months of the big argument, Trump supporters can fairly be asked to consider a thought experiment. What if it had been Barack Obama in 2012 who refused to accept a democratic outcome to a presidential election? What if we later found out he probably knew he’d lost but didn’t want to accept it so he incited the Obamaites with accusations and false claims and made speeches insisting the election was stolen? What if he’d made a big outdoor speech and sent his forces, including some antifa chapters, to storm the Capitol in an attempt to thwart the Constitution and stop the counting of electoral votes? What if he refused to stop them once he saw on TV what they were doing? What if Democrats had done that? Republicans would feel righteous rage. They would never forgive Mr. Obama, who’d have shown the worst of himself and his movement. He and his actions would make you feel democracy itself was in the balance, and you would pledge to never let him enter the White House as president again. You’d feel as Liz Cheney does now: This must end.”

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!). 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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Lambert here: I can’t call a winter surge, but I’m certainly not uncalling it either, after what we see post-Thanksgiving. High transmission (CDC), the elevation and continued increase in positivity (Walgreens), and the steady takeover of BQ.1* (CDC; Walgreens), along with increased hospitalization in BQ.1* hotbed New York, plus a wastewater surge in Boston are all more than a little unsettling (as is the apparent proliferation of variants). As one might expect at the beginning of a holiday surge, wastewater in Queens County, NY (JFK/LGA), Cook County, IL (ORD), and Los Angeles County (LAX) continues to be elevated. If you are planning to travel on Xmas, do consider your plans carefully. Stay safe out there!

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• Michael Hudson sends this:

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That’s a lot. I would imagine in two or three weeks, New York City will look at their community levels start to think about indoor masking. Adding, New York and Los Angeles look like they’re in trouble. Do we have any Chicago readers who can weigh in?

“COVID-19 Forecasts: Hospitalizations” [CDC]. “This week’s national ensemble predicts that the number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions will likely increase, with 1,600 to 11,000 new confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions likely reported on December 23, 2022.” Note the qualification: “Ensemble forecasts combine diverse independent team forecasts into one forecast. While they have been among the most reliable forecasts in performance over time, even the ensemble forecasts have not reliably predicted rapid changes in the trends of reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. They should not be relied upon for making decisions about the possibility or timing of rapid changes in trends.” • Handy chart:

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The CDC forecasting page is a sad mess of data they still track — hospitalizations, above, and deaths — but not cases. (The implication, as usual with CDC, is that transmission is not important, nor are vascular and neurological damage from even mild cases, nor Long Covid.)

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• “How the Black Death changed our immune systems” [Science]. “[B]y analyzing DNA from those old bones and others from London and Denmark, Klunk and her colleagues have found an answer: The survivors were much more likely to carry gene variants that boosted their immune response to Yersinia pestis, the flea-borne bacterium that causes the plague. One variant alone appears to have increased the chance of surviving the plague by 40%, they reported today in Nature. ‘We were blown away. … It’s not a small effect,’ says Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster and co–lead author of the study (and Klunk’s Ph.D. adviser). The findings also indicate the Black Death caused a dramatic jump in the proportion of people carrying the protective variant; it is the strongest surge of natural selection on the human genome documented so far. But the improved immunity came at a cost: Today, the variant is also associated with higher risk of autoimmune diseases. ‘This is a truly impressive paper,’ says population geneticist David Enard at the University of Arizona, who is not part of the study. ‘The implications of the potential speed and power of natural selection in immune genes are wild.’”

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• “Covid evolution wipes out another antibody treatment, threatening the country’s medicine cabinet” [STAT]. “The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday ended its emergency authorization for the only remaining Covid-19 antibody therapy cleared for use, saying variants that render it ineffective are now dominant in the United States. The news about bebtelovimab makes official what has been anticipated for several weeks, as the Omicron sublineages BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have been growing in prevalence. Still, it comes as a blow to both providers and patients who are at risk for more severe outcomes. The rapid evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus had already knocked out several other monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of Covid.” • I guess transmission matters after all?

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• Maskstravaganza: “Universal Masking Policies in Schools and Mitigating the Inequitable Costs of Covid-19” (editorial) [NEJM]. “Universal masking and individual masking are distinct interventions. Universal masking lowers the amount of virus exhaled into shared air, reducing the total number of cases of Covid-19 and making indoor spaces safer for populations that are vulnerable to its complications. Individual masking lowers the amount of virus that a masked person inhales from shared air, but only in environments with a relatively high amount of circulating virus and when others are unmasked. Furthermore, individual masking has little effect on population-level transmission. Public schools are an important context in which to understand the ramifications of moving from universal to individual masking. Although quasi-experimental studies indicated that universal masking was associated with reduced Covid-19 transmission before the availability of vaccines,6,7 we previously had little causal-inference evidence regarding the effect of universal masking in schools or as part of a layered risk-mitigation strategy with vaccination, testing, and ventilation. A study by Cowger and colleagues, the results of which are now reported in the Journal, provides new evidence that the removal of universal school masking policies in Massachusetts was associated with an increased incidence of Covid-19.”

• Maskstravaganza: “The science behind masks and their use” [Bill Comeau, Chasing Normal]. A link-heavy summary with lots of diagrams and videos. “Why do N95 masks work when viral particles are so small? One of the biggest hurdles in public acceptance is getting past disinformation and myths that quality masks do not work, eg viral particles are too small. In fact, the viral particles do not travel solo, they hitchhike on mucosal or other larger airborne particles. N95 mask filters include multilayered technology that both attracts particles while also exploiting the physics of their brownian motion.”

• Maskstravaganza:

The masque goes on….

• Maskstravaganza: Musical interlude:

• Maskstravaganza: More on bullying:

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“Let’s schedule a time….” I love it!

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• “COVID-19 disruptions in HIV testing and prevention highlight need for innovation and investment before the next public health emergency” (press release) [CDC]. For World AIDS Day (yesterday). “HIV testing and prescriptions for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) dropped substantially during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. HIV tests declined about 32% between the first and second quarters of the year, and PrEP prescriptions fell about 6%. Testing and PrEP prescriptions started to rebound in the second half of 2020, but they did not reach pre-pandemic levels until early 2021. …


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.)

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Lambert here: The powers-that-be don’t even see transmission as a problem, obviously. But you might!


From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published December 1:

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4.1%. Yesterday was 4.3% (3.8%). A slight slackening. Could be a Thanksgiving travel artifact, of course, in which case it should slow in the next week. But if not….


Wastewater data (CDC), November 28:

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JFK/LGA, Queens County is red; ORD, Cook County is orange; LAX, Los Angeles County is orange. Stay safe when travelling.

November 27:

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And MWRA data, November 28:

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Lambert here: Nothing special, but note the date. I hesitate to say “going vertical.” Let’s see what happens after the coming weekend when all the college kids go clubbing.


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), November 13:

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Lambert here: BQ.1* moving along quite briskly, though lower than CDC. XBB coming up on the charts.

UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), November 12 (Nowcast off):

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BQ.1* moving along quite briskly. Note the appearance of XBB, and see the highlighted note: Like BQ.1*, XBB appears suddenly when CDC decides to disaggregate the data. Exactly as with CDC’s infamous “green map,” a lag is introduced, this time by CDC’s decision-making process; Walgreens had XBB last week, but CDC has it only this week. I don’t see what purpose the aggregation serves. If the issue is a jillion low-circulation variants would make the table impossibly long and confusing for users, that’s a UI/UX issue; handle it with software. Have a slider/filter that aggregates variants under 1%, say. Allow scrolling the results. Whatever. But stop concealing data!

New York/New Jersey (Region 2) numbers are higher. BQ.1.* is dominating:

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

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Lambert here: Looks like acceleration. That’s worrisome. Unlike positivity, this data is not smoothed, so we really can’t be sure if there’s a train rolling or not. Nevertheless, we now have not only an increase, but an increase in the rate of increase.


Death rate (Our World in Data):

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Total: 1,106,378 – 1,105,546 = 832 (832 * 365 = 303,680 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 Unemployment Rate” [Trading Economics]. “The unemployment rate in the US was unchanged at 3.7 percent in November 2022, matching market expectations and remaining close to September’s 29-month low of 3.5 percent. The jobless rate has been in a narrow range of 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent since March, suggesting that the tight labor market will likely continue to contribute to inflationary pressure in the world’s largest economy for some time to come.”

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The Bezzle: “‘The more you submit, the more we get paid’: How fintech fueled covid aid fraud” [WaPo]. “‘The faster the better,’ the workers were told at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, as the little-known financial technology company Blueacorn raced to review small businesses that sought federal loans. Speeding through applications, Blueacorn employees and contractors allegedly began to overlook possible signs of fraud, according to interviews and communications later amassed by investigators on Capitol Hill. The company weighed whether to prioritize ‘monster loans that will get everyone paid,’ as the firm’s co-founder once said. And investigators found that Blueacorn collected about $1 billion in processing fees — while its operators may have secured fraudulent loans of their own. The allegations against Blueacorn and several other firms are laid out in a sprawling, roughly 120-page report released Thursday by the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, a congressional watchdog tasked to oversee roughly $5 trillion in federal pandemic aid.” • Fee-fees. Always about the fee-fees. So far as I know, the House Select Committee* hasn’t called, say, Fauci or Walensky. Am I missing something here? NOTE * OMG, guess who the chair is? Clyburn.

Capital: “Cash-Hungry Companies Get Creative Raising Capital” [Wall Street Journal]. “The end of the era of easy money is forcing companies that need cash to get creative. Dozens of companies have recently raised money through so-called structured private funding rounds, and bankers and lawyers say there are many more in the works. A number of companies with depressed stocks and limited access to traditional financing are doing so, often adding sweeteners like extra dividends or preferred-note status to lessen the risk and make the deals more attractive for investors. … Creative deal-making among private companies has helped push U.S. venture-capital investment activity to $195 billion this year through Sept. 30, higher than all other prior full years except 2021, according to PitchBook Data Inc. Some deals involving private companies aren’t publicized and likely won’t be revealed until they file regulatory paperwork to go public.”

Capital: “Why Silicon Valley is so hot on nuclear energy and what it means for the industry” [CNBC]. That they were was certainly never part of the narrative. “From 2015 to 2021, the pace at which venture capitalists put money into private nuclear companies eclipsed the entire VC space and even the fast-growing climate tech space…. In any industry, there can be a ‘groupthink’ or ‘narrowness’ in the way things are done over time, [John Parsons, an economist and lecturer at MIT] said. With private investment in the space, ‘there will be out-of-the-box thinking,’ he said. ‘Maybe that out-of-the-box thinking doesn’t produce anything useful. Maybe it turns out that the old designs are the best. But I think it’s really wonderful to have the variety of takes.’” • Or out-of-the-containment-structure, eh Jack? Heh heh heh kidding.

The Bezzle: “Senators eye funding breakthrough for wildlife bill” [E&E News]. “For months, the bipartisan “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” — H.R. 2773 and S. 2372 — has been stalled over how it would be paid for. But people close to negotiations told E&E News on Wednesday that they were considering closing a tax loophole on cryptocurrency as the funding mechanism. Specifically, the pay-for would involve clarifying cryptocurrency assets, according to three people familiar with negotiations who were given anonymity to speak candidly about sensitive conversations. That change would make it clear that the wash sale rules apply to cryptocurrency assets, as they do to securities today.” • So awesome. The same week as SBF mounts his “stupid and confused” defense, the Senate sets out to legitimize crypto.

The Bezzle:

The Bezzle:

Tech: “Zuckerberg slams Apple’s ‘problematic’ app store dominance” [The Hill]. “Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg slammed Apple over its dominance over the app store market Wednesday, ramping up his criticism of the tech giant on the heels of similar comments made by new Twitter CEO Elon Musk. Zuckerberg called Apple’s control in the app store market ‘problematic’ at The New York Times’ DealBook Summit. ‘It is the only one where one company can control what apps get on the device. I don’t think it’s sustainable or good,’ Zuckerberg said. … Congress is also considering a proposal that aims to rein in the power of Apple and Google’s app store dominance. The Open App Markets Act would add regulations, including restricting companies from requiring users of their devices to only use their app marketplace and blocking them from collecting commission fees up to 30 percent.” • 3% would seem more than reasonable.

Pharma: “Federal claims court rules in favor of Gilead in CDC Truvada patent case” [EndPoints News]. “The US Court of Federal Claims ruled on Nov. 21 that the government breached certain agreements with Gilead by failing to promptly notify the company of its patent applications for Truvada for PrEP, according to documents unsealed on Wednesday…. The email notification in 2016 came a year after the first patent was granted.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 63 Greed (previous close: 69 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 63 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Dec 2 at 2:01 PM EST.

Department of Feline Felicity

Well, they tried:

The Gallery


One where I’d really, really like to see the actual paint. (I mean, I always do, but this one especially because I wonder how Whistler handled the sky.)

Zeitgeist Watch

“New York City Wants to Pay a ‘Rat Czar’ $170,000 to Solve Its Rodent Problem” [Wall Street Journal]. • Make up your own jokes!

Class Warfare

Remember “essential workers”?

“Why some tech CEOs are rooting for Elon Musk” [The Verge]. “[Facebook crypto guy David Marcus] has plenty of company in being annoyed at the entitlement of some tech employees; countless rank-and-file tech workers have told us stories about one outrageous request or another that one of of their peers made at an all-company meeting. Some executives are positively giddy as they imagine a world in which all of these issues can be dismissed out of hand. But it’s worth pausing on why workers have felt free to ask questions like this over the past decade. At the former Facebook, where Marcus worked and this incident took place, the company was generating an estimated $1.6 million in revenue per employee last year. Talented engineers had their pick of companies to work for. That gave them power — to demand better toilet paper, yes, but also to protest payouts to executives accused of sexual misconduct, or compliance with China’s censorship regime, or funding transphobic comedy. Watching Musk remake Twitter in his image, some executives are positively giddy as they imagine a world in which all of these issues can be dismissed out of hand — and the employees responsible can be dismissed along with them.”

News of the Wired

“The ‘enigma’ of Richard Schultes, Amazonian hallucinogenic plants, and the limits of ethnobotany” [Social Studies of Science]. “Ethnobotanists must learn about plants through people, and are not able to conceal their interactions with indigenous informants and other ethnobotanists. I focus on an ‘enigma’ that Schultes presented, concerning the peculiar ability of indigenous Amazonians to distinguish between local varieties of vine that he was unable to tell apart, notably those used to prepare the hallucinogenic beverage ayahuasca. The enigma describes a complicated and irresolvable question thrown up at the uneasy intersection between different ways of knowing about the world, and shows how modern scientific travellers might navigate – or fail to navigate – the uncertain passage between them. Together with Schultes’s accounts of his own non-ordinary states of consciousness elicited by ayahuasca, and his writings on the Victorian botanist Richard Spruce, I chart an epistemological gulf between Schultes’s modern scientific cosmology and that of his Amazonian informants. In describing his inability to learn about the ayahuasca varieties from Amazonians, Schultes’s enigma traces the very limits of the ethnobotanical discipline and reveals the fragility of the processes by which scientific naturalists might impose categories such as ‘nature’ and ‘culture’.”

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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 TD:

TD writes: “Early Fall the plants are still blooming.” Masses of color! Totally to my taste.

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