Saturday/ it’s official: LEGO’s RMS Titanic

From CNN Style:
Made up of 9,090 pieces, the replica model divides into three sections to reveal the interior of the ill-fated vessel, including the first-class grand staircase, which sprawls over six decks, as well as a Jacobean-style dining saloon and the engine room.
The LEGO ship is a 1:200 scale model and also includes a recreation of the ship’s bridge, promenade deck and swimming pool.
“At the time of its launch the Titanic was the pinnacle of nautical engineering, the largest moving vehicle ever created. It has been an incredible journey to recreate this iconic vessel from LEGO bricks, using blueprints created over a century ago,” Mike Psiaki, design master at the LEGO Group, said in a statement Thursday.
“Designing the LEGO Titanic with such a focus on immense detail and scale, but also accuracy, has allowed us to create one of the most challenging building experiences to date,” he added.
The set won’t come cheap though: Available for pre-order from November 1 and general sale from November 8, the ship will retail at $629.99.

All pictures are from Lego.com.

Saturday/ Twenty Years later

On Saturday, both President Bush and President Biden acknowledged that what has happened in the years since, has only challenged the notion that Americans prized coming together over choosing to grow hostile to one another’s differences.
– Katie Rogers reporting for the New York Times

Lower Manhattan in New York City, seen from the Staten Island Ferry. The main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan is called One World Trade Center (formerly Freedom Tower). It opened on Nov. 3, 2014.
[Picture by Todd Heisler/The New York Times]

Monday/ wheels up, for the last time

It’s official: America’s 20 year-long war in Afghanistan is over.
The last cargo plane from the United States armed forces had left at midnight Kabul time on Monday night. Someone on flightradar24.com noted that the United States military has ceased to provide air traffic control functions at Kabul Airport, and that the entirety of Afghan airspace is now without air traffic control.

‘Afghanistan has once more completed a cycle that has repeatedly defined the past 40 years of violence and upheaval: For the fifth time since the Soviet invasion in 1979, one order has collapsed and another has risen. What has followed each of those times has been a descent into vengeance, score-settling and, eventually, another cycle of disorder and war’, writes Thomas Gibbons-Neff for the New York Times.

Aug 30, 2021 U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the last service member to board the last airplane out of Hamid Karzai International Airport. There were no civilians on this flight. The C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane’s handle is MOOSE94, and it was wheels-up one minute before midnight local time, on Aug 30. (So technically there were still 24 hours left before the Aug 31 midnight deadline). [Hand-out photo from U.S. Central Command, via Getty]
Aug 15, 2021: Then there was this flight, crammed with some 640 Afghan evacuees, leaving Kabul airport for Doha, Qatar. The surge of anxious people had boarded the airplane, and the crew decided to just take off, even though the plane was not nearly designed to provide proper seating for nearly as many passengers. 
[Hand-out photo from U.S. Air Force]

Friday/ the national flower of Mexico

Summer is dwindling, and so are the flowers to be found on my neighborhood walk. Still, I got these two beautiful dahlias tonight.

Centuries ago, dahlia tubers were grown as food crops by the Aztecs. This use of the plant largely died out after the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire (1519-21). The dahlia was declared the national flower of Mexico in 1963.

Friday/ Afghanistan: what’s next?

Kandahar, in particular, is a huge prize for the Taliban. It is the economic hub of southern Afghanistan, and it was the birthplace of the insurgency in the 1990s, serving as the militants’ capital for part of their five-year rule. By seizing the city, the Taliban can effectively proclaim a return to power, if not complete control.
– By Christina Goldbaum, Sharif Hassan and Fahim Abed writing in the New York Times


Lester Holt spent 10 minutes on NBC’s Nightly News on the Taliban’s unsettling takeover of Afghanistan.

Retired US Army general David H. Petraeus and Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2010 & 2011, said on the radio today, that pulling out is a mistake, and that US forces need to go back in. It’s too late for that. Twenty years of effort and tens of billions of dollars of aid, to train an Afghan army, succumbed to the local corruption and internal strife there. The Biden* Administration has made it clear that the US troops are leaving, no matter what.

*Yes: Joe Biden is still the President of the United States. The delusional My Pillow guy had long touted today as ‘Reinstatement Day’ (which would see Trump put back in office). 

Map by Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Afghanistan is a mostly mountainous country (the Hindu Kush Himalayas) with 38 million people and 34 provinces. It is about as big as Texas. In the south is the Registan Desert. Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world. Most Afghans live in poverty and literacy rates in Afghanistan are among the lowest in the world, at 43%. The Taliban controls an estimated 65% of the territory, as of this week. [Map from FDD’s Long War Journal, figures from Aljazeera.com]

Wednesday/ Zuma is in jail, finally

I thought it would never happen, but here we are: former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma (age 79), is actually in jail as of Wednesday night*.

It gives me hope that a former president of the United States of America, can be found guilty (it should not hard, to do that), and be sentenced to serve a long time in jail as well. Lock him up.

*15 months, for contempt of court. After all that he had done, Zuma deserves to go for 15 years. 


Hundreds of Mr. Zuma’s supporters gathered on Sunday outside his compound, vowing to protect him from arrest. There were fears of violent confrontations between the police and the supporters, but that did not happen. [Picture by Shiraaz Mohamed/Associated Press]

NKANDLA, South Africa — Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, was taken into custody on Wednesday to begin serving a 15-month prison sentence, capping a stunning downfall for a once-lauded freedom fighter who battled the apartheid regime alongside Nelson Mandela.

The Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest judicial body, ordered Mr. Zuma’s imprisonment last month after finding him guilty of contempt for failing to appear before a commission investigating corruption accusations that tainted his tenure as the nation’s leader from 2009 to 2018.

Under Mr. Zuma, who was forced to step down, the extent of crony corruption within the governing African National Congress Party became clear, turning a once heralded liberation movement into a vehicle of self-enrichment for many officials. The corruption led to the gutting of the nation’s tax agency, sweetheart business contracts and rivals gunned down in a scramble for wealth and power.

Mr. Zuma, 79, voluntarily surrendered on Wednesday, 40 minutes before a midnight deadline for the police to hand him over to prison officials. He was driven out of his compound in a long convoy of cars and taken to the Estcourt Correctional Center, the corrections department said. The arrest followed a week of tense brinkmanship in which the former president and his allies railed against the high court’s decision, suggesting, without evidence, that he was the victim of a conspiracy.
-John Eligon reporting for the New York Times

Fourth of July

This Fourth of July, we are reminded that patriotism isn’t just about our loyalty to country – it’s about our loyalty to one another, to our communities, to those in need, whose names or stories we may never know, but to whom we are connected by compassion and by resilience.
-Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, referring to the collapse of the condominium tower in Surfside, Miami-Dade County. The remainder of the partially collapsed building has now been demolished.


Happy Independence Day to my fellow American citizens!

Here is the first American flag, the so-called Betsy Ross flag.
Washington State would be the 42nd state to join the Union. It happened some 113 years after July 4, 1776: on Nov. 11, 1889.
[Image from philacarta.com]

Friday/ it’s Gay Pride weekend

It’s Gay Pride weekend, but there will again be no Pride in downtown Seattle. (The organizers did not know at the outset of 2021 where Washington State and the city of Seattle would find itself come June, in the Covid-19 pandemic).

Honoring Pride Month at the White House on today, President Biden signed a law to designate the site of Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded dozens in 2016, as the National Pulse Memorial.

Pete Buttigieg, transportation secretary in the Biden administration, was the first openly gay cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate, earlier this year.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, joined the Capital Pride parade in Washington on Saturday, June 12. (So how come Washington DC could have a parade, but Seattle could not get it together? I’m not sure why). 
[Photo credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images]

Juneteenth: now a federal holiday

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, effective on Jan. 1, 1863, declared that the enslaved in Confederate-controlled areas were free.

Texas was the last Confederate territory reached by the Union army. On June 19, 1865—Juneteenth—U.S. Army general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to proclaim the war had ended and so had slavery (in the Confederate states).

Slavery was only ended in Kentucky and Delaware by the passing of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in Dec. 1865. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

This Thursday, President Biden signed the Juneteenth bill, creating a new federal holiday for June 19th, to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S.

An 1864 illustration depicting crowds of people, recently freed from enslavement, that carry copies of the Emancipation Proclamation.
[Hulton Archives/ Getty images]

Sunday/ pomp and circumstance

Pomp and circumstance: impressive formal activities or ceremonies (Merriam-Webster dictionary).
Beefeater: Beef + eater. Prob. one who eats another’s beef, as his servant. Could also be from:  hlāfǣta, servant, properly a loaf eater. (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary).
Beefeaters are the yeomen of the English royal guard, who, since the accession of Henry VII. in 1485, have attended the sovereign at state banquets and on other ceremonial occasions.
The name is also given to the warders of the Tower of London, who wear a similar uniform.


WINDSOR, ENGLAND – JUNE 13: Queen Elizabeth II (center), US President Joe Biden (right) and US First Lady Dr Jill Biden (left) at Windsor Castle on June 13, 2021 in Windsor, England. Queen Elizabeth II hosted US President, Joe Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden at Windsor Castle. The President arrived from Cornwall where he attended the G7 Leader’s Summit.
By Sunday night he had arrived in Brussels, for a meeting of NATO Allies. Later in the week he will meet the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Samir Hussein – Pool/Wire Image)

Queen Elizabeth II received President Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden at Windsor castle today. ‘President Biden and the first lady seemed relaxed, and there were no obvious diplomatic breaches‘ reported the New York Times.
Yes. Like stepping in front of the Queen. Or tweeting about the Prince of ‘a group of large marine mammals’ (‘Whales’).

Tuesday/ ‘an incalculable and enduring loss’

A century ago, a prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., perished at the hands of a violent white mob.

The mob indiscriminately shot Black people in the streets. Members of the mob ransacked homes and stole money and jewelry. They set fires, “house by house, block by block,” according to a commission’s report (done in 2001).

Terror came from the sky, too. White pilots flew airplanes that dropped dynamite over the neighborhood, the report stated, making the Tulsa aerial attack what historians call among the first of an American city.

The numbers presented a staggering portrait of loss: 35 blocks burned to the ground; as many as 300 dead; hundreds injured; 8,000 to 10,000 left homeless; more than 1,470 homes burned or looted; and eventually, 6,000 detained in internment camps.

There is a pending lawsuit and ongoing discussions about how and whether to compensate the families of the Tulsa Massacre victims. No compensation has ever been paid under court order or by legislation.

The destruction of property is only one piece of the financial devastation that the massacre wrought. Much bigger is a sobering kind of inheritance: the incalculable and enduring loss of what could have been, and the generational wealth that might have shaped and secured the fortunes of Black children and grandchildren.

To this day, not one person has been prosecuted or punished for the devastation and ruin of the original Greenwood.
– Excerpts from a report in The New York Times, May 24, 2021

A composite image shows Greenwood ablaze during the massacre. Composite created with photographs from the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, McFarlin Library at The University of Tulsa.
How it all unfolded. Greenwood Avenue, for years a thriving hub, was destroyed by racial violence in less than 24 hours. [Graphic by The New York Times].

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day in the United States, the day when we commemorate our fallen soldiers.

Poppies on 12th Avenue here on Capitol Hill. These red ones with their black centers have long been a symbol for commemorating fallen soldiers.

Monday/ around South Lake Union

Here are pictures from Sunday, from my walk around South Lake Union.

Out of the big hole that there once had been, a big building is rising. I was snapping the Washington State Convention Center’s expansion, seen here from the corner of Howell St and 9th Ave, when this Tesla Model 3 drove into my picture.
Walking by Spruce Street School‘s brick building on Virgina Avenue, on the way to South Lake Union. The private school educates kids from kindergarten, through fifth grade ($28,650 per year per student).
Here’s the Cornish College of the Arts (brown building), getting squeezed by new 44-storey glass-and-steel apartment towers on two sides, but still holding its own. The building was designed by architect Sonke Englehart Sonnichsen in the traditional Norwegian style. Constructed in 1915, it was used for Seattle’s Norwegian cultural and fraternal organizations until 1948. It hosted the City Beat disco club from 1974, which became Boren Street Disco. In the late 80’s it became the home of The Timberline: a country western & mainly gay dance club, renowned for its 25c beers, free peanuts (with shells thrown on the floor), Wednesday lube wrestling tournaments, country line dancing, and its Sunday Tea Dance. Sadly, the Timberline closed in 2003. (Information from seattlebars.org).
A sign at the corner of Denny Way and Fairview Avenue. There is construction all around, and it will go on for at least two more years.
Here is the 2014 Fairview Avenue apartment tower, a 42-story structure with its languid ‘S’ corner line, offering 437 apartment units and retail space at ground level. It’s a far cry from the little Denny Square strip mall and dry-cleaning joint that had been demolished to make room for it.
I spliced together two pictures to catch all of the S E A T T L E   T I M E S lettering. This used to be a 3-story building, occupied by the Seattle Times newspaper from 1931 to 2011. All that remains is the façade. Two office towers (16-story and 18-story) are to be constructed here, but the work has not yet started in earnest.
A cluster of parking instructions. You have to pay, and the assumption is that you have a smartphone to do it with. There are no parking meters! Better to just catch public transport, or your Uber or Lyft ride right here.
Here’s another brick building with a long history. Now called Amazon Van Vorst (it’s at 426 Terry Ave N), it was built in 1909 for the Club Stables, and had room for 250 horses. The building was then a furniture outlet, a transfer & storage facility, and from 1941-74, it housed the C. B. Van Vorst mattress factory. Then it sat empty for two decades, before it was declared a City of Seattle Landmark. (Information from HistoryLink).
Here’s the minimalist lobby of the Moxy Seattle Downtown budget hotel. ‘Nice to See You’ says the floormat, and ‘There is Nowhere to Go but Everywhere’, proclaims the artwork on the wall. (Well. Maybe in 2023, but not just yet).
All right. Finally I arrive at my intended destination, the new-ish building called Google Valley, the tech giant’s new Seattle offices, on the shore of Lake Union.
The view from Terry Avenue. Look for a reflection of the Space Needle in one of the window panes, and for a white image of The Bugdroid, also called Andy, the mascot of the Google Android smartphone operating system.
The entire lobby wall of the Helm apartment complex in the same building is decked out with traffic mirrors.
And another one, put to real use to see oncoming traffic on Mercer Ave, at a construction site. (And put to use by me for a selfie picture).
Making my way back now to where I parked my car, and walking by the Tesla dealership on Westlake Avenue. This all-black Model Y is getting a trickle charge from a regular 110 V wall outlet. It’s only getting 3 or 4 miles per hour added to its battery, but that’s OK. It might be all it needs for the test drives it is used for by potential buyers.
Once upon a time some 15 years ago, I had Firestone tires put on my Toyota Camry in this old Firestone Auto Supply and Service Building from 1929. The 2-story building’s outer walls, with their distinctive Art Deco style, are kept, but not much else. A 15-story office building will be constructed on the inside.
Here’s the courtyard between the Amazon Houdini North and Houdini South buildings. There’s an Amazon Go store tucked into the corner (the store where you check in with your Amazon app, walk around and put what you want in your basket, and walk out the door. You still pay 🙂 – the store knows what you had taken.
Looking up, in the courtyard.
The Houdini buildings are located on the site of the 1929 Troy Laundry Building. The brick façade of the old building is still there, showcasing a few items in the entrance lobby off Fairview Ave North.
A peek into a ground floor meeting room from the lobby. I guess those chairs around the table are waiting patiently for squabbling, animated humans to come back. A Zoom meeting is a poor substitute for a rowdy in-the-flesh conference room meeting, no?
Nice turquoise colors on the outdoor seating area for El Grito Taqueria. Hopefully the restaurants and eateries can hang on for just a little longer.
And here are the two apartment towers at 1120 Denny Way (41 stories each) that are now nearing completion. It is the city’s largest-ever apartment building, with a total of 1,179 apartments.

Wednesday/ Happy St Patrick’s Day

The White House was lit up in green on Wednesday night to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and the rich bond between the United States and Ireland.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin presented a bowl of shamrocks to President Biden today (a real bowl, but they conversed via video link) — a tradition that dates back to 1952 with President Truman.
Picture from @WhiteHouse on Twitter.

Friday/ Anton Goosen turns 75

South African folk singer Anton Goosen turned 75 today.

He sings mostly in Afrikaans, but also in English.
I love his song called Magalies, O Magaliesberg — a song that (somewhat) romanticises the hardships of the 1830s Great Trek of the Voortrekkers (pioneers).
Some of these pioneers ended up in what would become the Transvaal Colony, and is today called Gauteng Province.

The Magaliesberg is a modest but well-defined mountain range north of Pretoria, with ancient origins. It was formed some 2 billion years ago.
The area around the range has seen occupation by humans dating back at least 2 million years, to the earliest hominin species (such as Mrs Ples). The Sterkfontein Caves, which lie at the World Heritage Site called the Cradle of Humankind, are close by. [From Wikipedia].

Ox wagons during the Great Trek in South Africa (1835-1838).
[Picture from Wikimedia Commons, from p209 of the book ‘The Voortrekkers’ by J.S. Skelton, 1909].
Voor op die wa sit my hoepelbeenpa,
agter op die wa sit my vaalhaarma
Waai die wind, waai my jas,
knoop my Sannie haar sydoek vas
Veertien rooies voor aan die wa,
sewe van my en sewe van my pa
Die hotagter, die Afrikaan,
hy en sy maat moet die disselboom dra

(Front of the wa1 sits my hoop-legged pa,
back of the wa sits my drab-haired ma
Blows the wind, blow our coats,
ties my Tammy her silk cloth close
Fourteen red ones front of the wa,
seven of mine & seven of my pa’s
The left back, the Afrikaan2,
he and his mate, must bear the bar)

1Short for wagon, we say v-ahh in Afrikaans
2A breed of cattle indigenous to South Africa

Lyrics from ‘Magalies, O Magaliesberg‘ from the Anton Goosen album ‘Liedjieboer Innie Stad’ (1986), with my own rough translation into English.

Wednesday/ Holocaust Memorial Day

It is Holocaust Memorial Day. I took this picture when I was in Berlin in the summer of 2015.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (German: Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), also known as the Holocaust Memorial is a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It consists of a 19,000-square-metre (200,000 sq ft) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. An attached underground “Place of Information” (German: Ort der Information) holds the names of approx. 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem. [Source: Wikipedia]

Wednesday/ The Biden has landed

‘The new dawn blooms as we free it,
There is always light.
Only if we are brave enough to see it.
There is always light –
Only if we are brave enough to be it.’

— National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (22), delivering a poem at President Biden’s inauguration


It’s been a wonderful day here in the United States.
We now have President Joe Biden and Madam Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Before they were both sworn in, Lady Gaga sang The Star-Spangled Banner in her Schiaparelli scarlet & black couture, and wearing the largest golden peace dove brooch I had ever seen.
She made me cry (but Garth Brooks did not).

Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, holds the Bible. Harris’ purple coat was designed by rising-star designer Christopher John Rogers. [Photo by Andrew Harnik / Pool via Getty Images]
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., just before noon Eastern Standard Time.  His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is holding a hefty Bible, accented with a Celtic cross, that has been in his family since 1893. [Picture by REUTERS/ Kevin Lamarque]
President Obama looked impeccable as always. As a Twitter fan noted, about ‘Forever First Lady’ Michele Obama: she did not come to play. She came to slay, with a burgundy-shaded jacket & matching turtleneck sweater and wide-leg trousers. The designer is Sergio Hudson, a Black designer from South Carolina. She completed her chic outfit with an oversized gold belt buckle, black leather gloves, simple black mask; her hair down in bouncy curls. [Picture by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post]

Tuesday/ more than 400,000 lives lost

Exactly one year ago on Jan. 19, 2020, a 35-year-old man checked into an urgent-care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a 4-day history of cough & fever. He had arrived at Seattle-Tacoma airport on Jan. 15, after traveling back from visiting family in Wuhan, China, for three months.

The next day, the CDC confirmed that the patient’s nose and throat swabs had tested positive for 2019-nCoV, in a PCR test. He was the first known case of Covid-19 in the States. The patient got worse before he got better, but by Feb. 3, he was well enough to go home.

There must already have been many other unknown carriers of the virus in the Seattle area, though. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, was the first Covid-19 hotspot in the US. In February and March, 46 people lost their lives there.

By Jan. 19, 2021, the virus had made it into every county in the entire United States, and had killed 400,000 people.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. with his wife, Jill Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Today, Mr. Biden paid tribute to the victims of the pandemic, the same day that the death toll in the United States topped a staggering 400,000.

[caption from the New York Times/ Photo by Doug Mills/ NYT]

Monday/ it’s Martin Luther King Day

[Photo credit: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]
Here is Dr Martin Luther King Jr, speaking on the Mall in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, after a civil rights march. This is where he delivered his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

Fast forward some 57 years, and in that time the United States had  inaugurated its first black president — twice.

In 2016, though, the archaic electoral college system, and vast social media disinformation campaigns, resulted in the first white supremacist president to be elected.

In 2021, that Capitol building in the distance would be overrun by violent white supremacists, seeking to overturn the free & fair* election results of 2020.
So now there is a vast amount of work to do, to eradicate a pandemic of lies about the election, along with the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus.

*A generous characterization? .. given the voter suppression, the non-stop gaslighting of voters by the sitting president and his allies, and the damage done to the US Postal service, in order to interfere with mail-in ballots and mail-in votes.

Sunday/ the Mall is closed

The long, grassy National Mall in Washington DC is home to the Lincoln Memorial and the equally iconic Washington Monument. It fills up with people during the inauguration of a newly elected American president. That will not happen this year with Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

The Capitol building, and a large area around it, is patrolled and filled to the hilt with National Guardsmen, US Capitol Police, Washington DC police, the Secret Service – you name it.

I guess it is all a fitting end to the unmitigated disaster that was the Trump presidency.  The FBI published dozens of ‘FBI Seeking Information’ posters with pictures of the Jan 6. attackers. Several characters been marked ‘ARRESTED’ (dude with feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk; dude with horns & furs, and megaphone; ‘Baked Alaska’, a right-wing social media personality that live-streamed the scene from inside the Capitol with more than 5,100 viewers watching).

Trump is said to entertain the pardoning of at least 100 more criminals, in the final hours of his presidency. One wonders if any of those already arrested by the FBI, will get a pardon. I would hazard a guess and say they will not.    

That non-scalable fence is 8 ft high, but even so, razor wire is also being installed along its top. [Picture from Sunday taken by Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post]