Sunday/ the V&A Waterfront

My friends Bryan and Dale and I made a quick run out to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront today. It was very pleasant outside at the Waterfront (25℃/ 75 ℉).

Cheers! San Marcos at the V&A Waterfront. Our beers are from Namibia, mine a Windhoek Light and Bryan’s a Windhoek Lager. (Thanks for snapping the picture, Dale!).

This is one of my favorite buildings in the Waterfront, the Old Port Captain’s Building (1904).

The Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower was the original Port Captain’s Office, built in 1882. The pointed Gothic windows surrounds the structure with a clock, imported from Edinburgh, as a main feature. The red walls are the same color as they were in the 1800’s, the new paint matched with scrapings of the old.

 

Saturday/ proteas for mom

I found these proteas for sale when I was out at the mall on Saturday.  Protea is both the botanical name and the common-use name for a large group of flowers found in the Cape Town area and on the slopes of Table Mountain.  They are named after the Greek god Proteus (who could change his form at will), because they have such a wide variety of forms.

These proteas are probably Protea compacta.

Friday/ South Africa’s budget and taxes

South African Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan presented his budget for 2017 for South Africa in parliament on Wednesday.   He had to make some tough calls, but the budget was generally well-received and seen as balanced.    A new super-tax rate will kick in at a rate of 45% for earners with income of above R1.5 million (about US$113,000).   Value Added Tax for goods and services is kept the same at 14% (the country’s labor unions vowed nationwide protests if that rate was raised).   Gas will become even more expensive (currently at the equivalent of about $4/ gallon), and all the vices – cigarettes, cigars and alcohol products – will be taxed more heavily as well.

Frontpage from Thursday’s Cape Town’s newspaper ‘Die Burger’ – The Citizen, borrowing from the classic Jaws movie poster. That’s South African Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, dealing with ‘hidden agendas, poor growth, government waste, cabinet changes, downgrades and clumsy bureaucracy’ for the 2017 Budget. He has been an essential check on government overreach and corruption during his tenure as Minister of Finance.

Thursday/ gemsbok on a mug

Check out these cool arty gemsbok* mugs that I spotted in a Woolworths home store.  Did something made the gemsbok a little peeved, with that sideways look?

*The gemsbok or gemsbuck is a large antelope in the Oryx genus. It is native to the arid regions of Southern Africa, such as the Kalahari Desert.

Tuesday/ to LHR, then JNB, CPT

Here’s the tram (we call them street cars in the States) that stops in front of the Marriott Hotel where I stay – very convenient. Tram to the Frankfurt Main Station, then the train to Frankfurt Airport.

 

Alright, on my way to Frankfurt’s Terminal 2.  It is British Airways all the way, but I will make two stops on the way to Cape Town, South Africa : one in London Heathrow and one in Johannesburg.   Since London is still in Europe for now (in the European Union), I will probably get my European Union passport stamp in London – and not here in Frankfurt.

Sunday/ arrival in Frankfurt

I had just stepped off the airplane on the tarmac, at a wet Keflavik airport. The last few passengers are making their way to the bus.

There was no snow in sight at Keflavik airport (outside Reykjavik, Iceland) at our arrival there this morning; just a steady rain.   We were bussed into the airport terminal and again out to the Iceland Air Boeing 757.    It was some 7 hrs into Reykjavik, and 3 more got me to Frankfurt.

Our Iceland Air 757 from Seattle was named after volcano Dyngjufjöll; Aurora Borealis LED light display inside the cabin; Reykjavik to Frankfurt is 3 hrs.

This is the train that I took from Frankfurt airport to Frankfurt hauptbahnhof (main train station).

Saturday/ at Seattle airport

‘Trump against the rest of the world’, says the German magazine Stern. ‘Self-governing, ruthless and unpredictable – how the new US President is fighting democracy’. (This magazine is dated Feb 9 – so well before Trump’s Thursday Feb 16 circus of a press conference and tweets on Friday denouncing all the major newspapers and media outlets as ‘fake news’). Looks like there is no getting away from the Trump coverage .. but at least I will get a break from the barrage of bad news from the cable news channels I watch in the United States (I hope).

I am at Seattle airport, and made it though security into the lounge at the South Terminal.  I have a 40-minutes-only layover at Reykjavik airport, so I have to dash for the gate for Frankfurt’s departure as soon as I step off the plane there.   Usually the connecting flight’s boarding gate is close by, though.

The same magazine had a spread of Valentine’s Day celebrations from around the world. This cute couple is getting married in red and in the garrison chapel on South Africa’s Robben Island (Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela had spent the larger part of 27 years in jail).

Friday/ my bags are packed ..

I am starting to make my way to South Africa on Saturday by taking an Iceland Air flight to Frankfurt, with a short stop in Reykjavik.  The airline actually called me this morning to inquire if they can change my flight to the direct flight on Lufthansa : the Iceland Air flight was oversold.  Sure! I said.  Several hours later I finally got the Lufthansa itinerary, and checked in.   But no .. back came an e-mail from  Iceland Air : Lufthansa needed the seat after all; the Lufthansa web site should not have allowed me to check in.   Can I use the original Iceland Air reservation instead?  Man! So I finally got my boarding pass on Iceland Air, back where I started. 

Here are the two Iceland Air flights that will get me to Frankfurt on the first leg of my trip to South Africa. The big white mass is Greenland. As is sometimes said : Iceland is green and Greenland is ice (at least for another few years, before it thaws).

Thursday/ lots of rain

We have has a lot of rain (in addition to the snow), this February in the Seattle area.
From the Seattle Times : With 7.84 inches of rain for the month by 6 a.m. Thursday, February is the sixth-wettest. Wednesday was a record-setter all by itself, with 1.63 inches of rain, drowning the daily record of 0.94 inches set in 1970.
At this rate, all Seattle needs is an additional 1.28 inches to float right to the top, breaking the record for the month set in 1961, said Dustin Guy, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Seattle.

The rain had stopped and it was a beautiful day outside on Thursday, with the air scrubbed clean from the rain, and mild temperatures ( 52 °F/ 11°C).

Check out this interesting map showing the ‘rain shadow’ here in Puget Sound. The Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula form a barrier against the moist air and precipitation that comes in from a south westerly direction from Hawaii. In some places none of the rain make it to the other side of the peninsula. I guess here in the city we’re a little in between. We get some of the rain but not nearly as much as the Olympic Peninsula.

Wednesday/ drama at the Oroville Dam

The Oroville Dam from Google Earth. The dam wall is in the middle of the picture.

The Oroville dam* in California has the highest dam wall in all of the United States.  It made headlines the last week and into this week because it is overflowing – and damage to the main spillway as well as the emergency spillway made it hard to lower the level of the dam.

*Construction started 1961; opened 1968

At some point more than 100,000 residents downstream from the dam wall were given emergency evacuation orders, with officials fearing the erosion under the emergency spillway may cause the natural wall next to the man-made wall to break.    Emergency repairs were done on the spillways this week (basically helicopters and trucks dumping rocks and soil into the eroded areas), and for now, the emergency seems to have been staved off.

Question for President Trump and the Republican Congress: how is that promised $1 trillion infrastructure bill coming along?

This picture shows the Oroville dam wall and its main spillway, and the effect of the failure in the main spillway surface.  The water is supposed to remain in the spillway on the left.

Tuesday/ so many lies ..

I wasn’t around for Watergate here in the United States, but the on-going revelations about this story seems to approach Watergate proportions.  It now turns out ..

1. Trump was told three weeks ago by the Justice Dept that Flynn was a compromised candidate for NSA (that he could be blackmailed by Russians), but Trump went ahead and appointed him anyway.  (Never mind that Flynn was also woefully unqualified).
2. The Trump 2016 Presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the 2016 election.

If any of this was the case with President Hillary Clinton, the Republicans in congress would have started impeachment hearings tomorrow.

Facebook post by Dan Rather (American journalist and the former news anchor for the CBS Evening News).

Here’s spokesman Sean Spicer getting grilled by ABC’s Jonathan Karl at today’s press conference, denying at 11 am that the Trump campaign had contact with the Russians.  Just a few hours later on Tuesday night the New York Times published the true story, corroborated by FOUR intelligence officials : the Trump campaign was repeatedly in contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.

Monday/ Trump’s National Security Advisor resigns

From the New York Times

America’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that I wrote about on Friday, is out. He resigned late Monday night after 24 days on the job. (Henry Kissinger served for 2,478 days under the Nixon and Ford Administrations. (Source : Wikipedia).

Flynn should never have been appointed in the first place.  It’s not an easy job. The advisor should serve as an honest broker of policy options for the President in the field of national security, rather than as an advocate for his or her own policy agenda (from Wikipedia).   It goes without saying, that he should not lie to the Vice-President and others in the Administration. (Right now it is unknown at what time and what President Trump had known about all of Flynn’s Russia dealings).

Meanwhile, there was Friday’s North Korean missile test, which could start the first international crisis of the Trump administration. Trump’s aides briefed him on the matter in front of paying Mar-A-Lago club members (where he and Japan Prime Minister Shinzō Abe were having dinner).  New US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Monday : ‘It’s time to hold North Korea accountable, not with our words, but with our actions.’  She did not specify what those actions may be.

‘This is not normal’ responded Facebook and Twitter users wryly, after pictures of the impromptu and public huddle at Mar-a-Lago between Trump and his aides started circulating on social media.

Friday/ the truth under siege

Editorial heading from The New York Times. The NYT writes: From the start, Michael Flynn, a retired army lieutenant general, was a disturbing choice as President Trump’s national security adviser. He is a hothead with extremist views in a critical job that is supposed to build consensus through thoughtful, prudent decision-making. The choice is now growing more unnerving every day. A conspiracy theorist who has stoked dangerous fears about Islam, Mr. Flynn was fired by the Obama administration as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and led anti-Hillary Clinton chants of “lock her up” at the 2016 Republican Convention. He raised eyebrows by cultivating a mystifyingly cozy relationship with Russia, which the Pentagon considers a major threat.

Amid all the chaos of the Trump Administration, this feels like a big story.  Reliable sources told the Washington Post that now-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn talked to the Russians about Obama’s sanctions against Russia in December, before Trump took office.  If this is true, Flynn should be dismissed immediately (and be prosecuted).  He was already asked about it, and denied it.  He had VP Mike Pence, WH spokesman Sean Spicer and WH Chief of Staff Reins Priebus lie about it as well.  Is he guilty of colluding with a foreign power (Russia, no less) to undermine the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and of lying about it?

Am I imagining this?, asks New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Roger Cohen.  From the column: Trump says “X.” Uproar! Hordes of journalists scurry to disprove “X.”  He moves on, never to mention it again, or claims that he did not say it, or insists that what he really said was “Y.”   People begin to wonder: Am I imagining this? They feel that some infernal mechanism has taken hold and is dragging them toward an abyss. The president is a reference point; if he lies, lying seeps deep into the culture. Americans start to ask: Will we ever be able to dislodge these people from power? What are they capable of?

A sample of my Twitter feed as I scrolled through it tonight. While a lot of illegal immigrants were deported under Obama, some observers feel that ICE is already more aggressive in rounding up people.

Thursday/ the Executive Order stay, stays

The United States Federal Court (the 9th Circuit court of Appeals) ruled against President Trump’s ‘Travel Ban’ Executive Order today.  The emergency stay (temporary restraining order) that was granted last week by a US District court in Seattle, stays in place. The ruling was extensive and detailed, unanimous at 3-0 and per curiam (a ruling ‘by the court’, not by individual judges. Some observers say the court wanted to make a statement by stipulating that).

There is now no question that the Executive Order was sloppily written, was burdened by public statements about its true intent, and was an executive overreach.  The ruling points out that the three judges disagree that the Executive Order is ‘unreviewable’ (as argued by the White House; so not subject to scrutiny by the Judicial Branch).  The ruling also pointed out that the White House lawyer could not just argue ‘Oh, ignore the bearing the executive order has on permanent legal residents, and make a narrower ruling’ : The White House counsel is not the President, and he is not known to be in the chain of command for any of the Executive Departments. Moreover, in light of the Government’s shifting interpretations of the Executive Order, we cannot say that the current interpretation by the White House counsel, even if authoritative and binding, will persist past the immediate stage of these proceedings. 

On top of all this, no evidence that the Government will suffer irreparable harm was submitted.  So no intelligence re: expected/ active terrorist plots from citizens of the 7 countries, or any of that. The court pointed out that nothing stopped the White House to submit classified information from the CIA to the court (it would stay classified).

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks about today’s ruling on Trump’s Travel ban (flanked by Noah Purcell, Solicitor-general for the State of Washington).  President Trump tweeted SEE YOU IN COURT.  Is that eventually going to be the US Supreme Court? Time will tell.

Wednesday/ the Greater Adjutant Stork

I like to read animal stories that is about saving them from extinction, since so many species are at risk.  This black bird – with a soulful glint in its eye – is the Greater Adjutant Stork, found in India and South-east Asia.  The Associated Press reports that the bird is a carnivore and scavenger, and had long been thought to bring bad luck.  The sentiments against it have turned, though.  Locals in areas close to its habitat are now making an effort to help it survive.

Tuesday/ the Larsen C ice shelf crack

An ice shelf is an enormous flat expanse of ice floating on the ocean. The crack in the Larsen C ice shelf is 1/3 mile deep, down to the floor of the shelf. This picture from NASA, taken in November 2016.

Antarctica’s Larsen A and B ice shelves already disintegrated in 1995 and 2002, but both were drastically smaller than the large ice shelf called Larsen C, on the Antarctic Peninsula.  The impending collapse of part of Larsen C will really not raise sea levels, but it could affect glaciers behind it, and accelerate their melting.  Check out this article and graphics from the New York Times.

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months
By Jugal K. Patel   – The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2017

A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day.

The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon.