Monday, January 11, 2021

Staring Down the Ugly Throat of Anarchy

By Madeleine Kando

Boston, 1/6/2021
Today, the State of Georgia votes for their 2 US Senators in a run-off election. If they vote Democratic, they win the US Senate. I am glued to my computer screen, checking every 10 minutes, to see where the numbers are. They are! One of them is in the bag. The other candidate’s numbers are going up too. Up enough to prevent a recount? Is it finally time to say goodbye and good luck to Mitch McConnell?

Today is also the day when Congress officially counts the Electoral Votes certified by each state. But some lawmakers have decided to object to the results, hinged on baseless allegations of election fraud. Those debates would start at 12:30 pm.

The line behind candidate Osoff turns a solid blue. Yes! We won the Senate! I step away from my desk to make coffee. When I return, the screen is filled with images of smoke and screams. I am looking at the coverage of the MAGA insurrection in DC. The elation is gone, from high to low, like a bowling ball dropped on my foot. 
Now things are getting worse. The announcer’s voice rises to a pitch: ‘They are storming the capitol building!’ A close up of people breaking windows, climbing walls, waiving giant flags on the scaffolding that have been raised in preparation of inauguration day. Then, inside the building, an endless line of rioters, walking across the ‘Great Rotunda’, like a group of tourists. Some are taking pictures of the ceiling. One is taking a selfie with a guard. No one is even trying to stop them.

I cannot make sense of this surreal moment: For me, life has been put on hold for almost a whole year now. I only venture out to go food shopping once or twice a week. On my daily walk in the woods, I step into the underbrush every time I cross path with another human. I put on my mask, my glasses fog up and I cannot see where I am going. But that’s better than risking infection.

In which alternate world do these hundreds of unmasked, yelling, chanting MAGA hat wearing rioters live? Is there no virus in their world? Are there no free and fair elections? Are there no laws that prevent them from entering and vandalizing government buildings? This live footage must be from another country and the announcer will soon apologize for his error. ‘Sorry, folks, this footage was taken in Somalia (or another failed state). We apologize for making you think that it was happening in the Capital of the United States’. Read more...

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The US is Writing its History

by Tom Kando

January 6, 2021 was a historical day in US history: I refer to the deadly storming of the Capitol building by Trumpite insurrectionists in an effort to overturn Joe Biden’s legitimate presidential election. Deaths, destruction, chaos. 
My mind is in overdrive, as I watch the news, mesmerized, and try to make sense of America’s current situation. So here is a thought (and feel free to tell me that I am wrong): 
My perspective is that of a European-American. Therefore, I can’t help but look at the situation comparatively and historically. I keep going back to European history. America is a still a relatively young country. If Europe has reached adulthood, America is still an adolescent. If Europe has written much of its history book, America is still in the process of writing it. 
I believe that it was Hemingway who defined history as “just one damn thing after another.” Sometimes, another definition comes to mind: “History is just one damn fight after another.” 
Case in point: The history of Europe over the past two thousand years. Take most European countries - the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, etc. Their histories sometimes look like one long bloodbath, with occasional interruptions in the violence.  Read more...

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Prisoners’ Dilemma of Covid 19 ••

By Madeleine Kando

The Prisoner’s dilemma is a concept in game theory that demonstrates how two prisoners acting in their own self interest both end up with a worse outcome than if they had coordinated their behavior.

This applies to the current situation and it maybe explains why the infection (and death) rate is so high the United States.

In the game, two bank robbers have been arrested. They cannot communicate with each other. The police have no proof of a major crime, but can convict them on a lesser charge. They have two options: to confess or to remain silent. If both remain silent, they each get a 2-year sentence for the lesser charge. If one confesses and the other one remains silent, the confesser gets a 1-year sentence and the other gets an 8-year sentence. And vice versa. If both confess, both receive a 5-year sentence.

The optimal decision would be for both prisoners to remain silent, but they are out to get the least amount of prison time, and do not care about the other prisoner.

If we replace the 2 prisoners with 2 states (California and Arizona), we can see why there is no incentive on the part of the Governors to keep their state on lockdown. (see next illustration).

The blue square is obviously the best option. The states cooperate with each other and will be able to reopen safely.

In the green square, Arizona tries to stop the virus by locking down, but California, which is open, transmits the virus. Arizona does not get the benefit from locking down, so reopens the state. This is called the Nash Equilibrium. If the states coordinated their strategy of moderate reopening, both would have been better off.
Read more...

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Socialism



 The Sacramento Bee recently published an article by   Malik Pitchford in which he quotes Barack Obama   saying that “Socialism is still a loaded word for   some  folks.” This is so very true. I would argue,  fortiori, that to many Americans the label is still a   dirty word, an epithet used by politicians to destroy   their opponents, a strategy that Republicans often   use   successfully. 

 I grew up a socialist and I remain a socialist. My     parents were socialists, as were most of the people I knew. To me, socialism is the most sensible ideology. Growing up, I also assumed that the world was moving in the direction of socialism. I still believe this. But I could be wrong. 

In this brief article, I cannot do justice to the many different meanings of the word “Socialism.” Nor do I touch upon the different forms of socialism in the world. For example, the Soviet Union was called "Communist." However, the USSR defined itself as a socialist state (USSR = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). 
What about the distinction between "social democracy" and "liberal democracy"?  Some say that most of the  European Union consists of Social Democracies, whereas the US is often called a Liberal Democracy. However, the distinction is not firm. It is more a matter of degree. Freedom House, for example, classifies most Western  European Countries, as well as a Australia and Canada, as both social democracies AND liberal democracies.  Read more...

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy Holidays!

PS: Santa is closed, but we are OPEN!

leave comment here Read more...

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

In search of the Past


At my age, the future is a pretty shaky and a relatively short affair. The past however has left a long trail behind and it is only natural for me to turn in that direction to find some security. The past will always be there, unchanging and safe. Which is why I have these hiccups. Every ten years or so, I get obsessed with my lineage.

My maternal grandparents were upper class Hungarians from Jewish descent. There was pressure in the old Austro-Hungarian days, to ‘assimilate’ and become ‘a proper Hungarian’ (meaning gentile), which is the reason why much of my mother’s Jewish lineage descended in obscurity. My grandfather even changed his Jewish name (Guzman) to ‘Görög’, which means ‘Greek’ in Hungarian.

My father was of Hungarian nobility. His family left a trace a mile long and finding my way around the Kando family tree wasn’t easy. After many frustrating dead ends, climbing up side branches only to find myself stuck amongst in-laws with names I didn’t recognize, I finally found a Jakab Kando, way up in the canopy. He didn’t have a date or a face, but his son Janos was marked as being born in 1659.

But why stop there, I thought. With the help of numerous documents that a generous family member sent me, I went all the way up to the 9th century, where I met a chieftain by the name of Kund or Kundu.

Kundu was one of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. The Magyars (Hungarians) left the Ural Mountains in Central Russia, and after a long migration, invaded the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century, under the military leadership of Arpad (845-907). The Seven Chieftains are considered the founders of my native Hungary.

Contrary to popular belief, the Magyars do not descend from Attila the Hun. Sorry to burst your bubble, Orban. Hungarians are descendants from a peace-loving, fish eating tribe, somewhere in the Ural mountains. Attila lived in the 5th century and was long dead and gone by the time the ‘Magyars’ came on the scene. Orban’s fabricated mythology (called Turanism), plays on Hungarians’ desire to feel special by telling them that they are descendants of Attila the Hun – a martial, autocratic, and patriarchal society. But it is a dangerous nationalistic vision, easy to get lost in. Like the fantasies of Tolkien or Game of Thrones. Read more...

Friday, November 27, 2020

The World's Universities Ranked and Located; An Update


Once in a while, I  play  with statistics that list and  rank the world’s major universities. At this time, such a game may be a welcome distraction from   the  double nightmare of Covid-19 and Trump’s attempted Coup d’Etat.

 My source is the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2020.html  The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was created  in 2003.  It uses six  indicators, including the number of  Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers, number of articles published in scholarly journals, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index, and per capita performance of a university. More than 1800 universities are ranked every year and the best 1000 are published. I don’t know whether their methodology is the best, but they have good credibility, and  at least they can’t be suspected of pro-America bias.

I last wrote such an article about three years ago.  I now offer you an update, with some interesting factoids. All calculations are mine. I hope that  you enjoy perusing these.  I focus first on the top 100 and then on the top 500 universities of the world. 

Table 1. Top Universities of the world. By Region

Region

Top 100

101-500

Total 500

%

Europe

36

147

183

36.6

North America

45

108

153     

30.6

Asia

11

100

111

22.2

Australia-New Zea.

7

19

26

5.2

Middle East

1

11

12

2.4

Latin America

0

9

9

1.8

Africa

0

6

6

1.2      

Anglo Countries

60

157

217

43.4%

 Table 1 shows that a disproportionate number of quality universities are located in  Europe and in  North America - primarily the US -  with North America especially dominant in the “elite” category (top 100). Read more...

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Living in the Here and Now



On the advice of my friend Karen, I am trying to live in the here and now. She tells me that it will stop me from worrying and help with my chronic insomnia. That it will bring me bliss and happiness. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think I had a choice. Short of being dead or not yet born, don’t we all live in the here and now?

I am being facetious of course. Living in the here and now refers to the mind, not the body. Although it would be quite a trip to move to the past, body and soul. I could shake hands with Benjamin Franklin and Lincoln. I could kick Hitler in the you know what and give my grandmother a big hug and thank her for all the beautiful books she has written and translated. Still, aside from these brief and novel events, living in the past wouldn’t be all that exciting. I would always know what would happen before it happened.

So, here I am, in the here and now, waiting for bliss and happiness to hit me. I am doing my deep breathing exercises, eyes closed, hands on knees, humming and waiting, waiting and humming… My lower back tightens up. My mind tries to focus on my Mantra, but my brain says ‘You need a drink’. The bliss and happiness is in no hurry to arrive.

And where does it travel from? Is it already in the present or does it live in the future? Instead of waiting for it to arrive, I could move to the future for a while and save it some traveling time. The problem is, the future being so immensely vast, I would have to know whose future to move to. Nothing would prevent me from moving to someone else’s future, let’s say some enlightened Guru, who couldn’t claim that future as his, since it hasn’t happened yet. I could grab his bliss and happiness and drag it to MY here and now. Read more...

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Nice Guys Finish First



The suspense is (nearly) over. Joe Biden will be our next president.
 
I am a glass-half empty sort of guy. I often worry about the worst-case scenario. I fear that the expression “nice guys finish last” is true. That’s how I approached the Biden-Trump contest. In 2016, I was one of the rare people who correctly predicted Hillary Clinton’s defeat. This year, I was similarly pessimistic about Biden’s prospects. 

After the 2016 experience, I distrusted the polls. 
On election night this time, I was caught by the “red mirage,” showing Trump initially far ahead of Biden. I was quite despondent when I went to bed on November 3, believing that once again my pessimism was being confirmed by the facts. How incredibly happy I am to have been proven wrong! 

It is common to discuss US presidential elections hyperbolically. I can remember this happening over and over again, all the way back to Barry Goldwater’s candidacy, and beyond. The mantra is always that “this is the most important election you’ll ever vote in.” But you know what? This time it was true. This time the stakes were truly high. And this was understood globally. Much of the planet was on pins and needles, and when the TV networks declared Biden the winner, people reacted all over the world. There were fireworks in the United Kingdom, the church bells rang in Paris, celebrations in Germany, I received e-mails from Holland congratulating me, the social media post notices from dozens of countries, etc. 
Read more...

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Elephant and the Donkey

By Madeleine Kando

On an island in the sea there lived an elephant family and a donkey family. They were not exactly friends but since it was a great big island they usually kept out of each other’s way and lived their lives peacefully by pretty much ignoring each other. At times they had to interact because, as the donkey was trying to build something, he needed the elephant’s strength and discipline to haul stuff. And when the elephant was trying to figure out a repair job he needed the donkey’s brains and resourcefulness to figure out how to fix it. But all in all, they spent their days avoiding each other as much as possible.

The elephant spent his time stomping about, making sure that nothing was disturbed in his domain. He liked things to be nice and tidy. His waterhole undisturbed by foreign creatures, the sandpit where he liked to roll around in, nice and dry and his little elephant babies all in a row, marching to his beat behind him. And no one dared to oppose his wishes, seeing that he was a great big elephant.

The donkey also liked things his way. He made up for what he lacked in bulk, by his wit and stubbornness. He was an adventurous little fellow. His brood showed him respect even as they wandered off to explore some foreign-looking object on the beach. He didn’t mind that much. He himself was endowed with a curious nature and instinctively realized that stunting his children’s sense of adventure wouldn’t serve them well in the long run. He was clever and because he was so small compared to the elephant, he often covered himself with a lion skin when he went foraging. Even the elephants ran off as they saw him approach, which made him chuckle.

As the island became more popular with the outside world, things started to change. Many other animals were drawn to this beautiful, bountiful island. Some liked to play with the donkeys, others liked to march with the elephants and for a long time life was good on the island. Read more...