Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Nature-Nurture: Are we born Intelligent or Stupid?

 The September 13, 2021 issue of the New Yorker has an interesting article titled “Force of Nature” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. 
It describes the work of Kathryn Paige Harden, a University of Texas psychologist. Harden’s research is about the importance of genetic inheritability of intelligence. In other words, she addresses the age-old “nature-vs.- nurture” question: Are our behavior, our personality and our achievements the result of the environment and socialization (nurture), or are they the product of inborn and inherited genes (nature)? 

 As a sociologist, I have dealt with this issue in many of my classes. That nurture is more important than nature has always been axiomatic to sociologists. How successful you are in life depends much more on environment than on heredity. However, biological determinism (nature) has gained a lot of ground in recent years. Psychology’s holy grail is the identification of the PHYSICAL location of mental faculties, whether in the brain or in one’s genetic make-up. 

There appears every decade or so research that challenges the conventional wisdom that nurture counts for much more than nature. This research suggests that genetic inheritability of things like intelligence plays a much bigger role than we are willing to admit. 

For example, in 1969, Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen published an article in the Harvard Educational Review   in which he argued that there is an I.Q. gap between the races, and the reason for this is at least partly genetic. Nobel laureate William Shockley agreed with this, stating that “my research leads me inescapably to the opinion that the major cause of the American Negro's intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racially genetic in origin and, thus, not remediable... by practical improvements in the environment.”  Read more...

Friday, September 3, 2021


by Madeleine Kando

We are on Kauai, my husband Hans and I. It is the oldest and most beautiful island of the Hawaiian chain. If you could wave a magic wand and wish for a total sensory experience, you would certainly conjure up Kauai. The trade wind coming from the vast ocean, softens the harshness of the blazing sun. The sound of the surf is better than any lullaby. The foaming crests of the waves lapping on shore puts one in a trance.

Then, there are the clouds. They turn pink at sunset, slowly moving across the horizon, like slow motion ballerinas in pink tutus. The coral shines through the turquoise water while the feral chickens strut about, totally indifferent to the beauty around them, getting impertinently close to get fed. All of it is so intoxicating that our life back in Boston seems like it is on another planet.

Is it pathological to be infatuated with an island? Isn’t that feeling reserved for teens and film stars?  But I cannot help it. Since we first came here, almost 20 years ago, Kauai has captivated my heart.

Today, we are taking a helicopter ride. It takes us over the interior, the jungle where Jurassic Park was filmed. We approach the ‘five sisters’, a group of waterfalls on Mt. Waialeale, the second rainiest place on earth. The pilot is having fun with us. He flies straight into the huge vertical wall of jungle, but at the last minute, veers up to the top, to avoid a fatal crash. It is an exhilarating ride, plunging into the center of the volcano. It has been dead for millions of years and is now covered with green, a deep gaping hole, where all the rain from the swamp plateau above, accumulates.

Over 5 million years ago, Kauai was born, when magma spewed from a hot spot beneath the Pacific Tectonic Plate, creating a volcanic island. Like dragging the links of a chain away from the hotspot, the island moved away and Kauai’s volcano slowly became extinct. A new island moved in its place, creating another one of the Hawaiian Islands. A map of the ocean floor shows this long chain called the Emperor Sea Mount Chain, which reaches all the way to Alaska.

It is hard to imagine that for most of her life, this beautiful island was nothing but black rock. Everything that we see, blew in with the wind, on the waves, or in the belly of a bird that lost its way. Then, millions of years in the making, as if the island was ready for inhabitants, the Polynesians came in their canoes, fell in love and established a society.

The older Kauai gets, the more beautiful she becomes. But one day, she will sink into the ocean and only an atoll will remain, like a gravestone to mark the spot. How many of these gorgeous islands have sunk beneath the waves over the past millennia?

Kauai has only one road that hugs the coastline and does not connect to itself, which protects it from the worst damage that tourism creates. On the north shore, where we are staying, there are small, funky towns, like Kapa’a and Hanalei, reminiscent of the 60’s. There are shops that sell designer rash guards and other fancy beach attire, overpriced restaurants and shave ice stands. Read more...

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Best and the Worst States


I have ranked the world’s countries in terms of quality of life several times on this blog. Today, I want to do that   with America’s own fifty states. There is as much  chauvinism at this level as there is internationally. Just as most Europeans feel that they are better than Americans and vice versa, so Texans feel superior to Californians and vice-versa.

For the facts, I examined a recent USNews and World Report study: Best States Rankings

The study ranks the states on eight criteria:

Health Care





Fiscal stability

Crime and Corrections

Natural Environment

First, I wanted to compare blue states and red states, something which  USNews and World Report does not do. The country’s political climate is  extraordinarily polarized, and I was curious to see whether the data confirm one of my  preconceptions, namely that overall, blue states are better than red states. Well, they most certainly do:

According to 270towin, there are 18 blue states, 22 red states and  10 “mixed” states. They are located as follows:

West:   4 blue states: Washington, Oregon, California and  Hawaii.   1 red state: Alaska.

Midwest: 4 blue states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. 5 red states: Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri. 3 mixed states: Iowa, Indiana and Ohio

Rocky Mountains: 5 red states: Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona. 3 mixed states: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.  ZERO blue states.         

New England: 5 blue states: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island. 1 Mixed state: New Hampshire. ZERO red states.   

The South: 11 red states: Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana. 3 mixed states: Virginia, Florida, North Carolina. ZERO blue states.

Atlantic Coast: 5:  blue states: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania. ZERO red or mixed.

These six regions are those used by the US Census Bureau.


Thursday, August 19, 2021


This week, the crisis is Afghanistan. Last week it was the Haitian earthquake. For a year and a half, it’s been Covid. Things are not going well on planet Earth, or in the US. 
I don’t mean to trivialize what’s going on in Afghanistan. It’s a mess, a tragedy, and it was inevitable. 

First, let’s be clear about one thing: The Taliban are the equivalent of the barbarians that were held at bay for centuries by the ancient Romans. 

There are in the world, always, advanced civilizations that expand their sphere of influence and bring progress (as well as exploitation) to outlying regions. And then there are tribal societies that are several hundred years behind in their historical and moral development. Their treatment of women alone puts the Taliban somewhere at the beginning of Europe’s Middle Ages. 

The 14th century Arab sociologist  Ibn Khaldun  described the relationship and inherent conflict between advanced urban civilizations and more primitive nomadic groups, and the cycle of rise and fall of the former at the hand of the latter. 
>Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that the Taliban is about to take over the White House (although a Taliban-sponsored group did “take over” the New York World Trade Center in 2001). 
What Biden just did is the equivalent of decisions made two thousand years ago by intelligent Roman leaders such as the emperor Hadrian: He abandoned his predecessors’ expansionist policies. Instead, he invested in “defensible borders and the unification of the empire’s disparate peoples. He built Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northern limit of Britannia.” As Voltaire said, one must cultivate one’s own garden.  Read more...

Monday, August 16, 2021


By Madeleine Kando

It’s really hard to be me. I slept for four hours and woke up wondering what came over me when I bought a $100 bathing suit. I am on Maui, and I see all these fancy bathing suits prance about on the beach, so I figured I need one too, instead of looking like a blue sausage in my racing suit.

I saw one on a mannequin at the mall across our condo and I was sure it would make me look like a film star, but when I came home and put it on, I looked more like a flower pot with arms and legs.

So, I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. There is no stopping it, once I get the worrying bug. It’s like a virus, infecting every nook and cranny of my already neurotic mind. I worry about my daughter back home, about spending too much money, about the bags under my eyes from not sleeping because I worry about not sleeping.
Why some people don’t worry is a mystery to me. There must be something seriously wrong with them. People like that let the worriers do all the worrying for them. They get a free ride in this valley of tears, going about their business happy as clams, while us worriers do all the heavy lifting, leading us to an early grave.

They will say stupid things, like: ‘worrying does not do anything. It’s a useless, self-destructive habit.’ But they don’t really know, do they? Since they never worry. It’s like saying: ‘I know what it’s like to be poor. My grandfather was poor. He told me all about it’.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Which are the Best and the Worst Olympic Countries?

Halfway through the recent Olympic Games, I came across  an article by a Dan Wetzel, titled

Sorry, America: China’s leading the real Olympic medal count.

Dan complained  that most of our media  rank countries by their TOTAL number of medals, regardless of whether they are gold, silver or bronze. This puts  America on top and China second. However, Wetzel  felt that  countries should be ranked by the number of GOLD medals they win. He claimed that the entire rest of the world agrees with this.

As it turned out, America ended up with BOTH the largest number of total medals AND the largest number of gold medals. So Wetzel’s gripe is moot.

Nevertheless, I want to point out  that Wetzel was wrong. The differences between gold, silver and bronze performances are often in the milliseconds. It’s often absurd to dismiss   silver and bronze  performances as far inferior to  gold performances. The three  are often extremely close. So the total number of medals is more meaningful than just the number of golds.

Furthermore, I have long used a compromise between Wetzel’s position and mine, one which I think is reasonable and could satisfy both sides of the argument: We can WEIGH the three colors by awarding a country 3 points for every gold medal, 2 points for every silver and 1 point for every bronze.  Then, rank countries by their total  number of points.


Friday, August 6, 2021

America Needs a Strong Socialist Party

We have been brainwashed to believe that Socialism   is bad. 

You can get a good flavor of this by Googling words such as “Socialism,” “Socialism USA” or “Democratic Socialism.” 

While the search results include some factual definitions such as Wikipedia’s, by far most of what comes up consists of scathing critiques of “Socialism.” You get articles with titles like “Democratic Socialism Failures - Prosperity to Poverty,” “Real Socialism, Real Suffering - Real Socialism Failed,” “Venezuela Socialism” and “The Dishonesty of Real Socialism.” What is so nauseating is that this multitude of anti-Socialist diatribes is not counter-balanced by positive search results. The anti-socialist bias revealed on the Internet is overwhelming. 

I cannot do justice to all the nuances of socialism. Suffice it to say that the kind of socialism which I favor is “democratic socialism” or “social democracy.” By this I mean a robust degree of government involvement and regulation of the economy, albeit not outright government ownership of the means of production. I mean the sort of “mixed” capitalist/socialist system which exists in the rest of the Western world. I mean a society where taxation is progressive, where the government’s policies are redistributive, so as to reduce poverty and inequality, and where the public sector makes up a large segment of the economy, as much as 50%. 

In other words, I favor a higher degree of socialism than what we currently have. Obviously, this country is by no means free of socialism. Income taxes, Social Security, Medicare and innumerable other governmental functions are “socialism.” “Socialism” is a matter of degree.  Read more...

Saturday, July 31, 2021

My Floppy Eyelids

By Madeleine Kando

My left eye is irritated. I wanted to make sure it is not a sign that I am slowly turning blind, so I paid an emergency visit to the eye doctor, before I embark on a month long trip to Hawaii.

She was short and masked. She asked for my age, although it said it right there, on my chart. She probably wanted to make sure that my porch lights were still on at my age.

She looked over the notes that her assistant just jotted down before her majesty walked in.

‘You should drink more’ she said. ‘I already drink too much’, I thought. ‘Look at the bags under my eyes’. She meant water of course, that substance I detest with a vengeance. Unless I am in the middle of the desert of course, which is never.

‘I drink a lot of tea, some coffee and orange juice’, I said in a defensive tone. ‘Coffee and tea don’t count’ she said.’

She started to type vigorously, so she wouldn’t have to make eye contact. I am sure, in her profession, limiting eye contact with the hundreds of eye balls that roll into her office every day is essential. Until she is stuck to them like a siamese twin during the exam. Safer to type and talk to the screen.

‘You are dehydrated. Drinking is good for you. Stops wrinkles. 6 cups a day, at least.’

A long telegraph style conversation followed:

‘Do you have pets?’
‘Yes, I have a cat.’
‘Where does he sleep?’
‘I have had my cat for 10 years.’
She repeated curtly:‘Where does he sleep?’
‘She sleeps where she wants’, I said cheekily.
‘Do you wear make-up?’
‘You shouldn’t come to an exam with make-up on’.
‘Who do you see?'
‘Xcuse me?'
‘Who is your regular eye doctor?'
‘I don’t remember her name’.
She reads on the chart. ‘Dr. Rankin’.
(Inaudibly)‘So why do you ask me?’
‘Why do you take doxycycline?’
‘Never heard of it.’ 
'It says here you take doxycycline.’
‘Does it go by another name?’
‘Is it related to tick bites?’
‘I only took it once. For a tick bite’.
‘Do you have dry mouth in the morning?’ 
‘That’s because you don’t drink enough.’ 
‘Could it be because of my medication?' 
… silence …
‘It’s important that you drink at least 12 ½ cups a day. Tea doesn’t count.’

She wheels her stool adroitly to that insanely complicated piece of equipment called a phoropter and taps on the chin rest. For some reason, she has decided to switch from speaking to gesturing. The previous eyeballs must have belonged to a midget, so I have to hunch over to follow her command. Her finger points up, I look up. She taps impatiently to the left of the lens, I look left. Her finger points down, I look down.

She opens my eye vigorously, pulls on my eye lid and (gasp) folds it over. She then presses on my eye lids with great force. She makes a shooing gesture, as if I was a fly, meaning I can sit back.

‘You have occular rosacea. Very common with people who don’t drink enough.’ I want to ask her how much she drinks and how many times a day she has to pee, but then she says:

‘You also suffer from floppy eyelids. When you sleep your lids flop and let stuff in that irritates your eyes. You should massage and use warm compress.’

I am speechless. How can they be floppy? Do they flop about like dog ears in the wind? Or is it a misnomer, like so many other medical terms ? Floppy usually means that something is so flexible that it flops about, like a flag in the wind. Should I do eye lid strengthening exercises?

‘And chia.’ She said, without interruption.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

On Language… Yet Again

I have a thought which I want to convey to my Dutch husband. English is my language of choice, but then he asks me to write my thought in Dutch. I grew up in Holland, so you would think it wouldn't be such a difficult task. I find myself grappling for words, trying to construct logical sentences that mirrors what I think. I feel like an arthritic contortionist. It doesn't meet my expectations but that's the best I can do. 'I could say this a lot better in English, you know' I tell him.

But is language in general the best conduit for the multi-dimensionality of our mental world? I have to transpose something that is happening on multiple levels into one linear dimension. A thought is not just verbal, it has colors, a shape, a smell, a taste, speed and much more.

Wouldn’t it be truer to reality if we had a means of communication that includes all these dimensions in one package? I know what you are going to say: ‘that’s why we have art, music, dance, mathematics, etc.’ But aren’t those also limited by their own range? Can I do justice to quantum mechanics when I express it in music? Can I express the beauty of a sunrise using mathematics?

Couldn’t all these forms of expression be rolled into one super-language. This reminds me of ‘More than Human’, a science fiction story by Theodore Sturgeon. Even though Sturgeon’s story is about several ‘freaks’ (with telepathic, telekinetic and superhuman intelligence) that join forces to create a ‘Gestalt’, i.e. the next evolutionary step in mankind, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to artificially create a ‘language’ that would do more justice to our multi-dimensional ability to form thoughts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Isle of Wight Music Festival,1970

 In the summer of 1970, I was twenty-nine. My life was going in the right direction. I had received my PhD from the University of Minnesota the previous year and I was in my second year as an assistant professor at Cal State. 

I had also become a US citizen a year earlier. I was ecstatic. I had waited ten years to be naturalized. Before that, I was a stateless United Nations refugee, ever since my family fled from Hungary during my early childhood. My legal status was a monumental pain. It made international travel almost impossible. My family and I had settled in Holland, but even a foray into neighboring Belgium required a visa and other paperwork. I had been admitted to the US on a Fulbright student visa after waiting five years, followed by another five years on a green card. 

To celebrate my new status and all the things it made possible, I went back to Europe for the summer. I had not seen my family in five years. 

By then, my sister Juliette had moved from Amsterdam to London, so after seeing my mother in Holland I went to Juliette in England. Madeleine, my other sister, was also visiting there. 

As it so happens, the Isle of Wight Music Festival was scheduled to take place between August 26 and 31 of that year, and my brother-in-law Iain had secured tickets for the four of us. 

So we grabbed our sleeping bags, a tent and some supplies, drove down to Portsmouth, crossed over to the Isle of Wight and made our way to the festival site. The 1970 Isle of Wight festival turned out to be a Woodstock repeat a year later, a Woodstock on steroids. It became the largest rock festival of all times, with an estimated attendance of 700,000. It was a surrealistic experience. 

It took nearly a day just to get in and settle down on the grass somewhere in the middle of the field. The seven hundred thousand other hippies around us could only be described as an OCEAN of people. The population was almost as large as San Francisco’s. It temporarily increased the Isle of Wight ‘s population sixfold. The field was a rolling hill, so that you couldn’t see the end of the crowd. It literally stretched to the horizon. The stage was half a mile away and you needed binoculars to recognize the musicians, although loudspeakers broadcast their sounds loud and clear to the farthest corners of the enclosure.  Read more...