Friday, September 25, 2009

Confessions of an Addict

by Madeleine Kando

I am suffering from S.C.A. (severe computer addiction). It started with a case of M.C.A. (mild computer addiction) but as all addictions do, it got worse. I find myself waking up in the morning and instead of going out and walking the dog with his full bladder, I sleepwalk to my desk and squint at my 24 inch intel Mac ready for my morning fix.
I know I am addicted because, rather than getting up out of my chair when I have to ask my husband something (he is sitting in the other room, getting his morning fix on HIS computer), I skype him instead. There are other symptoms too. The urge to ‘google’ every little thing that pops up in my head. When I cannot decide how to fix my hair I sit down and I google it. It is getting so bad, I have even started to google things like ‘how to sit properly while you google’. ‘I am bored googling, what do I do?’ And ‘how to come up with things to google’.

Then there is my social life. I admit, it wasn’t all that great to begin with, but it is now totally moribund. Reduced to a pathetic two-dimensional electronic version of what it should be. My family is so spread out (mom in Holland, daughter in California, sister in Spain etc) that it would be impractical to meet in the flesh, so, in that sense my computer helps me stay in touch. But friends? Nah..I rarely go for a cup of coffee with a friend these days. Unless I have my lapbook with me of course.

I am seriously thinking of going to a detox program. They do exist you know. But I don’t think they allow any portable electronic devices, so I don’t know.. Short of that, I could call the Kaufmans, the only couple I know that does not even have a working computer. They live in a remote part of Northern New Hampshire where they ride their horses, build things on their land, walk their dogs, enjoy the bugs in the summer and hundreds of acres of snow covered trees in the winter. They only acquired electricity very recently. I used to think of them as hicks who are loosing out on the ‘high tech revolution’. ‘Poor saps’, I thought, ‘they don’t know what they are missing. They actually still write letters to people! With a pen of all things.’

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Animals of the Future Unite!

by Madeleine Kando

I was walking my diminutive dog in the local woods the other day when I met a dogwalker and his young son. The father was holding three large black labs on short leashes and I wasn’t sure who was leading who – him or the dogs. My miniature dog goes by the name of Max although ‘Bonaparte’ would be more appropriate because he suffers from a huge Napoleon complex. You know, someone who thinks he is much bigger than he is. He trotted up to the three black monsters, his tail and big chihuahua ears sticking up in the air. I could see some resemblance between him boldly approaching the three black monsters and the renowned general on his white horse facing the enemy.The dogs stopped and so did the dog owner. He was slightly out of breath and probably grateful for this unexpected break in his continuous effort to restrain his dogs.

We started to chat while the dogs began their ritual of front and back sniffing and turning around each other to examine each other's merchandise. They all went off exploring some communal tree trunk and as usual Max got peed on because of his size.

And of course we talked shop, which people do who walk their dogs in the woods. They talk about their dogs. He told me colorful stories of some of the dogs he had walked. This particular trio were mother and sons and the one he had walked earlier only had three legs. So eventually I told him that Max had been abandoned by his owner, a homeless woman who had been evicted, and that he had lived in a kennel for three years, spending most of his time in a little cage. That is bad for any dog but especially for a dog who suffers from a Napoleon complex. We both commiserated on how awful some people treat animals, abandoning them in a kennel like that.

Being from Dutch origin, I told him proudly that in Holland there is an animal party. A party that is designed to uphold animal rights and oppose cruelty to animals. They actually have enough members, I told him, to give them two seats in the Dutch parliament.

I was somewhat disappointed by his reaction. He didn’t seem to be impressed by how progressive the Dutch are. I thought maybe he thinks I am joking? But his young son made up for the father’s lack of response by saying: ‘Dad, that’s so cool. I sure hope they chose German Shepherds as representatives. They are the smartest dogs, right?’leave comment here

Monday, September 7, 2009

Walkers and Movers

by Madeleine Kando

Before I became a suburbanite with a family to raise, I used to live in the city. First Paris and Amsterdam, then London and Madrid. There is skill involved in being a successful city dweller, and the art of walking down the street is one of them.I first became aware of the complexity of this art form as a young girl, growing up in Amsterdam. I don’t mind telling you: I was shy and not very confident. I did not like to draw attention to myself, but I had the misfortune of being endowed with good looks and passing a group of teen-age boys on the way to school was something I dreaded. My instinct told me to cross the street in order to avoid being harassed. But my indignation took over and I started to observe some of my more self-confident friends who didn’t seem to be intimidated by these annoying males in the making.

It is then that I first realized that there are two kinds of people in a city: the walkers and the movers. I, unfortunately, was a mover. I moved to the other side of the street to avoid confrontation with these young chimps. My friend Amanda, on the other hand, was a walker. She was loud, self-confident and quick with her tongue. I tried to immitate her stride – her way of looking past other pedestrians as if they didn’t exist. She knew instinctively that most of them were ‘movers’. That they would move so she could walk. I envied her and in her presence I too became a walker. But whenever I was alone I reverted back to being a mover.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Crime and Punishment

By Tom Kando

We have been hearing about this monster Garrido for the past couple of weeks. He kidnapped, raped and impregnated Jaycee Dugard, and held her in captivity for 18 years. Horrible. But the large amount of attention devoted to this case by the media may have some unintended negative side effects. I just saw Dr. Phil hollering on TV about the authorities’ scandalous failure to prevent what happened. Garrido should not have been on parole after his previous felonies. There are dozens of registered sex offenders living in the neighborhood around South Lake Tahoe where Jaycee was nabbed, etc. etc.

The message is loud and clear: In the Garrido case, the authorities were asleep at the wheel. Our society is much too lenient on criminals. We need to lock up more and parole less.

This is how our criminal justice system works. Legislation driven by one-time, celebrated cases. That’s how the three-strikes laws, the Megan laws and all the other inane laws which broke the California budget without necessarily lowering the crime rate came into being - on the basis of individual and highly publicized cases like Polly Klaas and Jaycee Dugard.

This is no way to run a society. Our prison system is utterly broken, with 3 times as many prisoners as it should have and 10 times more prisoners than it had a generation ago.

The State is trying to negotiate a reduction in the prison population, but with the hysteria generated by sensational but rare cases like Garrido, conservatives will once again be able to bamboozle the public into believing that we need to lock up more, not less.

And another thing: Why do we need to come up with new categories of crimes all the time? When the concept of “hate crime” first came up, decades ago, I had a problem with it. I asked: Isn’t most crime based on some sort of hate? If I love you, I am not likely to kill you, am I?

And we have sex crimes. Why? Why separate out this category? Should we also have food crimes? And greed crimes? Pride crimes? Crimes against society? Political crimes? Sports crimes? Work crimes? Leisure crimes?

Crime is crime. It often consists of someone harming someone else. Often, it consists of harm to the collective. And it occurs whenever a law is broken, whether the law makes sense or not.

The main purpose of having categories of crimes is to agree on their seriousness. The greater the harm, the more severe the punishment should be. Many criminal classifications are useful: property crimes vs. violent crimes, the FBI’s distinction between Index crimes and Part Two crimes, felonies vs. misdemeanors, etc. etc. But other ones seem to reflect shifting cultural and political values more than scientific criminological concepts. They are not helpful. leave comment here


I Could Never Be Swiss

By Anita Kando

As a frequent visitor to Switzerland, the country never ceases to delight and to impress me , and it is about as perfect a country as it gets. I’ve been very fortunate to be a guest of the Bienz family, my husband’s cousins, in Solothurn, a gorgeous little town between Basel and Zurich. Being a guest of the Bienz family will spoil you for all time. They live in a charming three story rock-solid home with beautiful nature photography throughout the home, a garden that looks out over the Jungfrau and the Eiger, a winding stairway made of the most beautiful wood, a state of the art kitchen where Esther (the best cook in our extended family – where the competition is quite fierce for that title) produces the most amazing Swiss dishes. They have enticed us with unparalleled Swiss fondue and introduced us to the fun of sharing raclette at the kitchen table with the whole family. The air is crisp, cool, it’s often sunny, and one sleeps like a baby in their upstairs, chalet-styled, wooden-ceiling bedroom with duvets and huge pillows that make it difficult to ever get out of bed.

We have made many journeys and side trips within Switzerland, and it is impossible for me to say which one has been more delightful. Just when you think it can’t get any more stunningly gorgeous, Switzerland will find a way to show you that it can. We took a train through the countryside to Appenzell . The entire ride there was like a travelogue, with side visits to Schaffhausen and St. Gallen where we visited one of the world’s most impressive libraries (we actually saw Napoleon’s correspondence there).

We took this amazing little train that wound nearly vertically up a mountainside toward Appenzell. My husband and I looked at each other, laughing that at every turn the landscape just gets more and more impossibly beautiful. Unreal, we thought. When we reached this Brigadoon of a town, we were convinced that it could not possibly be real. Swiss architecture is always beautiful, and the people of Appenzell really outdid themselves when they decorated their buildings. Our hotel was a beautiful shade of red, with a hanging medieval sign stating the name of the inn. There was a riot of brightly colored flowers in the window boxes. The inside proved to be equally amazing, with everything made of beautiful wood. As we walked down the street, we realized that all of the houses were just as beautiful, or more beautiful than our hotel. I so admire the pride that they take in creating such delightful, well-loved buildings.

The next morning, after another super-healthy Swiss breakfast, like the ones served all over the country, we took a bus ride up the mountain to see Mt. Santis. Hans and Esther made sure we had a front row seat next to the huge windows of the enormous bus while they took seats further behind.

Mt. Santis is a formidable mountain, and there’s been an unseasonably early snow-storm overnight, so it’s covered with snow. We line up for the gondola to go up the mountain, and at this point I am reminded again that there is a whole different dimension to Swiss mountains. Yes, we have mountains in California, we have trams and ski lifts – I’ve ridden them up and skied down for decades. But the sheer vertical climb of this tram is something else, and I am getting nervous.

We arrive on top (yay, we are still alive!). The view is stunning – high white topped mountains in every direction, as far as the eye can see. We ambulate through a little museum, and the rest of my party disappears for a few minutes while I’m looking at Swiss mountain goats perched precariously on the very edge of the mountain.

A few minutes later, Hans invites me to walk over to the restaurant. He turns to me as we are about to go out the door, and says, “But you might not want to do this.” Strange statement, I thought. Well, he was certainly right. The moment we are out the door, blizzard-like wind and snow hit my face. I’m dressed in a light jacket, wearing my new athletic shoes. No problem, I think. Well, as we venture on a little further, I see a semi-circular grated metal path suspended in the air, with crevices thousands of feet below. I walk timidly forward, only to realize that the soles of my shoes are filled with ice and becoming very slippery. Then I look to my right as best I can through the blowing snow, and I see that this small metal bridge has only one thin guardrail with plenty of room to slide right under it. What’s worse, a person cannot hold onto the guardrail because there are foot-long icicles formed sideways - horizontally! - due to the fierce winds. Okay, that’s it, I’m going to slide right under the guardrail and end up as an archeological find thousands of years from now. I’ll perish of a heart attack long before I hit the bottom of the crevice, to become Homo Turisticus Americanus, eons from now.

Somehow, I step and slide on, with my purse (in which my passport and medications are stored) swinging precariously over the guardrail. Finally, I make it to the door. Thank God! I’m in another one of those gorgeous wood-paneled Swiss restaurants, and I’m alive. I plop down at the table out of breath and shaking – I see a large bottle of Appenzeller Schnapps, and wish I could down the whole thing right there to stop shaking. I let out a sigh, “Okay, that’s it, I’ve failed, I can never be Swiss.” We all have a good laugh over that, but it’s true – I’m not rugged enough to navigate this terrain the way our cousins do. This formidable mountain’s name should not be Mt. Santis -- Spiritus Sanctus Mortis is more fitting! Esther takes my arm and tells me she will guide me back over the horrifying metal bridge. “Oh my God, is that the only way out? Surely you don’t mean to tell me that I have to do this again?” I’m laughing and frowning at the same time. Nope, no other way out. We walk side by side, and I’m thinking this time we might not be so lucky and we’ll both slide right under the guardrail. I’m more than a little embarrassed that I’m being guided like an infant, but I’m also very grateful for Esther’s Swiss expertise in navigating the dreaded path. Ah, we’re done! Back on earth! Then we take the shear tram downward (a whole new definition of vertical drop!) and we step out on flat ground. Esther turns to me and says, “We thought it best not to tell you that last week, just a few miles away, a tram broke down and they had to rescue everyone via helicopter, suspended over thousands of feet by ropes.” I’m more than a little relieved that they did not tell me this before we went up. I picture myself in a nightmare like Sylvester Stallone movie’s Cliffhanger.

We settle down at the ground-level restaurant, sipping our delicious Swiss barley soup, watching amazing Swiss snow dogs that look like large balls of snow with legs and heads. Even the dogs are hardier here. What a gorgeous day as the clouds part and bright blue sky re-appears.

Okay, it’s true, I can never be Swiss. I’m not qualified. But part of my heart remains there. What a country! I hope to return, and I’ll never quit trying to be Swiss.... leave comment here

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Are Humans Intelligent?

by Madeleine Kando

At this moment I am spending a few gorgeous weeks in one of the most beautiful places on earth: Kauai. For the reader who has not had the privilege of visiting paradise, I will just describe it as an orgy of scents, sights and sounds. The smell of hundreds of types of plants, the blue sky and the red earth, the continuous lulling sound of the ocean mixed with the soft breeze caressing your body day and night.. Trust me, this description is not an exaggeration to make this story more interesting.

You might wonder by now what all this has to do with intelligence. Bear with me and I will tell you. As I am taking an early morning walk to watch the sun rise out of the vast blue ocean I am rudely torn away from my bliss by a powerwalker talking loudly on a cellphone. What on earth possesses someone to do this? By a seemingly innocent act this woman has ripped a hole in the fabric of my paradise.. gone are the scents, the sights, the feel of the breeze. She has not only removed herself from being in Kauai and the morning dew that creates rainbows above the glistening grass, but has managed to affect her environment by her incessant and annyoing chatter.

Howard Gardner, the famous Harvard Professor, who has developed the ‘multiple intelligence’ theory has identified different types of intelligences. He is of course giving a new name to what we call ‘talent’. If you have a gift for music, he says, you have ‘musical intelligence’. If you are good at building things you have ‘spatial intelligence’ etc. Which is nice. Being talented means you either have it or you don’t. It is so final. Whereas if you have ‘musical intelligence’ or ‘spatial intelligence’ it means you can develop those intelligences by studying music, architecture etc. He has identified 6 types of intelligences: verbal, spatial, kinesthetic, visual, mathematical, interpersonal and intrapersonal.

So I wonder about this woman on her cell phone.. She probably scores very high on the verbal scale, considering her obsession with the cell phone. But shouldn’t we add one more type of intelligence to the list? ‘The ability to live in the moment’ intelligence? Where would she score on that?

As I hurry to create some distance between her far reaching voice and myself I see a flock of myna birds strutting about pulling their breakfast out of the wet grass. Their yellow encircled eyes make them look like intellectuals with bifocals on. I cannot help but notice the vast difference in IQ between the woman and these native creatures enjoying this glorious morning.

Couldn’t we open schools to develop our ‘how to be happy’ intelligence, our ‘live in the moment’ intelligence? And you would only be allowed to visit Kauai if you score high enough on your ‘be happy’ intelligence test. Otherwise stay out of paradise!!leave comment here

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Useful Idiots?

By Tom Kando

Today I saw another bumper sticker saying, “Get the government off my back”!

There has been an amazing change in public opinion since Obama’s election - for the worse. I attribute this to the brainwashing of a gullible population by the enormously rich private interests. Consider the following facts:
1. Prior to 2009, the federal government was already running massive deficits. Under Bush, the annual deficit was approaching half a trillion dollars. The last time the government was in the black was during Clinton.

2. The first massive rescue package - the $700 billion bailout of investment banks, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mack, etc. - was the 2008 Bush-Paulson TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program).

3. The economic debacle which the Obama administration has been fighting valiantly is the legacy of the Bush administration. It was not caused by excessive government spending or government meddling, but by precisely the opposite, namely excessive deregulation - the Alan Greenspan-Milton Friedman ideology - and excessive corporate tax cuts. The world crisis was caused by Wall Street, not by Uncle Sam, i.e. by private capitalism, not by socialist government.

4. So far, Obama has at least stanched the bleeding. Thanks to his 2009 stimulus program - the $787 billion ARRA (American Recovery and Investment Act), America and the world have moved back from the abyss.

Yet, the noisiest clamor we hear these days is that our problems are caused by excessive government, and that the government is the greatest threat to our future well-being. This is the noise you hear the most in California, where the State is broke, and nationwide, in the health care “debate.” I believe that these people are the useful idiots who have been brainwashed by the likes of Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and that the brainwashing campaign is funded by our society’s immensely powerful plutocracy.

Just think:

1. As long as the federal deficit served to feed the military-industrial complex and our wars in the Middle East, few people blanched at deficits approaching half a trillion dollars a year. But now that the money goes more to social services, suddenly everyone has become a deficit hawk!

2. When the government allocated $700 billion to bail out investment banks and other Wall Street entities, there was no outcry. But now that a similar amount is devoted to public works, to unemployment benefits and hopefully to health coverage, suddenly, “We can’t afford it.”

3. Until Obama took over the presidency, Joe Blow either didn’t know anything about the deficit, or he didn’t give a damn. Now suddenly Joe Blow has turned into an economist. He worries about the deficit, inflation, the devaluation of the dollar.

Of course, the rapidly rising deficit is a problem. It’ll have to be dealt with. Taxes will have to become more progressive, military adventures will have to be curtailed, both the government and the people will have to live within their means.

But what I find so striking at this moment is the obscene upside-down values expressed by some of the protesters. Isn’t is a warped value system, which approves of deficits to wage war, but not to provide people with jobs, with unemployment compensation and with health insurance? A value system which approves of spending $700 billion to save the likes of AIG executives who then continue to pay themselves dozens of millions of dollars in bonuses, but disapproves of spending a similar amount of stimulus money on public works and other programs which benefit the people?

This is the upside-down Republican world. A world in which all government programs except the military are evil, and Wall Street is the savior. When Lenin coined the expression "useful idiots," he had in mind bourgeois fellow-travelers and parlor communists. Today, the term seems to apply more to the millions of working-class people who for some unfathomable reason swallow the Republican lie, hook, line and sinker.leave comment here