Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There are Angels in Holland

There are angels in Bergen. Bergen is a small, affluent town in the northern tip of Holland, where my 101 year old mother settled in her old age. These angels surround her like silver-winged moths hovering around a light bulb, fluttering in and out of her apartment, gathering the mess that very old people inevitably create.

She cannot see, hear or smell much of anything any more, so they appear, polite, respectful. They greet her, gently squeezing her fragile, skinny hand as they bend over, so she can hopefully see their smiling faces. They call her 'Mevrouw Kando' and you can tell that they like her. She is a likeable centenarian, and there are not too many of them, so it could be that they feel privileged to take care of her.

They talk to her gently, sometimes asking where it hurts, or what they can do for her that day. They are there to feed her and wash her, clean the shower cell and the toilet, massage her swollen feet, clean her hearing aids and perform many other tasks that make up what they call in Holland 'Thuiszorg' (homecare). They do this without batting an eye, too polite to react to my mother's frequent snapping when they are too slow to bring her a glass of water or a pinch of salt for her soft boiled egg. She usually forgets to thank them, thinking that she is entitled. Entitled to having all these angels swarm around her, because they get paid, she says. They don't come for free. The government picks up (most of) the tab. I bite my lip as I witness the interaction, wondering if one day, I will also be short tempered with my angels. But then I realize that I live in America. There are no angels in America, the soil is not socially fertile that way. Read more...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Tour de la France 2015

The Tour de France is the world’s greatest annual sport event. It is viewed by four billion people electronically (half the world) and by 15 million live - most of them French, many of whom misbehave. Despite all of its problems, I remain an avid fan, and I keep writing about this (see for example my article Tour de France Factoids) .

Nowadays, this bicycle race is about twenty-two hundred miles long, divided into twenty-one stages covered over a period of twenty-three days. It takes place in July and it goes around France, with forays into adjacent countries. The decisive stages are in the high mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees. The arrival always takes place on the majestic Champs Elysees in Paris. There are nearly two hundred participants. They come from several dozen countries, and are divided into about twenty teams. The race was introduced in 1903, and it has taken place nearly every year since. 2015 was the Tour’s one hundred and second edition.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sociology: Are We Free? A Critique of the Social Sciences

by Tom Kando

Abstract: In this article, I plead for of a humanistic conception of sociology. Because of its positivist origins, Sociology has been desperate to emulate the physical sciences. I argue that modeling Sociology (as well as Psychology, Economics, Political Science and the other human disciplines) after the physical sciences is an error. Human behavior is value-based. Therefore, its study cannot avoid values. Nor should values be treated as facts. Post-modern Sociology does this when it becomes ideological. Humans define their environment, they are self-conscious, they react to knowledge, and they decide upon and choose courses of action. A humanistic sociology recognizes this and thus leaves room for freedom.

(Note: To professional sociologists, this article may read like a superficial rehash of a debate which has been raging in our field for over half a century, and more or less a statement of the Symbolic Interactionist position. But I wrote this for the lay public. Hopefully it will clarify for non-sociologists some of our field’s interesting aspects. You can consider this article an advertisement for Sociology.)


If we follow Descartes, we can say that all knowledge consists of two areas: knowledge about the physical world and knowledge about the (human) mind. We can call these the physical sciences and the human sciences - or the sciences and the humanities.

The physical sciences deal with stars, rocks, plants, animals, biology and the body, including the human body. The human disciplines deal with human behavior, thoughts, emotions, relationships, conflict, motivations, values, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, freedom and oppression, justice and injustice.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Donald Trump's Popularity: Symptom of a Disease

The more outrageous Donald Trump’s statements are , the more popular he becomes. Some say that the Media are at fault.

The tragedy here is not Trump himself. He is only a buffoon and a mediocrity. He had the usual head start which almost all millionaires/billionaires enjoy (his father was a major real estate developer) then he had some luck, so he accumulated wealth. Big deal. I am not impressed. Nothing distinguishes him very much from millions of other mediocrities, as far as abilities or character are concerned. So much for the persistent wish among Americans to see wealth as evidence of and the result of exceptional moral fiber. 

The tragedy is the growing popularity Trump enjoys as a result of his asinine behavior. Millions of Republicans like his crass statements about Mexican immigrants often being rapists, about Senator John McCain not being a war hero because he was captured, and his refusal to apologize. The disease is in the people, not in Donald Trump. And a disease it is.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Refugees International

 When I was a child, I was a refugee. My parents and I left Hungary shortly after World War Two, when I was seven. My birth country had been the battlefield for the titanic struggle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Budapest had been pulverized, looking the same as Dresden and Hiroshima. Our family house was left barely standing, its walls pockmarked with bullet holes, with a German Panzer tank stuck in our backyard.

We fled to Paris. For the next decade, we lived like paupers, like rejects. My only ID document was a United Nations card saying that I was “Stateless” (“Apatride”). I belonged to no country. I spent time in an Italian refugee colony, I lived with host families in Switzerland and in the Netherlands. At age nine, I picked fruit on French farms. After I turned eighteen, I took the boat one-way to America. It took the old Liberty ship ten days to transport fifteen hundred emigrants and refugees to the New World. It was just like in the movies. I bunked with eight or nine other men in steerage - a Moroccan, a Swede, a couple of Dutchman, etc. It wasn’t until my 26th birthday, after a wait of eight years, that I became a US citizen, the first time I enjoyed ANY citizenship.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Texas Textbook Wars

In Texas, a series of new textbooks will hit classrooms this fall, which more than five million public school students will be using for nearly a generation to come. These new textbooks are filled with errors, omissions and revisions that promote a Christian Fundamentalist world view, courtesy of the Texas State Board of Education.

So what, you might say? What else would you expect from one of the most backward, conservative states in the Union, a hotbed of Creationism? Why bother write about it at all? The problem is that Texas is one of the biggest customers of publishing giants like McGraw-Hill Education. Together with Florida and California, they have roughly 13 million students in K-12 public schools and although California has more students, Texas spends more of its budget on textbooks. It literally rules the textbook market in the US. This fact and the Texas State Board of Education's relentless efforts to politicize textbooks in order to advance its religious agenda, has given the state enormous influence over what gets included in school textbooks in many states throughout the country. Read more...

Favorite Music

Today, I’ll try something different: I’m sending you a bunch of beautiful music. It’s very haphazard, just a smattering of popular music that I recently enjoyed hearing (again):

1. I just discovered (through a friend) this Franco-Italian-International group called The Gypsy Queens. I LOVE their rendition of L’Italiano. This was originally a hit song in Europe by the Italian singer Toto Cutugno. The present version, by the Gypsy Queens, came out in 2012.

Here are some of the lyrics: