Friday, December 30, 2011

Astronomy is about BIG things!

By Tom Kando

Nowadays, cosmology and quantum physics are moving into unfathomably mysterious directions.

The Higgs Boson, which is supposed to be the means by which things in the universe obtain mass, is said to maybe have been observed for the first time recently - at CERN’s large Hadron Collider in Geneva. And scientists there, together with the “OPERA” team in Italy, are said to have detected faster-than-light (muon) neutrinos - maybe.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Dear readers:

We wish you all a happy holiday season and a Happy New year, in many interesting languages:

Happy New Year
Bonne Année
ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
शुभ क्रिसमस (Hindi)
Felice Anno Nuovo
наступающим Новым Годом
Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv (Cherokee)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Theism or Atheism: Does it Matter?

by Madeleine Kando

Christopher Hitchens died last week. His book 'God is Not Great' was a best-seller and put him on top of the list of a hand-full of famous Atheists that include three of my favorite authors: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Steven Pinker. He was passionate in his attacks on religion and his wit and gift for words made him an incredibly fascinating debater.

He did not shy away from stepping into the lions' den of the Intelligent Design community where he debated people like William Lane Craig, a particularly aggressive theologian. Because of Craig’s eloquently distorted views on issues such as morality and 'scientific' proof of the existence of God, it was not an easy task. Read more...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The European Disunion

by Madeleine Kando

"Once upon a time there was a large family with lots and lots of children. They were always fighting with each other and causing a lot of trouble. One of the children, whose name was Gertrude, was a little bigger than the others and quite aggressive by nature. She wanted all the other children’s toys, so she broke into their respective rooms, beat up the children and stole their toys.

A distant uncle by the name of Sam, didn’t like what was happening in that family and decided to put an end to it. He went over there and kicked some ass until Gertrude had to run back to her room with her tail between her legs, so to speak. Read more...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The End of Europe (again)?

By Tom Kando

The European sovereign debt crisis is becoming scary. The dominoes are falling. The contagion has spread from Greece to Italy and beyond. Even France’s credit-worthiness has begun to crumble. No one is safe any more. Even Germany does not have the limitless resources required to bail out the rest of the Continent. There is a vicious cycle of increasing borrowing costs for everyone, a decrease in the availability of credit, a slowing down of the economy and a decline in the governments’ solvency.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Best and Worst Cities in the World

By Tom Kando

The annual 2011 Quality of Living Worldwide City Rankings by Mercer (London) has just come out.
The Mercer survey ranks 420 cities of the world. The report I saw lists 221 of them. These cities are ranked in terms of overall quality of life. This is based on several dozen factors, such as physical health, environmental pollution, standard of living, education, housing, crime, etc. Here are some of the results that were of greatest personal interest to me:A. Best city in the world: Vienna. Read more...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shadow Work

by Madeleine Kando

When I was little, technology was in its infancy. There was no internet, no email and people still drove to brick and mortar stores to buy things. We had ‘electric’ inventions, like sowing machines, vacuum cleaners and refrigerators, but 'electronics' was just beginning.

In the sixties and seventies it all started to change when many new marvels were about to pop out of their incubation period. I came of age to benefit from the birth control pill, the invention of the pantyhose, soft contact lenses and Teflon. My very first Macintosh computer which came on the market in the early 1980’s, was a major stepping stone towards the age of enlightenment. Read more...

Friday, December 2, 2011

What Osama Bin Laden Achieved

By Tom Kando

The Aug./Sept. issue of the Dutch magazine Maarten!, contains an article by Max Westerman which I feel compelled to share with you. It’s depressing and aggravating, but I am afraid that it rings terribly true. Sorry. Here is an excerpt:

Ten years after the 9/11 attack, Ground Zero and Memorial Plaza are developing beautifully, and becoming an inspiration. What Al Qaeda did on 9/11 should never be forgotten or trivialized.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


By Tom Kando

The Census Bureau recently released data showing that 51 million Americans are “near-poor.” (See Sacramento Bee, Nov. 19, 2011). Add these to the 50 million who are BELOW the poverty line, and you get a total of 100 million Americans - one third! - who live in poverty or are barely above.

The near-poor are not your stereotypical and dysfunctional underclass: half of them live in households headed by a married couple, 28% have full-time jobs, 42% have private health insurance, nearly half are white, 18% are black and 26% are Latino. Many of them own homes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bad Days Ahead

By Tom Kando

Republicans have deliberately made the Super Committee fail. This was the congressional committee which was supposed to help the federal government tackle the budget deficit, take the first steps out of our ruinous indebtedness, and start the road towards long-term economic recovery.

But to Republicans, none of this mattered. To them, failure is success. With the 2012 elections around the corner, their plan is to complete the electoral sweep. And of course, the worse the economy is, the more Obama gets the blame. So the Republicans plan to take over the Senate and the White House. The House and the Supreme Court they already got.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Search of the Past

by Madeleine Kando

I have been away for the past three days. I haven't been here, in the present. Since I stumbled upon my family tree as I was googling something else, I have been traveling in the past. Because my parents had to flee Hungary after the war, I never knew much about my roots, so when I saw my distant relatives adorn my entire computer screen I knew I had discovered a real treasure.

The tree was enormous. There were generations upon generations of ancestors all connected with little lines, dating back to the 17th century. The red boxes were the wives, the blue ones the husbands. I didn't know where to start but I thought it best to find someone I knew, like a great-uncle or something.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Do you want one of these people to lead us in the world?

By Tom Kando

The Republican candidates are making mega blunders in their debates and media appearances, displaying astounding ignorance, especially in the area of foreign policy. A few examples:

In a November 2 televised interview, Herman Cain said that he was worried about “China developing nuclear capability.” His defenders say that he meant “further developing.” Hmm. To me it sounds like the man didn’t know that China has possessed nuclear bombs for nearly half a century. Oops!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Personal Space

by Madeleine Kando

I met a very nice woman in my writing group the other day. Her name is Grace. She has beautiful red curly hair and a smile that could melt an iceberg. She is jovial, engaging, smart and funny. In short she has all the qualities that made me want to become her friend.

So, after the meeting I walked over to her and struck up a conversation. Who knows why some people gravitate to each other and not others? It’s one of those mysteries that makes life interesting.

But then it happened. A familiar feeling of unease came over me as I was talking to her. I couldn’t figure it out. Was she so different up close? Was it the freckles that had been invisible from a distance? I like freckles, so that cannot have been the problem. I like red hair and especially friendly smiles. I like friendly smiles at any distance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Should we Build High Speed Rail in California and if so How?

By Tom Kando

The November 6, 2011 issue of the Sacramento Bee contains an excellent article about the bullet train issue by Richard Tolmach, President of the California Rail Foundation.

I agree with Tolmach that (1) “high-speed rail must be part of California’s future,” and that (2) “the High-Speed Rail Authority has been a great disappointment.”

Discussion about high-speed rail in California began many decades ago. Planning for it started 14 years ago. Since then, the Authority has spent more than $800 million (!) of public money without producing a single mile of service, without the first shovel being picked up to actually start building the thing. $800 million spent on planning.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why Republicans Continue to Win, and Obama is Likely to Lose

By Tom Kando

We have 10% unemployment. Therefore 90% are NOT unemployed. Of course, there is a lot more than 10% hidden unemployment. Still, no-one could argue that an absolute majority of the labor force is unemployed. So by this measure, a majority of the people are more or less “okay,” even though, there is more and more inequality.

Same with having a roof over your head, be it owned or rented. Most Americans are not homeless. By this criterion, too, a vast majority of Americans are “okay.”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Case against Libertarianism

by Madeleine Kando

As part of an on-going series on economic inequality in America, PBS NewsHour's economics correspondent Paul Solman asked Libertarian Lawyer Richard Epstein: 'Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side?'

According to Epstein, a clear advantage is that it creates an incentive to produce wealth and innovation. He gives Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples of people who have created products whose value to society far outweighs the compensation they have received. Read more...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The One Percent War *

By Madeleine Kando

We’ve finally done it. Our troops are coming home. Does that mean we have declared peace? You would call it ‘peace’ if this had been a ‘traditional’ war. A war where two opposing armies fight each other. When you declare peace, you usually stop fighting and the warriors lay down their arms, go home and pick up their interrupted lives. There is a peace treaty. The vanquished have to pay, the conquerors reap the bounty.

Unfortunately, this time there is no one to sign a peace treaty with. The enemy is remote. The enemy explodes bombs in a far away place. It kills randomly to ‘prove a point’. Even though it is a lethal enemy, to most Americans it is abstract, an enemy you read about in the papers and hear about on the news. Some people even go as far as to say that the enemy was invented by the conquering army. Read more...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Was the Gilad Shalit Exchange too Expensive?

By Tom Kando

On October 18, the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released by Hamas, after more than 5 years of captivity, in exchange for 477 and eventually 1027 Palestinian prisoners. The young man’s return home was accompanied by great national celebration. There is much rejoicing. I share the joy, and I want to see this in a positive light.

The government of Israel has pledged to its people, whose children must ALL serve in the military, that it will do “EVERYTHING” to secure their freedom in such cases.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

That Used to Be US

How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How We can Come Back

Reviewed by Madeleine Kando

Although it is one of the most depressing books I've read in a long time, as a historical document, 'That Used to be Us' co-authored by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, is very informative. The first half explains in concise, well-written prose how America, since the end of the Cold War, has made mistake after mistake by misreading global events and reacting to them in the wrong way. This is partly a result of America's tendency to believe that it is the center of the world and that it is better than other countries. This breeds complacency and creates a skewed view of reality. Read more...

Monday, October 17, 2011


By Tom Kando

It is October 17, 2301: I am commuting to work across the Oakland Bay Bridge, driving on the temporary structure used for traffic while the real Oakland Bay Bridge is being fixed. It was damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Repairs are approaching completion.

A short while later, I come by the site where they are planning to start America’s first high-speed rail. They haven’t begun building it yet, but the news said recently that a commission is studying the proposal. The first line will be experimental. It will run from San Francisco to Concord, at a cost of $30 billion. It is predicted to be completed by 2353.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Ode to Vermont

by Madeleine Kando

We are in beautiful Vermont for Columbus Day weekend. It's that time of year again, when all of New England explodes in an orgy of colors. Indian Summer has come late this year and we have to chase it up the mountain slopes, driving on curvy rural roads, flanked by red barns, black cows and tall silos. The beauty of Vermont is that it is a blend of manicured pastures and majestic hills covered with dense vegetation that is now ablaze with reddish colors in the warm autumn sun. Read more...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


By Tom Kando

We often visit friends overseas, and sometimes they visit us in the US. There is no end to the misunderstandings, disagreements and nonsense between us. A few examples:

Recently, our European friend Rob and his wife Trinette came to see us. Since we live on the West Coast, they had to fly not just over the Atlantic, but also over the U.S. During dinner, Rob observed:

“I noticed when flying over your Midwest that American fields are all square and rectangular, not like European farm fields, which are all crooked and come in all irregular shapes.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fixing America

By Tom Kando

There is a new book by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum titled “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come back.” (Reviewed by Trudy Rubin, Sacramento Bee, October 5, 2011).

Unfortunately, “the book doesn’t deliver on the last part of the title.” So let me tell America how to solve its problems:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Harrowing Road to Sarlat

By Tom Kando

My wife and I go to Europe a lot. This time we decided to visit the Dordogne for a week, and finish with a week in Rome. We checked out this beautiful region, including its prodigious prehistorical paintings. Replicas at Lascaux, but originals elsewhere, for example in the caves of Ruffignac.

We flew from Amsterdam to Bordeaux, where we landed at 7:00 PM. I had reserved a hotel room in Sarlat. I figured that this town was about a two-hour ride from Bordeaux. So I expected to reach our hotel by 9:30 PM. Not great, but do-able.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


by Madeleine Kando

I have been spending an awful lot of time lately getting this blog ‘optimized’. It is, of course, a never ending process, especially for someone like me, who has an obsessive compulsive nature.

I am starting to feel the side-effects of too much web searching, too much sitting on my posterior. I have forgotten what blogging is really about – writing good stuff for those of you out there, who seem to enjoy it. Read more...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Language and Colors: Now you see Them, Now you Don't

by Madeleine Kando

Not too long ago, people believed that the ability to see colors was a trait that was inherited over generations. Even as recently as 1858, the British statesman William Gladstone theorized that Homer must have been color-blind because his texts don’t mention the colors blue or green. He concluded that full-color vision had not yet developed in humans at that time. Read more...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What do Christianity and Marxism have in common?

By Tom Kando

At the risk of offending some/many people, I would like to draw a comparison between two ideas/ideologies/"systems,"call it what you will, and point out some similarities:

2,000 years ago, one of the greatest men in history launched a new movement, based on admirable moral idea(l)s. Jesus Christ's revolution was incredibly necessary, as the Roman world had become increasingly cruel and unjust Read more...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Europe is Not in Decline

by Juliette Kando

I have just come from Amsterdam via London, back to Southern Spain and I do not see a decline in Europe apart from perhaps fewer Real Estate agents in Spain. Generally the people in Europe are almost as fat as in America, they drive new cars, I do not see any beggars or poor people. In Holland house prices have risen by 30% since last year! Yes everyone moans about the "economy", but isn't that to a great extend just talking about the news?
I repeat: The news bears little relevance to the reality we see around us. How can we, educated middle class Westerners moan about hard financial times when our bellies and shopping malls are bursting at the seams? I don't get it. Read more...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Has the 9-11 Attack Changed Anything?

By Tom Kando

It is incumbent to post something about 9/11, on the decennial anniversary of the attack. Let me try to come up with something non-superfluous, something beyond the platitudes uttered by the media at this time.

I am in Holland right now. (From where I flew back to California by way of Newark on 9/10, 2001, incidentally! Can you believe it?)

Maybe I can say something positive from this vantage point. In the US, of course, the commemoration is important.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Proof is in the Pudding

by Madeleine Kando

In his book 'The Tyranny of Guilt', Pascal Bruckner explains the causes of Europe's guilt complex vis-à-vis the rest of the world. The best approach to living conscious-free is to become a passive observer. Europe stands on the side-lines in fear of repeating the atrocities it has committed in the past.

Is there an analogy to be drawn here between nations and people? Does old age inherently imply that one is more careful, less adventurous, less confident about the future and one's ability to affect it? Read more...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Cancerous Growth of Capitalism

By Tom Kando

If there is anything regarding the western world’s current economic problems about which there is almost total consensus, it’s that economies must grow. No politician, economist or opinion leader questions this. But I do.

First, a personal note: why should I have to make and spend more money every year? I don’t need new things all the time. I don’t need a new car, even though the average age of my 2 Hondas is 12.5 years. They both run superbly. My friends drive BMWs and Mercedes, so the only reason I would need to upgrade would be to please them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

America, the Beautiful

by Madeleine Kando

I have been sitting in this airplane seat for the past two hours, flying from San Francisco to Chicago. Mine seems to be the only window whose shade isn't down. Most passengers are either reading, watching t.v. or sleeping. What on earth possesses them to ignore this unique opportunity to witness one of the world's wonders up close? For me, flying cross-country is still an incredible adventure.

This plane is like a claustrophobic, smelly movie theatre, showing a super-sized, five hour long movie. The scene is continually changing. What is that, over there in the distance? A hazy yellow patch and next to it, tiny specks which must be houses. Is it sand, salt or just a dust storm the size of a small town? Read more...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are There Too Many People?

By Tom Kando

Today, I am traveling to the Netherlands again. Every time I arrive, what strikes me most forcefully is how crowded this place is compared to the US:

By some measures, the Netherlands are still one of the most, if not THE most densely populated place on earth: The Netherlands have 1,100 people per square mile. That’s 13 times more than the US density of 83 per square mile. (The world as a whole, incidentally, has 35 people per square mile)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Europe's Growing Pains

by Madeleine Kando

There is a lot of talk lately warning about the impending downfall of 'Europe'. Forbes Magazine has an article: The End Of Europe: A Civilization Built On Sand, basically saying that, since there is no unifying force to hold Europe together, it has no army, no common language and no common religion, Europe is bound to end soon.

But how can a continent disappear? Short of the earth's crust splitting open and swallowing it whole, Europe is here to stay. What they are really talking about is the European Union, of course. Read more...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Which are the World’s Best Universities?

By Tom Kando

I just came across a fascinating article about the University of Shanghai’s annual ranking of the world’s 500 best universities (It’s actually 1,000, but the readily available data only cover 500). The research and the methodology have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc. Here are some of the results:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Israel and Palestine: Whose Turf is it?

By Tom Kando

The Jewish-Palestinian conflict is interminable. It has raged since before I was born, and it will not be solved by the time my grand-children are gone. It is what it is. It almost seems mystical. One of the world’s sine qua nons. Fate, or God, or something, has decreed that this problem must not be solved.

Many of the arguments on both sides hinge on who should own the turf, i.e. who was there first. So how far back do we go? Do we just look at 1948, when Israel became independent, or do we go back to Moses, 5,000 years ago?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Anglo-Saxon Chauvinism and its Rebuttal.

By Tom Kando

Living in the US, I often have to put up with Anglo-Saxon chauvinism. During the Tour de France, some newspaper columnists, thinking that they were funny, wrote that the Tour de France sets a bad example by showing men dressed in skintight colorful clothes, who shave their legs. Over the past ten years, we heard about “freedom fries.” Comedians such as Jay Leno and Dennis Miller often have a great time ridiculing the French for their alleged cowardice and failure to wash themselves. Italians, too, are often ridiculed and seen as corrupt, lazy, cowardly and overall inferior to the Americans and the Brits (although Leno doesn’t go there, because he is of Italian descent).

We Need a Scapegoat

by Madeleine Kando

There is an article in the Sunday New York Times by Drew Western entitled ‘What Happened to Obama?’, in which he accuses the President of being weak and too compromising. He blames him for not having provided the public with a narrative and leadership that they expected from someone they had such high hopes for.

All the things that Obama did: stimulus package, health care reform, credit card reform, bailing out the banks and more, was never explained to the voters. The stimulus package, which was too small to be effective, was perceived as the government, yet again, spending money we didn't have. The Health Care Bill was attacked so viciously by the opposition, including the fabricated 'Death Panels', that no one really understood the benefits of it. Read more...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Backyard Therapy

by Madeleine Kando

I am reading the latest earth shattering news on my computer screen: the US has been downgraded from its triple-A status, the stock market has crashed and the economy is heading towards a double-dip recession. I should know better than starting my day by reading the news.

My eye catches some commotion outside my large bay window. Squirrels, jackrabbits, cardinals, pigeons and yellow finches have gathered here in this New England backyard to feast on our generously scattered birdseeds. Suddenly, for some reason only known to these creatures, they all disperse in every imaginable direction, like the rays of a shooting star. Read more...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Let’s Eliminate All Taxes

By Tom Kando

I am listening to Chris Matthews and his guests on MSNBC. This is THE left-liberal network, right? Fox’s counterpoint. I expect it to differ from the standard anti-tax, free market ideology which has taken over most of public opinion.

Today, they are discussing the recent stock market decline, including the Dow’s 513 point drop on August 4. And of course, bemoaning America’s economic troubles.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

by Madeleine Kando

While I was cleaning out my basement I found some old, musty boxes stuffed with hundreds of letters. Most of them were written on thin blue Air Mail paper with one edge pre-glued, so that you didn't have to stuff it in an envelope.

I started reading these old old letters. They were from my sister, my mother, my lovers.. Many of them written by people I don't even remember: Ilse, Gerry, Lisa.. Who were they? Was I a good friend to them? Did they also find letters in their basement and tried to remember who this 'Madeleine' was? Read more...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Whose Fault is the Deficit Crisis, and What is the Solution?

By Tom Kando

This post is heavily based on an article by D. Fahrenthold and R. Helderman (see Sacramento Bee, July 29, 2011)

Here I go again, ad nauseam about the federal budget deficit crisis. Please read this, and learn FACTS:

1. The total federal deficit is now at $14. 3 trillion.
2. The overwhelming fault for this deficit lies with George W. Bush and the Republican Party.
3. Before President Reagan, until 1981, the federal government had racked up a deficit of $1 trillion.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Writer's Quest

by Madeleine Kando

I signed up for a writers’ group last week, thinking that I would meet and learn from other ‘like-minded’ individuals who like to write. Share their stories and get to know some flesh and blood people, rather than knowing them through their ‘words’. The meeting was set at ten at the 'Au Bon Pain' in Danvers.

It was on the other side of nowhere, but I thought: ‘Hey, it’s worth it. Who knows what kind of intellectual treasure I might find.’ I asked my husband how long it would take me to drive to the other side of nowhere, with high morning traffic time included and he said: ‘Oh, count on a good half hour’. So I gave myself plenty of time. I thought: ‘this is important, I don’t want to show up late for this ‘flesh and blood’ meeting.’ Read more...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is America’s Second Civil War Coming?

By Tom Kando

More than anything else, 19th century American history is the history of the North-South face-off: The South was wedded to slavery and to States’ Rights, in Virginia’s Jeffersonian tradition. The North was increasingly repulsed by slavery, and it was more federalist, in New York’s Hamiltonian tradition.

During the first half of the 19th century, the young republic experienced crisis upon crisis. For example, the Nullification Crisis in 1832, when South Carolina claimed that States’ Rights superseded Federal law. This was already a precursor to the Civil War, thirty years later.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pastafarians Unite!

by Madeleine Kando

In Austria a man by the name of Nico Alm was granted a driver's license with a pasta strainer on his head in his license photo. He was protesting a rule for the new EU driver's licenses that only allows head coverings on religious grounds.

Nico Alm argued that he belonged to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster**, and that his religion commanded him to wear a pasta strainer on his head.

Obviously this was to make a statement. Alm is a political activist who believes in the strict separation of church and state and he opposes the ‘special privileges’ that religious people get and that atheists don’t. This was a victory in the fight for freedom FROM religion. Read more...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is America the Spain of the 21st Century?

By Tom Kando

Okay, so August 2 is approaching - Armageddon. Washington fails to raise the debt ceiling. America defaults. It’s the end of America as we know it, the beginning of America as a banana republic. Well, hopefully not.

But whatever happens, here is one thing which I find UNFATHOMABLE: The NEAR TOTAL CONSENSUS - even among most democrats - that raising taxes is a non-starter, because it destroys jobs, especially when the economy is stagnant. Read more...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Just Put it in the Trash (E-waste Massachusetts style)

by Madeleine Kando

We have been collecting old cell phones, wires, keyboards, computers and even two t.v. sets for years. Not because we are hoarders or even too lazy to toss it, but because we just don't know what to do with it. It's not like you can grind it down the garbage disposal.

So it's been sitting there, in our garage, nicely forgotten, as if it didn't exist. Out of sight out of mind, as they say. But my husband had the bright idea to buy a shed so we had no choice but to open Pandora's box. Read more...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Facts to Make you Angry

By Tom Kando

Inequality is progressing as rapidly as ever, and our reaction to this is as misguided as ever:

1. We learn now that median pay for top business executives in 2010 skyrocketed by 23% from the previous year, to $10.8 million (Sacramento Bee, July 10). The chief executive of Viacom made $85 million, one of Target’s executives made $24 million, etc.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Who Is Hated the Most, and Who is Loved the Most?

By Leah and Tom

Hi Folks:

We did a little Sociology project. Maybe we were bored that day, but we hope this doesn’t bore you: The question was: How much are different groups in the world loved, and hated? You know - race, nationality, religion, etc. So we Googled how many “Hate” and “Love” search results you get when you enter various groups, e.g. “Americans,” “Europeans,” Frenchmen,” etc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some Random Thoughts on Happiness

by Madeleine Kando

When someone asks me 'Are you happy?', I never know what to say. It puts me on the defensive. It's like having to answer the question: 'Are you successful?' or 'Are you a good person?'. It's easier to answer questions like 'Are you happy at work?' (The answer is 'NO'. I am too old to teach ballet to three-year olds and would much rather spend my time writing silly stories like this one. )

Actually asking someone if they are happy is a bit forward. It's like asking someone if they have good sex. If you fail at being happy, you fail as a person. It's not like failing an exam which doesn't affect your entire self-image. If you are unhappy, you get a permanent bad grade and it's bad for your reputation. Read more...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

To the Organizers of the Tour de France: Do Something! Aux Organisateurs du Tour de France: Faites quelque-chose!

By Tom Kando

On July 2, I began to watch my favorite sports event: The fabulous Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race in the world.

On the very first day, there were spectator-caused crashes, one of which caused around 100 racers to fall or collide. I have been wondering for years about the insane behavior of Tour de France road-side spectators. As the racers bike up to the dizzying heights of the Tourmalet or the Alpe D’Huez summits, or as they sprint by on picturesque French country roads, the spectators invariably move closer and closer to the middle of the road, crowding out the athletes, leaving hardly any space for them to bike through, touching them, grabbing them, running after them, sticking flags and other objects in their faces!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tolerating Intolerance

by Madeleine Kando

If you think the Tea Party is extreme, just go to YouTube and watch some videos of the British right-wing organization called E.D.L. or English Defense League. It is not for the faint of heart.

It is a far-right movement which opposes the spread of Islamism and Islamic extremism in England. It is like the Dutch Party of Freedom, except more violent and extreme. For a moment there, I thought I was watching a Nazi Party rally. Read more...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to best see Paris, Las Vegas, Rome, Venice, Maui and other Places

By Tom and Anita Kando

We have traveled a lot. Been in all five continents. Learned a lot, both from our mistakes and from our successes. Now, when we see people spending their travel time and money the wrong way, it upsets us. Such a waste.

The biggest mistake people make when they travel is LOCATION. There should be a travel adage similar to the one in Real Estate - Location, Location, Location.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beware of Awareness

by Madeleine Kando

Being aware of something is not as straightforward as you might think. Being too aware of yourself, for instance, is not really such a good idea. If I was aware of everything about myself, it would be so lethal to my self-esteem that I probably would commit hara-kiri on the spot.

My brain is more like a piece of Swiss cheese, with big holes that represent blind spots to protect myself from too much awareness, too much consciousness. Read more...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is the Dollar Collapsing, and are Americans Parasites?

By Tom Kando

Here is a disturbing film on You Tube, "The Inevitable Collapse of the Dollar". It starts with a parable: 6 or 7 people are stranded on an island. They are all Asian, except for one American. So they divide up the chores - one Asian is in charge of fishing, another one hunting, another one gathers firewood, etc. The American's job is to eat.

Monday, June 20, 2011


by Madeleine Kando

Before our modern day 'enlightenment' period, poor people were seen as not that different from criminals. They were usually put in 'workhouses' (poor houses) where their clothes, their families and any other personal belongings were taken from them. They were set to work for no pay and beaten if they didn't do exactly what they were told.

There were a lot more poor people relatively speaking than now. It didn't matter if they were poor because they were handicapped or sick and couldn't work. Poor was poor. Charlie Chaplin lived in a poor house with his mother when he was a child.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is my Name?

By Tom Kando

Yesterday, I went to pick up a prescription drug which my doctor had faxed to the local pharmacy. The pharmacy clerk asked me for my name, and I gave it to her - Tom Kando - adding that the prescription had been faxed in the previous day by Dr. Pollock. She couldn’t find it, so I suggested that she also look under “Cando,” with a C.

It’s happened more than once that when I give my name to someone in an office or on the phone, their brain goes on auto-pilot before I get a chance to spell my name, and I am forever entered as Cando. This can cause a lot of aggravation later, when dealing with the IRS, insurance companies, banks, airlines, etc. So I have learned, whenever asked for my name by some clerk, to reply as follows:
“My name is spelled K - A - N - D - O,” and then I say the word - “Kando.”

And sure enough: yesterday, as soon as the pharmacy clerk looked under “Cando,” she found my medication. She gave it to me and said, somewhat irritated:

“You should have given me the proper name in the first place. It would have made things a lot easier.”

I apologized for the inconvenience, but added that the proper name is, in fact “Kando.”

“I am sorry sir,” she insisted, “That is not your name. The prescription order form says that your name is ‘Cando’. ”
“My name is ‘Cando’?” I inquired, somewhat surprised...
“Yes, that is your name. Surely your doctor knows your name, doesn’t he?”
“You are absolutely right,” I said, trying to sooth her feelings, “my physician does know my correct name...”
“Then why didn’t you give me your true name to begin with? The one on the medical record. We can’t just go by all sorts of different names, you know...”
“True,” I admitted, “one can’t just go by all sorts of different names...”

Then, as an afterthought, I asked:

“By the way, can you show me the fax the doctor sent you, just to see how my name is spelled?”
“No sir, we are not allowed to do that, sir. The Federal privacy law.”
“I understand,” I replied, “privacy is important.”

I went home. It was a total defeat. I have to hand it to the clerk. She was a pro. She had me checkmated - on all fronts. leave comment here

Friday, June 17, 2011

More, or Less?

by Madeleine Kando

There are now so many 'professions' out there that entitles someone to tell you how to eat, drink, walk, breathe, etc. that we have totally lost confidence in our own common sense.

Nutritionists, personal trainers, diet consultants, shopping advisers, TV celebrities.. they all feed on our gullibility, our insecurity and our childish notion that by doing the 'right thing', following the rules, we will buy our ticket to a happy, healthy immortal life.

I try not to get brainwashed by the barrage of unsolicited, unnecessary, overstuffed, full of hot air kind of advice that comes at us from these so-called experts.

I was listening to my daily fix of NPR on my way home, when I happened to catch a program on weight loss. ‘Everybody knows that the best way to loose weight is to exercise’ said the announcer. ‘Really? What happened to eating less? Wouldn’t that be the first line of defense against gaining weight?’

You see, because we believe in a magic bullet, our immediate reaction when we have a problem, is to add something to the equation. Which is strange: in science, a problem is usually solved by going back to the basics, making the equation simpler, not more complicated.

Not so in our personal life. We are lactose intolerant? We add a pill to our daily routine. Who would ever think of not drinking milk? Out of the question.

We sweat too much? We add deodorant to your daily grooming routine. Drinking less so you have less moisture in your body is not an option for most people.

How many of us menopausal females have had estrogen shoved down our throat? 'It helps with menopausal hot flashes' says my gynecologist. What happened to the centuries full of women who cruised through menopause and survived the hot flashes?

This obsession with 'more' goes way beyond my nagging about nutritionists. Too many MRIs, CAT scans, X rays. Too many procedures, which is good for the doctor's pocket book, not so good for the cost of health care to society.

'Less' is such a negative word in our culture. 'More' has been stamped into our psyche from the day we were born, so no wonder we are suspicious of solving problems by doing less. And doing nothing is considered downright stupid. Although I cannot keep track of how many problems I solved because I just waited it out.

I was going to write a long story to convince you that less is better than more, but that would defeat the purpose of my argument, so I will follow my own advice and stop right here. But feel free to comment abundantly. leave comment here

European E. coli Outbreak Holds Lessons for the U.S. Government

by Jeremy Fordham

The European E. coli outbreak has people on both sides of the Atlantic on high alert. Americans have been critical of the way the crisis has been handled, but there isn't any reason to presume that the U.S. government would be any better prepared to handle this particular strain of E. coli than the EU. After all, the U.S. is also dealing with its own, less-widespread strain of E. coli as it is.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Once again: Europe and America

By Tom Kando

I just finished a fine book by the Dutch author-photographer Sacha De Boer, “Retour New York-Amsterdam.” It consists of illustrated interviews with sixteen artists, half of whom are Dutch artists currently residing in New York, and the other half American artists who now live in Amsterdam.

There are many comparisons made between life in the two cities, and by extension comparisons between Europe and America. To be sure, it is wrong to see New York as representative of America. Many Europeans visit New York and then think that they have seen America. So these sixteen artists’ opinions about the pros and cons of life in Holland and in America should be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, based on my own experience as an immigrant from Europe, I find many of these people’s judgments compelling: For example, Charlotte Dumas, a Dutch animal photographer who now lives in Manhattan, notes the greater harshness of American attitudes towards animals.

Jimmy Rage, who moved from Jamaica to New York to Amsterdam, shares his negative experiences with American cops, and his appreciation of the generous public support for the arts in the Netherlands.

David Lindberg, an American sculptor who moved to Amsterdam, also feels that survival is tougher in New York - and by implication in America.

But opinions are not one-sided. Dutch Photographer Liselot van der Heijden, now living in New York, rightly ridicules American politics under Bush, but she (also rightly) loves New York.

American Sculptor Charlie Citron, now living in Amsterdam, agrees with others that Europe is kinder to artists, but on the other hand he also notes a stifling “stuffiness” in the old country.

Dutch Graphic artist Elise Tak moved to New York because she found it liberating, providing greater freedom, less judgment and less mean-spirited gossip than Amsterdam.

Dutch painter Sjoerd Doting, eyewitness to 9-11, also feels that Americans (at least New Yorkers) are less judgmental than the Dutch.

I have to agree with so much of this, and many other similar observations by others. I have made it a lifetime hobby to compare life on the two sides of the Atlantic. Both societies have their strengths and their weaknesses. Europeans are more indolent, less ambitious, spiritually more “fat,” less ready to fight - over oil, ideology or a traffic altercation. More pacifistic and therefore less brave, at least in a primeval physical sense. Life in Europe is easier and, yes, in many ways more pleasurable.

America is liberating. It’s vast and anonymous. There is an “I-don’t-give-a-damn-who-you-are-attitude.” Live and let live - or die. It can be a frighteningly cruel society, but it has all the possibilities, it leaves you alone, it lets you do things. Take your pick. I did. leave comment here

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mea Culpa: Europe's Guilt Complex

by Madeleine Kando

If you are a liberal and live in an enlightened democracy like the US or Europe, it is politically incorrect to say anything positive about your own culture. It is much more fashionable to self-criticize. After all, the West, with its history of colonialism, racism and fascism has caused tremendous suffering around the world.

No wonder we have such a low opinion of ourselves. We have to atone for our past sins by castigating ourselves and be humble. In Europe this feeling of guilt is especially strong. The European Union was created out of a sense of guilt for what happened during the Second World War. Which is good, right? One nation can not fight itself.

But, as my husband Hans likes to say 'guilt is a bad motivator for action'. Guilt is paralyzing. It turns action, good or bad, towards the self and can not solve any problems in the world.

In his book 'The Tyranny of Guilt', the French author Pascal Bruckner, describes how Europeans are so guilt ridden that they find it almost natural that terrorist acts are committed against them, against their affluence, against their evil past. In other words, they deserve it.

But Bruckner reminds us that the West is also responsible for abolishing slavery, for Women's rights and freedom from Fascism. It has taken great determination, a rock solid conviction in the 'justness' of these causes. Now we see those values being attacked from within, like a rot in an old vessel.

Because Europe has washed its hands off of world affairs, afraid of doing more damage, it is up to the United States to do the dirty work. But rather than criticize America retrospectively for fighting its battles, Europe could show America how to 'keep a cool head and find moderation'.

Bruckner also addresses the subject of Multiculturalism in Europe, which has all but failed. Although the intention was to protect minorities from discrimination, all it has accomplished is to create huge ethnic ghettos, like the 'bidonvilles' of Paris, which imprison men, women and children by isolating them in their own culture. By trying so hard to protect other people's cultures, the Europeans have forgotten how to protect the individuals within those cultures. Multiculturalism is the opposite of 'assimilation'. So, which is better, to live in a melting pot like America, or in a salad bowl like France?

Bruckner's final words of advice to Europe are: 'Don't let the debt to the dead win out over the duty to the living.'
leave comment here

Friday, June 10, 2011

What is more important: a crotch shot, or the global economy?

By Tom Kando

The titillation du jour is New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s “sex scandal.” Comedians (Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, etc.) are having a heyday. It’s the number one topic of conversation around the water cooler.

How moronic! A politician sent a picture of his crotch to a woman. Big deal! Our obsession with such pseudo-issues is a reflection of ourselves. The disease is in the beholder - our media culture.

Men do certain things, some of which are not cool, and some of which are downright bad. But most of the so-called scandals which crop up so often only belong to the not-cool category:

President Clinton had his Lewinsky moment.
John Edward and Arnold Schwartzenegger have love children.
Eliot Spitzer frequented a prostitute.
Congressman Christopher Lee sent a picture of his torso to a woman.
Now Congressman Anthony Weiner sent a picture of his crotch to a woman.
On and on.

Note that I did not include Former French IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s misbehavior in my list. His (alleged) actions belong to the “bad” category. They should not be trivialized.

But the other ones, and dozens like them? They should be trivialized.
Because you see, our culture’s inordinate preoccupation with these events means two things:

1. As a society, we are still hung up on sex, in a less than fully healthy way. I don’t know where this comes from. Maybe our Puritan origins. For whatever reason, our culture’s attitude towards sex is still hypocritical and unhealthy. Marlene Dietrich summed it up superbly a long time ago, when she said that sex is “a fact everywhere, an obsession in America.”

Now don’t misunderstand me: We are by no means the most screwed up culture in this regard:
In regions where archaic Islam still dominates (e.g. rural Pakistan) men’s attitudes are disastrous. Catholicism also generates grotesque sexual situations - from pandemic pedophilia among the clergy to the proscription of birth control. And at the other end of the spectrum, little progressive countries like Denmark and Holland go too far with their laissez-faire, which can also lead to sexual exploitation.

But back to America:

2. In our country, these so-called sex scandals serve as convenient distractions for the power structure. We argue over, and vote politicians in and out of office, on the basis of their private behaviors more than their public effectiveness. Doesn’t make sense! Surely brilliant presidents such as John Kennedy and Bill Clinton were not less effective as a result of their private dalliances?

Our political leaders can lead us into illegal wars, crash the world economy, steal billions, engage in illegal torture, ruin entire countries. No problem. But woe unto them if they send a dirty picture. Nuts. leave comment here

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Anthony Weiner: Stupid is as Stupid Does

by Marc Hersch

In hi-tech America the art of doing stupid things is being lifted to new heights. Take Anthony D. Weiner's predicament. It's enough to make the strongest of men cringe in horror. It's one thing to have your mom or wife find porno magazines under your bed or to make a drunken fool of yourself flirting with a pretty receptionist at the office party. It's another thing to act out your libidinous male fantasies on the Worldwide Web. What was that man thinking!

Come to think of it, what are we all thinking? No one has a lock on doing stupid stuff but the sad fact of life reads... Everything you say and do in public can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion.

So why is it that we have so embraced the Worldwide Web as a place to make public everything we say and do? Are we crazy?

As if Facebook and Twitter weren't enough, God himself in the person of Steve Jobs, announced just yesterday that the age of "cloud computing" is now here!

That's right! Jobs is pushing the idea that everything we do and say and everywhere go and stay can now be recorded by personal computers, cell phones, and GPS equipped PDA's and stored...

(Shouting now) ON THE WORLDWIDE WEB!

I'm a pretty smart guy--smart enough to know that some of the things I do turn out being pretty stupid, but doing everything on the Word wide Web raises the meaning of stupidity to a whole new level.

Stupid is as stupid does!
leave comment here

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Playing With Words

By Tom Kando

To be human is, above all, to name things. Other things have been mentioned as our defining feature - the opposing thumb, our large brain, our large penis, the fact that we make love ventrally, etc. But our real distinction is that we use language; that we label things, label each other, label ourselves. It is through labels that we identify things, people, ourselves. It is through labels that we decide what things and people are, including ourselves. Of course, words are also used for obfuscation.

So now, for the fun of it (voor de grap), I am going to tell you some of the things I am:

I am a cis-gendered male born in Eastern Europe during World War Two. As a child, I was a philatelist, but I kicked the habit early. Although I emigrated to the US, I always remained a xenophile. Sometimes I even suffer from Europhilia, but a quick trip across the Atlantic usually cures me of that. Professionally I have been a Symbolic Interactionist. Politically, I used to be a RINO, but that was years ago. My tastes are sometimes Habsburgian, and I tend be a monovore. I sometimes suffer from Ypologistophobia.


I am a male who is comfortable with his gender (as opposed to someone who is trans-gendered), born in Eastern Europe during World War Two. As a child, I used to collect stamps, but I kicked the habit early. Although I emigrated to the US, I always remained attracted to foreigners. Sometimes I even suffer from a bias in favor of European culture, but a quick trip across the Atlantic usually cures me of that. Professionally I have been a sociologist who specializes in social psychology. Politically, I used to be a Republican in name only but that was years ago. My tastes are sometimes gaudy, and I tend to eat the same kind of food most of the time. I sometimes suffer from a fear of computer technology. leave comment here

Friday, June 3, 2011

Oh la la! What to Do with the 'Vous'?

by Madeleine Kando

One of the parents at my dance studio asked me: 'Tu donnes des leçons le lundi prochain?' (Do you hold classes next Monday?) I was a little offended. I am her child's teacher and did not expect to be addressed with the familiar 'tu' form for the word 'you'. But I forgave her because I knew she was from Canada. Had she been French, I would not have let her off so easy.

One of the advantages of living in an English speaking country is that there is only one word for 'you'. But many languages have two distinct words. In French the terms are to 'tutoyer' and 'vouvoyer' someone.

'Tutoie-moi' means 'don't be so formal'. It's quite a tricky affair though, if French isn't your native language. Only bungling foreigners are forgiven when they mix up the terms 'tu' and 'vous'.

Originally the term 'vous' was only used in the plural (as in you guys). It became the 'polite' form of the singular 'you' because plurality is equivalent to power and prestige. 'If there is more than one of me' thought the king, 'it will make me even more important'. So he ordered his subjects to address him with 'vous'.

Once the King acknowledged his plurality, he had to refer to himself as ‘We’. Louis XIV dismissed visitors to whom he granted an audience by saying: “Nous vous permettons de vous retirer.” (We permit you to leave). Pompous professors still refer to themselves in the plural: “As we indicated to the reader in the preceding chapter….” This bs is called pluralis majestatis.

In present-day French politics the 'vous'and the 'tu' are used as powerful tools to manipulate, convince, insult and denigrate. The 'tu' polilticians are liberal leftists who see each other as equals. The 'vous' politicians are conservative. These two camps spend an inordinate amount of time deciding whether they should 'tutoyer' each other or not. It took these two very eminent politicians several minutes of precious airtime to argue over this, the issues at hand being completely forgotten: Le tu et le toi en pollitique

When Sarkozy asked Chirac whether they should 'tutoyer' each other, Chirac answered 'Si vous voulez'.

You would think that having two forms for 'you' would give people more opportunity to be polite. But the opposite is true. To use a 'tu' when a 'vous' is expected can be very insulting and it is like a slap in the face. French politicians like to insult each other in public. In that regard American politicians are incredibly well-mannered and restrained. But I have a feeling that being snobbish, aggressive and arrogant are qualities that the French public doesn’t find particularly negative.

Not too long ago long-time married couples still addressed each other with 'vous'. In 'La Chamade' a 1968 movie, after a long night of passionate love making, Michel Piccoli asks his wife (played by Catherine Deneuve): 'Vous voulez une cigarette?' Weird.

To graduate from a 'vous' to a 'tu' in a relationship has to be negotiated on an individual basis and there are really no hard and fast rules. It's like two countries who have to trust each other enough to establish diplomatic relationships.

But if you are not sure, just stick to 'vous'. Don't take it too far though. You don't want to be asking your two-year old: 'Vous voulez un cookie?' (would your grace like a cookie?). But it is always a bigger blunder to 'tutoyer' someone inappropriately than to 'vouvoyer' them.

leave comment here

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Can We Best Support Our Troops?

by Tom Kando

The news (E.g. the Sacramento Bee and the Washington Post, May 31, 2011) told us again today what most moderately well-informed people already know: The country is going broke because of its insanely high military expenditures: The war in Afghanistan alone requires $113 billion per year, the one in Iraq another $85 billion, for a total of $200 billion on the two wars combined.

The base budget for federal military spending in 2012 is $708 billion. However, many parts of the Iraq and Afghan wars are funded through supplementary appropriations outside the Federal Budget, so they are not included in the military budget figures.

See: Military budget of the United States

Also, there are many additional defense-related expenditures, such as FBI-Counter terrorism, Veterans Affairs, Interest incurred on debt in past wars, etc. Estimates of total military and military-related spending range from $1.030 trillion to $1.415 trillion.

The total amount the federal government plans to spend in 2012 is $3.82 trillion. Thus, military spending makes up 37% of federal spending.

Of course, the feds spend much more than they collect, as the Republicans incessantly remind us: Uncle Sam will only collect $2.17 trillion in taxes, running a deficit of $1.65 trillion. (See: 2011 United States federal budget

If you compare the military budget with federal receipts, it makes up 65% of those! In other words, 2 out of every 3 tax dollars you hand over to Uncle Sam goes to defense. I hope this makes you feel safe.

Most reasonably informed people know that America’s military spending exceeds that of all other countries of the world combined. No need to rehash this.

A more interesting factoid is this: Instead of killing and dying in Afghanistan, we could hand over the $113 billion to the Afghans. Each of them would thus receive $4000 every year. This would raise their per capita income to that of countries such as Jordan, Samoa and Paraguay. We seem to be so keen on this damn “nation-building.” Why not give every Afghan man, woman and baby a $4000 check every Christmas (or every Eid ul Fitr). Maybe that’ll enable them to make a go of it. And if not, we’ll spend no more money than we do now, and at least there’ll be less bloodshed, no?

Memorial Day is a good opportunity to ask ourselves: How can we best support our troops? The answer: Bring them home. leave comment here

How to entertain - and not entertain - foreign guests

by Tom Kando and Anita Kando

As European-Americans, we have hosted European visitors to America innumerable times, and we have also been hosted in Europe countless times. These mutual visits have been a two-way street and a lifetime of enjoyment for both sides. But people make mistakes.

Many people don’t understand that when one visits another culture, thousands of miles away, one should be exposed to that culture’s fortes - not to its pathetic attempts to replicate the visitor’s own culture.

Yet, over and over again I have seen (1) American hosts showcasing to their European guests American imitations of European things, and, conversely, (2) European hosts treating their American visitors to European mimicry of American things.

The impulse is commendable. Hosts want their guests to be comfortable, to feel at home. That is their idea of hospitality. But it’s a mistake.

Let me give you some examples:

1. When our daughters went to Belgium on a three-week student exchange program, their hosts desperately searched for, and finally located, a Mexican restaurant, thinking that this would make the girls feel more at home, like in California. Our daughters reported that this was the worst Mexican food they had ever tasted. On the other hand, when their hosts took them to eat mountains of mussels with Belgian fries buried in mayonnaise, they had the feast and the delight of their lives.

2. Conversely, when the Belgian exchange students came to spend three weeks in California, some of them were taken by their hosts to (1) a Hershey chocolate factory in Oakdale and (2) a Budweiser beer factory! Of course, the students (most of them experienced Belgian beer guzzlers) laughed: You see, Belgium makes the world’s best chocolate, and the world’s best beer, bar none.

So here is my advice to anyone in such a situation - on both sides of the Atlantic:
If you are a European hosting American visitors:
Say you are Dutch and you are hosting friends from the US: show them the Keukenhof tulip fields, the Rijks Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Red Light District, the polders dotted with windmills, show them anything Dutch, but don’t drag them to the Great American Disaster - a burger joint in central Amsterdam. Don’t try to compete with American hamburgers, you can’t win.
Don’t drag them to a shopping mall. Theirs are bigger.
Don’t try to impress them with your wildlife. They got mountain lions, coyote and rattle snakes outside their backyards.

If you are an American hosting European visitors: Say you live in California: drive them to Disneyland, fly them to Vegas, show them Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, but don’t shove the Sacramento Crocker Museum down their throat, or even the San Francisco De Young museum. Don’t try to compete with the Louvre, the British Museum or the Museum of Natural History in Vienna. You can’t win!

Don’t drag them to the Hearst Castle. It pales in comparison with Versailles or Schonbrunn. It will bore them.
Don’t take your Parisian friend to Sacramento’s best French restaurant.
Don’t take your Italian female relative shoe shopping.
Don’t offer American cheese to Dutch guests.

Play to your strength, not to your weakness! Europe and America are both magnificent, each in their own way. Don’t bring coal to Newcastle. People don’t travel to see poor replicas of their homelands! leave comment here

Friday, May 27, 2011

The American Devolution

by Tom Kando

A hot debate in California at this time is whether or not to build the high-speed rail. Voters approved $10 billion for this in 2008, the Obama administration has appropriated nearly $3 billion, and California will receive several more billion reallocated to our State, after Florida, Michigan and some other states declined to participate and returned their share to the Feds (speaking of cutting your nose to spite your face!). The total cost, though, will run at least $45 billion.

So this brings up, again, the fundamental issue of the day: are public projects and the public sector good or bad?

There is now a second American Revolution going on. It’s actually an American Devolution. All the arguments for and against California’s High-speed rail can be generalized to other public projects and to the entire public sector.

There is today in this country, at all levels, a push to dismantle a century of social democracy, and its funding. From progressive taxation to Medicare and Social Security, from State and local parks to libraries, pubic transportation and public education.

The excuse for this has been the country’s indebtedness, mixed with a tinge of demographics: We know that our aging population increases the dependent sector while decreasing the productive sector. Each year, fewer working tax-payers must support more retirees and elderly. The conclusion drawn by the rich, the Republicans and the rest of the brainwashed population is that we must therefore dismantle the welfare state.

In the 1930s, when the country was in trouble, FDR responded with a glorious New Deal and magnificent public projects such as the TVA and the Hoover Dam. There was an elan of social awareness and collective action. Today, the response is the opposite.

Elsewhere in the Western World, the right-ward trend (which is what this is) exists, but it is much weaker. This, despite the fact that (1) their populations are aging more rapidly than ours, (2) their deficits often exceed ours (Japan’s is over 200% of GDP!) and (3) their public services and infrastructure are superior to ours. For example, California has been debating high-speed train service for 16 years, while France, Germany, Japan and even Poland have HAD it for many decades.

The difference? More of that dreaded thing called “Socialism,” or, if you prefer, FDR’s New Deal approach.

Because you see, the choice is NOT the one which House Budget Chair Paul Ryan and the Tea Party want to impose on us: The Status Quo vs. Dismantling the Welfare State. The solution is NOT the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, schools, prisons, juvenile institutions, reducing the entire service sector to a for-profit nightmare.

The solution is to IMPROVE the existing system, through simple and yes, sometimes draconian measures such as raising Social Security and Medicare age significantly (after all, we live much longer now), raising SS and Medicare contributions significantly, and above all: making taxation much, much more equitable, as it was until a generation ago. To begin with, return to the pre-Bush era tax rates on corporations and on wealthy individuals. Where is it written that the Federal budget should not exceed 20% of GDP?

To claim that the welfare state is not sustainable is to be ignorant of history and of the foreign experience. Despite two catastrophic wars - an entirely different topic - the Europeans have maintained successful welfare states for centuries, as have Japan, Canada, Australia and others. And they are not about to dismantle them.

The alternative is a devolution comparable to that of the Roman Empire - where roads, schools, public safety, literacy and the quality of life gradually wither, like vines in the winter... leave comment here

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The History of Food Revealed

by Madeleine Kando

A 1999 BBC series on the origins of pornography inspired me to write a spoof. Rather than take sex as the subject however, I decided to replace it with food.

Before the 'Great Obesity Epidemic' of the late twenty-first century, when millions of people died from overeating, food and the consumption of food were a very inoffensive, daily activity that people engaged in without any shame or secrecy.

In previous decades it was customary to eat when one was hungry. There were even special places where groups of friends, husbands and wives, children and parents, sat together at a table and ate food, right in front of each other, there in public! These places were called 'restaurants'.

Before the 'Big OB-epidemic.', food was not considered taboo. But when more and more people became the victims of overeating, when women lost their ability to become pregnant and men became impotent, the government HAD to take steps to save our society from destroying itself.

Slowly, food consumption came to be seen as unnatural, something that was best practiced in secret.

Congress first passed the 'food obscenity' law, legislature that prohibited any kind of graphic display of food in public places. The second law prohibited parents from eating in front of their children. Many couples were denounced by their neighbors and faced severe prison sentences.

Soon, other laws followed: eating in public was deemed offensive and common decency required that any activity involving food consumption, talking about food and showing pictures of food be restricted to the privacy of one's home.

Believe it or not, but the expression 'May God curse you with a voracious appetite' did not exist before then. Other profanities, such as 'suck you' or 'eat cake' are fairly recent as well.

Black market trafficking of 'food-ography' (pictures of people eating together and other lurid depictions of food-related subjects) became a profitable business and people who could afford it joined secret societies where all manner of food perversion was the order of the day: strippers stepping out of giant cakes, food fights, movie showings of how food was produced and worst of all, members engaged in food orgies where they ate at nauseam and regurgitated their food in order to eat more.

As might be expected, all of this repression had the opposite effect of what was intended. Children who innocently walked to school were harassed by individuals who exposed themselves eating cake. The papers were full of articles about food voyeurs who had been caught in the act of looking at pictures of food. Some individuals developed severe cases of food fetishism for which they needed special psychiatric treatment. Virtual labs were developed where one could experience all the pleasures of eating without ingesting a crumb.

Soon there was so much censored, underground material available, on the internet, in chat rooms, on video, that people cut their workday short in order to secretly eat while watching movies about food.

People started to gain more weight than ever before. The simple pleasure of only eating when one was hungry had been lost, seemingly forever.

The Y.U.M. organization (Young, United and Mad) lobbied Congress to repeal the anti-food laws and eventually won. The circle was closed. Food slowly became a part of life again.

Some people still like to abuse food and occasionally succumb to the pleasure of eating in secret, but in general this period was a wake-up call for most of us. Who knows, maybe some day we will be able to let go of our inhibition and enjoy each other's company while eating in those quaint places called 'Restaurants'.

When tempted to eat in secret, repeat the mantra: ‘food is food is food is food..’ and don’t stop until the urge has passed. leave comment here

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who is Guilty - Dominique Strauss-Kahn or American Criminal Justice?

By Tom Kando

Fresh back from vacation, I can’t resist weighing in on the fascinating debate triggered by Madeleine’s post “The DSK Affair.” Many good things were written on all sides. I am like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,”- “You are Right, and you are also Right.”

Synopsis: Madeleine’s starting salvo is eloquent and correct. No need for me to re-iterate that Mr. Strauss-Kahn is a pig if he is guilty.

But Csaba is also right - everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Steve is also right: this incident is another opportunity for the never-ending Anglo-Saxon - Gallic culture war to flare up again. Marc, too is right: there is too much trial by the press going on, and the legal lines (consensuality and statutory age distinctions are problematic).

Then, Madeleine and Marc begin an exchange about cultural relativity and sexual mores.

I am proud of the high quality of exchange found on our blog.

Let me add my two bits worth: First of all, it is important to remember that this is (also) a feminist issue. It is logical that Madeleine empathizes with the pain of Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim more than we men do.
And there is a second way in which Strauss-Kahn’s (largely French) apologists are being assholes: their claim that the French (journalists, etc.) are superior to Americans because they keep politics out of the bedroom, etc.

But then, just like Tevye, I also find myself in agreement with former Culture Minister Jack Lang, when he indicts the American Criminal Justice System for its cruelty. Here, I speak as an expert, having taught criminology for decades.

By some measures, the American Criminal Justice System is the most punitive on the planet. For example, we lock up nearly 800 people per 100,000 population. No other country comes even close to this, not China, not Iran, nobody. In Europe, they lock up between 50 (Denmark) and 80 (the UK) people per 100,000.
California today has 10 times more prisoners than when I moved here. The likelihood of a black male doing prison time during his life is over 50%. And a majority of prisoners are there for non-violent offenses such as drug possession and parole violation.

The obscenity is that this is driven by economics. It’s the Criminal Justice-Industrial Complex. It’s a job-creation program. The system must be fed. When I started teaching at Cal State, the budget for Higher Education was three times that of the Department of Corrections. Now it’s almost the other way around.
Increasingly, Republican state governments have succeeded in privatizing prisons and juvenile detention facilities. Prisons become for-profit businesses! But all of this is well known.

So part of the problem, basically, is that there is more panic about crime in America than elsewhere. And this at a time when crime has been in decline for many years!

Also, as some of you imply, there is more panic about sex in America than in France and elsewhere in Europe.

My advice to everybody: If you are going to f...up, better not do it in this country. We have the most unforgiving C.J. System. Remember Roman Polanski? He committed statutory rape 35 years ago, but there is no statute of limitation on such crimes, so the US authorities are still after him.

I have no problem when the high and the mighty fall. Billionaire white collar criminals, throw the book at them. Strauss-Kahn, if found guilty, throw the book at him.

At the same time, if I were a foreigner, I would be pretty afraid coming to America. You never know what sort of piling on and magnification could take place, even if you only mess up a tiny bit, say you have consenting sex with a 17.5 year old, or you are caught with a .9 blood alcohol content while moving your car in a parking lot, or you are caught with a joint in your pocket.

My advice to foreign visitors to our shores: be very prudent. Here, law enforcement and the judicial system are a crap shoot. leave comment here

Saturday, May 21, 2011


by Madeleine Kando

I just returned from The Netherlands, which usually causes me to go through ‘road-shock’. The roads are so unblemished over there that falling asleep at the wheel is the highest hazard of driving. I had gotten used to the smooth asphalt of the Dutch highways.

On my drive back home from Logan Airport it felt like our car had entered a giant pinball machine. We were dodging potholes and cracks left and right, while trying to maintain an appropriate speed. Many of the signs had pieces missing and the lettering had peeled off which makes it hard to know where you are. But when I saw the familiar ‘No -assing’ sign on Lexington Street I knew I was home.

I remember a time when the American highway system was the envy of the world. I used to watch Hollywood car-chase movies in my small Amsterdam apartment with areal views of the typical four-leaf clover and six-story highway exchanges. It was still a sight to behold, a symbol of what American engineering could accomplish.

Since then, American roads and byways have turned into one of this country's worst nightmares. Being rated number one in the 1960's, America now ranks 23rd in quality of road infrastructure, somewhere between Spain and Chile.

The question is why? Why is America's transportation system so bad? Doesn't the sheer size of the US call exactly for that kind of investment?

For the past 30 years America's roads and bridges have been left to rot while smarter nations have been building, improving and maintaining their roads, bridges and canals. Since the 1970’s America has gone from spending 5% of GDP on infrastructure to only 2.4%. China spends 9% of GDP.

Although we complain about gas prices being so high, Europeans pay much higher taxes on cars and gasoline. Funding for transportation projects comes from the European Investment Bank, a non-profit organization whose shareholders are the member states. This allows the different EU countries to get cheap loans for their projects. The Kerry/Hutchison plan tries to create a similar funding apparatus and hopefully will pass the house. But I am not hopeful. Simply put, Americans are not willing to pay for an improved road infrastructure.

Compared to many other nations, high-speed trains are practically non-existent in the United States. China, which is about the same size as the United States is spending $50 billion this year alone on a speed train system that will travel at 220 mph. Compare that to the $8 billion that Obama proposed which, of course, went nowhere. The current infrastructure would not even permit bullet trains to go at fast speeds over bridges and through tunnels that are currently in such need of repair.

Another very obvious reason why our infrastructure is crumbling is the way projects are run these days. It took a little more than one year to build the Empire State building and only four years to build the entire Golden Gate Bridge. Compare that to the little overpass over interstate 95 in Waltham which has been under consruction since 2004 and still isn't completed.

What happened to the America that I admire? The innovative and efficient nation that everybody else looked up to? Bickering continues in Washington and there is a clear lack of vision. Like an old woman sloshing around the house in her slippers and robe, America doesn’t bother to take care of herself any more. She lets herself go. Future generations be damned.

Some of this information is found in an article in the Economist of April 28th, 'Life in the Fast Lane'
leave comment here

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The DSK Affair

by Madeleine Kando

I have been following the recent 'DSK affair' with fascination. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested on charges of attempted rape of a hotel maid in his New York hotel, is now held without bail at the Riker's Island prison, nicknamed 'the tomb'.

The French are shocked at pictures showing Strauss-Kahn, handcuffed and unshaved, forced to take the 'perp walk', a tradition of making a suspect walk by a row of media cameras.

Jack Lang, former French Minister of Culture and a good friend of Strauss-Kahn, is quoted as saying: 'The American Justice system is an inhuman system that crushes the individual that falls between its hands.' (translation is mine, sorry). And 'Nothing justifies a man being treated with such disdain and violence. Knowing the American justice system, it is not unimaginable that the judge is after smearing 'a Frenchman'.

Well, maybe French politicians could use a dose of healthy smearing. It's not like Strauss-Kahn is innocent of previous acts of sexual misconduct. For example, when Tristane Banon, a French journalist was allegedly sexually assaulted by him back in 2002, she wanted to file charges. But her own mother, Anne Mansouret, who is an important figure in the socialist movement, advised her NOT to. As a senior sociaiist figure she felt that Strauss-Kahn was too important and didn't want his name tarnished.

France, it seems, has very strong libel and privacy laws which allows public figures to reap the benefits of being public without bearing the consequences of misbehaving privately. In other words the French like to have their cake and eat it too.

It sounds like they are still stuck with their old, aristocratic moral code. The rooster is still king in the chicken coop. But the American justice system doesn't go for that kind of preferential treatment. Rich or poor, famous or obscure, it makes no difference.

Strauss-Kahn sounds like an arrogant, oversexed individual at best and a sexual predator at worst. He didn't suddenly become that way in a New York hotel. He is 62 years old. All this time the French must have ignored that side of him, all in the name of their 'don't ask don't tell' philosophy. What does that say about the French?

They are fond of making fun of America's puritan attitude towards sexual misconduct. But when it comes to allegations of attempted rape, it's a different story. They might not agree with the treatment that Strauss-Kahn has undergone, but hopefully they are as shocked as I am at this man's behavior. leave comment here