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2:00PM Water Cooler 12/16/2021

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

“MEDIA NOTES: Mâle et femele BEHAVIORS: Song.”

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#COVID19

Vaccination by region:

A roller coaster. (If by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax, despite all the sturm und drang in the press.

61.1% of the US is fully (doubly) vaccinated (CDC data, such as it is, as of December 16. The stately 0.1% rise per day returns. We have broken the important 61% psychological barrier! Mediocre by world standards, being just below Estonia, and just above Peru in the Financial Times league tables as of this Monday).

Case count by United States regions:

Still fiddling and diddling. Also, as happened in 2020, I would expect a second, higher peak, from Omicron if for no other reason.

At a minimum, the official narrative that “Covid is behind us,” or that the pandemic will be “over by January” (Gottlieb), or “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 clearly problematic. (This chart is a seven-day average, so changes in direction only show up when a train is really rolling.)

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, with the last run (“Round 9”) having taken place on 2021-08-30, 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 the case data discussed above. Not updated:

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 (see at “Oopsie!”). 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!

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection, not updated:

A steep drop in the average, like the last peak. We’ll see if gets choppy again, or not.

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.

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

New England improved (but not Maine). Wisconsin bad. More flecks of red, especially in Texas. Weird flare-ups, like flying coals in a forest fire. They land, catch, but — one hopes — sputter out. The fleck of red in the middle of New York near the Pennsylvania border is, I think, Ithaca (i.e., Cornell).

The previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

I have helpfully highlighted the states where the “trend” arrow points up in yellow, and where it is vertical, in orange. (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.)

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 823,390 821,335. At this rate, I don’t think we’ll hit the million mark by New Year’s.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid):

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

Covid cases in historic variant sources, with additions from the Brain Trust:

South Africa’s rise looks linear, even though this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

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

Biden Administration

“White House unveils plan to replace every lead pipe in the U.S.” [NBC]. • Including the one he should have used on Manchin?

“Blame the Democratic Leadership for Biden’s Stalled Agenda” [Eric Levitz, New York Magazine]. “Democrats have been sending hundreds of dollars every month to each of the roughly 40 percent of U.S. households that have kids under 18, yet in an NPR/Marist poll released last week, only 17 percent of voters said their family had ever received a monthly payment. Roughly half of the enhanced CTC’s beneficiaries don’t even know they have been benefiting from the program. But Democrats are counting on this constituency to be so politically powerful and mobilized that a future Republican Congress would have no choice but to extend the enhanced CTC. If direct monthly payments have failed to create a self-sustaining constituency, there is little basis for believing that less universal (and/or more dysfunctional) programs like the Democrats’ current child-care and paid-leave plans will do so. If the Democratic leadership fails to persuade Manchin to cave by Christmas, the political theory behind the current version of Build Back Better will be falsified by New Year’s — and working-class families will pay the price.

“Dems fume as agenda hits brick wall in Senate that ‘sucks’” [Politico]. “Most Senate Democrats woke up Thursday in the dark about where their agenda stands, particularly after a Wednesday chairmen’s lunch was canceled. They are urgently seeking clarity on whether they will go home empty-handed on major party priorities.” • They slept late?

“‘This is b******t’: Manchin snaps after Dems blame him for killing Biden’s hopes of passing Build Back Better this year: Rebel Dem says he is victim of ‘bad rumor’ as Schumer punts president’s flagship $1.75T to next year” [Daily Mail]. “The West Virginia senator was objecting to reports he wants to defund or limit the expanded Child Tax Credit, which most Democrats want to keep in Biden’s signature legislation. Compounding matters, the state of West Virginia is one of the biggest benefitters of the Child Tax Credit, which was expanded earlier this year in a COVID relief package. An estimated 346,000 West Virginia children – 93 percent of all kids in the state – live in households that qualify for the tax credit, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.” • Manchin opposes dental, too. And West Virginia has the worst teeth in the nation, good job Joe, that’ll keep ’em in their place.

Democrats en Deshabille

Lambert here: Obviously, the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself. Why is that? First, 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 that voters do not appear within this structure. That’s because, unlike say UK Labour or DSA, the Democrat Party is not a membership organization. Dull normals may “identify” with the Democrat Party, but they cannot join it, except as apparatchiks at whatever level.) Whatever, if anything, that is to replace the Democrat Party needs to demonstrate the operational capability to contend with all this. Sadly, I see nothing of the requisite scale and scope on the horizon, though I would love to be wrong. (If Sanders had leaped nimbly from the electoral train to the strike wave train after losing in 2020, instead of that weak charity sh*t he went with, things might be different today. I am not sure that was in him to do, and I’m not sure he had the staff to do it, although I believe such a pivot to a “war of movement” would have been very popular with his small donors. What a shame the app wasn’t two-way.) Ah well, nevertheless.

For an example of the class power that the PMC can wield, look no further than RussiaGate. All the working parts of the Democrat Party fired on all cylinders to cripple an elected President; it was very effective, and went on for years. Now imagine that the same Party had worked, during Covid, to create an alternative narrative — see Ferguson et al., supra, to see what such a narrative might have looked like, and with the unions (especially teachers) involved. At the very least, the Biden Administration would have had a plan, and the ground prepared for it. At the best, a “parallel government” (Gene Sharp #198) would have emerged, ready to take power in 2020. Instead, all we got was [genuflects] Tony Fauci. And Cuomo and Newsom butchering their respective Blue States, of course. The difference? With RussiaGate, Democrats were preventing governance. In my alternative scenario, they would have been preparing for it.

And while we’re at it: Think of the left’s programs, and lay them against the PMC’s interests. (1) Free College, even community college. Could devalue PMC credentials. Na ga happen. (2) MedicareForAll. Ends jobs guarantee for means-testing gatekeepers in government, profit-through-denial-of-care gatekeepers in the health insurance business, not to mention opposition from some medical guilds. Na ga happen. (3) Ending the empire (and reining in the national security state). The lights would go out all over Fairfax and Loudon counties. Na ga happen. These are all excellent policy goals. But let’s be clear that it’s not only billionaires who oppose them.

Showing the PMC’s inability to govern, as a class they seem unable to expand their scope of operations into new fields. Consider the possibilities of the “Swiss Cheese Model.” Layered defenses include extensive testing, contact tracing, ventilation systems (not merely blue collar HVAC work, but design and evaluation), and quarantines. If we look at each layer as a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals and managers, like ObamaCare, the opportunities are tremendous (and that’s before we get to all the training and consulting). And yet the PMC hasn’t advocated for this model at all. Instead, we get authoritarian followership (Fauci) and a totalizing and tribalizing faith in an extremely risky vax-only solution. Why? It’s almost as if they’re “acting against their own self-interest,” and I don’t pretend to understand it.

And I’m not the only one who’s puzzled. “Even if you…

A second example of the PMC’s inability to govern comes under the rubric of “our democracy.” Of the various components of the Democrat party, NGOs, miscellaneous mercenaries, assets in the press, and the intelligence community all believe — or at least repeat vociferously — that “our democracy” is under threat, whether from election integrity issues, or from fascism. But other components — funders, vendors, apparatchiks, and electeds — don’t believe this at all. On election integrity, HR 1 has not passed. Gerrymandering continues apace (also a sign that Republicans take their politics much more seriously than Democrats do). On fascism, I suppose we have Pelosi’s January 6 Commission. But nothing unlawful took place, or we would have Merrick Garland’s January Investigation. The combination of hysterical yammering from some Democrats and blithe indifference from others is extremely unsettling. (This leaves aside the question of whether Democrats, as a party, have the standing to whinge about either the erosion of democracy or the imminence of fascism. I say no.) Of course, there is a solution to the problems with “our democracy”:

* * *

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposes banning Congress members from owning individual stocks: ‘We’re a free market economy’” [CNBC]. • You bet. The House wins.

“So we’ve been set up.”

This thread is about the UK, but a similar dynamic applies here.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Jimmy Carter’s exposure to nuclear danger” [CNN]. • Jimmy Carter, bad-ass.

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased by 18 thousand to 206 thousand in the week ended December 11th from an over five-decade low of 188 thousand in the previous period and compared to market expectations of 200 thousand. The 4-week moving average of claims, which removes week-to-week volatility, dropped to 203.75 thousand, the lowest level since November 15, 1969.”

Employment Situation: “United States Continuing Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “Continuing jobless claims in the US, which measure unemployed people who have been receiving unemployment benefits for a while, decreased to 1.845 million in the week ending December 4th, from a revised 1.999 million a week before and below market expectations of 1.936 million.”

Manufacturing: “United States Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index in the US fell to 15.4 in December of 2021 from a seven-month high of 39 in November and well below market forecasts of 30. The reading pointed to the weakest growth in factory activity in Philadelphia since December last year. The survey’s indicators for general activity, shipments, and new orders all declined to their lowest readings in 2021 but remained positive this month. However, the employment index improved somewhat.”

Manufacturing: “United States Kansas Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “Kansas Fed Manufacturing Index in the United States decreased to 10 points in December from 17 points in November of 2021. ”

Manufacturing: “United States Industrial Production” [Trading Economics]. “ndustrial Production in the United States increased 5.30 percent year-on-year in November of 2021, the same as in the previous month. Manufacturing increased 4.6 percent, mining jumped 9.2 percent and utilities 5.1 percent”

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: The Fear and Greed screen is blank again! [CNN]. Last updated Dec 16 at 12:05pm. Couldn’t hurt to tell CNN to fix it.

The Biosphere

“Otter Tail County eyed for leg of massive carbon pipeline” [Perham Focus]. “A carbon pipeline that developers say would be “the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world” is being proposed for ethanol plants in five states, including Minnesota, and a leg of it would run through part of Otter Tail County. A company called Summit Carbon Solutions says it has long-term contracts with 31 ethanol plants, including Green Plains Partnership in Fergus Falls, to build a pipeline to send captured carbon emissions from these plants for burial deep underground near Bismarck, North Dakota. Otter Tail County commissioners first learned project details in August, and received an update in late November. ‘We would capture it, we would compress it, we would place it into a pipeline and it would be transferred through the pipeline to North Dakota, where it would be stored permanently and, we believe, safely in their deep underground geologic storage locations,” Jesse Harris told commissioners during a committee meeting Aug. 10.” • Holy Toledo. Carbon capture pipelines are a thing. This sounds like an extravagantly bad idea. I wonder if either the BIF or the BBB supports them.

“Giant pipeline in U.S. Midwest tests future of carbon capture” [Reuters]. “Dan Tronchetti received a letter in August that alarmed him: Summit Carbon Solutions, a company he’d never heard of, wanted his permission to conduct survey work for a 2,000-mile pipeline it planned to route through his Iowa corn and soybean fields. The project, dubbed the Midwest Carbon Express, had ambitions to become the world’s largest carbon dioxide pipeline, moving climate-warming greenhouse gases from Midwest biofuels plants to North Dakota for permanent storage underground. But Tronchetti’s first concern was for his livelihood. ‘It would go more than half a mile through prime farmland,’ he said. The 65-year-old is among dozens of landowners along the route who are refusing to cede their property to the project, according to Reuters interviews with five landowners, four community groups organizing opposition, several academics and industry sources plus a review of filings with state regulators. The impasse could escalate into potential court battles if Summit tries to seize the land by claiming eminent domain. Such legal fights contributed to the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline this year.” • I love it that we’re building carbon capture pipelines to support an industry, biofuels, that is a scam anyhow.

“Enterprise Products could repurpose pipelines for carbon projects -executive” [Reuters]. “Pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners could repurpose some of its vast U.S. network of energy pipelines for carbon capture and sequestration projects, co-Chief Executive Jim Teague said. ‘We’re not going to do it for the hell of it. There has to be a business there,’ Teague said during remarks at the World Petroleum Congress on Wednesday. The conference brings together energy officials and policy makers to discuss the future of the oil and gas industry. Major oil companies including Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum view carbon capture and sequestration as an emerging market opportunity and that could lower their carbon emissions.” • “Put it back in the ground” as opposed to “leave it in the ground”….

* * *

“A frenzy of well drilling by California farmers leaves taps running dry” [Los Angeles Times]. “In the verdant San Joaquin Valley, one of the nation’s most productive farming regions, domestic wells … are drying up at an alarming pace as a frenzy of new well construction and heavy agricultural pumping sends the underground water supply to new lows during one of the most severe droughts on record…. The Los Angeles Times analyzed state groundwater data from the hard-hit San Joaquin Valley and found that 2021 is on track to see the most agricultural wells drilled since the last drought ended. The Times analysis found that more than 6,200 agriculture wells have been drilled in the valley since the flawed Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, known as SGMA, was passed in 2014.” • “Flawed”? Or broken by design?

“70 million years on earth, 40 years of decline: the endangered eel” [Agence France Presse]. “What threatens eel populations? The eel’s complex life cycle makes it vulnerable to a wide range of human activity, including overfishing of a species that is a much-loved delicacy in Asia. But that pressure is far from the only thing driving eel decline. ‘We’ve known since the 1980s that there are multiple reasons and that fishing probably isn’t the main factor,’ said [French researcher Eric Feunteun]. He points out that polluting waterways with contaminants like pesticides, medicines and plasticisers has a much greater effect, including on eels’ reproductive capacity. Habitat destruction also plays a significant role, according to Andrew Kerr, president of the Sustainable Eel Group. He points to the ‘draining of three quarters of the wetlands of Europe. And then the one million plus barriers to fish migration in the rivers, like dams.’ ‘So we basically destroyed the eel’s habitat. And that’s what’s really killed it off,’ he told AFP. Climate change is also a factor, shifting marine currents that carry eels from their spawning grounds in tropical waters to the rivers and estuaries where they will spend most of their lives. Longer and slower routes mean higher mortality rates for young eels as they drift towards coastlines.”

“He spent almost 50 years alone at 10,000 feet. His hobby helped shape climate research in the Rockies” [WaPo]. ““It turns out that what really sets the clock for all the phenology out there, in terms of flowering and animal activity, is when the snow melts. And Billy had this wonderful data set on not only when does it melt, but when does it start and how does it change from day to day,” [David Inouye, a University of Maryland biologist,] said. In 2000, Inouye listed Barr as a co-author on a paper about birds and marmots in the Colorado Rockies, which showed, Inouye said, ‘first, that the climate is changing, and second, that it’s having an effect on the plants and animals out there.’ In 2012, Barr was a co-author on a paper by Inouye and others that predicted broad-tailed hummingbirds could by 2033 arrive after the flowering of a key nectar source, the glacier lily, which has bloomed earlier over time because of climate change. After filling 10 notebooks with his records, Barr now organizes them in Excel and publishes them on his website. Researchers regularly ask him for data, he said, and he always obliges. I would say it’s because I care about others and want to help them,” Barr said. “But it’s mostly because I’ve never had a social life, so what else do I have to do?’” • Wonderful photographs, too.

“A giant ‘black box’ will gather all climate data for future civilizations to learn from” [CNN]. “Every time new climate research is published, news headlines are posted or tweets are shared, a giant steel box perched on a granite plain in the Australian state of Tasmania will be recording it all. With its thick steel walls, battery storage and solar panels, the developers of ‘Earth’s Black Box’ say the city bus-sized structure will be indestructible to the climate crisis itself and is meant to outlive humans. Eventually, its creators hope, the black box will tell future civilizations how humankind created the climate crisis, and how we failed or succeeded to address it…. Much like the Rosetta Stone, [Jonathan Kneebone, artist and director of the artistic collective Glue Society] said, they plan to use multiple formats of encoding including mathematical symbolism for their longer-term analogue steel plate inscriptions, which would include instructions necessary to decode the box by whoever uncovers it.” • If there’s any indication of who’s funding the project on their site, I can’t find it.

“Soil formation of the Galápagos Islands” [Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!] “Like Hawaii, the Galápagos Islands were formed from a volcanic hotspot. However, the Galápagos have an overall drier climate than Hawaii, which influences soil formation. They also have a lower amount of dust settling from Asia. These influences result in different soil types and mineral composition on the Galápagos…. According to the paper’s authors ‘The Galápagos Islands are an ideal outdoor laboratory for studying weathering and soil formation under relatively pristine conditions. The observed soil changes in response to climate and duration of weathering have important bearings on the soils’ functioning.’ This includes factors for how the soils retain and release nutrients to plant life. This could affect the evolution of plant and animal species on this unique archipelago.” • If Darwin had been a soil scientist…

Health Care

Modified rapture from South Africa:

A few cautionary remarks: First, I’m dubious about direct country comparisons. In South Africa, it’s the summer season, their population is different from our own (alike in wretched Gini co-efficient; different in, say, obesity), and of course their reporting is different, too. Second, while deaths is an easy and obvious metric, it cannot take into account Long Covid, by definition. Finally, and related to the first point, we would have to understand the near-vertical rise and sudden leveling off of cases. I don’t recall a pattern like that before. Epidemiology? Political economy? Data issues? Finally, for cases and positivity, the Omicron curves are outside the norms of previous waves. For hospitalization and death, they are not. Why? (And is this the operational definition of “mild”? Fewer hospitalizations per case?) Nevertheless, it’s always nice to read news where “it could have been worse.”

Another brutal thread from Jimenez on WHO’s dereliction of duty on airborne transmission. He lists country after country relying on handwashing, plexiglass barriers, not mentioning masks, etc., etc.:

The WHO leadership ought to be in The Hague. Along with our own.

“Airline executive says masks ‘don’t add much’ on flights” [The Hill]. “Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the air in passenger jets’ cabins is so clean that face masks ‘don’t add much’ additional protection against the spread of COVID-19 on planes. ‘The statistics, I recall, is that 99.97 percent of airborne pathogens are captured by the HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] filtering system, and it’s turned over every two or three minutes,’ Kelly told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during a hearing on airline oversight. ‘I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin,’ he said. ‘The environment is very safe, very high quality compared to any other indoor setting…. Southwest Airlines later said in a statement to The Hill that the ‘sophisticated air distribution system introduces fresh, outdoor air and HEPA-filtered air into the cabin, creating a protective environment prior to the added layer of wearing a mask.’” • So, layered defense, right? And that’s somehow bad? Also, “59 Covid-19 Cases Linked To One 7-Hour Flight To Ireland, Per Study.” The issue is not whether masks “add much.” The issue is whether they protect against the asymptomatic, highly infections superspreading individuals who are the cause of 80% of the cases. Kelly is thinking of averages when he needs to be thinking of overdispersion.

“Infectious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in Exhaled Aerosols and Efficacy of Masks During Early Mild Infection” [Clinical Infectious Diseases]. From September, still germane. From Conclusions: “SARS-CoV-2 is evolving toward more efficient aerosol generation…” • There is, naturally, no evidence whatever for that conclusion in the paper, nor could there be, from the methods. I’m quoting this because I encountered a Canadian droplet goon who claimed — IIRC, and I’m too lazy to find the link — that Covid evolved to be airborne, instead of being airborne from the start. This is the only place I’ve seen that claim proposed in a paper.

Our Famously Free Press

Incident report:

Well, public accessibility is a cost center, after all.

Groves of Academe

“That Job at Harvard? It’s Not Real.” [New York Times]. The deck: “For over a year, prominent women in India, including journalists, were reeled into a labyrinthine online scam, offering work with Harvard University. Who targeted them, and why, is a mystery.” More: “The people — or person — behind the hoax were relentless. They created a constellation of interlocking personas across Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and WhatsApp to pursue the women for months at a time. Unlike typical online fraudsters, they did not appear to use the personal information they extracted to steal money or to extort the women, leaving their ultimate goal a mystery.” • Hmm.

Guillotine Watch

“Bottle service and a Bitcoin ATM: This new Miami Beach club promises a VIP experience” [Miami Herald]. “You’re at a club in South Beach. You settle into a plush banquette while your friends take Instagram photos in front of a neon “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” sign. Bottle service arrives! Everyone raises a toast as cryogenic effects waft across the stage and theatrical aerial artists strike a pose. Meanwhile, a famous DJ spins on a state-of-the-art sound system while LED lights flash around the room and projectors do their thing. A stock market ticker runs around the perimeter, reminding you of your pressing cryptocurrency needs, so you excuse yourself to head to the Bitcoin ATM.”

American gentry:

News of the Wired

I seem not to be wired today. Again. Oh well!

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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. Today’s plant (AM):

AM writer: “High bush blueberry bush in Roger Williams Park, Providence, RI. A splash of red.”

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Readers, thank you for all the plant pictures!

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