Friday, December 28, 2018

Is the (Federal) Government a Useless Waste of Money?

 So now we have another government shut-down. It’s a stalemate between Trump and Congress about “the wall.”

I log onto my web portal/browser (Yahoo!) and I get the news story of the hour - This one about the government shutdown that started on December 22. The article of the hour is usually followed by many comments, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands.

I often scroll down a few dozen of these comments, because I am a sociologist and I am keenly interested in public opinion. I understand that these comments are obviously not representative. Many of them are probably written by trolls with an agenda to grind, many of their authors may not even be Americans. Yet, these ARE voices. And when I scroll down the list, peruse a few dozen of them randomly, and find an OVERWHELMING majority of them writing more or less the same stupid and WRONG thing, I worry.

Today, the vast majority of these trolls, while using different iterations of it, agreed with this familiar imbecile meme:
That the present (federal) government shutdown hasn’t made a damn bit of difference in anyone’s life; and that this is proof that the (federal) government is an utterly useless and wasteful institution, which employs millions of pencil-pushers who enjoy fat paychecks while doing nothing of value; that the permanent shutdown of this bureaucracy would make no difference in our lives, and that it would be a blessing. Read more...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kando's Dogma - Part Two

 About a year ago, I posted a piece called. Kando’s Dogma. I now add some further beliefs which I hold to be true:

1. All people are created equal (Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson). There are no inherent differences in intellectual aptitude between the races and between the genders. The science of psychology has not discovered any. Differences in wealth are the result, to a small extent, of aptitude and effort, but much more the result of social class, family wealth and above all: luck.

2. There is no (anthropomorphic) deity, no super-brain which decided at some point in the past to create a world. The universe is a physical reality in which life and mental processes develop. In other words, the universe becomes aware of itself. It is a psycho-physical reality.

3. The nature and processes of the universe are best discovered and understood through science.

4. Science distinguishes between truth and error, and through it, knowledge increases. Humans progress by increasing their knowledge. The total amount of knowledge is infinite.

5. In addition to science, there is philosophy and there is religion (Auguste Comte’s three stages). Philosophy discusses metaphysical questions. These are questions beyond those pertaining to the physical world. Positivist science cannot answer them. Answers to such questions cannot be proved or disproved empirically. Read more...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Old Age


My long distance friend Rebecca came to visit this week. I don’t see her a lot, since she lives in Holland, on the other side of the big pond. She is old, like I am, but charming, sweet and terribly damaged by something that happened in her early twenties. That was when she found out her husband had been cheating on her with her sister from the day they were married. This happened 50 years ago. The husband is gone, the sister is gone, but the wound has never healed. Rebecca is not so much bitter as completely uninterested in her own future and even her present seems to take a backseat to her main preoccupation, scratching and unscabbing this old old wound.

I feel sorrow for her and a good deal of confusion. I also am prone to certain obsessions regarding my past. Who isn’t at my age? There is a drawer in every old person’s head, marked regrets, but I can keep it closed most of my waking hours. Rebecca on the other hand, has lost the key and her drawer is now permanently open, oozing its nasty contents into her otherwise very witty, interesting and intelligent mind.

‘She just needs a good dose of therapy’, I hear you say. But what will that do? Would it take away the hurt? Would it leave a void? Rebecca’s self image is now so fused with what happened all these years ago, that she might not survive the excision.

You see, growing old is a complicated affair. It creeps up on you like a black cat in the night and settles in comfortably. Before you know it, old age has taken over the reigns of your life. You are too caught up living you see. You don’t spend your days thinking: ‘Oh, my God! I am older than yesterday!’ Then, suddenly, you ARE old. Read more...

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Capitalist and the Greek Philosopher

Warning: this piece is meant to be light-hearted.

The world remains firmly stuck in the age of mass consumption and materialism.

America, Europe, and the developing world each contribute to humanity’s continuing plunder of the planet.

To be sure, ever since the 1960s, many people in the Western world have moved in a counter-cultural direction, becoming more “green.” A growing number of Americans are becoming aware that unfettered consumption is a dead end and that our voracious consumption habits need to be toned down. As to Europe, many people there have probably reached a somewhat more advanced stage of “green consciousness.”
However, all such progress is more than negated by an opposite worldwide trend, namely the all-out drive into consumerism by the emerging nations, including giants such as China and India. And of course, much of the growing green consciousness is more talk than action. America remains in the forefront of materialism.
And most telling is the continued worldwide consensus among all governments, all economists, all policy shapers, that economic growth will solve all our problems - poverty, hunger, inequality, war, crime, refugees... Read more...

Monday, November 26, 2018

Murder in the World and in the US - Part Two

Part One of this Article has presented  data on and analysis of the distribution of murders across selected countries, and  the concentration of murders among a minority of the world’s nations. In Part Two, I  discuss the worldwide distribution of murder, and compare the US with other parts of the world.

3. The Worldwide Distribution of Murder:

Table 5, below, shows the regional distribution of the 47 most violent countries of the world.

Table 5. Regional Distribution of the Top 47 countries, Ranked by Murder Rates          

number of countries
1. Latin America
2. Caribbean Island nations
Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean island nations
3. Africa
4. Europe


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Murder in the World and the US - Part One



November, 2018: Another couple of  mass shootings. Nothing out of the ordinary. We have become inured to this. We hardly  react any more. A short while ago it was a synagogue in Pittsburgh, then a nightclub in Southern California, next week it’ll be a school, or a shopping mall, or some other public place. The killing rages on, a dozen innocent people mowed down at a time, often more than that.

The solution is obvious, and before our eyes. It has been so for years. All you have to do is look at dozens of  comparable countries, follow their example, and voila; problem solved. Thousands of American lives saved every year.

In a separate post - Mass Murder Ad Nauseam - I will once again go over the main aspects of this issue. But for now, I am tired of repeating the same refrain.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You


We have all heard the expression ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’, but even though they are both certain, we don’t spend weeks on end agonizing over death every time April comes around. It is taxes that gives us heart palpitations, high blood pressure and other physical ailments. Death actually has the advantage over taxes of being non-negotiable. We cannot fudge the books or take any deductions on death. You cannot hide in an offshore account, death will find you, trust me.

But what death mostly has going for it is that it’s a lot less complicated than taxes. I found that out the moment I started doing research for this article. So, rather than pretend that I know what I am talking about, I will admit up front that this essay resembles a piece of Swiss cheese with more holes than cheese.

Let me start with the 47%. Was presidential candidate Mitt Romney right about the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax, during his 2012 campaign? Yes. There is a large proportion of Americans that do not owe money to the government because they either don’t earn enough, they have too many expenses or because they have a lot of deductions.

Was presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrong about the 47%? Yes. The 47% pays payroll tax, state, local and sales tax, gas and property tax. Not only do they pay all these taxes they pay a larger share of their income towards these taxes than the rich. It’s called a ‘regressive tax’. Read more...

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Canvassing Adventure


My friend Karen and I are wading through a thick layer of multi-colored autumn leaves, going door to door in a lower class neighborhood in Nashua, New Hampshire. There are 3 days left before voting day, when Americans all over the country, will go to the polls for the mid-term elections. Since our home state of Massachusetts is considered a sure thing for the Democratic party, we decided to change the course of history by canvassing in beautiful New Hampshire.

Canvassing is a very American art of persuasion. It is part of any political campaign and although there is no clear evidence that it makes an iota of difference in the overall outcome of an election, it gives the people who are involved the feeling that they are doing something, which is what we all badly need right now.

We chose Nashua, the second largest city in the Granite State, because it is close to the state line and more importantly, because it is dotted with Dunkin’ Donuts stores, which is a very important part of our canvassing routine. Read more...

Monday, November 5, 2018

Dionne Warwick

On our recent flight to Europe, we met the legendary songstress Dionne Warwick. I am not telling you about this as a silly boast (there is nothing to boast about accidentally bumping into a celebrity, which I am sure has happened to many of you, and which in and of itself means nothing). No, I am telling you this because of the very fun and funny way in which it happened, and mostly because it was an excellent learning lesson for me:

We were on our way to Brussels, Belgium. We had just spent the night crossing the Atlantic, and we landed in Dublin, Ireland, for our connection to Belgium.

We had a couple of hours to spare, so we went shopping a little bit in the duty-free area. I was standing in line to pay the cashier for some minor purchases. Next to me stood a thirty-something man, also buying some trinkets. He courteously said to me “Go ahead, sir.” I thanked him, and we started chatting a bit. He asked me where I was going, and I told him - Brussels, Belgium. I asked him where he was heading. He replied that he and his family were going to some seaside town in England...he couldn’t quite remember the name of the place...

Figures, I thought to myself. Geography isn’t Americans’ forte. Could he mean London, maybe? The guy was probably not an experienced traveler; maybe his first time in Europe? I also thought, how nice, that “common folks” can travel overseas for leisure... Read more...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Why Cannot I be a Turkey?


Turkeys have invaded our backyard. Two mothers, one with eight babies, the other one with a lonely slightly bigger baby. The eight dwindled down to six, then to four as the spring went by, but finally mother nature settled on a number and the 5 of them have been steadily coming, always accompanied by the second mother and her lonely juvenile.

They used to be these adorable little fluff balls, but now I cannot tell who is who. Is it a mother or a baby? Is it a juvenile? I have to count them to make sure I am looking at the same group that we have been feeding throughout the spring and summer, against the advice of the ‘professionals’.

There is nothing ‘cute’ about them any more. They fight, chase each other, spread their large wings to scare each other off, and once in a while you see one fly into a tree, when they have had enough of the sibling rivalry. Yes, turkeys can fly. Not well, but enough to give the others the finger: ‘Fuck you, I am outa here’.

Now I am wondering: are they really the same turkeys as these cute little balls of feathers that first appeared in our yard? If they are like humans, new cells have replaced every single cell in their body multiple times. Just like new ‘Madeleine’ cells have replaced my cells at least 10 times, depending on which type of cells we are talking about. Except my brain cells; they have never been replaced. If you wonder about the poor quality of my writing, it is because I am writing with the same old brain cells that I was born with 75 years ago. Read more...

Friday, October 26, 2018

Getting there is (Not) Half the Fun

My wife Anita and I have been back from Europe for a few weeks. We have finally caught up with the many errands that pile up during one’s absence, so I can now begin to tell you about some of the more “interesting” things that happened during our 4-week journey to Belgium, Paris, Switzerland and Rome.

I use the word “interesting” both in its general positive meaning , and also in the sense of the old Chinese curse wishing someone “an interesting life:”

As one gets older, international travel becomes more challenging, especially for those of us who refuse to throw in the towel, and who continue to travel independently rather than joining guided groups or going on cruises. We still rent cars and brave European traffic, we run around foreign railroad stations and airports for local connections, we take local subways and buses. We do it all, because we value authenticity. We also have friends and relatives in several of the countries to which we go. We are not just tourists. Read more...

Monday, October 15, 2018

Expropriation as a Remedy

I have been worrying about the dual economic disaster threatening America:

1. The skyrocketing federal deficit: In 2018, the federal government is spending over one trillion dollars more than it makes. Its cumulative debt has reached $22 trillion, which is 105% of its GDP. This year, the government spends about $315 billion dollars in interest to finance its growing debt. This is 8% of the total federal budget. Imagine how much our government could do with all this money - schools, infrastructure, health care, scientific research, space exploration, saving the environment, etc.

And of course, each year the finance charge increases. In time, financing the debt will become the government’s largest obligation. Eventually, the (near) TOTALITY of the government’s budget could be spent on interest payments. In sum, utter and total bankruptcy. This happens to countries from time to time - France before its 1789 revolution, Argentina, Greece and other countries more recently, etc. America is in a vicious downward spiral. Read more...

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Boys will be Boy and Girls will Self-Objectify


Today was the lengthy Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which both the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the accused, Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh give testimony about Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

What makes a high schooler think that he has the right to lure a girl into a bedroom, lock the door, turn up the music and, as his inebriated buddy eggs him on, tries to take off her clothes and have intercourse with her against her will?

Some commentators reacted to the Kavanaugh case with the old ‘Boys will be boys’ excuse. Really? Boys might be rough or break things, but as far as I know, the definition does not include trying to rape a girl.

Kavanaugh’s nauseating actions, if they are true, are the result of what some of Kavanaugh’s high school peers described as ‘a widespread culture of sexual objectification of women’ at the all-male prep school that Kavanaugh attended. But before you can sexually objectify a person, don’t you need to objectify her first, to treat her like an object?

Objectification *

According to my favorite philosopher, Dr. Martha Nussbaum, there are several ways to treat a person as a thing:

The first type Nussbaum calls ‘instrumentality’, i.e. treating a person as a tool for someone else’s purpose. The second type is called ‘inertness’ , which means that a person lacks autonomy and self-determination, so you can do what you want with her, like one of those sex dolls. Another way to objectify is to treat someone as interchangeable with someone else of the same type, like models on a runway. Read more...

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Historical Analysis of the Trump Phenomenon

My friend Dr. Paul Ten Have, retired professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam, keeps sending me Dutch articles about the evils of Trumpism. For example Trump Plunders Public Property.

This article describes the damage done to our national parks and to the environment by the various measures introduced by the Trump administration to (re-)open many areas for industrial exploitation.

Much of what Paul sends me is old hat. Dutch intellectuals and the Dutch media are apparently unaware that there is a vast domestic resistance in America - one which I believe comprises a majority of Americans. Most of us have long been aware of the issues which Paul “brings to my attention” and we have been fighting Trump and his base tooth and nails for two years.

A more interesting recent Dutch article is Trump: Chaotic, Narcissistic and Effective: This article also provides a familiar litany of Trumpian horror stories: E.g. the evisceration of the environment, the Mafia-style corruption of everyone in and around the White House, the racism, the undermining of laws and courts, the rape of the economy by the kleptocracy, etc. But in addition, this article also dares to suggest that the Trumpites ARE in fact achieving many of their nefarious objectives. This is both alarming and refreshing. Read more...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Hawaiian Hurricane


Princeville, Hawaii, August 24, 2018

It is very early morning here in Princeville, on the North shore of Kauai. Usually this is just the right time to watch a spectacular sunrise from our deck - the sky filled with pink colored clouds peacefully drifting by, the ocean the color of emeralds and the waves gently tossing themselves over the black lava rock.

But today the sky is grey and so is the ocean. Hans is still asleep. He has come down with the flu as soon as we arrived and has not stopped coughing and sneezing since then. I don’t want to wake him, so with my first cup of Kona coffee in hand, I check the local news on my laptop, wondering what happened to the promised sunrise.

The local weather channel shows a visual of a monstrous hurricane approaching the Hawaiian islands, with wind speeds approaching 135 miles per hour. Nah, it cannot be that bad if it only moves at 5 miles per hour. A person can walk faster than that. It will probably veer away and find another spot in the Pacific to do what hurricanes do. Read more...

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ata Lives On


It was an intense three days when our whole family got together to spread my mother Ata's ashes. Before she died, she told us that she would like her ashes to be spread where Jack London had lived, in upper Sonoma County in California.

This was not an easy request since my mother was cremated in Holland, which means that her ashes had to travel 6,000 miles. At first, there was talk of compromise - wouldn’t it be more practical to find a nice secluded beach in North Holland, near the assisted living where she had spent the last 20 years of her life?

But as usual, one of the Dutch angels that I previously wrote about, came to the rescue. She spread her large angel wings and together with her husband, she flew across the atlantic to bring the ashes and help honor Ata’s last wish.

You might argue that the place where someone’s ashes are spread is of no consequence. After all, the person is no longer around, it’s just a heap of dust, so what does it matter where it ends up. Read more...

Thursday, August 9, 2018

To Cut or not to Cut: the Circumcision Debate


Thank God I am not a man, especially a Jewish man. And thank God I wasn’t born in the United States as a man, or I would have joined the millions who have undergone a medical procedure that irreversibly alters the body for the rest of one’s life, without personal consent. It’s called circumcision.

A few days ago a friend told me about a researcher at Harvard University who was fired as a result of a show he performed called Sex; Circumcision: An American Love Story. It is a gripping, 2 hour long explosion of anger by a young American male who went under the knife as an infant. Eric Clopper is Jewish, but that doesn’t mean much in a country where as recently as 2010, 77% of baby boys were routinely circumcised as part of the delivery process.

Since then I haven’t done much else with my time than learn about circumcision and what it really is. What is it’s history? Why is it so prevalent in America and not in Europe?

I have to admit that I now know more about male genitalia than I do about my own equipment, so at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I will share with you what I have learnt.

The word ‘circumcision’ comes from the Latin circumcisus, past participle of circumcidere "to cut round, to cut off". What exactly gets cut off, you may ask, when circumcising an infant in America in 2018?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Nobel Prize:The Great Intellectual Flight from the Old World to the New

The Nobel Prize has existed for 117 years. In that time, a total of 916 prizes have been awarded to individuals and organizations, with some receiving the Nobel Prize more than once.

In this article I  examine the national, ethnic and gender  composition of the laureates. I examine TRENDS over time,  and I show how the allocation of  Nobel awards  reflects the history and the evolution of the world over the past 117 years.

This article is not an exercise in nationalism or chauvinism. To the contrary, you’ll see that there is probably no more international population on the planet than the  body of Nobel laureates. But to demonstrate this, it is necessary to identify each laureate’s background. This is the first objective of this article. A second, and related, objective is to demonstrate the changing composition of this population and to show that the trends over time   reflect the world’s geopolitical  and cultural evolution.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Turkeys and Squirrels and Bunnies, Oh My!


If you think that life in the suburbs is boring, think again. It is full of surprises, especially if you have a backyard where creatures small and big make their home. Whether you like it or not, you become a witness to all the exciting, cruel and beautiful drama that nature has to offer.

Every late afternoon, two female turkeys come by for their supper. They are large animals, with iridescent feathers, the color of bronze and copper. Their heads are small, reddish brown and their wattle is modest, unlike the tom turkeys’ incredibly elaborate appendage, turning blue, red or white, depending on their emotional state. My two females come all the way up to the French doors, waiting while they groom themselves. They wait for me to step out and spread bird seeds on the grass. Now they are impatient, following me around the yard until I have emptied the container. I sit down on the bench and watch them eat, a few feet away from me.

Suddenly, their small heads jerk up. They run to the edge of the yard, making a strange clucking sound. I don’t know why. But then I hear faint high-pitched squeaking come from the next yard. I recognize it as a turkey chick’s call for his mother. I know this, because every morning we have another female turkey come into the yard with seven little baby chicks in tow.

Why is it calling? Where is its mother? We stand there, the two turkeys, and I, peering through the trees, trying to figure out why and from where the chick is calling. Read more...

Monday, July 2, 2018

Abortion: A Sad State of Affairs


The majority of countries in the world do not allow abortions on demand. Only 32% have laws that permit abortion if the woman wants it. The United States is one of the 63 countries where this is legal.

The majority of countries in the world do not allow abortions on socio/economic grounds. They force women to bear children that they cannot support or that for some other socio/economic reason they do not want.

Half of all countries do not allow abortions in case of rape or incest.

A little under half of all world countries do not allow abortions when it endangers the mental or physical health of the woman. It is only when the woman’s life is in danger that abortion is legal in 96% of world countries. Still, some countries don’t even allow it in those cases.

Approximately 25% of the world's population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, which either completely ban abortion, or allow it only to save the mother's life. That means that hundreds of millions of women on earth are denied control over their own bodies.

This category of countries includes most countries in Latin America and the Middle East, approximately half of the countries of Africa, seven countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and two countries (Malta and Ireland) in Europe. Read more...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How to Make America Great (Again)

Here are three competing political and economic agendas. (1) Liberal, (2) Radical Socialist and (3) Conservative:


1. The economy: The problem:

The federal government is on a trajectory towards bankruptcy. Sooner or later, Social Security and Medicare will become insolvent.

Each year, the share of the federal budget that is spent on financing the debt grows. Obama  managed to reduce the government’s annual deficit to around $400 billion, but the new Republican tax cut for the rich is predicted to cause this to rise to $1 trillion. In addition, interest rates have been at an unprecedented low for years, and they are bound to rise soon. Gradually, financing the debt will crowd out other expenditures - health and human services, unemployment, infrastructure, housing and transportation, science and education, food and agriculture, energy and the environment, veterans and even the military.

The Trump administration is already proposing to cut food stamps. Stingy as our safety net and assistance to the needy are compared to other advanced social democracies, they will be reduced even further, as our government goes broke.

The solution:

A. Full retirement age for social security should be raised. Life expectancy has risen, so this makes sense. Raising the age at which dozens of millions of Americans begin to collect benefits will save the government BILLIONS. Read more...

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Trump's Worst Obscenity to Date: Making Children into Orphans

Our blog hasn’t been very active as of late. Some have blamed us for “disengaging” just as evil is getting worse. The reasons for writing less frequently over the past few months are private and irrelevant.

Nevertheless, our country sometimes reaches such a loathsome new low, such an abysmal nadir of immorality, that I feel compelled to take up the pen again, if for nothing else at least in order to re-iterate some of the verities which most people of good will already know:

The Trump-instigated , Republican-condoned and FOX News-encouraged policy of child torture at the Mexican border is an historical event whose gravity is comparable to our World War Two Japanese internment camps. The break-up of families which effectively makes orphans out of thousands of children is comparable to the break-up of black families during slavery. As my wife said, this policy is a crime against humanity and it deserves scrutiny by international courts in the tradition of the Nuremberg trials, or at least the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Here are some salient, absurd or otherwise noteworthy points about this issue:

1. The Right’s immigration agenda is clearly and obviously motivated by one single overarching motive: To do everything in its power to maintain white supremacy. It is purely and exclusively a race war by non-military means. And to that end, the Right will stoop to ANY conceivable means. I have long believed that Trump’s instinctive sympathy for Russia has to do with the fact that Russia is the largest white country. Read more...

Saturday, June 2, 2018

For Happier and Healthier Human Beings

 My sister Madeleine wrote a very intelligent piece about the “dangers of spirituality.” In her review of Kramer and Alstad’s book The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, the failure of Buddhism and Hinduism is explained. Many good points are made by the book’s authors and by Madeleine.

I have wanted to write an alternative piece related to the same topic. First, I had to spend three weeks in Hawaii, so I am only now getting around to this.

Since I know little about Buddhism and Hinduism, I dot not intend to defend those perspectives here, or other Eastern spiritual philosophies in the “Zen” tradition, or other “New Age” trends.

However, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is today a convergence among many strands of modern psychology towards certain principles. Following these principles may help humans to become happier and psychologically healthier. And in my view, they appear to be empirically true.

The common thread I see in the emerging paradigm includes the following elements:

1. Humans experience life through interpretation. The world is not given to us. We make the world in which we live.
2. Thus, we experience life “from within to without,” not the other way around, as is claimed for example by Behaviorism (“we respond to stimuli”).
3. We have minds, we think, and we have consciousness.
4. All human experience occurs in the present - NOW. No one has ever experienced anything in the past or in the future. We can only THINK about the past and the future. We cannot live in those realms.
5. Thinking tends to be verbal.
6. Thoughts produce feelings.
7. We are the totality of our thoughts and our feelings. Read more...

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Weather Vane


Once upon a time, in a far away kingdom, there stood a weather vane on top of an old church. It had been standing there for so long that all its hinges were rusted through and it made the most unpleasant creaking sound every time it swiveled.

And swivel it did because the wind was master in this kingdom. It was howling like a hungry tiger as it blew over the hills and valleys, looking for anything that it could uproot and break. It tore the roofs off of barns and stables, broke windows and made bails of hay and pitchforks fly like birds. It furiously pulled at the trees, broke their branches, ripped off their leaves, but their roots were firmly planted and the trees didn't give in to the angry wind.

The weather vane, who at one time had been a shiny cockerel, took its share of the beating, but it was strongly forged on its spike. The wind blew and blew, almost popping a vein, but all it did was make the weathervane swivel faster and faster, until it got so dizzy it almost fainted.

'Master wind, have pity on me' said the weathervane. 'All this twirling is making me loose my marbles. Soon I won't know which way you want me to face. Besides, my circulation isn’t what it used to be, and all this twirling has caused my arthritis to flare up.' And he creaked something awful as the wind got ahold of his tail. Read more...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cults and the Dangers of Spirituality


Let’s face it: we live in a world of opposites: night and day, warm and cold, life and death, joy and suffering. But many of us are searching for a way to combine the two into one ‘Whole’, thinking that this might make us more complete, happier, less prone to suffering. That is the goal of ‘Enlightenment’.

In ‘The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power’, Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer examine the age-old traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism and conclude that these 3,000-year-old religions have been a total failure. We are not less selfish and divisive today as we were when it was founded in northeastern India by Prince Siddharta in the 6th century B.C. India is the most internally divided culture in the world with its Caste system. The ‘Oneness’ framework, which says that ‘division’ and ‘difference’ is but an illusion, gives the haves a reason to justify the misery surrounding them and is used by the have-nots as a way to cope with an unbearable situation.

The usual reasons for this failure are placed at the foot of the ‘seeker’. Humanity has not done enough soul searching and is not ready for true bliss. But what if the reason for its failure is because this ‘Oneness’ framework is impossible to achieve? Read more...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Worlds Universities, Ranked and Located

Preface: Once in a while, I take a look at the University of Shanghai’s Annual Ranking of the World's 800 Major Universities.

You  may find this an empty exercise. However, I enjoy lists, and I have spent my life in  academe. The Shanghai rankings have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc There is of course always room for improvement. For now, I present to you some of the interesting factoids I came across. I hope you enjoy perusing these. I’ll focus on the top 100, then 200, and (briefly) 500 universities listed.

Countries and Regions:
Of the top 200 universities, 77 are located in North America. That is almost 39%.   Actually, North American preponderance is even more notable among the top 100 universities, of which over half of  are in the US and Canada. The United States has 70, or 35%,  of the top 200 universities, and 48 of the top one hundred.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Ode to Margit Beke Görög


A new person has appeared in my life. She is no stranger to me, but like the cashier at the supermarket or the bus driver that you greet every day but never really pay attention to, she was there, but not there. Now, suddenly, she has appeared on my doorstep and revealed herself to be so fascinating, that I can hardly contain myself.

I am talking about my maternal grandmother, Margit Beke. How, you may ask can someone who has been dead for 30 years, suddenly appear in someone’s life? This requires some explanation.

Margit and her husband Imre Görög lived in Budapest, Hungary, where I was born. After the end of the Second World War, my parents left with us, their 3 children, to go back to Paris, where they had worked and lived when the war broke out.

I remember my grandmother, not from memories of before we left, but from the few times that she and my grandfather managed to visit us in the West, which was not often since getting a tourist visa during the Communist regime, was difficult and rare.

They were 2 interesting older folk that a young child too busy discovering life, does not spend much time paying attention to, although details about their physical presence remain etched in my mind to this day. The immediate and palpable was what made an impression in my young life and my grandmother’s habit of frequently shrugging her right shoulder as if to adjust her bra-strap is as real today as all these years ago. I remember my grandfather’s gentle, intelligent eyes and his huge mustache, making me wonder about the shape of his invisible mouth. Above all, I remember the way they spoke French to us, with a singsong intonation typical of the Hungarian language. They were both mysterious, friendly strangers that came and then disappeared again. Not staying long enough for us to get attached to, but leaving behind a sense of unsatisfied curiosity. Read more...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Truth About First Twins


My twin sister was born 15 minutes after I entered this valley of tears. As we sprinted for the exit, she almost passed the finish line before me, but due to a last-minute trip up, she fell back and I came out first. It was a close call, though, and had it not been for the tight squeeze, it would have been a tie, branding us the first twins ever to be born at the exact same time.

I actually did all the leg work and my sister just went along for the ride, twiddling her little baby thumbs while sitting on her hiney, doing nothing.

This happened a long long time ago, a period in history when parents of twins were popping them out like rabbit turds, blissfully unaware of the extremely hazardous consequences of being a twin. Here you are, trying to take your first breath, exhausted, hungry, covered with slime, expecting all the attention to be focused on you, and then your twin comes along, stealing all the limelight. You get wrapped in a blanket and placed in a container, while everybody is turning their backs on you giving attention to this other thing. Read more...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Why do American Policemen Kill so Many People?

My home town of Sacramento just made the national (and international) news again. Sacramento has  enjoyed a good run lately: First, the   movie Lady Bird was one of the Oscar finalists. Both the movie and the director were hometown products. Something to be proud of. Then another recent  movie, The 5:17 to Paris, depicts three young men from Sacramento  who thwart an attempted terrorist attack on a European train. Two of them were in fact students at my university, and I met one of them.

And now, the trifecta is complete, except that  Sacramento’s third appearance on the world stage within a year is a tragic event: The utterly unnecessary killing of a young black man, Stephon Clark,  by two members of the SACPD.

So once again, I have to write about this  shameful feature of American society: For some reason, this country sticks out head and shoulders above other comparable countries in the number of homicides committed by cops. (I have written about this several times before. See Americans Killed by the Police and Violence, Racism and Law Enforcement.).

Here are some random comparative international statistics:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

In the Future


In the future there won’t be any poverty. All the poor people will have left, replaced by the economically challenged. There won’t be any more short people, fat people, ugly people or stupid people either. There will be a lot more vertically challenged, horizontally challenged, esthetically challenged and mentally challenged individuals, though.

In the future, there will be many more fast food restaurants, where the food will be so fast, that people won’t have time to chew. All cars will be equipped with puke bags, just in case you gag on the fast food you didn’t have time to chew. That’s ok though, cars will be self-driving, so you will be able to puke your heart out.

There will still be a few slow-food restaurants, but forget about the service. If you go to one of those archaic places and you hear someone say: ‘I’ll have THE chicken’, it’s going to be a mad-dash to the kitchen, trying to grab that one chicken before someone else does. Vegetarian dishes on the menu will be half-price, since vegetables don’t have legs to run with. Read more...

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Enlightenment Now: A Book Review


Every morning I get the New York Times’ ‘morning briefing’ in my inbox, waiting there patiently, until I have had my first cup of coffee and am as ready as I can be, to brace the calamities of the day’s news.

Some of today’s headlines read: Trump imposes tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. Hope Hicks resigns after testifying for 8 hours before the House Intelligence Committee. Nepotism rampant in the White House. Freezing temperatures caused by a weakening polar vortex are battering Europe. Putin is threatening Western nations with a new generation of nuclear weapons.

And those are just the main points. It doesn’t say how many people were shot, how many children didn’t have enough to eat, how long Medicare will survive or whether access to birth control will be made more difficult.

The only thing that gives me hope, is that we, the people can still disagree, gripe, bitch, whine and kick up a fuss about how we are governed. but does that make an iota of difference? Does it decrease poverty, crime and corruption? Does it make us progress?

In ‘Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress’, psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, shows that we are, indeed, making progress, regardless of what the New York Times tells us.

Pinker's clear intention is to take the wind out of every imaginable argument against the case for human progress. To me, reading this book felt like a breath of fresh air. Is he too optimistic? Many people think so, including social philosopher John Gray, whom Pinker calls a progressophobe.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics: Rankings

93 countries participated in the  recent Winter Games in Pyongchang. 30 of them won 1 or more medals. 63 did not.

I gave each country 3 points for a gold medal, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze.  I then ranked all the countries by total points. For example, Norway had 13 gold medals, 14 silver and 11 bronze, for a total of 82 points. The US had (9 x 3) + (8 x 2) + (6 x 1) = 49, and so forth.

I then calculated each country’s PER CAPITA score. The table below ranks the 30 medal-winning countries by per capita points earned:

Thursday, February 22, 2018


That’s it. We are there. We have reached the point of insanity. I’m referring to the “gun debate” in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting.

There is now a SERIOUS conversation about arming teachers!

That the President and the NRA most prominently make such a proposal is not what strikes me as the most insane aspect of this. We are used to Donald Trump and Wayne La Pierre saying crazy things.

What I find insane is that there is a conversation about this, that there are people who think about this seriously. While most teachers (I think) would still find this idea abhorrent, there are already some teachers who are sort of warming up to it...

As my sister Madeleine says, the press isn’t doing its job either: Recently on the NewsHour, Judy Woodruff interviewed a couple of pro-gun rights high schoolers. One of them offered the imbecile argument that we have security at airports, banks and government facilities, so why not at our schools? Read more...