Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Professor Grades: Obesity, Tattoos, etc.

By Tom Kando

I just returned from a wonderful Hawaiian vacation (are there any other kinds of Hawaiian vacations?), hence my long silence. While over there, my mind was not entirely on hold - just somewhat.

Even so, the trip produced some musings. I want to share some of these with you today, and also introduce a new rubric, under which I hope to post more essays in the future, no doubt aggravating many of you.

In Hawaii, I spent a lot of time on the beach, at pool side, and hiking in the wilderness. Here are some of the things I noticed, looking at the people around me:

1. The spread of obesity is accelerating. This becomes clear when you are surrounded by nearly naked people. It seems that the epidemic has attacked women more than men, although one sees grotesque corpulence in both sexes.
The obesity epidemic becomes a personal problem on the airplane, when one sits (as I did) next to someone who should have been charged for two seats, not one.

Also, sadly, there are more and more hamburger joints opening up everywhere, each claiming to sell the "best hamburgers on the island."
For America’s obesity problem, I give our country a "D-."

The reason why I don’t give an "F" is that (1) there is at least awareness of the problem, which might be prelude to action, as it was when we became aware of the evils of tobacco, and (2) most of these obese people are such nice people.

2. I experienced an interesting sign of our bad health habits: One day, I went on a 10-mile hike in Kauai’s Alakai Swamp, a vast and magnificent rainforest cris-crossed by valleys, torrents and canyons. On a rare occasion, one crosses paths with another lonely back-packer or two.

But here is the thing: of the, say, 12 people I came across that day, only 2 were Americans. The others were Australian, German, British, and French. What this tells me is that our country’s recreational habits are less wholesome than those of foreigners. We Americans prefer to sip Mai-tai’s at the swim-out bar. My problem with this is not just the health issue, again. My problem is that hiking through the Alakai Swamp is a far superior form of leisure. Communing with that natural magnificence is a transcendental experience. But sadly, most vacationers - especially Americans, it seems, from my unsystematic sample - don’t get to enjoy that experience. Grade: D.

3. Another epidemic which becomes more apparent on the beach than back home are tattoos: I’d say that over half of the people I saw swimming and sunbathing had tattoos, many of them covering huge parts of their bodies, some practically from head to toe.
Now, if you want to tarnish your body with a small, relatively inconspicuous blemish, be my guest. I wont reject you for it (although the best tattoo is no tattoo).

Here is the thing about tattoos: The naked human body and the human skin are beautiful. Tattoos don’t enhance anything. Instead, they are a form of self-mutilation reminding me of the inmates whom I used to teach at the California State Prison. Tattoos are permanent, and they become uglier as you age. They are also unhealthy, increasing your chances of disease and infection.

It is said that tattoos will follow the history of earrings, which were also frowned upon by retrograde people like me at one time. I doubt it. I see tattoos as a form of self-mutilation, largely practiced by young people of limited means, by colonized people such as the Hawaiians... and inexplicably, by the NBA. Maybe tattoos are a refuge, or an expression of resistance, or some identity thing, I don’t know.

But imagine how beautiful Pamela Anderson, LeBron James and even Dennis Rodman would be without their tattoos! Grade: D- leave comment here

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


by Madeleine Kando

The word ‘Immigrant’ has become a dirty word of late. It conjures up images of someone sneaky and not so trustworthy. It’s a grade below ‘terrorist’ in many an upstanding citizen’s mind. So here is a story that might lighten up this gloomy image.

I consider myself a professional immigrant. I have a lot of experience and have been an immigrant for most of my life. Even before I was born I was destined to become an immigrant. I feel it my bones. If I hadn’t become an immigrant, who knows what might have happened: I could easily have slipped into a life of complacency, debauchery, neglect..

I started my immigrant career when my parents moved to France from their native Hungary. They packed up their three young children (me, my twin sister and my older brother), boarded a train to Paris and off we went, never to return to Hungary as a family again.

In France our status was that of ‘political refugees’ and, in the eyes of the French, that is even worse than being an immigrant. Immigrants at least are expected to do some kind of useful work, like cleaning toilets or sweeping the streets. We were just running away from somewhere else, without even having been invited.

In Paris the Red Cross issued us food stamps, clothes and shoes with wooden soles. (On the way to school I had to walk like a robot because you cannot bend your feet in wooden shoes). I was an A-student in the ‘├ęcole normale’, which surprised my teacher, pleased my parents and made my twin sister really jealous. We soon forgot how to speak Hungarian, my siblings and I. My mother’s conversations with her Hungarian friends became a series of incomprehensible sounds to us.

The next step in my immigrant career took me to The Netherlands when my mother remarried a Dutchman.The Dutch welcomed us with open arms. What a change from our French ‘refugee’ status. Even though we were ‘immigrants’, they looked up to us, believe it or not. We came from France, which was still the center of culture and art in Europe. We spoke Dutch badly, and our Red Cross issued clothes looked funny to them, but the Dutch children were nice to us and our house became the ‘go to’ place. If you wanted to be ‘in’, you were friends with the ‘Kandos’.

That’s when I was first tempted to forfeit my immigrant roots. I thought: ‘Mm, being Dutch isn’t so bad. I could work for the government, vote, say good-bye to Red Cross issued wooden shoes, be part of a ‘group’. Why not?'

Thankfully, I was saved from such a terrible mistake at the last minute. After graduating high-school I decided to get a taste of some of the neighboring countries. I went to England as an au pair, to Spain as a student of literature and to Morocco (just for the hell of it).

But when I turned 21, I finally threw in the towel. I wrote a letter to the Dutch Queen and asked her permission to become a Dutch citizen. She sent me a polite letter back saying that she granted me that privilege and could I please send her a $100.00 administration fee. I had mixed feelings about my decision. I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil. But I was young and had other things on my mind, like boyfriends and adventure.

Being Dutch didn’t sit well with me. I missed my wooden soled shoes. I missed being everywhere and nowhere. So one day, without much warning, I embarked on my third and final stage in my immigrant career. I decided to come and get a taste of America. I came by boat, a big rusty second hand cargo ship called the ‘Big Dipper’. The crew was Greek and the passengers were all Dutch students.

It was mid July. As soon as I stepped onto the tarred New York pavement that felt like marshmellows because of the heat, I knew I had made the right choice. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I had taken a bite of the mushroom that made me be just the right size. Holland was too small, Paris was too ‘French’, but in America I am just the right size. Here, almost everyone else is an immigrant. They are my true compatriots. Here, I have fulfilled my destiny. I don’t have to be anyone else but me, a true immigrant. leave comment here

Saturday, May 15, 2010


by Madeleine Kando

I must confess that I am not a very good gardener. I am a novice gardener, a pretend gardener. Only recently did I come to the shocking realization that 90% of what surrounds me has been invisible to me for most of my life. All that abundance of flowers, trees, bushes.. I just took that for granted, never thinking much about it. Yes, it’s pretty. So what?

I was going my merry way like a commuter on the subway, never looking at the other passengers. They were just there. I was always too immersed in my own little, boring world. Until one day I realized that behind every little flower bed in someone’s yard, every little bush or plant, there was a pair of invisible hands that had taken the time to care for them. To water them, trim them, mulch them..

Then, I knew that my days of blindness were at an end. There was no going back.

On a sunny spring day, I took my very first baby steps into a plant nursery. I tried to look self-confident like the other shoppers. I sneaked sideways glances at these other ladies (most of them were ladies) with their pull carts full of plants. ‘How do they know what to spend their money on?’ I thought. ‘Out of the hundreds and hundreds of varieties, why choose those?’ I walked through the isles completely at a loss on what to buy. So I just followed one of the other shoppers and picked up whatever she was buying. (Most of it went back when I realized I was going to spend 300 dollars on plants that I had no clue what to do with).

I noticed a nice sturdy tomatoe plant that looked like it could withstand some mistreatment. Months later it grew into an enormous monster four feet tall. I had neglected to look at the tag which read: ‘Great White’. (No, it wasn’t a shark plant, it just grew huge white tomatoes the size of socker balls). I eventually had to build an entire scaffolding arrangement so it wouldn’t topple over.

My numerous mishaps into the world of gardening would take up many many pages. But I love plants, I love to watch them grow. I am not so sure if plants like me all that much, though. I am just not a natural. I remind myself of the many aspiring ballet students that have come through my studio doors over the years. Most of them just aren’t meant to become ballet dancers. The will is there, but the talent isn’t. That’s me with plants, you see.

But I consider gardening to be one of the more creative human activities. Just like cooking. It really is creating something out of nothing. For me it has to do with hope. Hoping that something will happen. It speaks to a childish desire in me to want to do magic. Every morning, at the break of dawn, I go out in my slippers and scrutinize my little patches of freshly seeded soil. Hoping for the slightest sign of life to emerge. And when I see a little baby nasturtium push it’s tiny head up to the sky, when a forgotten patch of morning glories comes back to life without the slightest encouragement, or when the trumpet flowers are surrounded with hummingbirds.. how can I not believe in magic? leave comment here

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Austerity Measures

by Madeleine Kando

As many of you have done over the past week or so, I watched the quite violent demonstrations against the new ‘Austerity Measures’ that the Greek Government has voted for. This they will put in place under pressure from the EU and the markets. In return they will get bailed out by the other European countries (mostly Germany) so that the country won’t go kaput.

As I understand it about 10 percent of the Greek population works for the government. They work 12 months but get paid for 14. They retire at age 54.

So I thought to myself: ‘well, that does warrant some form of austerity.’ It wasn’t easy to find information on what exactly the protesters were so irate about but this is what I found on the Reuters site:

Half of the fiscal adjustment will be generated from spending cuts and half from tax increases.

First the tax increases:

1) Sales tax will go up from 19% to 21% (In other words a $595 computer will cost you now $605)

2) Tax will go up on cigarettes (not such a bad thing, if you ask me), on electricity and on luxury goods.

3) Church property and income will be taxed (well, it’s about time I would say).

4) One-off tax on big property holdings (very fair and austere) and one-off tax of 1% on those who earned over 100,000 euros in 2009.

5) They are reintroducing a progressive tax on large property holdings and will introduce a capital gains tax.

Now for the spending cuts:

1) 30% cuts in salary bonuses for Easter, Christmas and vacation for government employees. (I don’t think I every received a bonus in my life).

2) 7% cut in bonus and pay reductions in utility salaries (how dare they cut in bonuses of those poor poor employees).

3) Cuts in subsidies to pension funds (which come from tax revenue. Everyone knows that Greeks never cheat on their taxes).

4) Public sector supplements will be cut by 12 percent in total, compared to 10 percent announced previously. (what supplements?)

5) State employees’ overtime pay will be cut by 30%. (how dare they cut in one’s overtime).

6) A hiring freeze for public sector jobs. (well duh.. 10% of the population is more than enough I would say).

7) Increase the average retirement age by two years to 63 years (oh, how cruel can they be!?).

8) 10 percent reduction in social security expenditures in 2010.

So my question is: what exactly do the demonstrators want? Do the Greeks live in another galaxy, far far away? Do they live in la la land? leave comment here