Friday/ Trump’s campaign criminals

From the front page of today’s on-line New York Times.

Special Investigator Robert Mueller has so far unsealed over 100 criminal charges against 19 people (13 are Russians).

Just today, Rick Gates (age 45), Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016-17, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States, and to lying to FBI investigators.

Cable TV talk show host Chris Hayes’s Twitter musings on Manafort, the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Additional charges were also brought today against Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager for a few months in 2016. Manafort (age 68) now faces dozens of counts of money laundering* and bank fraud charges. He maintains his innocence (good luck with that).   *We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here.

The most tantalizing questions remain.
Why did Trump fire FBI Director James Comey in May 2017?
Why did Trump lie about Don Jr’s meeting with the Russians in June 2016?
Why does the FBI refuse to give son-in-law Jared Kushner a security clearance?

Thursday/ stamps are forever

This sheet of ‘Great Plains Prairie’ stamps (issued 2001) was on sale on-line, and I ordered it for my stamp collection. The manila envelope that the sheet had arrived in today, had itself some interesting stamps on.  Are these old stamps even legit? I wondered .. but it turns out they are. Postage stamps do not have expiration dates, as a general rule.

One of a series of ten sheets of stamps, each with a different environment, and a bunch of animals and plants on. Check out the pronghorn (antelope), badger, eastern short-horned lizard and burrowing owls on the left, and the bison and the black-tailed prairie dog in the middle. Burrowing in the ground are prairie pocket gophers – and they had better watch out for the prairie rattlesnake at the bottom right.
Here’s the manila envelope from the vendor, so let’s see what stamps these might be!  Left to right: US Airmail Eagle 4c, issued 1954* (whoah); USA Circle of Stars 6c (1981); Commercial Aviation 1926-1976 13c (1976); Pacific 97 International Stamp Exhibition (1997).     *Inflation makes 4 cents from 1954 worth about 37 cents in 2018.

Wednesday/ more snow

There is another dusting of snow on the ground tonight. The city of Seattle gets an inch (or more) of snow in February, in about 1 out of 4 years .. so looks like this would be one of those years.

The view from my house here on Capitol Hill, at around 10 pm on Wednesday night.
The top of the rail along my back yard deck serves as a nice snow gauge.

Thu morning 2/22:  My unofficial ‘snow gauge’ shows that an amount just shy of 1 ½ in of snow, fell on Wednesday night.

Tuesday/ buffalo makes five

Hey, a buffalo!  I thought, as I spotted one at the Target store’s toy section yesterday.  I got one for my African animals collection.

This is a cheapie one ($3.50, made by a company called Terra), and I will still look for one from my favorite purveyor of animal figurines, the German company called Schleich.  The Terra-made buffalo does have a lilac-breasted roller (‘troupand’) sitting on its back, a nice touch.

My collection of Big Five animals*, a reference to the big game animals that trophy hunters go for in Africa.  I really hope that more and more, it will instead be a reference to five popular animals that game reserves strive to have on hand, for safari tourists to see roaming in the wild.  *African buffalo, black rhinoceros, African elephant, African lion and African leopard.

Monday/ ‘surprise’: a new worst President

The famous Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota. From left to right: Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. If ever another President were to be added, the historians’ consensus is that it should be Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

On today, the President’s Day holiday here in the United States, the findings of the 2018 survey by an expert panel has President Donald Trump rated dead last*.

At this early point, he is already deemed worse than even James Buchanan, the Union’s 15th president. (Wikipedia: After leaving office, Buchanan spent most of his remaining years defending himself from public blame for the Civil War).

*Even among self-identified Republicans and conservatives on the panel, Trump came in 40th of 44.

Sunday/ winter bites back

We had a little sleet and snow mix here in the city today – somewhat unusual for February – and the temperature only went up to 38 °F/ 3°C. There was bright sun with clear blue skies in the afternoon.  I ventured out for a walk, but the icy wind made me turn around and go home after a few blocks.

The view out my back door at about noon today (left). A little while later, fine snow came down, just enough to stick to the lawn and sidewalk out in front of my house (right).

Saturday/ Russia’s meddling

Deputy AG of the Dept of Justice Rod Rosenstein briefing reporters on Friday. Thirteen Russians were indicted. An American was separately indicted for identity theft. More indictments will surely come, since these did not address obstruction of justice, criminal hacking of the Clinton campaign servers, or money laundering.

 

Exactly how Russia interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election in the USA, became much clearer on Friday.

The Dept of Justice charged 13 Russian nationals with using stolen identities and exploiting YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to wage a well-funded and well-coordinated campaign to promote Trump and to tear down Hillary Clinton.

What’s still not clear: to what extent Trump, Trump Jr and Trump campaign staff colluded with the Russians – and to what extent they obstructed the Mueller investigation. Yes, Deputy AG Rosenstein said bluntly on Friday: “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge” of Russian involvement .. but surely more indictments are forthcoming.

Fake-News-President Trump launched a tweetstorm on Friday & Saturday full of denials and I-told-you-so’s. He quoted Rosenstein and others, claimed exoneration from colluding with the Russians, said this had no effect on the election, and again attacked the FBI.

Excerpt from the FBI’s 37-page indictment. The 13 Russians and their accomplices purchased Facebook advertisements, recruited US persons to appear as Hillary Clinton in prison garb at rallies, and urged US voters to attend pro-Trump rallies. Trump supporters eagerly retweeted and posted the fake Russian ads against Clinton.

Friday/ Happy Lunar New Year!

Today marks the start of the lunar Year of the Dog. The lunar year runs until Feb 10, 2019.

I went down to the post office and got a sheet of stamps, the way I do every year: 2012 2015 2016 2017.

Here are the 2018 Lunar Year stamps. (Man .. they make one work hard to find the ‘Dog’ of the Year of the Dog on the stamps). There is a big doggie in green on the sheet, and then one in gold in the top left of each stamp). The ‘lucky bamboo’ plant on the stamps (Dracaena sanderiana) is not a true bamboo, but the cane-like stems and thin leaves give the appearance of bamboo.

Thursday/ aftermath of another massacre

17 kids were shot dead in a Florida high school yesterday. So: another gunman joined the long list of mass murderers enabled by the National Rifle Association, loose gun laws, and the inaction of Congress in the United States.

Many, many Americans had hoped the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut would be a turning point. Below is a graphic from the New York Times that shows the accomplishments of our lawmakers since then. (Keep scrolling down to look for a colored square).

 

Wednesday/ flawless

I loved the short pairs program of Chinese figure skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. Their music was k.d. lang’s dreamy, languid rendition* of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, and the skaters delivered a flawless and emotional performance. Wow.

*Lang sang it at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

This video still from http://www.nbcolympics.com: ‘Reigning world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China lead the field after the pairs’ short program on Wednesday, setting them up for China’s first pairs gold medal since 2010. Their emotional, solid short program to K.D. Lang’s “Hallelujah” scored 82.39 points. They took the silver for pairs.

Tuesday/ the perils of turning 62

From Monday’s Wall Street Journal, in a short article titled ‘Why So Many Men Die at 62’

A study out just this past December, of US mortality data for the period 1979 to 2012, revealed that there is a curious jump in the death rate at age 62, especially for men (not so much for women). Why is that? Researchers think the eligibility for social security payments at age 62, and retirement at that age, is the combined culprit.

Retirement from a desk job could very well have long-term benefits (more exercise, less stress, being better able to take care of oneself).  But it could also mean the person becomes more sedentary after doing physical labor as part of his job, smokes more, or even drives around a lot more, and end up in a traffic accident.

Says one of the authors of the study: ‘We aren’t necessarily saying people shouldn’t retire. But if you are thinking about retirement, particularly if you are 62 and your health is poor to start with, think of preventive health measures. Stay healthy, see a physician, don’t just sit on the couch, but don’t overdo it, either. Be careful about driving. Just be careful. It’s a tricky time’. 

Monday/ on ‘Zuma Exit’ watch

Ever since South African President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address last Thursday was postponed, there was a buzz that his ouster is near, finally.

Zuma assumed office in 2009, and soon disgraced himself and the presidency with corruption and incompetence (see newspaper clipping below). Last December, South Africa’s Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa became the ruling African National Congress party’s chairman, resulting in a leadership crisis. 

Word on Monday night in South Africa was that the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting had ended with a decision to recall Zuma.  Sources say Zuma had earlier agreed to resign – but on the condition that he stay put 3 more months in office. It was rejected by the NEC.

Tue 2/13 update: President Jacob Zuma is expected to brief the media at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Wed 2/13 update: Zuma gave a rambling, meandering response to the moves by the ANC to get him to quit. (He basically asked ‘What did I do wrong?’ and plans to stay on at least until June). There’s a little ‘as you sow, so you shall reap’ going on here. The ANC had protected Zuma for far too long.

Wed night 2/13: Zuma announces that he is resigning with immediate effect. (Good riddance).

From a recent issue of the newspaper ‘The Witness’. ANC is African National Congress, the ruling political party in South Africa; NPA is National Prosecuting Authority and SOE is State-owned Entity.

Sunday/ making Waves at Century Link Field

‘The Wave’ is one of a few newly constructed buildings close by Century Link Field (football field) south of Seattle’s Pioneer Square district.

The Wave has a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. The studios start at $1,500 a month, and the two-bedrooms can run up to $6,000 a month, depending on the floor space.  The Amtrak station with trains south to Portland and north to Vancouver is right there by these buildings, as is the light rail station to Seatac airport and elsewhere in the city.

Looking south towards Century Link Field stadium in the center. There is a new Embassy Suites hotel on the left, and the luxury apartment building The Wave on the right. These were constructed on the old north parking lot of the stadium. Fewer parking spaces are needed now that there is a light rail train stop close by the stadium.
And here is a full view of The Wave. It is a 26-story building with 333 units. The vertical mass is segmented into blocks that are slightly askew. The highly reflective glass reflect blue sky or the older, historic buildings from Pioneer Square close by. The south-facing units at the top actually offer views right into the stadium. Hopefully solid sound-proofing keeps some of the noise out .. or maybe most residents would not mind the cheering sound of the Seahawks and Sounders fans?

Saturday/ rain in Cape Town

July is normally the wettest month in Cape Town, with a total of about 5 inches of rain. It’s been 4 years since the city has had a normal season of rain, though. [Source: http://www.holiday-weather.com]
Rain fell in drought-stricken Cape Town on Saturday, about 6 mm (0.25 in). Elsewhere, along False Bay in Strand and Hermanus, some 20 mm (0.8 in) was recorded.

The start of the rainy season is still a few months away, though.

 

Friday/ one Korea: the dream is fading

It was great to see the unified Korean team come into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony. One could argue that Korea is the only divided country that remains in the world.  For example, there was North and South Vietnam (united in 1975), East and West Germany (united in 1990), and South North and South Yemen (also united in 1990). And yes, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but one cannot see it become one country again.

I read that support for Korean unification is fading, though. Some 50% of young South Koreans regard North Korea as an outright enemy, that they want nothing to do with. The harsh reality is that there is a yawning chasm between the economies of the countries. The per capita income difference between the South and North is 20 to 1. For West Germany and East Germany it was 3 to 1.

Here come the Koreans, the unified team entering the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony. It is not a first: unified Korean teams marched in the opening ceremonies of the 2000, 2004, and 2006 Olympics as well. Real unification? Very hard and very real obstacles remain. [Picture from Vox.com]

Thursday/ the quad king disappoints

Hey! The 2018 Winter Games is underway.  US figure skater the ‘quad king*’ Nathan Chen (18) made his debut on Friday in Pyeongchang, but disappointed.  He failed to properly execute the quad triple toe, and fell on another jump, ending up in fourth place.  ‘Was it nerves? What went wrong?’ inquired an interviewer.  “I wasn’t nervous,’ Chen said. ‘I felt pretty comfortable, I was relaxed and ready to go.’ He did admit that he ‘got ahead of myself. I think I was a little too excited.’

*Chen is the first figure skater to land five quadruple lutz jumps (four rotations) in one program. These jumps take a lot of energy, physically and emotionally.  Chen is also the only undefeated men’s skater in the world this season.

Nathan Chen falls during the Olympic team event (men’s single figure skating short program) on Friday in Pyeongchang. [Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TodaySports]

Wednesday/ physics memories

Yes, it’s a 1996 issue and possibly missing a few notes on quantum mechanics and particle physics, but hey: $8. (That’s a French train on the cover).

I picked up this physics handbook at a secondhand bookstore today.  What in the world do I want to do with it? Well, it is very similar to one that I had as a freshman engineering student, and it brings back happy memories.

The first chapter has tables that illustrate the orders of magnitude in time, mass and length that physics deal with. The rest of the book is packed with pictures and diagrams.

Whoah. It’s an unimaginable long way to the edge of the observable universe (the last entry in the table). A light year is roughly 10^16 m, so that 10^26 is equal to 10 billion light years.
The age of Earth and the age of the universe are an order of magnitude apart, rougly speaking. In more precise terms, the age of Earth is 4.6 billion years and that of the universe 13.8 billion years.
This table tells me that Earth is roughly 100 times the mass of the moon, and the Sun is roughly 100,000 times heavier than Earth. I think I read somewhere that if Earth was the size of the head of a match stick, the Sun would be a soccer ball!

Tuesday/ a Falcon that’s Heavy

Elon Musk’s SpaceX team had a spectacularly successful Falcon rocket lift-off and recovery of two booster units today. (The middle booster failed to land on its drone ship target and was lost).

This rocket is called Falcon Heavy because it can lift nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lbs) into orbit*.  Check out the photos that SpaceX had posted on Flickr, here.

*The massive Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, could deliver 137 tons into orbit.  There was also a Russian rocket, the Energia, that made flights in 1987 and 1988 that could lift 100 tons into space.

Here’s the lift-off of the Falcon Heavy rocket (cost: $90m). Rockets are about 85% fuel by mass. This is essentially a Falcon 9 rocket with two additional boosters strapped onto it. This was just a test flight, and there is a Tesla Roadster inside the rocket, with a dummy dressed up in a space suit (‘Spaceman’) driving it.  Right here about 5 million pounds of thrust is generated, equal to the combined thrust of some eighteen Boeing 747 aircraft.
I smiled when the live-feed camera panned over the ‘fan boys’ with their happy faces, as they cheered the lift-off. I think this is at the launch center in Cape Canaveral in Florida. P.S. Where are all the fan-girls? We need you, too, to become engineers.

Monday/ robo-advisors and robo-traders

Well – it was a bit of a bloodbath today in the stock market with the Dow Jones down another 4.6%.   Note to media: Why sensationalize it further by reporting the 1,175 points loss as the ‘biggest ever’ – technically true, but misleading? Percentage-wise it’s only the biggest drop since 2011 for the Dow.

Bloomberg reports that the robo-advisor websites from Betterment and Wealthfront crashed today. (Too much traffic).  Ironically, robo-trading algorithms are suspected as the culprits for accelerating the 900 point loss to 1,600 points (6.2%*) in the afternoon, before the market recovered somewhat to the 1,175 points loss at the close.

*At 7% down for the S&P 500, the trading curb circuit-breakers would have halted trading for 15 minutes.

Hmm .. futures point to 2% more downside on the Dow Jones’s Tuesday opening (this as of 10 pm Eastern Time on Monday night).

Sunday/ the underdog is a champ

The front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer, on Monday morning,

Philadelphians are celebrating the the streets, after their Eagles defied expectations and best the New England Patriots 41-33 in Superbowl LVII.

Eagles quarterback Nick (‘Saint Nick’) Fowles started the season as back-up quarterback for his team. He replaced regular quarterback Carson Wentz in December when Wentz tore a knee ligament.

Fowles didn’t inspire a lot of confidence at first, but played brilliantly in the post-season playoffs, and ended up being voted Most Valuable Player.  Wow.

Here is a collage of some of the highlights of the game. That’s Patriots quarterback Tom Brady top left, and Eagles QB Nick Foles to his right. The Patriots briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter, but then tight end game had a nail-biting finish, but then Zach Ertz got a touchdown, and the Eagles stopped Tom Brady from drawing even and forcing the game into overtime. [Picture stills from ESPN.com]