Monday, October 19, 2020

An Immigrant’s America

By Madeleine Kando

In a poem le Rondel de l’adieu’, French poet Edmond Haraucourt writes the famous phrase ‘partir c’est mourir un peu’ (leaving is dying a little). It best describes the true meaning of farewell. Each time we say farewell, it is as if we die a little.

For me, even leaving on vacation feels a bit like dying. My old self is dying to make room for my new, yet undiscovered self. The thought of going shopping for a new self always brings a smile to my face.

Leaving has played a constant role in my life. I got my first taste of leaving when I was 4, when my parents left Hungary, the country where I was born, to settle in Paris.

Back then, I already considered leaving a place as something positive, like a soldier who adds stars to his uniform. The more places you leave, the higher you rise in the ranks. It was exciting and my age safeguarded me from seeing the risks that is always attached to leaving the familiar.

Since I settled in America, my last stop after so many moves, I have been trying to bridge the gap between two continents, like a giant standing on two floating icebergs in the middle of the Atlantic. If you ever tried to balance on two wobbling structures, that is how I feel about me living here in the US, but part of me also being in Europe.
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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Did Trump Invent the Shoulder Shrug?



I gave up expecting Trump to say something remotely interesting a long time ago. His descent into the abyss of incoherence is accelerating by the day, be it a result of mental deterioration or an unwillingness to step outside of his adolescent comfort zone.

His body language, however, has fascinated me since he became President. In the Movement Therapy profession, we talk about a person’s ‘movement vocabulary’, similar to a verbal vocabulary. I witnessed the lack of this nonverbal vocabulary when I worked in a state mental hospital, here in Massachusetts. On the locked wards of this asylum, patients moved about like robots, mostly a result of over-medication. They had lost all their capacity to express emotions through movement. Some approached us with a rambling gait, eyes staring at this new apparition in their otherwise monotonous existence, then went back to rocking in their corner, smoking one cigarette after another. In the dark, pea green halls of this medieval place, we witnessed what untreated, overmedicated mental illness can do to a human being. They were the forgotten souls of our profession and the health care system in general.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the rich and expressive vocabulary of the dancer, the clown and the mime. The late Marcel Marceau was a nonverbal virtuoso. I invite you to relish this amazing mime in action here: Marcel Marceau I Bip As A Skater [1975] 


With this background in mind, what are we to make of Trump’s nonverbal lexicon? Where does he fit into the spectrum of what is possible for a human being endowed with a body that can convey a practically infinite amount of nonverbal messages? 
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Politicize This

 

As the covid-19 pandemic was starting to affect the US half a year ago, the idiots on the right began to politicize the issue right away. Responding to my  article  Mother Nature?  (March 23, 2020), an anonymous reader wrote the following:

“Tom, following your penchant for statistics, Coronavirus deaths per million population: - Italy 206 - Spain 194 - Belgium 71 - Netherlands 68, France 54 - Switzerland 53 - UK 35 - Sweden 24 - Denmark 18 - Austria 16 - Ireland 14 - USA 12

Thank you President Trump for acting rapidly in blocking European flights!”

He added: “Contrary to your assertion, the death stats show that Western Europe remains the epicenter of the Coronavirus, every other stat is just a question of who measures the most. Besides, when our summer becomes the southern hemisphere’s winter, the southern hemisphere will become the epicenter. While I recognize we all have a problem, my previous point was to show statistically that we have more competent executive branch leadership (reacting faster and minimizing loss) than the other European democracies, and that I personally am grateful that Trump is president rather than the senile idiot the democrats are about to nominate. I would also point out that while Italy by far appears to be the most incompetent and ill prepared of the European nations, at the same time New York which has almost 50% of our Corona cases is ironically led by two Italians named Cuomo and DeBlasio!"   

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Decline and Fall of America



When I came to America in 1960, it towered over the rest of the world economically and politically. It played a dominant and generally benevolent role in the world. It had saved the world from fascism, rebuilt Europe and much of Asia, including its former enemies, and it was containing communism.
After the Vietnam debacle, the US was less sure of itself. By the late 1970s, during the Carter presidency, the country seemed to be in retreat, while the Soviet Union was still on the march. The dominoes seemed to be falling. After Cuba and Vietnam, next to go were Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, soon Afghanistan...
The Third World was more sympathetic to the USSR than to the US, which was frequently isolated in forums such as the United Nations. Despite generous foreign aid to dozens of countries, international anti-Americanism was widespread, as was US flag burning in many parts of the world.
While the US and its ubiquitous CIA did engage in some mischief, this country was not morally bankrupt, certainly not so in comparison with its great geo-political communist rival.
Today, of course, the Soviet Union no longer exists.

In the 1970s, America remained by far the richest country in the world. More importantly, the distribution of wealth was much more equitable than what it has become today. The average CEO’s compensation was 20 times that of his employees. Now the ratio is 300 to 1. Taxes were more progressive, Unions were far more powerful, the public sector was not being starved, the US resembled the Western European welfare states more than now. Read more...

Friday, August 28, 2020

Memories from Wisconsin



On August 23, Jacob Blake was shot 7 times in the back by a cop in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This reminds me of some of my own experiences with racism in that state when I lived there: Nothing as horrific as the Blake case, but “interesting” even so:

In 1968-69, I had my first job as an assistant professor at a branch campus of the University of Wisconsin. - Stout, in the godforsaken town of Menomonie.

I had just gone through a nasty divorce. I was broke, miserable and lonely, renting an apartment in the snowbound college town. My girlfriend Nicole lived in Chicago. I tried to visit her most weekends and holidays.

To save money, I advertised for a roommate to share the rent. Several students applied. I ended up selecting Clark Dawson, a fine young black guy.

Clark dated a white girl. Her name was Sylvia and she was an attractive, intelligent, soft spoken, brown-haired, bespectacled girl. The first time Clark brought her back to the apartment, I recognized her immediately, because she had taken my introductory Sociology class.

At first I thought that Clark had brought her home for a study session, but my roommate promptly dispelled that misunderstanding by saying, “Hi Prof. Kando (he still didn’t call me by my first name), let me introduce you to my fiancĂ©e, Sylvia.”
To tell the truth, I was briefly taken aback. Not because I disapproved, to the contrary. All my life I have had the unswerving conviction that the future of mankind lies in the total integration of the races at all levels, social and biological. However, the percentage of interracial couples was still infinitesimal in 1969, certainly in the upper Midwest. I was just surprised by a statistical anomaly. Read more...

Thursday, August 27, 2020

My Trip to the Stars




I have been traveling quite a bit over the past few weeks. In fact, I have never been as far away before. It all started with an innocent trip through the first few chapters of a book called ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. I resigned myself to spend my evenings with a 600 page popular science companion instead of watching the boob tube, but I never made it to the last stop. I got stuck in the first few chapter of the book, where the author writes about Space.

The problem with reading about a subject you know nothing about, is that there are so many hurdles. I kept stubbing my toes against a new concept in just about every other sentence. I had to take detours to visit Wikipedia, which led me to You tube, which led me to an inventor’s site and so on. As you can imagine, I got completely lost on the back roads of my trip and I didn’t even have a GPS with me. It took mother nature to help me find my way back. There was this big storm that zapped my router and I was staring at black nothingness. No, it wasn’t interstellar space, it was my computer’s black screen.

But I was hooked. As soon as I rebooted, I found myself back in Youtube land, gorging on videos about space until my head started to spin.

I knew of course that space is BIG, but on this trip I realized how incomprehensibly big it is. Even physicists have a hard time coming up with new units of measurement to describe the incredible distances out there. The measly Astronomical Unit (AU: 92,955,000 miles), or even the light year (5,878,625,400,000 miles) fall short of measuring intergalactic space. We now have the parsec (3.27 light years), the kiloparsec (1000 parsecs) and megaparsec (1 million parsecs). The center of our galaxy, for example, is about 8 kiloparsecs away, which equals 8,000 parsecs, or 26,160 light years. Adding all the required zeros to convert it to an earthly measurement, only makes it more incomprehensible.

Not only are distances mind blowingly large, but the stuff in space, the stuff we are exploring, is by far the exception rather than the rule. That is why I am in such awe of what scientists have discovered. Looking for stuff and sending a probe to observe it, is like finding a pebble in the Pacific Ocean, sending a diver into shark infested waters and expect him to faithfully come back with important information without being shredded to pieces.

Take Pluto, for instance. It took the New Horizons space probe 9 years to reach this dwarf planet, which is smaller than our moon. It is inside the Kuiper Belt, a doughnut shaped region beyond Neptune. Pluto is a mere 3.67 billion miles from the sun, which is 40 times further than the earth!



I cannot decide which is more fascinating: the images that the probe sent back, or the probe itself. It was launched in 2006 and on its way to Pluto, New Horizons was put to sleep, to save energy, but not before it did a few gymnastics tricks called ‘gravitational slingshots’. Those are ingenious maneuvers to increase a space probe’s speed. The probe gets as close to the planet as possible without being sucked in and by using a planet’s orbital speed, it catapults away from it. It shaved 3 years off of New Horizons’ travel time. Read more...

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Fake Problems and Real Problems



I recently read one of those rants about how we have lost our common sense, i.e. the old verities that served us so well in  the past. To quote some of this piece: We used to live by “simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).  Then, well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. We hear that  a six-year-old boy  was  charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student...schools are  required to get parental consent to administer aspirin,  but they may not inform the parents when a student becomes pregnant and wants to have an abortion. The Ten Commandments have  become  contraband  and criminals  receive  better treatment than their victims. Nowadays. you can’t  defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar can sue you for assault.” The author goes on to argue that we must return to common-sense. “Let us get back to some basics and let common sense rule.”

This is precisely the sort of thinking that we don’t need.  It cherry picks a bunch of anecdotes and claims that they are real problems. Most of these stories have to do with political correctness. So there have been a few excesses here and there. Big deal.

I can guarantee  that  90% of the people who enthusiastically  embrace this sort of thinking are  the same folks who’ll vote  the wrong way and who’ll perpetuate the serious problems we are currently facing. They are the people who can only see value in past practices, past habits; people who long, in knee-jerk fashion, for a fictitious  past. People who can think of no other solution than  going  BACK, even if the past to which they wish to return never existed.

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Friday, August 21, 2020

The Unraveling of America?



I just read another article about America’s demise. This one is titled The Unraveling of America . It is written by the Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis (RollingStone, August 6). There are many such articles. They all have to do with (1) America’s disastrous response to Covid-19, and (2) Donald Trump.

These doomsday scenarios about America’s future are usually written overseas, gloatingly, expressing profound anti-Americanism. You get to read about “pity” and contempt for America, about “America giving up” about America being “finished,” or at least the American century being finished. Any compassion, as our country’s death toll approaches 200,000, and perhaps half a million by next spring? Zero.

But this is not what I want to talk about today. What I wish to address is whether the point made in the title of this article has merit or not.
While I find gloating about America’s misfortune despicable, I do agree with most of the criticism voiced by these authors.

It is true that America’s response to Covid-19 has been THE most inept one in the world. Our country has the highest number of infections and deaths, both in absolute and in relative terms (apart from a few small city-states such as Bahrein, Qatar and San Marino). Make no mistake about it: We are number one.

Davis is not far from the truth in labeling us a failed state at this time. Items: (1) The country is incapable of controlling the epidemic. (2) It is ruled by a tin pot dictator who would be laughed out of office even in backward Third World countries. (3) The government cannot even pass emergency legislation to rescue the dozens of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, who are about to become homeless, who cannot access medical care, even in the middle of a pandemic, and who can no longer feed themselves and their children. (4) The criminal-in-chief is attempting to knee-cap the country’s postal service so as to steal the election, brazenly admitting what he is doing, destroying a service which delivers hundreds of millions of essential mail items to the people, including life-saving medication, paychecks and other essentials.. Is this not a failed state? Read more...

Friday, August 14, 2020

Wearing a Mask Makes us More Free

By Madeleine Kando

‘Why should I wear a mask?’ you might ask. Does it not infringe on my individual freedom? We live in a free country, and freedom is enshrined in the Constitution.

In a brilliant article in the Wall Street Journal entitled The True Face of Freedom Wears a Mask, professor Kwame Anthony Appiah concludes that having to wear a mask does NOT infringe on a person’s liberty. However, he comes to that conclusion after asking the more basic question: ‘what do we mean by freedom?’

According to philosopher Isaiah Berlin, there are 2 types of liberty: ‘negative liberty’ which is freedom from external restraint on one's actions, which he calls ‘ freedom from’ and ‘positive liberty’, which is having the power and resources to fulfill one's own potential. This he calls ‘freedom to’.

The seeds in my garden are a good examples of these 2 types of freedom: seeds have the potential to become wonderful plants. They need space to grow (negative liberty), but without care and food (positive liberties), they will die.

The problem with living in a free country, is that people forget how much we rely on positive freedoms to enjoy our negative freedoms. In Jack Kerouac’s famous novel ‘On the Road’, nobody stops Sal and Dean from barreling down the interstate highway. They enjoy their negative freedom. But they couldn’t have been free to do so if the Government hadn’t built the highway in the first place, giving Americans the resources to drive cross-country (positive liberty). Read more...

Thursday, August 13, 2020

What Should the Left Do?



I just read an article by Jan Sowa, titled “After Populism.” The gist of it is a certain ambivalence about “populism.”

Populism is the growing right-wing, anti-elitist movement currently under way in many countries. It expresses itself in support for strongmen and politicians  such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orban in Hungary, most prominently Donald Trump in the US, and several others.

Populism shares some of its conservative values with Fascism. These include nationalism, authoritarianism, the veneration of the military, a love of fire arms, traditional patriarchal family values, homophobia, denying women their reproductive choice, Christian religiosity, hostility towards intellectual and media elites, and a racist and xenophobic attitude that favors the white race over people of color, Jews, Muslims, other non-white people and all foreigners and immigrants.

 Sowa’s article is good. Unfortunately, he treats populism with velvet gloves. He equivocates, because he sees (correctly) that dozens of millions of white men have been taking it on the chin for several decades, certainly in the US. Year after year, inequality and poverty have been rising, affecting not only people of color but the entire population. Life expectancy of white American men is now declining, and their death and homelessness rates are skyrocketing. Sowa therefore feels that the resulting rage and the growth of populism are understandable. He does not claim that Populism is a desirable response to white suffering, but he urges us to understand it.
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