Saturday/ Sandy Hook 2012, now already long gone

The massacres continue unabated here in the United States.
Saturday at an El Paso Walmart: 20 dead, dozens wounded. 
Early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio: 9 dead, 27 wounded.
Both are acts of domestic terrorism, committed by home-grown white nationalist Americans.

The Republicans and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell have repeatedly blocked laws passed by the House in the Senate.

The New York Times notes: “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

It should be noted, though, that in 2013, Connecticut State lawmakers did make sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws. It did not impact gun sales very much, but today Connecticut has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation. (‘Lowest gun death rates’ is still a problem).

The United States of America with its lax gun laws: Awash in guns, awash in mass murderers. P.S. 2019 figures: 393 million guns in America, population 327 million.

Sunday, sans sun

It was a gray Sunday, with a little rain, here in the city today.
I did run out to go check on the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s gradual disappearance (on-going demolition), and the new buildings under construction nearby.

Looking south from the upper deck at Pike Place Market. No Mt Rainier in the distance, just low clouds.
Looking north. There’s the Norwegian Bliss at the Bell Street Cruise Terminal (Pier 66), just getting ready to set sail for a round trip to Skagway, Alaska. It will be back early next Sunday morning.
The neon sign at Pike Place Market is almost as iconic as the Space Needle. It has been there much longer (since 1935), and was designed by architect Andrew Willatsen.
Nearby is The Emerald, a 40-story, 265-unit condominium high-rise. The mural artwork is for outdoor store Fjällräven (Swedish for arctic fox), around the corner.  (Scientists recently published an article that tells of a female arctic fox that had trekked an astonishing 2,700 miles from Norway to Canada, across arctic ice, in just 21 days).
And how is the new Rainier Square Tower on 5th Avenue progressing? I believe it still has 15 to 20 floors to go before topping out.
I always walk by this building on the way back from Pike Place Market and even though it now sells discount clothing, it has a storied history. It was built in 1940 as a major West coast store for the F. W. Woolworth Company. These the waning days of Art Deco architecture, but the building still has many Art Deco traits. The terracotta and lighter cream colors go together nicely, and I love the styling of the clock with its horizontal ‘wing’ accents.

4th of July 2019

It’s America’s 243rd birthday.
I plan to ignore the TV coverage of the military parade in Washington DC, and the ‘Salute to America’ speech by Trump! .. but here’s a little impromptu artwork, done with the help of a 1967 Spirograph set that I had recently bought on EBay.

Saturday/ the Stonewall riots, 50 years on

The fight for LGBT goes on, says this logo [Picture from Twitter]. Yes, minority communities need to fight for social justice, but they cannot do it all on their own. They need the support of the majority, or the establishment, before major changes will make their way into legislation and into the mainstream.

It has been 50 years since the Stonewall riots in 1969.

A series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations were made by members of the gay (LGBTQ+) community, against a police raid that had begun in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.

The Stonewall riots are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

 

Thursday/ 75 years on: we shall never forget their sacrifice

Time marches on, and here we are, 75 years from the day in World War II, on which the Allied Forces had landed on the beaches in Normandy.

After sunset on June 5th, an enormous fleet of some 6,900 Allied vessels made their way to the French coastline. The first Allied soldiers set foot on the five beaches at about 6.30 am.  (The five beach-heads would only be connected by June 12th, much later than planned, though). An estimated 4,400 Allied soldiers died on D-day, and an equal number or more German soldiers.

By the end of June 1944, some one million Allied soldiers were on the ground on French soil. The casualties for both sides during Operation Overlord that lasted until Aug. 30, 1944, would come to some 450,000 dead.

D-Day: This is How the Invasion Went  The boxes at the top are the code names for the landing beaches. The orange shows the areas that the Allied forces occupied on the first day after the D-day landings. (Their goal was to reach the dotted lines). The port city of Caen (lower right), a key target, was only completely liberated by July 21. [Graphic by Theunis Kruger, Grafika24, from Die Burger newspaper].

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’.