2:00PM Water Cooler 10/21/2021 | naked capitalism

by nyljaouadi1
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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Bird Song of the Day

Sadly, there are no sound recordings of the Fearful Owl, asked for by DCBlogger. Perhaps it’s very fearful indeed! Here however is a Middle American Screech-Owl, which doesn’t sound all that screechy, if you ask me.

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Patient readers, I have started to revise this section, partly to reduce my workload, but partly to focus more as an early warning, if that is possible. Hopefully I will have a variant tracker map soon. In the meantime, I added excess deaths.

Vaccination by region:

Coercion works? Or boosters? (I have also not said, because it’s too obvious, that if by Bubba we mean The South, then Bubba has done pretty well on vax.)

57.1% of the US is fully vaccinated (CDC data. Mediocre by world standards, being just below Czech Republic, and just above Turkey, as of this Monday). Same as yesterday, so the stately 0.1% rise per day is interrrupted.

Case count by United States regions:

Downward trend resumes.

Simply tape-watching, this descent is as steep as any of the three peaks in November–January. It’s also longer than the descent from any previous peak. We could get lucky, as we did with the steep drop after the second week in January, which nobody knows the reasons for, then or now. Today’s populations are different, though. This population is more vaccinated, and I would bet — I’ve never seen a study — that many small habits developed over the last year (not just masking). Speculating freely: There is the possibility that natural immunity is much, much greater than we have thought, although because this is America, our data is so bad we don’t know. Also, if the dosage from aerosols drops off by something like the inverse square law, not linearly, even an extra foot of social distance could be significant if adopted habitually by a large number of people. And if you believe in fomites, there’s a lot more hand-washing being done. On the other hand, Delta is much more transmissible. And although readers will recall that I have cautioned against cross-country comparisons, I’m still not understanding why we’re not seeing the same aggregates in schools that we’ve see in Canada and especially the UK, although we have plenty of anecdotes. Nothing I’ve read suggests that the schools, nation-wide, have handled Covid restrictions with any consistency at all. So what’s up with that?

Even if hospitalizations and the death rate are going down, that says nothing about Long Covid, the effect on children, etc. So the numbers, in my mind, are still “terrifying”, even if that most-favored word is not in the headlines any more, and one may be, at this point, inured.

MWRA (Boston-area) wastewater detection:

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 October 21, 2021” (PDF), “Rapid Riser” counties:

Yesterday: Flare-ups in New Mexico, Montana, California (and central Maine). Today: Those flare-ups disappeared mighty fast.

Speculating freely: One thing to consider is where the red is. If air travel hubs like New York City or Los Angeles (or Houston or Miami) go red that could mean (a) international travel and (b) the rest of the country goes red, as in April 2020 and following. But — for example — Minnesota is not a hub. If Minnesota goes red, who else does? Well, Wisconsin. As we see. Remember, however, that this chart is about acceleration, not absolute numbers. This map, too, blows the “Blame Bubba” narrative out of the water. Not a (Deliverance-style) banjo to be heard. (Red means getting worse, green means bad but getting better.)

I guess I have to go back to showing the previous release:

Hospitalization (CDC Community Profile):

Death rate (Our World in Data):

Total: 751,834 748,827. The upward trend in death rate begins anew. We had approached the same death rate as our first peak last year. Which I found more than a little disturbing.

Excess deaths (total, not only from Covid), for which I should give a hat tip to an alert readers, but cannot find their mail. Take a bow in comments, whoever you are!

So how long does it take before 10% “excess” deaths becomes the new normal?

(Adding: I know the data is bad. This is the United States. But according to The Narrative, deaths shouldn’t have been going up at all. Directionally, this is quite concerning. Needless to see, this is a public health debacle. It’s the public health establishment to take care of public health, not the health of certain favored political factions. Also adding: I like a death rate because it gives me a rough indication of my risk should I, heaven forfend, end up in a hospital. I should dig out the absolute numbers, too, now roughly 660,000, which is rather a lot.)

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

Chile and Peru rising. Chile especially not looking good. Remember this is a log scale. Sorry for the kerfuffle at the left. No matter how I tinker, it doesn’t go away.

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“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 Mice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Biden Administration

A good question:

On the 1st of Never?

“Biden Scales Down $2 Trillion Climate Plan To Single Reusable Grocery Bag” [The Onion]. “‘For those members of the Democratic caucus who have demanded a more slimmed-down, manageable approach to the catastrophic effects of climate change, I believe we’ve finally reached a compromise in the form of this handy canvas tote bag, which should hold up through years of regular trips to the supermarket,’ Biden told reporters in the White House briefing room as he gestured toward a screen that displayed a cotton bag featuring an illustration of a woman and text that read ‘Jane Austen Is My Homegirl,’ an item administration sources confirmed was available from CafePress.”

“Manchinism can help the Democrats. Sinema’s politics are a dead end” [Matt Yglesias, WaPo]. “A reputation for independence, by itself, can have some electoral allure. But Manchin’s departure from the Democratic mainstream — however much it infuriates progressives — offers something of a road map for appealing to less-educated and rural voters, especially White ones, whom the party badly needs to win if it wants to hold future Senate majorities. Sinema, by contrast, offers little beyond vague fiscal conservatism. She chooses politically perverse topics on which to make a stand, blocking some of Biden’s most popular ideas, and offers nothing for the party to build on.” • Heaven forfend that concrete material benefits — like dental, ffs; have you see what meth does to people’s teeth? — should appeal to rural voters!

UPDATE “Calling Sinema an Obstacle to Progress, 5 Veterans Quit Her Advisory Council” [New York Times]. “Five veterans tapped to advise Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, resigned from their posts on Thursday, publicly accusing her of ‘hanging your constituents out to dry.’ ‘You have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people,’ the veterans wrote in a letter that is to be featured in a new advertisement by Common Defense, a progressive veterans’ activist group that has targeted Ms. Sinema. ‘We shouldn’t have to buy representation from you, and your failure to stand by your people and see their urgent needs is alarming,’ they added.” • A sternly worded letter indeed!

UPDATE But is this really a math problem?

Hey, remember when Biden was gonna be the second FDR? Good times.

UPDATE “The Democrats Have a Lot of Cutting to Do” [New York Times]. Reports the Times with ill-concealed glee. “The Congressional Budget Office has said it is “unclear when” it will provide official estimates for the entire proposal written by the House last month. So we’ve turned to what several budget experts say are the best available estimates of the cost of everything in the bill, compiled by Don Schneider, an economist at Cornerstone Macro. The figures, detailed in the tables below, show that lawmakers’ starting point is far higher than the $3.5 trillion number they had used to describe the package initially.” Who runs the CBO? The Parliamentarian, right? More: “While these figures for the budget proposal exceed the original estimate by a lot, the Democrats who are trying to shrink the bill are working with the C.B.O. behind the scenes to gauge the costs of various options. That means they are unlikely to be surprised by the cost of their final package. But the public may have to wait to find out what lawmakers already know.” • Of course, of course.

UPDATE “Democrats’ months of dithering are sandbagging Biden’s popularity” [Ryan Cooper, The Week]. “When a political party confidently seizes the initiative to pass a strong agenda, its party rank and file is emboldened and encouraged, and it takes on an air of success and vision. Of course, it’s possible to go too far with bad ideas (see: the Trump tax cuts), but if the policy is good — like the ARP — a positive momentum begins to build. All that is doubly true in times of crisis, when the public is confused, afraid, and looking for leadership…. But if a party looks like a pack of feckless, timid cowards who can’t even agree if they want to do anything, let alone what to do precisely, the base is demoralized. The party takes on an air of weakness and failure…. If Biden’s approval numbers don’t improve, Democrats will be wiped out in the 2022 midterms. They’ll be locked out of power for a decade, at least. The quickest way to reverse the damage would be to stop screwing around and pass the Biden agenda, but it remains to be seen whether party leaders can manage it. Their weakness will self-perpetuate if it doesn’t end soon.” • I think Cooper needs to look on the bright side. When “Build Back Better” passes, and its a fifteen-foot ladder while voters are in a thirty-foot hole: (1) The “progressives” are put firmly in their place (see Parliamentary Labour), as are (2) their programs. while (3) liberal and “centrist” Democrats retain control of the party and (4) lose the midterms and then 2024 and don’t have to govern, (5) while still raking in the bucks. What’s not to like? (I’m not saying this is all a cunning plot, just that this is the way the various pieces of Democrat machinery interact to produce a result.) To be fair, a legacy of reporting every $600 transaction to the IRS is something every Democrat can feel proud of.

Trump Legacy

“Trump Creates “Free Speech Site” While Barring Criticism of the Site or Its Creators” [Jonathan Turley]. Well….

Many of us have called for free speech alternatives to social media given the expanding censorship programs on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. Former President Donald Trump announced this week that he was supporting the creation of such an alternative site in TRUTH Social. Any alternative to the regulated speech found on social media is welcomed from a free speech perspective, but TRUTH Social contains a fatal flaw as a free speech site: it reserves the right to censor any criticism of itself. The inclusion of this reservation in the “Terms of Service” was not just hypocritical given the free speech premise of the site but self-destructive as the creators seek to roll out the site.

The “Terms of Service” also include a prohibition on the “excessive use of capital letters.” That rule seems a tad odd given the name of the site, which is fifty percent caps: “TRUTH Social.” Then there is President Trump’s own signature use of all caps writing.

However, the loss of all caps communications is hardly a major blow against free speech. What is far more concerning is this specific term for service:


You may not access or use the Site for any purpose other than that for which we make the Site available. The Site may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors except those that are specifically endorsed or approved by us.

As a user of the Site, you agree not to:…disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site.

While companies like Twitter have embraced biased and extensive censorship platforms, they do not censor criticism of their sites.

Strategically, this doesn’t seem like a bad move from Trump; but I can see the actual running of the site immediately becoming shambolic unless Trump makes some good hires and keeps his hands off it (which, give credit, he did with Operation Warp Speed).

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to 290 thousand in the week ending October 16th, the lowest level since March 2020 and below market expectations of 300 thousand as employers retain workers due to an acute labor shortage. Still, the number of new filings remains well above pre-pandemic trends of about 210 thousand while data from the US Labor Department showed recently there was a record 4.3 million people quitting their jobs in August and a near-record 10.4 million job openings, as workers try to find new jobs with better pay, working conditions, and flexibility.” • Good luck with that!

Manufacturing: “United States Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index” [Trading Economics]. “The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index in the US fell to 23.8 in October of 2021 from 30.7 in September, pointing to a continuing expansion in manufacturing activity although slower than in the previous month. Both price indexes remained elevated and continue to suggest widespread increases in prices…. Future indexes suggest that firms remained generally optimistic about growth over the next six months.”

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The Bezzle: “WeWork’s Adam Neumann Is Walking Away With a $2.3 Billion Fortune” [Bloomberg]. “It’s difficult to separate Adam Neumann from WeWork, the shared-workspace company he co-founded — despite how hard some investors have tried. As WeWork completes its second attempt to go public — this time through a SPAC valuing the combined company at $9 billion — Neumann’s name is peppered 197 times throughout the business combination filing, even though he’s no longer an employee or board member…. Outside of WeWork, Neumann, 42, is involved in startups through his family office, 166 2nd LLC. They include GoTo Global, a mobility company renting scooters, bikes and cars; loan servicer Valon Mortage; and Selina, which provides combined hotel and working spaces. His venture-capital portfolio is now worth as much as $2 billion in total, according to a person familiar with his finances, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. His real estate portfolio, mostly consisting of commercial investments, is worth about $1.5 billion excluding debt, according to the person.” • On Valon: “[Valon has] built a mobile-first servicer that will elegantly handle today’s reality (e.g., check your balance, understand your escrow account, present forbearance plans understandably) and scale for the complexity sure to come in the future (e.g., , incorporate new regulations, etc.). Valon recently became the first new servicer to obtain Fannie Mae licensing with a new proprietary system.” • “Model new forbearance plans.” Now, why would that be?

Labor Market: I can’t imagine why anybody would be reluctant to return to the office:

Supply Chain: “Biden Races Clock and Holds Few Tools in Supply-Chain Crisis” [Bloomberg]. Amazing nugget: “Trucking is an industry long beset by grueling hours and declining pay. Few know those hardships better than port truck drivers. Port truckers are typically independent contractors, without the benefits and protections of unionized transport sectors or even major companies with shipping divisions, like Amazon.com Inc. Their jobs require them to line up for hours to pick up cargo, and they’re paid only when they move it. ‘The port truck driver, for decades now, has basically been the slack adjuster in the whole system,” said Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist with the University of Pennsylvania who studies labor markets and supply chains. . The Teamsters union says Biden should try to encourage organization of port drivers so that they can bargain for better pay and benefits. But the president has instead focused on trying to produce new drivers by streamlining licensing. The White House says an average of 50,000 commercial drivers licenses and learners permits have been issued each month this year, 14% above 2019 and far above 2020 levels, when the pandemic shuttered training programs.” • And then the newly licensed drivers discover they have to work long hours for nothing, and move on, right?

The Fed: “The Next Recession Could Come Courtesy of the Fed” [Bloomberg]. “Central bankers are in a precarious spot in this chaotic pandemic economy. U.S. and U.K. consumers are grousing about rising prices and want some relief. But if government officials give it to them by raising interest rates, they may set back the recovery. It wouldn’t be the first time an errant move by a central bank triggered a recession.” • If indeed inflation is being caused by post-pandemic supply chain issues, it’s hard for me to see how raising interest rates will do anything other than silence a clamor to “Do something!” Perhaps we have an economics maven in the readership who can explain.

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 68 Greed (previous close: 67 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 39 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Oct 21 at 12:52pm.

The 420

“A Guy Tried Mainlining Shrooms. Then They Grew in His Blood” [Vice]. “A man who injected magic mushroom tea ended up in intensive care after developing a life-threatening outbreak of fungi growing in his blood. In a case report released this week, a team of doctors and medical students from the Creighton University School of Medicine in Phoenix describe an incident in which a 30-year-old man with type 1 bipolar disorder stopped taking his medications and attempted to self-medicate with psilocybin instead. During a series of manic and depressive episodes, the man had read about the therapeutic effects of microdosing LSD and psilocybin, and decided to brew what he referred to as “mushroom tea” by boiling magic mushrooms down in water. He then “filtered” the concoction by drawing it through a cotton swab, and injected it intravenously.” • Don’t try this at home!

Book Nook

“The Radical Utopias of Ursula K. Le Guin” [Tribune]. “While neither The Dispossessed nor The Left Hand of Darkness are intended simply as playful satires, comparing them to The Lathe of Heaven opens up some possibilities for thinking about them as more than just classics of their time. For example, we might see the seemingly incongruous use of universal male pronouns in The Left Hand of Darkness as a deliberate exposure of the impossibility of narrating gender outside the binary to which our language has often limited us.”

Our Famously Free Press

“The tech billionaire aiding the Facebook whistleblower” [Politico]. “The Facebook whistleblower whose disclosures have shaken the world’s largest social network has drawn behind-the-scenes help from a big player in the online world: Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire tech critic who founded eBay. Omidyar’s financial support, which was previously unreported, offers one of the most striking examples yet of how Frances Haugen’s disclosures have generated enthusiasm among critics of U.S. tech giants — offering a potentially crucial boost as she takes on one of the world’s most powerful companies. This gives her an edge that many corporate whistleblowers lack as she warns lawmakers, regulators and media organizations on both sides of the Atlantic that Facebook is endangering society by putting ‘profits before people.’”… Haugen, who quit her post as a Facebook product manager in May, has distinguished herself from other Silicon Valley whistleblowers with her organized PR operation. It includes a collection of top Democratic operatives including Burton — whose firm Bryson Gillette is helping to run media relations for Haugen — and Ben Scott, a former tech adviser to Hillary Clinton who now works at Luminate.” • I hate to say this, but this seems a little whiffy to me. Obama hated whistleblowers, for starters.

Zeitgeist Watch

Commodities: “Magnet Fishing, a Pandemic Craze, Is Now Creating Trash Problems” (no paywall) [Wall Street Journal]. “Magnet fishing—using powerful magnets to pull metal out of bodies of water—has exploded in popularity in Europe. Thanks partly to YouTube videos posted by enthusiasts, it’s become such a craze that it’s created a problem: What to do with all the trash they find? The magnet fishers say it’s a win-win: They have fun discovering what’s hiding under the surface, and they are cleaning the environment by removing trash from the waterways. In the U.S., where magnet fishing is also growing, the pastime is largely accepted. But in Europe, where enthusiasts sometimes haul unexploded World War II ordnance from the water, local officials say magnet fishing is often illegal, a threat to archaeological sites, a source of litter and potentially dangerous…. While it’s banned in North Carolina and some municipalities, magnet fishing is unregulated in most of the country and hasn’t created the problems seen in Europe. With less ordnance in U.S. waters, the risks are smaller, and many hobbyists own large vehicles they can use to haul away their catch. ‘Most people here are pulling their pickup trucks to the dock, not walking over with a little bucket,’ Mr. Demchak said. ‘Leaving scrap is a big no-no.’” • No ordnance lying around… Now that’s imperial privilege!

Class Warfare

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves:

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“Deere wins injunction against Davenport picketers. Deere official says it was needed to ‘provide safe entry and exit’ to Iowa plant” [North Platte Telegraph]. “Chief Judge Marlita Greve granted the injunction Wednesday, ordering the UAW to limit to four the number of picketers that can be “near” each gate of Davenport Works, banning the use of chairs and barrel fires by picketers and prohibiting harassment and intimidation tactics that at least five trucking companies have said they encountered. Paul Iversen, staff at the University of Iowa’s Labor Center, said it is unusual to see an injunction ban fire barrels and chairs. Typically, items that are banned have to be ‘disruptive’ and ‘intimidating.’ ‘The fact that you have something to keep you warm on a cold day is not usually the subject of an injunction over things that cause harm to Deere,’ Iversen said. ‘It’s hard to see how burn barrels and chairs would cause harm to the company.’ Iversen also said that the Deere injunction’s limitation on picketers is more restrictive than he usually sees. ‘Four is pretty low,’ Iversen said ‘Typically you’ll see six or eight.’ The injunction prohibits picketing or congregating ‘near the Contractor Gate [scab?] entrance,’ which is regarded a neutral gate that cannot be picketed, Deere’s documents state.” • What the [family blog] is a “neutral gate,” and how is it “neutral”?! Suggested workarounds:

“Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island to file for union election” {CNBC]. “The Amazon Labor Union, an independent group of employees, said Thursday that more than 2,000 employees across four Amazon facilities in Staten Island have signed union authorization cards, following months of organizing. The group plans to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 25.”

“Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy and Lab Workers Authorize Strike in Southern California” [Times of San Diego]. The union representing pharmacy and laboratory workers at Kaiser Permanente locations throughout Southern California said Wednesday members voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s offer and authorize a strike if a new deal can’t be reached. Strike votes were taken by members of six United Food and Commercial Workers locals, including UFCW Local 135 in San Diego. …. Union officials said members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s offer of a 1% raise annually for a total of 3% over three years…. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals across California have suffered from inadequate staffing, though pay also remains a key issue for union members.”

“Flight Attendants At American Airlines Subsidiary Threaten To Strike” [HuffPo]. “Three hundred flight attendants at American Airlines subsidiary Piedmont Airlines have voted to authorize a strike by an overwhelming margin, according to their union. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) said Thursday that 100% of workers who cast ballots approved of striking if Piedmont Airlines doesn’t offer them a satisfactory contract. The workers have been trying to secure a new collective bargaining agreement with the regional carrier for three years, with negotiations interrupted by the pandemic.”

“Overworked and Underpaid: Inside the Kellogg’s Strike” [The Progressive]. “n 2015, when the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) was negotiating its contract with Kellogg’s, the company threatened to close one of its four plants—either the factory in Omaha, Nebraska; Memphis, Tennessee; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; or Battle Creek, Michigan—if the union didn’t make concessions. With cereal sales declining, Kellogg’s wanted hourly workers to understand the need for compromise. Union members reluctantly agreed to the terms of the contract, which featured a two-tier system, where 30 percent of the workforce was considered transitional—with lower pay and fewer benefits—while the remaining 70 percent was designated as regular, full-time employees. By the time Kellogg’s contract with BCTGM expired in 2020, a lot had changed. Cereal, unlike in 2015, was on the rise. And with a booming cereal market, spurred by pandemic-era lockdowns, came an increased demand on Kellogg’s hourly employees to produce more of its products—including breakfast classics such as Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops. In many cases, employees were pushed to work twelve-to-sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, with no holidays or vacation time. In the current contract negotiations, BCTGM aims to do away with the two-tier system, which the union calls a ‘devious way for employers to slowly, but surely, take power from union members, their contract, and their union.’ Transitional workers make roughly $12 less per hour than regular full-time employees, with higher insurance premiums, less vacation time, and no retirement benefits. When negotiations reached a standstill, nearly 1,400 hourly workers at the four Kellogg’s plants went on strike on October 5.” • Two-tier again.

“Netflix employees are staging a walkout as a fired organizer speaks out” [KRWG]. “The incident that incited the employee action may have been the company’s handling of Dave Chappelle’s new special, The Closer, which contains some jokes at the expense of transgender people. But B. Pagels-Minor says the dispute runs deeper. Pagels-Minor is the employee Netflix recently fired, alleging that they leaked “confidential, commercially sensitive information” outside the company. The company says that this data made its way into a Bloomberg article revealing data about various metrics and expenditures — details the notoriously tight-lipped company usually keeps under wraps. ‘I collected the data, but I did not leak the data,’ says Pagels-Minor, who spoke to NPR. They said they shared the information internally among co-workers, but not to anyone outside the company, and added that when they were terminated, they weren’t offered an opportunity to prove their case. ‘It was just like, ‘Hey, you’re the person. You’re gone,” Pagels-Minor says. In a statement, a Netflix spokesperson said that a discrepancy in Pagels-Minor’s account had gone unexplained and that Pagels-Minor had wiped their electronic devices, ‘making any further investigation impossible.’ Pagels-Minor — who started at Netflix as a senior data product manager for membership and finance engineering, before moving on to work at the company’s game launch department — says there wasn’t any investigation to begin with. Pagels-Minor co-led the employee resource group for transgender and nonbinary employees, known as Trans*, and was part of one for Black employees, known as [email protected] They said the walkout began as a proposal for a day when trans and nonbinary employees would take paid time off as a result of the exhaustion incurred from the Chappelle news cycle, with any other employees invited to join in support. But then Pagels-Minor saw how executives weren’t engaging with questions about the controversy and started organizing a full-blown walkout, along with drafting a list of employee demands.”

News of the Wired

Hold my beer:

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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 (SC):

SC writes:

This will be my last update on the Asclepias purpurascens propagation project until Spring 2022 when I know the results of my next round of germinations. I expect that to be successful as the “outdoor cold treatment” method seems to work really well. I’ll bring the trays indoors for warmth in early March rather than leaving them to germinate out of doors, which would delay seedling emergence until April and May. As there is reason to worry about contamination with A. syriaca genes in seeds from my seed seller, I’d like, if at all possible, to get blossoms out of the plants the first year so I can cull the ones that exhibit evidence of hybrid ancestry. It appears to me that with fertilizer pushing, A. purpurascens can be grown large enough to bloom the first year, so I’ll want early germination for a longer growing season.

The attached photo is a side-by-side comparison of a blossom of mostly or entirely Common milkweed, A. syriaca, with a blossom that is almost certainly un- or at worst lightly-contaminated A. purpurascens, Purple milkweed.

(Aside, in an early “purple problems” report, WC commenter ‘Brunches with Cats’ pointed to a really useful paper on Common/Purple hybridization and suggested that blossom features could distinguish true Purple from Purple/Common hybrids. BwC also suggested contacting the author, Prof Steven Broyles. Prof Broyles responded to my inquiries and provided identifications of the 3 plants that produced blossoms. Two of them are purple and one is Common — all from seeds sold as “Purple” by a reputable native plants seed seller. He also provided some helpful documents on taxonomical features and on hand-pollination. I will attempt hand pollination in 2022 in order to become self-sufficient in seed.)

The left half of the image is a “mostly Common” blossom from my colony of “mostly genetically Common” MW. The colony started from two plants grown from seed in 2017, and there is significant morphological diversity in the two halves of the colony. All the blossoms look like Common MW and the seed pods all are prickly, but one half of the colony has noticeably higher aspect ratio leaves and seed pods than the other, which suggests the possibility of greater Purple gene content in that half.

(Aside: hilariously, these “mostly Common” plants also came from seed sold as “Purple” — by an Etsy seller; my bad for seeking a rare plant at a lightly regulated marketplace. The most charitable interpretation is that this seller himself had hybrid plants and mistook them for Purple.)

The right half of the image is a “mostly or entirely Purple MW” blossom from one of the three “grown this year from seed” plants that bloomed.

The distinguishing feature, per the 2019 Broyles and Elkins article, clearly visible in this comparison, is the shape of the hood “lip” below the horn that projects out of the hood into the center. In Common MW and the Common/Purple hybrids studied by Broyles and Elkins, this “lip” is prominent; in Purple it is absent. In Figure 1 of the Broyles/Elkins paper, these features, labeled feature 6 in the micrographs, are called “hood teeth.” Another feature, visible only in the Common images, is the width of the “pedicel” or blossom stalk, which is thin in Common and robust in Purple.

So it looks like I have at least two probably mostly or maybe entirely Purple MW plants confirmed, and others that, based on leaf shape, are probably Purple. One plant from that seed batch is clearly Common, leaf and blossom, and I have removed it into my “sacrifice” Common colony, which will henceforth be annually decimated to contain its underground spread and the nascent blossoms removed to prevent it from crossing with the Purple colony. I’ll plant a load of pollinator plants in the midst of it to draw the butterflies away from the Purple colony. If I can become skilled at hand pollination, I can leave the Purple patch somewhat bare of other plants in order to reduce pollinator interest in it, which may help to reduce risk of contamination from any Common MW located on other properties in my neighborhood.

I have two seed pods on one of the two Purple MW plants, and at least one of these is from a blossom that did not overlap with potential contaminating blooms on the rogue Common plant in that lot. I’ll probably destroy the 2nd pod as that blossom may have crossed with the Common plant.

When I started this project back in 2017, I had in mind producing lots of seed, which could be sold or distributed gratis to people interested in this plant. From painful experience, I think it unwise to assume that I know what the seed is, even from my own plants, and instead I’ll grow plants from my own seed and not distribute them until I’m confident that they are not significantly genetically contaminated. Fortunately, the distinguishing blossom features are quite visible to my highly nearsighted eyes, so I can remove blossoms from “bad” plants as soon as they open enough to allow inspection.

A happy ending after all, which was not expected at the time of my “Eeek! Hood teeth” update. It turns out I was misled by a typo in the caption of Figure 1 of the Broyles/Elkins paper, and I misinterpreted which blossom feature was referenced by the term “hood teeth”. It took me a while to sort that out, and Prof Broyles’ feedback was indispensable. I would never have learned about him without NC/WC and its excellent commentariat.

This is a really awesome project, and I look forward to the Spring report. Also, the NC Commentariat is the best commentariat.

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Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the recently concluded and — thank you! — successful annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated.

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!2:00PM Water Cooler 6/8/2021

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