Thursday/ Times Square, then and now

I had a picture from twenty years ago, of a New York City street corner somewhere in Times Square, and I stubbornly used Google Street View until I finally found the place that I had taken the 1999 picture from.  It looks very different today!

P.S. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he is running for President in 2020 today. The count of Democratic candidates is now at 23.

Here’s the April 1999 picture that I had taken. It turned out that the Subway neon sign (middle left) is still there today. And I could use the tall white building on the far right to verify this is the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. P.S. Disney’s Lion King animated movie was released in 1994. Lion King as a musical debuted on stage in October of 1997, and has since become a monstrous success. By 2017 it had grossed some $8.1 billion.
Here is as close as I could get to the spot that I had stood on, for that picture of April 1999, in the latest Google Street View (Oct. 2018) images.  The Subway sign is still there, and a sliver of the white building in the 1999 picture can be made out down the street.

Sunday/ the bombings in Sri Lanka

What a terrible Easter Sunday for Sri Lanka (pop. 21 million) – a relatively small, poor country, with tropical rainforests and tropical savannah, and mountain slopes that produce the cleanest tea in the world.

From the New York Times: ‘Sri Lanka endured a decades-long civil war that killed tens of thousands of civilians before it ended in 2009. Five years earlier, some 30,000 Sri Lankans had died in the Indian Ocean tsunami’.

The government shut down Facebook and WhatsApp afterwards (to prevent the spread of misinformation). So far no one has publicly claimed responsibility. It seems the attackers were mostly locals, but an international terrorist organization was probably behind all of it.

Source: New York Times. By ALLISON MCCANN, JULIE SHAVER, JIN WU and K.K. REBECCA LAI APRIL 21, 2019. Note: death toll was based on reported figures from local hospitals as of Monday 5:20 a.m. local time. Later on Monday the toll stood at 290 dead.

Saturday/ that’s Pukaki, on the coin

Wow! A shiny quarter, I thought, spotting a coin on the floor in the grocery store.
Oh! It’s not a quarter, I realized when I picked it up.
It was 20 cent coin, all the way across the globe from New Zealand.

This 20c New Zealand coin was first issued in 2006, and this is a Māori carving of Pukaki, an 18th-century chief of the Ngati Whakaue iwi (tribe). Those patterns are traditional koru kowhaiwhai patterns. (They remind me a little of Celtic patterns).
The Queen is on the back of the coin (New Zealand is one of the 53 Commonwealth nations). The coin is made of nickel-plated steel.  P.S. And the tiny letters IRB stands for Ian Rank-Broadley. In 1998 he redesigned the picture of Queen Elizabeth and many coins since have featured his work, and thus his signature initials.
An unusual edge to these coins: Spanish flower milling. It has evenly spaced indents splitting it into seven sections.

Thursday/ Brexit .. will we ever see it?

So Brexit is now delayed until Oct 31 this year (yes, Halloween).
Will it be a trick or a treat?
The UK must participate in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament (if it fails to do that, the UK will leave the EU on June 1). The European Council also reiterated that there can be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement negotiations.

I propose, that we call it Brexit’, says this German ‘astrophysicist’ of the long-awaited, elusive image of a black hole. [Cartoon from German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, by cartoonist Schwalme].

Tuesday/ it’s the Year of the Pig!

Tuesday marked the start of the Chinese lunar year.
2019 is the Year of the Pig (Boar).

This Year of the Pig (Boar) display was in the foyer of the Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, Tokyo, when I was there in December. The boar depicts what the Japanese call ‘chototsumoushin’ (ちょとつもうしん): to run and push forward (to the future) powerfully and headlong. P.S. Check out the little piggies down below on the table. Maybe they are little hedgehogs :).
Here is another piggie. I found this display of a Year of the Pig stamp in the window of the Hong Kong Post Office when I was there in December.

Thursday/ Venezuela’s turbulence

Wow .. not good, the riots in the streets in Caracas over the disputed presidential elections of 2018.  By many accounts, interim president Nicolás Maduro stole the 2018 elections with widespread fraud and support from the military. He and his supporters are refusing to let the National Assembly’s declaration & swearing in of Juan Guaidó stand.

The Trump Administration declared support for opposition leader Guaidó (so not the dictator Maduro – a surprise. Why is that? wonder observers, given that Trump fawns over and supports dictators Putin, Erdoğan, Duterte & Kim Jong-un).

In the meantime, the citizenry has to deal with an utterly destroyed economy. Nine out of ten Venezuelans live in poverty, despite the country’s vast oil reserves. Inflation in 2018 was 1,300,000%. So your money there is not worth the paper it is printed on.

From the New York Times online, Friday 1/25.
History is repeating itself, says cartoonist Eduardo Sanabria (aka Edo) in this cartoon. On Jan 23, 1958, a civilian-military movement overthrew the government of Gen. Marcos Pérez Jiménez. La Vaca Sagrada (The Sacred Cow) was the name of the airplane with which he flew to the Dominican Republic. Come Jan 23, 2019, and the rioting citizens in the streets aim to chase out two ‘sacred cows’ again. The big guy with the moustache is Nicolás Maduro which by many accounts stole the 2018 election. The little guy might be Diosdado Cabello, a supporter & Venezuelan politician.

Monday/ Trump’s cheapskate feast

Trump on Monday night in the White House, with the table groaning with cheesy & cheapskate fast food. (I guess those are a few salads at the top left). This is for the Clemson University football team, for their national championship celebration. I thought there was a government shutdown, Mr President. Should you not furlough all your White House staff, as well?

Wednesday/ day trip to Nagoya

My day trip to Nagoya went well, but man! there was an icy wind blowing in the city today. I was so glad I had packed my woolen skull cap.

Here’s the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (bullet train line) that runs from Tokyo to Nagoya, that I took. It continues its run from Nagoya on to Osaka. A more direct line to Nagoya will open in 2027, and be extended to Osaka by 2045*.
*Assuming Earth had not been utterly destroyed by humans, by then.

Here’s the Nozomi Super Express again. I’m about to step into the one on the right. Tokyo Station is its one terminal, so it sat still for 5 minutes to get cleaned by the cleaning crews. Then, and at all other stations, there is ONE MINUTE for passengers that need to disembark and for new ones to board. The train has 16 long cars, so if you are in the wrong place, or almost late, immediately board the car, right where you are. You can reach your correct car and assigned seat from inside.

 

This steel spiral and traffic circle is by the east exit of Nagoya station. The spiral tower behind it in the background, is the Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers, home to three vocational schools. Nagoya is a manufacturing and shipping hub, and Toyota City, home of the beloved Japanese cars, is not far away to its southwest.
This is by the exit from the Shiyakusho Station, on the circular Meijo Subway Line. It is the closest stop to the Nagoya Castle – the city’s main tourist attraction.
Here’s a little history of the castle and its adjacent palace.
And here it is, the castle itself (a 1959 reconstruction). It was bitterly cold, and 30 minutes from closing time, and a dozen or so of us took a few pictures. Those black birds are crows, as far as I could tell.

Saturday/ 2019, as a Star Wars opening crawl

A someone on Twitter says, this summary of Trump & his presidency heading into 2019, from the Washington Post (by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker), reads like a Star Wars opening crawl:
‘Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for reelection, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony’.

‘Trump Wars’ The Year 2019. The Washington Post reporting as a Star Wars opening crawl. (I popped the text into a tool online that creates Star Wars opening crawls, with dramatic music in the background). Will we live in ‘interesting times’, as the old Chinese curse says?

Sunday/ Veterans Day

‘American soldiers, with a sprinkling of French infantry soldiers, parading the streets of Paris in an American Army truck to express their joy over the war’s end.’   Dec. 8, 1918. [Picture from the New York Times. Credit: Émile Barrière/Photo Press Service].  
It’s a very special Veterans Day: we can celebrate the 100 year mark since the end of World War I.

Says the New York Times, though: After more than four years of fighting, 8.5 million soldiers had been killed, including more than 100,000 Americans, and 7 million civilians were dead. In that time, modern warfare was born, and the trenches of Western Europe became a charnel house*.  Just 20 years later World War II would start, bringing vastly greater destruction, and numbers of casualties.

*A building or vault in which corpses or bones are piled.

Friday/ the Gariep Dam is on my banknote

I am still adding to my old South African bank note collection. My latest addition is the R2 note issued in 1966. It arrived in the mail today, sent by an Ebay seller – from Istanbul, Turkey, no less.

The Gariep Dam on the back of the note is South Africa’s largest, by far (cap. 5.7 cubic km /1.4 cubic mi)* . Its turbines can contribute some 360 MW of electricity to the national grid.

*By comparison, the Hoover Dam in Nevada can hold a vast amount of water, some 32.2 cubic km (7.7 cubic mi). It has not been filled to capacity since 1983, though. Then there is the Three Gorges Dam in China that is bigger still (the world’s largest), with a capacity of 39.3 cubic km (9.4 cubic mi).

The front of the 1966 R2 note features Jan Van Riebeeck, a founding father of sorts: the first administrator of the the Dutch Cape Colony in 1652.  The back of the note shows the Gariep Dam located in Free State province. South Africa’s largest dam, it was decades in the making, and construction was finally completed in 1972.  Its primary function is for irrigation, hence the cob of corn in the top left corner. [Picture from Ebay].
A still frame from Dirk Grobler’s YouTube drone video of the dam from Feb 2017. At the time the water level was only at 61%.  In April of this year, the dam was full, and attracted tourists from all over the country that came to see the water spill over the sluice gates in the arched wall.

Friday/ a 20 Deutsche Mark, 1894

I closed my safety deposit box at the bank today. It had a few Krugerrands in, and an 1894 20 Deutsche Mark coin. I bought the coin from my dad long ago in South Africa, and it’s worth about $400 today. It was gifted to him by a German business associate called Eduard Dörrenberg in the 1970s, says a little cardboard note with the coin.

The obverse of the coin. The coin is 90% gold (0.23 oz), slightly smaller than a US quarter. Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, reigning from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918. Says Wikipedia: ‘Bombastic and impetuous, he sometimes made tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics without consulting his ministers’. Sound familiar?
The reverse of the coin. The eagle is from the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Prussia (1871–1914). I love these ferocious creatures that are featured on coins. The implicit message is: Don’t mess with our sovereignty!

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.

The front page of the Washington Post on Saturday. Says CNN Co-anchor Jim Sciutto on Twitter: ‘Having met Khashoggi, the idea of the 59-year-old bespectacled intellectual engaging in a physical fight with several intelligence agents is beyond the imagination’.

Monday/ 10 years after 2008 (it is still the end of the world as we knew it)

The filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by financial services firm Lehman Brothers – ten years ago this week (Sept. 15, 2008) – remains the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. Lehman held over US$600 billion in assets. The fall-out from the 2008 crisis reverberates to this day through global politics. It gave us Donald Trump, Brexit, extreme nationalism, the blaming of immigrants for economic misfortunes.

Here is Philip Stephens in a column in the Financial Times newspaper (headquartered in London):
‘Historians will look back on the crisis of 2008 as the moment the world’s most powerful nations surrendered international leadership, and globalisation went into reverse. The rest of the world has understandably concluded it has little to learn from the West. Many thought at the time that the collapse of communism would presage the hegemony of open, liberal democracies. Instead, what really will puzzle the historians is why the ancien régime was so lazily complacent – complicit, rather – in its own demise’.

 

Friday/ the LEGO Americana Roadshow

I lucked out and caught the last day when these LEGO ‘Americana Roadshow’ models were on display at Bellevue Square mall, last Sunday.
I don’t think I aspire to build giant LEGO models like these .. but maybe that is just because I don’t have hundreds of thousands of bricks to work with!

This is a life-size replica of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (the original bell was installed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania state house, now called Independence Hall). It took two master builders 430 hours to build this model.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota – or an approximation of it! – in a glass display case. I love the little minifigures in orange with their pickaxes on the mountainside. The presidents from left to right are: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and the memorial was completed in 1941.
The Statue of Liberty from Liberty Island, in the New York City harbor, was dedicated in 1886. This model is 1:25 scale, and took three builders a total of 320 hours.
Here’s the Jefferson Memorial from Washington, D.C., completed in 1943, modeled at 1:50 scale. The memorial is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), one of the most important of the American Founding Fathers as main drafter and writer of the Declaration of Independence.
The White House from Washington, D.C., official residence of the President of the United States. This 1:30 model – mercifully – spares us the spectacle of a mini-President Trump, waving at us from the porch.
Here is the United States Supreme Court building, 1:54 scale, also from Washington, D.C., and completed in 1935. ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ on the façade, presumably applies to any President of the United States, as well? The builders had to be creative with their use of bricks to model the human figures seated by the steps, and those on the façade.

Wednesday/ Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday

Nelson Mandela was born 100 years ago today.

This picture is from German daily Tagesspiegel. President Mandela visiting a school near Johannesburg in 1993. The other headings say ‘A Life for Humanity’ and Freedom Fighter, Peacemaker and Role Model.
This cartoon from South African newspaper Business Day, by cartoonist Brandan Reynolds.

Saturday/ yay! for Uruguay

I had to Google Uruguay after their win over Portugal in the World Cup. Officially the ‘Oriental Republic of Uruguay’ (Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay) –  it is a remarkable country, slightly smaller than the state of Washington, with some 3.3 million people.

More than half the population live in the capital of Montevideo. Uruguay gets high marks for its ‘liberal social laws, and well-developed social security, health, and educational systems. It is one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where the entire population has access to clean water’ (from the CIA World Factbook).

The country gets 95% of its energy from renewable resources. (Washington State is at about 85% electricity generation from renewable resources, with 8% of electricity from burning natural gas, and 7% from burning coal).

Uruguay’s team at the start of their match against Portugal. The screen changed to the May Sun from the national flag just as I snapped it. Uruguay has by far the smallest population of any country that has won a World Cup Final (although very long ago: in 1930 & in 1950).

Monday/ what will the world get in return?

So there they were, actually meeting – Kim and Trump. (A little jarring to see the American flags side by side with the North Korean flags).

I certainly don’t care for Trump’s thumbs-up enthusiasm .. but I’m sure the South Koreans & Japanese are way, way more nervous about the consequences of this meeting. Kim already won big by ‘legitimizing’ himself. What will the world get in return?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)