Friday/ what happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

‘The Greatest Stories from the Arabian Nights’: a childhood book that I have vivid memories of. Saudi society is difficult for outsiders to comprehend to this day. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in 2015 (with a coalition of other Arab states). The war has brought terrible suffering to Yemeni civilians (mass starvation), and is on-going. Osama bin Laden was a member of a wealthy Saudi family until 1994. And 15 of the 19 attackers on 9/11 in 2001, were Saudi Arabian nationals.

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi (59) entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, to obtain documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.  He was not seen again after that.

Turkish authorities believed he was killed in the Consulate that same day. (He had often been critical of the Saudi government).

Was the killing ordered by someone in the Saudi government?
Will there be a ‘thorough, transparent, and timely investigation’ as promised by Saudi officials to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
Will there be ‘severe consequences’, as promised by President Trump?

The world is watching.

Thursday/ early voting has started

Early voting for the all-important Nov 6 midterm elections has started in many places. Some districts report that three times as many early voters have shown up so far, compared to the  2014 midterm elections.

That sounds good for the Democrats .. but in other places, Republican governors and their administrators are engaging in aggressive efforts to purge voter roles (remove voters that say, have not voted recently).  Let’s give a special shout-out to the United States Supreme Court with its recent 5-4 ruling in Hustad v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, that has enabled all of this.

In spite of all of this, I dearly hope that there is still going to be a Blue Wave that will put a brake on the destruction of our democracy, wrought by the Trump Administration.

Wednesday/ Oktoberfest is over

Oktoberfest 2018 in Munich is over, but here is a cute little cartoon from German cartoonists Greser & Lenz.

Precarious situation at the Oktoberfest: ‘Take the mass* back, I have ordered one on the internet in the meantime’.   *A ‘mass’ is one liter of beer. It costs about €10 or  US$ 11.50.  [Copyright: Greser & Lenz]

Tuesday/ gorgeous weather

We have had a streak of beautiful blue-sky days here in the city, reaching all of 72 °F (22 °C) on Tuesday.  A high pressure system parked above the Pacific Northwest will give us even more clear weather days, all through the weekend, say the meteorologists.

Here’s the corner of Madison St & 5th Ave, as I left the Seattle Central Library on Monday. Just to the top right of the triangular walkway I see a little bit of the City Centre Building where I used to work, then the IBM Building, the red brick vintage Kimpton Hotel, the tall Crowne Plaza Hotel behind it, and finally a little bit of the Union Square building to its right.

Monday/ Paul Allen (1953-2018)

I was a little shocked today when the message ‘Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen passed away’ appeared on my phone. Allen disclosed earlier this month that he was receiving treatment (again) for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but I did not know that his health was deteriorating rapidly.

Born in Seattle, he wielded his enormous fortune to transform South Lake Union into office buildings and apartments, to help the Seattle Seahawks to stay in the city (he owned the team since 1997) and to make contributions to a large number of causes and charities.

A few items from Allen’s Twitter feed: A bit of nostalgic, original Microsoft code; helping with elephant conservation in Africa; artists at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture; at a Seahawks game; the aircraft for the Stratolaunch space transportation venture.

Sunday/ the National Geographic Photo Ark

There was a beautiful ‘60 Minutes‘ segment on TV tonight, about wildlife photographer Joel Sartore’s quest to photograph all the creatures in zoos, for the National Geographic Photo Ark project (

The project’s goal is to increase awareness of Earth’s biodiversity and the efforts by zoos to save threatened species. He has visited 40 countries and has completed intimate portraits of more than 8,485 species so far.

Photographer Joel Sartore (sitting) and CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker (standing) with Trixie, perhaps the world’s sweetest orangutan. Her home is the Avilon Zoo outside Manila in the Philippines.

Saturday/ October is scary (for the stock market)

It’s been a rough week in the US stock market this week, with the Dow Jones Industrial Index down 3% and the Nasdaq down 4% just on Wednesday, both down some more on Thursday, and then recovering a little bit on Friday.

Morgan Stanley published a bland note on Wednesday for their investors saying – uh, the market is down – and ‘a host of concerns have appeared to weigh on the market in recent sessions’.  (Higher US Treasury yields, rising interest rates, trade uncertainty between the US & China, political uncertainty & rhetoric, economic growth could be peaking).   Yes, yes, we know all of that. And it’s October, notorious for weighing on the stock market.

For once, Trump is not crowing about the stock market; now relentlessly attacking the Federal Reserve Bank (for raising interest rates).  Always looking for someone else to blame.

A lot of pain in some stock markets from around the world. (South Africa is down 15% from its January high). Greece has a tiny economy, but look at China, down 23%.  [Source: CNBC’s ‘Closing Bell’ on Friday]
This chart shows the remarkable divergence between the S&P 500 (up 3.65% for the year) and the MSCI ACWI ‘All Country World Index’ (down 10%). That’s a large gap, almost 14%. [Source: CNBC’s ‘Closing Bell’ on Friday]

Thursday/ hermit thrush

This little bird hopped around in my backyard this afternoon, and I had to wait a little bit for it to come out in the clear, so that I could snap a picture.

I believe it is a hermit thrush. They like to hop around and forage in fallen leaves, and they can sing in beautiful notes.

Wednesday/ gas pipeline explosion

There was a big gas transmission pipeline explosion in Prince George, BC, Canada, on Tuesday.  Even though it is 500 miles away, it is impacting us here in Seattle as well, since we get some of our natural gas from Canada.

Our local gas utility company is requesting that everyone to turn down their thermostats, and limit the use of hot water and electricity for a day or two. (Natural gas is used for some electricity generation).

Here’s the results of a few online searches I did .. these gas transmission pipelines are typically 36 in (0.92 m) in diameter, and pressurized to 50 times atmospheric pressure.
Interesting map of gas transmission pipelines in the United States. Check out the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Texas & Louisiana – whoah. That’s where all the refineries are, that produce natural gas and other products from crude oil.

Tuesday/ here comes Michael

Hurricane Michael will make landfall in the Florida panhandle tomorrow. It’s going to pack a powerful punch, with winds that could exceed 100 mph. At least it is projected keep moving at a steady pace, and not sit in one place like Florence did.

Source: the National Weather Service.
Update from Wed 10/10 from the New York Times: The hurricane made landfall as a Category 4, with winds of 155 mph (250 kph), unheard of. Its winds rapidly picked up speed as it approached the Florida panhandle.

Monday/ ‘better for the American people’

A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change, is pointing to worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.   There is also the set of  global goals for sustainable development, shown below.  (A sample: donate what you do not use | do not waste food, or water | vaccinate yourself & your family | call out sexist or racist language or behavior | recycle | bike, walk or use public transportation | plant a tree | avoid using plastic bags).

So we can all contribute, but powerful governments and corporations can have the biggest impact. The United States Federal Government with Trump at the helm is of course absolutely no help at all* (we will hopefully start to correct that in November, and get them out altogether in 2020). In the meantime, at least some State governments and cities are stepping up and the right thing.

*The State Dept: ‘We reiterate that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement at the earliest opportunity absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people’.  Really. ‘The American people’ .. they are not humans? And pray what planet will they live on in 2040? We will all be on Mars?


Sunday/ the fantasy worlds of LEGO

We went down to the annual ‘BrickCon’ LEGO exhibition, at Seattle Center today. This is where LEGO master builders show off their work, and fans come to admire it.  Here are some of my favorites.

Got to have a LEGO Space Needle, of course. This one was built by Wayne Hussey in 2012, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the real Needle. It took 800 hrs, over 6 months, and has more than 50,000 bricks. (And I love the totem pole in the background).
Elaborate model of the ferry Issaquah, with bridge and deck equipment, minifigures and filled up with all kinds of vehicles, to boot.
Alaska Airlines hangar with landing strip, complete with skid marks. Lots of airplanes, and a wildly colorful flying machine taking off! Seattle waterfront Ferris wheel in the foreground.
This ‘Matt’s Rollercoaster’ model was the pièce de résistance of the exhibition, in a way, featuring a fully functional roller coaster rail and car. It was built from 20,000 standard LEGO pieces after two years of design work. Check out the top right of the coaster: the car is about to plunge down on the rails and into the loop (!), to end up back at the start.
Whoah .. and how about this 15-storey medieval megacastle, with its dragon (on its landing pad), moat, drawbridges & knights. I am sure enemies from the ends of the earth can be spotted by the guards in the turret at the top.
Another castle, styled with terraces and lots of minifigures on the attack. (The still have to deal with the castle walls and the moat, though).
Here is a Halloween house. I love the roof with its reds and pinks, and the other details.
The dinosaurs/ ‘dino wars’ is another LEGO theme, some sets licensed from the Jurassic Park movie franchise.
Finally, a style of LEGO that is called ‘microbuilding’, challenges the builder to create a miniature model of something, such as this Washington State ferry. Nicely done. (The trick is to have a large superset of bricks to tinker with and select from, to put together).

Friday/ the US Supreme Court: about to take a hit

After another week of national gnashing of the teeth, pulling of the hair and a fake FBI investigation, Senate Republicans are on now the brink of putting Judge Kavanaugh on the US Supreme Court, to join Clarence Thomas.

Trump’s nominee is opposed by 47% of the citizenry (41% in favor), by thousands of law professors, by a church council representing 40 million, by the American Civil Liberties Union, by the President of the Bar Association, by his own Yale Law School, by retired Justice Stevens, and by Human Rights Watch. The nomination is in violation of Title 18 U.S. Code § 1001 & 1621. This is a democracy at work?

It’s official. [From the New York Times homepage, Saturday]. The consequences of this confirmation will likely reverberate a long time in American politics. Writes David Faris in The Week: ‘The combination of bad faith and procedural manipulation by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies during this process is unlikely to ever be forgotten by any Democrat currently breathing air as a sentient adult’.

Thursday/ naming Seattle’s NHL team

It is almost a done deal, that Seattle will be granted a franchise for a team to join the National Hockey League (NHL).  The team actually playing is still two years away. The Key Arena stadium still has to be upgraded, and a team put together – and all that goes with it.

In the meantime, the Seattle Times is running an informal survey of its readers to determine a name and a moniker for the team. It’s now down to the final two: the Totems, or the Sockeyes – after eliminating names such as Seattle Freeze, Seattle Sasquatches and Seattle Emeralds.

A rendering of Key Arena’s inside after its proposed upgrade, for when the NHL comes to Seattle. (Courtesy of / Oak View Group)
Hmm, I don’t know about either of these two. I like Seattle Totems, but would that still be acceptable today, to appropriate Native culture into a nickname & mascot? Seattle Sockeyes sounds good, but man! that makes it a FISH for a mascot. Not the best. Can we not have a snarling Mountain Lion, or an Osprey or an Eagle or a Bear? [Graphic & Text by the Seattle Times]

Wednesday/ got my ‘Presidential Alert’

‘No, Trump didn’t write it’, soothed CNN’s notification about the Presidential Alert. This ability was actually requested by Congress in 2006, and has been many years in the making.

Everyone in the United States with a smartphone got a ‘Presidential Alert’ this morning – a test by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Man! Does that mean Trump can spam everyone with a stupid message from his phone? Mercifully, not. These messages are generated & sent from a special FEMA notebook computer, and by law, must be for true emergencies only.

One shudders to think what significant national crises would justify every American to be alerted. I can think of a few. Nuclear war (‘Hey everyone: Kim Jong-un & I are no longer in love, so just so you know, I sent him some ICBMs’). A meteor hit from outer space. A massive electromagnetic pulse from a sun flare (that may very well wipe out FEMA’s ability to send the alert altogether).


Monday/ repairs after the rains

Light rain is finally starting to fall here in Seattle, after the driest summer on record. (Rainfall for May-August was 2.5″, compared to 7.0″ normally).

Here’s another one of my resident European garden spiders (Araneus diadematus), repairing its web today, from a little wind and rain damage.

Spider silk is more durable and elastic than even the strongest man-made fiber, Kevlar, which is used to fill bulletproof vests. Silk is mainly protein, but a single spider can produce as many as seven different silks from its spinnerets. The silks in the radial lines, and the spiral lines in this web are different, and the spider also dots the radial lines with sticky balls of silky goo. Watch out, flying insects.

Sunday/ Vote ‘Em Out

So with September out the back door, it’s now only October between us and the important Nov 6. midterm elections here in the United States.

I see Beto O’Rourke (Democrat) had country music icon Willie Nelson (85) perform at one of his campaign rallies.  This is in deep-red Texas, to beat out sitting Senator Ted Cruz.  Nelson sang a ditty called Vote ‘Em Out.

Hopefully, scores of more young people have realized these last two years that they have to exercise their power at the ballot box.  In 2016, Hillary Clinton got 65 million votes and Donald Trump 62 million.  Another 100 million eligible voters in the country did not vote. Oy.

Headline & picture from a report on the news analysis site