Saturday/ still in an almost-zero rate world

The number of jobs added to the US economy in March was only 98,000 – far fewer than the 185,000 estimate. Weirdly, the unofficial unemployment rate went down to 4.5%, the lowest in 10 years (meaning more people had given up looking for work?).   Hourly wages only rose 0.2% (in a strong economy this number would be 3% or even 4%).

The Federal Reserve Bank will probably keep raising the federal funds rate, to allow them more room to maneuver for the next recession.  There is so much talk of raising the rates – or not – at each Federal Reserve Meeting, that I had to look up the recent history of the rate (see below).  It’s still very low by historical standards (the rate is now 0.75 to 1.00 %):

Dec 16, 2008 target rate set to 0.0–0.25
Dec 16, 2015 — 0.25-0.50
Dec 14, 2016 — 0.50-0.75
Mar 15, 2017 — 0.75-1.00

Friday night movie

I don’t watch movies on TV as a rule, but sometimes I click up and down through the channels just to see what is on.  On Friday night I stumbled again onto ‘This is 40’ (2012, directed by Judd Apatow). I knew that after all a lot of interpersonal relation-ship chaos, the movie would end with a great scene where Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann) go out to find some live music, and that it would be Ryan Adams singing ‘Lucky Now’.  So I patiently waited for the movie to reach the end, so that I could see the song again.  I love that song!








Thursday/ Syria .. what will happen tomorrow?

So .. what to make of Pres. Trump’s (and/or his Secretary of State’s?) sudden change of heart regarding intervention in Syria, is the question being debated all night here on cable news.   (The Pentagon launched dozens of missiles to hit the air base near Homs, in Syria, that was reportedly used for preparing and launching the sarin gas attack against civilians on Tuesday).   There have been chemical attacks before.  This is a civil war that has now raged for 6 years, claiming ~500,000 lives, displacing 7.6 million people internally in Syria, and producing 4.8 million refugees.

Many observers are not too critical of the action that was taken, but it was not authorized by Congress (it should have been); it was an abrupt change in policy, and it was done unilaterally.   Several tweets noted that officials in the State Dept were out of the loop, as were key US allies.

Donald Trump tweets from 2012 and 2013 when President Obama was in office.


Wednesday/ my new guilty pleasure

Single-serve Nutella is a boon for travelers (me) that need something to put on bread that does not need a refrigerator.

I picked up a new guilty pleasure while in Germany & Switzerland recently: putting Nutella* on my bread or toast.   The convenience stores in the train stations there sell single-serve Nutella packets, and once I had a few slices of bread with the stuff on, I was hooked.

Nutella is widely available here in the United States, and comes from a factory in Brantford, Ontario, in Canada.

*Nutella is a chocolate and hazelnut spread and has been around since 1964, when it was first produced in Alba, Italy – an area known for the production of hazelnuts. [From Wikipedia].

Nutella featured on the front page of a recent issue of the German newspaper Die Welt. Some unhappy European Union member states complained at the 2017 EU Spring Summit that they are getting sold second-rate household products in their stores.  For example, said the East European countries : our Nutella is not as creamy as the product that is available in Germany! (I would complain too!).

Tuesday/ Bertha sees daylight

Yay! The tunnel boring machine called Bertha, digging the State Route 99 tunnel under the city to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, emerged today into the sunlight.  The tunnel is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) long.  Digging started four years ago in April 2013, but came to a halt in December 2013 when damage to the the main bearing was sustained.  It would be two years, until December 2015, before digging could resume.

So .. now the tunnel is dug, but it will still take until early 2019 before the current above-ground section of State Route 99 can be moved below ground, by using the tunnel.

The moment the tunneling machine broke into the end wall. What happens next? Well, the braces in the disassembly pit will be removed, the tunneling machine pushed forward so that the cutter head can be removed. then the rest of the machine will be taken back through the tunnel to the starting point. (The crane that can lift the very heavy machinery, is located).

Monday/ farewell to dandelion

Here are the crayons from Crayola’s 24-crayon set. Dandelion is the dark yellow third from the bottom. Crayola will reportedly replace the dandelion color with a color from the blue or green family.

Crayola announced recently that they are retiring the dandelion crayon color.  I have fond childhood memories* of Crayola crayons, but I did not have dandelion – it was introduced only in 1990.  Even so, I bought a 24-pack with the dandelion crayon color in (cost $4), to put on my desk here at home, to see what the fuss is about, and to have a dandelion crayon after all.

*I was fascinated by the colors called periwinkle and mahogany, and when the metallic silver and gold crayon colors came out).

Sunday/ Puget Sound low tide

We had some sun on Sunday, and even though it was not warm! (50 °F/ 10 °C), it was still nice to get outside.  My friends Bill & Dave and I took their dogs to the beach at the edge of Puget Sound between Golden Gardens, and Carkeek Park.

1. The main picture shows the edge of Puget Sound looking southwest, more or less where the bubble no 10 is on the map.   2.  I’m no crap expert, but I think this is a dungeness crab we ran into on the beach.   3.  Just out of curiosity, I looked up the rules for catching crab on the Washington State Dept of Fisheries and Wildlife.  When the season is open, there is a limit of 5 adult males.  (For area 10 the season is closed right now).

Saturday/ (I don’t like) April Fools’ Day

It turns out ‘fake news’ goes back a long way – in the case of fake news regarding the collapse of the Space Needle, all the way back to April Fools’ Day in 1989.   Local TV station King5 reports that an April Fools’ Day joke that year, was taken as seriously real news, in spite of a bold ‘APRIL FOOLS DAY’ caption on the fake picture that was aired.   So many people called 911 that the local 911 system was shut down.  The story made national headlines, and jokesters John Keister and Steve Wilson that put the footage together (including a hysterical ‘eyewitness’) had to apologize on air.

Fake news from April 1, 1989 : that the Space Needle had collapsed. (No such thing happened).

Friday/ Zuma’s end game?

On Thursday night South African President Jacob Zuma fired the widely respected Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan* and set off an outcry by many in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and opposition political parties. By the end of the week, the South African rand had slipped some 8% against the dollar, amid renewed concerns about corruption at the top levels of government. Many South Africans are also concerned that the South Africa’s economy and viability as an investment could be downgraded by credit ratings agencies.  (Unemployment in South Africa is a huge challenge, and stands at 27%).  From Bloomberg News Jan 26, 2017 : In a 2014 report, the graft ombudsman found that the president unfairly benefited from a taxpayer-funded 215.9 million rand upgrade of his private home, and last year the nation’s top court ruled that he violated his oath of office by refusing to repay some of the money. In a separate finding last year, the ombudsman implied that Zuma allowed a wealthy family in business with his son (the Guptas) to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts.

The next South African Presidential election is only in 2019, but all eyes are looking to December of this year.  The ANC’s 54th national conference will be held, and Zuma’s support (he is the current ANC President) will surely face a crucial test.

*Fired along with eight other ministers in the cabinet.  Technically the South African Constitution allows for the President to do this, but there is wide agreement that this was done in the President’s personal interest, and not in the interests of South African citizens.

‘Rise up, South Africa’, says this photo in Die Burger newspaper. That is fired Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan (with his arm raised) in the middle of the picture, with his ex-deputy Mcebisi Jonas to his right.

Thursday/ (just another day of) chaos in the White House

Great summary of statements made by disgraced ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (since January).

News broke today of 1. two Trump White House officials that meddled with the House investigation into Russian agents’ involvement in the 2016 US Election (and if they were aided by the Trump 2016 campaign) and 2. that ousted ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn ‘has a story to tell’ but will only do so in exchange for immunity.

This is on top of the usual dose of offensive and angering new actions from the Trump ‘Administration’* : now allowing ISPs to sell users’ browsing history for profit; stripping government funding from important health-care provided by Planned Parenthood clinics; approving the use of a pesticide in agriculture (linked to brain damage and previously banned); appointing family and in-laws to White House positions; reports that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is now virtually empty (it has just one guy working there).

*An oxymoron, since they are not ‘administering’ anything.  They’re dismantling just about everything that had been put into place that look out for the interests of citizens, in favor of special interest groups and billionaires (read: Carl Icahn).

Graphic from the Washington Post. ‘Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests’. (Kislyak is a Russian diplomat who has served as Russia’s Ambassador to the United States since 2008).

Wednesday/ can confirm: sun in Seattle

This February and March have been the wettest in at least a century here in the Pacific Northwest.  So when the sun came out today, our local TV station tweeted this tongue-in-cheek picture of a sun-lit downtown Seattle.  And as I walked into my kitchen late afternoon to start with dinner, I thought Whoah! The sun is so bright!

Tuesday/ first day for the new £1 coin

The new £1 coin has a latent image (in the middle at the bottom), micro-lettering – very small lettering on the lower inside rim on both sides of the coin – and an undisclosed high-security feature, built into the coin, to protect it from counterfeiting in the future.

The Royal Mint is rolling out* a new £1 coin in the United Kingdom today, the first update of the £1 coin since 1983. It is billed as the world’s most secure coin and features a ‘latent’ image  that changes from a ‘£’ symbol to the number ‘1’ when the coin is seen from different angles. (Cool).

I was curious to see if the current 1.2413 exchange rate is actually an all-time low for the British Pound against the US Dollar, but it is not : the record low of 1.05 was in 1985.

*Rolling out may not be the right term to use. The coin is 12 sided with alternatively smooth and grooved edges.  The old round coin could roll smoothly, but not so with the new one.



Monday/ smashing everything

I started reading the on-line New York Times again – and my Twitter news feed – after more than a month.  It’s not a pretty sight.  Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote a scathing (but accurate) open letter to Donald Trump in the Sunday edition, here.

As she notes : It took W. years to smash everything. You’re way ahead of schedule.  (W. is George W. Bush, of course).

Friday/ Republicans have egg on their face

There was a spectacular failure in the House of Representatives today as the Republican party attempted to vote ‘yes’ for a long-anticipated law they called the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017.

The AHCA was supposed to repeal and replace the landmark Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) of 2009.   That law took 13 months of extensive deliberations by the Obama Administration, and spans some 20,000 pages.  The health-care industry in the United States is a US$3 billion-a-year business, and touches 350 million people.

So in 2017, along comes the know-nothing Trump Administration, have policy wonk and Speaker Paul Ryan draft up the new AHCA proposal, and it is debated in the House for 20 days.  But it was such a bad law that many moderate Republicans could not vote for it (not one of the 193 Democrats was in favor). There was also the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus (Republicans) that insisted on Thursday that the proposed AHCA law be made even ‘meaner’. They were given their demand. (Obamacare mandates that all policies include care such as emergency care, maternity care, prescription drugs and mental health care. So on Thursday night, this requirement was stripped out of the AHCA).

Unhappy with the dissent in the ranks of the House Republicans and impatient, President Trump issued an ultimatum last night to his party: pass the AHCA or we leave Obamacare in place and move on.

By mid-day Friday it was clear Speaker Ryan would not get the votes to pass it, and Pres.Trump instructed him to withdraw the AHCA law altogether.

Graphic from the New York Times.

Thursday/ souvenirs from Switzerland

I love to unpack my bags and dig out all the souvenirs, wedged in between my clothes.  On this trip, I just bought a few small things, resisted buying a Swiss watch or another Swiss army knife (I al-ready have one, anyway).   I eyed a beautiful mechanical music box called ‘1865’ made by Reuge, but at some US$3,000 it was out of the question.  

The St Bernard with the keg is hand-carved from sustainable Swiss limewood.  It was made in the village of Brienz that has a long wood-carving tradition.

The coffee mug is from Swiss porcelain manufacturer Langenthal, named after the town of Langenthal where its factory was established in 1906.

I also scanned in one of my train tickets, just to see what the turquoise and white patterned background would look like, enlarged : looks interesting, right?  I think the pattern would look great for bathroom tiles!


Wednesday night/ home

I’m home!  From Frankfurt we made a short stop at Keflavik airport after 3 hrs, then it was another 7½ hrs to get to Seattle.

This is the town of Selfoss on the banks of the Ölfusá river in the south of Iceland, as seen from my window seat during our approach in from Frankfurt. The Icelandic Ring Road No 1 runs through the town as well.

The view as we are boarding the Boeing 767-300 for the flight from Keflavik airport to Seattle.

Wednesday/ Zürich Hbf > Frankfurt Airport

I made it to Frankfurt airport by train and will soon board my Icelandair flight to Seattle, with a stop in Reykjavik.  I took the train from Zürich to Frankfurt airport.  My travel plan for Zürich Hbf > Frankfurt Airport called for a change of trains at Mannheim.  The second train departure, to take me from Mannheim to Frankfurt airport, was canceled due to maintenance issues, though.  ‘I know what your question is already’, said the conductor as I called him over to ask what my options were.   It turned out there was another train just 4 minutes behind us, which is the one that I got onto, to get me to Frankfurt airport.

Here’s our sleek Deutsche Bahn ICE (Intercity Express) train at Zürich main station.  The train driver is having a word with the conductor (I think that’s the conductor).  He will blow a sharp whistle to say ‘All Aboard!’ two minutes before the departure time.  It is 6 am in the morning, so there are not many people around, but the train filled up at the stops along the way to Mannheim. (I took a second train from Mannheim to Frankfurt airport).

This is the arrival hall for trains that stop at the Frankfurt Flughafen (airport) station.

Monday/ Lucerne

I wanted to just post these two pictures of the beautiful Church of St. Leodegar in Lucerne.  It was just after 6 o’clock when I took the pictures.

[From Wikipedia]. The church is the most important church, and a landmark in the city of Lucerne. It was built in parts from 1633 to 1639 on the foundation of the Roman basilica which had burnt in 1633. This church was one of the few built north of the Alps during the Thirty Years War and one of the largest and art history rich churches of the German late renaissance period.