Saturday, February 28, 2009


Tom Kando

Schadenfreude: German. Pronounced 'shahd'nfroyduh'. Meaning: "Pleasure derived from the Misfortune of others." Tendency of many people on both sides of the Atlantic.Europeans love to exaggerate America's troubles, and vice-versa: I get e-mails from European friends and relatives constantly asking me how I manage to survive, while my country is falling apart. They write things like, "We hear about California. Boy, you are in real trouble over there! Your budget deficit, your drought, your fires, your earthquakes! How can you stand it there?"

When the Northridge earthquake hit in 1994, some Europeans called me up to make sure I was okay - in Sacramento, 700 kilometers away!

During Obama's presidency, the NRC Handelsblad, one of Holland's premier newspapers, published an article predicting that Obama's policies would probably fail, saying that the US was on the verge of total collapse.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Big Nanny Is Watching You

by Juliette Kando

Now that I no longer live in England, the changes that are taking place there are much more noticeable during my infrequent visits.

In England people are being made to feel completely paranoid by scare mongering tactics all in the name of “security”. We are told it is for our own safety, all because of the threat of terrorism of course, just like the non-existent secret weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, remember?

Here are a few examples: At Gatwick Airport, every time I get to the end of a stretch of rolling sidewalk of a bleeper goes off loudly followed by a female robot voice: “You are now reaching the end of the rolling sidewalk, mind your step!” as if I was a toddler in the playground. Am I blind? No, I am not blind, only tired from a very uncomfortable flight. Read more...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Smile! You are Not on TV!

by Madeleine Kando

One of the most cherished American values is ‘equality’. After all, people came to this country mainly to get away from a stratified, gentrified, classified European society. Here, in America, we are all supposed to be equal.

That is why I find it so difficult to understand our national obsession with celebrities. The word ‘royalty’ might not be an inappropriate term for what we have created here, a replacement for the Louis of France, with their lavish palaces like Versailles, their courtiers, their gardens, dinners, balls, hunting parties etc. Instead, we now have the Oscars, the Hollywood parties, the nominations, the gossip columns, the incessant focus on a group of people that no one knows personally but everyone wants to know intimately. This obsession with celebrities has caused new words to appear in the English vocabulary. Words like ‘Celebrititis’ (an obsession with people that are famous), ‘Celebriphilia’ (an abnormally intense desire to have a romantic relationship with a celebrity), ‘Celebrophobia’ (it either means the fear that celebrities have or the fear of meeting a celebrity. I am not sure). There must be more that I am not aware of.

The origin of the word ‘celebrity’ comes from the Latin ‘celebro’ which means: ‘to go to a frequently visited, populous place.’ In short, a person becomes a celebrity when enough people have paid attention to them. The first celebrities were the Greek Gods. Since the Greeks believed that their Gods had great influence on their lives they wanted to know more about them. This became the origin of Greek Mythology. If you read Homer, you can see how obsessed the Greeks were with their Gods. They gossiped and told the latest juicy stories about them. It was the Greek equivalent of the National Inquirer. I can imagine Greek teenage girls getting together and gossiping about Zeus’ latest affairs or whether Athena wore her toga shorter than the year before.

The next generation of celebrities were the Royalty of the European monarchies. If you didn’t know so and so at court, you were a nobody. The latest fashion trends, styles of dancing, music.. those were all set by the courts. Then, during the Renaissance, artists, writers and musicians became the celebrities. Actors were the last group to claim the title of celebrity. Believe it or not, until not too long ago, actors were slaves, and acting was considered a very lowly and undesirable profession. Robert Mitchum (one of the best Hollywood actors in my opinion), when interviewed about his career, said that he didn’t consider acting as a real profession: “you don’t make anything” he said. He had a lot more respect for carpenters than actors.

There is a group of celebrities that I call the ‘Celebretards’. These are celebrities that either host shows or appear on shows that are hosted by a ‘celebretard’. This group is under the delusion that being in front of a camera makes them somehow sprout new brain cells. They assume to be experts in such diverse fields as politics, the environment, third world countries, the economy, and what have you. I just wish that an actor-celebrity would stick to advising us on acting, or a sports-celebrities would enlighten us with their wisdom about sports. I mean, you don’t call up your plumber when you have a broken leg and ask him to put it in a cast, do you? But the ‘Celebretards’ are more than eager to magnanimously share their limited and flawed insight with us poor commoners.

I confess that I, myself, suffer from Celebrophobia. Only because the more time the media spend on celebrities, the less time they spend on something with more substance. I am a snob, I know. Besides, who is stopping me from changing the channel, you might argue? But let’s face it, there is an incessant intrusion in our lives by the media reporting on the minutest details of our celebrities’ lives. What do I care if Tom Cruise picked his nose during a reception? I don’t know the man from Adam.

I have tried to figure out how people can keep track of the ever increasing number of celebrities. I mean there are so many of them. I am not even including the fly-by night celebrities on the Jerry Springer show, the reality shows, the ‘even though I am a celebrity, I am just an ordinary person shows’, the ‘make-over shows’, the ‘biggest loser show’ and so on. Andy Warhol was a visionary when he said: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

I consider Einstein a celebrity, someone who has had a positive effect on the world. Has Anna Nicole Smith had a positive effect on humanity? You tell me.

In a way the more celebrities there are, the happier it makes me. Eventually, there will be so many of them that not being a celebrity will become a unique phenomenon. You will need to pay a talent hunter to find out strategies for not being famous.
leave comment here

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Ugly American?

Tom Kando
At the risk of agitating some people, I am going to wave the flag a bit today. I have long been bothered by anti-Americanism, which I consider a variant of racism.

I remember reading the best-selling book The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer in the late 50s. I know how the French and many other Europeans continue to dislike Americans a great deal. I also know how many guilt-ridden Americans also dislike their own country.Whenever I call someone on this, they reply, “Well, it’s not the American people I dislike, it’s just their politicians (e.g Trump). And as far as anti-American Americans go, their position seems to be: “Well, I am a good American, and so are most of my friends, but it’s those other people (E.g those racist rednecks in Iowa) who are bad Americans, and most Americans are that way (forgetting, by the way, that it was Iowa which gave us President Obama).

I can prove to you that it is the American people whom anti-Americans dislike, not just their politicians, no matter their protestations: Why else would they continue to rant about how obnoxious American tourists are?

In fact, a recent survey showed that the worst behaved tourists are the French, followed by assorted other Europeans and Asians. Americans came in the middle of the pack - neither the best nor the worst.

And then, how about the question: How do different countries treat visitors to THEIR shores? I’d say that there are fewer people in the world who are friendlier and more hospitable than Americans. This has been my experience, and it is, reluctantly, confirmed by some European friends who visited me recently. Americans may be fat, sometimes badly dressed, but they sure are friendly. That’s the consensus.

Is it nonsense to generalize about an entire country? It is politically incorrect, nowadays. To every generalization there are many exceptions. But, as anthropologists understood long ago, the study of culture and personality is a legitimate area of inquiry.

There is something which Europeans and other people around the world do not realize: Everything you say about Americans is true, because America is the most diverse country in the world:

Are Americans “conservative and pro-Christian?” Yes. A few million are. But then, we have atheist crusaders suing people left and right.

Are Americans “sexist?” Some are. But there are no more radical feminists anywhere than in the US, and American women are still more liberated than any others. Women got to vote in America half a century before they did in France.

Are Americans “fat?” Yes. I admit that we do hold the record here. However, we also have, unfortunately, the cult of thin-ness, with more anorexic teenagers and models than anyone else.

Are Americans “unhealthy?” Yes and no - our life expectancy is lower than in several Western European countries, but it is higher than in much of Eastern and Southern Europe. We still win the most Olympic medals of any country, so we must be doing something right...

Are Americans “homophobic?” Some are, but there is more gay power in San Francisco and some other areas than anywhere else.

Are Americans “racist?” Some are. But we had the first black president of a major Western nation.

Is “American food bad?” Well, we gave the world McDonald's. But we have more ethnic restaurants than any other country, we have farmers’ markets, we have entire colonies of vegetarians, vegans and assorted other non-traditional diets. The health-food movement started in America .

Is American “(popular) culture bad?” Some of it is. But where does Jazz come from? (Just for starters, and don’t tell me that blacks are not “real” Americans. Don’t even go there!)

So remember, whatever you say about America, it is both true and false. What we have here is called DIVERSITY. For example in California, where I live, I am a minority: European-Americans only make up 46% of the population.
leave comment here

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trying To Follow The Unwritten Rules

by Madeleine Kando

I came to America in my early twenties, not knowing what to do with my life and yearning for adventure. I didn't know much about this country. All I knew was that it was a lot bigger than Holland, my home country.

My biggest challenge in trying to adapt to living here was to figure out the 'unwritten rules' of American society.It started when I went for my first interview for a job as a secretary. As I was waiting for my interviewer, I heard someone call out: 'Madeleine?' and I thought to myself 'Hey, that's funny, somebody here is also called Madeleine.' But then I realized that they were calling ME! Imagine being called by your first name by a total stranger! I was shocked to my core. In Holland, being called by your first name by someone you don't know is a sign of total disrespect. I was very insulted and almost walked out of the office.

Now that I am a veteran immigrant I have grown to like this custom. I like it because it reflects one of the most basic American values - that of equality. In America, titles, such as "sir" and "madam" are seldom used in business or elsewhere. People in authority, managers, directors, even presidents are addressed by their first name. So why not a lowly interviewee?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Geert Wilders Saga Continues

Tom Kando

On February 12, the British government denied Geert Wilders entry into Britain. Wilders is the Dutch parliamentarian who is being criminally prosecuted in Amsterdam because he made and propagated an anti-Koran film which depicts acts of violence by Muslims and because he compared the Koran with Mein Kampf. The British authorities said that “people who carry extremist, hate and violent messages are not welcome in our community.” It should be noted that Wilders was not running from Dutch law. He had been invited by some members of the British Parliament to present his views.Pat Condell is a brilliant British on-line satirist who has commented on the Wilders case in the past. Check him out by clicking on Pat Condell's
In his comments, Condell really lets the Dutch have it. But now, it seems that the British authorities have joined the Dutch in their idiocy and cowardice.

As to where I stand, let me make the following points:

1) The Dutch authorities - and now the Brits - are very wrong. I wont re-iterate the reasons why. Pat Condell discusses them far more eloquently than I ever could.

2) Let’s be emphatically clear that the issue has nothing to do with Arabs (or with Iranians, Pakistanis, Indonesians and all the other people whose majority religion is Islam).

3) The problem lies with fundamentalist religion and religious intolerance, including radical Islam.

4) Condell and others may be fervent atheists. I am not. I am indifferent to religion. I am not as animated against religion as Condell and others. In fact, I am against the harassment of religious people. I find it lame when Macy’s forbids its employees to wish people “Merry Christmas,” when municipalities forbid crèches in public areas, when there is a crusade to delete “In God we Trust” from our money, etc.

I find militant atheism and mandated atheism (as in the former USSR) a mirror image of theocracy. Soulless, scientific materialism doesn’t have all the answers, either. After all, the crisis of modernity is upon us, right now, isn’t it?

Let’s not toss out the spiritual and the transcendental altogether. The question should not be: Religion, yes or no? But: What sort of spirituality? We have much to learn from Buddhism, Zen and other Eastern traditions.

5) But this huge topic is not what today’s post is about. Today, I just want to stress the evils of religious bigotry. Today, militant Islam is the prime example of this, and yet the European authorities are punishing Geert Wilders, who is no more than the messenger.

6) Religious bigotry is evil wherever it occurs, and it also occurs in Christian countries. But currently, US fundamentalists do not stone women to death because they had a cup of tea with a man they are not married to. They do not send 16-year old suicide bombers (often girls, lately) to kill innocent men, women and babies. They only vote to ban such things as homosexual marriage. That’s a bit of a difference.

7) The media have told us about Sharia law, the Madrassas, and the Mullahs. I don’t know with how much negative bias these terms are used in the West. Perhaps some of the religious schooling undergone by young Muslims is okay. But there is no doubt that some of this “religion-based” education inspires the atrocities and the mayhem, including anti-Western terrorism, and that it fuels enormous hatred of Western culture. The greatest obscenity is that the “religious leaders” are often old men, while those they send to blow themselves up are often children. But I suppose that’s always been the way of war - old men sending children to die.

8) So now Geert Wilders becomes a cause célèbre, due to the stupidity and cowardice of (some) Europeans.
leave comment here

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Population Density: An Ecological Interpretation of Politics

by Tom Kando

The central political variable - Left vs. Right - is about how much or how little “Socialism” is desirable: The Right wants little of it, the Left wants a lot. By Socialism, I mean: (1) Giving priority to collective well-being over individual freedom. (2) Empowering - who else? - the government to achieve this.
By this definition, America has been a right-wing country, whereas Europe has been more on the Left.Why has America been on the Right?

Here is an hypothesis: Because it could. And why could it? Because it was huge, spacious, with lots of resources, and a low population density. Even today, with its 310 million people, America’s population density is still only 80 per square mile. Compare this with Germany (603), the United Kingdom (640) and the Netherlands (1230), or even the entire European Community (310).

My hypothesis is common-sensical: As people get more and more crowded, they have to learn to cooperate more. And Cooperation = Socialism.

Here in America, we could afford to have the Wild West. Everybody trying to strike it rich on his own. Europe was different.

So if I am right, then as America becomes more crowded, we can expect more Socialism, just as in Europe. The government will regulate more and re-distribute more. Less freedom for the Bernie Madoffs of this world to swindle people out of $50 billion. Less freedom for other things too, I suppose.

But do the facts fit my hypothesis, which postulates a correlation between population density and socialism?Some countries fit: For example Brazil has only 57 people per square mile, and the country is a chaotic free for all. Somalia has even fewer people - 33 per square mile, and it’s practically ungovernable. There are many other good examples.

But then, what about Russia? One of the most sparsely populated countries in the world - 20 people per square mile, Yet, they had Socialism with a vengeance (it was called Communism). Of course, post-communist Russia was a different story, it became as lawless as the Wild West ever was. And what about Canada? Even fewer people (8 per square mile), and yet more “socialistic” than the US. Same with Australia, with only 7 people per square mile, yet more left-leaning than America...

So I’ll conclude as a true sociologist: This theory needs further research. (And please, send the research grant $$$$ to my home address).
leave comment here

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Leaving Is a Little Bit Like Dying

by Madeleine Kando

Some people like the excitement of traveling, while others find it anxiety provoking. I react with a mixture of both, but as soon as I start packing, my bohemian ancestry takes over: excitement wins over anxiety.

This is odd, considering that I have recurrent dreams of getting lost in a foreign city, with the realization that I have no money, no passport and no place to stay. Above all I don’t know anyone. I wake up in a sweat and thank whoever is up there that it was just a dream.But either way the problem of what to pack is a universal dilemma. After all, whether we like it or not, as travelers we have to accept the reality that a suitcase has a finite amount of room. And that in itself makes packing a very zen experience. It forces you to focus on the essentials.

’Partir c’est mourir un peu’ say the French (leaving is a little bit like dying) and packing is a little like preparing to die: you have to decide what is essential to bring with you and what is not.

Most people hate to part with their possessions, and having to decide which little pieces of your life you are going to take with you is a very difficult process.

Standing in front of my empty suitcase, I am ready to start the painful selection processs. I open a drawer where I keep my socks, but I find myself unable to select which ones to bring until the whole drawer has been purged and everything is neatly paired and rolled into tidy little sock-balls.

I am not just preparing to travel you see, I am also preparing to leave. I am preparing to die a little bit. Just in case I don’t come back, I want to make sure that whoever will be looking for me won’t find any smelly socks in my drawer. My house is never as organized and well kept as right before I go on a trip.

At the airport you can judge people’s reluctance to part with their day to day existence by how much luggage they carry. I think it reflects a fear of disappearing. The more you bring with you, the more you think you can prove that you exist somewhere out there in the real world, outside of the airport and the neither here nor there world of traveling.

Aside from choices based on purely practical reasons (I wouldn’t recommend packing an umbrella if you go to Hawaii or suntan lotion if you plan on going to Holland in the winter), packing forces you to get down to basics: do I really need 5 sweaters? How about those 3 handbags: would I be ok with just one?

As I get older, I have noticed that more and more of my finite suitcase space is taken up by paraphernalia that is supposed to keep me healthy on my journey: blood pressure gage, pills, vitamins, thermometer, flue medicine, tempurepedic pillow... Forget the 5 sweaters at my age. I am lucky if I have enough room for one. The irony is that the closer you get to your ultimate voyage on this wretched earth, the more room you need to keep you amongst the living.

With age I have also become more frugal in what I pack. One very practical reason is that I just don’t have the muscle power to lug around one of those monstrosities that you sometimes see on conveyor belts.

If I could afford it I would not pack at all, just bring a lot of dollar bills so I could buy everything I need wherever I go. And I would dress in my pijamas, that being the most comfortable outfit in my wardrobe. What better way to spend countless hours in a cramped airplane seat designed for a lilliputian than in your favorite pj’s? leave comment here Read more...