Thursday, April 18, 2019


The Notre Dame fire has affected me in a very personal way. I was surprised by the depth of my feelings about this incident. Clearly, it should not be compared to 9-11. Zero deaths vs. nearly 3,000. Nevertheless, many people (including me and several media pundits) compared the two events from the get-go. I suppose the two events had at least some visual resemblance - immense structures burning and collapsing, etc. But this deja-vu is superficial and meaningless.

So the question remains: Why has the Notre Dame fire captured the deepest sorrow and sympathy of millions worldwide? Why has it driven me to the verge of tears? (9-11 never did, it just made me mad as hell).

To me, the Notre Dame event is personal, and I believe that it is the same for most Frenchmen, and also for the millions of foreigners who have visited that shrine.

For one thing, I am flooded by unforgettable memories. All those times that I and members of my family visited the Grand Old Lady - “Our Lady,” literally - our beautiful experiences under the nave, on top right under the giant bells, cavorting on the roof and the balcony, trying to touch the gargoyles...My wife, my children, my grandchildren, my sisters, my parents, my friends, we all experienced Notre Dame repeatedly, often together.

Here is what my daughter Danielle just wrote:”Sitting on top of the Cathedral with you and Leah is one of my best memories. I may have whined on the climb up, but I'm so grateful you showed us that view.”

 ...and “this place means a lot to many of us. To me it was the church that sheltered my father and his family, educating and feeding them when they were stateless refugees. I remember going there for the first time, as a little girl, blown away by the magnitude of that interior and then walking up onto the roof, as my dad outlined all of the painstaking work of a thousand years of humans at their best and most creative. Later, I took my kids there and let an incredibly delighted Sadie feed the sparrows in the courtyard. I hope there are some artisans and good souls out there who will make it their mission to quickly rebuild this sanctuary.”

And this is what my friend Cedric writes: “ everyone, I share the hurt. Two memories of Notre Dame: As a student I would sometimes go down the Boul' Mich' to Notre Dame, take the small stairs up to the top of the north tower that were then widely open to the public, and read some book on the sloping roof while enjoying the view, the sun, and the fresh air. Also, while once again enjoying the view from the back with all the flying buttresses, a bus of Welsh students, obviously a choir on a tour, stopped by briefly; they all poured out and sang a beautiful Welsh song, only to quickly climb back in and resume their travel.”

To which my colleague Sylvia adds: “My eyes are so blurred from tears I can barely see the letters I am typing....”

And Sue says: “ many tears have spilled into the streets - it was such a shock today and will be for many years to come ...”

Claude (colleague on the French faculty): “Un énorme désastre! Je garde de très calmes et douloureux souvenirs de mon enfance à Paris quand j’étais enfant-de-coeur après la guerre.”

Clearly, so much of this has to do with the unforgettable memories we each carry with us. Like Cedric, I, too, remember the days when walking all the way up was not a problem, not terribly crowded and regulated; I sat on the slanted metal rooftop with my then eight and ten-year old daughters. We gazed down upon the antlike pedestrians crossing the Parvis-Notre-Dame, as Quasimodo did. We even played a bit at sliding down the tower’s slanted metal roof, joking that if we picked up too much speed we might flip over the edge of the tower (an impossible scenario, as the balcony/walkways on top of the towers are wide and perfectly safe...)

Other memories include waving at my wife, who waited for us at a sidewalk café on the Rive Gauche, in sight of the towers, but of course too far to be able to identify us...

Just a few years ago, my family and I walked down from our hotel behind the Pantheon to the Ile de la Cité at night, sneaking up on the grandiosely lit-up Queen of Cathedrals from behind, where Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron had danced.

When I look back at the years I spent in Paris, first living there as a child with my parents and sisters, later as a visitor with my wife, children, mother and friends, only now do I realize that Notre Dame was practically my “habitual” church. She has even occurred in my dreams more than once.

But whether you visit the Grand Old Lady once or innumerable times, her imprint upon you is inevitable and indelible. Her divine, magical beauty and her spirit are with you forever. It takes a disaster for you to realize this.

Why are so many of us so devastated by the fire? Leave aside the alleged crown of thorns, the piece of Jesus’ cross and one of the nails. Focus on the unimaginable beauty of the stained glass windows, the 23-ton bells, the 8,000 pipe organ, the hundreds of statues, gargoyles and other sculptures, most of them created anonymously, in an age when ego mattered less than faith.

Notre Dame is supposed to be forever. Revolutions and World Wars come and go, I grew up as a teenager roaming the streets of Paris, sixty years later I am an old man in California. The world changes and becomes unrecognizable, but Notre Dame is forever, just like Paris itself...She is not supposed to change! She is my friend forever. She can never die. That is the way it is supposed to be. This fire was not supposed to happen.

© Tom Kando 2019;All Rights Reserved

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame: Nos Profondes Condoléances

A mes chers Csaba, Charlie, Paul, Rie et tous les autres Parisiens et Francais que j’ai eu l’honneur et le plaisir de connaitre, toute ma vie:

Nous sommes profondément tristes. Nous pleurons pour la plus merveilleuse cathédrale du monde, au sein de la plus belle ville sur terre.

Cette tragédie renforce l’amour éternel que le monde sent envers la France, la ville lumière, sa cathédrale, la beauté et la richesse incomparable de leur histoire. C’est à l’occasion de telles tragédies que nous réalisons nos vrais sentiments, notre amour et admiration pour ce que cette église symbolise - la beauté et la bonté, les valeurs éternelles et universelles. Sachez que des millions d’Américains sont aussi profondément touchés par ce désastre que les Parisiens. Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous des Parisiens.

Translation: To my dear Csaba, Charlie, Paul, Rie and all the other Parisians and Frenchmen whom I have had the honor and the pleasure to know, all my life: We are profoundly sad. We cry for the most marvelous cathedral in the world, at the core of the most beautiful city on earth. This tragedy reinforces the eternal love which the world feels for France, the City of Lights, its cathedral, the beauty and the incomparable richness of their history. It is on the occasion of such tragedies that one realizes one’s true feelings, one’s love and admiration for what this church symbolizes - beauty and goodness, the eternal and universal values. Know that millions of Americans are as profoundly touched by this disaster as are the people of Paris. Today, we are all Parisians.
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Friday, April 5, 2019

Multilingualism: Is it Good or Bad?


Most people agree that speaking more than one language is good for your brain. The poor mono-linguals of the world, most of whom live in English speaking countries really miss out on the benefits of knowing more than one language. In return, they can take pride in the fact that English is slowly taking over the world, pushing out other less ‘important’ languages. Some academics call this ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ and have proposed legislation to stop what they see as an attempt to take over the world through words.

You see, there is a hierarchy in the world of languages. This is a well-established theory called the ‘Global Language System’ *, developed by Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan in 2001.

Of the 7000 languages of the world, 98% of them are at the periphery, spoken by a few thousand people at a time and often with no written form. Then there are the central languages, a thin layer of about a hundred official languages of nation states, then a third layer of about 12 super-central languages which serve international and long-distance communication, and finally at the apex, is the one hyper central language, which today is English.

Since the primary job of language is to allow people to communicate with each other, this hierarchical structure makes sense. With just 2 languages, you could expect one speaker to learn the language of the other, but if there are 5 different languages, it makes more sense for everyone to learn a more central language, instead of everyone having to learn 4 other languages. Read more...

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Do we need to explain Bad Human Behavior?

 Let me introduce you to an idea which may seem esoteric, but which can shed light on many of the severe social problems that are plaguing us. My textbook in social psychology, Social Interaction, describes these ideas in detail.

Human beings are problem-solving creatures. When faced with a problem, we first attempt to EXPLAIN it. That is, we try to discover its CAUSE. Science tells us that to explain and to understand a phenomenon means finding out what causes it. Once we find the cause of a problem we can remove it, and thereby remove the problem - which was merely the symptom.

Sociology is about fixing SOCIAL problems, problems that are man-made, problems due to human error and misbehavior - war, racism, injustice, crime, etc.

It is not the primary responsibility of sociologists to cure cancer, or to reverse global warming. Of course, they are tangentially interested in the human BEHAVIORS that contribute to disease and environmental damage, but strictly speaking, these are PHYSICAL issues that belong to the realm of medical and physical science. Sociology is “at home” when it attempts to discover the causes of political, social and psychological misbehavior: crime, war, racism, etc

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Golden Years


“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

I am old. And goddarn proud of it. Wish I had been old earlier. All those years wasted on being young. But I never could afford being old, you see. What with having to go to work every day, make babies, take care of the little brats, busting my chops to save money to send them off to college. Never even had a moment’s rest. At times I thought: ‘Wow, I wish I were old, so I wouldn’t have to deal with all this crap.’ But that was wishful thinking, or so I thought. I am sure you secretly have those thoughts too.

Well, let me tell you. Where there is a will there is a way. Don’t postpone till tomorrow what you can do today! Clog your arteries, expose yourself to stress, stop sleeping eight hours a night and above all eat and eat - eat all the garbage you can.

I tell you, if you follow this regimen, chances are you will be old before you know it and you can start enjoying what I and many of my fellow oldies enjoy. There is a reason why it’s called ‘The Golden Years’.

When young people tell you they never want to get old, they don’t know what they are talking about. They are soooo infatuated with themselves that they probably think old people want to be young, like them. Are you kidding me? Having to go through the horrors of puberty, the agony of dating, the rejection, the urges, the heart palpitations... no way! Read more...

Friday, March 8, 2019

The End of Animal Farming: A Brief Overview


This essay is dedicated to Helen and Steve Ray-Shick
who are giving sanctuary to so many
abused and neglected farm animals.

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of the feminist movement, published her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be so only because they lack education. Her views were regarded as absurd. ‘It is just as absurd to grant women rights as to grant them to animals’ wrote distinguished philosopher Thomas Taylor. What would the world look like today if we had followed that line of reasoning and not moved ahead with the Women’s movement?

Similarly, Jacy Reese *, author of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs and Activists are building an Animal-Free Food System, believes that “by the year 2100, all forms of animal farming will seem outdated and barbaric.”

Many books have been written about the atrocities that take place on factory farms, such as Michael Pollan’s the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. This knowledge helps a person switch to a vegan diet, but that is not enough. Only 5% of Americans do not eat animal-based food. Knowing that something is wrong doesn’t necessarily translate in making it right.

Ending Animal Farming is not an Impossible Dream

Reese’s book shows that ending animal farming is not an impossible dream, but it lacks the how, not the why. It is a masterfully crafted call to action and asks the reader to consider (and join) one of the most important and transformational social movements of the coming decades: ending the inhumane system of animal farming. Read more...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Paul Krugman wrote a recent article, Socialism and the Self-Made Woman. He points out that Ivanka Trump is the last person in the world who should be writing about “self-made women,” since her entire “success” is derived from the fact that she is the silver spoon fed daughter of the billionaire President of the United States. Krugman then reminds us of a painful truth: Contrary to the myth that the US is the land of unlimited opportunity, the country where the “American Dream” provides upward mobility to an unparalleled extent, the truth is that America has LESS upward mobility than most other advanced industrialized countries. The children of poor Americans are LESS likely to move up the economic ladder in the US than in Canada, Scandinavia and other Western countries.

At the same time, in all those countries, the government plays a LARGER role in the economy than it does in the US. By and large, those countries are SOCIAL DEMOCRACIES. That is, they are more “socialistic” than America. Read more...