Tuesday, May 17, 2022

It's the Guns, Stupid

Tom Kando

It happened again - May 14: Ten  innocent civilians (mostly black) mowed down by a racist lunatic. This time it happened  in Buffalo. Eleven  days earlier  it was  my hometown, Sacramento: Six dead - half of them women, half people of color.

American mass murder will never stop. We are moving in the wrong direction. After every  mass shooting, thousands more  add to their arsenal. There are  four hundred million fire arms in private hands in this country, and the number is growing. An increasing proportion of these weapons are rapid-fire automatic, capable of firing dozens to hundreds of rounds per minute. They are created for mass murder and nothing else.

Public opinion is also moving in the wrong direction - with ever lower levels of support for gun control legislation.

Judicial decisions increasingly favor out-of-control gun ownership of any kind by anybody.

First, there was the 2nd Amendment It stated that Aa well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.@ Over time,  the first half of this amendment became ignored. Judges came to misinterpret the amendment, ignoring the vast differences between the eighteenth century and current conditions. 

In  District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008),  the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess firearms independent of service in a state militia and to use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, including self‑defense within the home.

The powerful NRA lobby  had done its job. Many additional judicial decisions at all levels confirmed the new interpretation  of the 2nd amendment.  A recent example occurred on May 11, 2022, when a US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California=s  law banning the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under twenty-one  is unconstitutional. And so the 2nd amendment, which was questionable to begin with, morphed into a sacrosanct protection of one of the few constitutionally enumerated  rights placed above all else. Presciently, Chief Supreme Court  Justice Warren Burger had declared  in 1991 that the Second Amendment is a fraud.  True: the amendment=s current interpretation is most certainly fraudulent.

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Culture Wars, Neologisms and Some Other Strategies

Tom Kando 

Nothing plays a more important role than language in the Culture War that has been raging in this country for decades. Both the Left and the Right weaponize and change the meaning of existing words, or invent new words-as-weapons - neologisms. 

A classic example is the conversion of the word “gay,” starting some sixty years ago. One must watch old black-and-white Fred Astair type movies to remember this word’s previous meaning. 

Such verbal strategies are often (not always) derogatory. They ridicule a group or an individual. Their implied meaning may be different from or the opposite of the one that is verbalized. Some are invented and used by the Right to mock the Left, some the other way around, and some are used by both sides. 

1. The label "Politically Correct"   is a case in point. By the 1970s, American conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh succeeded in transforming this expression from its original literal meaning into an epithet describing excessive Left-wing zeal. Taken at face value, being politically correct would simply mean what it says. Consider the following statement: “Harming or killing someone because of their race, gender or sexual preference is a hate crime, and the punishment of such a crime should be exceptionally harsh.” 
If you agree with this statement, you might say: “That's right.” 
However, if you judge this to be a “politically correct statement,” you are signaling that you DISAGREE with it, and that you probably don’t have any use for the concept of “hate crime” at all. You are conservative and you hate political correctness. 

2, Sex and gender are among the culture war’s major fronts. A word-as-weapon recently developed by the Right is “grooming:” Thanks to Florida governor DeSantis and the legislature, the state now has an anti-grooming law. It forbids using the word “gay” and dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity in primary school sex education classes. The reasoning here is that such information would predispose (i.e. “groom”) children towards (gay) sex and gender crossing. Child grooming is an existing crime, committed by pedophiles when they prime and entice their victims.  Read more...

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Once Again, the Barbaric Hordes Are at the Gates

  Tom Kando 

The history of much of the world over the past two thousand years can be seen as a series of invasions by conquering hordes. 

The prototype is the fall of the Roman Empire. An, urban, literate civilization is overrun and destroyed by savages. In the middle of the fifth century, Attila the Hun and a host of other nomadic tribes deal Rome the coup de grace, officially terminating the West Roman Empire in 476 A.D. The Huns were of Uralo-Altaic origin. They came roaring out of the central Asian steppes. 

Other barbarian tribes descending on Italy and other parts of Western Europe include the Visigoths (A.D. 410), the Vandals (455), the Ostrogoths (488), the Lombards (568) and many others. Most emanated from the East, although some, for example the Franks (405), came from the North. 

My geography of these population movements is Eurocentric: I see a sedentary, advanced civilization in the West, overrun and destroyed by primitive, warlike, nomadic tribes often originating in Asia. 
 
Granted, the tribes that invaded the Roman Empire were in some primitive ways more “democratic.” Granted, also, that many tribes such as the Visigoths were themselves being chased westward by the fierce Huns, seeking Rome’s protection. I merely summarize a process in broad strokes. 

It continues after the fall of Rome: Medieval Christian Europe faces repeated onslaughts. The Magyars (my own ancestors) settle Pannonia (Hungary) at the end of the 9th century. The Ottoman Empire, beginning around 1300 AD, sacks Constantinople, putting an end to the East Roman Empire in 1453, reaches the gates of Vienna and occupies Hungary for a century and a half.  Read more...

Saturday, April 9, 2022

POWER!

By Madeleine Kando

The information in this essay is based on Bertrand Russell’s: Power, A New Social Analysis, published in 1938. The book is very much a product of its time; a time when war with Germany was about to begin. The Western world was divided between democracies and countries led by successful revolutionary dictators. Similar to what is happening now.

What is power? Is it good or bad? Or is it neutral, like a hammer when you need to put a nail in a wall? The origin of the word ‘power’ comes from the Latin word ‘potere’, which means ‘to be able’. In French the word ‘pouvoir’, both means ‘power’ and ‘to be able to’.

Let’s face it, without power, nothing would get done. My husband needs muscle power to mow the lawn. I need fine-motor power to move my fingers on the keyboard.

But that kind of power is self-contained, it’s neutral. The problem starts when someone wants to have power over other things or beings. Power over humans, non-humans, land etc. There is a difference between the amount of power you need to have enough to eat and pay for a roof over your head, and the kind of power that has caused problems for our species ever since we grew frontal lobes.

There are people who crave power more than others. I myself want power over my cat. I won’t let her pee wherever she likes and when I was a young mother, I had power over my children. I told them when to go to bed, what time to get up, etc. My husband was a CFO and had decision making power over a small staff. We all have some degree of power, if only to control our own thoughts.

But that kind of power is barely worth the name. It is the power of men that lead nations that we should be talking about. Good and bad leaders alike: Mahatma Gandhi, Hitler, Putin and George Washington, to name a few.

Marx had an economic explanation for what drives human behavior, and Freud said it was all about sex. But according to famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, the pursuit of power is fundamental to understanding human nature. ‘Power is a fundamental concept in Social Science, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics’. (From: Power, A New Social Analysis, by Bertrand Russell)

In other words, power stems from an infinite desire for something that will never be satisfied. ‘The Boa constrictor, when he has had his meal, sleeps until appetite revives’. He is content until he is hungry again. But with Man it is different. ‘Imagination is the goad that forces human beings into restless exertion after their primary needs have been satisfied.’
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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The War in Ukraine Could Affect the Whole World

Tom Kando 

I just listened to a fascinating interview of  Yuval Noah Harari. He is the Israeli historian who wrote the brilliant Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, among others.

The professor’s first and obvious point is that this war should stop ASAP. The longer it goes on, the more EVERYONE will suffer, not just the Ukrainians, even if there is no global conflagration. The longer the war lasts, the worse the situation becomes. The more hatred is created among the Ukrainians. And no one wants this war, not the Russian people, not the Russian oligarchs. 

Unfortunately, it’s been over a month since this interview took place, and things are going in the wrong direction. I see no imminent peace on the horizon. 

The interview occurred when the Russian peaceniks were still marching in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. By now, Putin’s brainwashing machine has done a superb job in rallying a majority of Russians to supporting the war enthusiastically. Dictatorships are often very efficient at creating Orwellian group think within their borders. In Hitler’s Germany, Tojo’s Japan and elsewhere, large majorities continued to happily kill and die for their governments to the bitter end. 

Harari explains that Putin’s attack on Ukraine is not based on a coherent ideology, as for example the Soviet Union was. Instead, it is based on Putin’s own fantasy, not on facts. It is based on Putin’s single-minded desire to re-establish the Russian empire. It is based on the erroneous belief that the Ukrainians are Russians, that they want to be part of Russia. They do not. Ukraine has a thousand-year old history of national identity. Kyiv was a major cultural metropolis long before Moscow. President Zelensky’s and the Ukrainian people’s heroic resistance can be an inspiration to the world.

No war since 1945 has been as much of a threat to the entire world as the current conflict in Ukraine. For the past seventy-seven years, the world has been largely at peace. Authors such as Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) (https://stevenpinker.com/publications/better-angels-our-nature) have documented the decline of war. Since 1945, there have been no wars aimed at obliterating entire countries from the map. By and large, borders have been sacred (or at least the product of negotiations). Countries have ceased ANNEXING each other. No superpower has gone to war in order to aggrandize its empire.  Read more...

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Unraveling of the World

Tom Kando 

The Russian attack on Ukraine is presenting us with a terrible dilemma. We are subject to two impulses that are difficult to reconcile: 

1. We feel deep outrage over Russia’s savage and unjustified attack on its innocent and peaceful neighbor. The barbaric, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, children, pregnant women, schools and hospitals. There are no words to describe Putin’s cruelty. 

2. We fear that this conflict could escalate into global nuclear Armageddon. 

In other words, there is widespread moral agreement, but disagreement about how to respond. 

What Can the Civilized World Do? 
Generally agreed upon are: Strong expressions of moral outrage, solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the provision of humanitarian assistance, exposure of Russian lies, hospitality and assistance to the millions of victims and refugees, economic and military aid to Ukraine short of direct NATO-Russia confrontation. 

The next step is where divergence arises: 

The two key elements of risk assessment are (1) the probability of a risk occurring, and (2) the magnitude of the risk. The greater the magnitude, the lower the probability should be. The probability of humanity committing nuclear suicide is such a risk. This is not a gamble we want to take, no matter how low its probability is. 

Beating back the Russian war machine would require more than speaking out and providing hospitality to refugees. It would require waging war against Russia, with possible escalation to nuclear World War Three. 
There are hawks and doves. Neo-liberals tend to be more hawkish: They are willing to take more risks than the doves. A dovish example is the FiveThirtyEight podcast of an interview of James M. Acton by Galen Duke. Acton is the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace“Russia, Ukraine and the Risk of Nuclear War.”https://fivethirtyeight.com/videos/russia-ukraine-and-the-risk-of-nuclear-war/ 

Acton presents a game-theoretical metaphor: Think of a chess game, where both sides have a button underneath the chess board, which, if pressed, blows up everything including both contestants. The most desirable outcome of a chess game is one where the winner’s victory is not so overwhelming as to lead either side to press the blow-up button. 

Few wars end with one side’s complete annihilation (the US Civil War and the Punic Wars were exceptions). Most wars are won by one side in such a way as to allow the losing side to survive and to recover. And a key to this outcome is that it is based on negotiations.  Read more...

Sunday, March 13, 2022

To the Leaders of the Free World

By Madeleine Kando

I am old, 6 years past the average life expectancy of most countries in the World. My life spans from the end of World War 2 to the present year of 2022. Like most old people, I am not aware of how old I am. Until now, that is.

The War in Ukraine that started in February 2022, made me realize that my life was spent during a time when the Western world, my world, was protected from the worst that can happen to human society. It was a time of relative peace and stability. Yes, during that time (which now spans almost a century), there were wars, conflicts, terrorist attacks and injustices done in many parts of the world.

But the rule of law and other basic principles on which the world order was built, protected us from what we now realize has metastasized into the most dangerous and lethal attacks on a way of life that I took for granted. All of that might soon be a thing of the past.

There is a concerted attempt to destroy that which made my life worth living. It was not without personal and social conflict. I am one of those ‘liberal intellectuals’ that many of you out there have a problem with. I am sorry for that. I am not a politician. Just an ordinary wife, mother and grandmother who now weeps when she watches the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. I am sorry that I have been hiding under a rock, suffering from the general delusion that what matters in life is happiness and peace.

The truth is that complacency and a sense of entitlement has brought Armageddon to the doorsteps of the Western World. We just didn’t pay ATTENTION! Is it too late? Do we have to keep whining about higher gas prices? Do we not understand that what is coming down the road is a tornado, gas prices be damned?

If memory serves, it happened before. The Roman Empire destroyed itself as much as it was destroyed by the invading Huns, Goths and Visigoths. It was weak, corrupt, unstable. It had lost its edge, so to speak. Did it deserve its own fate?
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Saturday, March 12, 2022

World War Two: My Aunt Ica’s Death, and my Parents’ Courage

 Tom Kando 
 My extended family and close relations spent the winter and spring of 1944-45 underground on the shore of Hungary’s Lake Balaton. That is when our family suffered one of its worst tragedies:

My aunt Iça was a sixteen-year brunette with blue eyes. One could describe her as having that attractive Eastern European look. I remember her well. For one thing, it was her job to give me a periodic bath and help me get dressed afterwards. We had a banged-up old metallic tub which we dragged along with our other possessions and occasionally filled with hot water.
 
Living under hellish conditions, people’s nerves were frayed. There were frequent arguments. One bleak winter morning, my grandmother, Iça and her fiancé Robi were shouting at each other. Iça was crying. She finally said to Robi: I am going to the library in Szekesfehervar. I heard that they are about to burn all their books. Let’s go get books and bring them back while there is still time.”
 
Robi didn’t like the idea. Szekesfehervar was twenty kilometers away, there was a shooting war going on, unexploded land mines, wild roving soldiers and assorted other dangers. Nevertheless, Iça left, Robi ran after her followed by another young couple. 

Suddenly there was a huge explosion, followed by screaming and then deadly silence. My father went outside and walked carefully across the field, following the foursome’s footsteps. All the adults understood instantly what had happened. The group had stepped on a land mine buried in the snow. I did not truly understand, but I began to cry. 

Years later, my mother described to me the carnage my dad saw in the snow that day. Iça had been blown to pieces, probably never realizing what hit her. The other couple died a more painful death. Robi was the only lucky one. He lost a leg, but survived. 

During most of the bombing raids, I was being carried and protected by my mother and by my grandparents. Both my parents were very active in the resistance and my father was often gone. No one knew when or under what circumstances he would barge in. He would suddenly arrive at noon or at midnight, and there would be a great commotion. He would be carrying a bunch of mysterious packages, the women of the house would alert each other, saying, “Jules is back!” and scurry around the house to help him. My mother would ask him, “How on earth did you manage to get through? Thank God you are alive!” He’d smile and tell a long story about how he had used this or that trick, stories which I could hear, but not understand. I had nothing but admiration for my great, tall, handsome father, a father who never showed anger or fear, always laughed and encouraged those around him by his calm and benevolent demeanor. I didn’t know what my dad was doing out there, but I knew that there was a war and that my heroic father was somehow doing very brave things. 
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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

From My Diary of the War in Ukraine

By Madeleine Kando

It is a cold and grey day in late February 2022. We are visiting our friends in Northern New Hampshire. They live on a 300 acre piece of land, their house at the end of a mile long drive way, invisible to the world. There is a lot of snow up here. Snow, pine trees and rolling hills. It’s beautiful.

We have known the Kaufmans for half a century, which tells you how old we all are. But that is what reinforces friendship – we stuck it out this long and will remain friends until all of us turn to dust.

It is a peaceful place, not a single human sound is heard, just the occasional howling of a passing band of coyotes, the long distance shriek of a lone hawk and the loud chatter of the countless blue jays invading the porch, which Janice covers with black sunflower seeds to attract these noisy but beautiful birds. We toast, eat and watch a movie, then go to bed early.

February 24th, 2022

It is a sunny morning. Marty makes his famous breakfast omelet. He looks pale and gaunt. He tells us that Russia has invaded Ukraine and that a war has started in Europe. It seems unreal, impossible to comprehend in this pristine environment. Why? How? The day is spent following the hourly news as the snow begins to accumulate outside.

Marty is a third generation Jewish immigrant. He has deep emotional ties to that part of the world, since his family had to flee Ukraine at a time when Jews were mercilessly persecuted.

We watch the news on CNN. A mother with two small children is interviewed. She is huddled together with hundreds of Ukrainians in a subway station turned into a bomb shelter. She is crying, asking questions: ‘why? Why is this happening?’ She doesn’t understand. Nor do we, up here in the snowy, peaceful Great North Woods of New Hampshire.

February 25, 2022

The snow is accumulating fast. It gets harder to walk down from the pool house, where we are staying. There are snow shoes next to the door, which we tie on to our snow boots. Walking in snow shoes is not easy for novices like us, but we eventually survive the 100 yard distance to the main house, where a warm cup of coffee awaits us.

The conversation revolves around what should be done, could be done, is not done and what will come next. What else is Putin going to invade? There is talk of excluding Russia from the Swift international payments system, instating a no-fly zone, sending more military aid to Ukraine..

I realize how little I know about Ukraine. I learn that Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Marty has a large globe gathering dust in his living room. We lug it onto the dining room table and squint our eyes as we try to decipher the tiny letters. Which countries that are now independent were part of the USSR? There are 15 of them. That, together with the satellite countries that are now part of the EU, Russia lost a third of its landmass in one swell swoop, when the USSR collapsed. No wonder Putin called it “The greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.
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Saturday, March 5, 2022

Going Underground During World War Two

Tom Kando  
Once again, major war is raging in the world, and it is taking place in the same region where I experienced World War Two - Eastern Europe. 

I come from Budapest. My family spent part of the war hiding “underground” by Hungary’s Lake Balaton. For two reasons: (1) We are Jewish (on my mother’s side) and (2) the war was intensifying in Budapest. By 1944, the city was being bombed nearly daily, and the Battle of Budapest raged during that year’s winter. The battle pitted the German Wehrmacht aided by the pitiful remnants of the Hungarian army vs. the Soviet Red Army. 

The Soviet forces reached Hungary in the fall of 1944/5. Budapest fell to them in February of 1945. The war’s last year (1944-45) was exceptionally gruesome. The Battle of Budapest lasted nearly two months. The Russians (actually the Ukrainians) besieged the city from Christmas 1944 to mid-February 1945. At the end of the siege, the city had been reduced to rubble and ashes, looking like Dresden, Rotterdam, Hamburg and other bombed cities. There wasn't a single bridge left connecting the two sides of the city - Buda and Pest. The battle killed about 100,000 German, Hungarian and Soviet soldiers and about 40,000 civilians, 7,000 of them executed.(Siege of Budapest

My family decided to evacuate the city and go underground somewhere on the shores of Lake Balaton. That is where we spent the winter of 1944-45, one of the coldest on record. I turned four that year. On a snowy winter morning, a large group gathered outside our house on Budapest’s Hill of Roses, and we began the trek to the lake, about two hundred kilometers away. We would look for an area that was already under Soviet control. The group included me, my parents Ata and Jules, my grandparents, my twin sisters Juliette and Madeleine, my aunt Iça and her fiancé Robi, some other toddlers, and several Jewish friends traveling as gentiles with false papers. We all moved to the South shore of Lake Balaton, where we spent the entire winter and the following spring.  Read more...