Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#BrusselsLockdown



After Brussels was put on the highest terror alert, with schools, universities and the subway system closed down, the authorities asked the public to stay silent on social media about ongoing counter-terror operations.

The public responded by flooding Twitter with cat pictures, one funnier than the next. Rather than give in to fear, Belgians have shown that the best way to fight terrorism is with humor and pezazz !

Here are some of the posts I found on humo.be:



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Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Brief Message to our French Friends




Here is an e-mail I sent to my friends and relatives in Paris and in France:

Ca fait une semaine que cette horreur est arrivée. Nous pensons sans cesse a vous, et a Paris, la ville d’ou jaillis toujours l’espoire et l’illumination pour le reste du monde...

Sachez donc que meme ici, de l’autre cote de la terre, la grande majorite des gens pensent a vous, du matin au soir. C’est etonnant...et bien, quand-meme: Que meme les petits provinciaux qui n’ont jamais quitte leurs petites villes et leurs campagnes si loin de chez vous, realisent que quelque-chose d’horrible et mondialement important s’est passe a Paris.

Quand on heurte Paris, la terre entiere le sent, et en souffre. Notre coeur appartient a Paris. Nous sommes tous des Parisiens.(translation next)
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Friday, November 20, 2015

San Francisco: A Jekill and Hyde City



I am flying back home to Boston, after a two-week stay in the Golden City. The weather is perfect and from my window seat, I watch the scenery roll by. Snow capped mountains make way for desert as far as the eye can see. Dried up river beds meander through hazy valleys and metamorphose into a quilt of fields of every imaginable shade of green.

Then, the landscape is suddenly pockmarked with fracking pads, indiscriminately encroaching on the pristine wilderness, like a giant circuit board. The landscape changes constantly. Now we are flying over a collection of small lakes connected with hair thin filaments that are probably turbulent rivers up close. I can never get enough of flying cross country. The sheer size of this continent boggles the mind, and while my co-passengers prefer to close their window shade to take a nap, I spend these cross-continental flights with my face glued to the glass, cranking my neck until it hurts.

As the distance between me and San Francisco increases, the monotonous drone of the engine slowly washes away the images of this morning's walk from my hotel room on Van Ness to the coffee shop on Polk Street. The early morning sun accentuates the trash, the dirt on the pavement and the leathery skin of a homeless man sitting against the wall. He is not sleeping or begging, just hugging his knees, his head hidden in his folded arms, as if he wants to disappear from the world. On my way back, I look for him and spot him from a distance. As I pass him, I look for a cup, but there is none, so I gently slide my folded dollar bill between his fingers, but he doesn't react. Like a statue, he has become part of the fixture of the city. He knows it doesn't matter, whether he is alive or not, whether he moves or not. He knows nobody cares and neither does he. Read more...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Twenty Four James Bonds




We recently saw the latest James Bond - SPECTRE, with Daniel Craig. It’s a fine movie. It is the usual combination of extreme violence, sex, intrigue and travelogue. The scenery includes Rome, London, the Moroccan desert and the Austrian Alps. I won’t reveal the plot because I don’t want to be a spoiler, and because I don’t think I can figure out the plot. It doesn’t matter, because most of the pleasure is visual, including spectacular fights on trains, boats, helicopters and buildings, and gorgeous women such as the Italian Monica Bellucci (who happily makes love to Bond after he murders her husband) and the French Léa Seydoux (as the daughter of a terrorist but now an ally and lover of Bond’s).

As you see, much of the plot is nonsensical, and requires suspension of judgment, but this has always been so with Bond movies, and it hasn’t been detrimental to their enjoyment.
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Full List of James Bond Movies




FULL LIST OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Rape of Paris




 On November 13, terrorists murdered one hundred and twenty nine innocent victims in Paris. There were several simultaneous attacks across the city, but the bulk of the deaths occurred at a rock concert. There, many of the victims had first been held hostage. The siege ended and eight attackers died, either as suicides or shot by the police.

Paris. The Charlie Hebdo bloodbath is barely ten-months old, and now this. I am a Parisian. I grew up there. I went to French elementary and secondary schools. I have been back to Paris a hundred times. It is not possible to love a city more than Paris.

Now what? At first, we say: we must DO something. We must stand up to terrorism. We must fight back. Sure.

I don’t know what this means. Being angry is fine with me. I AM angry. After Charlie Hebdo, I deplored the fact that most Europeans were insufficiently outraged (see Charlie Hebdo and Europe’s Inability to Get Angry). This bloodbath will strengthen nativist European forces such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Viktor Orbán’s Conservative Party in Hungary, Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom in the Netherlands and others on the Right. We will hear, more loudly than before, that there is a war going on against the West, waged by radical Islam.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Most Human Telecommunication still Requires Stupid Wires




On October 25, there was an article in the New York Times by David Sanger and Eric Schmitt titled Russian Presence Near Vital Undersea Cables Causes Worry. Here is the passage that got me:

“The role of the cables is more important than ever before. They carry more than $10 trillion a day in global business, including from financial institutions that settle their transactions on them every second. Any significant disruption would cut the flow of capital. The cables also carry more than 95 percent of daily communications.” 

A few days later (Nov. 4), the Christian Science Monitor added:

“...a network of fiber-optic cables does crisscross the world’s oceans, connecting countries and continents. Each cable is about three inches thick. At its center are several fiber-optic fibers that transmit data as pulses of red light. Submarine cables carry around 99 percent of transoceanic communications... That means 99 percent of telephone and Internet data that crosses an ocean – from Europe to the US, from Canada to Asia, from Iceland or Australia to anywhere else – travels through a thin strand of optical fiber bundled into a cable and laid across the ocean floor.”
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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Water Grabbing: How Saudi Arabia is Growing Wheat in Arizona



Although no one really knows how much oil is left in Saudi Arabia’s huge oil reserve, the Saudis probably won’t have to worry about keeping warm in the foreseeable future. It is one of those things that seem so unfairly distributed in the world, like beauty: some people are blessed with good looks and others aren't, it's just the way it is.

What the Saudis are not so blessed with are water resources. There are no permanent rivers or lakes and very little rainfall. The Saudi desert sits on top of one of the oldest and largest aquifers in the world, which only 50 years ago, contained enough water to fill Lake Erie, but due to a combination of greed, stupidity and arrogance, the country has managed to drain its ground water supply and now has to rely on expensive desalination processing to provide drinking water to its growing population.

When the nomad culture of the Bedouins still thrived, each tribe knew where to find the wells and springs. Take some water, then, move your herd, to give the springs time to replenish. But the lush oases depicted in the Bible and the Koran is a thing of the past. The powers that be decided that the country should become self-sufficient and began to grow wheat in their desert until Saudi Arabia became the sixth largest exporter of wheat in the world. The government began subsidizing mega farms, allowing rich land owners to drain as much ground water as they pleased, with the result that most of it is now gone. Read more...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Roman Holiday; Eataly



So as I was saying, our annual European trip usually ends in Rome. All roads lead to Rome.The eternal city; the immortal city; the city of cities; Roma Eterna.

For my wife Anita and me, this has become a tradition (See her article, Falling in Love with the Eternal City). And because we have spent so much time there over the years, we never rush about, cramming a dozen sites and museums into a three-day visit. Instead, we go for a leisurely nine or ten days. We eat out, but we also picnic a lot. We may go back to the Capitoline Museum (the best antiquity museum anywhere), but we don’t have to re-enter the Colosseum every year, bumping into another three million tourists. We do stroll around the Forum every year.

We always take in an evening outdoor concert. Virtuoso live performances of Vivaldi, Chopin, Mozart, Puccini, Beethoven, Liszt and others, inside the Teatro Marcello, which is an amphitheater as well preserved and as magnificent as the famous Colosseum built by Emperor Vespasian, just slightly smaller. One year, we saw Verdi’s Aida in the Baths of Caracalla, including live camels parading across the stage. Read more...

Monday, November 2, 2015

European Vacation - Car Issues, plus some Gaelic



This year, our European trip took us to three countries: We did our usual two - Holland and Italy, and we added Ireland to the mix, one of only two European countries which I had never visited before (the other one is Portugal).

We have some rules for our annual European travel: The Netherlands is always a must, because that’s where my 102-year old mother lives. Then there is Rome: That, too, has become an annual Mecca, because my wife Anita is an avid antiquity buff. Each year she discovers new nooks and crannies at the Forum, the Palatine Hill, the houses of Augustus and Livia Drusilla, Nero’s Domus Aurea, Ostia Antiqua, the Baths of Caracalla, Trajan’s Market, or some other site. A lifetime is far too short to explore Rome and do it justice. And then, we add a third leg to each trip, and that has to be a place we haven’t yet seen. Read more...