Friday, December 30, 2016

Happy New Year?

Reasons to be happy that 2016 is almost history:

Finally, we can put a terrible political year in the U.S. and elsewhere behind us.  That’s the upside.  The downside?  There’s no reason to think it’ll be different in the future.

Too many great people died this year.  Was it really worse or different than other years?  Maybe not, but it seems that it was.

We began 2016 with multiple conflicts that were wreaking death and destruction on mostly innocent people.  None were resolved.  In fact, the number of active conflicts has increased.

One result?  The number of homeless refugees is at an all-time high.

Another result?  More countries are creating barriers to prevent immigrants from coming and taking steps to deport those that are already there.

The growing disparity between rich and poor is a global phenomenon that peaked in 2016.  Back in the day this would have been a formula for revolution.  Doesn’t seem to be happening now.

Assessing the human condition is an ongoing process.  Obviously, when the calendar hits a new January 1 it is a new day, but not a miraculous cure for anything.  I am willing to acknowledge that it isn’t inevitable that everything is going to get worse.  Having said that, I can’t say I am hopeful or optimistic about the future.

However, I recognize that pessimism/cynicism is not an exalted or desirable way of being.  Therefore, I am willing to be happy that 2017 is nearly upon us and would love to look back a year from now and conclude that it really was a Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Random Thoughts!

I finished watching “Goliath” on Amazon Prime.  Enjoyed it a lot.  While Billy Bob Thornton has been getting most of the attention, and I thought he was excellent, William Hurt deserves equal credit for an outstanding performance.

Good news that executions in the U.S. are down this year and support for abolishing the death penalty is on the rise.  Bad news is that we do it at all and continue to incarcerate so many.

Reading the newspapers takes less time these days since I’m paying little attention to Trump and Trump-related articles.  A head in the sand approach?  Probably, but that’s where I’m at.

And on the same subject, my current advice:  To avoid being disappointed expect the worst.  Expecting anything other than the worst is futile wishful thinking.

Insane scheduling:  The English Premier League plays three rounds of games between Dec. 26 and Jan. 4.  All the other leagues in Europe take the holidays off.

Book report:  I found “The Undoing Project” interesting and dense in spots.  I’m in the middle of “The Violet Hour,” which details how some famous people faced death.  I’m also in the middle of  “The Story of a Brief Marriage,” a brutal story set in the middle of the civil war in Sri Lanka.  I think a change of pace is in order.

Terrorism these days is like a game of Whack-A-Mole.  Ankara yesterday.  Berlin today.  The Congo tomorrow.  Jordan yesterday.  Yemen today.  The Philippines tomorrow.  And so on.  Good luck if you’re looking for a safe place.

Merry Xmas.  Happy Chanukah.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Thought Provoking

A quote from "The Undoing Project," Michael Lewis' latest book:

Notes made by Amos Tversky:

People predict by making up stories
People predict very little and explain everything
People live under uncertainty whether they like it or not
People believe they can tell the future if they work hard enough
People accept any explanation as long as it fits the facts
The handwriting was on the wall, it was just the ink that was invisible

People often work hard to obtain information they already have
And avoid new knowledge
Man is a deterministic device thrown into a probabilistic

In this match, surprises are expected

Everything that has already happened must have been inevitable

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


For months I’ve been following news about the carnage in Aleppo.  I’ve been reminded time and time again of my visit in 2009.  I’ve tried to figure out which factions were in control where, and what was happening with the people who live there.

We stayed in the Old Quarter of the city.  We explored the narrow streets and byways near our hotel and beyond.  Our impression was positive.  The people were friendly.  The food was good.  Historical evidence of a city with a long, proud tradition was everywhere.

I saw a picture today that shocked me in a particularly powerful way.  The caption said: “Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria walked near the remains of the ancient Umayyad mosque in Aleppo on Tuesday after retaking the city.”  The damage to the structure was in stark contrast to the beautiful multi-colored marble and tile floor, much of which was intact.

I walked on those tiles.  I sat for a while on the periphery under one of the arches to just ‘be’ in such a beautiful place.  I had just come from the old market, which I hear in now in ruins, and stopped at the mosque, Aleppo’s finest.

In time, the structure will probably be repaired, and beauty restored.  But what a tragedy, not so much for those of us who are outsiders, but for the people of Aleppo who have suffered so much, that they have had to endure this horror for so long.

May peace come soon.

Friday, December 09, 2016

John Glenn!

It’s interesting how someone comes along who captures the imagination and appreciation of a nation.  John Glenn was such a person.

I was in Washington training for an overseas assignment in the Foreign Service when he made his Mercury flight in 1962.  Later, in an act that was out of character for me, I waited with thousands of others to cheer him on his parade route through the nation’s capitol.  For me he was a true hero and deserved to be acknowledged.

A few years later I was working with Ambassador Chester Bowles in India when John Glenn with his wife Annie came to town.  At a small private dinner my wife Kit and I had a chance to be with the Glenn’s up close.  It was a memorable opportunity.

We could use a few more heroes like John Glenn.