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)

Memorial Day 2018

It is Memorial Day, when we honor the service and memory of soldiers that gave their lives in wars fought for the United States.

May of 1968, 50 years ago, would turn out to be the bloodiest month, of the bloodiest year, for American soldiers in Vietnam. As 1968 drew to a close, public opinion in the United States turned against the war.

An original sketch by the designer of the proposed Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Maya Lin, 21-year-old Yale architecture student, in 1981. (Photo of the artwork by Victor R. Boswell Jr./National Geographic/Getty Images). From the instructions for the design competition: ‘Finally, we wish to repeat that the memorial is not to be a political statement, and that its purpose is to honor the service and memory of the war’s dead, its missing, and its veterans—not the war itself. The memorial should be conciliatory, transcending the tragedy of the war’.

Monday/ the ‘Dead Wake’ of the Lusitania

Erik Larson is an American journalist and author of nonfiction books. He has stated that he does all of his own research for his books, asking, “Why should I let anybody else have that fun?”.

 

The used copy of ‘Dead Wake’ that I had ordered from a third-party seller on Amazon for $6, arrived in the mail today. 

It is a retelling of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, by a German U-boat.  I glanced at the detailed Wikipedia entry, but did not really read it. I will read of all the dramatic events in the book.

RMS Lusitania at the end of the first leg of her maiden voyage, New York City, September 1907. She was briefly the world’s largest passenger ship in her day. [N. W. Penfield – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-64956]

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.

Friday/ a week packed with news

Prince Louis | Bill Cosby guilty | Trump & Macron meeting: a bromance | Trump & Merkel meeting: frosty | Trump’s phone-in rant to Fox News | Dust storms, rain storms, floods in Middle East | Rain in Cape Town | North Korea & South Korea summit .. is it for real? | Don Trump Jr colluded with Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya in June 2016 & her connection to the Kremlin is now confirmed | Donald Trump Sr again denies collusion, citing a House Intelligence Committee report (which is somewhat of a sham) | Marvel Studios’ Avengers $350 million Infinity War movie starts (but I have no plans to see it) .. and I will leave it at that.

Graphic from Bloomberg Businessweek. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s diplomacy is largely credited for making the summit possible. Meanwhile, President Trump declared it a win for himself – before the real negotiations have really started. Hopefully new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (that met Kim Jung-un recently), brought back insights that can help prepare Trump for his meeting with Kim Jung-un.

Thursday/ stamps are forever

This sheet of ‘Great Plains Prairie’ stamps (issued 2001) was on sale on-line, and I ordered it for my stamp collection. The manila envelope that the sheet had arrived in today, had itself some interesting stamps on.  Are these old stamps even legit? I wondered .. but it turns out they are. Postage stamps do not have expiration dates, as a general rule.

One of a series of ten sheets of stamps, each with a different environment, and a bunch of animals and plants on. Check out the pronghorn (antelope), badger, eastern short-horned lizard and burrowing owls on the left, and the bison and the black-tailed prairie dog in the middle. Burrowing in the ground are prairie pocket gophers – and they had better watch out for the prairie rattlesnake at the bottom right.
Here’s the manila envelope from the vendor, so let’s see what stamps these might be!  Left to right: US Airmail Eagle 4c, issued 1954* (whoah); USA Circle of Stars 6c (1981); Commercial Aviation 1926-1976 13c (1976); Pacific 97 International Stamp Exhibition (1997).     *Inflation makes 4 cents from 1954 worth about 37 cents in 2018.

Monday/ ‘surprise’: a new worst President

The famous Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota. From left to right: Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. If ever another President were to be added, the historians’ consensus is that it should be Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

On today, the President’s Day holiday here in the United States, the findings of the 2018 survey by an expert panel has President Donald Trump rated dead last*.

At this early point, he is already deemed worse than even James Buchanan, the Union’s 15th president. (Wikipedia: After leaving office, Buchanan spent most of his remaining years defending himself from public blame for the Civil War).

*Even among self-identified Republicans and conservatives on the panel, Trump came in 40th of 44.

Friday/ Happy Lunar New Year!

Today marks the start of the lunar Year of the Dog. The lunar year runs until Feb 10, 2019.

I went down to the post office and got a sheet of stamps, the way I do every year: 2012 2015 2016 2017.

Here are the 2018 Lunar Year stamps. (Man .. they make one work hard to find the ‘Dog’ of the Year of the Dog on the stamps). There is a big doggie in green on the sheet, and then one in gold in the top left of each stamp). The ‘lucky bamboo’ plant on the stamps (Dracaena sanderiana) is not a true bamboo, but the cane-like stems and thin leaves give the appearance of bamboo.

Friday/ one Korea: the dream is fading

It was great to see the unified Korean team come into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony. One could argue that Korea is the only divided country that remains in the world.  For example, there was North and South Vietnam (united in 1975), East and West Germany (united in 1990), and South North and South Yemen (also united in 1990). And yes, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but one cannot see it become one country again.

I read that support for Korean unification is fading, though. Some 50% of young South Koreans regard North Korea as an outright enemy, that they want nothing to do with. The harsh reality is that there is a yawning chasm between the economies of the countries. The per capita income difference between the South and North is 20 to 1. For West Germany and East Germany it was 3 to 1.

Here come the Koreans, the unified team entering the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony. It is not a first: unified Korean teams marched in the opening ceremonies of the 2000, 2004, and 2006 Olympics as well. Real unification? Very hard and very real obstacles remain. [Picture from Vox.com]

Monday/ Rheinauhafen, Cologne

I spent some time in Rheinauhafen (‘Rhine old port’) today. It is a former port facility on the Rhine*, now rebuilt into modern condominiums, offices and commercial buildings.  A Microsoft office building was completed in 2008, the main condominium building in 2009, and most of the other buildings a few years before that, or a few years later.

*Cologne is the largest city on the Rhine.  Here in Cologne it is the Nieder-Rhein (the lower Rhine).

I did the best I could do with my photo of the three dramatic Kranhäuser (‘harbor crane’) buildings, shot into the sun. They each have two-part outrigger sections that rest only on a slender, fully glazed staircase tower. These are just below the Severin Bridge (yellow on the map), and on the little peninsula in the Rhine. The Microsoft office (picture bottom middle) is across the canal, on the true riverbank.
A close-up of the residential building. The green triangular column and spans in the background are of the Severin Bridge. A realtor’s office advertised a few of the units that are for sale. Sample numbers: 2 bedroom, 130m2 (1,400 sqft) unit goes for €1.1 million (US$ 1.3 million). A 3-bedroom was for rent for €3,650 pm (US$ 4,400).
These buildings are a little further down south from the Kranhäuser buildings. The ones on the left have an old or classic architecture, but they are almost brand new, from what I can tell. The modern brick and glass building on the right is a high-school. MY high school did not look like that! (I wish it did).
I love this old sepia picture, printed onto the glass enclosure of a kiosk, with the – port worker? who was he? – resting his arms on the fence.  A great way to acknowledge the rich history of the port.