Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Decline of Instrumental Music

I was working out on a treadmill at my health spa.

The sound blaring out from the sound system was the usual “Muzak.” i.e. the typical nondescript elevator music, all vocal, all consisting of songs, almost invariably dealing with the vicissitudes of “love.”

I was thinking: How out of touch I have become, in old age: Today, all popular music sounds the same to me.

I have been an avid amateur of music all my life. As a listener, a concert attendant, a records collector, an amateur flute player. I grew up with classical music and modern jazz in Europe. Then, after I moved to America in the nineteen sixties, I became a fervent fan of popular music (as well): The Beatles and the Rolling Stones of course, and all the other fantastic groups of that era - Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Doors, Elton John, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Simon and Garfunkel and innumerable others.

Then, adult life being what it is - career, children, etc. - popular music went by the wayside. For a while, I tried to stay in touch via my children. I tried to listen to some of the music they liked. But eventually I lost track. Today, I have no idea what’s going on in the world of popular music.

But here is an impression I have: Nowadays, practically ALL popular music is vocal, not instrumental. Think of the currently most prominent idols: Adele, Beyoncé, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and dozens of others (far more women than men, by the way, which is fine with me). Read more...

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Liberals and Conservatives; Kind or not, Smart or Not?

This is a game: I take 3 variables, I cross-tab them, and I formulate some hypotheses about their correlation (or lack thereof).
The variables are:
1. Conservatism vs. Liberalism
2. Kindness or not
3. Being well-informed or not

In other words, an individual can be conservative or liberal; he/she can be a by and large  nice person or what we could call an a...hole; and she/he can be well-educated and intelligently informed or not.

For the sake of simplicity, the three variables are dichotomous. Also, let’s not quibble about the true meaning and nature of being ”nice” as opposed to being an “a...hole”  This is just an experiment, maybe  a fun one, and most of us know an a...hole when we meet one... Also, for the purposes of this experiment, I use a total sample of 200.

If we cross tab these 3 variables, we get 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 possibilities Read more...

New York, New York!

By Madeleine Kando

I have no business writing about New York. Not only do I not live in New York, worse, I live in Boston, which in the eyes of most New Yorkers, is the most stupid thing one can do. They have as low an opinion of Boston as the Dutch have of Belgians. Why be Belgian if you can be Dutch? Why live in Boston if you can live in New York?

I completely disagree of course. Being Dutch myself, I am guilty of an unwarranted sense of superiority over the Belgians, but Boston is perfectly fine. I like living in the Hub, Beantown, the Athens of America. I’ll take the Patriots over the Giants any day. I mean, look at Tom Brady! What’s there not to like?

But since the Dutch closed down their consulate in my hometown, thinking that New England was no longer important enough to spend consulate euros on, my husband and I had to travel to New York to extend our Dutch passports, a good excuse, we thought, to spend a few days in the Big Apple.

Entering the heart of Manhattan from the West side is like boarding a vast ship over one of its gangways. We followed 56thStreet and were immediately swallowed up by a stream of cars, limousines, yellow cabs and trucks, honking their horns, swerving from lane to lane, trying to gain a few inches at traffic lights. We were surrounded by an ocean of enormous, shiny skyscrapers, all competing for the tallest spot in the firmament. As we approached Columbus Circle, the smell of manure preceded the appearance of a row of sad looking horses hitched to colorful carriages.

Three days are not enough to do justice to this incredible city, but just being there, inhaling the perfect mix of car fumes and the smell of the subway already made it an exciting experience. Having grown up in Paris, that smell spells home for me, like the smell of hay for someone who grew up on a farm. Read more...

Monday, January 27, 2020

Sanders’ Single Payer Utopia

This is not a new essay, but after rereading it, I found it so appropriate that I couldn't help but republish it.

Like many of us, I am confused by the ‘single payer’ health plan that Bernie Sanders proposes. Health care is confusing to begin with unless you live somewhere where there is no health care at all. In fact, out of the 200 countries or so in the world, only 40 provide some form of health insurance to their citizens.

The countries that do offer health care all have a different system in place. Some have a single payer system, funded through taxes, just like the police force or public libraries. These systems tend to have low costs, because the government controls what doctors can do and what they can charge. Great Britain, Spain, most of Scandinavia and New Zealand, Hong Kong and Cuba have a single payer system. This system is what Sanders proposes.

Other countries have an employer/employee funded system, familiar to Americans. It uses an insurance system that covers everybody, is tightly regulated by government to control cost and provides bargaining power. Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland and Latin America has this type of system. Read more...

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Scentimental Journey

I drove to Paris yesterday. It took me only 25 minutes because it was Saturday and traffic wasn’t so bad. The radio announced that a snow storm would start at around 5 pm. It was getting dark and the snow gusts were starting to twirl across the surface of the highway, but my urge to get to Paris overrode my fear of getting stuck.

I didn’t really drive to Paris. How could I? I live in the suburbs of Boston. And I didn’t key in Paris in my GPS, just the name of a boutique in the next town over, that supposedly sells fancy perfumes.

As the road slowly turned white, I had to drive through a section of Watertown where the majority of signs pointed to auto body shops, liquor stores and car washes. ‘Not exactly the exotic French landscape’, I thought.

'You have reached your destination', my GPS told me. I parked in front of a small, brightly colored store with a sign that said ‘Colonial Drug Store’. Ok, I get it. It’s one of those CVS type stores where they sell cheap perfumes for a dime a dozen. I was about to drive back home, but the snow and the cold told me to go in and at least warm my poor frozen feet, buy a candy bar and then drive back home with my tail between my legs.

There were two odd looking, life sized statues guarding the door. They were clad in bright red tailcoats, knee breeches and tricorn hats, colonial era style. A homey sounding bell rang when I opened the door and once inside, the smell of freshly polished wood greeted me. Read more...

Sunday, January 5, 2020

European Traffic

I am looking forward to our next European trip, this spring. Due to illness, we didn’t get to travel much in 2019. As we get older, international travel becomes more challenging. However, my wife and I haven’t thrown in the towel yet. Unlike many of our friends, we still tough it out driving, taking trains, sleeping at small hotels and walking around foreign cities as much as we are able to, rather than going on cruises.

This year, though, we will not rent a car. We’ll spend a week each in Amsterdam, Paris and Rome, and only a suicidal imbecile would rent a car to circulate in those cities, where public transportation is cheap and efficient, and vehicular traffic is nerve-racking.

Many American drivers find driving in Europe challenging, and many American pedestrians find crossing streets in foreign cities scary.

Actually the single greatest traffic problem overseas is not that Europeans and other foreigners are wild and dangerous drivers. No. By far the greatest risk to your life exists in those countries that still drive on the wrong side of the road, namely on the left. These countries include Australia, Britain, most of the Caribbeans, India and South Africa, courtesy of the former British Empire. They also include Ireland and Japan, and a few other countries that refuse to come to their senses. Read more...

Thursday, January 2, 2020


I spend a lot of time in my head these days. I always have, because I am an insomniac. There is nowhere else to go when you are lying flat on your back, waiting for sleep to honor you with a visit. I could spend time in my toes or my elbows, but there is really not much going on at those locations, except the occasional itch or involuntary twitching.

My head at least, is a place where things happen, most of them beyond my control. I am always a bit apprehensive before I enter because it’s such a mess. There is a big sign hanging over the entrance that says ‘organizing strictly prohibited beyond this point’.

As I walk about in that chaotic place, I stub my toes against remnants of my day scattered on the floor. Did I turn the stove off? Did I put the left-over food in the fridge? Did I close my car windows? Usually, those nasty little buggers cross my mental path when I am almost asleep and with a jolt I am wide awake again, heart pounding. I am back to square one.

Us insomniacs are advised to establish what is called sleep hygiene. You couldn’t come up with a more distasteful term if you tried. No, it doesn’t mean washing the mud off your feet before going to bed, it is more on par with mental hygiene. Read more...