Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why Aren't the Best People in Charge?

By Tom Kando

Aristocracy: (ar/I stokrə sē): Rule by the best. From the Greek aristos (αριστος) : the best, and krátos (κρατος): force, or power.

Ancient Greek philosophers advocated that society should be governed by the best people. These philosophers included Aristotle, Socrates and especially Plato, whose “Republic” is an attempt to actually describe such an effort, and who even went to Syracuse in the hope of founding the ideal society.

So who are the best?

Plato and some others felt that they are the philosophers, who therefore should be in charge. Philosophy’s claim to the throne is that philosophy can be defined as the search for the truth. Philosophers have a better chance of knowing the truth than other people do. They are wiser. On that basis, they should rule.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nostalgia for Paris

I just watched the finish of the Tour de France in Paris. I do this every year. Two reasons: (1) I am an avid biker myself, and a fan of the Tour for the past 60 years, since the days of legendary giants such as Fausto Coppi and (2) I grew up in Paris. Went to elementary school and high school there. First times I fell in love was with little French girls. First friends I had were french boys. First time I had fisticuffs, played hooky, got honor roll grades, saw Western movies, went camping, disobeyed my parents, got scholarly awards, wrote noteworthy papers, ran through city streets, suburban woods and subway stations at night, all of this happened while I was growing up as a Parisian boy. Read more...

Friday, July 19, 2013

England and France during the High Middle Ages

How many movies have you seen and books have you read about the history and the conflicts raging in England and in France during the High Middle Ages (1000-1400)? I just re-saw the wonderful mini-series Pillars of the Earth - based on Ken Follett’s great novel. Hollywood has produced an endless series of often highly entertaining films about this era - from many makes and remakes of Robin Hood to the movie version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, from many versions of Joan of Arc to excellent films such a the Lion in Winter and Becket, more recent productions such as Braveheart, The Kingdom of Heaven and many more.

My knowledge of English history is limited, that of French history better. I thought I’d try to draw a brief and somewhat coherent picture of one aspect of this era, namely the ceaseless fighting between the English and the French, a narrative which incorporates many of the stories which popular culture has popularized so often.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The American Tourist in Europe: Still the "Ugly American"?

By Angie Picardo

The ‘ugly American’ stereotype is something that every American is aware of when they travel overseas. Given this self-awareness, is it still true that we are seen that way by the international community? There is some good news for American travelers; we may not be the worst tourists out there. Actually other nations might even see us more favorably than we see ourselves. According to a recent Living Social, poll the harshest critics of American tourists were actually other Americans. I was personally very aware of the ugly American stereotype when I travelled abroad for the first time, and in my conversations with Europeans I found to my surprise that most people were very curious to learn more about me. I have to admit that I was a little surprised by how interested Europeans were in getting to know a little bit more about Americans. Read more...

Friday, July 12, 2013


The recent public lynching of Paula Deen over her one-time use of the N-word has motivated me to do some research on euphemisms. As a non-native speaker, I fully appreciate how much spice and color they add to the English language. I absolutely adore them. This is ironic, since the function of euphemisms is to avoid saying something unpleasant, offensive or taboo. So not saying something makes a language richer?

In the case of the N-word, the original word is still around, so we at least know what it means. But some other words have not been that lucky; the euphemism has completely obliterated the original word, killed it outright, knocked it off, rubbed it out, terminated it with extreme prejudice. The word 'bear', for instance is a euphemism for a taboo word denoting a large, dangerous, hairy killer. The original word has been lost forever. Read more...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Paula Deen and the Corporations: I Don't Get It

By Tom Kando

The corporate frenzy to dump Paula Deen has been mesmerizing - and upsetting.

One way to look at the Paula Deen scandal is socio-linguistically: language is culture. Deen used the N word. What meaning she attached to it when she used it, we’ll never know.  African Americans also use the N word sometimes - towards each other, in jest, in rap music, etc. We can assume that the meanings attached to the N word by Paula Deen and by black rappers differ. But I’ll talk about this in my next post. Today, I want to discuss the abhorrent politics of this flap:

I don’t get it. By now, the dumping is almost unanimous. First to go was her show on TV’s Food Network, soon followed by all the big ones - Wal-Mart, Caesar’s, Smithfield Food, Novo Nordisk, Home Depot, Sears, K-Mart, Walgreens, Target, etc. Then, even her publishers (Random House) dropped her, as did Amazon, without whom it’s almost impossible to retail books online. A few obscure, regional companies have yet to join the stampede, but it is, as I said, practically unanimous. Some of her competitors, like chef Anthony Bourdain, are also piling on, no doubt salivating at the prospect of picking up the pieces.