Showing posts with label social commentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social commentary. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Nobel Prize:The Great Intellectual Flight from the Old World to the New


         
1. INTRODUCTION:
The Nobel Prize has existed for 117 years. In that time, a total of 916 prizes have been awarded to individuals and organizations, with some receiving the Nobel Prize more than once. (See: Nobel Prize).

In this article I  examine the national, ethnic and gender  composition of the laureates. I examine TRENDS over time,  and I show how the allocation of  Nobel awards  reflects the history and the evolution of the world over the past 117 years. (See: Nobel Laureates).

This article is not an exercise in nationalism or chauvinism. To the contrary, you’ll see that there is probably no more international population on the planet than the  body of Nobel laureates. But to demonstrate this, it is necessary to identify each laureate’s background. This is the first objective of this article. A second, and related, objective is to demonstrate the changing composition of this population and to show that the trends over time   reflect the world’s geopolitical  and cultural evolution.
Read more...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How to Make America Great (Again)



Here are three competing political and economic agendas. (1) Liberal, (2) Radical Socialist and (3) Conservative:

LIBERAL AGENDA:

1. The economy: The problem:

The federal government is on a trajectory towards bankruptcy. Sooner or later, Social Security and Medicare will become insolvent.

Each year, the share of the federal budget that is spent on financing the debt grows. Obama  managed to reduce the government’s annual deficit to around $400 billion, but the new Republican tax cut for the rich is predicted to cause this to rise to $1 trillion. In addition, interest rates have been at an unprecedented low for years, and they are bound to rise soon. Gradually, financing the debt will crowd out other expenditures - health and human services, unemployment, infrastructure, housing and transportation, science and education, food and agriculture, energy and the environment, veterans and even the military.

The Trump administration is already proposing to cut food stamps. Stingy as our safety net and assistance to the needy are compared to other advanced social democracies, they will be reduced even further, as our government goes broke.

The solution:

A. Full retirement age for social security should be raised. Life expectancy has risen, so this makes sense. Raising the age at which dozens of millions of Americans begin to collect benefits will save the government BILLIONS. Read more...

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Trump's Worst Obscenity to Date: Making Children into Orphans



Our blog hasn’t been very active as of late. Some have blamed us for “disengaging” just as evil is getting worse. The reasons for writing less frequently over the past few months are private and irrelevant.

Nevertheless, our country sometimes reaches such a loathsome new low, such an abysmal nadir of immorality, that I feel compelled to take up the pen again, if for nothing else at least in order to re-iterate some of the verities which most people of good will already know:

The Trump-instigated , Republican-condoned and FOX News-encouraged policy of child torture at the Mexican border is an historical event whose gravity is comparable to our World War Two Japanese internment camps. The break-up of families which effectively makes orphans out of thousands of children is comparable to the break-up of black families during slavery. As my wife said, this policy is a crime against humanity and it deserves scrutiny by international courts in the tradition of the Nuremberg trials, or at least the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Here are some salient, absurd or otherwise noteworthy points about this issue:

1. The Right’s immigration agenda is clearly and obviously motivated by one single overarching motive: To do everything in its power to maintain white supremacy. It is purely and exclusively a race war by non-military means. And to that end, the Right will stoop to ANY conceivable means. I have long believed that Trump’s instinctive sympathy for Russia has to do with the fact that Russia is the largest white country. Read more...

Saturday, June 2, 2018

For Happier and Healthier Human Beings



 My sister Madeleine wrote a very intelligent piece about the “dangers of spirituality.” In her review of Kramer and Alstad’s book The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, the failure of Buddhism and Hinduism is explained. Many good points are made by the book’s authors and by Madeleine.

I have wanted to write an alternative piece related to the same topic. First, I had to spend three weeks in Hawaii, so I am only now getting around to this.

Since I know little about Buddhism and Hinduism, I dot not intend to defend those perspectives here, or other Eastern spiritual philosophies in the “Zen” tradition, or other “New Age” trends.

However, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is today a convergence among many strands of modern psychology towards certain principles. Following these principles may help humans to become happier and psychologically healthier. And in my view, they appear to be empirically true.

The common thread I see in the emerging paradigm includes the following elements:

1. Humans experience life through interpretation. The world is not given to us. We make the world in which we live.
2. Thus, we experience life “from within to without,” not the other way around, as is claimed for example by Behaviorism (“we respond to stimuli”).
3. We have minds, we think, and we have consciousness.
4. All human experience occurs in the present - NOW. No one has ever experienced anything in the past or in the future. We can only THINK about the past and the future. We cannot live in those realms.
5. Thinking tends to be verbal.
6. Thoughts produce feelings.
7. We are the totality of our thoughts and our feelings. Read more...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Worlds Universities, Ranked and Located



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

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

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics: Rankings


                                
THE 2018 WINTER OPLYMPICS; 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:
Read more...

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Insanity



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...

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...

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Kando's Dogma



I’m sick and tired of hearing how very unpopular “liberal” has become in America.

I’m sick and tired of America’s extreme rightward drift. Don’t be mistaken about it: We are THE most conservative country in the world today!

I am sick and tired of the cliché “we are the richest country in the world.” I can think of a dozen countries that are richer (see List of Countries).

And as to the distribution of wealth, well in that regard we are doing worse than nearly ALL other developed countries. Our still relatively high per capita income obfuscates the fact that we have more obscenely rich and also more devastating poverty than most other western nations. Among OECD countries (the 35 largely more developed countries of the world), the US has the fourth highest Gini coefficient of inequality, after Mexico, Chile and Turkey! We are in good company! (See Inequality) Our relative income poverty is nearly 17%, the third highest among these 35 countries. And with the new Republican tax package, things are about to get a lot worse. Read more...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dutch Santa Claus and Black Pete



The Dutch celebrate Santa Claus on December 5 - Sinterklaas Day. In recent years, this celebration has become problematic. An old custom has become controversial, namely the Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete” tradition:

The way the Dutch have celebrated Sinterklaas Day traditionally is by having him arrive by boat from Spain. I suppose this has something to do with the fact that the Netherlands were under Spanish rule until about 300 years ago.

What has made this custom problematic in the 21st century is that each year, Santa is accompanied by a bunch of helpers called “Black Petes.” These are supposed to be young black Moorish boys, perhaps formerly slaves. They are usually enacted by white people who splash on blackface. Read more...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sleuths: European and American



We just saw the movie “Murder on the Orient Express.” I found it quite entertaining. The cast included Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer and other luminaries. It received curiously mediocre reviews, both by the audience (IMDb) and by “experts” So be it. To me, it was lovely. Maybe I am prejudiced because I remember fondly taking the Orient Express as a child.

So then, I began to think about the whole genre - crime-fiction, the whodunit, and its central character, the sleuth, the detective, the private eye, the guy who solves crimes and chases down criminals.

I grew up devouring detective novels in Europe. One of my favorites was Commissaire Maigret. He was the quintessentially European detective, created by Belgian author Georges Simenon, who published over one hundred novels featuring this character. Maigret was with the Paris Sureté, the French national police. Read more...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Me and my Computer: Inseparable Forever



Yesterday, like every other morning, I turn on my desktop PC to start my daily routines - some requiring logging in, some not. For example, I have some bills to pay, and for that, I need to log in to “Pay Online.” Also, I have to write a short piece for a local magazine, so for that I need to open “Word.” So first, I click on “Pay Online.”

However, surprise: This morning, my computer reacts differently: Instead of opening “Pay Online,” I get a pop-up message saying: “You don’t have permission to access this folder.”

What’s going on? I’m not sure how to proceed, but since I also have an article to write, I decide to switch tasks. I’ll try online payments again later. Must be some glitch. So next, I click on “Word.” Same result, only worse: I get another pop-up message. It now says: “I just told you! You don’t have permission to access this folder!” Read more...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Should we Worry about Terrorism?



It’s happening weekly: On October 31, a terrorist killed eight people in New York. He used a truck to mow down his victims. Five days later, another one killed twenty-six innocents in a Texas church.

Having taught the Violence and Terrorism course at the university for many years, I feel compelled to write about this subject. Hopefully this article will be useful.

20th and 21st century man has become inured to news of violence because such news has become so frequent. Only a month earlier, Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 546 in Las Vegas. Throughout this year, as in previous years, there have been attacks in various cities of the world - half a dozen in London and other British cities, several in Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and so forth. Attacks on the Western World are covered most prominently, because we live in the West. We are most concerned about attacks against our world. This is selfish and totally natural. Read more...

Friday, October 27, 2017

America, here is a Mirror. Is this You?



By now, most informed people have heard about this: The flap over a botched condolence phone call made by Trump to the widow of La David Johnson, one of four US soldiers recently killed in Niger.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who happened to be present when Trump called, proceeded to accuse the president of insensitivity. Thereupon, White House chief of staff John Kelly attacked the black congresswoman viciously, fabricating accusations which were promptly shown to be lies. Wilson then demanded an apology from Kelly for character assassination. The following day, lynching threats against her began to appear on the internet.

The facts are clearly on congresswoman Wilson’s side: Fact #1: She was NOT eavesdropping on Trump’s phone call. The call was picked up on Bluetooth in the car in which she and the Johnson family - close friends for many years - were driving together. Fact #2: General Kelly spewed all sorts of lies about Wilson. One of his fabrications was that she had been angling - inappropriately - for some government handout back in a 2015 speech, when in fact she did no such thing, but instead expressed deep patriotism and support for the military and the FBI. Fact #3: Kelly also took a swipe at President Obama, accusing him of NOT calling him after his son had died in combat, conveniently omitting that the former president (later) had him over for dinner at the White House. Kelly’s entire performance was a sharply biased defense of his boss. It was Trump and Kelley who politicized the death of La David Johnson, not Wilson. Fact #4: Wilson is a 74-year old black woman, and she wears a colorful cowboy hat. Her appearance is “unconventional.” Read more...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Well Done!

by Anita Kando
September 17, 2017

We arrived a few days ago to celebrate Ata's 104th birthday, only to get the shocking news of her fall and likely demise. At first, my natural reaction was that lifesaving measures should begin immediately – after all, a person does not die from a broken leg, right? We wanted to make sure Ata was not in any pain, that she was hydrated, etc, Dr. Laarhoven gently explained that Ata's wishes were being honored, they had already begun pain relief, and that she would remain at home as she had wished. It took only a moment to realize that this was as it should be, as Ata wished, and it was indeed the best course of treatment.

The health care team of doctors and nurses began their daily visits of every few hours. They were supporting Ata's wishes with their gentle care, and they were also supporting her adult children's needs at the same time. Read more...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Game of Thrones:Metaphor for America Anno 2017



 By now, I am no longer the only one who sees a parallel between the Game of Thrones’ White Walkers and Donald Trump’s “base.” But the analogy occurred to me quite some time ago, so I still claim originality.

The epiphany hit me several weeks ago. The analogy fits. I suddenly realized that Game of Thrones is about the titanic struggle between the resurgent forces of neo-fascism in America, and the rest of us.

In this show, the greatest threat of all are the White Walkers. I suddenly realized that these represent the Trump base!

Think about it: On August 12, we saw the Trump base in action again. A group of white supremacist-KKK-David Duke-following-confederate-flag-waving neo-Nazis held a violent demonstration, murdering an innocent young woman and hurting many others. Read more...

Friday, August 18, 2017

American Fascism, Donald Trump and the Slippery Slope



 No day goes by without one more outlandish behavior by our non-President. Howard Dean said it well the other day: Currently, America does not have a functioning president. There is guy who got elected to the White House by accident. No rational person seriously views him as a real President. He is something else - a celebrity, an actor, an oddity, something else. We and the rest of the world have to live with this for the foreseeable future, but this country is now essentially without a functioning president.

A good illustration of this is the flap about Charlottesville: A group of racist Nazi white-supremacist KKK fascists held a rally, they were confronted by a group that opposes racism, violence ensued, the fascists murdered a young woman.

Then, Trump argued in front of the entire planet that both “sides” were equally at fault. Read more...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Gathering Storm



I’m reading a marvellous book - Sean Carroll’s Brave Genius. It’s about the French Resistance movement during World War Two.

I’m not going to review this entire book. I just mention it because its first chapter evoked a frightening parallel in my mind: That first chapter is about the so-called “Phony War” which took place in Europe from September 1939 to May 1040, when the shooting war actually began:

Officially, World War Two began on September 1, 1039, when Hitler invaded Poland and the allies (France and Britain) declared war on Germany. However, what followed was what the French came to call the “Drole de Guerre,” or the “Phony War.” For over eight months, there was practically no fighting between the Germans and the allies. The major shoot-out began on May 10, 1040, when Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France. This phase lasted barely five weeks and ended with the defeat of France. Read more...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Trump's America Increasingly isolated, and are Americans Exceptionally Stupid?



A Dutch friend just sent me an article by Mars van Grunsven in De Groene Amsterdammer (Make America Exceptional Again).

Its main thesis is that America is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, and that Trump is speeding up this process. It also discusses, as so many have done in the past, the presumptuous belief of many Americans in “American exceptionalism.”

My comments:

1. Isolation? The assertion that America is increasingly isolated implies a dichotomous view of the world: America vs. the rest of the world. But this is nonsense. America is just one out of a couple of hundred countries, some friendly, some hostile, some indifferent. America may enter into new sorts of alliances, with nefarious dictators such as the Philippines’ president Duterte. It is best to see America as a primus inter pares, in the near future maybe secundus or even tertius...just one of the world’s relatively large countries, also a flawed country, as many other countries are. So, not all that exceptional.

2. The Future? If a small country like North Korea can insulate itself and persist in its insane ways for many decades, surely a huge place like America will be able to continue its idiosyncratic culture indefinitely (its attitudes towards guns, sex, race, the economy, science, religion, the environment and everything else). Read more...