2:00PM Water Cooler 5/14/2024

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I got wrapped around the axle on the Bragg trial. More soon! –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

Baltimore Oriole, Lansing, Myers Point, north side of Salmon Creek, Tompkins, New York, United States. “Song and calls of second individual. 6-20m away, 6-10 m up, at times there were two males and a female in this area chasing each other about.” From 1998. Twelve minutes.

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In Case You Might Miss…

(1) Cohen’s testimony in the Bragg case.

(2) Surrealism.

(3) Cave art.

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“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

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Less than a half a year to go!

RCP Poll Averages, May 10:

National results now moving Trump’s way. All of the Swing States (more here) are now in Trump’s column, including Michigan and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania leans more Trump this week than last. Of course, it goes without saying that these are all state polls, therefore bad, and most of the results are within the margin of error. Now, if either candidate starts breaking away in points, instead of tenths of a point…. NOTE I changed the notation: Up and down arrows for increases or decreases over last week, circles for no change. Red = Trump. Blue would be Biden if he were leading anywhere, but he isn’t.

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Trump (R) (Bragg/Merchan): “Michael Cohen testifies in Trump hush money trial” [CNN]. From Cohen’s testimony: “Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg told Cohen he would be paid $420,000 for Daniel’s payment over 12 months. He testified that the payment series set up for future legal services was actually a reimbursement.” • I have yet to see, in the coverage, a citation to a statutory definition of “legal services” in New York (members of the New York Bar please chime in). This is unsurprising, since at the Federal level, in the “Legal Services Corporation Act,” “legal services” are not defined either. (Nor is “legal services” defined in the ethics FAQ of the New York City Bar, or in Rule 1.5, “Fees,” from the American Bar Association.) The common sense definition of “legal service” is “that which you pay a lawyer for”; Cambridge Dictionary: “work done by a lawyer for a client”; Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School: “[W]ork produced by an attorney for a client. These services include any advice, counsel, or assistance involving law-related matters that helps clients navigate the legal system and protect their rights. Specific examples of services are drafting documents, reviewing contracts, negotiating business arrangements, or representing clients in court.” Under these defintions, at least, Trump paid Cohen for legal services, there is no business records violation at all, and Bragg’s case falls to the ground. “Actually,” then, is doing a lot of work in CNN’s coverage.

Trump (R) (Bragg/Merchan): “Star witness Michael Cohen says Trump was intimately involved in all aspects of hush money scheme” [Associated Press]. “In hours of highly anticipated testimony, Cohen placed Trump at the center of the hush money plot, saying the then-candidate had promised to reimburse the lawyer for the money he fronted and was constantly updated about behind-the-scenes efforts to bury stories feared to be harmful to the campaign.” • Paying “hush money” is not a crime. Nor is “burying stories” “feared to be harmful to the campaign” (the campaign novel Primary Colors — a roman a clef about the Clinton — turns on a buried story. I grant this is hardly dispositive, but there’s not a hint of a legal dimension to the burial, and Klein was a political reporter).

Trump (R): “Michael Cohen testifies he secretly recorded Trump in lead-up to 2016 election” [FOX]. “The case revolves around the alleged falsification of business records. Prosecutors say Cohen paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to quiet her claims of the alleged extramarital sexual encounter with Trump. Prosecutors allege the Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen and fraudulently logged the payments as legal expenses, and are working to prove that Trump falsified records with the intent to commit or conceal a second crime.” • Horrid reporting, and FOX is supposed to be Trump-friendly. On “business records,” see the first item in this section. On “a second crime,” FOX does not say, and should, that (1) only the “second crime” (the “object offense”) converts the business records misdemeanors into felonies, and (2) Bragg has not yet revealed the “second crime” (see NC here). Certainly if he had, FOX would have mentioned it?

Trump (R) (Bragg/Merchan): “Opinion: Michael Cohen propels prosecution of Trump past this critical threshold [Norman Eisen, CNN]. “Cohen was one of the first witnesses I interviewed as part of the first Trump impeachment, as I was investigating the 2016 alleged election interference now at issue in the former president’s hush money criminal trial…. Monday was the most important day yet because it was the day that the prosecution crossed the barrier of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Cohen’s testimony about Trump’s intentional participation at every critical juncture of the scheme achieved that milestone.” • First, Trump has not been charged with “election interference,” despite liberal Democrat bloviation; if he had been, Eisen surely would have named the statute. And at what level would Trump have been charged? In the state of New York, in a Federal election? What would FECA say about that?

Trump (R) (Bragg/Merchan): “The Michael Cohen who testified Monday was not the witness anyone expected” [Politico] “[T]he alleged reimbursement scheme — and [business[ records related to it — are at the crux of the 34 felony charges against Trump. Prosecutors say that Trump, while reimbursing Cohen, falsified the reimbursement as a series of legal expenses in violation of New York law. And Cohen’s description of the January 2017 Trump Tower meeting is the first piece of direct evidence to suggest that Trump personally green-lighted the scheme. But it is also a tricky piece of evidence for prosecutors, because the jury may need to rely solely on Cohen’s account of it. In Cohen’s telling, only three people attended the meeting: Cohen, Trump and former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Of those three, two — Cohen and Weisselberg — are convicted felons with a history of dishonesty. Weisselberg is currently serving jail time for perjury and appears unlikely to testify in the trial. Trump is under no obligation to testify in his own defense, which would open him up to cross-examination. And if he did testify, he would surely di\spute Cohen’s version of the meeting — or deny that it happened at all.” • And for whatever reason, the prosecution has not called Weisselberg (although IIRC Merchan instructed them to try to do so).

Trump (R) (Bragg/Merchan): “What to know about Trump fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen’s pivotal testimony in the hush money trial” [Associated Press]. “Cohen testified that Trump feared Daniels’ story would be a ‘disaster’ for his presidential campaign, which was already reeling at the time from the release of the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women sexually without their permission. That testimony could be key for prosecutors, who are trying prove that Trump schemed to illegally influence the 2016 race by burying unflattering stories that could damage his campaign.” • Again, where is the statute for “illegal influence”? Are we really saying that the Trump campaign was the first campaign to bury an unflattering story?

Trump (R) (Bragg/Merchan): “Michael Cohen Finally Talks Back to the Boss As Trump touted the polls, his former fixer tried to put him away” [New York Magazine]. “The next morning, Cohen received a text message from Melania, who was helping to coordinate the response to the Access Hollywood tape. (She was the one who came up with the locution ‘locker-room talk,’ Cohen testified.)” • Interesting, if true.

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Trump (R): Blast from the past;

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Kennedy (I): “RFK Jr. is defying the odds — against getting on ballots around the country” [Politico]. “The campaign turned in more than twice the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in Texas, which requires more than 100,000 signatures from registered voters. Kennedy and his rookie campaign team’s ability to reach the requirement is an organizational feat — one they’re repeating in state after state. ‘The pundits, who at the beginning of this campaign, were saying it would be impossible for us to get on the ballot, and we got on the ballot in Texas,’ Kennedy said at a rally in Austin, Texas, after delivering the petitions to the Secretary of State’s office. ‘And if we can get on in Texas, we can get on everywhere.’ Kennedy and his running mate, Nicole Shanahan, are now on the ballot in four states. They have finished signature gathering in nine more and are circulating petitions for 29 others. The campaign hopes to defy the odds and get on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., — ensuring that his candidacy will affect the November election. ‘In the last two or three months, I’ve been very impressed with the Kennedy operation for being able to smartly maneuver and get on ballots that were expensive and difficult,’ said Michael Arno, whose ballot access firm worked with No Labels.” And No Labels did well, getting in the ballot. More: “It sounds like they’ve done very well in both Texas and New York, and that’s very impressive and a real feather in their cap.'” • California, too. It is impressive. Time for a fawning profile of Kennedy’s campaign team? Commentary:

I wish the Kennedy campaign would stop doing this. Saying you’ve collected enough signatures isn’t the same as having those signatures certified by the relevant election officials. (Incidentally, I assume that the Democrats are fighting all these ballot access cases tooth and nail, as they do with the Greens. If they are not — and if there’s coverate on this, I’ve missed it — that means Democrat internal polling says that Kennedy is taking more voters from Trump than Biden.)

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IN: “Banks breaks from the Senate GOP’s well-heeled candidate trend” [Politico]. Jim Banks: “The Indiana Republican fits a different profile as he seeks the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who is running for governor. We looked at his comparatively modest financial disclosures: He’s got a mortgage, some retirement funds and some savings — just like a lot of his constituents. ‘I don’t come from a rich or powerful family, I’m not a self-funder,’ Banks said in an interview this week after he coasted to the GOP nomination. ‘At this point, that’s a rare circumstance [in the Senate] to come from that kind of background.’ ‘I grew up in a trailer park. That’s where I came from. And what’s incredible about that, is that working-class background is the same background as most people from Indiana,’ Banks added. ‘I come from a place where I can represent the people who elected me to serve them and I think that’s a powerful asset to take to the Senate.’ Indeed, Banks is representative of a Republican Party that shifted toward working-class voters in the Trump era, even as the president’s rhetoric and some of the party’s positions turned off college-educated voters and those in the suburbs. In some ways, Indiana is one of the epicenters of Trump’s appeal: On Election Night in 2016, it was the first state results to roll in showing Trump exceeding expectations — in a place Barack Obama won in 2008 and former Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly won in 2012. Oh yeah, and Banks was elected that year too.”

MI: “The Simple Math That Could Swing the Election to Biden” [Mark Penn, New York Times]. “People usually assume that turning out so-called base voters in an election matters most, since swing voters are fewer in number. And it’s true that in today’s polarized environment, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have about 40 percent of voters each and nothing will change those people’s minds. But in that remaining 20 percent of the electorate, voters have disproportionate power because of their potential to switch. It’s simple math: Take a race tied in the run-up 5 to 5. If one voter swings, the tally becomes 6 to 4. Two voters would then need to be turned out just to tie it up, and a third one would be needed to win…. I believe most of the 101,000 uncommitted votes that Mr. Biden lost in Michigan will come home in the end because they have nowhere else to go and the threat Mr. Trump poses will become clearer and scarier in the next six months. But regardless, there’s a much bigger opportunity for Mr. Biden if he looks in the other direction. Mr. Trump lost nearly 300,000 votes to Nikki Haley in the Michigan Republican primary. These people are in the moderate center, and many of them could be persuaded to vote for Mr. Biden if he fine-tuned his message to bring them in. And remember to multiply by two: Persuading those 300,000 Republicans to cross party lines would have the equivalent force of turning out 600,000 Democrats. The same math applies to other battleground states, like Pennsylvania, where 158,000 people voted for Ms. Haley instead of Mr. Trump in the Republican primary, even though she dropped out seven weeks earlier. Unfortunately, Mr. Biden is not reaching out to moderate voters with policy ideas or a strong campaign message.”

Democrats en Déshabillé

“Democrats Want to Limit Protests at the Chicago Convention. Activists Have Other Plans” [Time]. “More than 70 organizations have joined a coalition to ‘March on the DNC’ when Biden and others in his administration arrive in Chicago. Protest organizers predict it will be the largest protest for Palestinian rights in Chicago’s history, with tens of thousands of people showing up from across the country. ‘Our goal is to send a message to Biden that he and his party have been complicit in the genocide that he has had the power since October to stop by turning off the tap of money and weapons to Israel,’ says Hatem Abudayyeh, chair of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and a spokesperson for the Coalition to March on the DNC. The group was denied a permit to hold protest marches within blocks of the DNC. Organizers say they plan to march near the convention site with or without a permit and have sued the city alleging First Amendment violations. They say the city’s proposed alternative location—four miles away from United Center—is unacceptable as it will mean they won’t be seen or heard by those attending the convention. Protest leaders hope to harness the energy that has powered pro-Palestinian protests on dozens of college campuses in recent weeks, most of which are expected to largely wind down as soon as the spring semester ends.”

Realignment and Legitimacy


“‘I don’t see any evidence of aliens.’ SpaceX’s Elon Musk says Starlink satellites have never dodged UFOs” [Space.com]. • So Elon is less prone to woo woo than the Congressional leadership. That’s reassuring.

AIPAC (NY): “The Most Endangered Democrat in America” [New York Magazine]. Jamaal Bowman: “[George] Latimer, the sitting Westchester County executive, has outraised [Bowman] in the primary, thanks in part to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the conservative, ardently pro-Israel political powerhouse that is seeking to crush the pro-Palestinian movement and the left itself. ‘They do not want any critique, they do not want any accountability, and so what it looks like to people in my district and around the country is that Israel can do whatever it wants even though, to people on the outside looking in, it looks completely wrong and horrible,’ Bowman says of AIPAC. ‘One, it doesn’t represent all the Jews. It doesn’t represent all the Jews in Israel!’ ‘If Israel represents all the Jews,’ Bowman continues, revving up now, ‘and if Israel is doing bad things without accountability, some idiot in the street just makes the connection that, Oh, Jews must be bad because Israel is bad. That’s fucking — excuse my language — that’s effing scary, man, and dangerous. And as we fight antisemitism, that has to include accountability for Israel.’ There was a time, not very long ago, when no member of Congress would speak this way.”

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“How Originalism Ate the Law” [Dahlia Lithwick, Slate]. “Whatever the current flavor, originalism and its ever-growing progeny hold that judges and justices should ignore every interpretive methodology judges once used to understand a legal text in favor of free-floating feelings about history: What do we think the drafters of the text intended? What do we wish they had intended? What did the readers of contemporaneous public documents understand that text to mean? What did random dictionaries of the time reflect about … words?… Most Americans also know that holding us hostage to the dictates of the 18th century is an antidemocratic checkmate. They understand intuitively that while public opinion favors reproductive freedom and sensible gun regulations and the right to vote, the MAGA faction of the Supreme Court has found a doctrinal party trick to ensure that nobody can have any of those things because they weren’t protected at the founding or at the time of the Reconstruction Amendments, or whichever point of history the high court deems relevant (it varies). In the single most horrific case in the horrific term at the Supreme Court, gun rights zealots argued that a man who had lost the right to possess a firearm as the result of having beat up his girlfriend should be allowed to possess that firearm—because historically, domestic abusers were not disarmed.” • I don’t have any objection to starting with the text, in its historical context; where else would you start? (For example, “originalist” interpretation of the Second Amendment depends on ignorance of a grammatical constuct: The gerund.) But of course, one shouldn’t end at one’s starting point. I feel that Lithwick’s screed would be more useful if she laid a foundation for replacing originalism with methodologies she thinks are superior (and handwaving like “democratically vibrant” doesn’t cut it).


“I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.” –William Lloyd Garrison

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Covid Resources, United States (National): Transmission (CDC); Wastewater (CDC, Biobot; includes many counties; Wastewater Scan, includes drilldown by zip); Variants (CDC; Walgreens); “Iowa COVID-19 Tracker” (in IA, but national data). “Infection Control, Emergency Management, Safety, and General Thoughts” (especially on hospitalization by city).

Lambert here: Readers, thanks for the collective effort. To update any entry, do feel free to contact me at the address given with the plants. Please put “COVID” in the subject line. Thank you!

Resources, United States (Local): AK (dashboard); AL (dashboard); AR (dashboard); AZ (dashboard); CA (dashboard; Marin, dashboard; Stanford, wastewater; Oakland, wastewater); CO (dashboard; wastewater); CT (dashboard); DE (dashboard); FL (wastewater); GA (wastewater); HI (dashboard); IA (wastewater reports); ID (dashboard, Boise; dashboard, wastewater, Central Idaho; wastewater, Coeur d’Alene; dashboard, Spokane County); IL (wastewater); IN (dashboard); KS (dashboard; wastewater, Lawrence); KY (dashboard, Louisville); LA (dashboard); MA (wastewater); MD (dashboard); ME (dashboard); MI (wastewater; wastewater); MN (dashboard); MO (wastewater); MS (dashboard); MT (dashboard); NC (dashboard); ND (dashboard; wastewater); NE (dashboard); NH (wastewater); NJ (dashboard); NM (dashboard); NV (dashboard; wastewater, Southern NV); NY (dashboard); OH (dashboard); OK (dashboard); OR (dashboard); PA (dashboard); RI (dashboard); SC (dashboard); SD (dashboard); TN (dashboard); TX (dashboard); UT (wastewater); VA (dashboard); VT (dashboard); WA (dashboard; dashboard); WI (wastewater); WV (wastewater); WY (wastewater).

Resources, Canada (National): Wastewater (Government of Canada).

Resources, Canada (Provincial): ON (wastewater); QC (les eaux usées); BC (wastewater); BC, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: Alexis, anon (2), Art_DogCT, B24S, CanCyn, ChiGal, Chuck L, Festoonic, FM, FreeMarketApologist (4), Gumbo, hop2it, JB, JEHR, JF, JL Joe, John, JM (10), JustAnotherVolunteer, JW, KatieBird, LL, Michael King, KF, LaRuse, mrsyk, MT, MT_Wild, otisyves, Petal (6), RK (2), RL, RM, Rod, square coats (11), tennesseewaltzer, Tom B., Utah, Bob White (3).

Stay safe out there!

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Testing and Tracking

“Monitoring for Influenza in Wastewater” [CDC]. “Wastewater surveillance complements other existing human influenza surveillance systems to monitor influenza trends. CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) has more than 600 sites with a variety of partners reporting influenza A virus data to CDC. Current wastewater monitoring methods detect influenza A viruses but do not distinguish the subtype. This means that avian influenza A(H5N1) viruses are detected but cannot be distinguished from other influenza A virus subtypes. Wastewater data also cannot determine the source of the influenza A virus. It could come from a human or from an animal (like a bird) or an animal product (like milk from an infected cow). Efforts to monitor influenza A virus activity using wastewater data are likely to evolve as the methodologies and interpretation are evaluated and refined.” • CDC, utterly behind the curve as usual. Anyhow, handy map:

This does not seem to include the nine Texas cities linked to yesterday. Also, what is “minimal”?

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Lambert here: Patient readers, I’m going to have to rethink this beautifully formatted table. Looks like Biobot data still functions, CDC variant data functions, ER visits are dead, New York hospitalization seems to be dead since 5/1 [No, it’s alive!], when CDC stopped mandatory hospital data collection, Walgreens functions, Cleveland Clinic functions, CDC traveler’s data functions, New York Times death data has stopped. (Note that the two metrics the hospital-centric CDC cared about, hospitalization and deaths, have both gone down). Ideally I would replace hospitalization and death data, but I’m not sure how. I might also expand the wastewater section to include (yech) Verily data, H5N1 if I can get it. Suggestions and sources welcome.

TABLE 1: Daily Covid Charts

National[1] Biobot May 13: Regional[2] Biobot May 13:

Variants[3] CDC May 11 Emergency Room Visits[4] CDC March 23
New York[5] New York State, data May 13: National [6] CDC May 4:
National[7] Walgreens May 13: Ohio[8] Cleveland Clinic May 4:
Travelers Data
Positivity[9] CDC April 22: Variants[10] CDC April 22:
Weekly deaths New York Times March 16: Percent of deaths due to Covid-19 New York Times March 16:


1) for charts new today; all others are not updated.

2) For a full-size/full-resolution image, Command-click (MacOS) or right-click (Windows) on the chart thumbnail and “open image in new tab.”


[1] (Biobot) Slight upward movement, supported by yesterday’s Walgreen’s positivity.

[2] (Biobot) No backward revisons….

[3] (CDC Variants) FWIW, given that the model completely missed KP.2.

[4] (ER) CDC seems to have killed this off, since the link is broken, I think in favor of this thing. I will try to confirm. UPDATE Yes, leave it to CDC to kill a page, and then announce it was archived a day later. And heaven forfend CDC should explain where to go to get equivalent data, if any. I liked the ER data, because it seemed really hard to game.

[5] (Hospitalization: NY) The data is now updating again. I suppose to a tame epidemiologist it looks like “endemicity,” but to me it looks like another tranche of lethality.

[6] (Hospitalization: CDC) Still down. “Maps, charts, and data provided by CDC, updates weekly for the previous MMWR week (Sunday-Saturday) on Thursdays (Deaths, Emergency Department Visits, Test Positivity) and weekly the following Mondays (Hospitalizations) by 8 pm ET†”.

[7] (Walgreens) Slight uptick.

[8] (Cleveland) Leveling out.

[9] (Travelers: Posivitity) Flattens.

[10] (Travelers: Variants) JN.1 dominates utterly. Still no mention of KP.2

[11] Looks like the Times isn’t reporting death data any more? Maybe I need to go back to The Economist….

Stats Watch

Inflation: “United States Producer Prices” [Trading Economics]. “Producer Prices in the United States increased to 144.06 points in April from 143.32 points in March of 2024.”

Small Business Optimism: “United States Nfib Business Optimism Index” [Trading Economics]. “The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index in the US rose to 89.7 in April 2024, slightly recovering from a more than 12-year low of 88.5 in March and beating forecasts of 88.1.”

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Commodities: Dr. Copper:

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Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 50 Neutral (previous close: 47 Neutral) [CNN]. One week ago: 47 (Neutral). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 13 at 12:21:57 PM ET.

Rapture Index: Closes up one on Earthquakes. “The strongest quake in 25 years hit Taiwan” [Rapture Ready]. Record High, October 10, 2016: 189. Current: 188. (Remember that bringing on the Rapture is good.) • Bird flu not a concern, apparently. And I hate even to go here, but the “Tribulation Temple” category is a mere 3. If Tribulation Temple = Third Temple = whatever temple it is that the Red Heifer loons want to build, then the Rapture Index made the right call, amazingly enough. It said: “Don’t worry about the Red Heifers.”

The Gallery

surr”Why make art in the dark?” [Aeon]. “What we do know is that during the Upper Palaeolithic (c45,000-15,000 years ago), our distant ancestors ventured deep underground to make these images. In these unfamiliar environments, they produced a rich display – from unusual abstract forms to highly detailed renderings of animals – under the dim glow of firelight cast by their lamps. Naturalistic animal outlines, rows of finger-dotted marks and splatter marks preserving the shadows of ancient hands remain frozen in time within the caves, representing tens of thousands of years of people returning to the darkness to engage in art-making…. Pareidolia – a visual phenomenon of seeing meaningful forms in random patterns – seems to be a product of this way in which our visual system selectively focuses on certain visual information and makes assumptions when ‘completing’ the image. Pareidolia is a universal experience; all of us have looked at clouds and recognised faces and animals, or perceived gnarled, twisting tree trunks in dim light as unusual creatures emerging from the darkness. While we might think of these visual images as a mistake – we know there isn’t a large face looming down at us from the clouds – it seems to have emerged as an evolutionary advantage. By assuming that a fragmentary outline is, in fact, a predator hiding in foliage, we can react quickly and avoid a grisly death, even if said predator turns out to be an illusion caused by merely branches and leaves…. If we imagine, however, that we lived in small groups within a sparsely populated landscape where our survival depended on the ability to identify, track and hunt animals, we might reasonably expect that our visual system would become attuned to certain animal forms instead. We would be visually trained to identify the partial outlines of animals hiding behind foliage or the distant, vague outlines of creatures far away in the landscape. We would even have an intimate knowledge of their behaviours, how they move through the landscape, the subtle cues of twitching ears or raised heads that indicate they might be alerted to our presence. Our Ice Age ancestors may have therefore experienced animal pareidolia to the same degree that we experience face pareidolia. Where we anthropomorphise and perceive faces, they would have zoomorphised and perceived animals. ‘Is that…?’ You begin to doubt your own eyes. A shadow flickers, drawing your attention to the movement. Cracks, fissures and undulating shapes of the cave wall start to blur in the darkness to form something familiar to your eyes. Under the firelight, it is difficult to distinguish it immediately. As it flickers in and out of view, you start to see horns formed by cracks, the subtle curvature of the wall as muscular features. A bison takes shape and emerges from the darkness.” • Hmm.

Book Nook

“Head boy of Surrealism” [Times Literary Supplement]. “Breton is a head boy, foppish and severe, enforcing the house rules. His instructions on how to be playful are inflexible. You must be completely open to everything – but only in the manner I proscribe. You must abandon all logic – according to this new checklist. To step outside conformity, follow my example. For a movement that was avowedly anti-clerical, it has a decided whiff of things pontifical. Newcomers to Surrealism may be mystified as to what it was Breton actually did, except pontificate. He talked a good game of mad desire, but it seemed to leave few traces on his own work. He had exquisite taste as a collector, but his drawings, such as ‘Cadavre exquis’ (‘Landscape’, 1933), seem a bit pro forma, while his various ‘poème objet’ collages look genteel placed against the similar experiments of Max Ernst. And for someone who claimed literary forebears such as the Comte de Lautréamont, Swift and de Sade, his poetry and prose are a bit moony and idealistic. His autobiographical novel Nadja (1928) features the infamous closing line ‘Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all …’, but the narrator, ‘André’, doesn’t seem a convulsive kind of fellow. All the expected boxes are ticked: a chance encounter in backstreet Paris, woman as muse figure (‘mysterious, improbable, unique, bewildering’), shout-outs to Surrealist pals. Breton invested a lot in the idea of ‘automatic writing’ to explore the subconscious. The results initially startle, but soon turn formulaic: ‘Stiff talk of Suzanne uselessness especially village of flavours with a lobster church.’ When everything is surreal, nothing is surreal. The poet Louis Aragon, for one, was unconvinced: ‘If you write deplorable twaddle using Surrealist techniques, it will still be deplorable twaddle.'” • Ouch!

News of the Wired

“It’s an age of marvels” [The Universe of Discourse]. “As I walk around Philadelphia I often converse with Benjamin Franklin, to see what he thinks about how things have changed since 1790. Sometimes he’s astounded, other times less so. The things that astound Franklin aren’t always what you might think at first. Electric streetlamps are a superb invention, and while I think Franklin would be very pleased to see them, I don’t think he would be surprised. Better street lighting was something everyone wanted in Franklin’s time, and this was something very much on Franklin’s mind. It was certainly clear that electricity could be turned into light. Franklin could have and might have thought up the basic mechanism of an incandescent bulb himself, although he wouldn’t have been able to make one…. The really interesting stuff is the everyday stuff that makes Franklin goggle. CAT scans, for example. Ordinary endoscopy will interest and perhaps impress Franklin, but it won’t boggle his mind…. So far though the most Franklin-astounding thing I’ve found has been GPS. The explanation starts with ‘well, first we put 32 artificial satellites in orbit around the Earth…’, which is already astounding, and can derail the conversation all by itself. But it just goes on from there getting more and more astounding: ‘…and each one has a clock on board, accurate to within 40 nanoseconds…’ ‘…and can communicate the exact time wirelessly to the entire half of the Earth that it can see…’ ‘… and because the GPS device also has a perfect clock, it can compute how far it is from the satellite by comparing the two times and multiplying by the speed of light…’ ‘… and because the satellite also tells the GPS device exactly where it is, the device can determine that it lies on the surface of a sphere with the satellite at the center, so with messages from three or four satellites the device can compute its exact location, up to the error in the clocks and other measurements…’ ‘…and it fits in my pocket.’ And that’s not even getting into the hair-raising complications introduced by general relativity. ‘It’s a bit fiddly because time isn’t passing at the same rate for the device as it is for the satellites, but we were able to work it out.’… Of course not all marvels are good ones. I sometimes explain to Franklin that we have gotten so good at fishing — too good — that we are in real danger of fishing out the oceans. A marvel, nevertheless.” • Philadelphians. Still blogging!

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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, lichen, and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. From Frank Little:

Frank Little writes: “Montana Alpine. This photo contains Milkvetch (creamy, type unknown), Sedum (yellow, type unknown), Forget-Me-Not (blue, in the background), and lichen (orange) on limestone.”

Bonus plant:

I should pair this with a pine tree, but I don’t seem to have one in the queue….

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Randall Flagg

    >California, too. It is impressive. Time for a fawning profile of Kennedy’s campaign team?
    From those blog stenographers, Defenders of Democracy at the NYT, WaPo and the rest of the bunch? They are probably going to the ends of the Earth doing “investigative reporting ” on RFK JR in the name of ” fairness” and honesty…

    1. ambrit

      Better yet, have a certain Georgia district attorney do a Fawn-ing investigation on RFKJr. Charges are standing by!
      As the Queen says in “Alice…” “No, no,” said the Queen. “Sentence first-verdict afterward!”
      If ‘they’ knew what they were doing, ‘they’ would be dangerous. Democracy’s biggest defences are Elite incompetence and stupidity.

    2. Benny Profane

      From what I can see, RFK has nothing really to hide. Hell, he just told the world he had a dead worm in his brain. Top that, WAPO.

  2. ambrit

    Woke up with a silly political ‘jape’ in my mind.
    Back in the ’72 campaign, some enterprising fellows printed up Three Dollar bills with Dick Nixons face on them. (I used to have one. Alas, a victim of Katrina.)
    So, how about Six Hundred dollar bills with “Creepy” Joe Bidens grimacing mug printed on them?
    The Nixon bills had the inscription; “Not worth the paper it is printed on.”
    Biden Bills?
    Let the Games commence!

    1. Verifyfirst

      I love it! I’ve been thinking it’s time to get the Games going….. I was wondering how to get a meme going–“I’m voting for Netanyahu, cuz he’s going to (continue to) be President no matter who wins!” Bibi or bust!

    2. Wukchumni

      Biden Bills?
      Let the Games commence!

      We’ve managed to lose fair and square convincingly since 1965, please no help!

  3. Pat

    Just saw a headline that Cohen concluded with Trump had violated his moral compass. Bwahahaha. Dear lord, how stupid does anyone have to be to believe that. The only person who can truly violate your moral compass is you, jerk.

    And yeah, not buying the reimbursement versus the legal fees aspect either.

      1. Pat

        I think he discovered it buried under years of being a legal counsel for the rich and famous and pulled it out when he had to convince the prosecution he was merely a patsy! (It was hard to find being so tiny.)

  4. aj

    RE: RFK Jr. is defying the odds — against getting on ballots around the country

    This would explain all the “brain worms” oppo going on amongst the late-night talk show hosts recently. To be fair, he is a bit of a nutter (and I refuse to vote for a Kennedy out of my principles against political dynasties), but to go after him on brain worms instead of anything substantive is rediculous. However, I don’t expect anything more from the party whose sole campaign tactic amounts to “well, at least we aren’t the orange man.” I suppose I’ll be pulling the lever for Stein again if all keeps going this direction.

    1. Emma

      Please remove if this is against site policy, but I hope folks in NY State will consider signing the petition to get Jill Stein on the NY ballot. Cuomo sneaked in a big increase in the signature requirement for getting on the ballot and Stein hasn’t yet lined up a billionaire adjacent running mate to help her out with petitioning costs.


    2. JustTheFacts

      The way I read it, he was telling those in the know that his brain is inhospitable to the brain worms that infest all the other politicians’ brains and which thereby run the country. Where do you think he picked up the brain worm in the first place? The treacherous swamps of Washington DC. ;-)

  5. Wukchumni

    Speaker Johnson is an über evang and by showing up @ Trump’s trial he’s pushing that dogma on a rather short leash, who’s the good poodle?

    1. ChrisFromGA

      I smell a drugs-for-guns deal cut back a few weeks ago in Mar-el-lago:

      Trump: you support me in my legal situation and tamper with the jury and I’ll give you my blessing so Marge can’t evict you.

      Johnson: deal

      Never mind the fact that an independent judiciary is about the only thing we’ve got left going for us.

      1. Wukchumni

        Hard to imagine all those Donkey Show votes to keep Johnson came @ Benedict Donald’s request…

        1. ChrisFromGA

          Without an adversarial system where parties compete and fight over issues with good faith and fair dealings, we’re Mexico circa 1992 when the PRI controlled everything.

          The Donkey Show no longer offers anything distinguishable from the Elephants. It’s the same show: moar war, debt, and hidebound support for the Chosen no matter how many Palestinian kids have their limbs sawed off in bombed-out hospitals without anesthesia.

          While we don’t know if there was any consideration Johnson had to give up in exchange for the bailout, it really doesn’t matter because Hakeem Jeffries now de facto controls the House.

    2. Benny Profane

      I think he’s aiming for the warm bucket of piss VP slot. Another evangelical, now that Pence is history. To heck with this Speaker gig. Thankless.

    3. Emma

      Just a reminder that they all take money from AIPAC and AIPAC’s current biggest donor is the owner of OnlyFans. They’re all taking money from the world’s biggest pimp to engage in sedition for Israel.

  6. Lambert Strether Post author

    I added orts and scraps, primarily on the Bragg trial. Merciful heavens. This coverage is the worst I have ever seen, across the board. I have to put on my yellow waders every [family blogging] day, for this one thing. Can’t I write about something pleasant, like pandemics or Boeing whacking whistleblowers?

    To recap:

    All Bragg has actually charged Trump with is “business records” violations, 34 of them (see NC here, April 16). The business records violations are misdemeanors unless committed in furtherance of a “second crime” (the “object offense,” see NC here, May 8), in which case they become felonies. (Note that the object offense can be a misdemeanor).

    On the business records offense: Not buying it. A legal service is something you pay a lawyer to do. Cohen is a lawyer. QED. (Incidentally, Trump went to a lot of trouble on this, signing personal some checks to Cohen, and Cohen filed a 1099 for the payments.)

    On the object offense: Maybe Bragg is going to pull a rabbit out of his hat at the last minute, but I’m not buying this either (again, see NC here). I have yet to hear the statute cited, whether state or Federal, that Trump is supposed to have violated. I grant that the coverage has been dreadful, but surely the press would have mentioned something? If there is a campaign finance violation, surely that’s a matter for the Feds? Hush money is not against the law. Paying off a mistress is not against the law. The talking point is running around that Trump is guilty of “election interference” because he concealed “material information” from voters. First, a campaign is not a stock offering or a corporate report. Second, concealing material information from voters sounds a lot like normal campaigning to me.

    I hope my priors aren’t working against me on this, and IANAL and will willingly accept correction at all points from a member of the New York Bar, but to me, this case looks just as bad as it originally looked when it was brought (see Vox, “Yes, Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump is political,” 2013).

  7. Wukchumni

    I’ve seen oodles of 2,000 to 3,000 year old petroglyphs in the southwest which are exposed to the Sun and have stood the test of time, and would they still be legible in 20,000 to 30,000 years?

    I don’t see why not, the details are always pretty clear and perhaps the patina of desert varnish could fill in where the Native American artisan left an image of bighorn sheep (the most common animal displayed) along with various picture words for us to see 100 generations later.

    Valley of Fire state Park is less than an hour from Vegas, and the thousands of years old petroglyphs there will no doubt outlast anything we’ve accomplished in Sin City.


  8. Bugs

    Pine tree video: I found a young yew tree at the edge of my yard and transplanted it to a more suitable growing spot (mid sun) and it has not done much for five years. I wish I knew more to help it grow so I’m opening up to you geniuses here.

  9. Pat

    Um, apparently versions really vary. I may be remembering mistakenly, but I have to differ about the Trump campaign reeling from the Access Hollywood tape. Sure they might have had concerns before it was released and in the first 24 hours, but I can’t imagine they wasted anymore time on it. Most of what I recall is the Democrats and the less conservative press crowing that it was going to be the end of his campaign and within days gasping and moaning because the reaction from the crowds supporting Trump was ‘so what’. I don’t remember any drop in the polls of his support. The Clinton supporters hated him more, but otherwise it was a big nothing.

    1. Benny Profane

      Which is exactly why I’m astounded that so many, like a few dinner mates the other night, think this trial is actually humiliating and harming Trump. Really? Haven’t we been here before? People, it’s more free airtime, no more.

  10. Big River Bandido

    Re: RFK Jr. and ballot qualifying, Lambert, you wrote:

    I wish the Kennedy campaign would stop doing this. Saying you’ve collected enough signatures isn’t the same as having those signatures certified by the relevant election officials.

    Yes, you are right — time and again, the Democrats have cheated and screwed voters and other candidates through fraudulent signature challenges, and usually they are successful. This is to be expected; after all, Democrats spend more effort on disqualifying opposition candidates than they do about, say, voter registration or, you know, governance. But these dirty tricks don’t work so well in the glare of publicity, and I’m pretty sure that’s why the Kennedy campaign is hyping them this way. I’m not supporting him, at least not at the moment, but I think his campaign is playing this very smart; klieg-lighting these successes is a form of narrative control, and not just because it takes attention from “brain worms”. I recall the Viriginia US Senate race in 2002 (?) when Webb went on teevee before the race was “called” to claim victory over Allen: “the votes are in, and we won.” The effect was to cow any attempt to de-legitimize his victory. By clearly stating his signature numbers and the oversize margins, and by trumpeting every single one of these to the heavens, the Kennedy campaign establishes the notion of legitimacy among the voters. If the Democrats, reverting to form, start challenging those numbers, they won’t be able to do it quietly, which is how they have always succeeded in the past. Democrats doing this in public view always plays terribly.

    One other point: the success of Kennedy’s signature gathering operation doesn’t surprise me in the least. This family has been running elections for 130 years — six, seven generations? — and they know exactly how to do this, right down to the absolute minutae of *everything*. They know the importance of Christmas cards. They know the importance of money in politics, and how to use it. They probably know very well the game of challenging your opponent’s signatures — I wouldn’t be surprised if some Kennedy campaign at some time has engaged in that, or even invented the technique. These people know the rules of the game, inside and out — and even more importantly, when to raise them as issues, and when to shut up about them. Ted Kennedy’s 1980 campaign set up booths outside polling places in the Texas primaries: “Coffee for Kennedy supporters “. When voters showed up and the campaign workers had vetted them to be sure they were Kennedy voters, they explained that their polling receipt was their TICKET TO THE CAUCUS that night, where the real winner was selected. These are just a few of the anecdotes I can recall from Kennedy campaigns over the years.

    Who taught them how to do all this? Well, he wasn’t the first, but RFK, Sr., was the most brilliant, competent, thorough, and ruthless political strategist and mechanic in the entire family — and perhaps in American history. I can’t help but think that his son has inherited much of that.

  11. Lefty Godot

    That Mark Penn piece is prime NYT framing: Biden is too left-wing now because he’s catering to the Democratic activist base, so therefore he needs to move hard right and pick up all the Nikki Haley Republicans who are just panting for an excuse to vote against Trump. And all those Democrats that will be miffed, including the ones not supporting Biden now in his supposed left-wing incarnation, will come home and vote for Genocide Joe because they have no place else to go. This sounds like a bad acid flashback of the Clinton DLC’s worldview. How anyone can think Biden is catering to the (nonexistent) left-wing of the Democratic party or that voters have nowhere else to go (with RFKjr, Stein, and West all available) is mind-boggling in the degree to which it misreads reality. But I guess as long as they can win Pulitzers for their lying, biased Gaza coverage, the NYT have little incentive to deal in reality.

    The real question is should Democrats forgo their delusions and figure out a way to replace Biden before they end up unable to get their substitute candidate on the ballot everywhere. Time is running out.

  12. Amfortas the Hippie

    Re: trumptrial:
    does this strike anyone else as analogous to the OJ Trial Spectacle?

    the irony is that its only gonna help him…
    because they cant help themselves.

    i dont know any dude in gop leaning circles that thinks trump bumpin uglies with stormy is a big deal.
    and about half the women ive informally polled about it(a necessarily smaller sample size, as is to be expected…lest i lose my honorable mein)…is rather sanguine about it as well.
    looks like all this lawfare against trump…from where i’m at, at least…is gonna be the biggest backfire in amurkin political history.
    and, to boot!…every single person ive talked to about it says something to the effect of :”they cant beat him in a fair election…so theyre doing all this”
    so the electoral strategy of the demparty is “let us de- legitimatize ourselves even more!”

    1. Screwball

      I know people who are on pins and needles hoping Trump goes to jail – to save democracy and all that.

      I’ll be 68 this summer and I can’t remember a time in my life things were this ugly and stupid. No way, no how, are any of these people going fix anything. This should be obvious at this point.

      So who do you vote for? Satisfy your moral side and vote 3rd party, or go with the Milton Waddams Office Space burn it all down vote?

      Looks to me like all votes are burn it down votes. These people don’t care about us. Nothing is getting better for more and more people. This won’t end well.

      1. Screwball

        Adding; just think, they somehow eliminate Trump from running, so then who? Probably Nikki Haley. Yippee! Might as well be Vicky Nuland.

        And if old Joe can’t make it, Hillary, I’m sure would step right up. Or some other war mongering creature.

        The war toy maker stocks will be a sure bet. As Bill Lumbergh would say “that would be great.”

  13. Big Farmer

    > more Jewish voters who care about Israel than Muslim voters who care about Hamas

    enough already with the false equivalencies…and once again, stupid wins the day

    1. Big River Bandido

      To say nothing of the fact that it’s not strictly true. Muslim voters a balance of power in Michigan and a hefty political presence in Minnesota. The loss of either state (Michigan being the more likely) dooms a Democrat presidential candidate.

    2. OliverN

      This quote should be the winner of Lamberts sociopath of the day award. Literally can be used to justify any genocide of a minority population by a majority.

  14. Amfortas the Hippie

    and “where are they gonna go?” in regards to lefties…per billfrellingclinton…is just insulting, at this point.

    1. Acacia

      Yep, and when people are insulted they are far more likely to respond with a raised middle finger, and we all know what that means in the voting booth.

      they have nowhere else to go

      Except Jill Stein, or perhaps just to a bar instead of bothering with the duoparty sh*tshow. Though w.r.t. the Gaza genocide, Stein is for now the ethical choice.

      1. Old Brock

        … we all know what that means in the voting booth.

        they have nowhere else to go

        Except … perhaps just to a bar instead of bothering…


        I acknowlege the tongue-in-cheek quippishness of the above remark. However, it raises a real question in my mind. I seem to recall from (long, long ago) junior high school Civics something to the effect that ‘when the polls are open, the bars are closed’. Is that no longer the case? Or was it perhaps just a Wisconsin thing, where I was from? (It’s a good many years since I left there.)

  15. Wukchumni

    WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Tuesday to show support for Ukraine amid the ongoing war.

    During his trip, Blinken rocked out on stage at a local bar with a band from Kyiv.

    “I know this is a really, really difficult time. Your soldiers, your citizens, particularly in the northeast in Kharkiv, are suffering tremendously,” Blinken said on stage. “They need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, so much of the world is with you and they’re fighting, not just for Ukraine, but for the free world.”

    Blinken then performed “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young, strumming along on the electric guitar and even singing the chorus.

    There’s colors on his flag lapel pin
    Red, white and blue
    Antony shufflin’ his feet
    Propaganda workin’ in the news
    But there’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead
    There’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead
    Don’t feel like Satan, but you are to them
    So I try to forget it any way I can

    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world

    I see a woman in the Gaza night
    With a baby in her hand
    There’s an old street light (near a garbage can)
    Near a garbage can (near a garbage can)
    And now she put the kid away and she’s gone to scavenging through it
    She hates her life and what the Zionists done to it
    There’s one more kid that’ll never go to school
    Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool

    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world

    We got a thousand points of blight
    For the homeless man
    We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand
    We got decrepit infrastructure here on our land
    We’ve got war wildfires burning out of our command
    Got an envoy of the people, says keep hope alive
    Got Av fuel to burn, got roads to drive

    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world
    Keep on talkin’ in the free world

    Rockin’ In The Free World, by Neil Young


    1. The Rev Kev

      He’s making such as hash of being SecState. I guess that he can tell himself that he still has his music.

  16. Benny Profane

    Those cut cables at the Tesla charging station just reenforces my belief that we are on our way to living in the movie Elysium. Pray that you’re on the winning side.

  17. NN Cassandra

    Re: Benjamin Franklin and GPS

    Actually, your mobile doesn’t have “perfect” clock accurate to nanoseconds. The trick is to treat time as just another dimension (they don’t call it spacetime continuum for nothing) and compute “position” in time together with position in space. And for that you need signal from at least four satellites.

  18. Matthew G. Saroff

    You know the joke:

    Q: How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    A: 2, one to put the jack-hammer in the bathtub, and the other one to paint the giraffe.

  19. Big River Bandido

    Talk about terrible news coverage, the Politico piece on Jim Banks is remarkable for its utter lack of content. To call this “lifestyle branding” is being charitable. They don’t quote him on a single issue at all, just his “story”. I read the whole thing trying to find out his position on ANY ISSUE, why he had a mortgage, what line of work he was in that qualified him for a mortgage, what kinds of jobs he’d had and work he’d done. Absolutely nothing in the story. I’m left with the impression that one day he was in a trailer park, the next day he was in Congress. The jokes on that should write themselves, but I can’t think of any myself.

  20. Wukchumni

    A historic tram tower built more than a century ago to haul salt out of Death Valley was recently toppled in Death Valley National Park, possibly by a motorist who attached a winch to the tower to pull a vehicle out of the muck, according to park staff.

    The 113-year-old tower was found upright in early March, but then discovered uprooted on April 27.

    “I have hiked along sections of this tramway and am amazed by the tenacity it took to build,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “I hope the person responsible for this damage will contact us so we can discuss restitution.”

    The Saline Valley Salt Company built the 13-mile aerial tram to transport salt from Saline Valley to Owens Valley in 1911. The tramway climbed more than 7,000 vertical feet at steep vertical grades up to 40 degrees. The Saline Valley Salt Tram is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is considered nationally significant because of its age, length, steepness, preservation, and scenic setting.



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