Friday, May 11, 2018

The Weather Vane

by Madeleine Kando

Once upon a time, in a far away kingdom, there stood a weather vane on top of an old church. It had been standing there for so long that all its hinges were rusted through and it made the most unpleasant creaking sound every time it swiveled.

And swivel it did because the wind was master in this kingdom. It was howling like a hungry tiger as it blew over the hills and valleys, looking for anything that it could uproot and break. It tore the roofs off of barns and stables, broke windows and made bails of hay and pitchforks fly like birds. It furiously pulled at the trees, broke their branches, ripped off their leaves, but their roots were firmly planted and the trees didn't give in to the angry wind.

The weather vane, who at one time had been a shiny cockerel, took its share of the beating, but it was strongly forged on its spike. The wind blew and blew, almost popping a vein, but all it did was make the weathervane swivel faster and faster, until it got so dizzy it almost fainted.

'Master wind, have pity on me' said the weathervane. 'All this twirling is making me loose my marbles. Soon I won't know which way you want me to face. Besides, my circulation isn’t what it used to be, and all this twirling has caused my arthritis to flare up.' And he creaked something awful as the wind got ahold of his tail. Read more...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cults and the Dangers of Spirituality

by Madeleine Kando

Let’s face it: we live in a world of opposites: night and day, warm and cold, life and death, joy and suffering. But many of us are searching for a way to combine the two into one ‘Whole’, thinking that this might make us more complete, happier, less prone to suffering. That is the goal of ‘Enlightenment’.

In ‘The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power’, Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer examine the age-old traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism and conclude that these 3,000-year-old religions have been a total failure. We are not less selfish and divisive today as we were when it was founded in northeastern India by Prince Siddharta in the 6th century B.C. India is the most internally divided culture in the world with its Caste system. The ‘Oneness’ framework, which says that ‘division’ and ‘difference’ is but an illusion, gives the haves a reason to justify the misery surrounding them and is used by the have-nots as a way to cope with an unbearable situation.

The usual reasons for this failure are placed at the foot of the ‘seeker’. Humanity has not done enough soul searching and is not ready for true bliss. But what if the reason for its failure is because this ‘Oneness’ framework is impossible to achieve?

Contrary to secular ideologies like Marxism, which also sacrifices ‘differences’ for the sake of the ‘whole’, the ‘Oneness’ ideology cannot be tested for its validity, since its payoff occurs after death. Marxism, which did not deliver on its promise to improve the quality of life, lost its power and crumbled.

Humanity, the authors argue, is in some respects incredibly sophisticated and creative. For example, in the realms of science, technology, and the arts, new facts replace old facts and we go from there. Einstein’s theories win over Newton’s, etc.

But in other respects we are still an "adolescent species”. In the realm of relationships, we follow guidelines that are thousands of years old. These cannot be disputed because they are authoritarian and unverifiable. Besides, how can you criticize selflessness, love, giving? These aspirations ARE too good to be true and living up to them is impossible. Trying to be completely selfless and lose your ego goes at the cost of healthy thinking and it makes you terribly self-absorbed. It’s all about you. It is a spiritual conundrum.

If you look at humanity through the maturing lens, science and human rights have rendered much of the so-called wisdom of our ancestors obsolete. “I don’t believe it’s possible for anyone to transcend self-centeredness in a permanent way. Altruism and egotism are embedded in each other, as are all of life’s other dualisms.” In other words, the ego has an inbuilt function, which will never go away. We eat, make love, bond, and form groups, take care of ourselves and protect. Separateness and interconnectedness are both real. Dialectic altruism is real but so is self-centeredness. It is necessary for survival.

If the goal of spirituality is to make the individual feel better, then Buddha was right in preaching detachment. It is beneath the enlightened person’s dignity to concern herself with such trivia as other people’s suffering or hunger. Buddha himself left his wife and children to go on his spiritual journey.

But if the goal of spirituality is to improve the world, mysticism and spirituality defeat this primary purpose. Cults and cult leaders (Gurus) go out of their way to create a separate realm whereby spirituality is removed from daily life by presenting themselves as the ultimate authority on how to become enlightened.

Byron Katie, one of the most famous ‘gurus’ of our time, claims that her method which she calls ‘the Work’, can eradicate ALL suffering. This claim is preposterous since it would not end someone’s suffering that is dying of starvation in Somalia.

In this video clip, you can see that her entire ‘system’ is based on dangerous thought distortions, ultimately blaming the victim. The audacity of her approach shows the power of thought manipulation, which is one of the tools cult leaders often use.

The idea of pureness is a dangerous idea, says Alstad. It separates the body from the mind, whites from blacks, the enlightened ones from the rest. A healthy spirituality should help us confront and find solutions for all the ‘impure’ problems of the world, such as overpopulation, lack of drinking water, environmental degradation, violent nationalism and racism. There are so many minds lost to the pursuit of this ‘purity’. People who could be part of intelligent solutions Even a spiritual path that emphasizes selflessness, forgiveness, and unconditional love can do harm by diverting us away from real-world problems.

So yes, Buddha and Jesus were reformers in their days. Meditation and religion represented a step forward for humanity, because it provided some deeper understanding of the cosmos that was beyond ordinary perception for that time.

But maybe it is time to abandon the concept of finding the ultimate truth— whatever that is. Confronting real-world problems that threaten our very survival should be the main focus of that which makes us truly human: our brainpower. leave comment here Read more...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Worlds Universities, Ranked and Located

Preface: Once in a while, I take a look at the University of Shanghai’s Annual Ranking of the World's 800 Major Universities.

You  may find this an empty exercise. However, I enjoy lists, and I have spent my life in  academe. The Shanghai rankings have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc There is of course always room for improvement. For now, I present to you some of the interesting factoids I came across. I hope you enjoy perusing these. I’ll focus on the top 100, then 200, and (briefly) 500 universities listed.

Countries and Regions:
Of the top 200 universities, 77 are located in North America. That is almost 39%.   Actually, North American preponderance is even more notable among the top 100 universities, of which over half of  are in the US and Canada. The United States has 70, or 35%,  of the top 200 universities, and 48 of the top one hundred.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Ode to Margit Beke Görög

by Madeleine Kando

A new person has appeared in my life. She is no stranger to me, but like the cashier at the supermarket or the bus driver that you greet every day but never really pay attention to, she was there, but not there. Now, suddenly, she has appeared on my doorstep and revealed herself to be so fascinating, that I can hardly contain myself.

I am talking about my maternal grandmother, Margit Beke. How, you may ask can someone who has been dead for 30 years, suddenly appear in someone’s life? This requires some explanation.

Margit and her husband Imre Görög lived in Budapest, Hungary, where I was born. After the end of the Second World War, my parents left with us, their 3 children, to go back to Paris, where they had worked and lived when the war broke out.

I remember my grandmother, not from memories of before we left, but from the few times that she and my grandfather managed to visit us in the West, which was not often since getting a tourist visa during the Communist regime, was difficult and rare.

They were 2 interesting older folk that a young child too busy discovering life, does not spend much time paying attention to, although details about their physical presence remain etched in my mind to this day. The immediate and palpable was what made an impression in my young life and my grandmother’s habit of frequently shrugging her right shoulder as if to adjust her bra-strap is as real today as all these years ago. I remember my grandfather’s gentle, intelligent eyes and his huge mustache, making me wonder about the shape of his invisible mouth. Above all, I remember the way they spoke French to us, with a singsong intonation typical of the Hungarian language. They were both mysterious, friendly strangers that came and then disappeared again. Not staying long enough for us to get attached to, but leaving behind a sense of unsatisfied curiosity. Read more...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Truth About First Twins

by Madeleine Kando

My twin sister was born 15 minutes after I entered this valley of tears. As we sprinted for the exit, she almost passed the finish line before me, but due to a last-minute trip up, she fell back and I came out first. It was a close call, though, and had it not been for the tight squeeze, it would have been a tie, branding us the first twins ever to be born at the exact same time.

I actually did all the leg work and my sister just went along for the ride, twiddling her little baby thumbs while sitting on her hiney, doing nothing.

This happened a long long time ago, a period in history when parents of twins were popping them out like rabbit turds, blissfully unaware of the extremely hazardous consequences of being a twin. Here you are, trying to take your first breath, exhausted, hungry, covered with slime, expecting all the attention to be focused on you, and then your twin comes along, stealing all the limelight. You get wrapped in a blanket and placed in a container, while everybody is turning their backs on you giving attention to this other thing. Read more...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Why do American Policemen Kill so Many People?

My home town of Sacramento just made the national (and international) news again. Sacramento has  enjoyed a good run lately: First, the   movie Lady Bird was one of the Oscar finalists. Both the movie and the director were hometown products. Something to be proud of. Then another recent  movie, The 5:17 to Paris, depicts three young men from Sacramento  who thwart an attempted terrorist attack on a European train. Two of them were in fact students at my university, and I met one of them.

And now, the trifecta is complete, except that  Sacramento’s third appearance on the world stage within a year is a tragic event: The utterly unnecessary killing of a young black man, Stephon Clark,  by two members of the SACPD.

So once again, I have to write about this  shameful feature of American society: For some reason, this country sticks out head and shoulders above other comparable countries in the number of homicides committed by cops. (I have written about this several times before. See Americans Killed by the Police and Violence, Racism and Law Enforcement.).

Here are some random comparative international statistics:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

In the Future

by Madeleine Kando

In the future there won’t be any poverty. All the poor people will have left, replaced by the economically challenged. There won’t be any more short people, fat people, ugly people or stupid people either. There will be a lot more vertically challenged, horizontally challenged, esthetically challenged and mentally challenged individuals, though.

In the future, there will be many more fast food restaurants, where the food will be so fast, that people won’t have time to chew. All cars will be equipped with puke bags, just in case you gag on the fast food you didn’t have time to chew. That’s ok though, cars will be self-driving, so you will be able to puke your heart out.

There will still be a few slow-food restaurants, but forget about the service. If you go to one of those archaic places and you hear someone say: ‘I’ll have THE chicken’, it’s going to be a mad-dash to the kitchen, trying to grab that one chicken before someone else does. Vegetarian dishes on the menu will be half-price, since vegetables don’t have legs to run with. Read more...