Tuesday, February 23, 2016


What would seem to make no sense sometimes makes sense:

The Jat caste in India wants to have its status lowered.  Why?  So that Jats will be eligible for special privileges afforded lower castes.

I want Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee.  Why?  He’ll be easier to beat than Rubio.

I love sunny days and I want it to rain.  Why?  We need more water.

I like Arsenal and would like to see them lose in the Premier League.  Why?  So the magical underdogs, Leicester City, will win the title.

It would be good if oil prices go up again.  Why?  So that renewable energy sources are more economically attractive.  Actually, it would be better if we had it both ways – low oil prices that help consumers and hurt places like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the lot, plus low-cost renewables.

I hate this one:  If Assad retakes Aleppo and gains ground elsewhere, it could be a good thing.  Why?  He might be more willing to enter serious negotiations to end the Syrian civil war.  A forlorn hope?  Probably, but could be worth a try.

Monday, February 15, 2016

No Need to Follow!

If you read or watch the news and wanna save some time, here’s a suggested list of subjects you don’t need to follow:

Replacing Antonin Scalia: the Republicans will do everything they can to stop Obama.  The Dems will do everything they can to get a replacement confirmed.  No need to follow the day-to-day skirmishes.

Choosing a Republican nominee: these guys will continue to batter each other into the summer.  No need to follow the details, unless that is you love soap operas.

Choosing a Democratic nominee: Clinton will struggle and win in the end.  No need to follow the details.

The daily rundown of suicide bombings all over the world: that they are repeated in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, etc. is horrible but not new news.  No need to follow, except when it occurs in a new location, which will happen and should not surprise anyone.

The Zika virus epidemic: bottom line is to avoid mosquitoes and pay attention when a vaccine is developed, which will take a while.  In the meantime, no need to follow the daily scare stories.

Talks aimed at stopping the carnage in Syria: diplomatic doublespeak aside, until the Russians and Assad want it to end, ain’t gonna happen.  No need to follow the news releases that say nothing new.

Add your own favorite subjects not to follow.  Anything that you say should be on the list – should be on the list.

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!