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War's Deeper Scars

As it turns out, war is hell on mitochondria, too. Researchers studying veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War who have been suffering from the mysterious "Gulf War illness" have found that their mitochondria are impaired. Mitochondria are the organelles responsible for creating energy for the cells. They are in almost every cell of our body. "Gulf veterans are known to have been widely exposed to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, a chemical class found in organophosphate and carbamate pesticides, nerve gas and nerve gas pre-treatment pills given to troops," says principal investigator Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph.D.:
   To learn more about mitochondria, go to

Airport Report

Changi Airport is No. 1.                                                                               AP
Which are the 10 best airports in the world and why? The Skytrax World Airport Awards, which are based on 12.85 million customer nominations involving 410 airports and 39 criteria, suggest that you might want to make sure your flight stops at Changi Airport in Singapore ~ even if you're only going from Phoenix to Duluth. No one who's traveled from or to a U.S. airport will be in the least bit surprised that not one of them got anywhere close to being in the top 10 (story, slideshow):

Burying the Evidence

As more of the world turns to coal for its power, two companies, one in the U.S. and one in Canada, are building coal-fired power plants that will capture their own carbon dioxide emissions and store them underground. The technology is called carbon capture and storage (CCS). Is it an ingenious innovation or a dangerous distraction? And perhaps the next question should be, Then what?:
   And, yes, I am aware that this National Geographic page is sponsored by Shell. I just hope that isn't coloring the editorial decisions.

Jail House Art

detail from the finished oeuvre                                                    Jesse Krimes
When artist Jesse Krimes (yeah, I know ~ ironic last name) was sentenced to close to six years in prison, he decided to spend the time doing what he loves: making art. To do so, though, he had to get creative in more ways than one (thank you, Kris):

A Kid in the Kitchen

the chef at 14                                                        
What did you enjoy doing most when you were 15? How about when you were 12? Flynn McGarry, who is 15, has been hosting his own supper club for the last three and a half years ~ and his customers pay $160 each to savor his rendition of "progressive American cuisine." "I have a very weird, like, creative brain that I can't, like, not go a long time without creating dishes and having people try them," he explains. Not surprisingly, his goal is to open a restaurant by the time he's 19 (story, video):
   Sibling revelry: Flynn's sister has a blog on which she posts lovely photos of some of his creations:

Their 15 MInutes of Shame

submitted by Bill to
Bad enough that your pesky sibling posted your most embarrassing family portrait to a website (, but now you learn that it might be one of the ones that will be exhibited at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica for four months starting March 27 (story, lots of pix):

Whole Joe's

Sure, this was created for Washington Post readers and so a couple of the references are not universal, but all the rest of them are. This chart is indispensable for anyone trying to decide between Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (and, yes, I'm being facetious!) (oh, and thank you, Mary):

What's Goin' Down

Central California's Delta Mendota Canal                            
I always wondered how we can keep taking liquids ~ water, oil ~ out of the ground without it sinking. It just didn't make sense. Well, apparently, California's Central Valley, made desperate by the current drought, has been pumping enough subterranean water that large areas are sinking. "We've got some serious issues," Reggie Hill, who manages the Lower San Joaquin Levee District, says in what may be a huge understatement:

Looks Good on Paper

Shigeru Ban, this year's winner of the Pritzker Prize in architecture, is by all accounts an average guy ~ except when he's not. One of the ways in which he's not is his work with paper. He has built churches and homes of cardboard and has taken this idea to areas of crisis, putting up shelters and other buildings quickly and cheaply to house the dispossessed:

A Good Writer Is Hard To Find

In honor of Flannery O'Connor's birthday on March 25 (1925-1964), here is her "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction." O'Connor's works can indeed be labeled grotesque in many ways, but, of course, while she herself does not shy from that word, she sees it as a deeply useful aspect of communication between a writer and her reader. "Whenever I'm asked," she writes, "why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological":

Body and Brain in Motion

As a parent and during my time in the classroom, I noticed that many (if not most or all) children need to move while they're thinking things through. Of course, this is difficult in the traditional classroom, and most teachers discourage their students from getting up and walking around, which I always found to be nothing short of tragic. Now there is scientific evidence showing that the quickest way to learn ~ and this is equally true for adults ~ is to use gestures and body movement:

Bubbles of Infinity

We've all heard the theory that we are not the only ones here, that there are, in fact, multiple universes stretching out forever. The recent discovery of gravitational waves from the Big Bang ( only lends more credence to this suspicion. A multiverse could explain some of the seemingly contradictory points and inconsistencies scientists have noted in otherwise unassailable theories. At the same time, of course, it's extraordinarily difficult to truly register:
   While this is a propitious development for experimental physicists, it is distressing to theoretical physicists, author and MIT professor Alan Lightman, himself a physicist, wrote in an interesting anticipatory piece a couple of years ago:

Behind the Bandages

Interactive Institute Swedish ICT
In Victorian England, there were mummy "unwrapping parties." Really ~ think about it: How fun would that be if the desecration and historical-artifact angles never entered your sphere of thought? And before you judge the lords and ladies too harshly, understand that in the United States, Egyptian mummies were used as kindling or for making paper (
   Visitors to a museum in Sweden can enjoy their own unwrapping party without having to worry about destroying items of historical significance. Courtesy of modern technology, they can digitally unwrap the mummy of one Neswaiu, who lived in Thebes in the third century BCE. (Of course, the issue of an ancient individual's right to privacy remains) (story, video):
   There are more pictures on the museum website:

Dumb and Dumberer?

The more we learn about ADHD, autism, and other neurobehavioral development disorders ~ with which an estimated 10 to 15 percent of U.S. babies are now born ~ the more we learn what many have deduced and argued for a long time: that the cause is, in the great majority of cases, environmental. In a paper summarizing the results of their study on the subject, Philippe Grandjean, of Harvard, and Philip Landrigan, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, named 12 chemicals that they believe cause these disorders and lower IQs in babies whose mothers were exposed to them. These chemicals can be found in furniture, household products, pesticides, building materials, drinking water, and more. Many of them were proved to be hazardous years ago, and yet we're still using them. Which leaves us with the obvious question: Why isn't our government doing a better job of protecting its people ~ us ~ from these dangers?:

Which Way Home?

screen shot
China? Israel? Berlin? No, it's the U.S./Mexican border.                                                 screen shot
A record number of undocumented immigrants have been deported under this president ~ almost 2 million since 2009 (see For them, "going home" means leaving home, family, friends, and what, for many and despite the sometimes overwhelming hardship, is still "the land of opportunity" (story, video):

A Proletarian Paradise

"View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus" (1856), by Ivan Konstantinovich Alvazovsky
By all accounts, Russians cheered when they heard that their president had reclaimed Crimea from Ukraine. Sure, the little spit of land is strategically important, being the home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, sure its population is 60 percent Russian (thanks in large part to Joseph Stalin:, and sure, it's important for its agriculture and wine production (see and, but to Mother Russia and her people, it's so much more than that (story, video):

It's All Happening at the Zoo

Ukraine's Kharkov Zoo was built in 1896 and opened to the public in 1903, and given its location, has probably seen its shares of ups and downs over the years. One of those downs ~ followed, thankfully, by one of those ups ~ took place recently as city residents, facing an unknown future themselves, rallied to answer the zoo director's call for help. Emigrée Alina Simone and her father recall his brief stint there after he was blacklisted by the KGB (print, audio versions):

As Water Flows, So Goes the World

The World Water Development Report is coming out on March 21, and March 22 is World Water Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to focus on the importance of wise water usage and the need for clean water around the world. This year's theme is Water and Energy (website):
   Some ideas for teachers and parents on how to celebrate it:
   A preview of the World Water Development Report (video):

A Reflection of Nature

Alyson Shotz's "Mirror Fence"
In 2003, artist Alyson Shotz built a fence out of acrylic, wood, and aluminum. It's been installed in a few different places since then, always beautifully either blending in or contrasting with the scenery behind it (story, lots of pictures):

Automatic Instamatic

How cool is this? A little printer that turns your iPhone shots into Polaroid-type pix!:

Fire in the Sky

An experienced airline pilot explains his theory of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and it has nothing to do with hijackers or suicide:

Waves of Wonder

So by now we've probably all heard the amazing, unbelievable, monumental news that scientists have conclusive evidence that the Big Bang happened ( Here, you can watch as one of the physicists who first came up with the theory of the inflationary universe learns about it (story, video):


A lovely tribute to human sensitivity, particularly in children, and the importance of helping the sensitive child cope and learn to appreciate it as an important gift. What a truly wonderful world this would be if we could grow up respecting that trait in ourselves and in others:

Filling In the Blanks

You remember the recent hubbub about the reworking of the SATs, including making the essay optional? "It's all about a lowering of standards," cry some; "Get rid of it altogether," insist others. How and why was this decision made?:

You Must Remember This

Dirk Mathesius
March 29 is the date of the 17th USA Memory Championship ~ and it will be streamed live! Sadly, registration is closed now, but there's always next year:
   Johannes Mallow, of Germany, was the winner of the 2013 World Memory Championships. In order to claim that title, he repeated 501 numbers in the correct order (story, video):

Intro to Creativity

Humans can learn anything, right? How about creativity? Can we ~ and by "we," I mean adults ~ learn to be creative? Or rather, can we learn to be creative again? Can we recapture the imagination, the ability to dream and make novel connections, that we had when we were young, before we were rewarded for filling in the "correct" bubbles on multiple-choice tests? It should come as no surprise (nor can we ignore the irony here) that there are those who say yes ~ and are offering classes purporting to teach just that (story, video):

Right Place, Right Time

Genghis Khan's offensives and empire         historicair via Wikimedia Commons
History is full of right-place-right-time stories, but it takes more than that for one individual to emerge as the stand-out beneficiary of those factors. Such a one was the 13th century's Temujin, aka Genghis Khan, a leader whose name inspires curiosity, fear, and wonder even to this day. His Mongols swept out of their homeland in Mongolia to conquer most of Eurasia. Studies of the rings of area's trees show that he was able to accomplish this in great part as a result of a unique 15-year weather pattern that led to more grasses, which in turn led to more livestock and war horses. But it took a man like Genghis Khan to take advantage of that windfall:

The Arboreal Immigrant

removing a row of Eucalyptus in Costa Mesa after one fell, killing a motorist Luis Sinco/LA Times
Anyone living in or visiting Southern California ~ or even Northern California, for that matter ~ will note the preponderance of Eucalyptus trees. They're certainly not native to the area and, in fact, came from Australia. How they got here is an interesting story, one that is typical of a certain time and mindset:

Seize the Jour!

OK, I have to tell you about the most charming app I just found. Granted, it's been around for a while (it was released in late August 2011), so maybe everyone knew about it but me. I'm willing to accept that, but for those few who may not have heard of it, I highly recommend checking it out. It's like being part of one of those sweet, quasi-dreamlike French animated films, like The Triplets of Belleville, for example. Now, I'm only on Level 1-4, and I know that at some point, there will be monsters, but I'm pretty sure they won't diverge from that basic ethos:
   P.S., The background music is wonderful, too. Oh, and a plus is that, at least so far, one is able to replay a scene if one wants.

Spy vs. Spy

Depending on whom one asks, there are 16 or 17 official spy agencies in the United States alone, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), of course, being the most well-known. They've been around a lot longer than Edward Snowden ~ all he did was open the can of worms and expose its contents to the light. Here's a brief and fascinating history of spies around the world:

The Nose Knows

Well, I don't want to think too much about the experiment that led scientists to this conclusion (I mean, injecting people with toxins? really?), but their findings are fascinating nonetheless. from

Studies suggest that humans have the ability to smell disease, which researchers believe could be a mechanism designed to help healthy individuals avoid people who are contagious. A 2014 study found that the T-shirts worn by participants who had been injected with a bacterial toxin were rated as smelling worse than those worn by participants who had been injected with salt water. The researchers found that it took about four hours to activate the immune

Wherever You Go, There You Are

File this under "Why didn't I think of that?" Someone's come up with a GPS security device that's actually attractive and wearable. It's kind of a cross between those MedicAlert necklaces for the elderly ("Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!") and the Spot Satellite Messenger, but the main part is a chip that can be inserted into special jewelry, like cuffs, necklaces, bracelets, or key chains (story, slideshow, video):

Eddie Would Go

Pipeline, Dec. 2012                            David Chatsuthiphan/
Here's some really gorgeous footage of surfers enjoying the awesome barrels at Banzai Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. In the winter, waves there can reach 30 feet (video):

Nice Name, Creepy Characteristic

Rather like a car accident, this story about the emerald jewel wasp can make one a bit queasy but unable to turn away. So, fair warning: Sometimes nature can be creative in a cruel way. Talk about head starts! (story, video):

Press On

The Laser Girls
The Laser Girls
AAAAAAAGGHHH! Stick 3D printers and press-on nails together and what do you get? Yeah. It was only a matter of time, right? (slideshow):

Pi-and-the-Sky Day!

March 14 (3.14) is Pi Day, of course, and you don't have to be a teacher or parent of a young child to enjoy it!:
   This year, there's another reason to get excited about March 14, as well, because it's the day the National Geographic channel will be broadcasting live from the International Space Station and Mission Control in Houston:
   You can make your presence at the party known by submitting a video or photograph of yourself waving to the ISS ~ and check out your fellow partiers ~ at!/search

A New Kind of News

Shane Smith in Fallujah                                                                            Vice
Vice started 20 years ago as a magazine in Montreal. It's now a multimedia company and not resting on its laurels. This week, Vice is launching a news arm. Like the magazine, this is being described as being for a new generation. "Young people, who are the majority of our audience, are angry, disenfranchised, and they don't like or trust mainstream media outlets," says co-founder and CEO Shane Smith:
   On CBS This Morning on March 4, Smith was asked ~ among other things ~ about Ukraine. "When I go to Russia," he said, "I'm always shocked ~ and I go there quite a bit ~ by the anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric that is almost Cold War level. I mean, it is shocking how they're really demonizing the West and demonizing America." The story and interview (video):

It's Putin's Port Now

a pro-Russia rally outside Crimean parliament building, Feb. 28            Reuters
Verbiage about protecting Russian citizens aside, there are some very real and tangible reasons Vladimir Putin wants Crimea back, and they have as much to do with history as they do with geography (story, audio version):

March Madness

Tokyo's Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 25 through about April 10.
From Mardi Gras to St. Patrick's Day to Purim to Holi to Nowruz (and let's not forget Pi Day!), this month is a standout for its many reasons to celebrate or commemorate around the world (slideshow):

Party Gras!

It's Mardi Gras time! This year, Mardi Gras falls on March 4, and as of March 2, the forecast is for showers in New Orleans. That may be good news for anyone looking to snag some major booty from the float riders ~ and there is major booty to be gotten! No longer is it just plastic necklaces. No, there are Muses shoes (story, video:, souvenir buttons and plushies, toys, all sorts of things. Here are some tips from those in the know on how to get your fair share (story, slideshow):
   A New Orleans company has made a business of collecting and recycling those colorful plastic-bead necklaces (story, audio version):
   So it's Fat Tuesday? Here's how to take that literally (recipes):

Just Because: 'The Dreamer'

This poem (coming to me from was American writer Djuna Barnes's (1892-1982) first published text. She was 19 at the time. Barnes suffered through an unfortunate childhood, including being talked into marrying a 52-year-old when she was 17. She was a key figure in the modernist movement and spent many years in the expatriate community in Paris before moving to Greenwich Village. She is probably best known for her novel Nightwood, though in addition to her novels, she wrote plays and articles, including an interview with James Joyce, who became a friend.

The Dreamer

The night comes down, in ever-darkening shapes that seem—
To grope, with eerie fingers for the window—then—
To rest to sleep, enfolding me, as in a dream
       Faith—might I awaken!

And drips the rain with seeming sad, insistent beat.
Shivering across the pane, drooping tear-wise,
And softly patters by, like little fearing feet.
       Faith—this weather!

The feathery ash is fluttered; there upon the pane,—
The dying fire casts a flickering ghostly beam,—
Then closes in the night and gently falling rain.
       Faith—what darkness!


Bookers International LLC
Rio de Janeiro's famous Carnaval is a five-day celebration marked by parades (in which samba teams compete in the Sambadrome) and street parties ~ a last big blow-out, if you will, before the comparatively somber, abstemious days of Lent. This year, it's all happening Feb. 28 to March 4, with the Parade of Champions taking place on March 8:
   This year's may be the biggest party yet (slideshow):

Half a League Onward

As Russia's upper house of parliament answers President Vladimir Putin's call for sending troops to Ukraine with a decisive "Da" (have they forgotten the Budapest Memorandum?:, the focal point of the conflict seems to be moving from Kiev to Crimea. What makes this area, which has been fought over for hundreds of years (viz. The Charge of the Light Brigade, from which comes the title of this post ~ tragic story, great poem), the point of convergence? (story, video):

I'd Like To Thank the Academy ...

Well, it's that time of year again, when journalists wrack their brains to come up with new, print-worthy pre-Oscar stories, and what better source to check for the best of the rest than Vanity Fair? Here's one on the most-used words in the best-actor and best-actress acceptance speeches, contrasting all-time with just the past 10 years:
   And who are all those people we don't recognize sitting among the stars and filling up that giant auditorium? They sure seem happy to be there. Could you be one of them next year? Here's how that process works:|htmlws-main-bb|dl27|sec3_lnk4%26pLid%3D449235

History in Hand

engraving on Al Capone's cocktail shaker                                     Getty Images
Imagine not only owning but using and living among, on an everyday basis, items that were owned and used by some of history's most famous ~ and infamous ~ characters. Horatio Nelson's teapot, Winston Churchill's armchair, a glass jug from the RMS Titanic, art and artifacts including Orson Welles's working copy of the script for Citizen Kane. Such has been the life of collectors Stanley Seeger, an American, who died in 2011, and his English partner, Christopher Cone. On March 5 and 6, Sotheby's in London will be selling off a large part of their collection in an auction titled "1,000 Ways of Seeing" (story, slideshow):