Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On the Right: The Tea Party, CPAC and the GOP

By Tom Kando

There is a lot of activity on the right now. The media are giddy reporting it, and exaggerating it. We were recently treated to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). We have also been reading about the Tea Party for a few months. And of course there is the Republican Party. How do these forces relate and compare?

Major speakers at the CPAC included Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney. Earlier, Sarah Palin had been a keynote speaker at a gathering of the Tea Party. Both the CPAC and the Tea party make it a point to distance themselves from the Republican Party, accusing it of having betrayed its principles. Everybody is trying to out-right-wing each other. Wow!

The Tea Party is mostly anger without substance - little old ladies in tennis shoes. For example, one demonstrator holding a board of Obama as a Nazi was asked why he thinks Obama is a Nazi. He said: 'Because he is'. 'But why do you think he is a Nazi?'. 'He just IS'. That was his illuminated explanation.

CPAC is more slick. It consists more of the wealthy and the powerful, aiming to protect their privileges. But the similarities between the two are greater than their differences. The Dutch say, “een pot nat,” or as some of my eloquent students might put it, “it’s the same difference.”

What are these conservative groups for?

I could only find 3 things:
1. The Constitution.
2. The Way We Were.
3. Taking the country back.

Well, I am also for #1. I also would like to be the Way I Was - young, handsome, virile and healthy. As to taking the country back, I’m not sure who we take it back from?

Next, What are they against?

Many things. Here are just a few examples, and why most of them are pseudo-issues:

1. Minorities. The ethnic composition of their meetings says it all. I believe that it all starts with a visceral dislike of the President’s tan. They may never admit this, or even be conscious of it. What else would fuel frantic accusations that Obama is a Socialist Nazi and that he is not a born American? I believe that what truly sticks in these people’s craw is the color of his skin. How dare a black man become the most powerful person in America? Don’t people know their place anymore? (CPAC does have room for token blacks)

2. Taxes. Taxes are a waste. They are spent on useless things such as roads, schools, parks, electricity, transportation, a government, an army, police, fire protection, etc.

3. The deficit. Government budgets must only be balanced by cutting spending, never through increased taxation. Just one problem: This is impossible.

4. Closing Guantanamo, giving those prisoners due process and transferring them to stateside prisons: Pseudo-issue: those prisoners will remain safely locked up forever, wherever they are detained and tried.

5. A stateside civil-criminal trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11: Ditto: Pseudo issue.

6. The Government’s handling of the Underwear terrorist: Pseudo-issue: Nothing happened. we dodged a bullet. Move on.

7. Terrorism in general: Over the past year, the country has experienced one botched terrorist attempt and one successful one - the murder of 13 people by Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. Meanwhile, 50 to 60 people are murdered every day in American cities. There are daily instances of murder-suicides, such as the man who flew his plane into an Austin IRS building on February 18. Public opinion accepts the thousands upon thousands of annual murders in America as business-as-usual. At the same time, terrorism remains a national fixation. In that sense, another pseudo-issue.

8. Health care reform: Every civilized country in the world has universal, single-payer, public, portable health care. We don’t. We are wrong. Discussion over.

9: Global warming: A fact, not a theory. Discussion over.

10. Unions and Union PACs: And what about corporation PACs, which give 10 times more to campaigns?

11. Obama’s claim that he was born in the US: I’m afraid they got us on this one. The President was born on the planet Vulcan. Just look at his ears.

The list can go on:

12. Foreign entanglements.
13. Intellectuals (= elite).
14.Gay marriage.
15. Abortion.
16. Welfare.
17. Immigration.
18. Everything else.
leave comment here

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Law of Entropy

by Madeleine Kando

Entropy means that something reverts back to chaos. The word ‘chaos’, in my mind, conjures up visions of a lot of random, wild activity. Chaos is the opposite of orderliness. According to the laws of physics, however, a maximum level of entropy means that something is in such perfect equilibrium, that nothing ever happens. Our universe is expanding and increasing in entropy. Eventually everything will be so spread out and so perfectly distributed that the universe will be frozen in stillness.

I look at the human body for instance. If it is in perfect physical balance,(right side is exactly equal to the left side weight distribution wise), the body stops moving. It is just there, like a piece of wood. You need imbalance to be able to move about. Try taking a step without shifting your weight and you’ll know what I mean. So perfect balance, perfect uniformity, perfect heat distribution inside a container.. we call that high entropy states? Mmmm.

My dog Max has very low entropy. While he is alive, he has a ‘Maxness’ about him. But when he expires, the ‘Maxness’ will be added to the high entropy soup from which we all came.

Even I am quickly approaching that high chaos state. I can feel my ‘Madeleine-ness’ starting to dissipate somewhat. Ten years ago my eyesight was perfectly organized to meet the demands of seeing my computer. Now that my eyes have higher entropy, I need low entropy glasses to be able to read the nonsense that I am typing.

Is this the fate of our species? If the rule applies to the entire universe, I am sure it applies to the human race as well. Take information, for instance. Not too long ago, in order to find some important information, I had to lug myself to the library, spend a good amount of time searching for a certain oeuvre, actually read the whole damn thing before I could say: ‘ah, now I have the answer to my question’.

Now I google ‘find me this’ and plouf, there are 500 entries on ‘find me this’, all proclaiming to be the authority on the subject. The problem is that the information is filtered, processed, changed, decoded, encoded, re-encoded… to such an extent that the final result is buried in irrelevant, ambiguous, complicated, cluttered, and overloaded garbage. (This essay is the exception, of course).

Ah, the good old days of low-entropy… where have they gone? Is this why we cannot seem to pass any reasonable health care bill? Obama’s proposal was a sound, ‘low entropy’ plan. In fact, it might have been too low-entropy, too organized, too complicated for our poor high-entropy muddled minds.

So, a word of warning: the longer we wait in doing anything, be it passing a health-care bill, reading important information before it morphs into useless high-entropy garbage (this blog is the exception, of course), or enjoying your low-entropy eye-sight, let’s do it soon. Let’s do it before Mr. high-entropy comes a-knocking and distributes every last ounce of low-entropy, evenly and fairly and makes it totally useless. leave comment here

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Is the US Justice System the Envy of the World?

By Tom Kando
Recently, US Senator Patrick Leahy said that “the US Justice System is the Envy of the World” (in connection with the proposed trial of terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, which I favor, by the way, as does the Senator). But what he said about our (Criminal) Justice System? LOL!

Here are some other good ones I just thought of:

1. Dutch weather is the envy of the world.
2. French customer service is the envy of the world.
3. Italian drivers are the envy of the world.
4. German humor is the envy of the world.
5. Indian sports are the envy of the world.
6. British cuisine is the envy of the world.
7. Mexican technology is the envy of the world.
8. Russian public health is the envy of the world.
9. Brazilian punctuality is the envy of the world.
10. Saudi women are the envy of the world.

Well you get my drift. If you take offense at any of the above, feel free to poke fun at me. I am Hungarian, Jewish, Dutch, American and French, not necessarily in that order. leave comment here

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Debt: Armageddon.

By Tom Kando

The Federal Government’s debt is huge and growing. This is by far the most serious problem facing our country. Quite simply, it is going to kill America.

I have been playing Jeremiah about this for decades - long before Glenn Beck and the Tea Party coopted the issue. (See for example my piece, “The Federal Debt,” January 21, 1984 in my Politically Incorrect Sociology anthology at But who listens? The facts are clear:
1.The accumulated federal debt is now $13.5 trillion, i.e 90% of our GDP.

2. It is growing by over $1 trillion per year, which is nearly 10% of our GDP, and it is predicted to grow forever.

3. The government spends nearly 10% ($300 billion) to finance its debt. This will soon be a lot more, because (a) interest rates are currently abnormally low and (b) the debt is growing. In time, the entire budget could consist of interest payment. Would that be ridiculous or what?

It’s exactly like when you overuse your credit card and let the debt accumulate, instead of paying it off: You are in a vicious cycle and pretty soon, you spend most of your money on finance charges instead of groceries. You are getting poorer every month.

We hear a lot about Europe these days, which is said to be in fiscal trouble as well. Greece’s annual government deficit is 12.5% of its GDP. The morons on the right immediately interpret this as the consequence of too much European-style socialism. They don’t understand that Greece may be a sick baby, but that Greece is not Europe. The problem is not Socialism, it’s Greece. Greece has bad socialism. Germany has good socialism.

And we shouldn’t even point the finger at Greece. Greece may be sick, but so are we: Its deficit is 12.5% of GDP - barely worse than ours, which is 10%. Overall, Europe is in better shape than we are: At least it requires that no country’s annual deficit should exceed 3% of GDP. The continent has its weaklings, but it also has the strength of Germany, France, the Benelux, Scandinavia and others. Its financial future looks better than ours. We shouldn’t worry about descending to their level. We should worry about descending to the level of South American banana republics.

The unfathomable idiocy of Congress is that both Republicans and Democrats are committed to the final destruction of the country through terminal indebtedness. The Glenn Becks and John McCains of the world want to continue to reduce taxes, while the Democrats want the government to spend more than it collects.

The pundits predict only two scenarios: (1) default, and (2) inflate out of the debt. Both scenarios mean that we are on our way to becoming like Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and the rest of South America. A third scenario - growing out of the debt - is a chimera.

I have a better solution - the bitter pill which every private household has to swallow when it goes cold turkey and kicks the heroin-like addiction of over-borrowing: Temporarily Consume less and pay back your debt by setting aside more for that purpose:

The fed government rakes in $2.5 trillion in taxes per year. It achieves this by collecting about 17% of the population’s money. (Personal income taxes and Social Security taxes make up 80% of this, Corporate taxes only 13%).

If federal receipts were to rise by 80%, this would generate a surplus of 1 trillion per year. This amount would be sufficient to wipe out the entire deficit in 12 years. After that, taxes could be reduced enormously. There would be no further need for the annual $1 trillion surplus, and neither would the government have to burn up hundreds of billions of dollars every year to finance its debt.
The government’s budget would be balanced, smaller, and yet able to provide more services than ever before.

There are many forms of taxation through which federal receipts can be increased - income tax, VAT, sales tax, corporate tax, etc. This can easily be worked out. And of course, the enormous but temporary tax increase should be graduated. No one living on, say, under 25K a year should pay taxes, multi-millionaires’ taxes should rise by more than 80%, etc.

There are over 25 million households in the US that make more than 100K per year. And of course smaller numbers with much higher incomes. The taxes of all households making over 100K could increase by at least 80%, while those of much higher earners could be increased even more. The overall outcome would be an increase of federal tax receipts to 31% of GDP. The overall tax burden of Americans would then be comparable to that of the Europeans. Meanwhile - and this is essential - the government’s expenses should be frozen at current levels.
Nothing short of such a drastic measure will save the country.

To save the country and my grand-children’s world, I am prepared to pay 80% more in taxes than I pay now, for a decade or so, as long as you do, too. I won’t go to Europe and to Hawaii anymore. Maybe my wife and I can even live with just one car.

The federal deficit problem is not insurmountable. Our government still ran a surplus as recently as during the Clinton years. Then, the Bush administration screwed up everything - cutting taxes for the rich and waging unfunded wars. After that, the Great Recession caused by that administration required President Obama’ stimulus, another big expense.

Were we to implement my proposal, we could go back to living the way we did in the 1950s, within a few years. The withdrawal pains from addiction would be temporary. The alternative is Armageddon.
I know what you’ll say: Nothing like this will ever happen. I agree. Do you also agree with me, therefore, that America as we know it, will soon self-destruct? leave comment here

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is Greatness Accidental?

By Tom Kando

I often think about what leads to a country’s greatness or to its failure, and two cases that everybody always talks about are contemporary America and ancient Rome - both in terms of success and failure. Here are a few thoughts about this:The greatness of ancient Rome and 20th century America can both be attributed to great leadership and to accident. Failure, in turn, is the result of stupidity.

I don’t want to call America’s success “accidental,” but I do, a little bit. Let me explain:

Some societies are planned, and some mostly happen. Many of the former are disasters, while the latter sometimes luck out and grow into phenomenal successes. The USSR was a “planned community.” It disintegrated in less than eighty years. So was the Third Reich. Meant to live for a thousand years, it lasted thirteen. The French planned their revolution and Napoleon’s policies, while the British approach was more laissez-faire, and we know which of the two countries did better.

America has its founding fathers, its Declaration of Independence, its Constitution. Of course, all countries are based on some minimum blueprint, without which no organized society can exist. This minimum requirement does not guarantee greatness, only survival. America’s greatness is the consequence of many additional factors, namely timing, demography, geography, coincidence. To wit: the country arose at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This huge continent was an empty receptacle ready to capture millions of excess population from Europe. It was fertile and rich in resources, with only a small hostile indigenous population - unlike the other areas of the world colonized by Europeans.

The rhetoric about America being the fulfillment of either a divine plan, or that of the genius of the founding fathers, is ex post facto. Looking back in the late 20th century, we attribute the country’s success to the way it was planned at the outset. But that was only a small part. To be sure, the founding fathers were a genial bunch, but enlightened and intelligent leadership is no guarantee of success. Periclean Athens is only one example of failure despite such leadership.

The Roman Empire was another success story, for the same reasons. There too, geography, demography and luck enabled a people to develop into a powerful civilization. Another historical accident. It finally failed because in time its leaders became corrupt imbeciles, believing in superstitions and murdering each other instead of facing their common external enemies.

Here are some conclusions:
1. Enlightened leadership is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a country’s success.
2. Geography, demography and luck are just as important.
3. Planning can lead to failure as well as to success. Remember Robert Burns’ famous words, “the best laid schemes of mice and men...”
4. The only thing we have to fear is stupidity itself. That is what the Romans succumbed to, in the end. leave comment here

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To Believe or Not to Believe, that is the Question

by Madeleine Kando

When I was growing up I believed in Santa. I always hoped that I would catch this sweet, jovial fellow in the act of coming down the chimney with a large bag slung over his big shoulder. He would wink at me, say ‘ho, ho, ho’, put lots and lots of presents under the tree and climb back up on his way to another family’s chimney. I don’t remember when exactly I lost the faith. Read more...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I’m Mad as Hell and I am not Going to Take This Anymore

By Tom Kando

The 1976 movie Network was not as good as many people think. It is best remembered for News anchorman Peter Finch’s famous words, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

This was a safe and meaningless outcry, because the movie never said what he - and you - were supposed to be mad about.

This reminds me of the mindless anger of many people today, especially those enamored by demagogues like Glenn Beck and the always-angry Sarah Palin. (She recently asked for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s firing because of some foul language he used in a meeting).

I see angry folks like that in the news - the Tea Party people are a prime example - and in my dentist’s waiting room. An old geezer maybe, who seems to be really mad at the world (I’m also an old geezer, but my brain hasn’t atrophied that much, yet). These old geezers are angry, but they don’t know at whom, or why. Is it incipient Alzheimer’s? Some variant of Tourette’s Syndrome?

I can imagine the following conversation with one of them:

After watching the news for a moment on the TV set in the waiting room, he looks away, disgusted, and mumbles, “they should all be shot!”
I ask, “who should be shot?”
“All of them!”
“They’re all a bunch of crooks and thieves and liars. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
“What are you mad about?”
“The whole corrupt mess, the politicians, and the media, and all the big shots. They are all in cahoots together. The country is going to hell in a handbasket. And the kids are no good. They only care about drugs and sex anymore...”
“So the problem is with the politicians and with the kids?”
“...and the lawyers, and the professors, and the government, and Wall Street, and the media, and Hollywood...”
“Anybody else?”
“Yeah, everybody else, too!”
“But not you?”
“Nah, I’m okay...I keep my nose clean...”
“Mmm...So what should be done?”
“I’ll tell you what should be done: fire all the bastards and go back to square one. When I was young, we didn’t put up with this garbage.”

This is the level of political sophistication around us. Inchoate rage. Solutions? Zero. Just say no to everything. Propose a plan of action? Never. Blame everyone else? Sure. Might you be part of the problem? No way!

Anger and frustration during this terrible economic recession are understandable. But this unfocused, uninformed, nihilistic anger is part of the disease, not the cure. leave comment here

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Traveling Back in Time

by Madeleine Kando

I really don’t like what I have done with my hair. The picture I saw in the magazine looked so nice. I even went to the trouble of photoshopping it and superimposing my own features to see what I would look like. I was very pleased, so as soon as my hairdresser could squeeze me in, off I went with my photoshopped illustration in my purse and a vision of looking like a film star. What I ended up with was totally different.

Not only did I not look like a film star. I looked like an oversized carrot with a perm. I barely made it to the dark safety of my car (with a parking ticket stuck under the windshield wiper to boot) where I started to sob uncontrollably. I knew my life was ruined. I could not be seen in public any more.

As I was driving off, barely seeing the road through my tears, I was contemplating giving the steering wheel a sharp twist to the left so that I would crash into the oncoming traffic and end it all right then and there.

I had to pick up the kids from school and didn’t have time to drive home to turn on the gas and shove my carrot colored head in the oven door. The look on my children’s faces when they spotted me will be etched into my memory forever. For a brief moment they simply did not know who I was. After a while they silently climbed into the car and just kept staring at me without uttering a word.

I knew I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I started to think feverishly. Can you glue hair back on? Can you undo a bleaching? Can you straighten a permanent perm? I could hear a resounding ‘no’ to all these questions.

But WHY? Who made this stupid rule that you cannot undo things? Whoever is responsible for having created the world must have been the biggest idiot. I mean if you have the power to create an entire world, why not do it right and make bad things be undoable?

If I had been in charge I would not have been so cruel as to force gullible housewives into walking around like oversized carrots. I would have made time reversible. I would have created time like space. You don’t like where you live? Just move to another town. You don’t like what you did to your hair? Just move to another time where no such deed took place.

I can hear you think already: ‘but space has dimensions and time doesn't. Time is something that we have invented to prevent everything from happening at once.’ Yeah, yeah. I heard that argument before. Another argument you hear is that if time were reversible entropy could decrease which would violate the second law of thermodynamics (if left alone, anything will eventually revert back to chaos).

Well a little less chaos wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it? Besides I don't need help from father time in that department. I am very good at creating chaos all on my own, thank you very much.

My conclusion is that time is irreversible because we don’t live long enough. Take my hair for instance. If I were to live 3000 years and I would look back on my life as if I was watching a movie, my carrot hair would take up a brief moment of that time and then would return to its normal color. This might happen a few times (depending how many stupid hair-mistakes I would make over a 3000 year span). As I would watch the life-line of my hair, I would be able to play it back in reverse and it would look the same as if I played it forward. Like watching a tree turn brown and green over and over again over the course of many seasons.

So, is the solution to all bad things to let enough time pass? Would bad things eventually revert back to good things and vice versa? Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of living for 3000 years and undo all the bad things we have done during our lives. Maybe that’s why the concept of time is inevitable. It keeps us in line. It keeps us from making too many foolish mistakes. After all, if everything can be undone: why do the right thing to begin with?

Note: If the above theory sounds somewhat illogical it is because I am suffering from post traumatic hair disorder. leave comment here

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Intercultural Understanding is better than Ethnocentrism

By Tom Kando

This piece will please “conservatives,” or at least those who are sometimes fed up with too much political correctness. It is a spoof on the familiar cliché that we, in the West, must try to understand the “other”’s legitimate grievances, and not be always so ethnocentric.
The leaders of the Islamic struggle against American imperialism are facing increasing internal criticism. Osama Bin Laden, Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Hetzbollah leader Nasrallah, among others, have to deal with a growing segment of their own people who feel that they are acting too aggressively against the American imperialists.
While agreeing that the struggle against America and the Western world will be long and cannot be shirked, these voices fear that the extreme and violent response to American hegemonism is likely to stoke the flames of anti-Arabism, and to create more hatred and resentment towards Muslims among millions of Americans and Christians in the Western world.

These dissenters argue that, instead of responding to American grievances through violence, Muslims should make an effort to understand the root causes of that resentment. They should study American and Christian culture and values, and develop an understanding of the sociological and historical causes behind the West’s and the Christian world’s deep seeded mistrust of Muslims and Arabs, including centuries of oppression of millions of Europeans and Christians by Moors, Turks and other Muslims, and centuries of economic dominance by Muslims, who for long enjoyed technological and military supremacy in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean Basin and in much of Europe. They should also understand that it is a misreading of the Bible to assume that it preaches violence against non-Christians, and that a majority of Christians do not advocate violence.

This group of critics points out that, by reacting to American resentment violently and by failing to understand the American mind and the reasons behind American grievances, Muslims exacerbate the conflict and create additional millions of American militants every day.

They note that, in the end, the conflict can only be resolved through mutual understanding, for as long the Muslim leadership insists on dealing with America with an iron fist, this will merely drive more and more Americans towards hatred, prejudice and violence. leave comment here

Jury Convicts Pro-Abortion Activist

by Madeleine Kando

Why is violence always committed by the pro-life extremists? Here is a fictitious scenario where the tables are reversed:

Less than an hour after deliberation, the California jury found Max Conwell, the notorious pro-abortion extremist guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of pro-life organizer Sam Penskew.

According to the prosecution this was a ‘clear-cut case of first degree murder’. The defense wanted the jury to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter because of Conwell’s strong pro-abortion convictions.

He firmly believed that anti-abortion organizers deserved to be killed since they ruined the lives of pregnant teens and victims of rape. A representative of the pro-choice movement said: “We condemn any such acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-choice movement works to protect the rights of women and the unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to our goal."

Conwell’s defense attorney was very disappointed. He said Conwell was so up front with his admissions of guilt that the voluntary manslaughter defense was hopeless. “The jury never got a chance to get inside Conwell’s head. What about all the pregnant teens whose lives woud have been ruined at Penskew’s hand? I believe they needed to be heard in court.”

Some pro-abortion activits signed a petition arguing that Conwell committed justifiable homicide and they didn’t think that justice was served. “The jury didn’t consider Conway’s motive of promoting abortion. He should have had a more just trial”.

Penskew’s family members said they hope that this brave anti-abortion hero will be remembered for his service to the numerous unborn babies he helped save. leave comment here