2:00PM Water Cooler 1/26/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

At the suggestion of SomeGuyinAZ, the White-throated Sparrow.

#COVID19

At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site.

Nate SIlver makes the same call [lambert preens]:

But see caveats below!

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Lambert here: Well, I said “If these declines continue through the end of the week, I’m gonna have to conclude we’re looking at a genuine fall in the numbers — not the current narrative, I might add — and that we are not looking at a reporting effect from the long weekend.” So I have to conclude we’re looking at a genuine fall in the numbers.

We are also not seeing an explosion from travel over the holidays, now well in the rear-view mirror. We might get a spike in ten days or so, if people were partying on MLK day, but with luck it will be small. Of course, there are those worrisome variants, so a mood of sunny optimism is not warranted.

Amplifying the variants issue: I am looking at aggregated regional and national data. That doesn’t preclude the idea that there are individual “hot spots” that are doing very badly. And if those hot spots are due to the new variants, and one or more of the variants is either resistant to the vaccine, or eludes current treatment protocols, we could see another rendition of the “stair step” pattern that we’ve already seen in cases. Unfortunately, our data collection is so bad that we have no way of tracing viral lineage in anything like near-real time, so we can’t tell where the variants are hitting. (Cities with direct flights to the UK or South Africa would be places to check the sewage.) We might keep in the back of our minds that the first sign of a tsunami is water withdrawing from the shore — like the decline we are seeing now. It never hurts to have an extra mask or two around the house, or sacks of rice and beans, say I.

I feel I’m engaging in a macabre form of tape-watching…. (A reader asked the source of the data: Johns Hopkins CSSE. DIVOC-91 does allow other data sets to be used, like Our World in Data and The Atlantic, and where they provide visualizations similar to those below, a cursory comparison shows that the shape of the curves is the same.)

Vaccination by region:

C’mon, Midwest!

Case count by United States region:

Big states (New York, Florida, Texas, California):

Test positivity:

Nowhere near 3%, anywhere.

Hospitalization:

Note: The increase in hospitalizations, due to a slight uptick in the West, and a leap in the Northeast. But look back at the Northeast, and you’ll see a similarly-sized leap, followed by a fall. Of course, the pessimistic scenario is that the Northeast is Boston, and Boston is flights from Ireland, infecting families with B117. Something to watch.

Hospitalization is discretionary; they may also be reducing their admissions rate — relative to cases we cannot see in this data! — to preserve future capacity; or because hospitals have figured out how to send people home.

Case fatality rate (plus deaths):

Note: The blip in deaths, from the West and South.

Politics

“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

Capitol Seizure

“‘THIS IS ME’: Rioters flaunt involvement in Capitol siege” [Associated Press]. “In dozens of cases, supporters of President Donald Trump downright flaunted their activity on social media on the day of the deadly insurrection. Some, apparently realizing they were in trouble with the law, deleted their accounts only to discover their friends and family members had already taken screenshots of their selfies, videos and comments and sent them to the FBI. Their total lack of concern over getting caught and their friends’ willingness to turn them in has helped authorities charge about 150 people as of Monday with federal crimes. In the last few weeks, the FBI has received more than 200,000 photos and video tips related to the riot. Investigators have put up billboards in several states with photos of wanted rioters. Working on tips from co-workers, acquaintances and friends, agents have tracked down driver’s license photos to match their faces with those captured on camera in the building. In some cases, authorities got records from Facebook or Twitter to connect their social media accounts to their email addresses or phone numbers. In others, agents used records from license plate readers to confirm their travels. More than 800 are believed to have made their way into the Capitol, although it’s likely not everyone will be tracked down and charged with a crime. Federal prosecutors are focusing on the most critical cases and the most egregious examples of wrongdoing. And they must weigh manpower, cost and evidence when charging rioters. A special group of prosecutors is examining whether to bring sedition charges against the rioters, which carry up to 20 years in prison. One trio was charged with conspiracy; most have been charged with crimes like unlawful entry and disorderly conduct.” • 800. So at last we have a number.

Transition to Biden

West Wing brain:

A very nice touch: The diagram has the faces only; Politico writes for people who already have names connected to those faces.

Woo woo:

RussiaGate

“Slouching Toward Post-Journalism” [Martin Gurri, City Journal]. “Future media historians may hold the Trump-Russia story to be a laboratory-perfect specimen of discourse concentration. For nearly two years, it towered over the information landscape and devoured the attention of the media and the public. The total number of articles on the topic produced by the Times is difficult to measure, but a Google search suggests that it was more than 3,000—the equivalent, if accurate, of multiple articles per day for the period in question. This was journalism as if conducted under the impulse of an obsessive-compulsive personality. Virtually every report either implied or proclaimed culpability. Every day in the news marked the beginning of the Trumpian End Times. The sum of all this sound and fury was . . . zero. The most intensively covered story in history turned out to be empty of content. Mueller’s investigation ‘did not identify evidence that any US persons conspired or coordinated’ with the Russians. Mueller’s halting television appearance in July 2019 convinced even the most vehement partisans that he was not the knight to slay the dragon in the White House. After two years of media frenzy came an awkward moment. The New York Times had reorganized its newsroom to pursue this single story—yet, just as it had missed Trump’s coming, the paper failed to see that Trump would stay. Yet what looked like journalistic failure was, in fact, an astonishing post-journalistic success. The intent of post-journalism was never to represent reality or inform the public but to arouse enough political fervor in readers that they wished to enter the paywall in support of the cause.” • I’m quoting “a former CIA analyst,” if there is such a thing, writing for the Manhattan Institute. I hate to do that, and I hate to do that. But if liberal Democrat house organs won’t self-reflect, what can I do?

I’m so old I remember when Stephen Colbert was funny:

Love the chyron: “The Final Pee-Pee Joke.” A giant upraised middle finger to anybody thinks our institutional press is anything other than a cesspit of propaganda. No self-reflection whatever. If anything, Colbert is congratulating himself on a job well done. And cashing his royalty checks, of course.

Transition from Trump

“Trump establishes ‘Office of the Former President’ in Florida” [The Hill]. “Former President Trump on Monday established an official post-presidency office in Palm Beach County, Fla., setting up a vehicle for future public appearances and statements. ‘The Office of the Former President’ will manage Trump’s correspondence, public statements, appearance and official activities, according to a press release from the office.” • Florida man…

Realignment and Legitimacy

The Democrat Party today — with the small exception of “the Squad” and their fellow travellers — is the Party that Pelosi and Schumer made. Why is anybody surprised?

DSCC: “Joe puts politics aside to get things done.” Oh.

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.

Household Spending: “December 2020 Household Spending Survey Shows Sustained Rebound in Year-Ahead” [Econintersect]. “The survey shows a continuation of relatively modest monthly household spending growth compared to pre-pandemic levels. While the share of respondents who reported making a large purchase during the past four months has increased for most spending categories since April 2020, the share reporting spending on vacations dropped further to a new series’ low. Year-ahead total household spending growth expectations instead rose sharply, continuing its rebound from the steep decline in spending expectations measured in April. Similarly, median year-ahead expected growth in non-essential and essential household spending both rose to new series highs. Expected spending responses to an unexpected 10% increase in income shows an average 36.3% would be used to pay down debt, 44.5% would be saved or invested, and 19.3% would be spent or donated.”

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Shipping: “Global Companies Sign Declaration on Seafarer Welfare and Crew Change” [Maritime Executive]. “”We, the signatories to The Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, recognize that we have a shared responsibility to ensure that the current crew change crisis is resolved as soon as possible and to use the learnings from the crisis as an opportunity to build a more resilient maritime supply chain,” says the declaration. The companies in the effort include A.P. Møller – Mærsk, BP, BW, Cargill, COSCO, DOW, Euronav, MISC Group, NYK, Rio Tinto, Shell, Trafigura, Unilever, and Vale.” • We’ll see.

Tech: “Twitter acquiring newsletter publishing company Revue” [Axios]. “Twitter on Tuesday said it has acquired Revue, a newsletter platform for writers and publishers. Why it matters: The deal marks Twitter’s first step into building out long-form content experiences on Twitter, and its first foray into subscription revenue.” • So, somebody had to corral Substack, and Jack drew the short straw? (And doesn’t Google have Blogger?)

Tech: “Why iPhone is today’s Kodak Brownie Camera” [Om Malik]. “h Photography as we know it has been around for about 150 years, though its origins can be traced to earlier civilizations. But it has never been so visceral, and so much a part of our daily lives, as it is now. In short, the arc of photography’s history is that it has always been about getting more and more people to take photographs. Our desire to know more about ourselves means we must have more of them, more often, in more places, and of many more things. Whether it was new chemicals or new film or new sensors, technological advances in this area have — by and large — been about making it simpler for us to capture the moment. All of it has brought us to today, when we have quietly passed the cultural tipping point where taking a photo is as second nature as breathing. There’s no art to it. It is just something we are always doing.” • Must read for any photographers in the readership.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 62 Greed (previous close: 58 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 61 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 26 at 12:16pm.

The Biosphere

“Global Ice Melt Matches Worst-Case Climate Scenario, Study Says” [Bloomberg]. “Melting on the ice sheets has accelerated so much over the past three decades that it’s now in line with the worst-case climate warming scenarios outlined by scientists. A total of 28 trillion metric tons of ice was lost between 1994 and 2017, according to a research paper published in The Cryosphere on Monday. The research team led by the University of Leeds in the U.K. was the first to carry out a global survey of global ice loss using satellite data. ‘The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” lead author Thomas Slater said in a statement. ‘Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most.’”

“Greens: why we eat the leaves that we do” [The Botanist in the Kitchen]. “Across the global flora leaves are extraordinarily structurally variable. They vary in size from a tiny duckweed leaf to a huge palm frond, and in thickness from a thin lettuce leaf to a thick leaf of a succulent aloe or pine needle. We don’t fully understand yet why leaves are so structurally variable across species…. So, between about a quarter and a third of land plant orders include species whose leaves appear in some form in, say, the annual diet of an exceptionally adventuresome American vegetable enthusiast.” • Ends with a recipe for Creamed Kale with Leeks.

“You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local” [Our World in Data]. “‘Eating local’ is a recommendation you hear often – even from prominent sources, including the United Nations. While it might make sense intuitively – after all, transport does lead to emissions – it is one of the most misguided pieces of advice. Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint. For most foods, this is not the case. GHG emissions from transportation make up a very small amount of the emissions from food and what you eat is far more important than where your food traveled from…. [T]here are massive differences in the GHG emissions of different foods: producing a kilogram of beef emits 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases (CO2-equivalents). While peas emits just 1 kilogram per kg. Overall, animal-based foods tend to have a higher footprint than plant-based. Lamb and cheese both emit more than 20 kilograms CO2-equivalents per kilogram. Poultry and pork have lower footprints but are still higher than most plant-based foods, at 6 and 7 kg CO2-equivalents, respectively….Not just transport, but all processes in the supply chain after the food left the farm – processing, transport, retail and packaging – mostly account for a small share of emissions.” •

“New light shed on Charles Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’” [BBC]. “The famous naturalist was haunted by the question of how the first flowering plants evolved… Darwin coined the phrase, abominable mystery, in 1879. In a letter to his closest friend, botanist and explorer Dr Joseph Hooker, he wrote: ‘The rapid development as far as we can judge of all the higher plants within recent geological times is an abominable mystery.’ … The mystery centres on the rise of the flowering plants, or angiosperms, the family of plants that produce flowers and bear their seeds in fruits. They make up the vast majority of all known living plants, from oaks to wildflowers and water lilies. Flowering plants appeared on Earth relatively recently on a geological timescale, then swiftly diversified in an explosion of colour, shape and form. ‘In the fossil record they appear very suddenly in the Cretaceous, dated at about 100 million years ago, and there’s nothing that looks like an angiosperm before them and then they suddenly appear and in considerable diversity,’ says Prof Buggs. Questions raised by the sudden appearance of flowering plants are at the heart of Darwin’s abominable mystery, he explains. ‘Why isn’t there a gradual evolution of the angiosperms? Why can’t we see intermediate forms between the gymnosperms – things like conifers – and the flowering plants? And why, when they appear, are they already so diverse?’”

Book Nook

“The Ministry for the Future, or Do Authors Dream of Electric Jeeps?” [Current Affairs]. “With his new book The Ministry for the Future, acclaimed science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson has done what perhaps no novelist has done before: he’s gotten liberal Vox’s Ezra Klein and the socialist periodical Jacobin to agree on something. Klein gushes that Ministry is the “most important book I’ve read this year” and that ‘it’s [sic] key virtue is it takes our present more seriously than we do,’ while Derrick O’Keefe proclaims in Jacobin (originally Ricochet), ‘it’s one of the most important books in any genre to appear this year.’” But for example: “One of the book’s main concepts offers a good example of some of its underlying problems. ‘YourLock’ is a new open source social network and one of the central tools used to build Ministry’s post-carbon utopia. The Ministry for the Future itself (a quasi-UN entity, which, we are ceaselessly reminded, has a very small budget and no legal authority) creates this new website, which yields an entirely new internet ‘co-op owned by its users’ and supplants the world’s other social networks. This website is a central requirement for achieving the decarbonized world depicted in the book, and unfortunately, it makes no sense. For one thing, vital details of how it works are glossed over or ignored. How is a co-op of billions of people governed and organized? Who controls and pays for the massive amount of space and energy needed for the data centers? Facebook’s data centers, for example, currently take up 15 million square feet of space and 5.1 terawatt hours of electricity (more than twice Luxembourg’s electricity generation). Who governs the many financial transactions that are supposed to take place on “YourLock”? It’s basically if Facebook were a credit union; how much damage could such a site wreak? We never learn. It just works like a miracle.” • For starters, who controls the DNS system if the Ministry has no legal authority? I’m still flowing through the Robinson’s Mars trilogy. I’m now on Volume II, but having problems getting rolling…

Our Famously Free Press

“Bryan Fogel on Why Netflix and Streamers Were Scared of Releasing ‘The Dissident’” [Variety]. “Bryan Fogel’s “The Dissident” was too hot to handle. The documentary about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist and political activist who was allegedly killed in 2018 on the orders of the Saudi Royal Family, was one of the hottest films at last year’s Sundance. It had glowing reviews, a ripped from the headlines subject, and a big-name director in Fogel, fresh off the Oscar-winning “Icarus,” a penetrating look at Russian doping that got the country banned from the Olympics. And yet, Netflix, which had previously released “Icarus,” and other streaming services such as Apple and Amazon steered clear of “The Dissident.” Without any interested buyers, the film languished until last fall… Fogel thinks the subject matter was too explosive for bigger companies, which have financial ties to Saudi Arabia or are looking to access the country’s massive population of well-to-do consumers.”

“Exclusive: Forbes launches massive expansion of paid newsletters” [Axios]. “Forbes is launching a newsletter platform that will allow journalists to launch their own paid newsletters and split the revenue with the 103-year-old publisher, executives tell Axios. The big picture: Forbes will hire 20-30 writers with big followings to help get the platform up and running. It later plans to add some of its existing editorial verticals to the platform and make the offering available to its 2,800-person contributor network. How it works: The idea is to create a platform that offers writers all of the marketing, editorial and salary benefits of being a part of Forbes’ newsroom, but gives them enough editorial independence to ensure that their audiences follow them over to Forbes.” • Lol. Bring it, Forbes.

Typos of the New York Times is a fun account. And there are a lot of typos:

“Polite applause” is a nifty twist of the knife, too, good job.

Class Warfare

“With GC Robb Out At NLRB, Scabby’s Fate Is Up In The Air” [Law 360]. ” The fate of Scabby the Rat is up in the air after President Joe Biden forced out National Labor Relations Board general counsel Peter Robb, who had made it one of his top priorities to deflate the union protest symbol, and tapped a new acting general counsel on Monday. In one of his first acts after taking office Jan. 20, Biden sent the Trump-appointed Robb and deputy NLRB general counsel Alice Stock packing. On Monday, Biden tapped NLRB Chicago regional director Peter Sung Ohr to be acting general counsel. Legal experts say those shake-ups could mean the end of Robb’s attempt to muzzle the rat based on a legal theory that unions violate the National Labor Relations Act when they deploy the fanged, red-eyed rodent in so-called secondary boycotts.” • Go Scabby!

“Breaking Down The PRO Act” [Labor Law Lite]. “A lot has been written about the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act since it passed the House of Representatives in February 2020, but I have yet to find a detailed breakdown of the bill’s proposed amendments to the National Labor Relations Act that is publicly available. With Joe Biden’s inauguration just days away, I’ve decided to fill that gap. What follows is a section-by-section explainer of the PRO Act that describes how the NLRA would be altered and strengthened.” For example: “The PRO Act repeals the Taft-Hartley Act’s ban on secondary boycotts, jurisdictional strikes, and recognitional picketing.” • Legislation to watch.

“The New National American Elite” [Michael Lind, The Tablet]. Forgive me for quoting a great slab of this article: “Progressives who equate class with money naturally fall into the mistake of thinking you can reduce class differences by sending lower-income people cash—in the form of a universal basic income, for example. Meanwhile, populists on the right tend to imagine that the United States was much more egalitarian, within the white majority itself, than it really was, whether in the 1950s or the 1850s. Both sides miss the real story of the evolution of the American class system in the last half century toward the consolidation of a national ruling class—a development which is unprecedented in U.S. history.” Hence Thomas Frank’s “airtight consensus.” More: “That’s because, from the American Revolution until the late 20th century, the American elite was divided among regional oligarchies. It is only in the last generation that these regional patriciates have been absorbed into a single, increasingly homogeneous national oligarchy, with the same accent, manners, values, and educational backgrounds from Boston to Austin and San Francisco to New York and Atlanta. This is a truly epochal development…. More and more Americans are figuring out that “wokeness” functions in the new, centralized American elite as a device to exclude working-class Americans of all races, along with backward remnants of the old regional elites. In effect, the new national oligarchy changes the codes and the passwords every six months or so, and notifies its members through the universities and the prestige media and Twitter. America’s working-class majority of all races pays far less attention than the elite to the media, and is highly unlikely to have a kid at Harvard or Yale to clue them in. And non-college-educated Americans spend very little time on Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which they are unlikely to be able to identify—which, among other things, proves the idiocy of the ‘Russiagate’ theory that Vladimir Putin brainwashed white working-class Americans into voting for Trump by memes in social media which they are the least likely American voters to see. Constantly replacing old terms with new terms known only to the oligarchs is a brilliant strategy of social exclusion. The rationale is supposed to be that this shows greater respect for particular groups. But there was no grassroots working-class movement among Black Americans demanding the use of ‘enslaved persons’ instead of ‘slaves’ and the overwhelming majority of Americans of Latin American descent—a wildly homogenizing category created by the U.S. Census Bureau—reject the weird term ‘Latinx.’ Woke speech is simply a ruling-class dialect, which must be updated frequently to keep the lower orders from breaking the code and successfully imitating their betters.” • No lies detected (amazingly enough).

News of the Wired

“Mountaineer Hamish MacInnes Saved Hundreds of Climbers—And His Own Mind” [Adventurer Journal]. “MacInnes was well-versed in the calculus of risk, and an inveterate tinkerer who brought an engineer’s approach to climbing safety. He founded the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team in 1961 and led it for 30 years, participating in hundreds of rescues. He trained avalanche rescue dogs and co-founded the Scottish Avalanche Information Service with Eric Langmuir. His two most lasting innovations grew out of this long experience. The folding MacInnes Stretcher he designed in the 1960s became the standard throughout the world and, thanks to continuous improvements by MacInnes and others, remains so today. He designed an all-metal ice axe in the late 1940s, but his decision to bring it to market was spurred nearly two decades later by a rescue call-out to Zero Gully, where he found three bodies and two splintered wooden axes. The design evolved into the Terrordactyl, the first drooped-pick ice tool. Introduced in 1970, it opened new worlds of possibility in vertical ice climbing.” • Well worth a read (and hat tip to the reader who sent me the link; take a bow). I must say, though, that the whole concept of “Adventure” seems problematic to me, even if I did devour Richard Halliburton when I was young. That’s because I read Into Thin Air during a crucial professional inflection point for me, and all the terrible events brought on by descecrating Sagarmatha, the Goddess of the Sky, really stuck with me. And–

“Our team climbed Everest to try to solve its greatest mystery” [National Geographic]. “We were sitting on a pile of rocks at 27,700 feet on the Northeast Ridge of Mount Everest—the Chinese side, away from the crowd in Nepal. A couple hundred feet below us was the GPS waypoint that could solve one of the greatest mysteries of mountaineering. New research indicated that legendary British explorer Andrew “Sandy” Irvine may have tumbled and come to rest at that spot. Was his body still there?” • Spoiler alert: We don’t know. A classic example of the genre where the writer goes to a swamp to find a bird, and doesn’t find the bird. But maybe the real body of Sandy Irvine is the friends we made along the way. Beautifully written, though!

“Forget the Gym: Walking Is the Superior Form of Exercise” [Men’s Health]. “if there’s one thing that kept me fit, sane and healthy during the first lockdown of 2020, it was walking. And should the worst happen and lockdowns become a semi-regular feature of the coming months, it’s in the simple practice of pedestrianism that I know I’ll find solace again. Last spring, as infection levels rocketed and the numbers of people hospitalised, intubated and dying were all rising, I would set out for long walks on the empty streets of south London, where I live. In the government’s ‘shield’ category – by reason of being on chemotherapy for an incurable myeloid blood condition – I knew I’d encounter no one who would pose any threat to me, viral or otherwise, while I would scrupulously avoid coming into contact with the rare and fugitive souls I’d spot traversing the once-bustling but now eerily silent city… Vhere’s no need to locate a venue; you simply get up and walk out whichever door is nearest. I’m fairly rigorous about this aspect of walking, and I think it’s key to the success of the entire enterprise. Indeed, while I can just about accept driving to take a walk in a particularly beautiful or interesting place, for me, the really life-sustaining walks are the ones I take from wherever I happen to be.” • I really like this article, because the author shares my hatred for gyms. And this round of staying indoors is really starting to get to me: My feet swell because I sit too long, I’m gaining weight, I’m losing flexibility. I need to go walking a lot more, even if only down the street and back up.

“IMEI vs IMSI Num­ber: What You Need to Know About Them” [Guiding Tech]. “IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. Every mobile phone (and new the mobile hotspot dongles) is assigned a unique IMEI number, which is printed on the inside, usually behind the battery pack. They are 15 digits in length. The phone makers allocate unique IMEI numbers to every phone, and these numbers remain unchanged once registered for the rest of its life. So even if you travel to other countries, the telecom operators can identify the Home country of the phone’s sale and registration… IMSI stands for International Mobile Subscriber Identity. The telecom company assigns a unique number assigned to the SIM card that they issue to their subscribers. The IMSI numbers are 15 digits long (not always though) and can be used to find the subscriber’s country and mobile network, among other SIM-related details. It is tied to the SIM card rather than the phone itself.” • The more you know.

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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 (Hamford):

Hamford writes: “Interesting Flower- What it is I do not know! Found ~8,000 feet elevation in WY.” Readers?

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