Another day in American politics under the Trump administration, and I would say, a particularly bad one. This is not how democracy is supposed to work: for a few Republican senators to craft a major piece of legislation in secret – legislation that will take away the average citizen’s affordable or life-saving existing healthcare, basically to provide the rich with tax cuts, that they surely do not need.
From the New York Times: Senate Republicans, who for seven years have promised a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, took a major step on Thursday toward that goal, unveiling a bill to make deep cuts in Medicaid and end the law’s mandate that most Americans have health insurance. The 142-page bill would create a new system of federal tax credits to help people buy health insurance, while offering states the ability to drop many of the benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care, emergency services and mental health treatment.
So much for President Trump’s campaign promises to ‘take care of people’ and provide them with ‘terrific healthcare’.
The Pyramid of Capitalist System is a common name of a 1911 American cartoon caricature critical of capitalism, closely based on a Russian flyer of circa 1900. Says the poster: We rule you. We fool you. We shoot at you. We eat for you. Let’s also stipulate, in 2017 : ‘We take away your affordable healthcare’.
I have known about the cryptocurrency* Bitcoin for a long time, with its shady reputation as a currency for ransomware payments and drug dealers. (*A cryptocurrency is a digital currency, used on-line for payments, for which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency, and verify the transfer of funds, with all of this operating independently of a central bank.
But I see the tracking website coinmarketcap.com lists a hundred of these cryptocurrencies (whoah, is that 97 or 98 too many to be viable?). Word is now (see NYT article) that Bitcoin is losing out to a currency called Eutherium. (An unfortunate reference to ‘ether’, meaning it is as volatile as ether? Are these virtual currency units the tulip bulbs of the 21st century? .. those tulip bulbs from the Dutch Golden Age that were bid up, up and up, and then collapsed dramatically in 1637.)
The NYT article says virtual currency fanatics are monitoring the value of Bitcoin and Eutherium and waiting for the two currencies to switch place at the top of the market cap listings, a moment that has been called ‘the flippening’.
These cryptocurrencies are volatile, and for mad money investors only. For example: Eutherium dropped from USD 410.68 (Jun 13) to USD 313.87 (Jun 15), a 24% drop in two days. Then again, look at that long-term trend. Easy now to look back and say: I should have gotten in by now!
Below is part of Jake Tapper’s commencement address at his alma mater, Dartmouth College. (Dartmouth is an Ivy League university in Hanover, New Hampshire. Jake Tapper is the anchor of CNN weekday television news show ‘The Lead with Jake Tapper’).
So, what tangible advice do I have to share, having departed from this campus 26 years ago? First, let me offer the quick and easy stuff. OK?
Always write thank-you notes.
Be a big tipper.
Always split Aces and Eights.
Call your folks.
Invest in a good mattress.
Shine your shoes.
Don’t tweet, post, Instagram, or email anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing on the front page of The New York Times.
Be nice to seniors.
Be nice to children.
Never miss an opportunity to charge an electronic device.
Use two-step verification.
Shake it off. Shake it off.
Stretch before exercising.
Stretch after exercising.
Never play keno.
Never drink airplane coffee.
Never pay $200 for a pair of jeans.
Never wear jean shorts; and
No one has ever had fun on a paddleboat.
Advice from the serious part of Jake Tapper’s speech : ‘honoring the humanity of others, will allow you to get in closer touch with your own’.
‘Once every decade a bridge comes along that is so large that it can only be described with words like colossal, gargantuan, mammoth and epic’, says the website highest bridges of the Chishi Bridge in the south of China.
(To be sure, there is the Millau Viaduct in the south of France, to compare to it. Since this Viaduct’s opening in 2004, it has been consistently ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time).
Also – check out this otherworldly animation on the New York Times with the four pillars rising from the valley floor up, up out of the mist like gigantic tuning forks.
The NYT article sounds a cautionary note, as well – be careful not to overspend on infrastructure that goes underused.
This still from the New York Times animation shows how tall the pylons of the bridge are. There are four of these, for a total length of 2.27 km (1.4 mi).
Just for fun, I typed in ‘Chishixiang, Hunan, China’ on Google Maps, to see what the bird’s eyeview of the bridge looks like. I just could not do a ‘virtual drive across the bridge since Google Streetview is not available for this map.
Odd, very odd. Wikipedia to the rescue: Lord Buckethead is a political satirist from the United Kingdom. Lord Buckethead has run for political office three times. Representing the Gremloids frivolous political party, he ran against Margaret Thatcher for parliament in Finchley in 1987, and against John Major in Huntingdon in 1992. In 2017, he ran in Maidenhead, opposing Theresa May.
The snap ‘Brexit Election’ in Great Britain resulted in losses for Prime Minister Theresa May. She lost the first outright majority that the Conservatives had had for 18 years in Parliament. As for Brexit – since Article 50 has been triggered, there seems to be no turning back. However, the start of the Brexit negotiations may now be delayed, or what could have been a ‘hard’ Brexit may now become a ‘soft’ Brexit.
The difference between ‘hard’ Brexit and ‘soft’ Brexit is as follows (from the Independent newspaper):
A hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the single market and full access of the customs union along with the EU.
The arrangement would prioritise giving Britain full control over its borders, making new trade deals and applying laws within its own territory.
A soft Brexit approach would leave the UK’s relationship with the EU as close as possible to the existing arrangements, and is preferred by many Remainers.
The UK would no longer be a member of the EU and would not have a seat on the European Council. It would lose its MEPs and its European Commissioner. But, it would keep unfettered access to the European single market.
This graphic by the New York Times, titled ‘How Britain Voted’. Conservative is roughly equal to Republican in the US, and Labour to the Democrats. Some observers say the middle has dropped out of British politics, similar to what has happened in the United States (the two major parties moved away from the middle, further to the right, or to the left).
Tuesday marked the 73rd anniversary of D-Day: the largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation that began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and that contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.
Wow. With Bryan’s help (thanks Bryan!), I sold my 1996 Toyota Camry in less than 24 hrs after we had placed an ad for it on Craigslist. Yes, it is an old car, but it had lots going for it: one owner, no accidents, ‘only’ 114,000 miles on the clock, clean inside.
I paid $18,895* for the Japanese driving machine in 1996.
*At 3% annual inflation the 1996 dollars come to about $35,000 in 2017, which is about what one would pay for an equivalent car (and hopefully with some great new technology).
And did I get a $35,000 new car? Well, no. I don’t spend nearly enough time driving a car to work, or in the city (with plenty of public transportation options), to justify that. I ‘upgraded’ to a 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid that I bought from a friend. And let’s see what electric car options are out there, in a few years, is what I am thinking.
Cape Town finally got some rain on Saturday night, and there is much more on the way for Tuesday. This is the start of the rainy season for the Western Cape, and sustained rainfall is very badly needed, so that the dams in the area can be replenished. The city and surrounding area is dealing with the worst drought in living memory.
[Map from www.1stweather.com]. Heavy rainfall with northwesterly winds is predicted for Tuesday for Cape Town, as a large weather system starts to move across the country from west to east. Conversion of mm to inches : 25 mm = 1 inch.
Here’s the New York Times’s notes of Saturday’s terror attacks in London, overlaid on a Google Map. (Note to self: London Bridge is a different bridge from the Tower Bridge). Should cities spend more money on security or their police force? I”m not sure if that will help a lot. The three assailants on Saturday were shot dead within 8 minutes of the start of the attacks. It’s a very difficult problem to solve.
This from the ‘Morning Joe’ show on Monday morning, (President Trump selected ‘E’. ‘Drudge’ refers to ‘The Drudge Report’, an unreliable Alt-Right internet rumor monger).
There was a tornado in the town of Three Hills, Canada (northeast of Calgary) on Friday. Here’s a guy that mowed his lawn in the middle of all this, ignoring pleas from his family to come inside. ‘The wind is moving in the other direction’, he told his wife.
Here is the YouTube link that shows the monster as it moves. No one was hurt.
Got to mow the lawn, come hell or high water – or tornadoes- right? [Photo credit Cecilia Wessels]
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History is a 1989 book on the evolution of Cambrian fauna by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.
I finally opened the packaging of my collection of Cambrian creatures that I had bought some months ago in Tokyo. (They are on exhibit in my kitchen window, so that I can get to know their difficult names).
It turns out we know of these creatures from their discovery in what is now known as the Burgess Shale : a fossil-bearing deposit exposed in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia in Canada.
Earth and its continents looked radically different some 500 million years ago! The Cambrian creatures were the only ones around but appeared in such a short time, that it is called the Cambrian explosion (of animal life). Earth’s surface was some 7 °C warmer than today, and the atmosphere only had 2/3 of today’s levels of oxygen.
Here is my collection of Cambrian creatures (http://www.f-favorite.net/). The little models are faithful reproductions from what is known from the fossils. I’m sure some artistic license was taken for the colors of the creatures, though.
Here’s another one of my favorite print ads from several years ago, from South Africa. It’s from telecom and mobile phone company Vodaphone.
When in Africa – avoid heavy charges of the elephantine kind, as well as those from your mobile phone service provider! This was several tears before 2007 (the first iPhone’s appearance), when Nokia was still at the top of the mobile phone handset game.
Memorial Day weekend is approaching – the unofficial start of summer here in the United States.
In the spirit of summer, here is a Mazda print ad from 2002 that appeared in a South African magazine, and that I had saved. It’s near Muizenberg beach close to Cape Town. (The printed ad spread across the magazine centerfold, and I did the best I could to make it into one picture).
A Mazda print ad from 2002, for the South African market. Find FIVE things in the picture, says the ad, that are ‘not quite what they appear to be’ (to enter into a competition to win a new Mazda). Can you find the five things?
The 2018 budget’s byline is ‘A New Foundation For American Greatness’. Well, the foundation is very flawed. And as for what constitutes greatness – it’s a greatness that further shreds the bare social safety net for the sick and the poor, and for children. Yessir. That’s how we make America great.
The Trump Administration’s 2018 budget numbers were released on Tuesday.
The budget forecasts the US economy to grow by 3.0% every year for the next then years. Well – the U.S. economy grew 1.6% in 2016, and for the next ten years the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a team of economists, projects it to be 1.8%. That’s an enormously lower figure than 3.0%.
Then, the budget assumes that the Trump Administration’s proposed tax cuts would boost economic growth enough (again, extremely unlikely to be 3%) to pay for $2 trillion in additional spending (on the military, for example) by 2027. But the Trump tax cuts are also supposed to be revenue-neutral, a phrase that already accounts for the $2 trillion. The $2 trillion cannot be used twice in the budget! Yes, yes, never mind all that, countered Budget Director Mick Mulvaney when this was pointed out to him. ‘We stand by the numbers’.
All this nonsense and sloppiness from a White House team of billionaires, many from Goldman Sachs, calling themselves business people and economically savvy.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney explaining the budget. (Um. Actually – 3% IS too optimistic). Mulvaney also spun (or tried to spin) proposed cuts to social services as an act of “compassion” for wealthy taxpayers.