Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Syrian Memories!

Each day the horror show that is Syria gets worse.  Millions of people dead, wounded and displaced – with no end in sight.  And each day I think about the totally enjoyable week I spent in Syria in 2009, two years before the carnage began.  And I wonder:

What has happened to Sami Maamoun, who turned a 17th century mansion in old Damascus into the Old Vine, a boutique hotel where we stayed?  Sami’s life was dedicated to making the Old Vine wonderful.  But who in his right mind would go to Damascus today?

And also in the old city, is the Al Dar restaurant, where I drank much too much arak, still in business?

We hired a car and driver and went out in the desert to see Palmyra and the Roman ruins for which the city is famous.  ISIS now occupies Palmyra.  They have begun destroying the archaeological treasures we saw.  This breaks my heart.  Our driver was Nasser.  I wonder where he is today, and his wife, Fatima, who we met at the end of our journey.

From Palmyra we drove to Hama, stopping at the Krak des Chevaliers, a 12th century crusader castle.  In the old days Krak withstood many sieges.  More recently it has been the scene of fighting in the civil war.  In Hama our hotel was next to the Orontes River overlooking the norias, waterwheels, for which Hama is famous.  Many women in Hama were covered head-to-toe (including a face veil) in black.  When we were out walking around we passed one such woman who looked at Sandra, said “hello,” and was gone.  I wonder what has happened to her.

We ended our week in Syria in Aleppo.  I read that it is the scene of horrific fighting between the rebels and Assad’s army.  Apparently, much of the city has been damaged and hundreds of thousands of people have fled seeking safety elsewhere.  I can only imagine what is left of the streets on which we strolled, the stores we visited, the hotels in which we stayed.

Where is Yasir, a student who drove us out into the countryside?  The Bedouin family we saw camped outside the town?  The Arab gentlemen who offered us tea?  The oud players who serenaded us at restaurants?  The many other people who were warm and welcoming to us?

This is a very sad story.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

In Case You Missed It!

Sometimes I don’t pay much attention to the Times Science section on Tuesday.  When I do I usually find some interesting tidbits:

Medical researchers are studying the dreams of those who are dying.  Not near death experiences of those who recover, but the dreams of people on the journey towards death.  The purpose is to learn what might comfort the dying and those they leave behind.  No definitive conclusions yet.

Why are some carrots split or deeply cracked and are they safe to eat?  Carrot disfigurement can result from several causes.  Common sense should determine whether to eat them.  If they can be cleaned and/or pared, no reason not to.

More than 400,000 years ago hunter-gatherers living in what is now Israel regularly ate tortoises.  How’s that for a piece of information you really didn’t need to know?

Studies show that men find women more attractive when they are in the ovulatory phase of their menstrual cycle.  “We’re still trying to pinpoint exactly what all is involved in this,” said Janek S. Lobmaier, a psychologist at the University of Bern.  OK, Janek, you better keep looking.

Wearable monitors measure heart rate, body temperature and other health indicators.  Now, for the first time, a flexible, wearable sensor can collect data about multiple chemicals in body sweat.  Terrific!

Escalating homicide rates in Mexico are affecting the country’s life expectancy.  For Mexican men aged 15 to 50, between 2005 and 2010 life expectancy fell by 0.6 percent.  OK, I can see how that could happen.

Is there a link between getting a good night’s sleep and the ability to ward off winter ailments like bronchitis, colds and pneumonia?  Yes.  More is better.

Having a mother or father who is depressed increases the risk of preterm birth.  OK, I see.  And what the baby can do about that is ???.

People with irregular heartbeats are often advised to give up caffeine.  But a new study says there is no clear evidence that more caffeine increases the risk.  On the contrary, caffeine may even be linked to decreased rates of cardiovascular problems.  Good news!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


If it is true that defense wins championships, Denver should win the Super Bowl.  Won’t happen.  Carolina will thrash the Broncos.  Peyton’s last hurrah will be a painful one.

Trump and Cruz versus the rest.  Who is disconnected from whom?  Pundits analyze the phenomenon using history as a guide and wonder why it doesn’t make sense.  They forget that this is a new day and looking backward yields a distorted view.

The same rear view mirror is being used to try and explain why people around the world are blowing themselves up so that they can blow up others.  What is the motivation?  Is there a common thread?  No place is immune.  There are no answers to this one.  It is not because of Islam, or poverty or cultural alienation or the Internet, or even a combination of all the reasons being offered.  It’s a new paradigm that cannot be explained by looking for answers inside the old one.

Is the Chinese economy headed down the toilet?  Oh my, the experts say – it’s slowing down.  The sky is falling.  Right.  It’s going from 10% a year to a paltry 6%, or some such number.  While we limp along in the 2 to 3% range.  6% doesn’t look so bad to me.

Common sense says that when you have a product that sells for less than it did, and there is a glut of this product on the market, you will stop producing so much of it.  But the big oil producers don’t see the world through a prism of common sense.  We’re going to keep producing the Saudis say.  And we too, say the Iranians.  And most of the others.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Start with sports – finish with sports.  FIFA will elect a new president in a month.  Out with the old, corrupt Blatter regime.  In with the new clean guys.  So what is the talk around the subject?  Backroom deals to control votes.  Collusion between the favorites to assure that one wins.  Geographical coalitions to manage the process.  Sounds like same-old-same-old.  That’s because it is same-old-same-old.

Have a nice day!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On the Lookout For!

What not to miss these days:

More light – earlier sunrises and later sunsets.  A good thing.

Inconvenience in San Francisco – based on the insane notion that being called the Super Bowl host city is a benefit, even though the game is 45 miles away in Santa Clara, because visitors will eat, drink and play here.  Who needs it?  Traffic, closed streets, clogging up everything.  Bah!

As the political season continues to heat up, so does the craziness.  Obsessive media coverage – 24/7.  Charges, counter-charges, lies, exaggerations, posturing, sound and fury signifying nothing.  Bah!

Looking for a safe place?  Forget it.  Every day the usual suspects report killings – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and the rest.  And then, in a blink of the eye, new ones crop up – Istanbul, Indonesia, Furkina Faso and in every corner of the U.S. of A.  Bah!

Winter, and the homeless are cold.  The wealthiest country on the planet is unwilling to care for its poor.  Shameful.  Bah!

Demonstrators chain themselves together and tie up the Bay Bridge.  Their cause may be just.  Their tactics are counterproductive.  Inconveniencing the masses to make a point is so ‘old school.’  Find a better way, people.  Bah!

More light – earlier sunrises and later sunsets.  A good thing.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I guess you can argue that opinions are important.  They are a way to express yourself.  If you are upset they give you something or someone to aim your anger at.  If you are happy, the reverse.  You can also argue that opinions are a waste of time.  They don’t make any difference.  They don’t change anything.  They are like hot air – they provide a temporary relief from the cold, but then it is cold again.

The news is the happy hunting ground for opinions.  They abound.  Today, for example:

Opinions from St. Louis:  Fans of the Rams are upset because their team and its owner have abandoned them for L.A.  Residents who aren’t fans see the benefit of not spending public money to further enrich a rich guy.  Guess what?  The team is leaving whether people like it or not.

Political opinions:  Trump, Cruz and their fans are upset with Nikki Haley for saying Republicans should stand for a common sense immigration policy.  Establishment Republicans are upset with Trump and Cruz, who they think will lose them the White House.  Guess what?  All this hot air is not going to change any minds.  You’re either for ‘em or agin’ ‘em.

Obama opinions:  His State of the Union was both thoughtful and appropriate or an hour of empty rhetoric – sound and fury signifying nothing.  The opinions on both sides are preconceived ideas that use the speech as an excuse to re-express themselves.

Economic opinions:  Income inequality does/does not pose a threat to the American way of life.  The power of money in politics is/is not a problem.  International trade agreements are good/bad for the American worker.  China is/is not a threat to us.  Taxes are/are not too high.

And so on . . . 

We are blessed by/drowning in an inexhaustible supply of opinions!