Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Worlds Universities, Ranked and Locaated

Preface: Once in a while, I take a look at the University of Shanghai’s Annual Ranking of the World's 800 Major Universities.
You  may find this an empty exercise. However, I enjoy lists, and I have spent my life in  academe. The Shanghai rankings have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc There is of course always room for improvement. For now, I present to you some of the interesting factoids I came across. I hope you enjoy perusing these. I’ll focus on the top 100, then 200, and (briefly) 500 universities listed.

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

In sharp contrast, the entirety of Latin America has one university in this category - the University of Sao Paulo. Vast regions such as Africa and  India have zero. Altogether, the five “Anglo” countries of the world - the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and  Ireland have  109 of the world’s top 200 universities,  = 54.5%. Yup. Cultural preponderance (call it domination, if you wish). Table One shows these facts.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Ode to Margit Beke Görög

by Madeleine Kando

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Truth About First Twins

by Madeleine Kando

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

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

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

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Why do American Policemen Kill so Many People?

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

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

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

Here are some random comparative international statistics:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

In the Future

by Madeleine Kando

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

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

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Enlightenment Now: A Book Review

By Madeleine Kando

Every morning I get the New York Times’ ‘morning briefing’ in my inbox, waiting there patiently, until I have had my first cup of coffee and am as ready as I can be, to brace the calamities of the day’s news.

Some of today’s headlines read: Trump imposes tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. Hope Hicks resigns after testifying for 8 hours before the House Intelligence Committee. Nepotism rampant in the White House. Freezing temperatures caused by a weakening polar vortex are battering Europe. Putin is threatening Western nations with a new generation of nuclear weapons.

And those are just the main points. It doesn’t say how many people were shot, how many children didn’t have enough to eat, how long Medicare will survive or whether access to birth control will be made more difficult.

The only thing that gives me hope, is that we, the people can still disagree, gripe, bitch, whine and kick up a fuss about how we are governed. but does that make an iota of difference? Does it decrease poverty, crime and corruption? Does it make us progress?

In ‘Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress’, psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, shows that we are, indeed, making progress, regardless of what the New York Times tells us.

Pinker's clear intention is to take the wind out of every imaginable argument against the case for human progress. To me, reading this book felt like a breath of fresh air. Is he too optimistic? Many people think so, including social philosopher John Gray, whom Pinker calls a progressophobe. Read more...

Friday, March 2, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics: Rankings

93 countries participated in the  recent Winter Games in Pyongchang. 30 of them won 1 or more medals. 63 did not.

I gave each country 3 points for a gold medal, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze.  I then ranked all the countries by total points. For example, Norway had 13 gold medals, 14 silver and 11 bronze, for a total of 82 points. The US had (9 x 3) + (8 x 2) + (6 x 1) = 49, and so forth.

I then calculated each country’s PER CAPITA score. The table below ranks the 30 medal-winning countries by per capita points earned:

Thursday, February 22, 2018


That’s it. We are there. We have reached the point of insanity. I’m referring to the “gun debate” in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting.

There is now a SERIOUS conversation about arming teachers!

That the President and the NRA most prominently make such a proposal is not what strikes me as the most insane aspect of this. We are used to Donald Trump and Wayne La Pierre saying crazy things.

What I find insane is that there is a conversation about this, that there are people who think about this seriously. While most teachers (I think) would still find this idea abhorrent, there are already some teachers who are sort of warming up to it...

As my sister Madeleine says, the press isn’t doing its job either: Recently on the NewsHour, Judy Woodruff interviewed a couple of pro-gun rights high schoolers. One of them offered the imbecile argument that we have security at airports, banks and government facilities, so why not at our schools? Read more...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

It's the Guns

by Madeleine Kando

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy, Bloody Valentine’s Day

by Madeleine Kando

Did you get roses for Valentine’s day? A card? Chocolates? I was going to order those ’12 long-stemmed roses’, advertised ad nauseam on NPR, but then I asked myself: who is this Valentine guy anyway? What gives him the right to mind-control an entire population to go out and spend their hard earned money on others? ** There should be a law against saints telling us what to do, I reasoned.

So I went digging and I came across several articles on The Dark Origins Of Valentine's Day. Let me warn you, it ain’t pretty. And quite convoluted.

There are two theories on the origin of this supposedly lovey-dovey celebration; one cruel and bloody, the other salacious and sex-driven.

The first connection is to the ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, in honor of the fertility god Lupercus. During this pagan ritual from February 13 to 15, a group of priests called Luperci, sacrificed a goat (the symbol for virility) and a dog (not sure why), sliced strips of skin from these victims and ran around naked, whipping young women who willingly lined up for a beating. They believed that being beaten by naked men would make them fertile. This ‘naked guys running amok frenzy’ was followed by a blind-date lottery where names of young girls were put in a large urn, followed by activities better not described here in detail. Read more...

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Diktator Trump

I have come to a conclusion:

Well-meaning as they may be, the good folks at MSNBC, the NY Times, etc (Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Don Lemon, etc) and their guest pundits don’t get it: they keep wondering when the Republicans (e.g. Paul Ryan) will finally develop a conscience and divorce Trump. They still think that firing Mueller is a “red line,” that this would result in a constitutional crisis, etc.

Most Americans, no matter how well-meaning they may be,  have difficulty being sufficiently pessimistic, regardless of how bleak a situation is. This is an admirable quality, of course. However, sometimes, Americans' positive thinking needs to be tempered by some old-fashioned (European?) doom.

Today, many Americans still have difficulty realizing that the country is moving towards dictatorship. They do not understand the genesis and history of dictatorships, because they have been fortunate not to ever have EXPERIENCED dictatorship.  My own  perspective is darker.   Whether this is because I am a European or due to my personal disposition doesn't matter. Read more...

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Looking for my Muse

by Madeleine Kando

My muse has disappeared. She left without explaining why or when she would return. She used to work overtime for long stretches, you see, to the point where I took her for granted and never even considered giving her anything in return. Maybe she realized that she was being played for a sucker and decided to teach me a lesson.

I confess to all the times that she whispered in my ear while I was in the shower or cooking dinner, but it wasn’t ‘convenient’ for me to pick up the little muselings she dropped in my lap and take the time to put them on paper. Muselings don’t stick around unless you catch them in the act, you know.

I confess to all the times I was cheating on her by watching a third rate movie on T.V. instead of spending quality time with her. Who can blame her, sitting there in the corner of my darkened living room, staring at me staring at the boob tube, wondering what she was doing there, wasting her time on me.

She must have found someone more deserving of her gifts by now. Muses are so in demand these days, what with all those Indie writers who think they can ride the gravy train without an ounce of creativity. My muse is probably cheating on me with some other undeserving schmuck, who thinks he can use her as a ghostwriter. Read more...

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hail Columbia

by Madeleine Kando

What is more representative of the American ‘soul’ than the love of liberty? After all, the desire to be free of British rule is the reason America exists. So it is not surprising that America’s quest for independence, required a symbol that would represent this love of freedom.

Although a mere eagle or a mythical phoenix would have done the basic job, the new Colonies realized that they needed a more inspiring symbol to do justice to this entirely new endeavor.

They turned to the practice that was en vogue in Europe at the time. Nations and even entire continents were represented by female figures. France had its Marianne, England had Britania and Germany had Germania. Why not depict America with an equally inspiring lady?

This practice dates back to the Romans, who revered certain values, known as Virtues. They had a slew of Goddesses to whom they attributed these virtues, which they in turn tried to live up to and put up as examples for the ‘domus’ (the common people). Some of those Virtues were Hope (Spes), Justice (Justicia), Piety (Pietas), Courage (Virtus) and especially Libertas, the Goddess of Freedom.

The Colonies were in great need of an image that would represent this virgin, unspoiled country. An image that would create a national identity different from the former mother country. They turned to the Roman Goddess Libertas for inspiration and it was Chief Justice Samuel Sewall of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who, in 1697 suggested that America’s Colonies be called Columbina, a feminization of Christopher Columbus. Thus Lady Columbia was borne. Read more...

Monday, January 8, 2018

Grandmother in Training

by Madeleine Kando

My friend Karen is a grandmother. She insisted on being there during her grandson’s delivery, but for some reason, her daughter said it would be better if she spent the $3000 airfare on a vacation with her husband in Hawaii instead. ‘But I can give such useful advice’, Karen said. After all, she had been through it three times! Ok, so maybe her daughter was right. In Karen’s days, not even husbands were allowed in the delivery room.

She was a bit disappointed, she told me, when her daughter didn’t take her advice on naming her grandson. ‘What kind of name is Redmond’, she said. ‘His hair isn’t red’. But no matter how sensible her suggestion was, to name her grandson Gregory (after her own father), it fell on deaf ears.

Since Gregory’s (I mean Redmond’s) birth, Karen likes to pay her daughter surprise visits, and give her the opportunity to spend quality time together. But last time her daughter got upset and said that Karen should call first to ask if it was convenient to just show up like that. ‘Well, what’s more important; grandma’s visit or their precious schedule’, Karen told her. Read more...