Thursday/ don’t do it, Howard

Howard Schultz (65) was CEO of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2017.

Howard Schultz, billionaire ex-CEO of Starbucks Coffee Co. has been making the rounds on morning shows and talk shows, announcing that he is thinking of entering the 2020 presidential race as a ‘centrist independent candidate’.

He is not off to a good start. Democrats fear he will draw away critical support needed to defeat Trump, from the Democratic candidate in a three-way race. Schultz also criticized liberal Democratic policy positions right out of the gate (healthcare for all, free college, more taxes on the rich).
Others say that a being a billionaire in the 2020 race is a non-starter – given how spectacularly out of touch the billionaire-in-chief in the White House and his billionaire Wall Street cronies are, with the plight of most Americans trying to make a living*.

*Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ‘just did not understand’ last week why federal employees missing two paychecks would visit food banks, when they could ‘simply take out loans to pay their bills during this time of a liquidity crisis’.

I found this somewhat bizarre Starbucks-themed objets d’art at the Starbucks Roastery here on Capitol Hill. The Starbucks mermaid with the Simpsons’ googly eyes can be had for $4,500, and the other two smaller ones are $476 each. (I like the coffee-drinking rabbit with the pig snout). ‘Celebrating the new Milano roastery’ says the sign in the front. OK .. but seems it would also be ideal for a billionaire coffee-lover wanting to celebrate the New Gilded Age we are said to be living in.

Wednesday/ Dick’s Drive-in turns 65

Local burger chain Dick’s Drive-in was founded in 1954.
This Tuesday, they celebrated their 65th anniversary by offering burgers at the ‘original price’ of  19 c.
The regular price today for a 1/8 pound burger, is $1.60.
That means average annual burger price inflation was about 3.4%* for the 65 year span from 1954 to 2019.

*Very close to the average of the annual Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs) published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics over the same period (3.5%).

I walked by Dick’s Drive-in on Broadway at about 5.20 pm tonight. (Temp. 49°F/ 9°C, so not bad, at all). Across the street on the left, is the Capitol Hill train station. Three new apartment buildings are under construction right next to the train station.
Billionaire Bill Gates (63) spotted at the Northeast 45th Street Dick’s in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, around 7 p.m. on a recent Sunday. “He ordered a cheeseburger, fries and Coke,” said Paul Rich that took the photo. Rich has been going to the beloved fast-food franchise every week or so for about five years. [Photo: Paul Rich]

Tuesday/ the polar vortex plunge is here

The polar vortex is pushing down into the Midwest of the continental United States, and will bring the frigidest temperatures in 20 years, to many locations.

Meteorologists had to debunk Trump’s idiotic tweet from Monday, in which he ‘called’ on global warming to ‘Please come back fast, we need you’.

As NASA explains in a Climate for Kids video, weather is only temporary, while climate describes the typical weather conditions in an entire region for a very long time – 30 years or more.

Weatherman Al Roker pointing out the frigid temperatures and the wind chill values expected for Wednesday in several major cities in the Midwest. [Source: NBC’s Today Show].
CityExpected LowWith Windchill
Minneapolis, MN-30°F -34°C-54°F -48°C
Chicago, IL-23°F -30°C-51°F -46°C
St Louis, MO-4°F -20°C-22°F -30°C
Cincinnati, OH+2°F -16°C-16°F -26°C
Washington, D.C.+18°F -7°C+11°F -11°C
Seattle, WA+34°F +1°C+34°F +1°C

Monday/ here comes the SR-99 tunnel opening!

The ‘Future’ is almost here. Here’s a before and after picture of the Viaduct and Tunnel. The tunnel is about 2 miles long.

The excitement is building: the State Route 99 tunnel is still on track to open to traffic next Monday Feb 4. This Saturday & Sunday, some 100,000 people are expected to take part in a fun run, a bike ride and a walk (that would be me), through the tunnel.

It’s been a long arduous time since Oct. 2011. That is when part of the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was demolished to establish the south portal of the tunnel, and install the ‘Bertha’ tunnel borer.  Then there was the breakdown of Bertha in Dec. 2013, after just 1,000 ft of boring.  After all the setbacks, though, the cost overrun on a $3 billion project was only in the hundreds of millions. (These infrastructure projects are notorious for huge cost overruns. The Boston Big Dig started out as a $3 billion project, and ended up costing some $15 billion).

A ‘sad’ Bertha Tunnel Boring Machine depicted in a Bloomberg Business magazine article in March 2015, called ‘The Aggravating Adventures of a Gigantic Tunnel Drill’.
Here’s the view towards the south, of the south portal (entrance & exit) of the tunnel, near the sport stadiums south of downtown. The tunnel opening is at the dipping road surface in the middle right of the picture. The big white geofoam blocks on the left were taken out of that hollow just these last two weeks. I hope the workers get to the striping of the street surfaces in time! There is one more dry day in the weather forecast before the weekend.
The tunnel has two lanes in each direction, stacked on top of each other. The tunnel is built to modern earthquake standards. In the event of an emergency, exits every 650 ft provide shelter and escape routes, while a state-of-the-art ventilation system will assist first responders and mitigate smoke and fumes from fires. [Source: WSDOT]
Again a view looking south, of the north portal near Seattle Center. The tunnel will be free for the first few months, and then around July, toll fees of that range from $1 to $2.25 at rush hour, will be charged to drivers of cars.

Sunday brunch

My friends and I ran out to Ozzie’s Diner in Queen Anne here in Seattle this morning for brunch. Some of us had ‘the house mess’: a scramble of egg, cheese & some veggies, on top a bed of hash browns.

Temperatures only got to 42 °F (5 °C) today, but this is absolutely mild compared to the frigid temperatures expected along the Canadian border in the Midwest by Wednesday.
A polar vortex will drive down nighttime temperatures at places such as International Falls, MN to a deep, deep freeze of -36°F (-38°C).

Ozzie’s Diner was established in 1954, and is on Mercer Street in Queen Anne. (Smart cocktails in such a down-to-earth place? Hmm. Probably cocktails mixed with a shaker with sensors/ fancy technology to help the bartender make it perfect every time).

Saturday/ what was that? -the mystery of ‘Oumuamua

Was our solar system visited (in 2017) by a probe sent by an alien civilization? Astrophysicist Avi Loeb (from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA) explains why it is possible, in the January issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel.
1 The Intruder On October 19, 2017, the Pan-Starrs Telescope in Hawaii discovered a strange elongated cigar-shaped celestial body. It moved so fast that it could not be part of our solar system. It had to be a foreign object, and was called ‘Oumuamua (Hawaiian for ‘First Messenger from Afar’).
2 Strange Coincidence It is comparatively rare that asteroids from distant star systems get lost in our solar system. According to Loeb, the likelihood of seeing such asteroids through Pan-Starrs is somewhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 100,000,000.
3 Flashes The brightness of ‘Oumuamua fluctuates: the object rotates and reflects, due to its special shape, different amounts of sunlight. The effect is so pronounced that ‘Oumuamua would have to have a bizarre, elongated form – something which does not occur in celestial bodies of our solar system.
4 Enigmatic Trajectory ‘Oumuamua shows a trajectory departure from that known for comets that leave a trail of gases (typically surface ice that evaporates). Also, neither a comet tail could be observed, nor did the rotation of the object change, as would be expected with loss of mass due to gas emissions.
5 Not Solar Powered For Avi Loeb, the only other assumption could be that the solar power (radiation pressure) affected the trajectory of ‘Oumuamua. However, this force is so weak that it could only affect bodies with a large surface area and tiny mass, such as a paper-thin sail.
6 Not Space Junk If such an artificial light sail or other object reached our solar system by accident, one would have to assume that in space such foreign artefacts would abound (which is not the case). So this possibility also seems unlikely.
7 Alien Mission Loeb therefore suspects that an extraterrestrial civilization has purposefully sent ‘Oumuamua as an exploratory probe in our solar system.

The mystery of ‘Oumuamua, explained with pictures in the Jan 5, 2019 issue of Der Spiegel.

Friday/ Trump gets nothing

Early this morning the FBI arrested yet another Trump campaign adviser.
Later in the day, with airport delays reported due to Day #35 of the government shutdown, Trump gave in and surrendered to the insistence of the Democratic leadership that he open the government before discussions about border security can start. He got no money for his wall, and no concessions.

Remarked NBC reporter Peter Alexander: Question for the President- How can you cast this as anything other than a wasted five weeks of (financial) pain for Americans, caused by you? 

Dirty trickster and gadfly Roger Stone (in the middle on the left) was arrested this morning by the FBI. He faces charges for witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding and making false statements. He worked on the Trump campaign and has been a Trump supporter and confidante for decades. Said WH Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today: ‘Stone’s arrest has nothing to do with Trump’. Oh really? We don’t believe you, Sarah. [Graphic by the New York Times from a report by ].

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.

Wednesday/ a reprieve for horseshoe bats

There is a report in my German newspaper of the greater horseshoe-nose bat that had made a comeback in the Hohenburg area in Germany – albeit only through sustained efforts of conservationists. They made sure the bats had suitable roosting places, and that enough cows were around to produce the dung favored by dung beetles that the bats like to catch in flight !

Photo from Der Tagesspiegel newspaper (I could not resist adding the red lettering). Translation: The Value of the Nose Tip. Only 11 Greater Horseshoe Nose Bats were found in the 80s in the Hohenburg area. Since that time, there are now again more than 200 animals’. The bat is about 12 cm (5″) with a wingspan of 35 cm (14″). The horseshoe nose is for generating beeps for echolocation (the echoes then picked up by their special ears, of course).

Tuesday/ Day 32 of the Trump Shutdown

The US government shutdown dragged on into Day 32 on Tuesday, and come midnight, the deadline had passed for issuing another pay period’s checks to hundreds of thousands of essential government workers.

Trump had thrown a sham proposal on the table on Saturday, ‘offering’ to end the shutdown and to ‘protect’ DACA recipients (immigrant children). These are simply reinstating protections he had stripped from them in 2017. Other changes in the proposed bill with funds for his stupid wall, include massive reductions of the asylum rules in place for Central Americans.

A reminder: this manufactured ‘border crisis’ for the 2018 midterm elections had failed to impress the voters. And it wasn’t enough that the Trump Administration took kids from families seeking asylum, and lied to Congress about it. No – Trump & Senate Leader Mitch McConnell shut down the United States government. They impact and stress out hundreds of thousands of federal workers directly, including TSA officials and air traffic controllers, food inspectors, FBI investigators, federal court judges, environmental protection agents, and more. What a mess.

Sunday/ tonight’s super blood wolf moon

Here are my (amateur quality) pictures I took of tonight’s super blood wolf moon* as it went into eclipse. It’s the first total lunar eclipse visible across the entire United States in eight years.

*Super because it appears about 10% bigger than it really is; blood because of its coppery color (red light from the sun bent around Earth, reaching it); wolf because it is the first full moon of the calendar year.

From left to right: 6.34 pm Full moon | 7.46 pm Start of the eclipse | 8.18 pm Three-quarters eclipsed | 8.33 pm Eclipse almost complete with red/ copper color showing (all times Pacific Standard Time).
The moon spent some 3 hrs in Earth’s shadow. The diagram below left shows the refraction of the sunlight as it hits Earth’s atmosphere, that results in the red coloring of the moon. [Source: NRC Handelsblad newspaper 19/1/ 2019]

Saturday/ the Pioneer Building

I posted about the Pioneer Building before, but today I could get a nice picture of the front side – with all the leaves on the trees gone.

Several months after the Great Seattle Fire leveled 32 blocks of downtown in 1889, Henry Yesler proceeded with the construction of the Pioneer Building. The newly constructed building quickly became an important business location for downtown Seattle. During the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, there were 48 different mining companies that had offices in it. [Source: Wikipedia]
The totem pole in front of the building is part of the property’s entry into the National Register of Historic Places. This totem pole is a replica of an original pole carved around 1790 by the Tlingit indigenous people. (The original one was seriously damaged by an arsonist in 1938).

Friday/ the tetanus booster shot

I got a tetanus booster shot this week (recommended by the CDC to be done every 10 years for adults).

The vaccine offers protection against a troublemaker bacterium called Clostridium tetani. Its nearly invincible spore form can be commonly found in soil. So stepping onto a rusty nail with bare feet – or really any cut in the skin – can let the bacterium in. Once inside one’s muscle tissue, it can start producing tetanospasmin, a toxin second only to botulinus for potency. The toxin attacks the central nervous system. An early symptom of an attack includes spasming of jaw muscles.

The tetanus vaccine contains tetanus toxoid, a chemically sterilized tetanus toxin that stimulates one’s immune system to produce antigens that are able to attack and dismantle active tetanus toxin.

Cartoon from the website Telus World Science that explains what tetanus vaccines are all about.

Thursday/ foreign agent or useful idiot .. which one?

There have now been so many revelations about the Trump 2016 campaign’s collusion with the Russians, and so many pro-Russia, pro-Putin actions that Trump had taken in plain sight, that it really appears that the President of the United States can only be 1. an agent for Russia or 2. a useful idiot.

Writes Garrett M. Graff in Wired magazine:
In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

So we are in a place way, way beyond Nixon.


The days are slowly getting longer here in the Pacific Northwest.
It has not been ‘too cold’ (always a relative term: 50 °F/10 °C) and we have had a nice stretch of six days of dry weather.
The rain is coming back tomorrow, though, and will bring more snow to the mountains as well.
P.S. The traffic adjustments and volumes with the Alaskan Viaduct now closed, has not been too terrible at all.

It’s 5.15 pm and I’m heading out towards 15th Ave for our Wednesday night beer & bite. It’s nice that some houses on my block, like this one, still have their holiday lights on. It brightens up the winter darkness a little bit.

Tuesday/ deal or no deal?

Now there is political chaos on both sides of the Atlantic, with the historic defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons today – and with the United States Government shutdown deadlock dragging on to Day 26.

Only time will tell what happens next, in both cases.

Reporting from the New York Times, Jan 15.
Tweets from Donald Tusk (President of the European Council), and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Union Commission, responding to the vote in the House of Commons that soundly rejected May’s deal with the EU.

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?

Sunday/ the sun sets on the Alaskan Way Viaduct

The Alaskan Way Viaduct (opened 1953) that runs along the Seattle waterfront, was closed at 10 pm on Friday night. It took traffic officials until well after 11 pm to get the revelers and the final vehicle off of it.
On Saturday, pedestrians had to be shooed off of what has now become a construction/ demolition site.

It will take three weeks to finalize the opening of the State Route 99 Tunnel below the Viaduct. We will know by Monday night how disruptive this period will be to commuters to downtown Seattle. Transport officials’ advice to the 250,000 commuters: shift your schedule/ walk/ bike/ take the bus/ train/ carpool / try the water taxi. Just do not drive in by yourself.

Sunset on Sunday (4.44 pm), on the empty Alaskan Way Viaduct. This view is from Victor Steinbrueck Park just north of Pike Place Market. That’s Mount Rainier bathed in pink in the distance (4,392 m/ 14,411′, last eruption 1894). 

Saturday/ souvenirs from my trip

Here is an ensemble of the souvenirs that I found stuffed into my bags, as I unpacked them.

Clockwise: Red & blue north-south bar magnet (polar opposites, so a perfect metaphor for Republicans & Democrats in American politics, right?), mini set square, 28.57 mm steel ball & perspex cube, all these from Tokyu Hands store | white porcelain tray from Muji store | chimpanzee, banana in hand & white solid polyhedron set from Akihabara | origami Starbucks coffee filters | porcelain mug by Koransha (Japanese porcelain) | platypus piggy bank with ‘combination lock’ as a belly button from Commonwealth Bank | the ‘Red King’, an ultramonster with oversized fists (No 57 in the Ultraman series) | melamine tray with Australian kookaburras | diecast model of N700 series bullet train