Friday/ proteas for Valentine’s Day

Nice to see South African proteas* here in my local Safeway (grocery store).
These may have been offered specially for Valentine’s Day.

*Pronounce ‘pro-tee-ah’.

Protea is both the botanical name and the English common name of a whole genus of South African flowering plants. 92% of the species are native only to the Cape Floristic Region, a narrow belt of mountainous coastal land from Clanwilliam to Grahamstown, South Africa. Nowadays, proteas are cultivated in some 20 countries, but it is time-consuming, and proteas need a Mediterranean or subtropical climate. [Information from Wikipedia].

Thursday/ all the things that money can buy

Geld wat stom is, maak reg wat krom is. – Afrikaans saying.
Rough translation: Money that’s mute, straightens what’s crooked.


I did not even mention ex-New York mayor Mike Bloomberg in the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic primaries. He was not on the ballot there, and is still a shadow/ dark horse candidate for President.

But Bloomberg (78) is one of the wealthiest men on the planet (net worth: $60 billion). His strategy is to skip the early states, and make a splash on Super Tuesday (Mar. 3). From there, pull all the levers he can, using vast sums of money, to gain the nomination. (He is already running ads on TV and social media).

It might just work, in spite of (completely valid) objections:  Bloomberg would essentially buy the Democratic nomination with an onslaught of TV ads, social media campaigns, and out-of-pocket contributions to charities and organizations in turn for their support. (A fine line, that he knows how to toe, since that’s what he did to get elected as Mayor of New York for the third time).

The famous Bloomberg Terminal, invented and first offered in 1991 by Mike Bloomberg. It is an indispensable tool for financial services professionals (and others). Users monitor and analyze real-time financial market data and place trades on the electronic trading platform. Annual fee: $20,000. As of October 2016, there were 325,000 Bloomberg Terminal subscribers worldwide. [Picture & information from Wikipedia].
Spoiling for a fight: Trump tweeting a trademark, sneering attack on Bloomberg, and getting as much in return. ‘I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will’.

Wednesday/ ‘too much wretched excess’

.. that is what Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner, said of the US stock market today.

‘The S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq close at record highs as coronavirus fears ease’, says Yahoo Finance. Well. The fears may have eased, but is the global economic impact of the virus really known? As always, only time will tell for sure.

The Shiller PE Ratio is the Price/Earnings ratio based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, also known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio).  The average is about 15 (market not overbought or oversold), and we’re sitting at 32. So if one believes in investment fundamentals – and why should one not? – yes, the stock market is expensive, and it may be due for a big correction. Curious that this graph does not highlight the height of the dot-com bubble in early 2000, or the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in late 2007. (Those were monster declines, but relatively short-lived. Look at the mid-60s to mid-80s: a down trend that lasted some 20 years).
And then there is the case of electric car maker Tesla, with its parabolic move up just last week. That pushed its market cap to well over a $100 billion valuation, the first U.S. automaker to meet or surpass that gargantuan figure. (Toyota is worth some $200 billion).

Tuesday/ the New Hampshire primary

The New Hampshire primary election for the 2020 Democratic nominee for President, went largely as forecasted. The top two candidates are the same ones as in Iowa (Sen. Bernie Sanders & Mayor Pete Buttigieg). Neither are from the so-called political establishment. Former Vice-President Joe Biden came in a distant 5th. Ouch.

Next up is Nevada (Feb. 22), South Carolina (Feb. 29), and a whole bunch of States on Super Tuesday, March 3.

The pundits still see 78 year-old Sanders as most likely to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, but man! is he the one to beat Trump?
Sanders has a fervent and devoted following, but in the General Election he’s going to take relentless and withering criticism for being a democratic socialist. His detractors (Republicans, Trump, corporate America) will shorten it to ‘socialist’ and paint him as an evil destroyer of the American dream.  No matter that the American dream is dead*.

*Over the last 50 years in the United States –
A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent;
Earnings by the top 1 % of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation;
Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs;
Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry;
Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.
[Source: Vox.com]

Bernie Sanders during his victory speech, and the results of the New Hampshire Democratic primary election on the right. Sanders regularly boasts that he is not taking money from corporations or ‘billionaires’ (his umbrella term for rich people). He also has volunteers and supporters from his 2016 campaign that he can mobilize again, across the country –  a big advantage over newcomers such as Buttigieg.  [Source: New York Times online edition, Feb. 11, 2020].

Monday/ tally-ing up the inventory

I ran into Tally the inventory robot in the grocery store last night. I think it’s a good thing — letting a robot do the labor-intensive and repetitive process of physical inventory checking.

‘Yes, but does the store not have a count of the SKUs* on the shelf in its database, anyway? one might ask.  The store does, but human shoppers take items off the shelf and misplace it when putting it back, or – rarely, I hope – steal it. Or employees could unpack items in the wrong location, or forget to remove sale prices, and so on.  So there are always discrepancies between the SKU count in the database and the physical count on the shelf.

*Stock keeping unit

Tally the robot can read RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, and she can also use AI-powered image recognition to identify different products on the shelf.

Sunday/ Denny Way’s new apartment towers

I went down to check out the construction at 1120 Denny Way this afternoon – a complex with a large footprint, and two apartment towers.

At its completion it will be the biggest apartment building in the history of the city with 1,179 apartments.

I was standing at the corner of Denny Way and Boren Ave N when I took this picture. That’s a 12-story luxury hotel in the middle, with the two 41-story towers on its sides.
Here’s a picture from a nearby crane cam, that shows the proximity of Lake Union. Apartments in those top floors will have killer views, but it could come at a price. I suspect that elevator rides up and down from the top floors could easily take 10 to 15 minutes during busy times in the day. Hopefully the elevator design called for dedicated elevators for say, each section of 10 floors. [Picture found on skyscapercity.com, originally posted on Flickr on Jan31 by an anonymous user called Test_Name].

Saturday/ fun and games in Cape Town, for charity

It was all fun and games in the Cape Town Stadium on Friday night, where the charity tennis match (‘Match for Africa’) between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took place.

Comedian Trevor Noah and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates joined them on the court, to start the proceedings with a set of doubles.

Cape Town Stadium, made into a tennis arena. The stadium was filled with some 55,000 spectators. The US$3.5 million raised for education and sport for kids in Africa, far exceeded expectations. This is a curtain-raiser doubles match, between Nadal & South African-born comedian Trevor Noah on the left, and Federer & Bill Gates on the right. [Picture by Mark Sampson @MarkSampsonCT on Twitter]. 
A scene from a long rally in the Nadal-Noah vs. Federer-Gates match. Federer was running back, chasing down a lob, and is doing the very difficult between-the-legs ‘tweener’ shot that is always a crowd pleaser. The players were all fitted with microphones, so that the crowd could hear their banter as they played. It absolutely does not matter, but Federer & Gates won the one-set match by 6 to 3.  (Gates is a little bit better at tennis than Trevor Noah, and for their part, Federer and Nadal just kept the ball in play, until one of the other two made a mistake).

Friday/ wash your hands, frequently

Wow .. the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is making a lot of trouble in mainland China, and especially in Hubei province. The whistleblower doctor that sounded the alarm originally, Li Wenliang, has passed away in Wuhan. He was only 34.

The local authorities in Wuhan have bumped up the number of new makeshift hospital beds from 26,000 to 36,000. More people have also tested positive in that cruise ship under quarantine in Yokohama, Japan. There is a severe shortage of facemasks in China (the cheap ones are not very effective, but I guess it gives the wearer a psychological boost).

So far – outside of China – the spread of the virus seems to be contained, though. Even so, courtesy of the Port of Seattle website .. 

  • Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home when sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid non-essential travel to China.
  • Check-in with your airline if you have questions about your travel itinerary.
  • While not protective against the coronavirus, it’s not too late to get an influenza vaccine, since flu season can last into spring.
Guidelines from the CDC from Americans coming home from China (14 days of self quarantine). Non-citizens will be quarantined for 14 days. Seattle-Tacoma airport has identified a site (a firefighter training center in North Bend, far from any neighborhoods) for asymptomatic foreigners that might still arrive from China. The travel industry and hospitality industry along with all economic activity in China is taking a serious hit from the virus.

Thursday/ more rain

It has been raining almost non-stop this week, but at least it was warm enough today to go for a walk with a raincoat & hoodie or an umbrella (50 °F/ 10 °C).

This street corner is closed with a big ‘Detour’ sign (workers  are fixing up the pavement). The ‘Republican St’ street sign is in the dirt. ‘Yes, an apt metaphor for the Republican Party’, I thought: in the dirt, taking a detour around democracy & decency.
Here’s a little dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), a small grayish American sparrow. It’s hoping to find a little bit plant seed in the flower box, I’m sure.

Tuesday/ partial results are in

Get this: the company that created the mobile app responsible for the Iowa primary chaos is 1. called ‘Shadow’, and 2. is said to employ several former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers. Best Twitter response to this tweet: Delete your company. 

It’s 24 hrs later, and we have the results of 71% of the Iowa precincts.
The Buttigieg campaign holds a slight lead over the Sanders campaign.
It was not a good night for former VP Joe Biden: looks like he will end in a distant 4th place.

There was a bug in the app that precinct captains used to send in the numbers, and most of them had to call in the results by phone, with very long hold times (2+ hrs). Unbelievable. The Iowa Democratic Party has a lot of egg on its face.

It’s all but certain that this is the death knell of the caucus process in Iowa (selection by ballot, and 1-2-3 placement, instead). It is even possible that Iowa will lose its coveted first place in the primary election sequence as well.

Update Thu Feb 6: By Thu, the results of 100% of the precincts had been released, showing Buttigieg leading by a sliver (0.1%). No sooner had this happened though, when the intrepid reporters of the New York Times pointed out discrepancies between the three sets of numbers, so the vote counters may have to recanvass (recount) the votes in some precincts. Oh boy.

Wow, the young mayor Pete leads the whole pack at this point. Caucus precinct results from the Iowa Democratic Party’s primary on Monday night, with 71% reporting (1,250 of 1,765 precincts). Buttigieg has the most pledged delegates, but Sanders got more [Source: New York Times online].

Monday/ awaiting the results from Iowa

President Pete! President Pete! chanted the crowd, as ‘Mayor Pete’ was addressing them. He has a shot at it, to win the Iowa primary, but still faces formidable competition from former VP Joe Biden, and from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the primaries of the other states.

The first of the 2020 United States presidential primary elections is taking place in Iowa tonight.

Iowa has (in my opinion) a super-complicated caucus process. On top of that, the Democratic Party has not been able to get the results out as quickly as expected by everyone. (They are planning to report out an expanded set of voter tallies, and that has evidently slowed the process down).

Anyway .. we will know eventually which of the Democratic candidates prevailed in Iowa, and may he or she go on to do well elsewhere as well. The orangutan in the White House needs to go.

Here’s a caucus scene, one of some 1,700 locations in the state of Iowa. I think this one is a high school gym. Caucus-goers show their support for a candidate by going to the candidate’s post on the floor (lots of support for Buttigieg, Sanders & Warren here; not so much for the other candidates). Candidates that do not get 15% of the total caucus-goers are considered non-viable, and their supporters have to make a second choice (or they can choose to go home). These ‘free agents’ can get lobbied by the other groups, or engage in horse-trading. ‘We will give you 5 people, in return for one state delegate’ (each location has an allotted number of state delegates). At the Iowa state level, all the delegates are then added up to determine the winner of the Iowa caucus, and the No 2, No 3 place and so on. We don’t have a person of color in there with a shot to be the Democratic candidate this year, but we have two women in contention, and wow .. what a ground-breaking campaign from first-ever gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

Sunday/ Kansas City: not in Kansas

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers by 31-20 today, to win Super Bowl No 54.
Trump promptly tweeted out congratulations to ‘the Great State of Kansas’.
Some 11 mins later, he deleted the tweet and sent out a corrected one that congratulated the state of Missouri.

Here’s former US Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri, calling out Trump’s mistake. I have actually done the 4 hr drive from St Louis, MO to Kansas City, MO. Kansas City sits on Missouri’s western edge, straddling the border with Kansas, but it is considered to be in Missouri, and not in Kansas.  I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make (to think it is in Kansas), but it is still a sore point with the people of Missouri.

Saturday/ pink and blue street cars

The rain let up a little today, but some cold air moved in from the Pacific, pushing temperatures down again into the mid-40s (6° C).

Thank heavens for the rainbow crosswalks, and the blue and pink street cars, I thought, as I walked along Broadway today. They bring some color — to counter the gray skies and sidewalks.

Friday/ the U.K. leaves the E.U.

50 pence coin cupro-nickel coin issued by the Royal Mint to ‘observe’ the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, says the website. Yes. And now we will observe how Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make life better for Britons, now that the Brexiteers finally got their way.
P.S. Some grammar geeks point out that the so-called ‘Oxford comma’ should have been used before the ‘and’. That would clarify to the reader that all of the three things mentioned, are wished between the U.K. and other nations —not only friendship.

From the Royal Mint website: ‘Commonly known as ‘Brexit,’ the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union officially took place on 31 January 2020.

The withdrawal serves as culmination of a period in British history kicked off by a referendum on 23 June 2016 which was followed by the country triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March 2017′.

 

Thursday/ the river in the sky

A break in the rain in January here in Seattle, means you have to jump at it, and go for a walk. We had an even rainier-than-usual start to the year here, with 8.04 in so far at Seatac Airport. The average for Jan. is 5.2 in.

It’s not over yet, for January rain! Another inch or two will get added to the rain totals for some places with an ‘atmospheric river’ moving in. (A little dramatic, that description, no?).  I guess it will help to alert people in flood-prone places to be on the lookout. There is a lot of snow on higher elevations that can melt with the rain and make trouble. [Meteorologist Jordan Steele on King5 TV].

Tuesday/ ‘little strings’ for dinner

I made pasta tonight – out of a box, but I made the sauce from scratch. (The sauce is usually out of a bottle, but I always use authentic Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese).

The sauce recipe called for shallot onions, garlic, tomato paste, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

Almost done here .. the sauce is cooked separate from the spaghetti. Then the spaghetti, with some of its water, is added into the sauce and cooked until the sauce has thickened.

Monday/ ‘bring jelly, and blankets’

The train tracks leading to Auschwitz’s entrance, on the cover of a 2019 book by Robert Jan van Pelt, Miriam Greenbaum and Luis Ferreiro. We have not (yet) had a World War III after 1945 — and atrocities on the scale of the Holocaust — but man! there have been horrible genocides, in Indonesia (1966), in Cambodia (1975), and in Rwanda (1994), among others, and many, many wars.

The horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp came to an end 75 years ago. I confess that I did not know that it was the Russians that liberated the people trapped in the camp.

Here is a little bit of what Don Greenbaum (94), says of the U.S. Army Liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp (this was on April 29, 1945).  From German news weekly Die Spiegel :

We couldn’t communicate at first. The prisoners spoke all sorts of languages, German, Czech, just no English. Then we found out that one of our boys could speak Yiddish. He said: “We are American soldiers. We are here to free you. You can go wherever you want.” But where should the poor devils go? We couldn’t even feed the prisoners. People were so starved that they were unable to eat normal food. We said to the comrades behind us: “Bring something to the people here that they can keep with them! Soft food, something like jelly. Anything they can swallow. And bring blankets! “

Sunday/ raindrops keep falling on my head

I cut my walkabout in downtown Seattle short today when big raindrops started to come down again.
It was 52 °F/ 11 °C with blue skies when I started out, but grey rain clouds soon swept in from the Pacific.

It was still clear by the time I had walked down to the Capitol Hill train station, with its brand new apartment buildings ..
.. but by 4.20 pm the rain had arrived. This is the view looking towards West Seattle across Elliott Bay, from the top deck at Pike Place market. That’s the MV Kitsap ferry on the left (built in 1980), setting out for Bremerton. The one approaching in the distance is probably coming in from Bainbridge Island. (Ferry traffic was down for the first time in 7 years in 2019, by 3% from 2018. Officials note that the severe winter weather in Feb. 2018, as well as the construction of the new terminal at Colman dock, are probably the main reasons for the decline).