Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Sensitive Matter

By Gail Wallace

How sensitive are we as Americans? I was surprised that people were outraged at President Obama’s slip of the tongue in referring to being in the Special Olympics when it comes to his bowling skills. I took what he said as a joke but not everyone did. Okay, I am not handicapped so there is no way for me to understand the pain that it caused parents of handicapped individuals as well as the individuals themselves and others. But, I found a way to empathize. Let me explain.I am African-American and I cannot count the number of times that I have felt pain over a racially insensitive comment that someone has made. However, my White peers don’t seem to understand why I am offended. Okay, let me give an example. I was offended about the email that circulated around government offices in California portraying the front of the White House as a Watermelon Patch. I thought that this was outrageous. But I was equally hurt and offended by the fact that the stereotype that all Blacks love watermelon was vividly portrayed in a drawing which illustrated rows of watermelons lined up in front of the White House.
I interrogated the basis of my pain and remembered that I was probably still hurt from the surprised looks on everyone’s faces at the office party when a discussion of poverty came up. All of the White Faculty and Students who grew up poor talked about taking items back to stores like K-mart and Thrifty for a refund if they needed the money for something else. I thought to myself: "These people are being very honest and trusting with sensitive information." I eventually opened up and shared how when watermelons were on sale my parents would purchase as many as five at a time and they would take up floor space but not for long. I continued with, "When times were really financially tight, my siblings and I would count who collected the most seeds in their piece of the watermelon." The room grew silent and I felt like I had just confessed to a murder.
Not only was I hurt but somehow I felt pain. It was as if I was admitting that All Blacks like watermelon after all. A Sensitive Matter…?leave comment here

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whose Body Is It Anyway?

by Madeleine Kando

I was browsing through the bookstore the other day, trying not to get overwhelmed by the veritable deluge of titles, when I suddenly came across a small, cheaply printed, unobtrusive book called ‘Bodies’ by Susie Orbach. It caught my eye because I was curious as to how such a small, drab looking, minuscule book was boasting such a big title. I bought it. It was cheap and it fit my ‘financial crisis’ budget. It’s a hard read, not your type of book that would be promoted on Oprah. I immediately took to it.I had not read ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’, the book that Orbach is so well known for, but I knew that she was writing about eating disorders and body image issues. I remember recently seeing her on TV, being put through the wringer by one of those TV celebretards who don’t give their guests any time to speak, and jump on them like a shark in a feeding frenzy.

I have some experience with ‘bodies’ as a source of conflict. My own body is visually passable and I do not have any major physical handicaps. I am ok with my own body. As an adolescent I was fortunate to have developed a stable, permanently neutral, if not positive, body image. In fact I still have a vivid image of myself as a 16 year old late bloomer, standing in front of the mirror and suddenly realizing that a beautiful body was looking back at me. I was also fortunate enough to have been attracted to dancing at a very early age, and that secured a sense of pleasure in my own body in movement. No one in their right mind would want to be a dancer who doesn’t enjoy their body in motion.

My experience with the body as a source of extreme displeasure and hatred comes from a close friend. She has gone through a kaleidoscope of body issues ranging from anorexia to bulimia to obsessive overeating. Thus, I am drawn to books that intelligently describe the struggle and complexity of ‘bodies’ and body hatred.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sorry, I didn't see you

By Juliette Kando

That Saturday morning, the two friends, Eric and Joshua had arranged to meet at London´s Portobello Road market. Eric walked like a dancer, fluently twisting and turning his body avoiding collision with the dense Saturday market crowd. Soon he could see Joshua’s dark curly hair and red woollen scarf in the distance. He whistled and reached up high to wave, then followed a thump and a thud! Eric looked down to see the end of a white stick. Oh my God! I’ve just stumbled over a blind man, he realised. He had not seen him coming. ‘I’m very sorry Sir, I didn’t see you.’ “Nor did I,” the blind man could have responded, lying on the pavement.While trying to get up the poor blind man rolled over and bumped his head into a low brick garden wall.‘My bag, where is my bag? The long strap goes between the two short ones.’ Eric handed him the bag. The man was in shock. He seemed to be impaired not only with a lack of vision but his leg muscles were not able to get him up onto his feet. Eric tried to lift him up by the arms but could not tackle the weight. By now a few more people had gathered around and two strong men managed to put the blind man upright. As the circle around the scene thickened with onlookers Eric slowly withdrew himself and walked towards where he had seen Joshua. He looked back at the growing crowd thinking in shame I did all that. When he met up with Joshua he felt excited and relieved. London gave you anonymity. No one around him now would ever have guessed that only two minutes ago, he had knocked over a blind man.

How would you have felt in Eric’s situation? Which of the following do you agree with?
1. Eric is a coward and an idiot
2. Thank God for anonymity, so you can mess up and get away with it
3. Eric should feel guilty and ashamed
4. Shit happens. No one is to blame. Just move on
5. At least Eric should’ve offered the blind man lunch or something…
6. Eric handled it fine.
7. What’s the big deal?
8. Other Comment leave comment here

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Time for Beauty

Posted by Tom Kando

(someone forwarded this to me, I don't know who wrote it)

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?leave comment here

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why Are Democrats Richer than Republicans?

Tom Kando

...And here is another thing: On average, Republicans are poorer than Democrats! Just go figure. When it comes to economics, it should be pretty simple. There are two basic political attitudes, and you would expect them to correlate with how rich a person is: you would expect both the rich and the poor to vote their pocketbook. The rich would vote for lower taxes and for the government to butt out, i.e. Republican, conservative. The poor would vote for more re-distribution of wealth, more government services, i.e. Democratic, liberal. But, lo and behold, it’s the opposite! Even though there is a lot of overlap, the statistics are clear: The average income of the 100 million or so Republicans is LOWER than that of the 150 million or so Democrats!

This oddity can be explained, of course. The first thing we should understand is the enormous regional variation in democratic and republican support. There are red states and there are blue states. And as it so happens, “blue America,” (E.g the East Coast and my beloved Left Coast) is more urban and richer than “red America,” and it is also way more liberal. And as we all know, the Deep South has become the bastion of Republicanism. And of course the Deep South is the country’s poorest region. The other red states are mostly in the Rocky Mountains and in the Midwest - again, rural, poor, and culturally conservative. So at the aggregate level, richer states are more democratic and poorer states are more republican.

In an article titled, “Rich state, poor state, red state, blue state,” (Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Sept. 2007), Andrew Gelman Reconcile the facts I just mentioned with our common-sense expectation that poorer folks should be voting Democratic: Indeed, within states, that is precisely what happens. Furthermore, the authors write, the “slope (statistical jargon for “relationship”) is steepest in poor, rural areas. That is, in poor rural areas, the poor are much more likely to vote for the Republican candidate.” In other words, the authors, write, “income matters more in “red America” than in “blue America...For example, in rich states such as Connecticut, income has a very low correlation with vote preference.”

But I get back to my starting point: Overall, it is America’s poor who elect people like George W. Bush, and America’s (somewhat) rich(er) who elect people like Obama. And we just saw one reason for this: the poorest regions are also those that are the most conservative - culturally (red states).

In addition, consider the following factors:
1. Education: Those with a college education are more liberal than those without.
2. The stars of popular culture (Hollywood, pro athletes) are both rich and liberal.
3. Public employees at the managerial level, politicians, lawyers, all make good money, and of course they are overwhemingly Democrats (think of Marxist university presidents making over a million a year).
4. Brainwashing: Republicans, the media and other opinion leaders have been able to divert people’s attention away from economics and towards cultural issues - abortion, gay issues, religion, flag waiving, race, etc. Smokescreens, you might say. Come to think of it, this is related to #1: It’s easier to brainwash dumb and uneducated people.

So here you have it: At the local level, Americans may vote their pocket book interests, but as a nation, they frequently do the opposite. As a result, it’s the little old flag-waiving ladies in tennis shoes who live on $20,000 a year, who help Wall Street to perpetuate the plutocracy which is so unfair to them. Isn’t this aggravating? leave comment here Read more...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The US Role in the World Economy

Tom Kando

Today, I just want to raise a question. I don’t have the answer: There seems to be total international consensus that in order for the world to get out of the Great Recession, everyone has to resume consuming (more). What is meant here, by and large, is that the US has to resume consuming (more).
We must understand that the US’ role in the world economy is to consume. Sure, we also produce goods (Americans are the hardest working people in the world). But when economists say, for example, that our GDP grew by a healthy 4% or something, they mean that consumption/spending grew by 4%. Not production. We also carry the military burden of keeping the world economic system afloat, a burden which should be shared (or abandoned) but isn’t. But this is a topic for another day. The fact is that for the last several decades, the US consumer has been the economic engine of the world. As far back as we can remember - the 1st decade of the 21st century, the entire 1990s, and well before - it was reckless US consumption which carried the world. It was US consumption which helped to industrialize China, India, Brazil and the other upcoming giants. It was US consumption which enriched Saudi Arabia and the other oil sheikdoms. When Americans stopped consuming - as they finally did in 2008 - the world came to a halt. And America’s out-of-control consumption over the past several decades has given it by far the largest debt of any country on earth. It’s called the “current account deficit.”

Now, it is agreed by both the US authorities and the rest of the world that America must quickly resume consumption. This will save both our country and the rest of the world.

I suppose. Okay, so we go back to the status quo. The way the world has functioned for the past 30-40 years: Americans buy, others sell. Of course, our current account deficit - which grew by nearly a trillion dollars a year when times were good, resumes skyrocketing.

Interestingly, America’s monumental current account deficit is never seen as a major threat to our welfare. For example, Alan Greenspan, in his 2008 (now discredited) book The Age of Turbulence, pooh-poohs the problem. On the other hand, I read in today’s Sacramento Bee that the two latest arrivals to the World Recession are Japan and Brazil. And what are the indications that these two economies are now also becoming sick? Well, they are both suffering for the first time in many years from a “negative current account balance.” That is, they are no longer able to export their products; they are beginning to hemorrhage assets and they are starting to build up international debt - precisely what the US has been doing for decades. But the fact that the US is suffering from the largest current account deficit in the history of the world doesn’t seem to worry anyone.

I don’t get it. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, no? The prospect of utter and total bankruptcy of the American economy doesn’t worry anyone? And it’s okay if the dollar becomes a peso or rupee-like currency?
I don’t understand. Is it the responsibility of the American consumer to save the world, to be the world’s economic engine, to fund the industrialization of the planet by buying, buying and buying, as if there were no tomorrow? This is the “recovery” envisioned by all economists and all the governments of the world at this time.
As I said, I’m just asking a question. Does anyone have another scenario for recovery?
leave comment here

Monday, March 9, 2009

Linguistic Observations: Happy?

By Juliette Kando

One nice day, in the car, I began to sing and say silly things as you do, like: ‘I’m happy, oh so very happy’.

I uttered these feelings in different languages while mimicking the enunciation of the words. The English way of saying and feeling exhilaratingly happy sounded like a cockerel exuding his morning tunes. Whereas in French the same words: ‘Je suis tellement heureuse’ sounded much more poetic, gentle. I tried to say the same words of happiness in German: ‘Ich bin so glücklich’ but here the words were ugly and seemed too serious, too determined. Then I cried out loud the same words in Dutch: ‘I voel me zo lekker, ik ben zo gelukkig’ and I noticed that in the Dutch language, the tone and mood of the words sounded the most childlike and genuinely enthusiastic of the four languages.
Interesting, I thought. Would this be a valid linguistic phenomenon or my own personal interpretation of those four languages, meaning I must have been happiest when I lived in Holland? Probably a bit of both.

The other interesting point is that in German and Dutch the words for happiness: Glücklich and Gelukkig both contain the word ‘luck’. In other words, in Germany and in Holland you are lucky when you are happy. Or one could say that you are happy when you are lucky. Not so in French and English. In French: Bonheur (happiness) is “Good Hour”, implying that you can only be happy some of the time. How negative!
I concluded that only the English words for Happy, and Happiness are truly independent words, conveying the emotion, of feeling very well, and very good by their sheer happy sound.

Anyway I am enchanted to have made the previous, to me, interesting observations.
Again, if you look at the word Enchanted, Enchanté/e in French, are they related to Chanter / to Sing? In Spanish, the same: Encantado/a, Cantar (to sing). So the Latinos sing with joy when they meet you whereas the English are merely Delighted to meet you - they receive light?

Another thing: it appears that the English always adopt French when they want to be Bon Vivants, have a Laisser Faire attitude, just had a Déja Vu or merely enjoy an Entrecote (an animal’s bit between the ribs – côte = rib) with good Etiquette.

The unlucky animal that has been slaughtered for an English dinner table suddenly acquires a French name. Beef comes from Boeuf, a French ox. Mutton comes from the French animal Mouton who was an English sheep when still grazing in the field. And pork is just a pig. Also, the English never kill animals En Masse, no, they prefer to Cull them.
They say the English language has the largest vocabulary, yet can express itself with the fewest words. That is perhaps why it is becoming increasingly popular?

Sorry, I’ll stop now, as multi-linguistic observations tend to lead one into a never-ending labyrinth of interesting discoveries. But hey, aren’t we lucky to be able to divulge them on the European American Blog? leave comment here Read more...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The More You Know The Less You Know

by Madeleine Kando

I am one of those people who like to take short-cuts whenever they can. In fact, I am famous in my family as the person who takes short-cuts through town and ends up getting lost. My children have dubbed me ‘the longest short-cut taker in the world’. So, when I want to find an answer to something I don’t know, my knee-jerk reflex is to take 5 steps across the living room and sit down at my computer. ‘Never fear, the Internet is here!’ is my motto. What an invention, I think to myself. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at a click of my heels I am transported from Kansas to anywhere I desire in an instant.You don’t know what time it is in Hawaii? Look it up on the web. You want to know what the germination time is of string beans in New England? Go to the web. You want to find the ultimate answer to the current financial crisis? Click your heels and presto: the answer is at your fingertips!

But as with my real life short-cuts, this tactic often leads me further away from my goal than when I started.

Someone once said that the average information on the Internet is not much more useful than the advise you get from a well-intentioned, misinformed friend. Personally, I would like to compare it to shopping at Marshalls. You have to sift through 10 tons of garbage to find something half-way decent to wear. In fact, I have a suspicion that the internet is slowly making smart people more stupid and stupid people THINK they are smart.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

French Women, by Tom Kando

This is a response to Brian's comment on my "Schadenfreude" post. I had to reply this way because of the graphics. Readers can check out our previous exchange under that post:
1. World War I: No point in repeating myself: The French won, the Germans lost.2. Dien Bien Phu: Be careful. If being taken prisoner is an ignominy, then the 70,000 Americans who surrendered at Corregidor should be ashamed. Do you really want to go there?
3. Peugeot, schmeugeot: you probably never even drove one. Trust me, it works fine - as I said, a lot better than most models Chevrolet. But this is a stupid topic.
4. French women: A picture is worth a thousand words.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stimulating the Economy: Is Public Spending worse than Private Spending?

Tom Kando

Okay, so the problem is that people need to start spending money again, right? Banks must start lending again, people must start borrowing and consuming again. That’ll create jobs, etc. We all know the drill by now.But here is where the two sides - Democrats and Republicans - disagree: The former - let’s call them Keynesians - are happy to have the government do a lot of the “stimulating,” i.e. spending and creating jobs. And it’s obvious that if you agree with the Keynesians, you’ll also have to support a fairly high rate of taxation (or else very large deficits).
The latter - let’s call them Limbaughians, after the famous economics expert passing for radio commentator - keep saying that only the private sector can create jobs and foster a productive economy, and that high taxes destroy jobs and businesses, and kill the economy.

This has been the mantra of the Limbaughians. It was the central issue in the recent months-long wrangle and deadlock over the California state budget. It is also the argument used ad nauseam by the critics of Obama’s policies. Even the Obamaites agree. That’s why the new President prefers to talk about lowering taxes than raising them - even though he knows that he has to do the latter, too, of course, at least on the rich, who have so vastly increased their share of the pie during the past thirty years.

How come so few people question the Republican mantra? How come almost everyone gives in on the cliche that higher taxes kill jobs and businesses, because they reduce consumption? Isn’t it obvious that every penny handed over to the government also gets recirculated into the economy, i.e. spent, somehow?The difference between a socialized economy and one in which the government is small is not that there is less money being spent in the former, but how and by whom the money is being spent. In a more socialized economy, many of the people in department stores and supermarkets are state employees, that’s all.

Think also of the non-stop argument as to what put an end to the great 1929-1939 Depression. It has been almost universally accepted that FDR’s New Deal did not solve the problem, but that World War Two finally did. Conservatives have managed to totally bamboozle public opinion into agreeing with this. The implication is that public works and other government programs don't solve anything. But what was World War Two, if not massive public spending? Are conservatives suggesting that some public spending, for example global war, is an effective and therefore desirable way to get us out of a depression, whereas projects like the TVA are useless and a waste of money?

It’s amazing how easily the populace can be brainwashed. Just paste the label “socialism” on a proposed policy, and it’s dead. Just say, “the Europeans have proven that socialism is a failure,” and you have won the argument.

But the Europeans have proven no such thing. They have proven that totalitarian Communism is a failure. And now we have proven that unregulated Capitalism is also a failure. What has not been proven is that a mixed economy, an economy that is socialized to a significant degree, is a failure. The best economies in the world, the countries where there is the least amount of poverty, where the quality of life is the best, where people are the healthiest - countries such as Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, France, Canada - are all mixed and highly socialized, while at the same time utterly free and respectful of human rights and civil freedoms.

The optimal level of taxation is a legitimate topic of debate. But the shibboleth that if you raise taxes, you automatically destroy jobs and consumption, must be vigorously questioned. The only thing that happens is that more money gets spent by the public sector and less by the private sector.

Ronald Reagan and many others have often said, “people should have the right to spend their own money, rather than have government bureaucrats spend it for them.” Such slogans have a nice ring, but they are hollow: Money spent “privately” is every bit as often, if not more so, spent the wrong way. By that I mean on yachts, $300,000 Ferraris, private jets, million-dollar country clubs, palatial Wall Street offices, secluded billionaires’ mansions, and all the other accouterments of inequality. Personally, I prefer it if the government spends my money on hospitals, national parks, public universities, public transportation, highways and bridges, and everything else that works for me and for the vast majority of the people.
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By Juliette Kando

Once upon a time there was a village where the people had everything. Actually they had too much of everything. They had too much food, too many gadgets, too much furniture and toys for the children. They had so much stuff there was no room left for the people. The streets and highways were jam-packed full of cars and trucks. The houses were so crammed with things that there was not enough space left for the people to live comfortably.Every time they wanted to, say, walk from the living room to the kitchen, they would bump into furniture and have to move things out of the way, just so they could reach the kitchen to cook a meal. Nothing needed to be made anymore and no one wanted to buy anything. This was very sad because now the people had no work to do and they could not earn any money to pay the bills because there were no jobs. Read more...

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Roles We Play

by Madeleine Kando

Have you ever wondered how people manage to keep their identity, considering how many roles they have to play while on this brief and tortuous journey through life? This is not a small feat you know. We are so many things, not just to ourselves, but also to others.

I am not just talking about the roles that we are taking on in a modern society. As a woman for example, you have to be a wife, a mother, a lover, a professional etc. But in a more historical context, I, for instance, am fulfilling the role of one of the millions of immigrants who founded the United States. Even though I don’t go around all day thinking: ‘There I go, an immigrant, shopping at the supermarket. Now this immigrant is starting her car and turning on the windshield wipers’. I am not aware of my ‘immigrantness’ unless I am confronted with it. When I come back from a trip to Europe and have to fill out my customs card, for instance. Or when I read a book about how this country was founded by people who came with just one suitcase and an old pair of shoes. Then, I suddenly become aware of being one of those statistics: I did come with just one suitcase and some travelers’ checks.

To my few remaining friends back in Holland, I play the role of the one that ‘left’. ‘Oh yes, Madeleine’ they say, ‘I remember her, didn’t she leave for America?’ To them I am a faded memory that once in a while pops up to remind them that I still exist somewhere out there, in the abstract.

I am a ballet teacher, so to my 3-year old ballet students, I am either an inspiring, tall, black robed Diva with a weird foreign accent, or, to the shy ones, I am a scary stranger who tries to make them twist their feet in strange positions. Some of them cannot handle it and end up peeing on the floor instead.

Some roles are more suited to our temperament, so we are lucky when we end up being assigned to play them. If I had to choose a life-long role for myself I would become a professional student. Other roles are very difficult for me to play. The role of ‘patient’ for instance does not come easy to me. I am not a patient person to begin with, so waiting for hours on end to be seen makes me edgy. But I think it mostly has to do with the fact that the ‘patient’ always holds the short end of the stick. You miss an appointment? You still pay for it. Your doctor cancels? They don’t pay you for having wasted your time. You get well as a result of treatment? The doctor expects payment. You get worse as a result of treatment? They don’t give you a refund.

Other roles we HAVE to play, whether we like it or not. Like growing old. What’s interesting about that role is that it is based on such a relative term. When a teenager looks at a 30 year old they say ‘Wow, she is OLD’. To a 65 year old an 80 year old looks really really old. In other words, as soon as you think you know what you are doing the script changes on you.

Sometimes you think you are good at playing one role, while others do not share that opinion. In my friend Sharon’s case, she loves to play the role of the ‘good driver’. I have a healthy sense of self-preservation so I always have an excuse to refuse her generous offer of giving me a ride somewhere.

But all these roles put together makes up who we are. No one else can play you because you are so incredibly complex. That guarantees your identity and surprisingly enough, unless you suffer from multiple personality disorder, we all hold ourselves together as one human being. That’s amazing.
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