Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Troublesome Trio: Articles in the English Language



The word ‘the’ is the most commonly used word in the English language. We don’t give it a second thought; it’s there, like the air we breathe or the water we drink. Actually, it’s not really a word like ‘butter’ or ‘table’, since it can not even stand on its own two feet. If a ‘the’ walked through the door, you wouldn’t know what you were dealing with. At least with a ‘table’ or a ‘chair’, you know where you stand, but a ‘the’? You’d be waiting for the rest of the retinue to appear before you could make sense of the visitor.

The ‘the’, together with the ‘a’ and the ‘an’ make up the articles of the English language. Even though they are useless on their own, these little ‘function words’ pretty much ‘determine’ what people are talking about. If my husband came in and said ‘A guy just hit a car’ it might elicit a slight shoulder shrug, but if he said: ‘A guy just hit the car’, I would drop whatever I was doing and run outside to assess the damage. Read more...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are all Recipients of Public Pensions Crooks and Parasites?




It’s open season on (public) pensioners. The moronic consensus is that municipalities and states are going belly up because they over-committed to paying out fat pensions to their employees. Detroit is ground zero. The bankruptcy judge there has decided that the city does NOT have to honor its contracts with its retired employees. These folks will have to line up along with everyone else owed money by Detroit, i.e. probably get practically nothing. These are people whose average pension income, were it honored, would be $18,000 per year! Woopty doo!
Read more...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

David and Goliath: The Power of the People



In a small corner of this big country, there is a battle going on. Unless you live in New England, you probably haven’t heard about this place, but the locals call it ‘the North Country’, a very rural and densely forested part of Northern New Hampshire. It is sparsely inhabited and because of its poverty level it gets federal assistance, like many Indian reservations. Mobile homes are aplenty and unemployment is high as the North Country’s traditional industries – paper mills and other wood products manufacturing – have largely collapsed.

For the past few years, this beautiful area has been the battleground for the establishment of a huge high-voltage transmission route, given the name "Northern Pass". The plan is to construct more than 1,100 visually jarring steel towers up to 155 feet tall through a 180-mile swath of the state in order to reach lucrative energy markets in Southern New England. Read more...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joseph Tainter: 'The Collapse of Complex Societies.' Part Two



4. Are Science, Technology and Innovation our Ace in the Hole?

Today, most people believe that continued growth is the solution. The near-consensus is that it is possible to overcome the limits to increasing complexity through technological innovation, which is unlimited.

Tainter compares and contrast two views of sustainability in our future:

1. One is associated with names such as Jared Diamond. It argues that staying the present course will result in collapse, due to scarcity of environmental resources. This is the Malthusian perspective, or what I call the “Easter Island Model.”

 2. On the other side are the technological optimists, who reject Malthusianism and other doomsday scenarios. They believe in the infinite substitutability of new types of energy. Innovation is the key. As long as Research and Development are funded sufficiently, progress will continue. Read more...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Joseph Tainter: 'The Collapse of Complex Societies', Part One



Preface: This is not a mere a summary of Tainter’s work. I add my own examples and interpretations. I do this especially at the end, where I suggest some straight-forward solutions with which Tainter may not agree.

Joseph Tainter is an anthropologist and historian who teaches at Utah State University. In 1988, he published an important and disturbing book, The Collapse of Complex Societies. Since then, he has amplified his thesis, making it even more compelling two and a half decades later. In this essay, I review a brilliant lecture he gave at Northwestern University on December 10, 2010. This lecture can be accessed on You Tube at 'Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter'

1. Thesis:

Tainter brings to mind another doomsday prophet - Jared Diamond. That UCLA geographer’s thesis is well-known: In his 2005 book How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed , he proposes a neo-Malthusian analogy between the collapse of the Easter Islands and the possible imminent collapse of humanity. Read more...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Birth Pangs of Obamacare



All the problems plaguing Obamacare reminds me of a difficult delivery. Is Obamacare facing the wrong way? Is it going to be a stillbirth? Any newborn that enters a world so hostile to its arrival would make an immediate about face and want to return to the womb. But I, for one, am confident that Obamacare is here to stay.

The one problem with Obamacare that cannot be ignored is that it is so bloody complicated. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother with such a boring subject as health care, but this is a historical moment in US history, and I owe it to myself to understand the delivery process.

Comparing International Health Care Systems is the first step to guiding me through the muck of misinformation, most of it willfully created by the Republican Party. Ironically, it is Americans who should have the least difficulty recognizing all four models, since they are all part of the US’ fragmented health care system. Read more...

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Evil use of Language: On ‘Animal Equality'



"What you speak with your tongue,
You speak with your heart.
Say not the untrue thing."

If you ever doubted the power of language, I recommend you read 'Animal Equality: Language and Liberation' by Joan Dunayer. With lucidity, courage and brute honesty, the author shows us that the way we speak about animals is inseparable from the way we treat them.

Evil, in any form, has the nasty habit of gathering euphemisms around itself, until it grows to unmanageable proportions. ‘The final solution’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and other expressions are a prime example. But the way we use our language as it relates to nonhuman animals deserves a special medal for self-deception and evil.

In her book, Dunayer opens our eyes onto the world of hunting and fishing, zoo keeping and aquariums, vivisection and animal agriculture. Each branch has its own ‘language’, which is designed to justify the immense cruelty, suffering and pain that are inflicted on nonhuman animals. Through what Dunayer calls 'speciesism', similar to sexism or racism, we lie to ourselves. Read more...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Schizophrenia of the Republican Party: Anarcho-Libertarianism or Police State?



Republicans (“Conservatives”) are torn by two extremisms, both equally baneful: On the one hand, there is the Rand Paul libertarian wing, loons such as Michelle Bachmann and much of the Tea Party.

This group is the reductio ad absurdum of the seductive slogan launched by Ronald Reagan in 1980: “the government is the problem, not the solution.”

By now, it is conceivable that this group has managed to brainwash and capture a majority of American public opinion. Judging by website comments, letters to the editor, audience reaction to Jay Leno’s jokes, and small talk by the water cooler, most Americans now seem, like zombies in a trance, to agree that

the best form of government is a non-existent government,
all taxation is theft,
national mandatory health insurance is fascism,
dependence on food stamps and other government hand-outs is immoral,
all public employees are corrupt, incompetent and overpaid,
etc. Read more...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are Taxes a Form of Theft?

Are Taxes Theft? and

Tom’s previous post was blunt: Simple Solution: Raise taxes! Some readers commented that taxes should, in addition, be PROGRESSIVE. This means that the more you make, the greater PROPORTION of your income you should hand over to the government - not just a larger ABSOLUTE amount. Steve called himself an “Eisenhower Republican and a conservative.” He agreed with Eisenhower, during whose presidency the top marginal tax rate was over 90%.

We want to pursue this. For the sake of argument, let’s talk about a group, which we shall call the “$10 million+ a year club.”

Personally, if we were members of this club, we would be fine with what Steve, the “Eisenhower Republican” said, above. We wouldn’t mind handing over $9 million of our earnings each year, and live on the remaining one million.

How many people are there in the “$10 million+ a year club”? Anecdotally, we hear about the many NBA, NFL and MLB players who are there, along with dozens of Hollywood superstars, and of course thousands of business executives and assorted other professionals. Read more...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why do Americans want Health Care to Fail?



An Englishman was recently heard asking some American visitors: “Why do you Americans want healthcare to fail?”

Such a question can only be asked by a sober outsider, because American society is in the grips of a frenzy, as if drug-induced orgy of piling on Obamacare.

It began with ridiculing the technical difficulties experienced during Obamacare’s roll-out. The website didn’t work (very well). This attack is not lethal. Everyone has had a good time with this issue, including Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live. The White House can parry this attack, explaining that the technical problems will soon be solved, and that they have nothing to do with the substance of Obamacare.

Let me also remind you that the initial implementation of Bush’s drug plan in 2003 was an even greater fiasco, even though it was piggy-backing on an already existing bureaucracy - Medicare. Read more...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Fight About Obamacare is a Symptom of a Virulent Disease




The Right has lost the defund-Obamacare battle, but it won’t go quietly.

As the next “best” thing, the Right has brainwashed public opinion into believing that Obamacare is a “train wreck.” The Right is achieving this by harping on the technical problems associated with the program’s inauguration.

Yes, the program, the website(s), the software, the coding, all that does seem to be problematic. I don’t know whether these problems are unprecedented. I don’t remember how severe the “glitches” were when Social Security and Medicare were launched, or for that matter the new FBI website, or Apple’s iPad and iPhone.
Read more...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why We Need a New Narrative for Our Planetary Future


By Scott G. McNall and George Basile

Most of us understand that humans are heating up the planet. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by the end of this century summers will be hotter, sea levels higher, droughts more prolonged, and storms more severe. But there were anomalies in their original predictions of an ever-warming planet; in fact, there has been a slowing in the heating of Earth’s surface since 1998. Climate scientists noted that such “plateaus” are to be expected; that the overall trend since the beginning of the industrial revolution remains a steady upward progression in global warming. The panel upped its level of certainty from 90% to 95% —from “very likely” to “extremely likely”— that humans are responsible. The certainty has not been sufficient to overcome the ongoing debate about scientific predictions or drive increased action.
Read more...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Simple Solution: Raise Taxes

raise taxes

Regarding the never-ending political crisis in the US: The solution is obvious, but hardly anyone is able to see it, or has the courage to mention it, or is not willfully ignoring it. A combination of imbecility, cowardice and evil.

There are two aspects to the crisis: (1) the government shutdown and (2) the looming default. The second aspect is by far the most serious. It exists because of the government’s insane indebtedness. $17 trillion so far, i.e. 110% of GDP. Worse than Greece.

The growing debt is the PRIMARY CAUSE OF AMERICA’S IMMINENT RUIN. The government spends more on finance charges than on nearly any other budget item. Half as much as the military budget. Imagine what goods and services could be provided with the $400 billion squandered every year on finance charges! Read more...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Some Amusing European Experiences




As I already told you, I recently returned from Europe after a month. I went there primarily to participate in my mother’s 100th birthday celebration in Holland. She is truly a grand lady, a famous and brilliant photographer. Google her at www.atakando.com  or just type in her name - Ata Kando - and click on “images.” You’ll see some of the most beautiful photos imaginable.

There were six hundred and fifty people at her birthday celebration, including the mayor, the embassador, the media and assorted VIPs. It was held in a museum that devoted several floors to her photos. I’m incredibly proud of her, but I will delay telling you more about her and her work in a future post. Nor is today’s piece political. It’s more lighthearted and meant primarily to amuse you. Read more...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Are Public Opinion Polls Meaningless?




In the current political turmoil, all sides are relying more than ever on political polls to support their positions. This is called democracy. If Republicans can show that a majority of Americans oppose Obamacare, this proves that they are the good guys, just fighting for what most Americans want.

Similarly, newspaper articles and editorials invariably cite the results of opinion polls as proof of what the American people want. But isn’t it time to declare opinion polls meaningless?

I’m not talking about the oft-mentioned methodological flaws: leading questions, biased samples, and all the other gimmicks used to make sure that a survey produces the foreordained results which the interviewer is looking for.
Read more...

Friday, October 4, 2013

America: Stop Fighting and Fix your Roads, your Schools, Your Cities




I was in Europe when the latest phase of the Syrian crisis broke out. As everyone knows, Assad used chemical weapons which killed nearly 1500 civilians. Thereupon, President Obama announced that a “red line” had been crossed and that this required a new American bombing campaign.

Although I was on the other side of the world and entirely out of touch with American public opinion, my reaction was knee-jerk and immediate: President Obama, please don’t do it!

That the overwhelming majority of Europeans around me were adamantly opposed to bombing, was a predictable no-brainer. More surprising was the fact that the vast majority of Americans were also opposed to another military adventure.
Read more...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Driving in Holland



The Dutch are known for their liberal policies. They have legalized prostitution and the recreational use of Marijuana, same sex marriage and euthanasia. These policies are not entirely altruistic; by legalizing sex and drugs, the Dutch government is raking in millions in taxes. But these sources of revenue are peanuts compared to what the government earns as a result of their insanely complicated parking system and their exorbitant speeding fines.

In Holland the speed limit is neatly marked on signs the size of postage stamps. By the time you have taken out your binoculars, a camera has already fined you for speeding. Five or ten miles over the speed limit and you are in deep Dutch doo doo. Nobody in Holland seems to mind that the speed limit changes every five minutes or that road sections under construction have two or three different speed limits. It is not clear which one overrides the other. Read more...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Being Free from My Pasts



When I was very young, I was free from my past simply because I hardly had one. Like all toddlers, I was building my past at lightning speed, adding to it daily, constructing my past as if I was a born engineer. Had I known then, that a few years later I would want to tear down this painstakingly erected edifice, I could have saved myself a lot of hard work. I could have sat on my toddler hinie on the couch, eat toddler chips and watch Teletubbies.

My past started to become a burden at the ripe old age of four, when my family moved from my native Hungary to Paris. The little past that I had created, made me stand out. I was the 'other'. Four is pretty young to realize that your past is not acceptable to the people around you. I spoke French with a weird accent, my clothes looked funny and in the process of learning how to navigate the four-year old dominance hierarchy of my new country, my non-native past was as useful as a sandbag in the desert. 'Haute-toi!' my class-mates would say. Move! I obliged, not because I knew what the words meant, but because playground body language indicating that you are not wanted is universal. Read more...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Failure of Laissez-Faire Capitalism



Introduction: This is a discussion of Paul Craig Roberts’ book by that title. I just raced through the book. I couldn’t put it down. It hit me real hard, the way inescapable truth hits you. It codifies much of what I have been worrying about for decades.

Roberts’ central theme is simple: Globalism and free trade have been an unmitigated DISASTER for the United States. The country has been outsourcing the totality of its industry to China, to India, to Japan and to others. America’s de-industrialization is now complete. We are now a Third World country, but we don’t yet realize it, because the dollar still functions as the world’s reserve currency.

Who is Paul Craig Roberts? I remember him as a staunch Reaganite. He was assistant secretary of the treasury and co-founder of Reaganomics. He still defends “Supply-side” economics. He insists, however, that this is NOT related to “trickle-down” economics, and he is also mum about the so-called Laffer curve. Read more...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sisters and their Famous Brothers



I read somewhere that only three percent of the most illustrious figures of history are women. Ben Franklin, Einstein, William the Conqueror and Freud do not have female counterparts. It is as if the genius gene only gets passed on to sons, carefully skipping over daughters.

Famous men of history often had more sisters than brothers; Benjamin Franklin had seven sisters, Freud had five and Darwin had four. What happened to them? They all lived their lives, side by side with their famous brothers, only to vanish without a trace, almost as if they never existed. Were they less talented? Or did they have a different role to play, a different destiny?

Looking at the size of the families that these famous men grew up in, one wonders how anyone of the female sex could find the time to do anything but pop out babies. Women were baby factories, not much else. Josiah Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s father, had seventeen children. His first wife died giving birth to their 7th child, so he didn’t waste time and married Abigail Folger that same year, who bore him ten more children. She started at age 23 and had her last child at age 45. Josiah Franklin, 'made sure that each of his sons learned a trade', a noble endeavor, to be sure, but there is no mention of his many daughters being included in these paternal ambitions. Read more...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The United States is the 20th Best Country in the World and That isn't So Bad




1. Introduction:


One of my perennial concerns is the relative health and well-being of various countries. For example, I fret a lot about Mexico’s descent into lawlessness and anarchy. There used to be a saying, when the US stole Mexican territory and preyed upon Mexico in other ways as well, "Poor Mexico, so far away from God and so near the United States." Today, this could be reversed: "Poor America, so near Mexico." Could the narco-mayhem south of the border ebb over into the US?

The term "failed state" comes to mind. We know that some countries, for example Somalia, have ceased to be "countries" in any meaningful sense except as a swath of surface on a paper map. Is our next-door neighbor in danger of emulating places such as Somalia? Of approaching disintegration?

But the question is generic: How do different countries stack up, or rank, overall?
Read more...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What America Needs is a Good, Strong Socialist Party




Socialism: (sõˊshə lizˊ əm): A system of social organization which advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, etc. in the community as a whole. From the Latin socius: comrade.

In the United States, “Socialism” is taboo. It is sacrilegious. The label, when applied to a politician, is a death sentence. It is un-American. Centrist politicians such as President Obama and progressives such as economist Robert Reich struggle desperately NOT to be labeled “socialists.”

On the other hand, I am perfectly comfortable calling myself a socialist (I’m not running for office), and I also find it reasonable to call people such as Reich and even Obama at least “somewhat socialistic.”

You see, it’s all a matter of definition, a matter of degree: The definition with which I start this article (Random House) is just one possible definition. Ever since its beginnings in France in the early 1800s, Socialism has evolved into many different forms (see for example “Socialist Thought,” by Albert Fried and Ronald Sanders, Doubleday Anchor). The extreme forms of Socialism associated with Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao, and enacted in the Soviet Union and in other totalitarian states, have given Socialism a bad name. In the extreme, Socialism can indeed mean the total collectivization of the economy and the total expropriation of private property.
Read more...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Are You Prepared for Old Age?



People are afraid of old age. I am afraid of old age, even though I am old. I am way past my prime and looking at the flow chart of my life, I am probably where I will either flow into ‘you will live longer’ or ‘you are living on borrowed time’.

It’s really a dilemma. I am pretty sure I will live longer than today. I am not sick, I am not unhealthy, and I don’t feel really all that different from when I was in my 40’s, but I am. Many people die at my age, including my father. On the other hand, my mother, who is going to be a hundred next month, is still alive. So, it’s really a crapshoot, isn’t it?

But what I really wanted to talk about are the advantages of being older. Wouldn’t you like to know? Everybody does. Everybody is going to be old one day but we are all scared shitless. We don’t want to think about it. It’s too abstract. Weird, huh? We think about what ifs all the time. We think: ‘what if I lost my job?’ ‘What if my boyfriend left me?‘What if I got sick?’ But we never think: ‘what if I was old?’ That’s the thing, you see, there is this self-preserving mechanism. We never think what it's like to have kids until we have them. If we did, nobody would have kids. We never think about what hunger feels like until we are hungry. We never think about dying until we have to. Same thing with old age. We never think about old age until we are old, and then we are totally unprepared. Read more...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why Aren't the Best People in Charge?


By Tom Kando

Aristocracy: (ar/I stokrə sē): Rule by the best. From the Greek aristos (αριστος) : the best, and krátos (κρατος): force, or power.

Ancient Greek philosophers advocated that society should be governed by the best people. These philosophers included Aristotle, Socrates and especially Plato, whose “Republic” is an attempt to actually describe such an effort, and who even went to Syracuse in the hope of founding the ideal society.

So who are the best?

Plato and some others felt that they are the philosophers, who therefore should be in charge. Philosophy’s claim to the throne is that philosophy can be defined as the search for the truth. Philosophers have a better chance of knowing the truth than other people do. They are wiser. On that basis, they should rule.
Read more...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nostalgia for Paris




I just watched the finish of the Tour de France in Paris. I do this every year. Two reasons: (1) I am an avid biker myself, and a fan of the Tour for the past 60 years, since the days of legendary giants such as Fausto Coppi and (2) I grew up in Paris. Went to elementary school and high school there. First times I fell in love was with little French girls. First friends I had were french boys. First time I had fisticuffs, played hooky, got honor roll grades, saw Western movies, went camping, disobeyed my parents, got scholarly awards, wrote noteworthy papers, ran through city streets, suburban woods and subway stations at night, all of this happened while I was growing up as a Parisian boy. Read more...

Friday, July 19, 2013

England and France during the High Middle Ages




How many movies have you seen and books have you read about the history and the conflicts raging in England and in France during the High Middle Ages (1000-1400)? I just re-saw the wonderful mini-series Pillars of the Earth - based on Ken Follett’s great novel. Hollywood has produced an endless series of often highly entertaining films about this era - from many makes and remakes of Robin Hood to the movie version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, from many versions of Joan of Arc to excellent films such a the Lion in Winter and Becket, more recent productions such as Braveheart, The Kingdom of Heaven and many more.

My knowledge of English history is limited, that of French history better. I thought I’d try to draw a brief and somewhat coherent picture of one aspect of this era, namely the ceaseless fighting between the English and the French, a narrative which incorporates many of the stories which popular culture has popularized so often.
Read more...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The American Tourist in Europe: Still the "Ugly American"?


By Angie Picardo

The ‘ugly American’ stereotype is something that every American is aware of when they travel overseas. Given this self-awareness, is it still true that we are seen that way by the international community? There is some good news for American travelers; we may not be the worst tourists out there. Actually other nations might even see us more favorably than we see ourselves. According to a recent Living Social, poll the harshest critics of American tourists were actually other Americans. I was personally very aware of the ugly American stereotype when I travelled abroad for the first time, and in my conversations with Europeans I found to my surprise that most people were very curious to learn more about me. I have to admit that I was a little surprised by how interested Europeans were in getting to know a little bit more about Americans. Read more...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Euphemisms



The recent public lynching of Paula Deen over her one-time use of the N-word has motivated me to do some research on euphemisms. As a non-native speaker, I fully appreciate how much spice and color they add to the English language. I absolutely adore them. This is ironic, since the function of euphemisms is to avoid saying something unpleasant, offensive or taboo. So not saying something makes a language richer?

In the case of the N-word, the original word is still around, so we at least know what it means. But some other words have not been that lucky; the euphemism has completely obliterated the original word, killed it outright, knocked it off, rubbed it out, terminated it with extreme prejudice. The word 'bear', for instance is a euphemism for a taboo word denoting a large, dangerous, hairy killer. The original word has been lost forever. Read more...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Paula Deen and the Corporations: I Don't Get It


By Tom Kando

The corporate frenzy to dump Paula Deen has been mesmerizing - and upsetting.

One way to look at the Paula Deen scandal is socio-linguistically: language is culture. Deen used the N word. What meaning she attached to it when she used it, we’ll never know.  African Americans also use the N word sometimes - towards each other, in jest, in rap music, etc. We can assume that the meanings attached to the N word by Paula Deen and by black rappers differ. But I’ll talk about this in my next post. Today, I want to discuss the abhorrent politics of this flap:

I don’t get it. By now, the dumping is almost unanimous. First to go was her show on TV’s Food Network, soon followed by all the big ones - Wal-Mart, Caesar’s, Smithfield Food, Novo Nordisk, Home Depot, Sears, K-Mart, Walgreens, Target, etc. Then, even her publishers (Random House) dropped her, as did Amazon, without whom it’s almost impossible to retail books online. A few obscure, regional companies have yet to join the stampede, but it is, as I said, practically unanimous. Some of her competitors, like chef Anthony Bourdain, are also piling on, no doubt salivating at the prospect of picking up the pieces.
Read more...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Atheist Manifesto (Somewhat of a Book Review)



There must be an enormous amount of people who, like me, don’t really believe in the existence of a person with a long beard sitting on a cloud, passing judgment on everyone. They just don’t go about telling everyone how they feel. The ones that do are the activist atheists, the ones that speak for the rest of us.

Authors like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are explicitly FOR atheism, just like I am for animal rights. But their rational, often passionate arguments pale compared to Michel Onfray’s total destruction of religion in his book: ‘Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam’. Onfray sets out to dissect the Koran, the Bible and the Torah with the precision of a surgical procedure, leaving behind little piles of brittle bones, proving that the bulk of these texts were fabricated, not too different from the fraudulent texts of scoundrels like Joseph Smith. They were written by ‘too many people over too long a period of time’ to be historically correct.

This is not the first book I read about atheism, but it definitely made me stop and think hard about my own views. My thoughts go something like this: Read more...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?


By Tom Kando

What a mess! Opinions range from admiration for Snowden to loathing. Some worry about the potential harm he has done, while others are ecstatic about America’s worldwide embarrassment.

First, let me disqualify the sadistic anti-Americans who are orgasmic about the US government’s current troubles. They are the same knee-jerk zealots who danced in the streets on 9/11, arguing that 3000 American deaths pale compared to the dozens of thousands who die every month in the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere. As if one made the other right. Americans do not dance in the streets when thousands of people are pulverized in a foreign country.

Now don’t get huffy. I am no right-wing apologist for the increasingly Orwellian practices of the US government. All I am saying is: Please! Can we look at this in a nuanced fashion?
Read more...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Dry Spell



For a while now, my Muse has been on strike, stubbornly refusing to do her job of inspiring me to write. I go through the motions, poking my brain, trying to stimulate the writing reflex, zilch, nada.

I am sitting at my desk, frustrated, watching the birds go about their much more sensible business of waiting their turn around the birdfeeder, the squirrels madly chasing each other in the grass, their tails jerkily going up and down, trying to keep up with their owners’ frenzied activity.

The alarm on my electronic calendar rudely jars me out of my reverie, reminding me that National Grid is coming by to change our gas meter. I have five minutes to comb my hair, wipe the boogers out of my eyes and put some clothes on. Whoever shows up at this ungodly hour will have to suffer the consequences of morning breath and body odor.

I am in the kitchen making coffee, looking at the clock to see if I have time to go out and check on my newly planted seedlings. I feel a slight irritation brewing as I stir my coffee. My precious morning ritual of stepping into the dew covered garden in my p.j.’s to inspect the new growth has been disrupted. Read more...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Are Beauty Queens Stupid?


By Tom Kando

Like many husbands, I am often made to watch beauty pageants by my wife. The recent spate of hilarious moments has made it worthwhile, not the least because I am a social psychologist. I have been mesmerized by the brain shut-down process that takes place.

For example, on June 16, 2013, Miss Utah embarrassed herself in the Miss USA contest. In 2007, Miss teenage South Carolina’s performance was even more embarrassing. 

We could attribute these laughable moments to the inferiority and shallowness of American culture and education, or we could engage in stereotyping and dismiss these women as dumb bimbos. But that would not be adequate.

I bet you that miss teenage South Carolina has no trouble coming up with the necessary words when she gets into a vicious verbal fight over a boyfriend. I believe that the problem is situational. Answering a question intelligently, ANY question, is within anyone’s grasp, no matter how uneducated about facts one is.
Read more...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Should We Abolish The IRS, And The Government As Well?

By Tom Kando

As I said in my previous post, among the explosion of (alleged) Obama administration scandals, the IRS scandal is probably the most damaging. As everyone knows by now, the IRS discriminated against conservatives by raising the bar higher for groups such as the Tea Party when it comes to granting them tax exempt status. This action by some rogue elements of the huge IRS bureaucracy was incredibly stupid. I assume that the White House had nothing to do with it. Furthermore, it’s being blown vastly out of proportion. Rush Limbaugh compared it to the Holocaust!

What is most unfortunate about this scandal is that it feeds the already widespread anti-government frenzy of the past several years. Over the past couple of decades, the American plutocracy has succeeded - with its enormous unfairly acquired wealth - in brainwashing a majority of (white) Americans into a deep-seated conservatism bordering on anarchism. Read more...

Monday, June 10, 2013

How Badly Are Things Going For Obama?


By Tom Kando

I just returned from vacation. Although I did keep up with the news, I refrained from commenting on it. This was healthy, but frustrating. Now, it’s time for me to get back into politics. There is so much bad news. Where do I even begin?

A warning to conservative readers: I am as pro-Obama as ever. Let me just touch upon a few random recent events:

1. June 7: Another mass shooting, this one in Santa Monica: More blood on the hands of the NRA and all those opposed to stricter gun control. Meanwhile, the president’s gun control legislation is going nowhere.

By the way: the murderer was shot dead, as often happens in such cases. But here is my stance on this, as well as on capital punishment: Death - whether it’s suicide-by-cop or the gas chamber later on - is way too soft a punishment. To be sure, whenever the safety of law enforcement and of the public dictates killing the mass murderer, there is no choice. However, it would be better to keep these animals alive. They should be forced to suffer, deprived of freedom, living in a stinking cell for the rest of their days, constantly aware of and confronted by their monstrous actions. That would be true punishment.
Read more...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Dimple Effect

by Madeleine Kando

Have you noticed that the majority of people you see on t.v. have dimples? It makes you wonder if their job application includes a line-item that reads: 'Are you or have you ever been endowed with dimples?'

I don't know what it is about dimples. It certainly draws the attention, like an exclamation mark after a sentence. When I watch an anchor with dimples, I stop listening to what she says, completely caught up in what her dimples are doing. They come and go, grow and vanish, travel up and down. Dimples have a life of their own.

I suppose dimples are endearing, it gives someone a cute appearance, reminiscent of a child. It makes you want to squeeze those cheeks. Actors also are often blessed with this kind of deformity. Yes, it is considered a deformity by the medical profession. It is caused by a split in the zygomaticus major, the muscle that pulls on the corners of your mouth when you smile. Normal people, like you an me have a single zygomaticus, but dimpled people have a zygomaticus in the shape of a catapult. The skin gets pulled in when they smile, like the strap on the catapult. Think of it as making a quilt, make a stitch, pull on the string and voila, a dimple appears. Read more...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy Un-Birthday

by Madeleine Kando

It's my birthday today. Everyone expects me to be happy on the one day in the year when I cannot ignore how old I am. The rest of the year, when I can delude myself about my age, I am happy, but then my birthday comes along and everything gets ruined.

What is it about birthdays anyway? I suppose it is a way to celebrate the day we were given life, but then why not celebrate that gift every day? Isn't every day of our lives a new gift? The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland had it right: there are 364 un-birthdays and only one birthday in a year to celebrate. Some religions even forbid celebrating birthdays, because they see it as turning attention to the self, away from God. Celebrating birthdays has a pagan origin, which God doesn't like. It is rooted in astrology and only Kings and other important people had birthdays. People like you an me had to wait a few centuries to get our birthdays.

Birthdays do have a useful function, however. They help us set social and developmental markers through life, they tell us when to start drinking and voting (usually they go together) and when we enter adolescence or middle age. They are like notches on the measuring stick of our life. It is also a cruel reminder of how many notches we have left.

But what is it that we are measuring, exactly? Are we measuring the reality of our own existence or a view of ourselves imposed by conventional expectations? Who says that we are all born with a certain amount of 'time', like a handful of pocket change that we are told to spend wisely? When someone is ready for retirement, a big chunk of their change is already spent, hopefully 'wisely', on a brilliant career, on having raised children, on having earned enough money for their golden years, while bouncing a happy grandchild on their knees? Does it mean that if one hasn't accomplished all that, celebrating a birthday is not a happy event? Read more...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Disconnect: Should We Burn All The Computers and Smart Phones?


By Tom Kando

The new movie “Disconnect” is impressive. It craftily weaves together three stories. Each story is tragic, realistic and an illustration of life’s miseries in the Internet Age.

One of the three tragedies involves identity theft. A decent but troubled couple falls victim to the nightmare of identity theft, and its devastating consequences. The crisis is triggered by the wife’s unwise habit of chatting online with strangers. The habit is altogether forgivable, especially for this sad and lonely wife, but it is unwise nevertheless.

A second sad tale is about television reporter Nina, who gets mixed up in the sordid teen porn business. Andrea Riseborough plays the part beautifully, as she vacillates between her Good Samaritan motives and her self-preservation instinct.

The third subplot is about two unexceptional high school kids who cyber-bully one of their classmates. The victim is nerdlike but very simpatico. The bullying has devastating consequences.

So the film is basically about malfunctioning relationships, and its point is simple: the relationships are all electronic - certainly at the outset. The movie is about the medium.



Disconnect” confirms all the dislikes and prejudices of an old Luddite such as myself. It focuses on the horrors of the Internet Age, as opposed to its benefits.
Read more...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Ohio Kidnapings: The Roots of Anomie

Shirley Baker, Salford (1964)
By Madeleine Kando and Tom Kando

It seems scarcely believable that Ariel Castro, the man charged with kidnaping, raping and torturing three Cleveland women for over a decade, could have gotten away with such atrocities without anyone being aware of what he was doing.

The neighborhood where Ariel Castro lived is described as ‘close-knit’, with mostly Spanish speaking residents of Puerto Rican descent. How can a neighborhood be “close knit” when the sight of three naked women with chains around their necks, crawling on their hands and knees in someone's backyard only causes a mild reaction, enough to make a call to the local police, but not much more? Shouldn't the neighborhood be all up in arms about something like that? Are we living in a jungle or a civilized society?

It is clear that this monster Castro was the ultimate con artist. He fooled everyone, including the people closest to him, into thinking that he was a regular Jo. ‘Ariel Castro was always happy, nice, respectful’ says a neighbor-friend. But what does that mean, exactly? Does that mean that there was nothing seemingly wrong with the abuser, or is it possible that it's an indication of what's wrong with the concept of 'neighbor' in America? How much neighborly interaction is there in a 'close-knit' neighborhood? Read more...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Just So Stories of Evolutionary Psychology

by Madeleine Kando

Throughout my teaching career, I have been struck by how different little boys behave from little girls. I knew in my gut that I wasn’t stereotyping. At dress-up time, boys rarely asked to wear a tutu and girls stayed away from the pirate costumes and cowboy hats. During free-play, the girls immediately made a bee-line to the beanie baby basket and the miniature tea set, while the boys congregated on the gym mats pushing and shoving each other to be first to do somersaults.

If my school had been in Sweden, I would have not been allowed to call my students ‘boys and girls’, I would have had to call everyone ‘buddies’. Sweden is in the vanguard of countries that try to create a ‘gender-equal’ society where there is no discrimination based on a person’s sex. The country even added a new gender neutral pronoun, ‘hen’ to its language. Some schools have banned ‘free play’ altogether, because that’s when hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed of bullying start. Parents and teachers try to control how children form friendships, what games they play and what songs they sing, all in the name of gene neutrality. (See Slate Magazine: ‘Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen’).

I am sure the supporters of Evolutionary Psychology would frown upon these new social developments. To them, differences between the sexes, including many behaviors, are a result of natural selection, it is encoded in our genes and trying to do away with those differences by manipulating external factors will only lead to trouble. Read more...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Modern Man's Self-Strangulation: Max Weber's Iron Cage of Bureaucracy


By Tom Kando

In his seminal “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Max Weber spoke of the “iron cage” in which rationalization and bureaucracy increasingly trap (Western) man.

Do we not all feel Weber’s Iron Cage of Bureaucracy, increasingly strangling us, destroying common sense and humanity? Here are some examples:

1. I play in a community band. We give free concerts - in churches, in city parks, etc. So yesterday I go to my exercise fitness center with a flyer about our next concert, and I ask them to post the flyer on one of the club’s bulletin boards. Their response: “No sir, we don’t do that here.” I explain that I’m not selling anything, that our band’s performances are free, etc. The answer remains the same: “No sir, our regulations forbid this.”

2. Our doctor’s secretary Michelle calls us at home. The purpose of her call is to remind my wife Anita that she has a routine appointment tomorrow. I pick up the phone. My wife Anita isn’t home. I ask Michelle what it’s in regard to. She refuses to answer my question. She won’t give me the message to remind my wife that she has an appointment tomorrow. Privacy law prohibits her to do so, she says. She asks Anita to call her back. This will require 2 or 3 more phone calls, telephone tag, being put on hold, etc. before Anita finds out what Michelle’s call was about (a useless call to begin with, since Anita was perfectly aware of her appointment tomorrow anyway).
Read more...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Israel

by Madeleine Kando

One of the many reasons I wanted to visit Israel was that I am Jewish on my mother's side and have always had many unanswered questions about my Jewish roots. I was born in Hungary in the Second World War and our family had to hide from the Germans on a farm. I don't remember any of this, but I have been told the stories many times as I was growing up. So, finally this spring, my husband and I cut the Gordian knot and bought tickets to spend a brief ten days in this small, enigmatic country.

We were looking forward to find relief from the freezing weather in Boston, but as soon as we landed in Tel Aviv, a strong wind blowing in from the desert greeted us. Like two jet-lagged zombies, we made our way to the Hertz desk on auto-pilot and only after we had driven off in an ashtray smelling, banged up rental car, did we discover that the outlet for the GPS was broken. Hoping that we were following the road signs to Jerusalem, where, according to the picture on the internet, we had booked a room on a quaint little road winding up a hill, we tried to cope with the typical disorientation of being in a foreign country, one where even the writing looks like elegant graffiti.



Upon entering Jerusalem, we learned right away that traffic lights take half a day to turn green, which gave us ample time to notice that half the city is populated by Hasidic Jews. Women in black tights pushing prams, men in long black coats and fur hats, children with long tresses and shaved foreheads.. Entering Jerusalem is like stepping into one of those faded photographs in a Jewish history book. Read more...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Overreacting to Terrorism


by Tom Kando

After the Boston Marathon bombing  I suggested - sacrilegiously - that terrorism is LESS important than we are generally made to believe. Let me  add to my argument.

(By the way, I am a criminologist and I taught the Violence and Terrorism class at Cal State for about a decade. While this does not make me  infallible, it does mean that I am at least as well informed as the next guy).

Here is my main thesis again: Terrorism has come to loom very large in modern life NOT only  because of the heinous acts that are perpetrated by heinous individuals from time to time, but also  because of our OVERREACTION to those acts.
Read more...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston: How Important is Terrorism?


 By Tom Kando

Since April 15, I have been wondering whether to add my voice to the cacophony about the Boston Marathon  bombing on Patriots’ Day, and if so, do I have anything original to add? Well, I have found my angle. Taking  a big risk,  I am going to argue that this terrorist attack  was less important than we are made to believe...

How dare you, Kando! You callous idiot! What if YOUR 8-year old son had died? Etc. My Dutch friends might ask, ‘Jees,  Kando do you always have to be ‘in the contramine’? (do you always have to be the devil’s advocate?) You are right. I am a terribly  insensitive person for saying this. Nevertheless, I will now plough through with my argument: You see, I am worried that once again we are going to draw  the wrong lesson from this heinous act. Heinous it was, indeed. I hope that we catch the culprits and that we punish them harshly. I also support vigorous efforts to maximize security and to fight crime and terrorism.
Read more...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Interesting Notes about Europe

By Tom Kando

I did some TV channel surfing while in Holland recently. The news showed the massive anti-gay marriage demonstrations in Paris. French President Francois Hollande had just proposed legalizing gay marriage. A few days later, hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen marched down the Champs Elysées AGAINST this. Isn’t this interesting? In the US, 10 states have legalized gay marriage. In Europe, 8 out of 50 countries have done so. As to the pending US Supreme Court decisions regarding California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA, who knows...For now, it appears that the US and Europe are just about tied for bigotry. Read more...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Surprises of Flying


By Tom Kando

I recently returned from Holland. I do a lot of long-distance flying. It may sound like fun and glamorous, but at my age, it’s becoming less so. Let me suggest the following variant of Murphy’s Law:

Only one thing is sure, when you fly long-distance: There will be “surprises.” Put differently: The greatest surprise of any long-distance trip is if there are no surprises. For example: This time, the “surprise” happened upon my arrival at Amsterdam international airport. When I get there, I usually take the train straight from the airport to my final destination, Alkmaar, a city about an hour north of Amsterdam.

As usual, I retrieved my baggage and cleared customs and passport control rapidly, and I immediately walked up to the train ticket booth inside the great arrival hall to buy my ticket to Alkmaar. There, the clerk tells me (and  dozens of other passengers) that all train traffic from the airport has been halted. Why? Because someone has just committed suicide by jumping in front of a train between the airport and Amsterdam. The clerk informs us nonchalantly that this happens frequently. He advises me to take the bus instead.
Read more...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Speciesism


By Tom Kando

Madeleine is to be commended for her eloquent plea for animal rights. I am also for animal rights. I appreciate vegetarianism, I love my cats, I would never dream of hurting animals, I oppose unnecessary animal research (e.g. for beauty products), I feel that poachers and others who kill animals for their pelts, ivory or other parts should be punished severely, I find hunting and fishing cruel.

I do not disagree per se with anything Madeleine says, and I wouldn't want to set up this conversation as a polemic between us, or see my earlier post on abortion being used as a straw man (see http://european-americanblog.blogspot.com/2013/02/abortion-animal-rights-and-levels-of.html) For example, I didn’t write that the mentally disabled are less sentient and are therefore more expendable. I didn’t write that rationality should be the criterion for expendability. SENTIENCE, yes. And this puts Madeleine and me in agreement, since sentience and her criterion - the capacity to suffer - are synonymous.
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Animal Rights **

by Madeleine Kando

As an argument in his discussion on: Abortion, Animal Rights, and Levels of Consciousness, Tom says that: ‘The criterion for destroying life should be: The higher the level of consciousness and sentience of an organism is, the more evil it is to kill it.’

Does that mean that it is less evil to kill the mentally disabled? Don’t they have a lower level of sentience than someone without a mental handicap?

The fundamental question is, should moral equality be based on characteristics such as ‘sentience’ and ‘rationality’? When more weight is given to mental capacity over other abilities in deciding who to give equal rights to, we are entering a slippery slope. Read more...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Equality for Dummies **

by Madeleine Kando

For the past two weeks I have been caught in a mahlstrom, you know, one of those giant funnels that drag ships down to the depths of the ocean, never to be seen again.

My daughter asked me: 'Mom, what does equality mean?' I was naïve enough to think that I could give a simple answer, albeit with a little googling in secret, so that she wouldn't think I was a total nincompoop.

But the more I googled, the more I realized that the meaning of equality is so slippery and complex that it completely boggled my mind. I took solace in realizing that it had also boggled, or at least occupied the minds of numerous philosophers for the past several millennia. So I have resigned myself to the fact that it would take more time than I have left on this earth to truly wrap my head around the concept. Read more...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Post-Script to my Recent Post on Fascism and Socialism


By Tom Kando

As I re-read my post “Are Fascism and Socialism the same?”I realize an important omission, which I now wish to remedy.

I almost entirely forgot to mention what may be the single most important difference between Fascism and Socialism:

Fascism wants to return to the past, which it glorifies, whereas Socialism is geared to the future, sometimes a utopian future. Mussolini wanted to build a second Roman Empire. Hitler, a great admirer of Wagner, glorified Teutonic mythology. Fascism is in some ways a perversion of German Romanticism - a longing for a return to nature, to tribalism and to the noble savage. Fascism is anti-modern and anti-science. It appeals to emotion. Its aim is to destroy modern society and to return to a glorious (and mythical) past, when men were real men (warriors, and the like) and women were true damsels (or at least breeders). Fascism is, literally, reactionary: It is a reaction against modernity.
Read more...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Should The Republican Party Be Preserved?


By Tom Kando

There are many discussions in the media (Meet the Press, even the liberal MSNBC, etc.) about how to preserve the GOP. “Reasonable” Republicans (as opposed to Tea Party extremists) like Bobby Jindal are quoted by pundits. Everyone agrees that the party must heed the country’s growing demographic diversity, court Hispanics, etc. Even multiple loser Karl Rove is on this bandwagon. The consensus is that otherwise, the Republican Party will become a regional, primarily Southern, white, male, non-urban, upper middle-class party, increasingly irrelevant to national politics.

First, I’d like to remind you that all the talk about the GOP’s demise is, like Mark Twain’s death, premature: Nationally, Republicans control the Supreme Court and the House. And at the state level they control more governorships and legislatures than do Democrats. Furthermore, they are clever and successful cheaters, as more and more states pass voter disenfranchisement laws and gerrymander their districts in such a way as to perpetuate rule by the affluent, white, conservative minority of the population.
Read more...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Englishmen Can Be Rude, Too


By Tom Kando

There is always the widespread feeling that the British are classy. For example, Downton Abbey is wildly popular at this time, but the stereotype is longstanding. As are other stereotypes, such as the rude Frenchman, the jolly but sexually harassing Italian, the humorless German/Swiss (take your pick), the duplicitous Greek/Hungarian (take your pick), the miserly Dutchman/Jew (take your pick).

The British (and other Anglos, such as Australians and Canadians) usually come off relatively unscathed in these prejudices - probably because Anglo-Saxon culture still dominates the world, even though more and more precariously.

But I want to lodge a contrary note: My wife, my children and I have traveled around the world for decades, visiting dozens of countries, including Australia, Britain and just about every other European country. I must tell you: Many of the meanest people we have encountered over the years were English, or some other form of Anglo-Saxon. Here is a sample of our experiences:
Read more...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Many Worlds Theory


by Madeleine Kando

I heard a snippet on public radio the other day about a new technology that allows a viewer to change the outcome of a movie. Plymouth University researcher Alexis Kirke has developed a technique that reads the minds (and bodies) of the audience by measuring heart rate, muscle tension, brainwave activity and perspiration, to monitor their reaction. Several versions of a movie are shot in advance and depending on the audience's 'reaction', the appropriate version of the next scene if selected.

It's too bad this wasn't available when so many great movies were made way back when. I have always been in the habit of mentally rewriting the ending of movies. Take a movie like 'The Manchurian Candidate'. The Soviets capture and brainwash Raymond Shaw (played by Lawrence Harvey) to become an assassin for their cause. He is supposed to kill the US Presidential Candidate, but after unwittingly shooting his sweetheart who happens upon the scene, Raymond instead takes revenge and shoots his mother, who is the 'operative' in the plot. The movie ends tragically when Raymond shoots himself after realizing what he has done and has been forced to become.

I fantasized so many times about the ending of this movie. Marco, Raymond's army buddy, played by Frank Sinatra, opens the door to the small sound booth where Raymond has positioned himself, just too late to prevent Raymond from quickly pointing his rifle at himself and pull the trigger. Why the hell didn't Marco climb the stairs a bit faster?

I read somewhere that in quantum physics, nothing is certain, as proven by the imaginary 'Schrodinger's Cat' experiment in which the cat inside his box is both dead and alive, until you actually look inside and only then does the poor cat have to make a choice. There are two potential cats, one is alive and the other is dead. It's the act of looking that determines the outcome. (Actually there are an infinite number of potential cats in the box, all waiting to collapse into a real cat).
Read more...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is Hungary Creeping Back Towards Fascism?


By Tom Kando

I just finished reading Paul Lendvai’s book “Hungary: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism.” (Hurst and Company, London, 2012). The book is a well-documented account of the country’s political history since the fall of Communism in 1989. It confirms the bad news which we have been getting lately, namely that Hungary is beginning to exhibit fascist tendencies.

I am a Hungarian expatriate. I have been back to my birth country many times. I have been rooting for Hungary all my life, hoping that it will finally join the ranks of the free, prosperous West. But once again, the country seems to be turning in the wrong direction.

The history of Hungary in the 20th century (and before) has been a nightmare. Its location at the crossroads of warring empires has been a curse. It was trampled by invading Turks, Germans, Russians, Austrians and others. It has swung wildly from fascism to communism, from the role of oppressor to that of oppressed, from revolution and liberation to reaction. It was dismantled, and its size was reduced by two thirds. Miraculously, it survives.
Read more...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Abortion, Animal Rights, and Levels of Consciousness


By Tom Kando

In 1973, the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. Back then, the country was relatively rational. America was a modern, scientific, pragmatic country, not unlike Western Europe, Canada and a dozen other parts of the world. In the words of the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, we had a sensate, materialistic, empiricist culture.

Since then, a sort of counter-revolution has gained momentum. Over the past few decades, church attendance has remained stable or according to some reports, increased.  Creationism is as popular as ever. Nearly a century after the Scopes “Monkey” trial (1925), almost half the population continues to believe in it, and to reject evolution. Concern about climate change has declined a great deal since the 1990s (Gallup). Fewer people now accept the fact that man-made global warming has been scientifically proven. The number of pro-choice Americans is at an all-time low (Gallup). Clearly, America has become a less “scientific” and a more irrational, absolutist country. In Sorokin’s words, we have become a more ideational, faith-based culture based on belief rather than on fact.
Read more...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Women in Combat

by Madeleine Kando

"The Army is the supreme symbol of duty, and as long as women are not equal to men in performing this duty, they have not yet obtained true equality. If the daughters of Israel are absent from the army, then the character of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Israel) will be distorted." David Ben Gurion

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has decided to lift a ban that prohibited women from serving in combat units. I have never served in the military and wonder if I have a right to voice my opinion on this matter, but my instinct tells me that this decision is of historical importance.

Fighting hand to hand, which combat units are designed to do, should be the least desirable job for any soldier, male or female. That's where the killing occurs. But it is also given the highest respect, both in the military and amongst civilians. And more importantly, it is a stepping stone to advancing your career. If women are denied combat experience, they will also be denied opportunities to climb up the military ladder.

One of the reasons history books are populated by men rather than women is because women didn't take part in the fighting. Glory, fame and admiration went to the winner of a battle. There are exceptions, of course. The Amazons, a race of female warriors, have survived oblivion through Greek mythology and the Valkyries, female Viking warriors are celebrated in Norse mythology. There is a question whether the Amazons and the Valkyries really existed, but almost half of the bodies found in 14 Viking burial grounds belonged to women, and some were buried with the swords and shields they presumably used in life. And of course there is good old Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans who defeated the English in the Hundred Years' War. She definitely was flesh and blood. She was burnt at the stake for her valiant effort to save France. Read more...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Are Fascism and Socialism the Same? Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Other Ignoramuses Believe so.


By Tom Kando

Although I didn’t write the January 18 post “Obamacare, Fascism and Brown Rice,”, I’ll piggy-back on it. It gives the professor (me) a chance to give a short introductory lecture in political science and history.

Those who try to equate fascism and socialism, or speak of the two in one breath, show appalling ignorance of politics and history. Ever since Obama became president, some on the Right have tried to paste the “fascist” label on him and on his policies, and they have used the terms “fascist” and “socialist” interchangeably. Many in the Tea Party have done this, as have people like Mike Huckabee, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other loons, and now John Mackey. I already wrote about this preposterous distortion of reality in my March 16, 2010 post "Is America Going Fascist and Gay?"

As I wrote nearly three years ago, these folks have things upside down. Anyone who knows anything about 20th century history knows that fascism and socialism have always been each other’s worst enemies, as in the Spanish Civil War, the war between Nazi Germany and Russia, and many other conflicts. I know, I know, there was the Molotov-Ribbentrop “monster pact” of 1939, when the Nazis and the Soviets tried to collaborate. And yes, “Nazi” means “National Socialism.” But don’t be mistaken: Fascism/Nazism and Socialism are each other’s opposite: The former is on the Right, and latter on the Left. And the distinction between Right and Left remains very meaningful, today in America as much as it was in 20th century Europe.
Read more...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Six Questions About Lance Armstrong


By Tom Kando

I watched both of Oprah’s interviews with Lance Armstrong, mesmerized. The second one was even more gripping than the first. Lance choked, when talking about the burden he has placed on his 13-year old son Luke. Still an act? Still a lying psychopath? You decide.

Despite the incredible amount of coverage and the enormous brouhaha, many things remain obscure. Here are six questions to which I don’t have answers:

1. How did Armstrong pass over 500 drug, urine and blood tests, during his career? With all the cheating and the increasingly stringent and sophisticated testing, how did he get away with it so often? I am sure many other racers got away with cheating as well, but many did not. Why was Lance so exceptionally successful at cheating?
Read more...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Obamacare, Fascism and Brown Rice

by Madeleine Kando

Yesterday, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey made a splash when, during an NPR interview he characterized President Obama‘s Affordable Care Act as “fascism.” I decided to write him a letter.

Dear Mr. Mackey*:

If I could remember how long I have been a patron of our local Whole Foods store I would certainly tell you, but it’s been too long and I’d rather not be reminded of how much of my hard earned money I have put in your pocket over the years.

I know you like to be in the limelight and voice your political opinions, although I have read somewhere that it is sometimes a sign of an overblown ego. But that doesn’t apply to you, I am sure.

Your recent comment comparing Obamacare to Fascism was not as well received as you might have hoped, although hardly a shock for someone who is familiar with your strong support of ‘consumer-driven’ health care. You have compared Obamacare to Socialism in the past, so I am not surprised at your recent statement that:

‘[Obamacare] is more like fascism than socialism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what’s happening with our healthcare programs and these reforms.’

I would like to correct you on two points: First, under Socialism it is the people who own the means of production, not the government. I am afraid you are confusing Socialism with Communism. Second, comparing Obamacare to Fascism makes even less sense. Fascism is best described as a merging of corporate and government interests. How, exactly, does Obamacare fit into this definition? Read more...

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Review of the Movie "Zero Dark Thirty"

By Tom Kando

This is the story of Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to kill  Osama Bin Laden. The mission has also been  called operation Geronimo, the code name given to Bin Laden by the CIA.

The movie describes the ten-year hunt for   Bin Laden and its successful conclusion.  It describes an incredible sequence of black ops, CIA board meetings, “black sites” where detainees are being tortured, explosive Pakistani streets, suicide bombings,  and of course the final assault on the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.



In one word: awesome. The central character - better word: heroine -  is CIA operative “Maya,” played brilliantly by Jessica Chastain. Through dogged determination, she is able to  almost single-handedly track down and  finally eliminate the world’s number one public enemy. She survives assassination attempts and overcomes Washington bureaucracy. One of the many controversies surrounding the movie is the extent to which the Maya character is fictitious. It is not, although it is probably embellished. Read more...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Homicide: Locally and Globally

By Tom Kando

As I open the morning newspaper, hardly a day goes by when I don’t see a notice of another gun death  in the greater Sacramento  region. The small notices are usually  hidden on a secondary  page. The forever snuffing out of a  human life  is so banal, so everyday.  On January one  of this year, I started keeping count.

As of January nine , the Sacramento Bee   has reported  9 people  shot to death in the greater Sacramento area. Yes - one per day. This includes one suicide, one suspect killed by a cop,  and the double murder on New Year’s eve.

If this trend continues, we will end up with 365 deaths by gun for the year. I know, my total so far is  a mishmash. Still, gun deaths are gun deaths. Read more...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ashes to Ash: Remembering Metropolitan State Hospital



Mark is taking us on a nature walk again, this time through a thick pack of snow. The area is called 'Beaver Brook North Reservation', a 300 acre piece of conservation land in Belmont. It is a beautiful winter day, the sky is blue, the air is crisp and the branches on the trees are motionless, patiently waiting for the birds and squirrels to come forage for food or sing their morning song.

Our walk is taking us over a small wooden bridge where we peer into a brook with patches of ice that resemble delicate, transparent lily pads. We walk through fields where the invasive burdock lies dormant, waiting for the spring when it will conquer more of this native habitat. We pass by tall cherry trees whose bark looks like burnt cornflakes, next to some slender hazelnuts with bark as smooth as a babies' bottom. A patch of oaks whose branches droop under  the weight of blackened gouty oak galls, some others being choked by climbing ivy. Read more...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 NFL Playoffs: Kando's Prognostications


By Tom Kando

Dear Readers: As has become my custom, now that the regular NFL season is over, I offer you Kando’s 2013 post-season prognostications

1. Wild-card Round (Jan. 5-6)
Houston vs. Cincinnati: Houston
Indianapolis vs. Baltimore: Indianapolis
Green Bay vs. Minnesota: Green Bay
Seattle vs. Washington: Seattle

 2. Divisional Round (Jan. 12-13)
Houston vs. New England: New England
Indianapolis vs. Denver: Denver
Green Bay  vs. San Francisco: San Francisco
Seattle vs. Atlanta: Atlanta
Read more...