Monday, December 29, 2014

In Praise of Immigrants



I am an immigrant. A documented one, from a Northern European country. I am an immigrant through and through and proud of what I have become because of it. I began my immigrant career at the age of four, when my family moved to France from Hungary, right before the Iron Curtain closed off many of the countries of Eastern Europe and made them satellite states of the Soviet Union.

A child of a mixed marriage between a Jew and a Gentile, born amongst the rubble of World War II, I became a political refugee and grew up in Paris and Amsterdam. You couldn't ask for a better apprenticeship if you are an aspiring immigrant.

I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege of living my life where several cultures meet. Maybe because of my gypsy roots, I have always felt a sense of adventure by moving about and living in new places. There was a childish excitement brewing in me, especially when I came to America. It was huge, wild and seemed to fit my disorderly and chaotic nature. Read more...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview: Funny and Audacious, or in Bad Taste?



 We saw “The Interview” the first night it was out. It was a full house. We had to use Fandango, which until then I thought was the most useless company in the world...

My purpose today is not to summarize the movie for you, but to discuss the REACTION to it.

I liked the film a lot. I found it extremely funny and politically relevant. So sue me for bad taste.

By now most people know what it’s about: two American tabloid-TV show hosts are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s baby-faced supreme leader Kim Jong-un. The two men - played by James Franco and Seth Rogen - are bumbling buffoons. I already knew that Rogen is funny, but I was surprised by how funny James Franco can be. Read more...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Texas vs. California: Who's Got the Bragging Rights?




Red states are conservative, Republican, and they are in the South or in the middle of the country. Blue states are progressive, Democratic, and they are in the North or on the coasts. Texas epitomizes the red states, California the blue ones.

There is a mythology that Texas is  immensely successful and that  California is a  screw-up. Texas governor Rick Perry tried to exploit this when he came to California to steal jobs.

The reality is that Texas ranks number one in the country in one respect above all: bragging. This has always been so.

It is true that Texas is somewhat large. But if surface size were the most important criterion, Alaska should brag even more than Texas. Another advantage Texas has had, for a century or so, is oil. This brought some economic benefits, for example, no need for a state income tax.
Read more...

Friday, December 19, 2014

You Americans Have no Idea Just how Good you Have it with Obama



My friend Amir Jabery just sent me this brief article by a Canadian journalist.
It’s priceless; it’s an A+.
I HAD to share it with you all, dear blog readers.
I transcribed the article, so as to make it more readable:

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Read more...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Dutch Obsession with Diminutives



The Dutch are statistically the tallest people on earth. Not only are they tall, but every time I travel to Holland, they seem to have grown taller. Whatever feeling of confidence and superiority my above-average height might give me in the US, it evaporates the moment I arrive at Schiphol airport, and start to navigate my way through a sea of giants. It's hard to get used to feeling 'short', even if it's just for a week or so.

You would expect this propensity for height to spill over in the way the Dutch speak, with bombastic, aggrandizing words and phrases. But it's just the opposite. The Dutch are extremely fond of diminutives. They add the suffix '-je' or '-tje' to practically any part of speech. When I visit my friend Edith in Baarn, we often go for a 'fiets tochtje', a little bike ride (even though they might take up to three hours). We'll stop on the way for a 'kopje coffee met een gebakje', a little cup of coffee with a little desert. On our way back, we'll go into town and buy a 'jurkje', a little dress or hunt for a 'koopje', a little bargain. It's all little this and little that in Holland. Read more...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Obsessive-Compulsive Hillary Hatred Disorder




On October 26, I posted an article titled Obsessive-Compulsive Obama Hatred Disorder Today’s article is a parallel piece:

I am prompted to do this by Alex Seitz-Wald’s recent article Where is Hillary on Torture? which appeared on the Left/progressive site Reader Supported News.

The article (correctly) complains that Hillary Clinton has not spoken out (enough) about the use of torture on terrorism-related detainees. But what I want to focus on are the comments which follow the article: They unanimously express strong hatred for Ms. Clinton. For example:

● Billy Bob and dquandle: “(Killary) also showed interest in invading Syria and Iran...and starting WWIII in Ukraine while obliterating Libya.”

● Ritawalpoleague: “Hill the Shill will say anything to up her chances of grabbing the nomination...”
Read more...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hand to Mouth: Poverty in America



In her recent book 'Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America', author Linda Tirado discusses what it's like to work 3 low wage jobs and still not be able to make ends meet. She openly and unabashedly shares the daily realities of her life as a low-wage worker and demonstrates "that poverty is not a ‘culture’ or a character defect; it is a shortage of money.”

Tirado's book tries to destroy one of the most tenacious myths about poverty - that poor people are where they are because they are 'different'. Contrary to the European view, that being poor has more to do with an accident of birth or just bad luck, Americans tend to blame poverty on a lack of work ethic or laziness.

But, as Tirado explains: 'working hard does not mean that you will get ahead. Wages are often too low to live on, and employers steal income from employees. This is why so many people can work, even at multiple jobs, and still be poor. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, author of 'Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America', went 'undercover' as a low wage worker and found that 'the work required incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning.'

This book should be required reading for politicians like Paul Ryan who are trying to gut our safety net and who insist, against all evidence, that if you are poor in America 'it is because of your own failure to be sufficiently diligent, chaste, sober, or thrifty.'(See: 'Just How Much Does Paul Ryan Want The Government To Plan Poor People's Lives?')



Although the poverty rate started to go down throughout the 1960s (thanks to Johnson's War on Poverty when he signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964), it began to rise again in 1980. Now, about 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, which the federal government defines as an annual income of $23,550 for a family of four.
Read more...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do we need more “Freedom,” Like the People in 'Mockingjay"?



The prevailing trend today is to favor “freedom,” and to hate the government, particularly the big, distant, central government. “Local” and “grassroots” are seen as good things, going hand in hand with “freedom.”

Popular culture is also on that side, of course, as I was recently reminded by the wildly popular Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games movie. It’s not my intent to dignify this mediocre picture with a review or a serious political analysis, as it is essentially a money-making piece of entertainment, which is fine. But it shows precisely the ideological confusion which I want to talk about:

The main theme of the entire Hunger Games series is that of an evil central government (Capitol) that oppresses the local districts, which then start a revolution. It is a story about the quest for freedom at the grassroots level vs. the tyranny of the central government. As banal as could be. The story of every revolution in history - the American, the French, the Russian, you name it. Read more...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Attack of Neo-Conservatism and my Recovery




A few decades ago, I made a mistake. I went temporarily insane, politically speaking. I became a neo-conservative. I supported Ronald Reagan. I subscribed to and wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

As a professor of sociology, I had reached the point of nausea with academia’s group think and political correctness, most virulent in the social sciences. I was a liberal, of course, like everyone else. While hardly anyone in the academe is a conservative, neither were most of my colleagues anarchists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Soviet apologists, anti-Semites or extremists in other ways. However, there were some, and they were intimidating. They were rarely challenged. Most of my colleagues settled into a lazy group think and dialogue ceased. THAT is what began to bother me.

My background:
I grew up as a member of a respectable left-liberal European family. My grandfather was a (Jewish) social-democratic history professor in Budapest. My mother was briefly in prison at age sixteen when she participated in Communist demonstrations against Hungary’s fascist regime. My father was a hero in the Hungarian resistance during World War Two.
Read more...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson and Michael Brown are Not the Central Issue




Okay, so the case against Officer Darren Wilson is a whitewash. Prosecutor Robert McCulloch achieved what hardly any grand jury hearing ever produces: No indictment. This was to be expected. The cards were stacked. McCulloch was not impartial. Only in name was he a “prosecutor.” A majority of (local) public opinion was stacked. The jury’s composition was suspect.

Then, too, the FACTS were ambiguous. A video showing huge Michael Brown manhandling a small storekeeper went viral and demonstrated that Brown was no saint. Above all, there is a strong possibility of a scuffle inside Officer Wilson’s car, in which Brown was trying to grab Wilson’s gun...

Anyway, this is not to rehash my incomplete knowledge of the case, but to make the following point:
Read more...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obama's Immigration Reform




On November 20 President Obama made his important immigration speech. To their shame, the major networks refused to broadcast it - a mere 15-minute long address to the nation about a very important matter! A decade or so ago, when President George W. Bush gave a similar speech on the same topic, every major network carried it directly and it was viewed by 40 million Americans. And people still dare to say that the media have a liberal bias? My foot. It’s the opposite. The so-called “mainstream” media are fully participating in the non-stop sniping at this beleaguered president, inflicting a thousand cuts so as to bring him down.

The double standard applied to this president is gross: Reagan, Bush Senior and Bush Junior all proposed similar executive actions for illegal immigrants. But when THIS president does the same thing, all hell breaks loose.
Read more...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What is Important?




We are drowning in politics, in elections, in agendas. The public is incessantly  being told what we should worry about. The powerful (and often corrupt) power structure is supported by the media, it brainwashes  the populace, tells us what the most important problems are, and  how we should devote our energy and our resources. Over the past century or so, Americans have by and large been told to be AFRAID;  to protect themselves against, and to fear,  the following things:

Communism in the past, Muslim terrorism now.
Crime, always.
Alcohol in the past, drugs now.
Various countries: Russia in the past,  China, Iran and Arab countries  now.
Nuclear Armageddon.
Foreigners and immigrants.
Racial miscegenation.
Sex.
Epidemics: AIDS in the past,  Ebola now.
The government.
Government surveillance (NSA, CIA, FBI, etc.).
Wall Street.
Global Warming.
Read more...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blackout

blackout

I am looking out on my snow-covered back yard, the sun slowly sinking into the horizon, painting the sky a deep purple. The leafless trees, black and motionless are frozen in silence. Nature itself is paralyzed. No birds dare venture to our overflowing birdfeeders. No squirrels peek out of the tunnels they so laboriously dug under the snow. Life has slowed down to a bare subsistence level. Winter is master in this little corner of the world.

Inside the house, the fireplace is ablaze, overflowing with ashes. The cat is purring in his sleep, dreaming of warmer days and outdoor adventures. The smell of firewood and pea soup fills the air. The furnace is humming its reassuring song, keeping the frozen world at bay.

Night has fallen and the weather has turned nasty. Suddenly, a large animal appears out of nowhere in front of the large bay window and through the glass, I see a black and white husky look at me with his beautiful sky-blue eyes. He is magnificent looking, high on his legs, his thick fur making him oblivious to the cold. He seems to be asking if he can come in. Read more...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Greatest Movies of all Times



I have been a movie buff all my life. The thousands of movies I have seen include many of the world’s best. Lately I have been playing with some databases, looking at movie rankings, directors, nationalities, etc.

Perhaps the most popular movie database is IMBd - the Internet Movie Database. It is a trove of over three million titles. Unfortunately, its most popular feature is an unsatisfactory ranking of the top 250 movies, as voted by IMDb users. In other words, a popularity contest.

So I went to another website instead: TSPDT (They Shoot Pictures Don’t They). This is an excellent source, which ranks the 1,000 best movies ever made, as well as the 250 best directors, based on the votes of three and a half thousand critics, film makers and other experts. A caveat is the sample of voters: The vast majority are Americans, with a sprinkling of Frenchmen and other foreigners. Nevertheless, I want to share some of the things I discovered: Read more...

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Cornivore's Dilemma



In his 1951 post-apocalyptic novel 'The Day of the Triffids', John Wyndham writes about a plague of blindness that befalls the whole world, allowing the rise of an aggressive species of plants. Bioengineered by the USSR, Triffids are carnivorous super plants that can walk and talk and are trying to take over the world.

We have a similar situation happening in real life, where the invasion of the giant tropical grass known as 'corn' is invading our farms, our food supply and our bodies. You might say: 'Well, what's wrong with that? I like corn, it's healthy and it tastes good.' But the corn that we produce in such abundance is not grown for direct consumption; it is grown to feed cattle, to produce ethanol for our cars and as additives to processed foods.

In his book 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', Michael Pollan explains how this real life Triffid has been able to take over our food supply. Modern corn, already having a natural advantage because of its efficiency at using sunlight to grow, has made itself doubly attractive by tolerating many climates. 'The plant gratifies human needs, in exchange for which humans expand the plant’s habitat, moving its genes all over the world and remaking the land, clearing trees, plowing the ground, protecting it from its enemies, so it might thrive.' (from: When Corn Becomes King). Read more...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mandate, My Foot


 
                                                                          
Is America becoming  the stupid country? The easy-to-brainwash country? A country of lemmings? Other countries have lost their way in the past - Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Mexico - is it America’s turn now?
Millennials and other young people made up  13% of all the votes on November 4.  Oh sure, it’s not worth voting, you say, because you are terribly busy, and the system is rigged anyway...Those are some of the excuses. Well, good luck with that! If you keep letting old men decide who is going to rule, you will continue to get screwed by the plutocracy  for the rest of your lives. Better learn to live with that. You make your bed and you’ll have to lie in it.

Reactionary Behavior: Obama saved us out of the Great Recession, the worst thing in eighty years, and Americans are practically ready to lynch him. What is that?
Read more...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Obsessive-Compulsive Obama Hatred Disorder




Krauthammer is at it again. This right-wing reactionary can’t help himself. For years, his syndicated columns and his rants on Fox News are about one thing: Bashing Obama. It’s an addiction and a disorder, and he should know it, as he is a psychiatrist. On July 25 he wrote a column titled - “Obama’s Cool Detachment is Calculated - and Very Dangerous.” On October 24, he wrote “Obama a Bewildered Bystander to his Own Government.” And it goes on and on. There is no problem on the planet that is not Obama’s fault - Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, ISIS, Ebola, secret service missteps at the White House, in Amsterdam and in South America, Benghazi, unemployment, crime. Krauthammer might as well blame the President for Hurricane Fausto, the Vietnam War, World War Two and his hemorrhoids. One wonders what he’ll write about after Obama is gone.
Read more...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some Notes on Religion



 1. Is Religion Good or Bad?
This is the most basic question about religion. Atheists and other skeptics feel that religion is bad, and there is a good case to be made for that. For starters, nothing has caused more war and bloodshed than religion, and it continues today.

On the other hand, the vast majority of humanity feels that religion is good. In the first place, people feel this way because they believe in God. Furthermore, even an agnostic would agree that religion provides moral guidelines, and that it is palliative. It soothes suffering. So even if you are not sure that God exists, religion can be accepted on these pragmatic grounds. As Voltaire said: “if God didn’t exist, man would have to invent him.”

There is, at least in educated and progressive circles, AMBIVALENCE about religion. I was listening to National Public Radio. They had a marvelous section about the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s, Harlem had this fantastic black musical revival, and it was largely rooted in Negro spirituals and gospel singing. In other words, it was very Christian stuff. Read more...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Wheel Lock Nightmare



Leaf peeping is a favorite pastime during our famous Indian Summer. For a few short weeks, the forests around New England are ablaze with the most radiant shades of red, yellow and orange, and there is a mad dash by city dwellers to get a peek at all this beauty before the trees turn into mere skeletons and prepare themselves for a cold harsh winter.

I had practically dragged my husband out of bed that morning to get an early start, since we were just going leaf peeping for the day. A quick stop at Starbucks and we were on our way to the Berkshire mountains. The sun was shining, the trees were waiting, everything was perfect.

After an hour or so of uneventful driving, our car started to make a strange and ominous sound, so we drove off the highway, just in time to reach a shell gas station. Sure enough, the right back tire was flat as a pancake. Our hopes that we would find a mechanic on duty evaporated when we only saw gas pumps. Read more...

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part four)



 This is the last installment of our recent European trip:

...And then there are the airline problems: On this occasion, they included a strike by Air France pilots. Europeans like to strike. There was also a strike by Roman bus and metro employees. Our Toulouse-Rome flight happened to be Air France. Luckily, our flight was not one of the 58% of all flights that were canceled.

As to our return to the U.S., innumerable things went wrong: While we had Delta tickets, the flight was operated by Alitalia. This confused everyone, including the taxi driver who took us out to Fumicino Airport. He assured us that ALL US-bound international fights and ALL Delta flights depart from terminal One, and that’s where he dropped us off. But he was wrong. We had to rush to the Alitalia terminal, number Five. There was little time, so we paid a cab another $20 to drive us half a mile to the correct terminal. Read more...

Friday, October 17, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part three)




This is the third installment of our recent European trip:

What makes European travel complicated is that there are so many countries and so many different time schedules, regulations and customs. For example, when are various shops open, and where do you buy various items?

In France, Italy and some other countries, you buy postage stamps and bus tickets at the tobacco shop. How on earth are American visitors supposed to know this? Anita and I joke that perhaps you buy toilet paper at the shoemaker, or books and newspapers at the bakery or the butcher shop? And speaking of butchers, France has three kinds: the charcuterie, where you buy processed meats such as salami and paté, the boucherie, where you buy your raw meat, such as cuts of beef or veal or hamburger, and then the boucherie chevaline, where you buy horse meat. The latter is always recognizable by a statue of a horse head in front of the store.
Read more...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part two)




 This is the second installment of our recent European trip:

As I said, travel is marvelous. However, the transitions can often be exhausting and traumatic, especially as one gets older. Anita and I have some standing jokes about this. We often wish that we could be beamed to our destinations, as in “Beam me up, Scotty.” Also, do you remember Greyhound Bus’ old slogan “Getting there is half the fun”? What a crock! Anita says that getting there is often none of the fun. I agree.

Next, we had to go to Paris’ Gare Montparnasse to take the Toulouse TGV. Montparnasse is one of those gigantic Paris railroad stations with dozens of platforms crowded with thousands of passengers running in dozens of directions.
Read more...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part one)




This is the first installment of the account of our recent European trip - I hope you enjoy this travelogue:

International travel is marvelous. You have many exciting experiences, you see many beautiful things that are very different from the drudgery of everyday life. Also, many things are frustrating, incomprehensible, unreasonable, don’t work.

Recently, my wife Anita and I spent over a month in Europe. I first flew to Amsterdam, because my 101-year old mother lives in Holland, and I go there as often as I can to help her and be with her.
Then, Anita joins me and we tack on some tourism to my filial responsibilities. We usually go South for a few weeks, to France, Italy and so forth. Paris is often on our itinerary, because I grew up there, I still know people there, and a return to the City of Lights is always difficult to resist.
Read more...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Two Pandemics: Ebola and Mass Insanity




The spread of Ebola scares me. We now have the first  US case - Thomas Eric Duncan, who recently returned to Dallas from Liberia.

My friend  Carol Anita Ryan explains on  Facebook what R∘ means: It is the number of people that one sick person will infect (on average). For example, Measles has an R∘ of 18 (very contagious), whereas Ebola’s R∘ is only 2.  Even so, this means that the disease doubles in a  given period of time. An Ebola victim  has about 100 contacts  before he is isolated. 2 out of these contacts become sick and  98 don’t. Let’s say it takes one week  for the number of infected people to double. Now consider an  exponential curve that doubles every week: 2,4,8,16,32,64,128, etc. If it starts with 2 cases at the beginning of October  and doubles every week, it  reaches 536,870,912  - 2 to the 29th power -   by early April. By next April, everyone in North America is  dead, and the entire world a month after that.
Read more...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Golden Storks Forever


Alkmaar, Tuesday September 30, 2014

The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds today. I am looking up at a big old church, looming like a benevolent guardian over the numerous cafes lining the square in this typical Dutch town in North Holland. A snow-white pigeon is strutting back and forth between the tables, as if he just stepped out of a beauty parlor. Every quarter hour the church bells fill the air with their carillon, making sure we don't forget about the passing of time. This majestic building must feel humiliated; having harbored millions of souls in distress over the centuries, it is now reduced to the status of a common museum; its soul is gone, but its façade hasn't changed. On one of the high ledges, golden stork statues stare out onto the world, immobilized for eternity. They must envy the seagulls as they fly by with their shrill cawing: 'Come fly with us, come to the beautiful North Sea and fill your golden bellies with fish. Nothing will come of it, if you stay here, on this old church that has lost its glory.'

A lost balloon is rolling by my table, carried by the breeze. A black pigeon is watching it with detached curiosity, his head retracted but his beady eyes in constant motion, waiting for some crumbs. Read more...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The #Gaza Generation



After the latest Pro-Gaza demonstrations in Paris, the French left-wing newspaper 'Le Monde' published an article with the dramatic title 'A new generation #Gaza is born in the streets of France'. It is accompanied by a photo of an attractive female wrapped in a keffieh carefully draped around her head according to the latest fashion. There is no mention of the ugliness that surfaced in the form of numerous anti-semitic slogans, only a meticulous description of what the female demonstrators were wearing. In fact, this new fad, were it not so worrisome, is good for business; Palestinian, even ISIS flags are in great demand in Paris these days and shops have backorders of Arafat headscarves.

The young, clueless but not so innocent demonstrators, are not entirely responsible for their fanatic, one-sided view of the conflict. It is boosted by an anti-Israel bias in the French press so thick, you can cut it with a knife.** Read more...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Growing Number of Americans Killed by the Police




The media are finally onto an issue about which I have been fretting for several years: the growing number of Americans killed by cops. Have I been ahead of the curve, aware of an emerging social problem which others are only now beginning to recognize?

This is a sensitive subject. I want to tread carefully and present a nuanced perspective. I hope that you read on before you jump to the conclusion that I am a knee-jerk, left-wing cop hater.

No doubt the high-profile killing of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO has much to do with increasing public awareness of this problem.

Of course, there are several intertwined issues here: bad race relations, economic injustice, the ever greater number of weapons in circulation, the public’s rightward move and its growing repressive tendencies (for example,  more  twice as many people favor capital punishment now as  than two generations ago). But today, I want to focus on just one aspect of this complicated problem: the growing number of Americans killed by law enforcement.
Read more...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are Our Political Beliefs Hardwired into Us?



The terms 'left-right' in politics originated during the French Revolution when members of the National Assembly who were loyal to religion and the king stood to the right of president's chair, so as to avoid the shouts and insults that came from the opposite side, where the more revolutionary members took their seat.

There is nothing more guaranteed to create conflict than opposing political views, but as John Stuart Mills said: 'Having a party of order and stability and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.'

But what makes someone a 'leftist' or a 'rightist'? Is it something that you learn from your parents, like potty training? Do we acquire our political beliefs on our own? Or do we acquire them at birth, like the color of our hair? Is it the environment or the genes?

In "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology," John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska argues that what makes conservatives conservative, is their heightened sensitivity to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in the environment. We all react to negative stimuli, which is a good thing, or we wouldn't have been able to survive as a species. Our ancestors didn't approach a saber-toothed tiger cooing 'nice kitty', but wisely followed their negative bias instinct and ran for their lives instead. Read more...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Story Connection: Dr. Tom Kando



AN INTERVIEW WITH TOM KANDO


Hi folks:

This is a You Tube video of an interview I had recently on Sacramento’s Access TV (Channel 17). The interview was part of the program “What’s Your Story.” The topic was  my autobiography.
Click on the title of this article.

Here are some of the things that were said:

“I was born in Budapest, Hungary,   at the beginning of World War II......my saga  is extraordinarily eventful and interesting. Sometimes I joke that my life conforms to the ancient Chinese curse that wishes you an interesting life...

...I have lived in four separate countries,  almost a decade in each, and traveled to another thirty. I speak four languages fluently and dabble in another couple. I have had an exceptionally international upbringing and background.
Read more...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Racism, Again



On August 9, officer Darren Wilson  killed an unarmed  black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. Since then, there have been daily confrontations  in that community between angry black crowds and the police - “race riots” if you will. The verdict is not in as to what happened exactly. I am not  going to delve into who  did what. The situation is still unfolding.  What I DO want to do, is share with you what I experienced when I clicked on the following article: “Police Identify Officer, Allege Teen Robbed Store” By David A. Lieb and Alan Scher Zagier; AP; (Yahoo News Home Page).

Within a few hours of this publication there were over 45,000 comments. I scrolled down the first hundred or so. It was shocking. 99.9% of them were unmitigated white racist rage. Unfathomable hatred of blacks. I won’t speculate about the representativeness of this sample. But here are  thousands upon thousands of vicious anonymous  racist comments in just ONE article on ONE website. There must be dozens of millions more such opinions elsewhere. It seems to me that white America is turning into a catastrophe. I hope that I am wrong. Read more...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Decimal and Metric

by Tom Kando

On August 5, National Public Radio had a skit on the fact that the US remains one of three countries in the world which don’t use the metric/decimal system (the other two are Liberia and Myanmar).

Maybe so. Of course, metric and decimal are not synonymous. This country IS decimal in many ways - starting with the dollar and our entire monetary system, thanks to Thomas Jefferson who at least pushed that through.

And by now, much of American science, medicine and commerce takes place decimally. Your meds are all measured in grams and milligrams, your primary care physician might record your weight in kilos, etc. But we are not metric. Nor are we decimal in our measurement of weight and temperature.

But I don’t want to nitpick how accurate or inaccurate the statement is that “the US is one of only three countries that remain non-metric/non-decimal.” Instead, I want to share with you some interesting thoughts about this subject:
Read more...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Killing the Innocent with Ignorance



In July, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Environmental Bond Bill which will help protect the State's natural resources, which is a good thing. The bad news is, that the bill also includes a provision to authorize deer culling (a euphemism for killing), large amounts of deer.

In Section 43 of the bill it states that 'the department shall identify areas in which deer overpopulation is negatively impacting forestation, water resources or plant growth on department-owned land. The department shall also consult with the department of public health regarding the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses as a result of deer overpopulation.'

Deer, however, while they are big animals, cannot browse on anything much above six feet, so they cannot prosper in deep mature woods with a dense canopy and no understory. Therefore deer can not 'negatively impact forestation', let alone water resources. How much can deer drink, really?'

As far as 'the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses as a result of deer overpopulation,' the members of the Senate responsible for drafting Section 43 of the bill should have done their homework before sneaking it in. Read more...

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Gestapo of Political Correctness



I met the Gestapo yesterday. I barely had time to sit down at the table in our usual meeting place, ready to share a short essay with my writing group, when, without a word of warning, my hands were cuffed tight to my chair and the Gestapo of Political Correctness came out and started to drill me.

I was drilled for hours. When one member of the crew got tired, another one took over. I started to sweat and my heart was racing. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was being accused of because my essay was about elves and Christmas. Should I have referred to the elves in my story as ‘vertically challenged individuals?’ or called Christmas ‘the winter solstice holiday, practiced with respect for the religious persuasion of others?’

But the Gestapo let those two pecadilloes slide. It was a lot worse, one of the interrogators told me, as he pushed his face into mine. With an accusatory finger he pointed to the third paragraph, where, I confess, I did mention Zwarte Piet, in the context of the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas.

If you are not familiar with the Sinterklaas tradition, let me explain. Every year, on December 5th, a bishop by the name of Sinterklaas arrives on the beautiful shores of Holland from Spain. He sits on a white horse, a large mitre on his head and a bishop's staff in his white gloved hand, to give out candy to the enthusiastically waving Dutch children. This bishop also has a helper by the name of Zwarte Piet who holds the bulging bag full of candy. Piet is also instructed to clairvoyantly seek out those children who have been naughty and work them over with a birch twig. If they are really really bad, he stuffs the unfortunate ones in a canvas bag that gets shipped back to Spain. Read more...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Israel vs. Palestine, Redux




Again and again. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is forever. It has raged since before I was born, and it will not be solved by the time my grandchildren are gone. To paraphrase Dennis Quaid when he played the president of the United States in American Dreamz, the Israel-Palestine problem will NEVER be solved.

The latest war, which pits Israel against the Hamas wing of the Palestinians, was triggered by the murder of three Jewish kids, which led to the reprisal murder of a Palestinian kid, followed by a great increase in Hamas rockets raining down on Israel, and thereupon Israel’s bombing campaign and invasion of Gaza.

Here is a list of some of the issues about which people have been taking sides forever, ad nauseam. A similar article was written by Ali Rizvi on the Huffington Post recently, titled “7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict.”

The case against Israel:

1. The “asymmetrical” number of deaths: Over 1300 Palestinians so far, of whom 75% are women, children and other innocent civilians. About 60 Israelis, of whom 2 or 3 are civilians.

2. Israel practices Apartheid. Palestinians within Israel are second-class citizens, and many of those outside its borders have been living in subhuman conditions for over 60 years.
Read more...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

From Paris to Lodi



On Sunday July 27, I watched the final stage of the Tour de France. The race’s arrival in Paris, where they ride eight laps up and down the Champs-Elysées, around the Arch of Triumph, across the Place de la Concorde, down the Rue de Rivoli, by the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. Fabulous!

It’s a scientific fact: Paris is the world’s most beautiful city. When I lived there, my high school teacher Madame Louvain said so. At that time, I thought, “Oh sure, that’s what teachers tell their students in Omaha, in Shanghai and in  Saint Louis also. But now I realize that Madame Louvain was right. The matter  is not debatable.

My life’s trajectory has been as follows: From Paris, I moved to Amsterdam, then on to Minneapolis, and finally to Sacramento. A straight-line descent, no doubt about it. Will my next stop be Lodi - the town immortalized by Creedence Clearwater Revival?

I was fourteen  when my family and I  left the City of Lights. It was my parents’ decision to move. I cried. I spent my next ten years in Amsterdam, which is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s a fine, groovy town. Amsterdam really swings, but it ain’t  Paris. Read more...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maidentrip

by Moris Hoch

Maidentrip is a documentary film that follows Laura Dekker, a 15 year-old Dutch girl on her journey to sail the globe solo and become the youngest sailer ever to do so. We follow her story growing up in Holland, getting her sailing know-how from an early age, and everything else, including overcoming attempts by the government's "Children Protection" to put her in custodial care. What I found moving about this story is the depth of understanding that she expresses, speaking to the camera, during the trip while sharing her thoughts about herself, sailing, nature, and life.



In today's current affairs, on the daily TV or radio, we find non-stop reporting on violent conflicts in Ukraine, Nigeria, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no "most brutal and cruelest"; any one of these conflicts fits that description. Yet, to some extent, we accept it as necessary, albeit undesirable. The status quo remains thus forever, conflict without end; as if, for Ms. Dekker's trip, she would sail forever with no goal or destination or map. Read more...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: Different Reactions




The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 upset me a lot since I come from Holland, and 192 of the 298 dead were Dutch. I have been e-mailing with people who knew several of the victims. The Netherlands is a small country. Proportionally, this death toll exceeds the 3000 Americans who died on 9/11. What a tragedy! Holland deserves our tears and our support. It is one of the most wonderful, progressive, talented, cultured, generous, tolerant and peace-loving countries on earth. I have often said that if the world were more like the Netherlands, it would be a much better place.

On this side of the Atlantic, there seems to be agreement as to who the bad guys are. They are the Russian-supported rebels who want to separate from Ukraine, along with Russia itself and Vladimir Putin. It seems that way, from most of what one reads in the MSM (mainstream media). It’s not just the Fox News warmongers, always salivating at the prospect of renewing the Cold War. I tend to trust most of what is written in the New York Times, so when I read about the circumstantial but pretty convincing evidence that the plane was shot down by the rebels using a Russian SAM (a “Buk”), assisted by Russians, I tend to accept this.
Read more...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do NO longer give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses



The recent flow of unaccompanied children entering the United States illegally has caused a strong reaction, in particular amongst conservatives. The fact that many of these children are fleeing some of the most violent countries on earth, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries where gang members infiltrate public schools and threaten kids to either join their ranks or be killed or raped, doesn't seem to rank high in the discussion.

Many of these children have family here, but they can not come legally, since those family members are undocumented themselves. About 60,000 children are now crossing the border, waiting to be sent to their relatives, or worse, waiting to be deported back to their country of origin.

There are two factors that people forget when they talk about this issue, the first being that children are not adults and they should not fall under the same legal rules. Unlike the United States, EU Member States, have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes the best interests of the child as governing all major policies regarding the treatment of minors. Although the best-interests principle is part of US domestic family law, the concept is absent from U.S. immigration and refugee law. Read more...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The 2014 Janitors' Awards



This is a parody on The Crunchies, an industry award given out since 2008 to the Silicon Valley companies and their investors. Why and industry that already has everything, would want to lavish itself with such a ceremony, prompted me to write this spoof.

I just returned from the 2014 Janitors' Awards ceremony, held at the modest looking local 87 on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco. With record attendance, the event started off with a request for a one minute silence in memory of the late Thomas Crapper, leading manufacturer of flush toilets, which greatly contributed to the growth of the profession.

Representatives of the major janitorial categories were present, including Ms. Maria Gonzalez Ramirez, last year's winner of 'best kept restrooms' category.

The highlight of the evening was a video demonstration by Mr. Sanchez Rodrigo, whose video 'self-cleaning toilet defeat' has gone viral and has saved thousands of janitorial jobs, showing that the Swedish made self-cleaning toilet does not live up to its marketed standards. Mr. Sanchez did not make it to the finalists but received a $10,000 gift certificate as appreciation for his job saving efforts. You can watch the video here. Read more...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why We Should Boycott Hobby Lobby, Eden Foods and many other 'closely held companies'




In her novel The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood describes a fundamentalist Christian society where women are reduced to the sole purpose of reproducing. Science fiction, you say? Not so.

The Supreme Court's 5 to 4 decision to grant the for-profit company Hobby Lobby the right to deny their employees coverage for contraceptives on religious grounds is bringing us one step closer to such a future. A future, where corporations' religious rights weigh more than a woman's right to birth control and to control her own destiny.

Obama already made a huge concession by exempting churches and religious hospitals from offering health insurance that would cover contraceptives. But that wasn't going far enough for the religious right. It is now the law of the land that a secular, for-profit company can deny their employees access to birth control citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in their defense, an act that was meant to protect individuals, not corporations.

80 other employers have sued to challenge the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage mandate and will point to the Hobby Lobby precedent to argue their case. The one that I will boycott is Eden Foods, the giant health food distributor whose products cram the shelves at my local Whole Foods market. You can go here to take action.

Here is John Oliver's hilarious spoof on the logical consequences of coporations being considered as people. If GM is truly a person, it should get the electric chair for all the people it killed, rather than a fine.



In all fairness, the Supreme Court is very divided on the issue of contraceptive coverage. The three female justices signed a dissent in a separate contraceptive case involving Wheaton College, who already has an exemption. All they needed to do is sign a form stating their objection and the insurer would provide the coverage directly. Read more...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Wonderful Chaos of International Travel




Traveling overseas can be chaotic and frustrating. Flying has become much more complicated and annoying. While much of this is due to post-9/11 security measures (and paranoia), it is also the result of increasing automatization. Just as we finally get used to printing our boarding passes at home, we must learn a new trick: how to check our bags without human assistance. Soon there will be NO humans left at airport counters. Soon it will be impossible to talk to anyone at an airline office. Everything will have to be done online.

Once you get overseas, you experience the byzantine rules for shopping and sightseeing. In Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and most other European tourist Meccas, you can buy a pass that will let you visit many attractions for a fixed price. For example, the “Roma Pass” costs about 35 euros and it is valid for three days for an unlimited number of sights and museums, plus free transportation. Read more...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Italian Traffic Ticket



A few months after my wife and I returned from Italy a couple of years ago, we got an annoying letter from the Rome police department: a traffic citation telling us that we owed 306 Euros just for the ticket notification, plus the fine itself in an amount yet to be determined. Shit! The total bill could end up costing us over $700.

Worse yet: We had not driven a car in Rome! It was a bum rap. They had the wrong guy!

I couldn’t ignore the letter. The arms of European law have gotten a lot longer in recent years. Long gone are the days when you could rent a car anywhere in Europe and commit all sorts of traffic violations with impunity. In the digital age, nothing escapes the authorities anymore. Whether in the Netherlands or in Italy, in France or in Spain, if there is an outstanding fine you forgot to pay on your last trip, they know about it. The next time you land in Amsterdam, Rome, Paris or Madrid and you go through passport control, they WILL arrest you.

It happened to my brother-in-law when he flew to Holland a few years ago. No sooner had he landed than he was handcuffed by two huge Teutonic policemen, because he had forgotten to pay a speeding ticket incurred on his previous visit to that country. He offered to pay on the spot by credit card, but cash was required. The two giant albinos accompanied him to the nearest ATM. After he paid the stiff fine (grown large due to accumulated interest and administrative costs), they uncuffed him and wished him a hearty welcome to the Netherlands. Read more...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

You Reap what You Sow



It’s easy to blame “Washington”, “Congress”, "Corrupt Corporations'. But with our actions and our vote, we have gotten what we wished for. Pogo said it long ago: 'we have met the enemy, and he is US.'

Complain, complain, complain
That is the name of the game.

We want things quick, easy and cheap
But as you sow, so shall you reap

Now we complain, complain, complain
About our world going down the drain

We want to have a finger in the pie
Of everything made under the sky

From additives to seatbelt safety
Expecting mistrust and dishonesty Read more...

Friday, June 20, 2014

The 'Debate' over Iraq: Insanity vs. Reason




As predicted, Iraq is collapsing. The country was never viable. Its borders were established artificially by the colonial powers during the first half of the 20th century, in documents like the Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France in 1916 and the British Balfour Declaration in 1917. Artificial multi-ethnic countries can be held together by dictators (Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Tito in Yugoslavia, etc.), but otherwise they often break apart.

Vice President Biden was right all along: partitioning could be the best solution. Let the Kurds go. Biden, by the way, has long been wise and knowledgeable, both in domestic and foreign policy. The fact that he is often derided as a buffoon by the media is ridiculous and contrary to fact.

The real buffoons are the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz neo-con gang that got us into the Iraq war. This should not be open to discussion. Yet there IS a discussion and that is preposterous. There is “DEBATE” about (1)whether or not the US should go back into Iraq, and (2) who was right - the neo-cons or those opposed to the Iraq war, like President Obama!
Read more...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thomas Piketty: Capital in the 21st century



Piketty has caused an international panic. The camps are predictable: he has been criticized vehemently by the Right, including the London Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, and he is being defended by progressives, for example by Paul Krugman. Clearly, Piketty is a threat to the plutocracy. But as you will see, I agree with Krugman that Piketty is fundamentally correct.

Thomas Piketty is the author of the voluminous 'Capital in the 21st Century', a book on economics and the growing inequality between the rich and the poor. This unassuming professor, who looks more like a schoolboy than a formidable economist, has taken the world by storm. His book contains an incredible collection of historical data that shows that the extreme concentration of wealth that was so typical of the 19th century, the Belle Epoque (1871-1914) is coming back in full force to haunt us in the 21st century. Read more...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Beyond Einstein: Could Scotty Beam you up Instantaneously?



I am a hack when it comes to physical science. Nevertheless, I have long been fascinated by astronomy and quantum mechanics. I remember being mesmerized by popularizations of science such as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, as were “billions and billions” (joke) of other people.

I’ll also confess that I still watch reruns of the first generation Star Trek (Does that make me a Trekkie?).

For example, on August 25, 2009, I published a post on this blog titled  What does "E=mc square" mean? And  on October 21, 2009, I wrote  Will We ever Travel to the Stars?

In that article, I pointed out that even if we were to double the speed of our currently most advanced spacecrafts to, say, 100,000 miles per hour, it would take an astronaut 29,000 years to reach the nearest star (Alpha Centauri), which is 25 trillion miles away. This is as much time as has lapsed since Cro-Magnon man. I concluded that, while we may not be completely earth-bound, we are certainly the prisoners of the solar system - FOREVER.
Read more...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Scarcity a Fallacy? Part Two

By Tom and Madeleine Kando

In our previous post, we introduced the environmental debate raging between what Matt Ridley calls the Ecologists and the Economists in his April 25 Wall Street Journal article 'The Scarcity Fallacy'. We wrote that this is the familiar debate between what is better called environmental Optimists and Pessimists, or Malthusians and Anti-Malthusian, or Environmentalists and Anti-environmentalists. We presented the “optimistic” position, listing and discussing nine of their arguments.

Today, we present the alternative position - that of the (neo-)Malthusians, or the ”pessimists.” This is basically the environmental position, and it is also our own position, by and large. The best-known modern-day neo-Malthusian is Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich. Here are some of the major arguments:

We concluded the first half of this article by pointing out the difficulty of predicting the future by studying the past. However, the pessimists remind us that probabilistically the past is the best predictor of the future. Someone who has often been a klutz is more likely to be a klutz again than someone who has not been one. And there are things that are 99.9999% sure to happen. For example, it IS a certainty that we will run out of fossil fuels.
Read more...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Is Scarcity a Fallacy? Part One


By Tom and Madeleine Kando

On April 25, Matt Ridley wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Scarcity Fallacy." 
Ridley once again revives the debate which has been raging between (neo-) Malthusians and ant-Malthusians at least since the 1960s.

Ridley’s article is very good, yet it cries for critical analysis: He calls the two camps  the Ecologists and the Economists.

Ridley uses to term “Ecologist” as a synonym for  “environmentalist,” i.o.w. anyone who is worried about continued population growth, energy use, and the resultant harm to the planetary environment. He employs the label “Economists” in  reference to those who do NOT share that worry, and who  feel that our technological ingenuity will help us avert ecological  catastrophe.
These labels are somewhat misleading, because economists are by no means all anti- environmentalists. Only two economic schools  see continued  growth and  technology as the solutions to poverty and to other problems: Free-Market Capitalism, and Marxism. But many other economists disagree. Better dichotomies would be Optimists vs. Pessimists, or  Malthusians vs. Anti-Malthusians, or Environmentalists vs. Anti-environmentalists.
Read more...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Are We Becoming a Sordid, Racist Country? Is this Germany in the 1930's all over Again?




On May 15, there was an article on the Yahoo homepage about another racist incident. Robert Copeland, a New Hampshire police commissioner, called President Obama a nigger.
See Police Officer used N-word for Obama

Such incidents seem to happen more and more frequently. No sooner are we done with Cliven Bundy than comes Donald Sterling. Bundy, if you recall, felt that blacks were better off under slavery. Armed militias rallied around him, as did Sean Hannity and others at Fox News. Shortly before that, Ted Nugent called President Obama a subhuman mongrel - taking words right out of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Earlier, we were treated to Paula Deen’s uncouth utterances, and of course there are the murders of Trayvon Martin and of innumerable others. In sum, there can be little doubt that white racism is making a strong come-back in America.
Read more...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Thank You Note



A bird, lying on his back, is showing his soft, white underbelly. His heart is heaving. He is dying. He is dying in my backyard. Maybe he flew against our large bay windows; maybe the giant red tailed hawk tried to catch him but missed and injured him. He is lying with his little feet stuck in the air. His breathing is slowing down; soon he will stop and lay still forever.

I am overwhelmed with the intensity of life and death that is playing out every second in this little corner of New England. The three emaciated deer licking my bird feeder, barely able to stand, barely having survived the harsh winter, their ribs showing under their dull colored hide. The hawk has caught a squirrel, but he has dropped it and the squealing tells me that he is hurt.

He will crawl into a hollow tree trunk, lick his wounds and survive, or die a painful death. His little body will add to the fertility of the soil in which my seedlings will be born. Tiny specks of green amongst the dead leaves and twigs left behind by the retreating winter. It is such hard work to die. It is even harder work to be born. Read more...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Benghazi ad Nauseam




They are at it again. This being an election year, the Republicans have to invent new fabrications. They are now resuscitating “Benghazi”. It’s the same old gang doing it: Fox News, Congressman Darrell Issa (a.k.a. Joe McCarthy), now joined by House Speaker John Boner himself, who is forming a “select committee” to investigate. These lunatics claim to have found the “smoking gun.”

I pretty much said all that needs to be said about this pseudo-issue over a year and a half ago. See my October 20, 2012 post, The Benghazi Pseudo-Issue.  But since they are doing mischief again, I have to come to the rescue once more:

Do you, dear reader, even KNOW what “Benghazi” is about? I bet you don’t. I bet you that nine out of ten Americans don’t. Nine out of ten Obama-haters will probably just say something like, “well, the President lied about Benghazi,” not even knowing what he allegedly lied about...

So let me give you the FACTS:
On or about 9/11/12, three things happened:
#1. A blasphemous anti-Muslim video came out. (The Innocence of Muslims).
#2. In response to that, anti-American riots broke out in Cairo and elsewhere in the Middle East.
#3. There was a terrorist attack on our Benghazi consulate which killed four Americans, including the ambassador.
Read more...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Is Ambivalence Good or Bad? I am not sure...



"I love my man, I'm a liar if I say I don't.
But I'll quit my man, I'm a liar if I say I won't."
Billie Holiday, 'My Man,' Billie's Blues (1936) 

The official definition of ambivalence is ‘having conflicting feelings toward something or someone.’ It means "sitting on the fence", not knowing which side to choose. It usually has a negative connotation but in my opinion, ambivalence has gotten a bad rap over the course of human history. It has become the whipping boy in the arsenal of our emotions. I am not sure why, because ambivalence has a lot going for it. In a fair fight, it would win over certainty any time. After all, it has to fight on two fronts in an argument. Like an immigrant worker, it toils away; doing the dirty work that certainty feels too superior to take on.

Here comes certainty strolling down the street, briefcase in hand, stuffed with opinions whose ink is barely dry, immune to all the ugly stares from opposing views, so full of itself, so overconfident. That’s what I hate about it, it’s just too damn sure of itself.
Read more...