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2:00PM Water Cooler 3/19/2020


2:00PM Water Cooler 3/19/2020


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.


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

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

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

Key dates coming fast now, so I added some counters:

Some of the next primaries. (I picked the major dates; here is a complete calendar.)

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We encourage readers to play around with the polling charts; they are dynamic, and there are a lot of settings, more than I can usefully show here. Here is a link to alert reader dk’s project. You can also file bug reports or feature requests using the same contact process as for Plants, below. Thanks — but no promises!

Today no new polls, whether national or state, as of 3/19/2020, 11:00 AM EDT. So for grins, I thought I’d pick one state from the next tranche of primaries. As I keep saying state polls are irregular, have small sample sizes, and are bad. Herewith, from February 20 (!!), New York, which is all that:

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(Note small sample size.) And the numbers:

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Earlier in the year, we often had occasion to comment on the mysterious strength of the Biden Juggernaut, on display here; but it’s also true that Biden’s ups and downs have been of much greater amplitude than other candidates. As will happen shortly, when New York, after this long hiatus, is polled again, now that, after Obama’s Night of the Long Knive, Democrat loyalists have been given the word who to vote for.

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Gabbard (D)(1): “Tulsi Gabbard ends 2020 campaign and endorses Joe Biden” [CNN]. “Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday ended her presidential campaign and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. ‘I know Vice President Biden and his wife and am grateful to have called his son Beau, who also served in the National Guard, a friend,’ Gabbard said in a statement. ‘Although I may not agree with the Vice President on every issue, I know that he has a good heart and is motivated by his love for our country and the American people.’” • Oh.

UPDATE Sanders (D)(1): “Sanders Supporters Have No Plans to Relent on Biden as Nominee” [Bloomberg]. “I think Biden on that very human level is in a much better position to connect with Bernie, and I hope that they do,” [Tad Devine] said.” • I think this whole discussion is ridiculous. Sanders has power because of his small donor base (who are not “fans,” but supporters. It would be more fair to use a sports metaphor like “fan” to describe the Democrat Establishment voters who flocked to Biden’s banner only when their leaders made it clear to them who they should follow). Presumably the pundits and strategists pushing this unity line would be orgasmic were Sanders’ funding to dry up, as it would have had Sanders, for example, gone the Warren route on cripppling #MedicareForAll, since deflating Sander’s base of small donors would leave Sanders powerless. The same thing will happen if Sanders supports Biden with anything other than an explicit and large quid pro quo (which I would urge be in detailed, in writing, public, and include personnel — say, Jayapal for HHS, with the power to choose all her own subordinates — since Biden is obviously not agreement-capable, as his serial fabulism on his own record shows). Both liberals and left face a dilemma, then. Liberals want above all to destroy Sanders, and the best way to do that is to cause his fund-raising to dry up by suckering him into a obviously bad deal with Biden. However, Sanders funding will only have dried up if he is seen to have betrayed his movement, and those betrayed voters will never vote for Biden; they will stay home, or join the DSA (or the Greens). On the left, Sanders faces his own dilemma. On the one hand, he gave his word to campaign for Biden (and I don’t know if he’s devious enough to make that a poisoned chalice for Biden). On the other, he needs — even from a straight power perspective, leaving principle aside — to keep his movement whole and intact, and therefore directed actively somewhere, and (I assume) doing good in some way. Sanders has a lot to think about in the next three weeks. Meanwhile, if Trump manages to write me a check for $2,000, that will be a hell of a lot more than liberal Democrats ever did for me, and don’t @ me on ObamaCare.

Lambert here: I want to expand on the mini-essay I wrote yesterday on the Sanders campaign, on the three institutionallly unique aspects of the Sanders campaign: The list, the media operation, and canvassing. Of the Sanders canvassing operation, I wrote:

The canvassing. The canvassing operation was the key to the Sanders campaign theory of change: Draw new and/or discouraged working-class voters into the Democrat base, thereby dragging it left (and changing the composition of the base to Sanders’ advantage. Leaving aside the policy appeal, the technique was “relational organizing” (electronic appeals, mostly through an app, but also through text; laudatory article here). The canvassing operation, in campaign terms, was an unprecedented success: It took the fifth-largest economy in the world (California) from the claws of the vicious liberal Democrat oligarchy that has claimed it; in Nevada, it beat Harry Reid and the union leadership. In demographic terms, the canvassing operation destroyed the myth of the Obama coaliation, by taking both the Latin and the youth vote, overwhelmingly. It is extremely hard to see how the Democrat Establishment can bring those demographics back into the fold by running Joe Biden; and the new Democrat base is composed of fear-crazed, loyalist PMCs + converted suburban Republicans + voters controlled by the reactionary Black Misleadership class. This seems like a narrower base than Clinton’s, and certainly Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant”. (Ideologically, it’s clear that this new base are most definitely not “FDR Democrats,” and do not wish for a return to those days.) However, the canvassing operation failed, in its own terms, because it did not draw in enough new working class voters to counter the wave of reaction from the new Democrat base, which overwhelmed the Sanders campaign. (After seeing Biden falter through IA, NH, and NV, get a boost from reactionary Southern kingmaker Clyburn, and then — after Obama (presumably) organized the Night of The Long Knives, making it clear that Biden was the Establishment choice — win overwhelming victories in states where he didn’t even campaign and in some cases did not visit makes me feel like I’ve been hit on the head with a sack of wet sand. (Bitecofer, has a point when she regards American politics as a team sport.) I don’t know why relational organized failed. One idea I had was that “relations” don’t necessarily cross class lines. If you start out with college kids, you end up with them, no matter how many degrees of separation you try, you don’t reach the Walmart workers. (Not true for Latin votes.) A second idea: You can’t win a working class vote with an identity politics staff, and that’s what Sanders had. (It’s unconscionable, for example that Sanders lost rural areas.) A third idea: Door-knocking is not enough; after all, the people knocking on doors go home at night; they have no skin in the game. A fourth idea: The candidate himself. Did Sanders’ reluctance to chop his opponents off at the knees lose him the working class vote? Perhaps a real brawler would have done better. A fifth idea: Most non-voters believe their votes don’t matter. The Democrat Establisment is, of course, doing everything it can to confirm them in their views. Door-knocking and canvassing simply aren’t enough to overcome these beliefs.

I want to add another idea, from labor activist Bill Fletcher, Jr. on the Ear to the Pavement podcast. (Fletcher seems to think the Warren was never a spoiler, and that the media is not a political (and partisan) player, down to the tactical, day-to-day level, so I don’t agree with everything he says, but this is good.) So herewith:

A sixth idea: Sanders lacked a Southern strategy. Fletcher urges, I think correctly, that the South Carolina debacle was predicted and predicted — even if Obama’s Weekend of The Long Knives was not. After all, the “Southern Firewall” is a well-known phenomenon, one that give us Obama (sigh) but also Clinton (and hence, from both, Trump). Sander did win Black youth with a policy- and celebrity-based strategy of Killer Mike and Cornell West, but for Sanders to win the old folks, he would have had to engage with the Black political class at least a year before the primary. He needed, in short, a Chuck Rocha for that community. I don’t think that implies kissing Clyburn’s ring; I think it would have involved contacting more congenial, and hence marginalized, figures in the South. The left in the South is not strong, but left individuals in the South are very strong, because of the crap they have to put up with. I do not for a moment believe that all Black leaders are misleaders, like Clyburn. Sanders needed to find those leaders, and elevate them.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Trump backs allowing federal government to take equity stakes in firms that receive coronavirus bailout” [WaPo]. “But Democrats have their own issues to work through — including how to put their own stamp on what is emerging as the centerpiece of the Republican-led plan being drafted in the Senate that could be unveiled as soon as Thursday: the estimated $500 billion plan to deliver checks directly to Americans over the next 90 days.” • Allow me to run this hardy perennial:

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“Pelosi urges Trump to tap emergency war powers immediately” [The Hill]. • I thought Trump was Hitler? And won’t there be a time lag while Hitler checks with his handler, Putin?

UPDATE “Dealing With Coronavirus Requires Bold Action. The Democratic Leadership Won’t Take It.” [Jacobin]. “[C]entrist Democrats are also in the process of bungling the rapidly evolving debate around direct cash transfers — set to become urgent over the next few weeks, amid layoffs and the inevitable slowdown of economic activity, and already being floated by the Trump administration. Though House Democrats like Ilhan Omar and Ro Khanna are touting more ambitious proposals, there has seemed little appetite for direct, no-strings-attached cash transfers among the Democratic leadership thus far. Yesterday, Politico reported that none other than Nancy Pelosi ‘essentially shot down’ the idea at a private caucus meeting last week — potentially positioning the leadership of America’s liberal opposition to the right of former Republican presidential nominee Senator Mitt Romney. A statement released by Pelosi’s office yesterday that, among other things, makes reference to ‘expanded refundable tax credits,’ suggests the conservative posture currently favored by the Democratic leadership is unlikely to change any time soon.” • Tax credits. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! However, I reject the whole framing of Trump “outflanking Democrats from the left.” The left puts the working class first, by definition. There is no way in God’s Green Earth that Trump, or the Republican Party, will do anything like that. I confess I do not have better framing. Paging Gregor Strasser?

UPDATE “Democrats sue over Wisconsin election as state debates next steps” [CNN]. “Wisconsin Democrats asked a federal court Wednesday to block voting laws that Democrats say force individuals to make an “untenable choice” between their safety and the right to vote as the coronavirus outbreak spreads in the US. In a lawsuit filed in the Western District of Wisconsin, Democrats seek to extend the deadline for online registration, to ease new requirements so that voters can upload photos of their voter IDs with absentee ballot requests and to extend the deadline for when absentee mail-in ballots can be received ahead of the April 7 primary election.” • Good. I’m still reeling from the fact that Biden sent out his voters to infect themselves and others in gatherings greater than 50, against CDC advice (and when the voting was well underway, the DNC called for mail-in ballots). I’ve seen a lot of cynical maneuvers in my time, but that one takes the biscuit. Makes it clear, if that wasn’t clear already, that the Democrat Establishment is playing the dirtiest game possible. If only they fought so hard for #MedicareForAll, or against the Republicans!

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

Manufacturing: “March 2020 Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey Hit By The Coronavirus” [Econintersect]. “Overall, this report was much worse than last month’s report with key elements declining and in contraction. This is a very noisy index which readers should be reminded of is sentiment-based. The Philly Fed historically is one of the more negative of all the Fed manufacturing surveys but has been more positive than the others recently.”

Employment Situation: “14 March 2020 Initial Unemployment Claims Jumps Due To Coronavirus” [Econintersect]. BLS: “During the week ending March 14, the increase in initial claims are clearly attributable to impacts from the COVID-19 virus. A number of states specifically cited COVID-19 related layoffs, while many states reported increased layoffs in service related industries broadly and in the accommodation and food services industries specifically, as well as in the transportation and warehousing industry, whether COVID-19 was identified directly or not.”`

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Retail: “Walmart stock wins second upgrade of the week as shoppers flock to grocers amid coronavirus” [MarketWatch]. “Walmart Inc. was upgraded to outperform by Credit Suisse on Wednesday, earning its second upgrade of the week, as the coronavirus pandemic drives shoppers to their local grocers to stock up on food and necessities. Credit Suisse analysts led by Seth Sigman said there’s more to it that a temporary benefit. “We see this unfortunate period accelerating structural changes in consumer shopping, possibly by five-plus years, as they are introduced to new retailers and new shopping methods including online grocery and delivery, and further consolidate purchases at multi-category, multi-channel retailers,” the analysts wrote in a note to clients. Long term, they are expecting a shift to more food being consumed at home.” • “This unfortunate period….”

Finance: “BlackRock to Intensify Efforts to Hold Directors Accountable” [Bloomberg]. • I could have stopped at the headline, but: “While BlackRock has faced criticism from activists and other investors for not doing enough to take companies to task on their environmental records, Chief Executive Officer Laurence Fink said in January that BlackRock will be “increasingly disposed” to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures.” • “Increasingly disposed.”

Shipping: “Coronavirus could deliver 17 million-TEU blow to container shipping” [Freight Waves]. “The impact on container shipping lines from the coronavirus pandemic could total about 17 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), according to Lars Jensen, CEO of Copenhagen-based SeaIntelligence Consulting. That amounts to about 10% of global volumes in a normal world, Jensen told wealth management firm UBS. Jensen did say he expects a strong volume rebound in 2021.” • In the long run…

Shipping: “Truckers are raising alarms about growing operational challenges from restrictions tied to the coronavirus pandemic. Efforts to hold back the spread are reaching truck stops and loading docks… adding new hurdles for truck drivers racing to meet surging coronavirus-driven demand for consumer staples and medical equipment” [Wall Street Journal]. “One operator says some customers are restricting movements of truckers at their facilities and Pennsylvania recently closed rest stops that provide significant parking space for truckers in critical logistics corridors. The state is reopening some of those sites for truck parking alone but operators remain concerned that restrictions on the movement of people could snarl the flow of goods. Federal highway regulators are trying to provide more capacity by expanding a suspension of hours-of-service driving limits for critical goods, extending the waiver to carriers of fuel and some raw materials.”

The Bezzle: “Blue Apron Extends 1,100% Surge to Highest Level Since 2018” [Bloomberg]. “The meal-kit delivery company opened above $25 a share for the first time since the fall of 2018, as investors flock for safety from the coronavirus-driven rout. The optimism comes as Americans prepare for a potential “shelter-in-place” order that would restrict their ability to leave their homes.”

The Bezzle: “Tesla to limit workers at California factory with virus lockdown order, county says” [Channel News Asia]. “Tesla Inc’s vehicle factory in California appeared to be operating normally on Wednesday despite an order by local officials to comply with a three-week lockdown in the San Francisco Bay Area to rein in the spread of coronavirus….. Tesla Inc has agreed to reduce the number of active workers at its California vehicle factory, but remains in talks over other measures to comply with a regional lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, a county spokesman said on Wednesday,” • I love Tesla. You’ve got to be “in talks” with them to get them to decide to obey the law.

Tech: “Invisible Censorship” [The Intercept]. “The makers of Tik Tok, the Chinese video-sharing app with hundreds of millions of users around the world, instructed moderators to suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. These same documents show moderators were also told to censor political speech in TikTok livestreams, punishing those who harmed ‘national honor’ or broadcast streams about ‘state organs such as police’ with bans from the platform. These previously unreported Chinese policy documents, along with conversations with multiple sources directly familiar with TikTok’s censorship activities, provide new details about the company’s efforts to enforce rigid constraints across its reported 800 million or so monthly users while it simultaneously attempts to bolster its image as a global paragon of self-expression and anything-goes creativity. They also show how TikTok controls content on its platform to achieve rapid growth in the mold of a Silicon Valley startup while simultaneously discouraging political dissent with the sort of heavy hand regularly seen in its home country of China.”

Manufacturing: Wheeeeeeeeee!

Supply Chain: “The coronavirus pandemic is confounding supply-chain strategies usually put into motion in natural disasters. Hospitals across the U.S. are running out of the masks, gowns and other equipment they need to protect staff against the coronavirus… in a stark sign of how the pandemic has upended emergency-response logistics” [Wall Street Journal]. “Normally, hospitals carry enough reserves to tide them over until new shipments can arrive. But the shortage is overwhelming commercial operations from production to distribution, with suppliers unable to shift goods from one region to another because the pandemic has reached across the globe.” • In a crisis, things correlate.

Transportation: “COVID-19. By the end of May, most world airlines will be bankrupt” [Center for Aviation]. “Cash reserves are running down quickly as fleets are grounded and what flights there are operate much less than half full. Forward bookings are far outweighed by cancellations and each time there is a new government recommendation it is to discourage flying. Demand is drying up in ways that are completely unprecedented. Normality is not yet on the horizon…. [T]he post-coronavirus environment has all the makings of a geopolitical standoff. The last thing the world needs post-coronavirus is a nationalistic aeropolitical confrontation. A conflict along nationalistic lines would have colossal implications for the entire aviation supply chain, airframe and aerospace manufacturers, lessors and financiers. It would be greatly reduced in size and would be catastrophic for many satellite activities. That is, even before the impact of the lack of flying undermines the tourism and travel industries, which account for hundreds of millions of jobs around the world and underwrite global business activity.” • This is a must-read.

Health Care: “These 15 companies are working on coronavirus treatments or vaccines — here’s where things stand” [MarketWatch]. “A mix of legacy drugmakers and small startups have stepped forward with plans to develop vaccines or treatments that target the infection caused by the novel coronavirus…. In the U.S., many of the companies that are initiating development have received funding from two organizations: the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institutes of Health. Some companies have also received funding from Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global organization based in Oslo. Other companies are funding trials by themselves or through partnerships with other life sciences companies.” • So, who owns the IP then?

Bailouts: “Opinion: Airlines and Boeing want a bailout — but look how much they’ve spent on stock buybacks” [MarketWatch]. “despite a history of rough patches during unforeseen events, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010 that disrupted air travel, large U.S. airline companies spent most of their free cash flow over the past 10 years on share buybacks, propping up their quarterly earnings-per-share results…. Analysts, investors and corporate executives often call buybacks a “return of capital” to shareholders. This isn’t necessarily the case if the share price declines, despite the buybacks, or it eventually becomes clear the company was underinvesting in its ability to deliver competitive products and services.”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 6 Extreme Fear (previous close: 5 Extreme Fear) [CNN]. One week ago: 2 (Extreme Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Mar 18 at 12:56pm. Haven’t ever seen the needle pinned at zero. I wonder if the formula permits that. Up from 4 yesterday. In percentage terms, that’s a lot!

The Biosphere

“China’s Climate Pledge in Question on Virus Response, Report Says” [Bloomberg]. “China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak is raising uncertainties about its ability to meet 2020 emission goals that it has been well on track to accomplish, according to a new research report. Before the virus hit, China was close to meeting 2020 pledges toward increasing clean energy and reducing carbon intensity that it agreed to by signing the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, according to a report published this week by Rhodium Group, an independent research provider based in New York. It would have been the first international climate commitment that China has demonstrated it could meet. Now that’s being thrown into flux by the coronavirus outbreak. So far the economic slowdown brought on by government efforts to slow the spread of the disease has reduced emissions. But if China decides to stimulate an economy heading for its worst quarter on record by investing in pollution-intensive industries — the playbook it followed after the 2008 financial crisis — emissions could come back with a vengeance.”

Health Care

“Review of Ferguson et al. “Impact Of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions…” (PDF) [Chen Shen, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Yaneer Bar-Yam, New England Complex Systems Institute]. This is the report that got Trump’s attention, for whatever reason. Extremely important:

Neil Ferguson and an Imperial College team perform detailed simulations of outbreak response cite{1}. This is an important work because they model social/government response, not just contagion.

However, they make structural mistakes in analyzing outbreak response. They ignore standard Contact Tracing [2] allowing isolation of infected prior to symptoms. They also ignore door-to-door monitoring to identify cases with symptoms [3]. Their conclusions that there will be resurgent outbreaks are wrong. After a few weeks of lockdown almost all infectious people are identified and their contacts are isolated prior to symptoms and cannot infect others [4]. The outbreak can be stopped completely with no resurgence as in China, where new cases were down to one yesterday, after excluding imported international travelers that are quarantined.

Their assumptions are equivalent to ergodicity, as they consider new infections to be a function of infected fraction and immunity, and not influenced by where in the trajectory of the outbreak they are, distinguishing going up from going down.

However, in what I’m guessing is a fine example of reflexivity, the very “ergodicity” [that’s a head-scratcher for me] of the Ferguson model, assuming that this led to alarmist conclusions, may have been the very thing that prodded the Administration into taking the measures that Taleb urges that science would have included. Should one always give wise policy advice to fools? Don’t @ me, Nicholas!

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“Coronavirus strikes Congress” [Politico]. “Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah) became the first known members of Congress to test positive for coronavirus, raising fears about the deadly virus spreading through the halls of the Capitol. Lawmakers who closely interacted with the infected individuals are now under self-quarantine, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and several other members of the GOP whip team. Both Diaz-Balart and McAdams voted on the floor last Friday with hundreds of their colleagues and started experiencing symptoms Saturday, and there’s no telling how many other people they may have interacted with — though the Capitol physician is attempting to map it out. The pair of positive tests underscores the predicament facing Congress: lawmakers need to be in the Capitol to pass legislation to fight the pandemic, but being clustered together is a huge health risk for members, who tend to be older and more vulnerable. This is only going to increase pressure on leadership to cancel in-person voting.” • I wish I had an income breakdown of #COVID-19 infections. If air travel into the United States was the vector, I’m guessing the breakdown would be different from China, and Italy. Still waiting on that Acela Cluster.

Millenials are ruining the pandemic. Thread:

News of the Wired

“Free Medicine for Everyone” [Four Thieves]. “People are disenfranchised from access to medicine for various reasons. To circumvent these, we have developed a way for individuals to manufacture their own medications. We have designed an open-source automated lab reactor, which can be built with off-the-shelf parts, and can be set to synthesize different medications. This will save hundreds of thousands of lives.” • Need a product review. I do note this group is funded by Shuttleworth, so they are legit, whatever that might mean these days. (I should give a hat tip to a reader for this link, but I’m too lazy and rushed. Please raise your hand in comments!)

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) 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 (Skookum Red):

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Of these second crocuses, Skookum Red writes: “From Valentines day: On the edge of my driveway we have yellow, white and purple crocus planted. When they pop up I know spring has come and in another week the birds will be arriving to stay or pass through on to Canada…”

Bonus project trial balloon. Yesterday I wondered out loud whether any members of the commentariat had undertaken knitting projects. (The connection to les tricoteuses was entirely unconscious, I assure you. Alert reader Katiebird responded:

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Katiebird writes:

[Here is] a pair of mittens. All I have left is weaving in the ends (this is a Fair Isle joke.) I love the construction of these mittens with the insulated cuff (the red ribbing). The big lesson (after figuring out how to knit with two colors – I hold one color in each hand and Continental style with my left hand and English Style with my right) Is to understand Color Dominance. That is, which color do I want to POP and how to make that happen.

I had a cousin who did a lot of knitting, and the conclusion I came to was that knitted goods were complicated and interesting data structures. (And I didn’t even underline the words Katiebird used I couldn’t understand.) My thought was that in the current crisis, gloves would be useful for touching surfaces (yes, they’d have to be washed, but that they’re not disposable is good).

So thanks to Katiebird, and if you have undertaken projects, do feel free to send them in to the address above. (I liked the model train layout on the piece of plywood; if watching the trains run is your thing, have at it, say I!)

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