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]

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.

Saturday/ first day in Cologne/ Köln

It rained this morning, but it cleared up later, and warmed up to 12 °C (54°F), which was a welcome change from Friday night.

I walked around the Neumarkt area, and Rudolfplatz, and went into a few stores, seeing that most stores close down on Sunday, and Monday, for New Year’s Day.  Here are some pictures from Friday night and Saturday.

The awe-inspiring Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) is right by the hauptbahnhof (main train station). Construction on this building started many centuries ago! – in 1248. It was the world’s tallest structure from 1880 to 1890, and is Germany’s most visited landmark. It suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during WWII – but did not collapse, and stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. The cathedral was declared a World Heritage site in 1996. I still have to go inside and take a few more daytime pictures.
Here’s the hauptbahnhof (main train station), with the spires of the Kölner Dom behind it.
Clockwise from Top Left: Schildergasse (Schilder alley) is near the Neumarkt station, and good for all kinds of shopping | Waffles in the shape of the Kölner Dom | Kölsch beer is brewed only around Cologne (it’s a light ale), and of course I had to have some | The coat of arms of Cologne on a man-hole cover. Those are two eagles, and the shield carries  eleven black drops. Legend has it that they recall Cologne’s patron, Saint Ursula, a Britannic princess, and her legendary 11,000 virgin companions, who were martyred by Attila the Hun at Cologne for their Christian faith in 383.

Wednesday/ stamps for World War I

I shipped a package of books and red tea that I bought here, from myself to myself, in Seattle today. Books are so heavy, and I don’t put food in my baggage when I travel.  The post office branch I visited did not have new 2017 stamps , and I settled for a panel of 2014 stamps that commemorated World War I.

The horrors, and the heroes of War: Top South African Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts at the top (Botha would die of flu in 1919, and Smuts became Prime Minister after the war). Middle There was even a campaign in Palestine, and the sinking of the SS Mendi in the British Channel made for a loss of 616 lives, most of them black South African soldiers. Bottom The battle of Battle of Delville Wood in France (against the Germans), and the German advance at Marrieres Wood also resulted in a lost of casualties, and heroic actions of the South Africans against overwhelming forces.

Monday/ a ‘dim-witted, mush-mouthed fool’

President Trump made many Native Americans very angry today – at the annual ceremony meant to honor the Navajo Code Talkers . It’s a long story, but in a side comment, he again resorted to his standard derogatory reference ‘Pocahontas’ to describe Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Here’s the reaction of Gyasi Ross, interviewed by Chris Hayes on MSNBC today:  ‘The two groups that we revere are veterans and elders. Somehow this dim-witted, completely mush-mouthed fool managed to offend the two groups which he said he was honoring at this time, in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who .. signed the Indian Removal Act that killed thousands of native people’. 

Three former Navajo Code Talkers joined the president on Monday for the annual ceremony honoring them, including Peter MacDonald, former chairman of the Navajo Nation. History buffs pointed out that the portrait of Andrew Jackson made for an unfortunate backdrop, since he signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 (that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Native Americans).
Gyasi Ross is Blackfeet and Suquamish (his Native American heritage). He is a speaker, storyteller, author, commentator and attorney, and his home is on the Kitsap Peninsula’s Port Madison Indian Reservation (close to Seattle).