Thursday, March 31, 2016


I visited Syria in 2009, two years before simmering unrest erupted into the civil war that continues to kill, injure and dislocate millions of innocent people.  Accompanying the human tragedy has been the destruction of places and relics, many of which are irreplaceable remnants of great historical significance.

Palmyra is such a place.  ISIS occupied the city nearly a year ago and set about destroying and damaging sculptures, temples, theaters and other structures dating back 2,000 years.  When I read about what was happening in Palmyra it felt very personal, since I had gone deep into the desert seven years ago to see it all for myself.

I have a clear memory of walking through the Roman ruins that make Palmyra a UNESCO World Heritage Site, of wandering down the main street of this small town, eating in a simple sidewalk café, visiting small shops.  Unlike other tourist attractions, we saw very few foreigners in Palmyra, and felt like we had the place all to ourselves.  A very pleasant memory.

So I was thrilled to hear that the government has retaken Palmyra and ISIS is gone.  They say the damage is less that was feared and much can be repaired.  I hope so.  While bricks and mortar are secondary to the suffering inflicted on people, there is something special about a place like Palmyra, which is a window into our past.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Not in Our Front Yard!

All week our focus has been on the terrorist attack in Brussels.  With reason, people in Europe and here are horrified at another slaughter of the innocents.  Indiscriminate killing must be stopped, we say, especially in our western world where freedom is the order of the day.  I support the commitment, but something is missing.

Where is our outrage for the near daily reports of this same indiscriminate killing in other parts of the world?  In addition to our count-on-able acts of terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are taking place everywhere.

Ivory Coast
Etc., etc., etc.

These killings elicit a few lines in major news outlets and are rarely mentioned in our mass media.  We give 24/7 attention to trivia.  We give 0/7 attention to anything that doesn’t happen in our front yard.  There is something wrong with this picture.

Monday, March 21, 2016


I’m fascinated by Artificial Intelligence.  While it is rudimentary now, I have no doubt that in less time than we like to think, AI will go far beyond humans in capacity and will, in fact, control the world.

It is no surprise, therefore, that I found the lead article in this week’s Wall Street Journal Review compelling.  It is called “Machines That Will Think and Feel,” by David Gelernter.  Its subtitle is “Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy – and that should scare us.”

Start with a simple proposition: An average person has an IQ of 100.  Suppose we had AI software with IQs of 150 – or 500 – or 5,000?  There is no way we could keep up.  The idea that just because we created the software we could stay in control is preposterous.  No way.  As Gelernter says, “We don’t have the vaguest idea what an IQ of 5,000 would mean.”

Gelernter’s main thesis is that to think just because we humans are endowed with rationality, reasoning, logic and emotion – all of which may be beyond AI at the moment – doesn’t mean they will stay out of reach of AI in the future.  Why?  Because we humans have a need to build and understand.  We can’t help it.  We can’t stop ourselves.  It is in our DNA.  Superhuman machines are in our future whether we like it or not.

Good luck to us all!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Paying Attention - Or Not!

The world hasn’t been paying attention to the conflict in South Sudan, where all sides are guilty of rape and killing and pillage against the unarmed innocent people who just happen to live there.

The world has been paying attention to the flood of refugees looking for asylum in Europe and elsewhere.  The attention being paid hasn’t resulted in an agreed-upon way to alleviate the suffering.

The insane political process underway in the U.S. has been receiving a lot of attention.  There is no sign the insanity is abating.  Nor is it likely to . . .

March Madness is upon us.  Predictably, attention is building.

Each day there are multiple reports of bombings and shootings and other assorted perpetrations of violence.  They used to be big news.  They are now received with a collective “ho hum.”  Unless the victims are close to where you are.

The baseball season will begin soon.  Mixed attention for this one.  For some, we can’t wait.  For others, a collective yawn.

Not much attention being paid to Israel-Palestine these days.  A charitable way to describe it would be to say the peace process is in remission.

Choosing a replacement for Scalia on the Supreme Court will receive attention for the rest of this year.  A torrent of opinions, none of which will make any difference to the outcome.

Monday, March 07, 2016


I watched “Spotlight” the other day.  Very well done.  A story that needed to be told intelligently and sensitively and it was.  I wouldn’t have given it my Best Picture vote (that would have gone to “Room”) but that’s beside the point.

Even though kids are not my favorite creatures (too demanding and self-centered for my taste), there is something about pedophiles preying on the innocent that infuriates me.  For these people, almost any punishment short of the death penalty seems appropriate.

That these particular pedophiles clothed themselves literally and figuratively in Roman Catholic Church garb makes their crimes even more heinous.  They took advantage of both innocence and faith and robbed their victims of both.  Shameful!

I have no doubt that even though recent exposures have brought all this into the light of day and put it under public scrutiny we’ve still only seen the tip of the iceberg.  We can’t go back and change centuries of abuse, denial and cover-up.  But we need to shine a continuing Spotlight on what is still a horror show that goes way beyond Catholics and their brethren.