Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Why do we Age? *



According to Hemingway, getting older happens two ways: Slowly over a stretch of time and then all at once. He compared it to bankruptcy, but I like to compare it to falling asleep, since I am an insomniac.

The slow way is what gets you. There are no signs on the road of life marked ‘hazardous period ahead’ or ‘bumpy stretch of road’. Then, out of the blue, you find yourself on a road with a large ‘dead end’ sign looming in the distance.

You see, most life stages give you clear warning signs that changes are ahead. It is no longer acceptable to suck your thumb and you need to recluse yourself in a small room instead of staying put, when you have to pee. You start growing boobs and get your period, clear signs that things will be different. Pregnancy gives you 9 months to recover from the shocking realization that you are not the most important person in the world and although raising kids is too time consuming to worry about what comes next, just watching your kids grow is clear evidence that things are about to change.

Kids gone, free at last, you think. But that’s when the trouble starts, because once you are done reproducing, the road signs are few and far between. Who cares about those few wrinkles? It makes you look exotic. Prescription glasses? No problem. Don’t young kids have them too? Grey hair is in these days, isn’t it? Life is good! Until one day, it isn’t. Read more...

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Violence; John Wick 3



 My wife and I just saw the movie John Wick 3 - Parabellum. Or actually, we just saw about half of it. Then we walked out.

It takes a lot to make me walk out of a movie. I’m a miser. I don’t like wasting my money. I generally consume everything I pay for.

I find this new movie’s enormous popularity and the rave reviews it gets from both the public and the critics a scandal. During its first week, the film ranked Number One at the box office.

The audience rating at IMDb is 8.2 out of 10 - the same as classics such as Metropolis, The Third Man, and Indiana Jones. Absurd! The audience of Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 93% approval rating, and the critics at Rotten Tomatoes nearly as much - 89%. The general public’s taste can be expected to be flawed, but the critics? What’s the matter with these folks?

Of the 216 reviews published by Rotten Tomatoes, only 24 are negative. The remaining 192 are superlative. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that this film is “superb wall-to-wall action entertainment, filled with dark humor...” he gives it three-and-a-half stars out of a maximum four. I usually like Roeper’s reviews. I really enjoyed his show with Roger Ebert, and I miss it. But this? Shame Read more...

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Toxic Masculinity: A Confusing Term

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In ‘My Cousin was my Hero, until the Day he Tried to Kill me’, a fascinating article about the toxic aspects of male identity, author Wil S. Hylton describes how his cousin and best childhood friend beat him up so badly that he had to be hospitalized.

There is a lot of talk about ‘toxic masculinity’ these days, especially since sexual harassment and abuse scandals have dominated the news. But what is meant by ‘toxic masculinity’? According to the ‘Good Men Project’, a..., ‘toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, defined by violence, sex, status and aggression and showing emotions is considered a weakness.

But doesn’t the word ‘toxic’ mean ‘poisoning’? It mostly affects the one that is exposed to the toxic substance directly. Which are men. If the term 'toxic masculinity' is to be taken seriously, we should be focusing on men, not women.

What is meant by masculinity?
Your biological sex and your gender are not the same thing. Being borne a male does not predetermine gender identity — one’s sense of being male, female or another gender. So if you are born a male, you are not necessarily masculine.

The image of Neanderthal man with his club fighting saber toothed tigers while his woman is cooking dinner leads one to the conclusion that gender distinction between male and female is a natural state of affairs. But in fact, a new scientific study, headed by anthropologist Mark Dyble, shows that hunter-gatherer tribes were much more egalitarian and the social inequality between the sexes came later with the advent of agriculture. In other words, we ‘invented’ a version of masculinity that does not necessarily reflect what’s going on in nature.* Read more...

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Absence of Racism



 As children, my sisters and I spent several years (1950-52) in a French boarding school. The place was called Valmondois, near the town of Auvers, about 80 kilometers north of Paris. This was the dark and grizzly place made famous by Van Gogh and his paintings of the potato people.

The boarding school was actually not unattractive. The setting was rural, located in a lush wooded region. The supervision and teaching were adequate.

The Institution housed about seventy kids. It was a relatively middle-class boarding school, not a penal institution or a place for wayward juveniles, but neither a fancy Swiss-like place for millionaires’ kids. It was an institution where hard-working Parisians parked their children for a few years, visiting them on weekends, as did our mother.

The children ranged in age from seven to fourteen. When my mother dropped us off, my sisters were nearly eight and I was nearly ten. Not that toughness wasn’t expected. Any group of young children has its pecking order, its bullies, its sadists, its victims, its conflicts. Cliques always exist, groups gang up on their weakest members under the demagoguery of brutal and cunning leaders. Lord of the Flies is a familiar scenario. Read more...

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Mueller Report



Like many Americans, I have come to see the “Russiagate” scandal as tedious. I find our current president disgraceful, a man who is inflicting irreparable damage upon our country. However, after two years of scandal mongering, I find the democratic response pathetically ineffective. And the status quo may not change in the foreseeable future. Trump has a very good chance of being reelected. The Republicans have a good chance of holding on to power.

Plus: Russia-mongering has never appealed to me - not during the Red Scares of the 1950s and not now. To me, stoking the flames of anti-Communism in the past looked like a diversionary tactic by the plutocracy, and today’s anti-Russian frenzy feels a bit like a déja-vu.

BUT:
I clicked on the Mueller Report ’s URL anyway, lukewarmly, just for a quick glance at what I thought I already knew.

Well, let me tell you: It’s surprisingly impressive! The report shows beyond any doubt in juicy detail what sort of abominable regime a minority of the American people “elected” in 2016. Read more...

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Old New World Order

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I went to see the documentary ‘Apollo 11’ yesterday. It was the first of a series of manned moon landings, all of them American. The suspense was palpable. Even though every member of the audience knew the outcome, we were on the edge of our seats as the Eagle approached the surface of this never explore celestial body. It left me with a sense of awe and admiration. This happened a life-time ago, when I was in the prime of my life and still living in Europe, but this first landing was a symbol of what a super-power at the zenith of its ascent can accomplish. That was America at its best.

After WW2 ended, the United States established what is known as the “New World Order’. It was to prevent the world from repeating the mistakes that had led to a world that had been filled with wars and conflicts. Behind it was an ideology of liberalism backed up by military power.

I was born during the Second World War and have spent my entire life in the comfort and ease of what the United States created. The New Liberal Order was not created out of a sense of altruism, but because, as we all know, Americans are pragmatists: they do what is best for them, as most nations do. And what is best for America is a world with as little conflict as possible. It was to guarantee that the world would be a safe place to conduct trade, promote liberal values and avoid conflict by diplomacy and compromise. Read more...

The Game of 2020 Presidential Thrones



I’m a “list” kind of guy. OCD, some people might say.  So today I’ll share with you my analysis of the so-far 21 democrats  running for President of the US (See:“Phase Two Begins for 2020 Democratic Field,” Sacramento Bee, April 27, 2019: 7A). 

Each candidate gets  a score for qualification and one for electability.  These are based on what I have picked up about these candidates over the past few weeks, plus some of their demographic characteristics.

                                           Table One: 21 Democratic Presidential Candidates, Alphabetically

Candidate
Credentials
How qualified?*
Electa-bility*
Age
gender
Race
1. Joe Biden
Former Vice President
10
8.5
76
M
W
2. Cory Booker
Senator from N. J.
8.5
7
50
M
B
3.  Pete Buttigieg
Mayor of South Bend, Ind
10
5
37
M; gay
W
4.Julian Castro
Former HUD Secretary
8.5
7
44
M
Hispanic
5. John Delaney
Former House Rep. from Maryland
8.5
7.5
56
M
W
6. Tulsi Gabbard
House Rep. from Hi.
8.5
6.5
38
W
Samoan
7. Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator from N. Y.
8.5
7
52
W
W
8. Mike Gravel
Former Senator from Alaska
5
3
88
M
W
9. Kamala Harris
Senator from California
9
7.5
54
W
B
10. John Hickenlooper
Former Colo. governor
8.5
7.5
67
M
W
11. Jay Inslee
Governor of Wash.
8.5
7.5
68
M
W
12. Amy Klobuchar
Senator from Minnesota
9
7.5
58
W
W
13. Wayne Messam
Mayor of Miramar, Fla
7.5
7
44
M
B
14.Seth Moulton
House Rep. From Mass
7.5
7.5
40
M
W
15. Beto  O’Rourke
Former House Rep. from Texas
7.5
7.5
46
M
W
16.Tim Ryan
House Re. from Ohio
7.5
7.5
45
M
W
17. Bernie Sanders
Senator from Vermont
9
8
77
M
W
18. Eric Swalwell
House Rep. from Cal.
8.5
7.5
38
M
W
19. Elizabeth Warren
Senator from Mass
8.5
7.5
69
W
W
20.Marianne Williamson
Author
7.5
7
66
W
W
21. Andrew Yang
Entrepreneur
7.5
7
44
M
Chinese-Am.
* ten-point scale
Read more...

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Sous le Ciel de Paris

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It is at this moment, when the beautiful Notre Dame is burning, that I realize how much Paris means to me. It is the city where I grew up, and with all that has happened since then, now that I am in my golden years, I still love it, almost like a lover. I wrote about Paris in a previous post: Paris Mon Amour, when I revisited the city a few years ago.

Here, I am posting a beautiful tribute to the city of love, a series of photographs taken by my mother Ata Kando. No words can equal what she was able to express through these unbelievable images. She says it all, all that I miss, admire and love about Paris. It is still as beautiful as ever. The Notre Dame fire is a tragedy, it feels like a part of history itself has burnt down, but Paris will survive this, as she has done so many times throughout history.



Here is the direct link to the video: A Paris

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Notre Dame de Paris



The Notre Dame fire has affected me in a very personal way. I was surprised by the depth of my feelings about this incident. Clearly, it should not be compared to 9-11. Zero deaths vs. nearly 3,000. Nevertheless, many people (including me and several media pundits) compared the two events from the get-go. I suppose the two events had at least some visual resemblance - immense structures burning and collapsing, etc. But this deja-vu is superficial and meaningless.

So the question remains: Why has the Notre Dame fire captured the deepest sorrow and sympathy of millions worldwide? Why has it driven me to the verge of tears? (9-11 never did, it just made me mad as hell).

To me, the Notre Dame event is personal, and I believe that it is the same for most Frenchmen, and also for the millions of foreigners who have visited that shrine.

For one thing, I am flooded by unforgettable memories. All those times that I and members of my family visited the Grand Old Lady - “Our Lady,” literally - our beautiful experiences under the nave, on top right under the giant bells, cavorting on the roof and the balcony, trying to touch the gargoyles...My wife, my children, my grandchildren, my sisters, my parents, my friends, we all experienced Notre Dame repeatedly, often together. Read more...

Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame: Nos Profondes Condoléances



A mes chers Csaba, Charlie, Paul, Rie et tous les autres Parisiens et Francais que j’ai eu l’honneur et le plaisir de connaitre, toute ma vie:

Nous sommes profondément tristes. Nous pleurons pour la plus merveilleuse cathédrale du monde, au sein de la plus belle ville sur terre.

Cette tragédie renforce l’amour éternel que le monde sent envers la France, la ville lumière, sa cathédrale, la beauté et la richesse incomparable de leur histoire. C’est à l’occasion de telles tragédies que nous réalisons nos vrais sentiments, notre amour et admiration pour ce que cette église symbolise - la beauté et la bonté, les valeurs éternelles et universelles. Sachez que des millions d’Américains sont aussi profondément touchés par ce désastre que les Parisiens. Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous des Parisiens.

Translation: To my dear Csaba, Charlie, Paul, Rie and all the other Parisians and Frenchmen whom I have had the honor and the pleasure to know, all my life: We are profoundly sad. We cry for the most marvelous cathedral in the world, at the core of the most beautiful city on earth. This tragedy reinforces the eternal love which the world feels for France, the City of Lights, its cathedral, the beauty and the incomparable richness of their history. It is on the occasion of such tragedies that one realizes one’s true feelings, one’s love and admiration for what this church symbolizes - beauty and goodness, the eternal and universal values. Know that millions of Americans are as profoundly touched by this disaster as are the people of Paris. Today, we are all Parisians.
leave comment here © Tom Kando 2019;All Rights Reserved
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Friday, April 5, 2019

Multilingualism: Is it Good or Bad?

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Most people agree that speaking more than one language is good for your brain. The poor mono-linguals of the world, most of whom live in English speaking countries really miss out on the benefits of knowing more than one language. In return, they can take pride in the fact that English is slowly taking over the world, pushing out other less ‘important’ languages. Some academics call this ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ and have proposed legislation to stop what they see as an attempt to take over the world through words.

You see, there is a hierarchy in the world of languages. This is a well-established theory called the ‘Global Language System’ *, developed by Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan in 2001.

Of the 7000 languages of the world, 98% of them are at the periphery, spoken by a few thousand people at a time and often with no written form. Then there are the central languages, a thin layer of about a hundred official languages of nation states, then a third layer of about 12 super-central languages which serve international and long-distance communication, and finally at the apex, is the one hyper central language, which today is English.

Since the primary job of language is to allow people to communicate with each other, this hierarchical structure makes sense. With just 2 languages, you could expect one speaker to learn the language of the other, but if there are 5 different languages, it makes more sense for everyone to learn a more central language, instead of everyone having to learn 4 other languages. Read more...

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Do we need to explain Bad Human Behavior?



 Let me introduce you to an idea which may seem esoteric, but which can shed light on many of the severe social problems that are plaguing us. My textbook in social psychology, Social Interaction, describes these ideas in detail.

Human beings are problem-solving creatures. When faced with a problem, we first attempt to EXPLAIN it. That is, we try to discover its CAUSE. Science tells us that to explain and to understand a phenomenon means finding out what causes it. Once we find the cause of a problem we can remove it, and thereby remove the problem - which was merely the symptom.

Sociology is about fixing SOCIAL problems, problems that are man-made, problems due to human error and misbehavior - war, racism, injustice, crime, etc.

It is not the primary responsibility of sociologists to cure cancer, or to reverse global warming. Of course, they are tangentially interested in the human BEHAVIORS that contribute to disease and environmental damage, but strictly speaking, these are PHYSICAL issues that belong to the realm of medical and physical science. Sociology is “at home” when it attempts to discover the causes of political, social and psychological misbehavior: crime, war, racism, etc
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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Golden Years

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“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

I am old. And goddarn proud of it. Wish I had been old earlier. All those years wasted on being young. But I never could afford being old, you see. What with having to go to work every day, make babies, take care of the little brats, busting my chops to save money to send them off to college. Never even had a moment’s rest. At times I thought: ‘Wow, I wish I were old, so I wouldn’t have to deal with all this crap.’ But that was wishful thinking, or so I thought. I am sure you secretly have those thoughts too.

Well, let me tell you. Where there is a will there is a way. Don’t postpone till tomorrow what you can do today! Clog your arteries, expose yourself to stress, stop sleeping eight hours a night and above all eat and eat - eat all the garbage you can.

I tell you, if you follow this regimen, chances are you will be old before you know it and you can start enjoying what I and many of my fellow oldies enjoy. There is a reason why it’s called ‘The Golden Years’.

When young people tell you they never want to get old, they don’t know what they are talking about. They are soooo infatuated with themselves that they probably think old people want to be young, like them. Are you kidding me? Having to go through the horrors of puberty, the agony of dating, the rejection, the urges, the heart palpitations... no way! Read more...

Friday, March 8, 2019

The End of Animal Farming: A Brief Overview

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This essay is dedicated to Helen and Steve Ray-Shick
who are giving sanctuary to so many
abused and neglected farm animals.

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of the feminist movement, published her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be so only because they lack education. Her views were regarded as absurd. ‘It is just as absurd to grant women rights as to grant them to animals’ wrote distinguished philosopher Thomas Taylor. What would the world look like today if we had followed that line of reasoning and not moved ahead with the Women’s movement?

Similarly, Jacy Reese *, author of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs and Activists are building an Animal-Free Food System, believes that “by the year 2100, all forms of animal farming will seem outdated and barbaric.”

Many books have been written about the atrocities that take place on factory farms, such as Michael Pollan’s the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. This knowledge helps a person switch to a vegan diet, but that is not enough. Only 5% of Americans do not eat animal-based food. Knowing that something is wrong doesn’t necessarily translate in making it right.

Ending Animal Farming is not an Impossible Dream

Reese’s book shows that ending animal farming is not an impossible dream, but it lacks the how, not the why. It is a masterfully crafted call to action and asks the reader to consider (and join) one of the most important and transformational social movements of the coming decades: ending the inhumane system of animal farming. Read more...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Socialism



Paul Krugman wrote a recent article, Socialism and the Self-Made Woman. He points out that Ivanka Trump is the last person in the world who should be writing about “self-made women,” since her entire “success” is derived from the fact that she is the silver spoon fed daughter of the billionaire President of the United States. Krugman then reminds us of a painful truth: Contrary to the myth that the US is the land of unlimited opportunity, the country where the “American Dream” provides upward mobility to an unparalleled extent, the truth is that America has LESS upward mobility than most other advanced industrialized countries. The children of poor Americans are LESS likely to move up the economic ladder in the US than in Canada, Scandinavia and other Western countries.

At the same time, in all those countries, the government plays a LARGER role in the economy than it does in the US. By and large, those countries are SOCIAL DEMOCRACIES. That is, they are more “socialistic” than America. Read more...

Friday, February 22, 2019

Pourquoi Doit-elle Dormir sur le Trottoir, et moi pas?



Il ya quelques jours, j’ai rencontré un personnage qui m’a bouleversé. Je rentrai chez moi du supermarché, roulant lentement dans mon quartier. Quoique nous habitons dans une banlieue assez chic, depuis quelques années il y de plus en plus de clochards, même près de chez nous. C’est un signe directe de l’accroissement rapide de l’injustice, l’inégalité et la pauvreté partout en Amérique.

Or, quand je tourne a droite a un croisement, j’aperçois une femme sur le trottoir, avec son petit chariot de supermarché, avec quelques sacs et valises là-dedans, et aussi un tas d’habits entassés pêle-mêle. J’estime que son âge n’est pas très loin du mien, au tour de soixante-dix ans. Elle est bien habillée, ses cheveux blancs sont bien peignés, et elle a l’air bien propre, donc je me demande si elle est une clocharde et une mendiante ou pas. Ce qui me frappe le plus c’est la grande beauté de son visage. Elle est entrain de ranger ses affaires, soulevant péniblement ses valises pour mieux les remettre. Read more...

Did the Ancient Greeks Invent Beauty?

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I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston the other day. It is rated as the second best Fine Arts Museum in the country, so it is a mystery why I don’t go more often.

Amongst their many galleries, they have an incredible Ancient World collection of 85,000 works of art. There are rooms full of Greek and Roman statues, pottery, coins and jewelry and one feels somewhat overwhelmed. As Greek and Roman statues usually are, they are large, white and the ones that are full bodied are mostly of muscular, extremely well-built men. This period in history and art was totally devoted to the human form. And how do you portray the human form best? Naked of course.

It is an orgy of male beauty, not female beauty. Women are conspicuously absent in these rooms. It is ALL about men. Men eating, fighting, disk throwing, killing lions, making love (to other men)… The concept of beauty was the domain of men, not women. Greeks and Romans adored the human body, but it was the male body that they went bonkers over.

Another hallmark of these ideal nude statues, is the small size of their penises. It is as if the sculptor got so tired after chiseling these powerful bodies, that he didn’t bother spending time on their private parts. But in fact, small penises were considered classy in those days. A sign of moderation and self-control, virtues that formed the Romans’ view of ideal masculinity. Isn’t that refreshing? Aristophanes summed up the ideal traits of his male peers as “a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick.” Heroes, gods and nude athletes had small penises. Erect, large penises were reserved for Satyrs and various other non-ideal men, men of the lower class. Read more...

Friday, February 15, 2019

Should We Break Up Facebook, Google and Amazon?

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Tim Wu, author of ‘The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age” calls our time the ‘new Gilded Age’ and warns that when you allow the private sector to acquire excessive power, the power of the people and their representative government is being undermined.

In his new book, Tim Wu - also known for his strong advocacy for Net Neutrality - makes a compelling argument for the necessity of breaking up the Tech Giants. He sees no difference between Big Tech and the industrial giants of the Gilded Age. Monopolists like the Rockefellers (oil), the Carnegies (steel) and J.P. Morgans (railroad), saw themselves as pioneers in a progressive movement. They believed in social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest and were quite comfortable with the notion that smaller companies deserved to die. The US did lead the world in industry and innovation but laissez-faire government policies created a huge gap between the wealthy and the workers, not unlike today.

We have fallen prey to the charms of tech giants like Facebook and Google, who play down the allure of profit-making while talking a lot about how much value and “connection” they bring to the public. They portray themselves as striving to build a better future, but are in fact, the Robber Barons of today.

Busting up big businesses into smaller parts was once an American tradition, proof that we value competition in our economic system. In the trust-busting days of Teddy Roosevelt, antitrust laws functioned as a check on private power, a safeguard against a widening income gap and of corporations subverting electoral politics. Read more...

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What Happened, America?



There was a time (roughly when I emigrated to this great country) when America was THE optimistic, future-oriented, self-confident, can-do society par excellence. After World War Two, when the world needed to be saved and rebuilt, no problem. America did it, with the Marshall Plan. When Africa and other Third World countries needed to be lifted out of sickness and poverty, no problem, America’s Peace Corps came to the rescue. When the country needed an interstate superhighway system, no problem, the Eisenhower administration gave the order and 45 years later the country had 50 thousand miles of turnpikes, built at a cost of half a trillion dollars. Landing men on the moon? No problem. President Kennedy decided that it was worth doing and ten years later it was done. And now?

California’s new governor Gavin Newsom recently gave his State of the State address. By and large, Newsom is doing and saying the right things. To wit:

● In defiance of Donald Trump, he has pledged to make California and many of its cities sanctuaries to all immigrants.

● He has removed several hundred National Guard members from the U.S.-Mexico border.

● He plans to downsize the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta twin-tunnels project from 2 tunnels to just one. This immense project aims to make it easier to move water from Northern California to Southern California. Governor Brown, Newsom’s predecessor, insisted on 2 tunnels. I welcome Newsom’s proposal to downsize.
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Thursday, February 7, 2019

The World's 150 Mega-Cities



It was recently announced in the news that the world’s population is now over 50% urban. To be sure, we may have already reached this milestone a few years ago, depending on how urbanism is measured. Be that as it may, I now want to play with this idea a bit. I used to teach urban sociology, which I find a fascinating  subject. Also, I have lived in or visited several dozen of these mega-cities, and I love large cities.

I consulted a number of  sources to examine  the  current  ranking of the world’s 150 largest metropolises. (World’s Largest CitiesThe 150 Largest Cities of the Worldhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_metropolitan_areas_by_populationList of MSAs).

Much has changed since I was young.  When I disembarked from the boat  in America as a Hungarian refugee  in Hoboken, New jersey, staring  in awe at the magic New York skyline, that city was the world’s largest, as was its harbor. In subsequent decades, its harbor was overtaken first by Rotterdam, and then by Shanghai. As to population, New York is now the 10th largest city in the world.
Read more...