Monday, December 29, 2014

In Praise of Immigrants

I am an immigrant. A documented one, from a Northern European country. I am an immigrant through and through and proud of what I have become because of it. I began my immigrant career at the age of four, when my family moved to France from Hungary, right before the Iron Curtain closed off many of the countries of Eastern Europe and made them satellite states of the Soviet Union.

A child of a mixed marriage between a Jew and a Gentile, born amongst the rubble of World War II, I became a political refugee and grew up in Paris and Amsterdam. You couldn't ask for a better apprenticeship if you are an aspiring immigrant.

I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege of living my life where several cultures meet. Maybe because of my gypsy roots, I have always felt a sense of adventure by moving about and living in new places. There was a childish excitement brewing in me, especially when I came to America. It was huge, wild and seemed to fit my disorderly and chaotic nature. Read more...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview: Funny and Audacious, or in Bad Taste?

 We saw “The Interview” the first night it was out. It was a full house. We had to use Fandango, which until then I thought was the most useless company in the world...

My purpose today is not to summarize the movie for you, but to discuss the REACTION to it.

I liked the film a lot. I found it extremely funny and politically relevant. So sue me for bad taste.

By now most people know what it’s about: two American tabloid-TV show hosts are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s baby-faced supreme leader Kim Jong-un. The two men - played by James Franco and Seth Rogen - are bumbling buffoons. I already knew that Rogen is funny, but I was surprised by how funny James Franco can be. Read more...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Texas vs. California: Who's Got the Bragging Rights?

Red states are conservative, Republican, and they are in the South or in the middle of the country. Blue states are progressive, Democratic, and they are in the North or on the coasts. Texas epitomizes the red states, California the blue ones.

There is a mythology that Texas is  immensely successful and that  California is a  screw-up. Texas governor Rick Perry tried to exploit this when he came to California to steal jobs.

The reality is that Texas ranks number one in the country in one respect above all: bragging. This has always been so.

It is true that Texas is somewhat large. But if surface size were the most important criterion, Alaska should brag even more than Texas. Another advantage Texas has had, for a century or so, is oil. This brought some economic benefits, for example, no need for a state income tax.

Friday, December 19, 2014

You Americans Have no Idea Just how Good you Have it with Obama

My friend Amir Jabery just sent me this brief article by a Canadian journalist.
It’s priceless; it’s an A+.
I HAD to share it with you all, dear blog readers.
I transcribed the article, so as to make it more readable:

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Read more...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Dutch Obsession with Diminutives

The Dutch are statistically the tallest people on earth. Not only are they tall, but every time I travel to Holland, they seem to have grown taller. Whatever feeling of confidence and superiority my above-average height might give me in the US, it evaporates the moment I arrive at Schiphol airport, and start to navigate my way through a sea of giants. It's hard to get used to feeling 'short', even if it's just for a week or so.

You would expect this propensity for height to spill over in the way the Dutch speak, with bombastic, aggrandizing words and phrases. But it's just the opposite. The Dutch are extremely fond of diminutives. They add the suffix '-je' or '-tje' to practically any part of speech. When I visit my friend Edith in Baarn, we often go for a 'fiets tochtje', a little bike ride (even though they might take up to three hours). We'll stop on the way for a 'kopje coffee met een gebakje', a little cup of coffee with a little desert. On our way back, we'll go into town and buy a 'jurkje', a little dress or hunt for a 'koopje', a little bargain. It's all little this and little that in Holland. Read more...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Obsessive-Compulsive Hillary Hatred Disorder

On October 26, I posted an article titled Obsessive-Compulsive Obama Hatred Disorder Today’s article is a parallel piece:

I am prompted to do this by Alex Seitz-Wald’s recent article Where is Hillary on Torture? which appeared on the Left/progressive site Reader Supported News.

The article (correctly) complains that Hillary Clinton has not spoken out (enough) about the use of torture on terrorism-related detainees. But what I want to focus on are the comments which follow the article: They unanimously express strong hatred for Ms. Clinton. For example:

● Billy Bob and dquandle: “(Killary) also showed interest in invading Syria and Iran...and starting WWIII in Ukraine while obliterating Libya.”

● Ritawalpoleague: “Hill the Shill will say anything to up her chances of grabbing the nomination...” Read more...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hand to Mouth: Poverty in America

In her recent book 'Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America', author Linda Tirado discusses what it's like to work 3 low wage jobs and still not be able to make ends meet. She openly and unabashedly shares the daily realities of her life as a low-wage worker and demonstrates "that poverty is not a ‘culture’ or a character defect; it is a shortage of money.”

Tirado's book tries to destroy one of the most tenacious myths about poverty - that poor people are where they are because they are 'different'. Contrary to the European view, that being poor has more to do with an accident of birth or just bad luck, Americans tend to blame poverty on a lack of work ethic or laziness.

But, as Tirado explains: 'working hard does not mean that you will get ahead. Wages are often too low to live on, and employers steal income from employees. This is why so many people can work, even at multiple jobs, and still be poor. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, author of 'Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America', went 'undercover' as a low wage worker and found that 'the work required incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning.'

This book should be required reading for politicians like Paul Ryan who are trying to gut our safety net and who insist, against all evidence, that if you are poor in America 'it is because of your own failure to be sufficiently diligent, chaste, sober, or thrifty.'(See: 'Just How Much Does Paul Ryan Want The Government To Plan Poor People's Lives?')

Although the poverty rate started to go down throughout the 1960s (thanks to Johnson's War on Poverty when he signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964), it began to rise again in 1980. Now, about 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, which the federal government defines as an annual income of $23,550 for a family of four.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do we need more “Freedom,” Like the People in 'Mockingjay"?

The prevailing trend today is to favor “freedom,” and to hate the government, particularly the big, distant, central government. “Local” and “grassroots” are seen as good things, going hand in hand with “freedom.”

Popular culture is also on that side, of course, as I was recently reminded by the wildly popular Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games movie. It’s not my intent to dignify this mediocre picture with a review or a serious political analysis, as it is essentially a money-making piece of entertainment, which is fine. But it shows precisely the ideological confusion which I want to talk about:

The main theme of the entire Hunger Games series is that of an evil central government (Capitol) that oppresses the local districts, which then start a revolution. It is a story about the quest for freedom at the grassroots level vs. the tyranny of the central government. As banal as could be. The story of every revolution in history - the American, the French, the Russian, you name it. Read more...