I am trying again to add greenery to the front of my house, and my gardener recommended astelias (‘silver shadow’). I have to keep an eye on them and keep them watered, since the rainy season is not yet in full swing here.
Check out this mama lynx and her seven kittens that visited Tim Newton’s porch in Alaska. (They picked the right porch! He is a photographer). These are called Canada lynxes. Its cousin from the lynx genus, further south in North America, is the bobcat. Other species of medium-sized wild cats are the Eurasian lynx and the Iberian lynx, the Indian jungle cat, and Africa’s caracal, which we have in South Africa as well.
A gunman sprayed 22,000 country music concert goers with bullets from machine gun fire from his Las Vegas hotel room on Sunday night at 10.08 pm, for almost 10 minutes.
The sheriff from Clark County in Las Vegas just had a news conference (Monday morning), said the ‘body count’ was up to 58, maybe 59, then corrected himself and said ‘number of deceased’. Well, it’s a massacre, and the body count as of now is 58, with 515 wounded. The gunman was a 64 yr old white male, US citizen – they usually are white males & US citizens, the gunmen in these frequent events in the United States. He used bullets designed to do maximum damage. He then committed suicide. The President called it an ‘act of pure evil’ and offered his condolences. The gunman’s brother could not point to anything that triggered him. Congress is not expected to anything, at all.
‘Drain the Swamp!’ was Donald Trump’s rallying cry during his campaign. Well, the swamp is alive and well. Trump’s Health & Human Services (HHS) secretary Tom Price, finally quit on Friday. He brought a scandal onto himself with his ultra-exorbitant travel expenses. The feat he pulled off: pile up expenses to the tune of $1,000,000 of overseas trips and the more than two dozen trips he has taken on private planes domestically since May. This is after he cut the HHS travel annual budget of $4.9 million by $663,000 (15%). And for comparison, his predecessor Kathleen Sibelius, took one private plane flight in all of her 5-year tenure.
Even so, it appears Price’s ultimate sin was not being able to repeal Obamacare (that is: take away healthcare money for millions of Americans), and so he had to go.
(These pictures are from Wednesday). We made a stop at Lake Lenore on Wednesday. Lake Lenore is a long, narrow lake (8 mi long, 15ft deep) formed by the Missoula Floods in the lower Coulee just north of the town of Soap Lake. There is a trail that leads up to caves in the basalt rock.
Driving further up north on Highway 17 brings one to Dry Falls, named for the massive waterfalls that existed there during the Pleistocene Epoch, when ice sheets and glaciers covered huge parts of Earth’s surface. This area was at the southern end of the Cordilleran ice sheet, and the melting of the glaciers carved out the coulees in the basalt rock that we see today.
We stayed over in the town of Omak on Wednesday night, and made our way back to Seattle on Thursday over the North Cascades* with Highway 20. It’s about a 5 hr drive without stops, to go from Omak to Twisp, Winthrop, Newhalem, Darrington and then with I-5 (or I-405) to Seattle. It was a crisp morning when we started back from Omak (47 °F/ 8°C), but back in Seattle it was a record warm day for Sept 28 at (85°F/ 29 °C).
*The Cascade Range or ‘Cascades’ is a major mountain range of western North America, extending from southern British Columbia in Canada through Washington State and Oregon and into Northern California.
A coulee is a kind of valley or drainage zone. The Grand Coulee is an ancient river bed in north-central Washington State. And the Grand Coulee Dam is a massive concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River, built to produce hydroelectric power and to provide irrigation water. Only the Three Gorges dam in the Yangtze River in Hubei province, China, is a bigger dam in terms of concrete used for the dam wall and construction.
The original dam was constructed from 1933 to 1940 at a cost of $300 million. The Third Power Plant, constructed from 1967 to 1980, cost $700 million. If the dam were constructed today, it would cost $8.26 billion. The dam today generates some 20 billion kW-hrs of electricity every year, distributed to 11 states.
Paul, Bryan and I have embarked on a little road trip to eastern Washington, and we stayed overnight in the little town of Ephrata.
‘When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front-row seat’. – said George Carlin, American stand-up comedian, actor, author and social critic, 1927-2008.
This is certainly not the craziest year in the American republic’s history (there was the Civil War, and there was 1968, after all) .. but some days sure feels pretty surreal.
1. On Friday, President Trump called NFL players that kneel during the anthem to protest racial inequality ‘sons of b****es’. Surely, a first for any US President in public. Is the F word next? The N word?
2. We all survived the latest apocalypse on Saturday. Some guy called David preached about a biblical doomsday of Sep 23, which came and went .. and hey! we’re still here. He simply issued a new doomsday date.
3. Today Republican Senators Graham & Cassidy (boo! boo! to you) still pushed their zombie healthcare bill that propose to drain tens of billions of dollars out of healthcare. They lied about its effects in the public hearing today. Again confirming Republican health policy: die if you’re sick, and make it quick; you’re costing us money. (The New York Times reports that Republican Senators’ billionaire donors are getting antsy and want their tax cuts). Before the hearing started, Capitol police carried out screaming (disabled) protesters in their wheelchairs.
4. I watch the Vietnam War documentary and think: history repeated itself with Iraq, and is repeating itself right now in Afghanistan. We sent thousands more troops there just a few weeks ago – with no exit strategy. Just last week, the Senate passed a $700 billion defense policy bill, far more than what Trump requested. Someone calculated that the increase in the defense budget can fund free education country-wide for a year.
5. Trump finally acknowledged the post-Maria hurricane crisis in Puerto Rico (tweets), but criticizes them for their poor infrastructure, instead of offering help or support. Houston and Florida is yesterday’s news by now, and I assume they are doing OK.
6. North Korea now threatens to shoot down American warplanes – even outside their airspace, saying Trump ‘declared war’ on them. There are reports that commercial airlines have started to give the airspace there a wide berth. Not a great feeling, this game of chicken between President Trump and Dear Leader Kim Jong-un.
The polls have closed and the projected results are in. Angela Merkel’s party won, but lost ground, as did her coalition partner Martin Schultz, from the left-center Social Democratic Party. Schultz announced that the four-year coalition between the Social Democrats and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is over. The far right AfD gained a lot of ground and came in a solid third. They will be seated in the Bundestag for the first time, something that does not sit well with many Germans. But hey, this is not a Brexit outcome, and it is not a Trump-like victory: so, good.
Here’s my collage of Twitter pictures for Germany’s federal elections on Sunday. The consensus is that Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union) is safely in the lead for a fourth term as German chancellor, but since there are seven parties vying for votes, it’s all about the second, third and fourth percentages of votes. This will determine the coalition that the CDU will have to form, to get to a governing majority.
The September equinox* arrived today at 20:02 UTC (1.02 pm here in my outpost on the globe), ushering in autumn. So for a moment, night and day are each 12 hours long**, sunrises are due east and sunsets are due west, for all creatures on the globe. The sun’s position crosses the celestial equator (an imaginary equator above the real one on Earth’s surface), and this happens no matter where one is on Earth.
*Equinox from Latin equi (equal) and nox (night).
**Precisely speaking, there is more daylight than nighttime on the day of the equinox, an additional 8 or so minutes of daylight, at mid-temperate latitudes.
I thought I would check back on Christchurch, New Zealand, since it’s been some six years since the city had been hit with a series of severe earthquakes that killed 185 people. Wikipedia says that following the earthquakes, over 1,500 buildings in the city had been demolished or partly demolished by September 2013. In the years that followed, the city has been experiencing rapid growth, with the central city rebuild, which is outlined in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, starting to ramp up. I see that residents in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch feel a little left behind in all the recovery efforts, though .. and that ‘distress or anxiety associated with ongoing aftershocks, being in a damaged environment and surrounded by construction, additional financial burdens and loss of recreational and cultural facilities were the top four stresses for people in the city’.
The Seattle Aquarium biologists are hosting a ‘Sea Otter Awareness’ day this weekend. Sea otters are native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean.
Once almost hunted to extinction for their fur (the densest fur on all animals), their numbers have improved over the last century, but they are still an endangered species. Sea otters keep sea urchin populations in check, which would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems (information from Wikipedia).
All right .. I know there are on-going wars and catastrophes in the world, but it was still a day filled with unsettling news. I woke up at 7 am to President Trump’s bombastic speech at the United Nations. A little restraint, Mr President? Why (again) call Kim Jung-un ‘Rocket Man’?
Hurricane Maria has been in the news the last few days, striking Dominica (pop. 73,543) today and projected to make landfall in Puerto Rico (pop. 3.4 million) with Category 4 winds on Wednesday morning.
Finally, back in the category of man-made disasters, there is another effort underway from the Republicans in the United States Congress to shove the country’s healthcare system off a cliff (the Graham-Cassidy Bill).
Update Wed 9/20: The death toll in Mexico City rose to 245 on Wednesday. No casualties reported so far from Puerto Rico, but the entire island is without power.
I have started to watch a 10-episode Vietnam War documentary, currently airing on the public television channel PBS, here in the United States.
Long ago in South Africa on Friday nights, I would watch a TV series about the war, called Tour of Duty, but dubbed into Afrikaans as Sending Vietnam (Mission Vietnam). Best I can recall, this was in 1993 & 1994. At the end of each episode, ‘Paint It, Black’ would play – a song by the Rolling Stones that describes extreme grief and loss. No doubt: it pointed to the post-traumatic stress that soldiers and civilians alike, had suffered (still suffer?) from the war.
From ‘Paint It, Black’ (The Rolling Stones, 1966) :
‘No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes ..’
The Constitution of the United States was signed by 39 delegates 230 years ago to the day on Sunday.
There were several glowing tweets on Twitter (#ConstitutionDay), such as ‘greatest political document ever written in human history’ and ‘written by patriots, protected by patriots’.
To me, it is more complicated than that. There is no question that the United States Constitution was a landmark document, and an enormous influence over the constitutions of republics in other parts of the world that came into being later. But over the years, there have been 27 amendments to the original US Constitution, so it had to change and clarify itself with the times. And take the 2005 Iraq Constitution. It guarantees minimum wage, universal health care and free education (acknowledging that Iraq still has a lot of basic peace and security problems to deal with). Section 9 of the 1996 South African Constitution explicitly forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation .. something which is not clear at all in the US Constitution. In fact, the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2009 that would end workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees, has still not become law.
It’s the 21st century, and we no longer ask ‘Who watches the watchers? (on the city walls)’. What we should ask is ‘Who watches the algorithms? (on Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft).
ProPublica* found that Facebook to this day had perfectly enabled marketers of say, Nazi memorabilia, or recruiters for marchers for a far-right rally, to find ‘Jew haters’ (it was an actual ad category, gleaned from Facebook profiles and posts), and send them ‘promoted posts’. (After the ProPublica report, Facebook removed the anti-semitic categories and promised to improve monitoring).
And just last week, Buzzfeed News reported that Facebook’s vast reach was used in the 2016 elections by a Russian troll operation that set up fake accounts and sent misinformation (presumably about the Clinton campaign), to the tune of $100,000 worth of political ads. The new media/ social media are escaping many regulations and media standards that are far behind the curve, and that have yet to catch up with the digital age.
*ProPublica is an American nonprofit organization based in New York City. It describes itself as a nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
Here’s my latest puzzle project : the wonderful impressionist painting, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. It’s fun to use the artist’s colors and textures to build out parts of the picture, and then to find out how they link up in the big picture.
[From Wikipedia: As he often did in his paintings, Renoir included several of his friends in Luncheon of the Boating Party. The painting, combining figures, still-life, and landscape in one work, depicts a group of Renoir’s friends relaxing on a balcony at the Maison Fournaise restaurant along the Seine river in Chatou, France. The painter and art patron, Gustave Caillebotte, is seated in the lower right. Renoir’s future wife, Aline Charigot, is in the foreground playing with a small dog, an affenpinscher. On the table is fruit and wine].
It’s getting cooler here in the Pacific Northwest, and the first big weather system will move in this weekend, bringing rain to the parched forests on the Olympic Peninsula and lawns in the cities (such as mine).
Meanwhile, the very long road to recovery for the flooded and damaged parts of Texas and Florida, and the devastated islands in the Caribbean has started.
Newspaper USA Today reports that for the first time in 300 years, there is not a single person on the tiny island of Barbuda (pop. 1,800). Every last one was evacuated, after 95% of the structures there, had been destroyed by hurricane Irma.