August 27, 2015
Khaled al-Asaad, Martyr to Civilization
Khaled al-Asaad was as unlike an Islamic State fighter as could be imagined. Eighty-three years old, he was clean-shaven, silver-haired and bespectacled. He looked, in short, like the eminent scholar that he was. Yet this learned and decidedly unmilitant man, taken prisoner by Islamic State fighters, demonstrated a bravery that put their own pretensions to courage to shame. Rather than give in to their menaces, he maintained his dignity and defiance.
Taken to a public square, he was decapitated. His body was hung upside down from a pillar, and his severed head placed at its base. A placard tied to his corpse accused him of the crimes for which he had been killed: attending 'infidel conferences' and serving as a 'director of idolatry'.
His life had been devoted to the study of his country's ancient past. As learned in the languages spoken by its vanished civilisations as he was familiar with its archaeology, he had an international reputation. At the 'infidel conferences', he was respected and admired. Yet his very learning was what condemned him. To care for the statues and temples of vanished gods is, in the opinion of Islamic State, to rank as a pagan. Hence the death sentence it passed: that Khaled al-Asaad was guilty of 'idolatry'.
It is hard to over-emphasise just how bleak the implications of this are for the study of ancient civilisation.
Palmyra is a place of resplendent beauty. Perhaps only Angkor Wat, the temple complex long lost to Cambodian jungle, and Machu Picchu, the abandoned Inca city in the Andes, can compare with it among the world's archaeological sites for sheer romance.
The measure of its wealth was an increasingly spectacular array of monuments. Most of these appeared classically Roman.
There was a beautiful theatre with Corinthian columns, a complex of baths, and a sweeping colonnade, complete with no fewer than 350 pillars. Many of the influences, though, were older by far than the Roman Empire.
The city's most imposing temples were raised to gods worshipped across the Middle East for millennia. Palmyra was a city where Syrians, Arabs and Persians could feel quite as at home as Romans.
Palmyra slumped into provincial obscurity. Its monuments were swallowed up by dunes. When an expedition of European antiquarians reached there in 1751, they were stunned by its state of preservation. Ever since, it has been cherished by archaeologists as one of the pearls of global civilisation: 'The Venice of the sands.' This was the incomparable treasure to which Khaled al-Asaad devoted his life. Born and raised in Palmyra, he served for 40 years as its head of antiquities, excavating it, curating it and writing books on it. He even named one of his daughters Zenobia.
Understandably, then, as the shock-troops of Islamic State closed in on the site, he was active in making sure that such treasures as could be moved into safe- keeping were evacuated. But even as the lorries packed with masterpieces from his museum rumbled away down the desert road, al-Asaad refused to contemplate accompanying them. This was a gesture of astonishing courage. He must have anticipated what his fate would be when the militants came knocking.
Open-eyed and unflinching, he sacrificed his life to Palmyra. Sources have reported that he was killed for refusing to reveal the location of concealed antiquities. The truth of this is impossible to know — but of one thing we can be certain: Khaled al-Asaad, humane, learned and committed to the preservation of his country's heritage, was exactly the kind of Syrian ISIS is committed to eradicating.
Then, this week, came the most devastating act of vandalism yet. One of the most perfectly preserved buildings in Palmyra, a temple to an ancient Syrian god that beautifully combined classical and Egyptian styles, was blown up with a series of bombs stored in blue barrels.
A supreme architectural masterpiece that had stood intact for almost two millennia was reduced in seconds to rubble. It is hard to look at photos of its destruction and not dread that the rest of Palmyra may soon have a similar fate.
All of which makes it only the more pressing to enshrine the example of a man who refused to abandon it.
August 17, 2015
"That box became the most important thing in the world for me"
I've not seen a better example of how a personal legacy archives can affect a child's life
When I’m Gone by Rafael Zoehler
Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. ….We are never ready. It is never the right time. …..It was no different with my father. In fact, his death was even more unexpected. He was gone at age 27. He never told me he was going to die. Even when he was lying on a hospital bed with tubes all over him, he didn’t say a word. My father made plans for the next year even though he knew he wouldn’t be around in the next month.
Then, my father was once again a father to me. With a shoebox under her arm, a nurse came by to comfort me. The box was full of sealed envelopes, with sentences where the address should be. I couldn’t understand exactly what was going on. The nurse then handed me a letter. The only letter that was out of the box.
“Your dad asked me to give you this letter. He spent the whole week writing these, and he wants you read it. Be strong.” the nurse said, holding me.
The envelope read WHEN I’M GONE. I opened it.
If you’re reading this, I’m dead. I’m sorry. I knew I was going to die.
I didn’t want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn’t want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I’ve made it. I think that a man who’s about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.
Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don’t know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal……..
That box became the most important thing in the world for me. I told my mother not to open it. Those letters were mine and no one else could read them.
I still remember the slap she gave me after I pronounced the word “bar”. I’ll admit that I deserved it. I learned that over the years. At the time, when my skin was still burning from the slap, I remembered the box and the letters. I remembered a specific letter, which read “WHEN YOU HAVE THE WORST FIGHT EVER WITH YOUR MOM”.
Now apologize to her.
I don’t know why you’re fighting and I don’t know who’s right. But I know your mother. So a humble apology is the best way to get over this. I’m talking about a down-on-your-knees apology.
She’s your mother, kid. She loves you more than anything in this world. Do you know that she went through natural birth because someone told her that it would be the best for you? Have you ever seen a woman giving birth? Do you need a bigger proof of love than that?
Apologize. She’ll forgive you.
My father was not a great writer, he was just a bank clerk. But his words had a great impact on me. They were words that carried more wisdom than all of my 15 years of age at the time.
My father followed me through my entire life. He was with me, even though he was not near me. His words did what no one else could: they gave me strength to overcome countless challenging moments in my life. He would always find a way to put a smile on my face when things looked grim, or clear my mind during those angry moments.
WHEN YOU GET MARRIED made me feel very emotional. But not so much as WHEN YOU BECOME A FATHER.
About twice a week, Mr. Arthur performs a custom that is ubiquitous in New York City’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods but virtually invisible outside of them: He silk-screens T-shirts with the names and photos of young dead New Yorkers, often killed in street violence.
“As it gets warmer, it gets worse,” said Mr. Arthur, 57 years old, who estimated his shop every year prints about 2,500 T-shirts that memorialize about 100 victims. The T-shirts often are commissioned only hours after a death by grieving parents and friends and have become a mainstay of wakes and funerals.
Troy West, 18, in Brooklyn in June. Mr. West wears a T-shirt as a tribute to his friend Tay-Quan ‘TJ’ Sumpter, who died at age 20 of bone cancer, Photo by Kevin Hagen
Most of the shirts feature a large color picture of the deceased, accompanied by a brief message—a shirt for 1-year-old Antiq Hennis, shot in his stroller in 2013, reads “Play in Peace”—and a set of birth and death dates, often referred to as sunrise and sunset.
And while some shirts are ordered to commemorate those who succumb to less violent deaths, such as illness and accidents, few of the faces are ever old.
“Every time I look at it, that’s a smile from him,” said Troy West, 18, as he nodded to the grinning face of his friend Tay-Quan “TJ” Sumpter, 20, whose likeness was emblazoned on T-shirts just hours after he died of cancer. “It’s really bringing him down (to earth).”
August 16, 2015
"The dying man is the true man, in the sense of being the one who reveals to us what we essentially are"
David MIlls in Spirituality without Spirits
Being “spiritual” does not do us any good. As I recently wrote elsewhere, it works fairly well when you are healthy and have enough money to enjoy life, and just want from your spirituality the feeling that all is well with the universe, particularly your corner of it. But it doesn’t help you much when things go from good to bad.
The man wasting away from pancreatic cancer will get no help nor comfort from the “spiritual,” which will seem a lot less friendly and comforting when he feels pain morphine won’t suppress. He has no one to beg for help, no one to ask for comfort, no one to be with him, no one to meet when he crosses from this world to the next. He wants what religion promises.
And he is right to do so. The dying man is the true man, in the sense of being the one who reveals to us what we essentially are. We are on our death bed from the day we are born. To paraphrase Pascal, dying men want not the God of spirituality, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
August 14, 2015
A schoolteacher was struck in the head and killed by a roller coaster while he searched for lost iPhone in Ohio at Cedar Point, the "roller coaster capital of the world," Cedar Point operates 17 coasters….. The Raptor is listed as an "aggressive thrill" ride, which has a 54-inch height requirement. The ride lasts 2 minutes and travels up to 57 mph, according to the Cedar Point website.
Police say James A. Young had just finished riding the Raptor with friends on Thursday and jumped over a fence to and entered a restricted area to search for his lost iPhone when he was struck and killed.
A London-based art dealer has been arrested in Italy on suspicion of murdering her 93-year-old mother with a rosary. Francesca Martire, 61, is being questioned by officers in the southern city of Taranto who believe she used the beads to suffocate and choke frail Marria Luigia Magazzile.
Following the arrest, Mrs Magazzile's neighbours told local news reporters that Ms Martire was heard 'screaming for an ambulance' and had been in a 'very confused state'. She is reported to have said 'my mother was saying diabolical things, I had to purify her.'
From a R.I. farm house, they listened in to tank-to-tank communications of Rommel's Afrika Korps
An amazing story from Rhode Island about Global eavesdroppers: In World War II,
Dozens of radio operators in Scituate dialed into enemy conversations worldwide. Reception was incredible: They could pick up tank-to-tank communications among Rommel's Afrika Korps
It was a tale of espionage, now virtually forgotten, centered in, of all places, an old farmhouse in Scituate, R.I.
When Boston radio technician by the name of Thomas B. Cave drove up Darby Road,…England was already at war with Germany, and Cave knew it was inevitable that the United States, already fortifying Great Britain with supplies and weaponry, would enter, too.
Cave worked for the Intelligence Division of the Federal Communications Commission was charged with finding a hilltop in southern New England that could serve as one of several listening posts to detect radio transmissions from German spies in the United States.
What he discovered up at William Suddard’s 183-acre farm was nothing short of miraculous. Because of some geographic and atmospheric anomalies, Cave reported he could clearly intercept radio transmissions coming from Europe — even South America.
As a Providence Journal story revealed after the war, military officials were initially skeptical. They wanted Cave to prove his remarkable claims that from Chopmist Hill he could pinpoint the location of any radio transmission in the country within 15 minutes. The Army set up a test. Without telling the FCC, it began broadcasting a signal from the Pentagon. From atop the 730-foot hill in the rural corner of Scituate, it took Cave all of seven minutes to zero in on the signal’s origin.
In March 1941, the Suddards obligingly moved out of their 14-room farmhouse, leasing the property to the FCC. Workers set off erecting scores of telephone poles across the properly, purposely sinking them deep to keep them below the tree line. They strung 85,000 feet of antenna wire — the equivalent of 16 miles — around the poles and wired it into the house. They fenced off the perimeter, erected floodlights and established armed patrols to keep people out. They filled six rooms with banks of sensitive radio receivers, transmitters and directional finders. Then the FCC turned loose a 40-member spy team of men and women to listen in on the world —although none of them knew the full extent of the information they were cultivating.
August 13, 2015
DNA in the news
Scientists now know that our DNA is being altered all the time by environment, lifestyle and traumatic events.
Relatives of President Warren G Harding revealed to the New York Times on Wednesday that he did indeed father a daughter in 1919 with his longtime mistress Nan Britton, after receiving the results of a genetic test linking them to the son of the love child.
Rumors of Harding's infidelity became tabloid fodder in 1927, when Britton authored a tell-all on their secret relationship, revealing juicy facts like the fact that they used to have sex in a West Wing closet. But Britton's claim that she bore Harding's one-and-only offspring was treated with heavy skepticism, as the president's family insisted that he had was sterile due to a childhood case of the mumps.
Researchers analyzing data from twins found that 95 per cent of the link between intelligence and life expectancy is genetic.
They found that, the brighter twin tends to live longer and noted the pattern was much more pronounced in fraternal - non identical - twins, than identical pairs. By looking at both fraternal twins - who only share half their twin's DNA - with identical twins, helps researchers distinguish between genetic effects and environmental factors, including housing, schooling and childhood nutrition.
Amazon.com Inc is in a race against Google Inc to store data on human DNA, seeking both bragging rights in helping scientists make new medical discoveries and market share in a business that may be worth $1 billion a year by 2018.
That growth is being propelled by, among other forces, the push for personalized medicine, which aims to base treatments on a patient's DNA profile. Making that a reality will require enormous quantities of data to reveal how particular genetic profiles respond to different treatments. Already, universities and drug manufacturers are embarking on projects to sequence the genomes of hundreds of thousands of people. The human genome is the full complement of DNA, or genetic material, a copy of which is found in nearly every cell of the body.
Clients view Google and Amazon as doing a better job storing genomics data than they can do using their own computers, keeping it secure, controlling costs and allowing it to be easily shared.
August 10, 2015
Nagged back to life
The wife who NAGGED her husband out of a coma: Farmer survives life-threatening septic shock after hearing his wife giving him a piece of her mind
A farmer survived a six-day brush with death after his wife nagged him out of a coma. Gill Osgerby gave her husband Will a 'constant telling off', as he lay unconscious in hospital having been diagnosed with severe septic shock. The father-of-two, from Sunk Island, East Riding was so seriously ill, medics warned his wife there was nothing more they could do for him. Mrs Osgerby sat beside her husband watching as his body began to shut down. Doctors rushed to his side as the 42-year-old began to succumb to multiple organ failure, triggered by the deadly infection which entered his blood stream via a tiny cut.
But instead of despairing, Mrs Osgerby refused to give up. The 32-year-old gave her husband a piece of her mind, insisting he get better for her and the couple's two sons. Medics were stunned when, six days later, Mr Osgerby made a miraculous recovery.
'Over the time he was in the ICU, either myself, his mother or his sister were at his side 24 hours a day. I kept talking to him all the way through.' Her husband credits her telling off with helping him pull through. 'She did give me a good nagging, and I don't think I would be here today if it wasn't for her,' he said. 'While I was in a coma I was very much aware of what my family were saying to me.
July 30, 2015
Compose a Keepsake Cookbook for the Mourners at Your Funeral
This is a wonderful idea
Heather King quotes from The essay “Funeral Cookbooks” by Alan Davidson, in The Penguin Book of Food and Drink
"There is a custom which I have met only in Thailand, whereby a person composes a small cookbook before her or his death, so that it can be distributed as a keepsake to the mourners attending the funeral.
The recipes, typically no more than a score, are likely to be those which the deceased especially enjoyed. They need not have been composed or used by the deceased, but often are. Sometimes they incorporate little anecdotes and attributions. . . .
The idea is attractive. With what better keepsake could one depart from a funeral? What other would equally well keep one's memory green among friends? If one is to issue some sort of posthumous message, avoiding anything egotistical or hortatory, is not a simple message about enjoyable food the best that could be devised? It is true that one could equally well compose a list of 'books I have enjoyed,' but that might seem didactic, even patronising; whereas a little bouquet of recipes arrives on a more relaxed note."
And then Heather offers her own recipe for Tuscan Rosemary and Pine Nut Bars which I will definitely try.
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup (1 stick) utter, cut in 10 pieces
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary or1 teaspoon dried
1 cup flour
Spread pine nuts on baking sheet and toast, stirring once or twice, at 350 degrees until a shade darker and fragrant, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully; pine nuts burn easily.)
Melt butter in microwave or in medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, rosemary and pine nuts. Stir in flour to make dough; it will be stiff.
Pat dough evenly into ungreased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and firm at edges, about 20 minutes. Cool pan on rack about 2 minutes, then use sharp knife to cut bars into 16 squares. Let cool in pan at least 10 minutes before removing with small spatula. (Store, tightly covered, up to 5 days or freeze up to 1 month.)
16 cookies. Each cookie 105 calories….
July 29, 2015
The "Hold On, Wait Man" and his Great Legacy
Yukio Shige patrols the Tojinbo cliffs in Fukui Prefecture with a pair of binoculars, on the lookout for people who are about to jump. The 70-year-old has come to be known as the ‘chotto matte man’, meaning the ‘Hold on, wait man.
Although a popular tourist site, the Tojinbo cliffs on Japan’s west coast have also developed a reputation as a notorious suicide spot. Mr Shige goes to the cliffs every day, accompanied by his three volunteers.Together, the team spot potential jumpers and try to talk them out of it.
His selfless mission was inspired by the tragic suicide of a friend, and he can clearly remember the day he got a call from the police to inform him of the death.
"They told me he killed himself. He rented a car in north eastern Japan and drove into the ocean,’... Odditycentral.com. I’ve seen so much grief. I don’t wish to hear any more mourning….If you stop and picture that scene; someone sitting and believing that their only option is to end everything, alone with their shadow, I truly feel that they want help….They want someone to step in and save them.’
But Mr Shige doesn’t just haul people back from the cliff edge. He has devoted his life to improving the lives of others and to persuading them that suicide is not the answer, and helps them get their lives back on track.
‘We take those that want our help to the six apartments we own, so that they can repair and rebuild their lives,’ he continued.‘We help them get their lives back. This is what I do.’
The first time that Mr Shige came into contact with a suicidal person was in 2003, and the experience shook him to the core. He was on one of his last patrols of his career, before he was due to retire, and he met an elderly couple who owned a pub and were struggling to cope with the soaring debt. They confessed to him their plan to throw themselves into the sea at sunset. But Mr Shige talked them out of their decision, calling a patrol car for them and taking them to a public welfare bureau. Despite his desperate attempts to get the couple welfare support, the couple were turned away and five days later they hanged themselves.