Saturday/ the Royal Wedding

Confession: I did not set my alarm to 5 am Seattle time to catch the TV coverage of the royal wedding.  No matter – it was replayed later, with no detail too minute to mention.

Oprah feared her original dress would photograph ‘too white’, so British designer Stella McCartney and her team worked through the night to make a new one. The wedding cake had elderflower cordial in. Meghan Markle’s wedding band was made of Welsh gold, donated by the Queen.  The prince and his bride had modern vows with no ‘honor and obey’ in.

Picture from the Sunday Times in London.

Friday/ the new shingles vaccine

I got my first of two shots, of a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix, yesterday.  My left shoulder was sore for a good day or so. I thought o-ouch! every time I lifted up my arm, but I am much better today.

The vaccine is effective, and strongly recommended for everyone over 50. Shingles can be a debilitating affliction with long-term consequences. This new vaccine has an adjuvant (agent) that will boost the body’s response to it, and it does not contain the live virus – just parts of the dead virus.

Canadian poster explaining shingles and its complications. Some resources say an estimated 1 million Americans get shingles every year, although my doctor says that estimate may be somewhat overstated.

Thursday/ Space Needle ‘spacelift’: almost done

The Space Needle’s $100 million renovation project is coming to a close. Crews have started to remove the covers on the top. The paneling that is obscuring the rotating glass floor will be removed over the next four weeks as well.

The top of the Space Needle on Thursday night at dusk. The new glass panel installation at the top is visible now, but the side scaffolding and bottom panels are still obscuring the rest.

Update Fri 5/18:  All the construction wrap was removed by Friday morning.

All the construction wrap was removed during Thursday night, revealing parts of the remodeled structure. [Picture tweeted by ‘Do206’].

Wednesday/ Stellar’s jay

Infographic from  Year-round range map by

I saw this jay sitting on my garage roof this morning, so I ran upstairs and snapped the Mr Jay Bird from my bedroom window. This one is called a Stellar’s jay, named after German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. (Blue jays are close relatives, but a different species. Their feathers are mid-blues and they have a ‘black necklace’ on their off-white throats).

Tuesday/ lots of daylight

We hit 85°F (29°C) on Sunday – but now we are back to normal May temperatures of around 68°F (20°C).  It’s great to have daylight left after dinner (sunset is at 8.40 pm).  That way I can escape from my house and the relentlessly bad Trump Administration news on cable TV. (Yes, I know: I should just turn it off).

I found this spectacular purple bearded iris a few blocks from my house, on my after-dinner walk today. Irises take their name from the Greek word for a rainbow, which is also the name for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris.

Monday/ Seattle’s new ‘head’ tax

The Seattle City Council passed a controversial ‘head’ tax on large businesses in the city today (a tax per employee, instead of a payroll tax).  The tax is about half of the original proposed amount, and will sunset in 2024. It is meant to address homelessness and affordable housing.

The Downtown Seattle Association (business association) does not support it, though*, and Amazon is still not happy about it, either.  However, Amazon will resume construction on a building that it had halted, to protest the much larger head tax that was originally proposed.

*Nor do residents, with only 38% in support of the tax, per a poll by a local TV station.  Critics – and Amazon – point out that the City of Seattle revenues have grown dramatically from $2.8 billion in 2010 to $4.2 billion in 2017, and will be even higher in 2018. Why is this not enough?

Here’s the scene at the Amazon biospheres when I walked by there late on Sunday. On the left is the tower called ‘Block 20’, part of the downtown Amazon headquarters complex. Its construction now up to about 20 floors. It will be 37 floors tall when done. (This is not the building on which construction was stopped because of the head tax).

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

A photo from some 50 years ago: I am on the far right (playing with a pair of scissors, it appears), brother Chris on the left, and baby brother Piet is in my mom’s arms. 

Saturday/ on Kilauea volcano watch

Kilauea volcano is on the south east of the Big Island.

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted last week, causing lava at 2,200 °F (1,204 °C) to burst through cracks, and into people’s backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood on the Big Island.  So far 36 structures, including 26 homes, have been destroyed.

Residents and the Hawaii National Guard are now on standby for a possible evacuation of 2,000 people. The lava level inside the volcano could drop below sea level. Once that happens, water will pour onto the lava, and  generate steam that will likely explode from the summit in a shower or rocks, ash and sulfur dioxide gases.

This photo was taken from a helicopter. A giant fissure eruption releases lava and gas in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on May 6, 2018. [Photo: Bruce Omori—Paradise Helicopters/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock]

Friday/ ‘Drain the swamp!’

‘Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!’ chanted Trump’s supporters at his rally last night in Elkhart, Indiana. Are they willfully and utterly ignorant? Or does ‘Drain the swamp’ mean drain everything into the Trump Swamp? I don’t understand.
Michael Avenatti is Stephanie Clifford’s lawyer. Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) is a porn star that Trump had an affair with in 2011, and that Michael Cohen (Trump fixer) paid hush money to in October 2016 (right before the election in November). Avenatti published details of Michael Cohen’s LLC that had served as a slush fund for this hush money, thereby revealing other shady contributions as well. Basta, translated from Italian, means ‘That’s enough!’

We now know Trump’s Swamp Administrator and beleaguered Lawyer-Fixer, Michael Cohen, ran a slush fund* that had received large payments from the likes of AT&T, drug company Novartis and a Korean aerospace company.   

*Cohen set up a limited-liability corporation called Essential Consulting LLC, that had no employees, and offered no official services.

Then there is the $500k contribution from investment firm Columbus Nova, with a connection to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg (who is surely connected to Putin). The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Vekselberg and his Renova Group and reportedly froze between $1.5 billion to $2 billion of their U.S. assets.

Special Counsel Mueller’s investigators knew all of this months ago. It is not yet public knowledge what Trump’s involvement was in Cohen’s activities, and where all the slush fund money ultimately ended up. But we will surely find out.

Thursday/ the summit in Singapore

The Trump-Kim summit will be in Singapore on June 12th.

Check out this screenshot from Japan’s NHK TV. I love the cartoonist’s depiction of (left to right) a coy Kim Jong-un, a plotting Xi Jinping, a friendly Moon Jae-in, and a bombastic Donald Trump. I pointed my iPhone camera with Google Translate, onto the text in an attempt to translate the Japanese.  The results are shown in yellow.  The challenges to the Google Translator is probably a close metaphor for the challenges with the real negotiations, with regional interests and translators and all, in the mix.

Wednesday night beers

We went down to sports bar Rookies in Columbia City for beers tonight. It is one of our regular watering holes.

We drove by Kim’s Tae Kwon Do training studio on Rainier Avenue. Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art, with an emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks. Check out the chameleon-and-doggie bike rack in the foreground.  P.S. Good news from North Korea is that three detained Korean Americans have been released by North Korea just as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived there to plan the summit of Kim Jong Un with President Trump.

Tuesday/ Trump further erodes America’s credibility

By The New York Times
May 8, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Tuesday that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and is preparing to reinstate all sanctions it had waived as part of the accord. The administration is planning to impose additional economic penalties as well.

The decision unravels the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and isolates the United States from its European allies.

REPORTER: Mr. President, how does this make America safer? How does this make America safer?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. This will make America much safer. Thank you very much.
(ME: Answer the $%@# question).

Wikipedia’s map of the (many) major Iran- Saudi Arabia proxy conflicts. Is the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (with the USA, Germany, France, UK, Russia, China) a step towards American aggression towards Iran? Does the Trump Administration have a strategy? Many observers say there is none.


Here is President Obama’s response to the withdrawal from the agreement:

There are few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. Continue reading “Tuesday/ Trump further erodes America’s credibility”

Monday/ save the rainwater

Residents of Cape Town recorded a record low water usage of 505 million litres (133 million US gals) for the city per day for last week. Still, the target is 450 million litres per day (50 litres/ 13 US gallons per person per day).

Day Zero (no water for faucets) continues to be pushed out, and the winter rainy season has started – but it is still uncertain how much rain it will bring.

Dam Levels in the Western Cape on May 7. The big red boxes at the top says This Week 16.5% | Last Week 16.6% | Last Year 20%. If only that giant Theewaterskloof dam could come up to the 47.6% level of the little Wemmershoek dam! [Graphic by Grafika24, from Die Burger newspaper]
Here’s a sign I saw yesterday for a new apartment building here in Seattle, called Stack House. I think these big rainwater tanks should become part of the building code for big buildings – and hey, for houses, as well.

Sunday/ construction in South Lake Union

My walkabout today was in South Lake Union, the area next to Seattle’s downtown that is a booming hub for Amazon, Google and the biotech industry.  The new Denny Substation and duct banks under the streets (for power distribution) are scheduled for completion in late summer.

Main picture: An artistic rendition of the completed Denny Substation. (The glass panels and facets on the perimeter will make it look like a museum – or a Frank Gehry creation – from the outside). Inset: I took this picture of main entrance gate at the back, today.
The colorful Chroma SLU apartments on Harrison St are brand new. A small one bedroom goes for $1,700 a month, and the two bedrooms for $3,300. Yes, the real estate is expensive, and the developer wants his money back – and then some.
Here is one of two new Google office blocks taking shape, on Mercer St. The six floors of seagreen will be the offices, and the additional eight floors on top will be apartments. (Live there and work downstairs at Google? Hmm -no. Definitely too close for comfort/ why not just sleep under your Google desk, then?). That’s Lake Union in the background.
The Saint Spiridon church building on Yale Ave is holding its own among all the construction. It was built in 1941 in the traditional Russian Church style, and resembles churches in northern Russia.

Friday/ back to the city

We made our way back to the city on Friday morning.  It was cooler and cloudy again today (64°F18°C), but there is no rain in the forecast for the weekend.

Here is a beautiful pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) that made a stop on a dead tree right by Paul’s house in Hansville. These are among the largest woodpeckers in North America – about as large as a crow – with black and white stripes on the face, and bright red, pointy crests.  We did not spot this one’s mate (they are usually found in pairs).
Looking back, after we had left Bainbridge Island about 10 minutes earlier. The other ferry for the Seattle-Bainbridge Island crossing is already well on its way there (in the background).
And here is the downtown Seattle skyline, coming into view as we approach it. Amazon has stopped construction on one of its new downtown towers – protesting a new business tax (a ‘head tax’) that the Seattle City Council has proposed.

Thursday/ Fort Flagler State Park

We drove out to  Fort Flagler State Park today. We walked from the lighthouse at Marrowstone Point a mile or two all along the beach, and made our way back on a trail through the woods.

It’s about an hour’s drive from Hansville to Marrowstone Point. The picture shows the lighthouse buildings and beach.
These are  one of several remnants of World War I bunkers dotted around Fort Flagler. The round pads used to have air defense cannons when it was an Coast Artillery Fort. The started operating in 1899, and was closed in 1953.  It is a 750-acre park today.
This is a Great Blue Heron that we spotted in the water, the largest of the North American herons. It has long legs, a sinuous neck, and a thick, dagger-like bill.
Back at Hansville, there was a ballistic missile submarine with its escort ships (with cannons on) making its way into the Naval Base Kitsap at Bremerton. I don’t know which one of the dozen or so submarines at the Base, this one is. Those sailors on the sub must be happy to be out in the fresh air and sun!

Wednesday/ tracking the North Star

Bryan and I took the ferry to Bainbridge Island today, to visit our friend Paul on the Kitsap Peninsula to the north.  The ferry passed by a container ship called the North Star, from the TOTE Maritime Alaska company.  The ship provides twice weekly shipments to Alaska, from the Port of Tacoma.

Here is the view as we approached Bainbridge Island, with the big container ship North Star passing in front of us. The containers are just visible, and are not stacked on top of each other. They are on trucks that were then driven onto the ship.
We spotted the North Star just across from the bubble on the map that says ‘Seattle’. The details and route of the North Star are from It showed that the vessel arrived in Tacoma at 1.24 pm today. She was built in 2003 can do a maximum of 24 knots.

Tuesday/ Costco’s $1.50 hot dog

The price of a hot dog at Costco — $1.50 with a giant cup of soda — has not changed since 1985.  So I had to snap a photo of it in the little food court section while I stopped by there today!

Costco is a no-frills warehouse store chain (488 locations in the US) that was founded in Seattle in 1983.  Shoppers pay an annual membership fee ($60) to be able to buy anything from food and household items (usually in bulk quantities), to watches to TVs, at low prices. The store has 75 million members nationwide.  Ardent fans love the ‘treasures’ they find at stores: electronics, appliances or other less frequent purchases offered at extremely good prices.

Costco’s famous $1.50 hot dog that comes with a 20 ounce soda that can be refilled. (Public service announcement from me to the shoppers: take it easy there with the sugary soda.  20 ounces is already 2½ cups/ more than half a liter!).

Monday/ Karl Marx and the zero euro

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the southern German town of Trier (at the time Trier was in the Kingdom of Prussia).  To celebrate the bicentennial of his birthday, the town issued a souvenir zero euro bill, that proved to be very popular.  (I am tempted to buy one on E-bay).

I also need to brush up on my understanding of Marxism.  The Wikipedia entry is probably a good start:  Marxism holds that human societies develop through class struggle. In capitalism, this manifests itself in the conflict between the ruling classes (known as the bourgeoisie) that control the means of production and the working classes (known as the proletariat) that enable these means by selling their labor power in return for wages.  .. Marx predicted that, like previous socio-economic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism.

Here in the United States socialism is a toxic word, but man! since the 1980s, the forces of capitalism have resulted in a very unequal sharing of prosperity (no real wage increases for middle class worker, and spectacular riches for the one-percenters at the top). Something will have to give.

The ‘Zero Euro’ is a souvenir banknote with authorized printing by the European Central Bank (ECB). The first zero euros were issued in 2015 in France, to promote tourism, and several other countries and cities have followed suit. Karl Marx appears on the one to commemorate the bicentennial of his birth in Germany. The front of the notes are all the same, featuring the Brandenburg Gate, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Sagrada Familia, Manneken Pis and the Mona Lisa.

Sunday/ ‘Clipper Round the World’ bids Seattle good-bye

Cruise ship season is starting up here in Seattle. We saw the Norwegian Pearl from Norwegian Cruise Lines at the pier today.  She was scheduled to leave at 4 pm.

Also departing Seattle, were a line-up of yachts taking part in the Clipper Round the World race.  The yachts are heading out to Panama, and will make their way up the East Coast to New York.  It will take an estimated 26 days to reach Panama, and another 12 to get to New York City from there. Bon voyage!

The Clipper Round the World route: Leg 1 (33 days)– Liverpool, UK > Punta Del Este, Uruguay | Leg 2 (18 days) Punta Del Este> Cape Town, South Africa | Leg 3 (23 days) Cape Town > Fremantle, Australia | Leg 4 (28 Days) Fremantle > Hobart > Sydney > Whitsundays (Australia) | Leg 5 (37 days) Whitsundays > Sanya, China > Qingdao, China | Leg 6 (33 days) Qingdao > Seattle, USA | Leg 7 (38 days) Seattle > Panama Canal > New York City
Here are the yachts in the ‘Parade of Sail’, leaving the Port of Seattle’s Bell Harbor Marina. After a week in its home city, the Visit Seattle team had the honor of leading the Parade, with the boats showing off their team colours. This farewell celebration included a water cannon guard of honour by the Seattle Fire Department, just visible in the distance on the left with its water cannons spraying water.