Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Stupidities on the Right and the Left




Today, I’ll just bring to your attention a few randomly selected stupidities I recently came across in the media or in informal chitchat - just for the fun it:

1. Putin is the World’s Most Powerful Person:

A few weeks ago, Forbes Magazine ranked Vladimir Putin as the world’s most powerful person. In second place was Germany’s Angela Merkel, in third place President Obama. The other seven among the top ten were the pope, the head of China, Bill Gates, the head of the US Federal Reserve, the head of Britain, the head of India, and the head of Google. (See The World's Most Powerful People). This is a stupid list. Especially stupid is Putin’s number one ranking: he heads up a country whose Gross Domestic Product is one fifteenth that of the US. Russia’s economy is ranked thirteenth in the world. It is behind Italy, South Korea, about equal to Mexico and Spain, and only slightly larger than that of the Netherlands.
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Of Sleepy Ants and Crickets

by

A Children's Story

Once upon a time there was a cricket and an ant. The cricket was really happy. He was so happy that you might wonder if it wasn’t too tiring for him to be so happy all the time. I mean, he was always dancing and singing and he didn’t even have to carry an instrument to accompany himself, since he could make music just by rubbing his legs together.

The ant was not really that happy. She didn’t have much time to dance or sing, because her mother had told her that ants have to work hard to be good ants. So she worked and worked, built her nest, gathered food, even in the dead of winter when the ground was frozen and all the other insects were either not born yet, or hybernating. She didn’t smile a lot, only when she fell asleep and dreamt of feasting on an especially large bowl of sugar, because ants like sugar as much as you like chocolate chip cookies. Read more...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Being Liberal, Conservative, Nice or an A... hole




Here is a question for you: Is there a correlation between how nice a person is and how liberal?

Logically, liberals should be nicer than conservatives. They believe in giving to the poor, in sharing wealth, in making love and not war, in turning the other cheek, in kumbaya. Conservatives should be mean. They believe in competition, the survival of the fittest, in selfishness, in fighting wars, etc. 

But then, why do I know so many liberal a....holes and so many nice conservatives?

During my forty years as a professor, I had many conflicts with many colleagues. Several of them were a...holes, and as everyone knows, most professors are liberal.

On the other hand, many conservative people are as kind as can be; they are the salt of the earth. So there are four possibilities: 1. Nice liberals. 2.Liberal a....holes. 3. Nice conservatives. 4. Conservative a....holes.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Two Problems: 1. America's out-of-control Weapons of Mass Murder; 2.The Metastasis of ISIS




Following the San Bernardino massacre on December 2, many Americans feel that “something has changed,” that “something new has happened.” That’s because this time, the perpetrators were a Muslim couple who are said to have been radicalized, presumably by Isis propaganda.

However, As Marcos Breton noted in his December 6 article in the Sacramento Bee, San Bernardino does NOT open a new chapter. As Breton writes, “Some may say that terrorism is back in America. But it has already been here for quite some time.” San Bernardino may drive Americans even deeper into fear, and this may become “the new normal,’ but this is not logical.

This year alone, 462 people have been killed in mass shootings in America. San Bernardino was just the latest rampage. Some of the assailants have been native-born white supremacists or right-wingers, some have been Muslims, and most of these aberrant individuals’ motives are unclear. That’s why I suggested in my previous blog that we should try to capture more of them alive, so as to find out what makes them tick. Almost all of them have been native born, including the Fort Hood mass murderer Nidal Hasan and now Syed Farook (but the Tsarnaev brothers, Boston Marathon attack, were foreign-born). So far, it is wrong to say that much of the mischief in this country is caused by (Muslim) immigrants.
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Monday, December 7, 2015

Why Islam Needs a Reformation



 The latest terror attack in San Bernardino has caused a huge discussion on gun control laws or rather, the lack of it in the United States. Only today did the news finally focus on the motive behind the attack, which was to show 'sympathy' for ISIS and its cause: the establishment of a global caliphate and to impose Sharia law throughout the world.

Ayaan Hirshi Ali, author of 'Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation', would classify the San Bernardino terrorists as 'Medina Muslims'. Medina Muslims want a return to the original 7th century brand of Islam, impose Sharia law and wage war (Jihad) against the 'Infidel'. Only 3% of Muslims belong to this group, but that's about 48 million Jihadists, enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone. She calls them by that name because , after Muhammad went to Medina, he became ‘radicalized’ and started to attack unbelievers, if they refused to convert.

She distinguishes them from 'Mecca Muslims' (the majority of Muslims), who practice their religion and are not inclined to violence. Mecca Muslims, however are in a constant state of 'cognitive dissonance', trying to fit their religious values in a modern world. There are two alternatives for this group to live without cognitive dissonance: leave their faith, as Hirshi Ali did or become radicalized and join the Medina Muslims. The third group of Muslims, the one Hirshi Ali belongs to, she calls the 'Reformist Muslims'.

Terrorism is the modern day equivalent of the 16th century European Wars of Religion. As the title of her book suggests, Hirshi Ali argues that the only way to stop the religiously motivated killings, is if Islam undergoes a Reformation, similar to the Protestant Reformation in the Catholic Church.

But she doesn’t stop there. Being an ex-Muslim herself, she identifies five precepts that are inherently harmful and prevent Islam from going through a reformation.

The first and foremost point is for Islam to open itself up to criticism, including satire. There is nothing more invigorating and empowering than for a doctrine or world view to be challenged. Islam would gain from a healthy dose of scrutiny. It would weed out the parts that are causing so much suffering to Muslims themselves, especially women. The Quran, after all is written by men, and the fact that reason has been removed from its text, proves that it can be put back by men. Read more...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Roseburg, Chattanooga, Charleston, Isla Vista, Killeen, Washington, Santa Monica, Newton, Aurora, etc. Ad Nauseam...




 It happened again, as it now happens almost daily. On December 2, three terrorists murdered fourteen people in San Bernardino, and wounded many more. Two suspects are dead, one is still on the loose as of this writing. And the list goes on (See Mass Shootings in the US).

Yes, they are/were terrorists. You don’t need to know who they were, what their religion and ethnicity is/was. Their actions by definition makes them terrorists, as is Robert Dear, who murdered three people at a Planned Parenthood Clinic on November 27, and all the others, regardless of race creed or color. Some random thoughts about this topic:

1. America is afflicted by a lethal combination: There is a diffused rage that is spreading like wildfire, and Americans are armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weaponry imaginable. This is a very combustible mix.
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License to Kill: Deer Hunt in the Blue Hills



I like deer. They are elegant herbivores that often come in my yard to nibble on the birdfeeders and I often wonder how they survive the harsh winters in New England. I see them get thinner and thinner, and by the end of January, their ribs show through their matted coat, some of them limping, but always in groups, sharing the feed in the buckets that we put out for them, when we know there is nothing else for them to eat.

I like them so much that I have become involved in fighting against so-called ‘controlled deer hunts’ in my area. One hunt is underway in the Blue Hills, a 6000-acre state park near Boston. This hunt was proposed and approved by the Mass Department of Fish and Game, who did its own study and determined that there were too many deer in the Blue Hills, knowing that it gets most of its funds from hunting licenses. Do I detect the smell of conflict of interest here?

Why Blame Deer?

It is easy to blame the deer for things that people have no control over. They are blamed for spreading Lyme Disease, for causing collisions and for destroying the forest. But the only crime that deer are guilty of, is that they have the ability to co-exist with people.

Even though deer are hosts to ticks, they do not "carry" or "spread" Lyme Disease. In fact, they provide a buffer between the host (white-footed mouse) and humans by collecting the ticks on themselves, mostly adult ticks that usually are no longer infected. "There is no direct correlation between deer density and prevalence of Lyme disease", says John Rohm of the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries. “When the deer are killed, the ticks seek alternate hosts, such as pets and people.”

Forest growth is influenced by so many factors other than deer that it is hard to mention them all: acid rain, insect damage, disease, development, pollution, loss of soil fertility and invasive species. Even non-native earthworms have significant influences on forest ecology. But it is harder to shoot earthworms or chipmunks and field mice, than it is to shoot a deer, so they get the blame.

Many people believe that reducing the deer population will result in fewer car collisions. But over an eight-year hunting period in Millburn New Jersey, the number of deer-car collisions did not decline.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#BrusselsLockdown



After Brussels was put on the highest terror alert, with schools, universities and the subway system closed down, the authorities asked the public to stay silent on social media about ongoing counter-terror operations.

The public responded by flooding Twitter with cat pictures, one funnier than the next. Rather than give in to fear, Belgians have shown that the best way to fight terrorism is with humor and pezazz !

Here are some of the posts I found on humo.be:



Read more...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Brief Message to our French Friends




Here is an e-mail I sent to my friends and relatives in Paris and in France:

Ca fait une semaine que cette horreur est arrivée. Nous pensons sans cesse a vous, et a Paris, la ville d’ou jaillis toujours l’espoire et l’illumination pour le reste du monde...

Sachez donc que meme ici, de l’autre cote de la terre, la grande majorite des gens pensent a vous, du matin au soir. C’est etonnant...et bien, quand-meme: Que meme les petits provinciaux qui n’ont jamais quitte leurs petites villes et leurs campagnes si loin de chez vous, realisent que quelque-chose d’horrible et mondialement important s’est passe a Paris.

Quand on heurte Paris, la terre entiere le sent, et en souffre. Notre coeur appartient a Paris. Nous sommes tous des Parisiens.(translation next)
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Friday, November 20, 2015

San Francisco: A Jekill and Hyde City



I am flying back home to Boston, after a two-week stay in the Golden City. The weather is perfect and from my window seat, I watch the scenery roll by. Snow capped mountains make way for desert as far as the eye can see. Dried up river beds meander through hazy valleys and metamorphose into a quilt of fields of every imaginable shade of green.

Then, the landscape is suddenly pockmarked with fracking pads, indiscriminately encroaching on the pristine wilderness, like a giant circuit board. The landscape changes constantly. Now we are flying over a collection of small lakes connected with hair thin filaments that are probably turbulent rivers up close. I can never get enough of flying cross country. The sheer size of this continent boggles the mind, and while my co-passengers prefer to close their window shade to take a nap, I spend these cross-continental flights with my face glued to the glass, cranking my neck until it hurts.

As the distance between me and San Francisco increases, the monotonous drone of the engine slowly washes away the images of this morning's walk from my hotel room on Van Ness to the coffee shop on Polk Street. The early morning sun accentuates the trash, the dirt on the pavement and the leathery skin of a homeless man sitting against the wall. He is not sleeping or begging, just hugging his knees, his head hidden in his folded arms, as if he wants to disappear from the world. On my way back, I look for him and spot him from a distance. As I pass him, I look for a cup, but there is none, so I gently slide my folded dollar bill between his fingers, but he doesn't react. Like a statue, he has become part of the fixture of the city. He knows it doesn't matter, whether he is alive or not, whether he moves or not. He knows nobody cares and neither does he. Read more...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Twenty Four James Bonds




We recently saw the latest James Bond - SPECTRE, with Daniel Craig. It’s a fine movie. It is the usual combination of extreme violence, sex, intrigue and travelogue. The scenery includes Rome, London, the Moroccan desert and the Austrian Alps. I won’t reveal the plot because I don’t want to be a spoiler, and because I don’t think I can figure out the plot. It doesn’t matter, because most of the pleasure is visual, including spectacular fights on trains, boats, helicopters and buildings, and gorgeous women such as the Italian Monica Bellucci (who happily makes love to Bond after he murders her husband) and the French Léa Seydoux (as the daughter of a terrorist but now an ally and lover of Bond’s).

As you see, much of the plot is nonsensical, and requires suspension of judgment, but this has always been so with Bond movies, and it hasn’t been detrimental to their enjoyment.
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Full List of James Bond Movies




FULL LIST OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Rape of Paris




 On November 13, terrorists murdered one hundred and twenty nine innocent victims in Paris. There were several simultaneous attacks across the city, but the bulk of the deaths occurred at a rock concert. There, many of the victims had first been held hostage. The siege ended and eight attackers died, either as suicides or shot by the police.

Paris. The Charlie Hebdo bloodbath is barely ten-months old, and now this. I am a Parisian. I grew up there. I went to French elementary and secondary schools. I have been back to Paris a hundred times. It is not possible to love a city more than Paris.

Now what? At first, we say: we must DO something. We must stand up to terrorism. We must fight back. Sure.

I don’t know what this means. Being angry is fine with me. I AM angry. After Charlie Hebdo, I deplored the fact that most Europeans were insufficiently outraged (see Charlie Hebdo and Europe’s Inability to Get Angry). This bloodbath will strengthen nativist European forces such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Viktor Orbán’s Conservative Party in Hungary, Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom in the Netherlands and others on the Right. We will hear, more loudly than before, that there is a war going on against the West, waged by radical Islam.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Most Human Telecommunication still Requires Stupid Wires




On October 25, there was an article in the New York Times by David Sanger and Eric Schmitt titled Russian Presence Near Vital Undersea Cables Causes Worry. Here is the passage that got me:

“The role of the cables is more important than ever before. They carry more than $10 trillion a day in global business, including from financial institutions that settle their transactions on them every second. Any significant disruption would cut the flow of capital. The cables also carry more than 95 percent of daily communications.” 

A few days later (Nov. 4), the Christian Science Monitor added:

“...a network of fiber-optic cables does crisscross the world’s oceans, connecting countries and continents. Each cable is about three inches thick. At its center are several fiber-optic fibers that transmit data as pulses of red light. Submarine cables carry around 99 percent of transoceanic communications... That means 99 percent of telephone and Internet data that crosses an ocean – from Europe to the US, from Canada to Asia, from Iceland or Australia to anywhere else – travels through a thin strand of optical fiber bundled into a cable and laid across the ocean floor.”
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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Water Grabbing: How Saudi Arabia is Growing Wheat in Arizona



Although no one really knows how much oil is left in Saudi Arabia’s huge oil reserve, the Saudis probably won’t have to worry about keeping warm in the foreseeable future. It is one of those things that seem so unfairly distributed in the world, like beauty: some people are blessed with good looks and others aren't, it's just the way it is.

What the Saudis are not so blessed with are water resources. There are no permanent rivers or lakes and very little rainfall. The Saudi desert sits on top of one of the oldest and largest aquifers in the world, which only 50 years ago, contained enough water to fill Lake Erie, but due to a combination of greed, stupidity and arrogance, the country has managed to drain its ground water supply and now has to rely on expensive desalination processing to provide drinking water to its growing population.

When the nomad culture of the Bedouins still thrived, each tribe knew where to find the wells and springs. Take some water, then, move your herd, to give the springs time to replenish. But the lush oases depicted in the Bible and the Koran is a thing of the past. The powers that be decided that the country should become self-sufficient and began to grow wheat in their desert until Saudi Arabia became the sixth largest exporter of wheat in the world. The government began subsidizing mega farms, allowing rich land owners to drain as much ground water as they pleased, with the result that most of it is now gone. Read more...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Roman Holiday; Eataly



So as I was saying, our annual European trip usually ends in Rome. All roads lead to Rome.The eternal city; the immortal city; the city of cities; Roma Eterna.

For my wife Anita and me, this has become a tradition (See her article, Falling in Love with the Eternal City). And because we have spent so much time there over the years, we never rush about, cramming a dozen sites and museums into a three-day visit. Instead, we go for a leisurely nine or ten days. We eat out, but we also picnic a lot. We may go back to the Capitoline Museum (the best antiquity museum anywhere), but we don’t have to re-enter the Colosseum every year, bumping into another three million tourists. We do stroll around the Forum every year.

We always take in an evening outdoor concert. Virtuoso live performances of Vivaldi, Chopin, Mozart, Puccini, Beethoven, Liszt and others, inside the Teatro Marcello, which is an amphitheater as well preserved and as magnificent as the famous Colosseum built by Emperor Vespasian, just slightly smaller. One year, we saw Verdi’s Aida in the Baths of Caracalla, including live camels parading across the stage.
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Monday, November 2, 2015

European Vacation - Car Issues, plus some Gaelic



This year, our European trip took us to three countries: We did our usual two - Holland and Italy, and we added Ireland to the mix, one of only two European countries which I had never visited before (the other one is Portugal).

We have some rules for our annual European travel: The Netherlands is always a must, because that’s where my 102-year old mother lives. Then there is Rome: That, too, has become an annual Mecca, because my wife Anita is an avid antiquity buff. Each year she discovers new nooks and crannies at the Forum, the Palatine Hill, the houses of Augustus and Livia Drusilla, Nero’s Domus Aurea, Ostia Antiqua, the Baths of Caracalla, Trajan’s Market, or some other site. A lifetime is far too short to explore Rome and do it justice. And then, we add a third leg to each trip, and that has to be a place we haven’t yet seen. Read more...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Benghazi Post-Mortem




 As I have been saying for three years (See my The Benghazi Pseudo-Issue; Benghazi Ad Nauseam), the so-called “Benghazi affair/scandal” is nothing. It is a puff of hot air aimed to undermine Hillary Clinton and her quest for the White House.

I watched parts of the October 22 congressional hearings of the Select Committee on Benghazi chaired by Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy. This is the umpteenth committee created by the enemies of President Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to “investigate Benghazi.”

I feel obligated to educate the public about Benghazi once again. Hopefully this will be a POST-MORTEM of this stupid and useless three-year-long scandal-mongering campaign aimed purely at undermining the Obama-Clinton administration, not to uncover any nefarious lies by them.

If you read the remainder of this short article, you will NOT see a repetition of what the media - at least the non-reactionary media - have already been saying for the past few days - namely that “Hillary Clinton did very well,” that she “won the exchange between her and her accusers,” that “the Benghazi hearings are useless,” etc.)
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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is Democracy for Sale? The Problem with Paid Petitioners




Push to listen

Today was one of those 'Oh, wow' days in my life. Something happened that put a permanent dent in the armor of naivete with which I usually view the world.

Because I feel strongly about animal protection, I volunteered to gather signatures for a new ballot initiative in Massachusetts which would curb extreme confinement and lifelong immobilization of animals at industrial-style factory farms.

There I was, standing at the entrance of the local super market, boldly approaching strangers, ignoring my natural shyness for the sake of a lofty cause. I watched the shopping cart retriever maneuver his catch, like a long metal snake, as he was trying not to collide into the walls. Ha, so that's how it feels to be anonymous - you know, when nobody pays attention to you. As we exchanged looks, this older man pushing his long trail of carts and I, we had a moment of 'understanding'. Read more...

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Psychosis of Violence: A New Phase in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict




Push to listen

Another wave of attacks took place this week in Israel. A terrorist stabbed a sixty-year old woman and this past Tuesday another Palestinian willfully crashed his car into a bus stop, then swung a cleaver to hack Jews to pieces. The hatred jumps out at you, as you watch the footage of this senseless attack, taken by a security camera. What triggered this latest bout of violence?

According to the Times, "The wave of violence is a response to the increase in Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, the Muslim holy Al-Aqsa mosque." Last year, 12,000 Jews visited the Temple Mount. But 200,000 Christians visited the site during the same period, and the number of Muslims amounts to four million. But those damn Jews, those 33 per day, that's just unacceptable.

Others would say that the attacks are a result of the Palestinian despair at the lack of progress of the peace process—never mind that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just declared the Oslo Accords null and void.

Dr. Col. (res.) Moshe Elad views the wave of terror attacks as a desperate cry for attention from the international community. "The Palestinians felt that in the last couple of months they were a little out of focus because most news was about ISIS, the problem in Syria, Russia, the United States and suddenly the Palestinian problem was a little outdated."

In an article 'The Real Reason why Arabs hate the Jews', Dutch writer Leon de Winter has another, more basic explanation: 'With the overwhelming success of their state, the Jews have humiliated the Arabs. This is the core of the madness from which Palestinians and most other Muslims suffer. They refuse to live in a region with a superior Jewish state. Jews are supposed to be second-class citizens, that is what the Koran says.' Read more...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Debate, Hillary Redux and why any Democrat is better than any Republican




Call me a one-track mind, but after the democratic presidential debate, I MUST devote another post to Hillary Clinton and the presidential campaign.

So on October 13, five democratic candidates for the US presidency held a debate, attempting to emulate the same level of entertainment as that with which eleven Republican candidates regaled us nearly a month earlier.

The candidates were (1) former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the front runner; (2) Bernie Sanders, Vermont Senator, an independent and a “Socialist,” the only other candidate with a significant following at this time; (3) former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley; (4) former Virginia senator Jim Webb; and former Rhode Island governor and senator Lincoln Chafee, who had the great courage to convert from Republican to Democrat in 2007.
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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is Hillary a Cold and Calculating Woman with Chipmunk Cheeks and Ugly Pantsuits?



 Once again, I want to express my feelings about the shabby treatment of Hillary Clinton. Not only by the Republican presidential candidates and their paymasters at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, but also by the majority of the media left and right, the public and the nation’s political machinery. 

The nearly universal approach is to totally ignore her substantive policy positions, and to focus exclusively on two things: (1) alleged scandals, all fabricated pseudo-issues and (2) her personal and largely irrelevant characteristics.

I have written about this dirty business before. See my previous posts of December 15, 2014 - Obsessive-Compulsive Hillary-Hatred Disorder - and March 15, 2015 - The Persecution of Hillary Clinton.

When was the last time you read a discussion - critical or supportive - of one of Clinton’s substantive positions - be it a domestic economic issue or in foreign affairs? Have you read about her stance on tax reform to reduce inequality? On Wall Street regulation to reduce corruption? On energy or the environment? On education? On how to deal with ISIS, Syria, Iran or Putin? I suppose the media recently mentioned that she opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama is pushing. But they only did this to highlight a juicy brewing disagreement between her and her former boss, not because of any interest in her reasons for opposing the proposed agreement.
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Monday, October 5, 2015

Dutch Law Tolerates Child Marriages



One of the more disturbing aspects of the Refugee Crisis in Europe, is the 'child bride' phenomenon. For the past year and a half, at least 34 Syrian child brides have applied for asylum in the Netherlands, among them girls aged 13, 14 and 15.

As described in a recent article in the Dutch Magazine 'Elsevier', adult men who marry underage girls in their own country, can legally have their brides come to the Netherlands within the framework of 'family reunification', which means that the Netherlands is in fact participating in marriages that are often forced upon a child.

The basis for this is the Dutch Civil Code which says that: 'If a marriage is performed legally in the country of origin, is has to be recognized as valid', even though such a marriage would not be legal, if performed in the Netherlands. In other words, under this ruling, a Moroccan man living in the Netherlands can have multiple wives if these marriages were legally performed in Morocco, where polygamy is allowed. Read more...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Does Planned Parenthood Engage in Human Vivisection for Profit?



 My wife and I were in Rome on September 16, when the second Republican debate took place. We were able to watch some of it, but with the time difference, it got too late for us to watch the entire thing.

Oh well, it wasn’t the most edifying show anyway. We saw enough, including the ganging up on front-runner Trump by the other contestants, and the exchanges between Trump and Fiorina.

One thing that struck me was when “ Fiorina described a video from an anti-abortion group ...that showed “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” (Fiorina’s Abortion Comments).
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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Fanboys



I am a fan of the Fanboys. Were it not for them, life would be short, nasty and brutish. 'Fanboys' is an acronym for what grammarians call 'conjunctions', those little things that function as superglue between parts of sentences, and consequently our thoughts.

Without the Fanboys, we couldn't 'like cats but not dogs', 'eat raisins and nuts', 'wear skirts or pants', 'work hard yet enjoy ourselves', and 'wear glasses so we could see'.

You guessed it, each letter in 'Fanboys' stands for one of those conjunctions: For, And, Neither, But, Or, Yet and So.

Can you imagine if we didn't have the Fanboys as a shield against those uppity independent clauses? So full of themselves, thinking they are always right and everybody else is wrong? The Fanboys are there to put them in their place, cut them down to size and make some room for compromise. 'My twin sister is very pretty' sounds ok, but 'My twin sister is very pretty, but I am prettier' sounds a lot better. Read more...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Europe's Refugee Problem



I just returned from Europe. I’ll tell you about my recent trip in the near future, but today, I want to address an issue that is timely, and which I could not avoid hearing about daily while over there: The refugee crisis. The topic dominated the news and daily conversations (See also Madeleine’s excellent recent article about this: Exodus: The Refugee Crisis in Europe).

The current crisis touches me in a very personal way, because of the prominent (and ugly) role recently played by my country of birth - Hungary.

This year, due to its geographic location, Hungary became for many refugees the hoped-for point of entry into Europe. Few of the thousands who are seeking refuge planned to stay in Hungary, with its limited economic opportunities. Their objective was to move on to Northern and Western Europe, Germany first and foremost. However, the Hungarian-Serbian border became the flashpoint where the influx met with European resistance. Hungary was the “front,” if you will. It was where the brunt of the pressure occurred, a pressure which did not (yet) affect the more distant countries of Northern and Western Europe.
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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Exodus: The Refugee Crisis in Europe



The world is facing a refugee crisis of biblical proportions. Although the press is full of images and stories of refugees trying to reach Europe on dinghy boats, or trek through the 'Balkan corridor', they are but a small fraction of the millions of people who have fled war zones in the Middle East.

Most of them end up in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, but living there year in year out, is a pretty bleak affair without prospects for a better future. So the logical next step is to go further afield, to Europe. America would be another option, were the Atlantic a little narrower.

The bulk of these refugees are from Syria, where a war has been raging since 2011. It is estimated that 60 million people have been displaced worldwide**, which is approximately the entire population of France. The last time the world saw such a large displacement, was during the Völksverwanderung in the late Roman period, which destroyed an entire civilization and replaced it with the 'Dark Ages', setting Europe back a millennium. Read more...

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Latest Assault on Planned Parenthood

Margaret Sanger


The most recent attempt by the Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood, on the grounds that it is trafficking in aborted fetus tissue for profit is so outrageous, that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It is now clear that this latest round is based on a series of doctored video tapes that will not hold up in a court of law.

But why do Republicans want Planned Parenthood wiped off the face of the earth? What is the motivation behind their vicious attacks on what the United Nations has declared to be a basic human right? Under international law, countries have an obligation to provide women with access to a full range of contraceptives and contraceptive information.

Defunding Planned Parenthood on the grounds that it kills unborn babies, is like defunding Mass General's Weight Center because they perform gastric bypass surgery, as a means of last resort. Never mind that they also provide other life-saving services in the form of obesity medication, nutrition counseling, exercise programs and are at the forefront of current research in weight disorders. Without these services, diabetis would become more rampant than it already is. Read more...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

America in the Age of Trump




 Here is an imaginary interview with a typical Trump supporter. I approach one of those older white guys in the parking lot outside the stadium where Trump held his rally. The guy is standing next to his Dodge Ram pickup truck, wearing a fishing cap, portly, his wife next to him. I start out by asking:

“So you like Trump? What is it about him that you like so much?”

“He is honest. He tells it like it is! He’ll clean house when he goes to Washington! He doesn’t beat around the bush. He takes on those damn politicians; all those damn liars. I am fed up with all this politically correct bs!”
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Americans (from Sacramento) Do the Job, and: What to Do with Bad People?




On August 21, a terrorist tried to kill many people on the Thalys bullet train from Amsterdam to Paris. (See: Thalys Attack).

Amazingly, I relate to this event in two ways:

1. As it so happens, I have taken this train many times, It’s always a marvelous experience.

2. The terrorist’s attempt was foiled by three Americans (assisted by some other passengers, including Chris Norman, a British businessman). The Americans were Spencer Stone, an American Air Force serviceman, Alek Skarlatos, an Oregon National Guardsman, and Anthony Sadler. Both Stone and Sadler are from Sacramento. Sadler is a Sac State kinesiology student. So in this ever smaller world, this makes me proud about one of our students.
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Monday, August 17, 2015

Freedom: The Right to be Left Alone




Freedom. Ah, that word! Sometimes overused. Often used as a slogan, especially by politicians. But the thing which it represents is essential and simple. It is also controversial, because it goes against values which some people hold dearer than freedom.

We still pay lip service to freedom. We still recite the patriotic clichés about the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” because that is what America represents. But let’s face it, freedom is no longer a politically correct value. The word is mostly used on the right of the political spectrum. 

Today, the correct thing is to praise the “social” - social responsibility, social consciousness, “community.” Some years ago, the sociologist Amitai Etzioni launched a new political movement, “communitarianism.” Indeed, the problems of your neighborhood, your city, your country and ultimately the planet can only be solved if we all band together, or as Hillary Clinton said, “it takes a village.”
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Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lives of Animals: A commentary on J.M. Coetzee's Novella



In October of 1997, the South African novelist J.M. Coetzee was invited to give a lecture at Princeton on the subject of human values. Rather than give a lecture, Coetzee began to read from his novella 'The Lives of Animals'. In his short story, Elizabeth Costello, an ageing novelist, is invited to give a lecture at a fictional college in Waltham, Massachusetts, to speak to the need for a change in consciousness in human attitudes and practices regarding animals.

So here I am, writing about a writer who writes about a writer trying to make her case. His is a brilliant approach to discuss a subject which is loaded with moral and ethical dynamite. Coetzee, who is a vegetarian, has become a vocal critic of animal cruelty and advocate for the animal rights movement. He wanted to be a candidate in the 2014 European Parliament election for the Dutch Party for Animals, the only party of its kind in the world, but he was rejected on a technicality.

In the story, Elizabeth's son John, is the one who has invited her to give a speech, which he regrets the moment he sees her at the airport. John's wife Norma dislikes Elizabeth thoroughly, both for herself and her opinions on animals, which she finds sentimental.

Of course, I immediately identified with Elizabeth, being an ageing woman myself, who lives in Eastern Massachusetts and who has been struggling with the issue of my relationship to animals for quite some time. Read more...

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Optimism Illusion



Some psychologists say that having an optimistic attitude can make you live longer and achieve higher rates of success, fight disease and even change the outcome of future events, but if you ask me, people who are always cheerful and optimistic make me suspicious and my first reaction is to question their mental capacity. You must really be blind if you can remain cheerful in the face of so much suffering in the world.

My husband calls me negative, a sour puss, always looking at the glass half empty, but I much prefer to look adversity squarely in the face, acknowledge it and then give it a good whack with a strong dose of humor. He, on the other hand, always has something good to say about bad things. If the house were on fire, he would find the silver lining in the smoke clouds rising from the burnt rubble. Read more...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Criteria for Killing or not Killing Life




To say “killing life” is a redundancy: After all, to kill means to cause death. Only life can die. All other usage of the word “kill” is metaphorical. To kill a story or to kill a project simply means to destroy it.
Today, I want to write about true killing, i.e. the killing of LIFE, the taking of ANIMAL life. I was prompted by the recent killing of Cecil the lion by Walter Palmer, a trophy hunter from Minnesota. He lured Cecil out of his sanctuary, wounded him with an arrow, tracked him for forty hours and then killed him with a rifle. Some might argue that it would it be better to have Palmer’s taxidermied head on display than Cecil’s.

Why has the story of Cecil touched so many of us? It also generated many subsequent articles pointing out that on the same day that Cecil was killed, one hundred elephants were also killed in Africa, as happens day after day non-stop. Our assault on the animal kingdom is relentless, but we treat different species very differently. So here are a couple of questions: Why is it (more) okay to kill some species than others? And: What CRITERIA do people use to either condone or condemn the killing of life?
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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Your Guide to the GOP Candidates: Who should you Not Vote for the Most?



There were two debates on August 6 - a preliminary one between seven “second-tier” candidates, and then the main event between the ten candidates who are currently enjoying the greatest amount of support. 

The preliminary debate was between Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore. Pundits and viewers declared that Carly Fiorina - scandalously the only female among seventeen (!) contestants - was the overwhelming winner of the preliminary debate. Wouldn’t it be a blast if both contenders next year were women, assuring that our next president will be a woman! (Dream on)

The piece de resistance was the debate between the following ten contestants:
1. Donald Trump - Real Estate Tycoon; New York; Florida.
2. Jeb Bush - former Governor, Florida.
3. Scott Walker - Governor, Wisconsin.
4. Mike Huckabee - former Governor, Arkansas; former Baptist Minister.
5. Ben Carson - retired neurosurgeon; Michigan.
6. Ted Cruz - Senator, Texas; foreign-born. (What’s up with that? How can he run?)
7. Marco Rubio - Senator, Florida.
8. Rand Paul - former senator, Kentucky; Ophthalmologist.
9. Chris Christie - Governor, New Jersey.
10. John Kasich - Governor, Ohio.
Read more...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There are Angels in Holland



There are angels in Bergen. Bergen is a small, affluent town in the northern tip of Holland, where my 101 year old mother settled in her old age. These angels surround her like silver-winged moths hovering around a light bulb, fluttering in and out of her apartment, gathering the mess that very old people inevitably create.

She cannot see, hear or smell much of anything any more, so they appear, polite, respectful. They greet her, gently squeezing her fragile, skinny hand as they bend over, so she can hopefully see their smiling faces. They call her 'Mevrouw Kando' and you can tell that they like her. She is a likeable centenarian, and there are not too many of them, so it could be that they feel privileged to take care of her.

They talk to her gently, sometimes asking where it hurts, or what they can do for her that day. They are there to feed her and wash her, clean the shower cell and the toilet, massage her swollen feet, clean her hearing aids and perform many other tasks that make up what they call in Holland 'Thuiszorg' (homecare). They do this without batting an eye, too polite to react to my mother's frequent snapping when they are too slow to bring her a glass of water or a pinch of salt for her soft boiled egg. She usually forgets to thank them, thinking that she is entitled. Entitled to having all these angels swarm around her, because they get paid, she says. They don't come for free. The government picks up (most of) the tab. I bite my lip as I witness the interaction, wondering if one day, I will also be short tempered with my angels. But then I realize that I live in America. There are no angels in America, the soil is not socially fertile that way. Read more...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Tour de la France 2015




The Tour de France is the world’s greatest annual sport event. It is viewed by four billion people electronically (half the world) and by 15 million live - most of them French, many of whom misbehave. Despite all of its problems, I remain an avid fan, and I keep writing about this (see for example my article Tour de France Factoids) .

Nowadays, this bicycle race is about twenty-two hundred miles long, divided into twenty-one stages covered over a period of twenty-three days. It takes place in July and it goes around France, with forays into adjacent countries. The decisive stages are in the high mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees. The arrival always takes place on the majestic Champs Elysees in Paris. There are nearly two hundred participants. They come from several dozen countries, and are divided into about twenty teams. The race was introduced in 1903, and it has taken place nearly every year since. 2015 was the Tour’s one hundred and second edition.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sociology: Are We Free? A Critique of the Social Sciences


by Tom Kando

Abstract: In this article, I plead for of a humanistic conception of sociology. Because of its positivist origins, Sociology has been desperate to emulate the physical sciences. I argue that modeling Sociology (as well as Psychology, Economics, Political Science and the other human disciplines) after the physical sciences is an error. Human behavior is value-based. Therefore, its study cannot avoid values. Nor should values be treated as facts. Post-modern Sociology does this when it becomes ideological. Humans define their environment, they are self-conscious, they react to knowledge, and they decide upon and choose courses of action. A humanistic sociology recognizes this and thus leaves room for freedom.

(Note: To professional sociologists, this article may read like a superficial rehash of a debate which has been raging in our field for over half a century, and more or less a statement of the Symbolic Interactionist position. But I wrote this for the lay public. Hopefully it will clarify for non-sociologists some of our field’s interesting aspects. You can consider this article an advertisement for Sociology.)

Knowledge

If we follow Descartes, we can say that all knowledge consists of two areas: knowledge about the physical world and knowledge about the (human) mind. We can call these the physical sciences and the human sciences - or the sciences and the humanities.

The physical sciences deal with stars, rocks, plants, animals, biology and the body, including the human body. The human disciplines deal with human behavior, thoughts, emotions, relationships, conflict, motivations, values, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, freedom and oppression, justice and injustice.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Donald Trump's Popularity: Symptom of a Disease



The more outrageous Donald Trump’s statements are , the more popular he becomes. Some say that the Media are at fault.

The tragedy here is not Trump himself. He is only a buffoon and a mediocrity. He had the usual head start which almost all millionaires/billionaires enjoy (his father was a major real estate developer) then he had some luck, so he accumulated wealth. Big deal. I am not impressed. Nothing distinguishes him very much from millions of other mediocrities, as far as abilities or character are concerned. So much for the persistent wish among Americans to see wealth as evidence of and the result of exceptional moral fiber. 

The tragedy is the growing popularity Trump enjoys as a result of his asinine behavior. Millions of Republicans like his crass statements about Mexican immigrants often being rapists, about Senator John McCain not being a war hero because he was captured, and his refusal to apologize. The disease is in the people, not in Donald Trump. And a disease it is.
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Friday, July 10, 2015

Refugees International




 When I was a child, I was a refugee. My parents and I left Hungary shortly after World War Two, when I was seven. My birth country had been the battlefield for the titanic struggle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Budapest had been pulverized, looking the same as Dresden and Hiroshima. Our family house was left barely standing, its walls pockmarked with bullet holes, with a German Panzer tank stuck in our backyard.

We fled to Paris. For the next decade, we lived like paupers, like rejects. My only ID document was a United Nations card saying that I was “Stateless” (“Apatride”). I belonged to no country. I spent time in an Italian refugee colony, I lived with host families in Switzerland and in the Netherlands. At age nine, I picked fruit on French farms. After I turned eighteen, I took the boat one-way to America. It took the old Liberty ship ten days to transport fifteen hundred emigrants and refugees to the New World. It was just like in the movies. I bunked with eight or nine other men in steerage - a Moroccan, a Swede, a couple of Dutchman, etc. It wasn’t until my 26th birthday, after a wait of eight years, that I became a US citizen, the first time I enjoyed ANY citizenship.
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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Texas Textbook Wars



In Texas, a series of new textbooks will hit classrooms this fall, which more than five million public school students will be using for nearly a generation to come. These new textbooks are filled with errors, omissions and revisions that promote a Christian Fundamentalist world view, courtesy of the Texas State Board of Education.

So what, you might say? What else would you expect from one of the most backward, conservative states in the Union, a hotbed of Creationism? Why bother write about it at all? The problem is that Texas is one of the biggest customers of publishing giants like McGraw-Hill Education. Together with Florida and California, they have roughly 13 million students in K-12 public schools and although California has more students, Texas spends more of its budget on textbooks. It literally rules the textbook market in the US. This fact and the Texas State Board of Education's relentless efforts to politicize textbooks in order to advance its religious agenda, has given the state enormous influence over what gets included in school textbooks in many states throughout the country. Read more...

Favorite Music



Today, I’ll try something different: I’m sending you a bunch of beautiful music. It’s very haphazard, just a smattering of popular music that I recently enjoyed hearing (again):

1. I just discovered (through a friend) this Franco-Italian-International group called The Gypsy Queens. I LOVE their rendition of L’Italiano. This was originally a hit song in Europe by the Italian singer Toto Cutugno. The present version, by the Gypsy Queens, came out in 2012.

Here are some of the lyrics:


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

About Race (again)




Once again, we have to think and talk about race. (Do we ever NOT need to?). Today, I am going to tiptoe through this minefield once more:

A few recent news events:

(1) The Dolezal “Scandal”: In early June 2015, it became public knowledge that Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, had been passing as a black woman. She is a civil rights activist and she was the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Her subterfuge became known because she was outed by her parents, who provided evidence that Rachel is fully of white extraction.

(2) The June 17 mass murder. Dylann Roof, a 21-year white man, murdered nine innocent black people in a Charleston church, after spending an hour praying with them.

3) The ensuing “debate” about the Confederate flag: People are now arguing as to whether the confederate flag should continue to fly in various public places, or be taken down.
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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Is America the Second Rome? - Part Three.



Abstract: This article does the following: (1) It shows that the continuities between modern-day Europe and America are in many ways similar to those between Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. (2) using an organicist theoretical framework, it traces and compares the births, life spans, transformations, similarities, golden ages, and (possible) declines of America and Ancient Rome. (3) Based on generational theory, it asks whether future American history is likely to repeat Ancient Roman history, including Roman mistakes.

3A. Is America’s Future Likely to Resemble Rome’s Past?
There is no law of history that requires America to replicate Rome’s history. At the same time, we should not be so overconfident as to proclaim the superiority of 21st century society over ancient Rome in its adaptability and its ability to meet challenges.
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Friday, June 12, 2015

Is America the Second Rome?- Part Two




Abstract:  This article does the following: (1) It shows that the continuities between modern-day Europe and America are in many ways similar to those between Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.   (2) using an organicist theoretical framework, it traces and compares the births,  life spans,  transformations,  similarities,  golden ages, and   (possible) declines of America and Ancient Rome. (3) Based on generational theory, it asks whether future American history is likely to repeat Ancient Roman history, including Roman mistakes.

2. Two Histories: (A) Origins; (B) Timelines/ Life spans; (C) Transformations and Major Milestones;  (D) Additional similarities; (E) Golden Age; (F) Decline and Fluctuations.

According to the “organicist” model in sociology and history, societies are born, grow, transition from one developmental  stage to the next, as do individuals.  They undergo experiences which can be transformative, they  decay and die, as do organisms. (See for example Don Martindale, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory, and Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History). This paradigm has much to commend it, and it can be used to examine the histories of America and Ancient Rome.
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King vs. Burwell: How The Republican Beast is Feasting on Ignorance



The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is once again under attack by Republicans. Since its birth in 2010, they have tried to dismantle it, either piecemeal or as a whole, and have taken every opportunity to badmouth it, without offering any significant alternatives.

They first derided the ACA by pointing to the many technical problems that the healthcare.gov website suffered from, which caused a bunch of delays. But when those problems got fixed and enrollment surpassed expectations, proving that Obamacare was a good thing, Republicans decided to challenge the constitutionality of the whole Act. When the United States Supreme Court upheld the Individual Mandate, they went after some of the provisions of the Act.

In Hobby Lobby vs. Burwell, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. Obamacare lost on that front. Read more...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Is America the Second Rome? - Part One




Abstract: This article does the following: (1) It shows that the continuities between modern-day Europe and America are in many ways similar to those between Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. (2) using an organicist theoretical framework, it traces and compares the births, life spans, transformations, similarities, golden ages, and (possible) declines of America and Ancient Rome. (3) Based on generational theory, it asks whether future American history is likely to repeat Ancient Roman history, including Roman mistakes.

1. The Parallel: Modern-day America Continues and Amplifies Europe, as Ancient Rome Continued and Amplified Ancient Greece:
Ever since my teen years in Gymnasium, I have been struck by the similarities between the history of the modern Western world and Greco-Roman Antiquity. It has always appeared to me that, separated by two millennia, Western man has TWICE chartered a very similar course.
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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Paradoxes




I am fascinated by paradoxes. Sometimes, they can serve as amusing conversation pieces at a dinner party.

Here is a familiar one: “This sentence is false.” This is of course an exercise in circular logic: if the sentence is indeed false, then wouldn’t it be telling you the truth by telling you it was false? And if the sentence was true, then wouldn’t its declaration of falsity render it untrue?

But right now, I just want to select a few “numerical” paradoxes that I have had on my mind over the years. To mathematicians and statisticians (neither of which I am), this post will appear innumerate and dilettantistic. Nevertheless consider the following:
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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Things that Didn't Happen



Today so many things didn't happen to me, that I feel I should write about them. On other days, things start to happen as soon as I wake up. I trip over some carelessly strewn about item on my way to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, but today I made it to the kitchen without stubbing my toes. I didn't find the coffee jar empty and didn't have to resort to the dreaded emergency decaf container; I didn't burn the milk and didn't have to spend half an hour cleaning the stove.

While I was not doing all these things, I couldn't help but notice other things that had not happened: the pile of laundry was still waiting patiently next to the washing machine and the dirty dishes had not seen any action either.

As the day progressed, more and more things gathered on the didn't happen pile. While I was taking a shower, I noticed that the paper thin sliver of soap had not been replaced by a healthy, new fresh bar and the hair ball in the drain had not budged, giving my feet a good 15 minute Read more...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Deadwood: A curiously captivating Narrative




Deadwood was a weekly Western on HBO from 2004 to 2006. Its thirty-six episodes are still available on demand at this time. I now offer a belated exposition of this amazing show, all the while trying to mimic its linguistic style:

 One of the production’s highly entertaining facets is the scribes’ efforts to render the actors’ locutions and axioms as veritable as possible to the prevailing linguistic discourse of the epoch and the locale in question - namely the Wild West of the 1870s. The consequence is a consummate admixture of disproportionate profanity blended with esoteric and convoluted speechifaction such as what you, dear reader, are experiencing whilst reading the present phrase.

I cannot gauge whether the featured linguistic style veritably reflects reality and the prevailing nomenclature of that era, as I was not present, but it is most engaging. As to the ubiquitous use of obscenities by the protagonists, I shall revisit this affair in a moment.
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Thursday, May 21, 2015

I am a Closet Dancing-With-The-Stars Watcher




So On May 19, Rumer Willis and her professional partner Val Chermkovskiy won the 20th installment of  Dancing with the Stars.  Rumer is the daughter of super stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. A close second were singer-songwriter Riker Lynch and his professional partner Allison Holker. In third place were Iraq war veteran and amputee Noah Galloway, superbly coached and accompanied by Sharna Burgess.

This very popular American reality show, now completing its 20th season on ABC,  pairs up a dozen professional ballroom dancers with a dozen celebrities who usually don’t dance very well, and they compete with each other, receiving scores from a few judges. Each week one of the competing couples is eliminated, until only one survives - the season’s champion.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness




Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: Thomas Jefferson’s holy triad. Democratic man’s three most sacred values, right?

Sometimes, when we want to say that something has great value, we call it sacred and we say that it is “more sacred than life itself.” But what is the relationship between Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Is there a hierarchy?

Some - for example Patrick Henry and the  New Hampshire’s motto - say that Liberty is more important than Life itself. Such professed idealism implies that it is your OWN life which you would be willing to sacrifice for freedom. But to most people, it makes a big difference whether the life to be sacrificed for a greater good is their own or somebody else’s.

Life is a poor example of a “sacred value,” even though linguistic convention often puts the words “life” and “sacred” together.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

An Ode to the Letter A



It has come to my attention of late, that we, as writers, don't give enough credit to one of the most undervalued letters in the English alphabet: the letter A.

Let's face it, we misuse, abuse and overuse many letters, but the A is like the Angus of letters. For one thing, it has various pronunciations, sometimes it sounds like 'ey', sometimes like 'uh', sometimes like 'aw'. It is like a chameleon. It changes from 'mat' to 'mate', from 'glass' to 'glaze' and from 'hat' to 'hate', depending on which vowel it keeps company with. It even has to do the work of other letters when people become lazy in their pronunciation, like in 'whateva' or 'seeya'.

It is as selfless as Mother Theresa, coming to the rescue when a person is not sure what to say: 'aaah… let me see'. Or when someone has an epiphany: 'aaha', an orgasm: 'aaaah', feels sorry for someone: 'aaw', or just pretends to understand something complicated: 'ah (yes)'.

Singers use it to practice their voice, without even considering paying the A a decent living wage. Doctors diagnose throat conditions, again at no extra cost to them, knowing that the A has no collective bargaining power. Can you imagine if the A went on strike? The consequences are too horrible to contemplate. I couldn't finish this essey without committing orthogrephic mistekes. The Spanish language would particularly be in trouble, with their feminine endings and the poor Hawaiians wouldn't be able to talk at all, since most of the consonants in their language fell overboard when they came to Hawaii in their canoes. Besides, everybody would get lost on the islands, since all the streets have names like Kal'ia'iou'amaa'aaa'eiou. Read more...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Does Wisconsin Hate the Poor?



I came to America many moons ago and although I never got used to the utter lack of care for people who are in need, I tacitly came to see it as 'a fact of life'. But now, an attempt by conservative politicians to further humiliate poor people has gotten me so enraged, that I had to write something about it.

There is a hot new trend in several states to try to limit what type of food people on Food Stamps are allowed to buy and at the vanguard of this food-policing idiocy, is Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker.

Under the guise of benevolently steering ignorant food stamp recipients towards a healthier diet, the Wisconsin Legislature has introduced Assembly Bill 177, to override a Federal rule that prohibits such restrictions. If you are poor and you live in Wisconsin, expect to be spied on by fellow shoppers, store managers and government undercover agents to make sure that you don't carry offensive items in your shopping cart.

One of the many foods that would be verboten by the Wisconsin food police, are any type of shellfish. As if a person who is allocated $1.40 per meal would want to spend it on such an expensive food item. Another 'no no' is one of Wisconsin's most abundant products, cheddar cheese. The insanity of it all boggles the mind. Have a look at this glossy pamphlet of WIC approved foods. The amount of man hours put into its production could have fed quite a few needy families. According to a study, it would cost the state of Wisconsin $56 million, to put this new proposal into effect. Nobody knows where this money is supposed to come from, but $56 million could provide food stamps for an additional 37,000 low income residents. Read more...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Universal Basic Income: An Idea whose Time has Come



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, is the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. It includes the most obvious right of all, that we are all born free and equal and have a right to life, liberty and security of person.

But how can we be secure without having the means to meet our basic needs? Or do those basic human rights not apply to the homeless, the working poor or the children who suffer from food insecurity? Rising income inequality and the loss of jobs puts more and more people in that category.

Trading work for income seems to be harder and harder to implement. From self-check in at airports to self-cleaning toilets, automation has replaced human labor, to the point where 'work' has acquired a new meaning. In some areas of the economy, it is no longer connected to activities that traditionally provided 'income, which means that less and less people benefit from economic growth. (The Rise of Robots – and Decline of Jobs – Is Here)

Over the past four decades wages have been flat, because substituting capital for labor through automation is increasingly attractive to companies. Owners of capital are getting richer, while workers are getting poorer. Even in areas that we think require the 'human touch', like teaching or cutting hair, if broken down into small enough steps, automation is gaining ground. Taxi drivers, airline pilots and journalists might soon be a thing of the past. Read more...

Monday, April 20, 2015

America Needs a National Water Policy




 A little over two years ago, my sister Madeleine Kando wrote a piece on this blog, Water: An Endangered Species? As her title indicates, she was addressing an issue all too familiar to many of us - water scarcity. She hit the nail on the head when she wrote that “the biggest threat to the supply and availability of water and as such to life on earth, is the trend towards privatization of water resources.”
 I now pick up this issue, which has only become more acute since then:

This past winter has been one of two opposite extremes, climatewise: Back East, there has been record-breaking precipitation. The snow which accumulated around my sister Madeleine’s house in Boston reached as high as her roof.
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Mentality of Mass Murder - Part Five: Towards Armageddon for the Human Species, or the Golden Age?





This is the final part of a five-part review of The Killing Compartments; The Mentality of Mass Murder (Yale University Press, 2015), a new book by Abram De Swaan, Professor Emeritus of Social Science, University of Amsterdam. (Page numbers referenced are for the e-version of the book). Due to its length, the review is broken up into five parts. I hope you read it all.

Abstract: The book under review offers a profound analysis of the phenomenon of Mass Extermination. There are four types: The Conqueror’s Frenzy, Rule by Terror, the Loser’s Triumph and the Megapogrom. De Swaan provides rich and vivid case studies from past and current history. The author refutes the fundamental fallacy of situationism, which suggests that we are all potential mass murderers. He does this with a four-level analysis, the levels of macro-sociology, meso-sociology, micro-sociology and psycho-sociology. Human societies go through both the civilizing process AND the de-civilizing process - regression towards barbarism. I conclude with some speculation about the future of our species and its potential for survival as well as for self-destruction.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Mentality of Mass Murder - Part Four: Are we all Potential Mass Murderers?




This is the fourth part of a five-part review of The Killing Compartments; The Mentality of Mass Murder (Yale University Press, 2015), a new book by Abram De Swaan, Professor Emeritus of Social Science, University of Amsterdam. (Page numbers referenced are for the e-version of the book). Due to its length, the review is broken up into five parts. I hope you read it all.

Abstract: The book under review offers a profound analysis of the phenomenon of Mass Extermination. There are four types: The Conqueror’s Frenzy, Rule by Terror, the Loser’s Triumph and the Megapogrom. De Swaan provides rich and vivid case studies from past and current history. The author refutes the fundamental fallacy of situationism, which suggests that we are all potential mass murderers. He does this with a four-level analysis, the levels of macro-sociology, meso-sociology, micro-sociology and psycho-sociology. Human societies go through both the civilizing process AND the de-civilizing process - regression towards barbarism. I conclude with some speculation about the future of our species and its potential for survival as well as for self-destruction.
Read more...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Mentality of Mass Murder - Part Three: How is Mass Annihilation Accomplished?




 This is the third part of a five-part review of The Killing Compartments; The Mentality of Mass Murder (Yale University Press, 2015), a new book by Abram De Swaan, Professor Emeritus of Social Science, University of Amsterdam. (Page numbers referenced are for the e-version of the book). Due to its length, the review is broken up into five parts. I hope you read it all.

Abstract: The book under review offers a profound analysis of the phenomenon of Mass Extermination. There are four types: The Conqueror’s Frenzy, Rule by Terror, the Loser’s Triumph and the Megapogrom. De Swaan provides rich and vivid case studies from past and current history. The author refutes the fundamental fallacy of situationism, which suggests that we are all potential mass murderers. He does this with a four-level analysis, the levels of macro-sociology, meso-sociology, micro-sociology and psycho-sociology. Human societies go through both the civilizing process AND the de-civilizing process - regression towards barbarism. I conclude with some speculation about the future of our species and its potential for survival as well as for self-destruction.
Read more...