Happy New Year, everyone.
It’s Veterans Day in the United States, and we honor our veterans that had served in the armed forces, some 20 million of them.
Today marks the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I, also called the ‘Great War’, and the ‘War to End all Wars’ (if only that could become true). Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
New York City suffered a terrorist attack by an Uzbek national (in the USA since 2010) on Tuesday that left 8 people dead and 11 injured.
Vox.xom reports this attack is one of several recent ones by Uzbeks: in Istanbul, St Petersburg, Stockholm and now New York City.
So left me look again where Uzbekistan is, I thought. Well, it’s one of the ‘Stans, about the size of California, pop. 29 million, native language Uzbek. It is doubly landlocked (two border crossings needed to get an ocean). The only other such country is tiny Lichtenstein. Economic prospects for young people are generally bleak, and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev sure has a lot of work to do to make life better for its citizens. He did send a letter of condolence to President Trump today with a promise to assist in any way he can with the investigation into the attack.
Amazon is looking for a North American city for a second headquarters (HQ2), and Thursday was the last day for submissions. The company will reportedly spend $5 billion and bring 50,000 jobs to the winning city. Critics say it’s a race to the bottom (determine who will give up the most tax & other incentives), and that cities should be careful what they wish for (an Amazon HQ2 could bring increases in real estate prices, traffic problems).
Forbes magazine lists the top contenders as: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Pittsburgh and Toronto. We will have to be patient. The decision will only be made sometime in 2018!
A gunman sprayed 22,000 country music concert goers with bullets from machine gun fire from his Las Vegas hotel room on Sunday night at 10.08 pm, for almost 10 minutes.
The sheriff from Clark County in Las Vegas just had a news conference (Monday morning), said the ‘body count’ was up to 58, maybe 59, then corrected himself and said ‘number of deceased’. Well, it’s a massacre, and the body count as of now is 58, with 515 wounded. The gunman was a 64 yr old white male, US citizen – they usually are white males & US citizens, the gunmen in these frequent events in the United States. He used bullets designed to do maximum damage. He then committed suicide. The President called it an ‘act of pure evil’ and offered his condolences. The gunman’s brother could not point to anything that triggered him. Congress is not expected to anything, at all.
I thought I would check back on Christchurch, New Zealand, since it’s been some six years since the city had been hit with a series of severe earthquakes that killed 185 people. Wikipedia says that following the earthquakes, over 1,500 buildings in the city had been demolished or partly demolished by September 2013. In the years that followed, the city has been experiencing rapid growth, with the central city rebuild, which is outlined in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, starting to ramp up. I see that residents in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch feel a little left behind in all the recovery efforts, though .. and that ‘distress or anxiety associated with ongoing aftershocks, being in a damaged environment and surrounded by construction, additional financial burdens and loss of recreational and cultural facilities were the top four stresses for people in the city’.
All right .. I know there are on-going wars and catastrophes in the world, but it was still a day filled with unsettling news. I woke up at 7 am to President Trump’s bombastic speech at the United Nations. A little restraint, Mr President? Why (again) call Kim Jung-un ‘Rocket Man’?
Hurricane Maria has been in the news the last few days, striking Dominica (pop. 73,543) today and projected to make landfall in Puerto Rico (pop. 3.4 million) with Category 4 winds on Wednesday morning.
Finally, back in the category of man-made disasters, there is another effort underway from the Republicans in the United States Congress to shove the country’s healthcare system off a cliff (the Graham-Cassidy Bill).
Update Wed 9/20: The death toll in Mexico City rose to 245 on Wednesday. No casualties reported so far from Puerto Rico, but the entire island is without power.
I have started to watch a 10-episode Vietnam War documentary, currently airing on the public television channel PBS, here in the United States.
Long ago in South Africa on Friday nights, I would watch a TV series about the war, called Tour of Duty, but dubbed into Afrikaans as Sending Vietnam (Mission Vietnam). Best I can recall, this was in 1993 & 1994. At the end of each episode, ‘Paint It, Black’ would play – a song by the Rolling Stones that describes extreme grief and loss. No doubt: it pointed to the post-traumatic stress that soldiers and civilians alike, had suffered (still suffer?) from the war.
From ‘Paint It, Black’ (The Rolling Stones, 1966) :
‘No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes ..’
The latest massive internet security breach here in the United States involves a credit ratings agency called Equifax.
1. On July 29, Equifax discovered that 143 million records of personal data (credit card numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth and first name, last name) were stolen.
2. Equifax waited six weeks to publish this information. (By the way, it seems that their Apache web server software was to blame. A patch had been issued in March for a vulnerability, but the patch was not applied).
3. The emergency-information website that they then had set up, looks like the site that a scammer would use to get one’s social security information. Oh boy.
4. The stolen information could be used MANY YEARS from now by criminals to get credit cards, tax refunds, commit Medicare fraud – who even knows what else.
5. Three Equifax executives sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered the breach.
Some observers say this could finally bring to an end the ubiquitous use of social security numbers as a personal identification number in the United States. (It was never intended to be used for that; only for citizens to record and obtain their social security benefits). I already try to keep a sharp eye on my credit card transactions, but feel I now have to figure out if I need to put a credit freeze on my accounts at the three credit ratings agencies. A credit freeze is the nuclear option for protection, but also blocks anyone to access one’s credit history. So for new credit, or a new job, or signing an apartment lease or a buying a new car with financing, one would have to lift the freeze, which takes time and money. But surely that is far less of a convenience than getting one’s identity stolen?
It’s hard to believe that it has been 16 years since the terrible events of Sept 11, 2001. A lot happened in the 16 years, of course. There was the invasion into Iraq in 2003, justified with questionable intelligence by the Republican administration. Bin Laden would finally be tracked down and killed in May 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. And who would have thought that the war in Afghanistan would drag on to this day? September 2014 was supposed to mark the end of combat operations there, but the Afghan army just could not wipe out a resurgent Taliban.
Check out these pictures from last year’s Tribute in Light memorial in Lower Manhatten. The lights were switched on for tonight, as well.
Tropical storm Harvey moved on from Houston, finally – to dump rain on the city of Beaumont, and on to the states of Louisiana and Tennessee. (Rescuers in Houston still tried to reach homes block by block place today, fearing that people have been left behind in homes). An estimated 100,000 homes have been flooded. For people that can get to their homes, the immense clean-up effort has started. Lots of incredible pictures, of Texas’s Flood of a Century – no, Flood of a Thousand Years, say some – have been posted by the Weather Channel, here.
The storm still made a lot of trouble in the city of Beaumont to the east today, knocking out its water supply system, with no repairs possible before the waters recede, and basically flooding the entire city (pop. 118,000).
Once a semblance of normality has returned to Texas, and especially the city of Houston, some very hard questions will have to be answered. How to pay for all the repairs and reconstruction? Should new zoning laws be passed? What can be done infrastructure-wise?
‘We now have a president who can’t get the head of Campbell Soup to the White House*’, says Gail Collins in an editorial in the New York Times. (Gail also pointed out that at his train wreck of a press conference on Tuesday, Trump asked the stunned reporters “Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.”).
*Business leaders disbanded two CEO councils created by the White House on Wednesday, in a move to protest Donald Trump’s failure to adequately condemn the violence in Charlottesville.
It was really extraordinary today, to see the President of the United States shouting ‘Excuse me, excuse me!’ repeatedly, every time as the press corps erupted with questions, while he went on and on with outrageous statements, challenges and insults (‘i like to have the facts’, ‘fake news’, ‘dishonest’).
He reiterated what he said on Saturday, blaming ‘both sides’ for the violence in Charlottesville (after he cleaned up some of it on Monday).
Some of the new additions to my garden are finally blooming: my reward for keeping them watered during the dry spell we had this summer.
I used a picture of one of the pretty new flowers, to test one of the visual recognition smart phone apps that helps identify plants by their flowers. This one is called myGardenAnswers, but there are several others such as Plantnet, LeafSnap, NatureGate and iPflanzen.
A procession of young white men carrying tiki torches, staged a demonstration on Friday night in Charlottesville, Virginia (117 miles south west of Washington, DC). They were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in a park. (Robert E. Lee was a Confederate General in the Civil War). There were more demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on Saturday, and skirmishes between the two groups got out of hand quickly. A 20-yr old white nationalist rammed his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a woman and hurting 19 people. Not much later, a police helicopter crashed in the area, killing two state police helicopter pilots.
President Trump was remarkably bland in his comments about the events that he read from a script (‘we condemn the violence and bigotry on many sides, on many sides’). This from a president that never seems to hesitate to attack, and call out, anyone from Kim Jong-un, politicians and cabinet members, including Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions – hey, anyone that offends him. Conclusion: he is not offended by white nationalists.
I took the quiz that shows the Trump administration’s proposed new points system for legal immigration. I wound back the clock to the time when I had first arrived in the USA, in 1995. It would have been tough: I had no money to invest, no Nobel Prize, and no Olympic Medal. Zero points for all those!
I am fascinated by the Google engineer that published a ‘manifesto’ stating that biological differences between men and women ‘explain’ the gender imbalance in Google’s workforce (70% of Google coders are male). Now fired, he says he feels betrayed by Google, and that they seemingly do not support diversity of opinions. Well. So let’s say he has a point (re: diversity of opinions). But why risk your (dream) job by circulating a memo going against your company’s stated diversity culture, with debatable scientific evidence, with trigger words that automatically link baggage to your statements, that you have no control over? Why step into that minefield at this time – when the US Dept of Labor is challenging Google in court for not being fair to women? Why invite infamy for your company’s reputation and brand, and as for one’s personal brand, risk being seen as so selfish and so arrogant, that no manager will ever put you onto his or her team? Did he not see that coming?
Well .. forget “shock and awe”. (That ill-conceived war in Iraq really did not end well – and has it really ended?) Today we were told we may have “fire and fury, like the world has never seen” by the President of the United States. The scary thing is that of the nine nuclear powers (mentioned in Monday’s post), the US is the only country without a system of checks and balances at the top of its launch process. The President of the United States is the only person in the world with the sole authority to launch a nuclear strike. Seems to me it’s time that the generals, leaders in Congress and every sane person in power redouble their efforts to ratchet things down.
Another week packed with political news. Monday saw the firing of White House Director of Communications Anthony ‘The Mooch’ Scaramucci (after his savage expletive-filled rant to a journalist became public). Scaramucci was fired by new Chief of Staff John Kelly that replaced Reince Priebus. For now, Trump stopped disparaging Attorney General Jeff Sessions (for recusing himself from the Russia investigation). Trump reluctantly signed into law new sanctions against Russia. He had no choice: Congress approved the law by veto-proof majorities.
Special investigator Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury, the next step in his investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia connections. Trump and his defenders continue to say it’s a witch hunt; his lawyer even saying ‘we have no reason to believe he (Trump) is under investigation’. Well, time will tell. Mueller has assembled an all-star team of 16 lawyers with extensive experience in financial fraud and money laundering. He has issued subpoenas to the White House for documentation on disgraced ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. (Flynn was on the Turkish government’s payroll, and failed to disclose he was a foreign agent). What else? Oh, transcripts of the embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the Mexican President and Australia’s Prime Minister were published. (Telling the Mexican President that New Hampshire is ‘a drug-infested den’. But yes, the calls should not have been leaked). Then in public, Trump called the White House ‘a dump’ – only to flatly deny that he said any such thing, later in a tweet. The President of the United States.
Who says one cannot have fun, planning an 18 hour test flight? Boeing mapped out a giant 787 route across 22 states for an overnight test flight.