Sunday, December 29, 2019

Temporal Myopia

Temporal myopia is like visual myopia, except it causes clarity to decrease in time rather than in space. When you suffer from visual myopia and a wolf approaches, you might think that the blur you see is your best friend in a fur coat.

With temporal myopia, if your doctor told you that you will die tomorrow, you would probably faint on the spot, but if he told you that you will die fifty years from now, you might think nothing of it.

Temporal myopia, rather than making us more cautious, makes us reduce the importance of a future event. It’s called ‘hyperbolic discounting’. Even though I know that abstaining from eating chocolate cake will extend my life in the future, I choose to discount the importance of that fact. The short-term gain of tasting the chocolate melt on my tongue is far more important.

'Temporal myopia is the archenemy of delayed gratification'. (Click to Tweet)

When I wake up in the morning, half dead, I cannot wait for my first cup of coffee. If the gratification of caffeine rushing through my veins gets delayed, there is a good chance that I will become dangerous to the people around me. I am temporarily myopic to the knowledge that I’ll feel like a wet rag a few hours later, a typical side-effect of caffeine.

But sometimes delayed gratification wins the battle over temporal myopia. I met this man in the therapy pool yesterday, who started to yell at me because I had positioned myself in his ‘lane’ (how you can swim laps in an exercise pool not much larger than a good sized bathtub is beyond me). He was so loud and verbally abusive that I started to laugh. This didn’t sit well with him. He called me arrogant and told me he would swim right over me if I didn’t move. I wanted to give him a kick in the you know what, but knowing enough about physics to realize that water does not help you in your kicking efforts, I preferred to bide my time. I devised a plan to get back at him with all the might of my delayed gratification technique. I called the manager and revel in the knowledge that this man will pay for his crime by being officially reprimanded. In this case I preferred to wait for my vengeance and make it taste that much sweeter. Read more...

Monday, December 23, 2019

Our New Year’s Resolutions

We have resolved, decided and put down in writing that we no longer will make New Year’s resolutions in our family. We will no longer be subject to the tyranny of this preposterous and bizarre custom and declare us free of its obligatory nature.

We find it ridiculous and nonsensical that we should make New Year’s resolutions, as if it were the only time we can promise to be good or stop doing something bad. In fact, I am making a resolution right now! There, I made one and it’s not even New Year's eve yet! I will, of course not share it with you, just in case I don’t keep it.

Why stick to an obsolete tradition that dates back to the Romans? They had this 2-faced God Janus, with one face looking backward into the old year and the other looking forward into the new year and since then, entire countries have had to make resolutions for the new year and forgive sins of the past!

This is not to ridicule those who still are naive enough to make New Year’s resolutions every beginning of a year, or a few days before it. Not at all.

It is just that, from where we stand, given the enlightened state of being that we have reached, we find it laughable and daffy that we should make such New Year’s resolutions. Read more...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Myths People Believe

I was chatting with a Republican friend at my health club. Just a friendly chat, nothing political. I mentioned that our newspaper - the Sacramento Bee - is going down, like so many other newspapers, due to the Internet revolution. For instance, our newspaper is discontinuing Saturday deliveries. I told my friend that I deplore this, because I enjoy reading a printed newspaper with my morning coffee rather than reading from my computer screen. Also, I want to get the local news.

His reply was that newspapers are useless anyway, because they are just a bunch of lies and propaganda.

This reminded me of Trump, who believes and says that the media are the enemy of the people, echoing what dictators have said throughout history.

This is, of course, a falsehood. The truth is the opposite. A free press and the first amendment are the most important guarantee that our society remains a democracy and that people remain informed. American newspapers distinguish between facts and opinions. The latter are on the editorial and opinion pages. The American press - the Fourth Estate - is our democracy’s life jacket. The fact that many millions of Americans believe the opposite, along with the president, is tragic. These people’s preferred source of information is the Internet, which is incredibly unreliable. While digital has the advantage of providing access to many different news outlets, I am not sure that most people bother  to discriminate between (correct) information and misinformation, both of which are plentiful on the Internet. Read more...

Monday, November 25, 2019

My Doctor is Retiring

My Doctor is retiring. I told her I wouldn’t allow it, but she wouldn't listen and now I am stuck with the task of finding a new one. When I first became her patient in my twenties, I didn’t bother to find out how old she was. She looked old enough to know her business and young enough to read my chart without squinting, so I figured she would be ok for the next couple of decades. Besides, who thinks about retirement, your own or someone else’s at that age. But I should have done the smart thing, like I did when I got a new dog. I got a young one, so he wouldn’t die on me too quickly.

When she told me the news, I realized that she is one of the people who have known me the longest. Family doesn’t count, since they only know an obsolete version of you. But Doctors keep up with your life’s never ending transformations and transitions. She is the keeper of my body’s entire biography and now, decades later, it amounts to a bulging dossier, full of juicy details. If I was famous, she could sell my body’s dirty secrets for a ton of money to a tabloid magazine.

So here I am, without a doctor, without a gatekeeper. My body’s history floating out there, in limbo. I am supposed to transfer my records to a new doctor, a complete stranger! How do I know I can trust this person with my colonoscopies, my appendectomy, arthroscopic surgeries, MRI’s and cardiac stress tests?

I wonder if my Doctor feels guilty about dropping me like a sack of potatoes, discarded and forgotten. Did she feel bad when I sat on her varnished, faux leather chair and complained about my occipital neuralgia? She didn’t lean over and hold my hand with a pained look in her eyes. Thank God, I hear you say. Doctors are pragmatists. They are fixers, like a car mechanic. I wouldn’t expect Joe down the street to burst out in tears at the sight of my Honda’s broken timing belt. So, why am I so disturbed by the fact that my Doctor is retiring? Finding another fixer should not be such a problem. Read more...

Monday, November 18, 2019

Of Coffee Beans and Boiled Eggs

by Madeleine Kando

This is a children's story, but there is no guarantee
that you won't find it entertaining at any age.

As on most other days, I woke up at six this morning. That's what my body does without even asking for my permission. I gave up on a good night's sleep a long time ago. I go through the morning dragging my body around like a wet rag, until the demands of work and family forces me to ignore the feeling of exhaustion.

Today then, was no different. I stepped into the shower cell on automatic pilot, turned on the hot water and fumbled for the bar of soap with my eyes closed to rub in my face. I must have fallen asleep again, because the slippery egg-shaped object with a faint smell of almonds had suddenly disintegrated.

Instead, I was holding a tiny little miniature whale in the palm of my hand. It wasn't really a whole whale, mostly a mouth with a minuscule whale body. It stared at me with its beady little black eyes, suddenly stopped moving altogether and then spat in my face.

‘Who do you think you are?’ it said with a squeaky, piercing voice. ‘Rubbing me all over your body like that? Have you no shame? All that rubbing has caused my skin to break out. Look at me, I am a mess!’ It rolled over in my hand to show me his white belly, but it kept rolling and wriggling until it slithered its way through my fingers and landed with a flat thud on the floor of the shower cell.

I felt bad that such a small creature would suffer such a painful belly flop, even if it was in a dream. I bent over to pick it up and put it neatly back in the soap container, wondering when I would wake up. Read more...

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Dutch Farmers' Protests: What is THAT all about? *

Did you know that Holland is the second largest food exporter in the world, second only to the United States? It is a country the size of Connecticut with 14 times more people per square mile. Imagine having to share your bedroom with 14 other people, that’s how densely populated Holland is.

There are many amazing things about this tiny country. It is home to some of the largest companies in the world, like Shell, Phillips and the ING Bank to name a few, and it is listed as one of ten countries with the highest quality of life in the world.

But the reason Holland has been in the news lately, has to do with a crisis the Dutch call the nitrogen crisis. In Dutch they call it the stikstof crisis. Literally ‘stikstof’ means ‘suffocating dust’, a much more appropriate description of what is going on with our environment. They call it a ‘suffocating dust’, not because it suffocates humans, but because it suffocates nature.

Air is primarily made up of nitrogen (79%), so you might wonder what’s wrong with a substance that we all breathe in, all day long? Well, when nitrogen mixes with other elements, it produces so-called reactive nitrogen compounds such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3). Nitrogen oxides are released when fossil fuels are burned in traffic, industry and buildings. Ammonia emissions mainly come from agriculture when ammonia is released from both natural manure from livestock and fertilizer. Subsequently, nitrogen deposition occurs: the nitrogen compounds end up from the air in the soil and on the plants.

If you are a gardener, you might recognize this as the Ph balance of your soil. There is then a double impact. First, the nitrogen compounds act as fertilizer for some plants. They are usually the green, fast-growing species. These take over from the species that cannot tolerate nitrogen, which means plant species not only disappear, but in turn pose a threat to the animals that depend on them. Second, nitrogen deposits acidify the soil, something that certainly not all animals and plants can handle well. Read more...

Monday, October 7, 2019

Conflict Sociology Explains It

The latest mass shootings have resulted in a vehement discussion of the white supremacist domestic terrorism emerging in the US at this time. Experts are interviewed on all the channels, analyses are offered in countless articles, as to what motivates this upsurge of racist violence that is committed largely by young white men. 

Much blame is attributed to Donald Trump’s rhetoric. And it is true that this vile man is a facilitator for this emerging trend.

The ridiculous ease with which automatic firearms can be obtained in this country is rightly identified as an important factor, if not in the existence of white male rage, at least in the lethality of their rampages.

On the stupid side are all those who desperately focus on ANY issue in order to avoid talking about guns: Mental illness (as if the US had a monopoly on this), video games (don’t the Japanese have even more video games, and practically zero homicides?). You even hear that if we outlaw guns, we might as well outlaw fertilizer, as that can also be used to kill people.

But there is an obvious factor which I have not heard mentioned. One of Sociology’s major approaches is so-called Conflict Sociology. It provides what is, in my view, the most obvious explanation of the rise of what we can now begin to call neo-fascism in America: Read more...

Monday, September 30, 2019

To Strip or not to Strip: The Naked Truth about Nudity

An article in the New York Times about present day nudism, got me thinking about why it is that wearing clothes is such a natural part of our existence. Right now it is 90 degrees here in sweaty Boston, and as I am sitting here writing about being naked, my shirt is clinging to my body. Why? Why don’t I just type away naked? I am not a prude, I have nothing against naked bodies, including my own. Wearing clothes is just something I do, like breathing or eating.

It hasn‘t always been like that, you know. In many cultures throughout history, the norm was to go about naked. The Greeks, the Egyptians, they didn’t see the point of covering their bodies. Why create a fertile habitat for lice and other unpleasant parasites? Even some present day primitive tribes do not like covering themselves unnecessarily. Who can blame them? Aren’t clothes making life extra complicated?

If I could, I would travel back in time, step out of a time machine in 5th century BC Athens, go up to a local Greek Adonis and shake his hand, me fully dressed in jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. ‘Hi, my name is Madeleine, I am doing research on your dress code.’

My Adonis would be wearing nothing but a loin cloth, or maybe a toga fastened at one shoulder with a clasp. With a flick of his finger he would undo that clasp and the whole shebang would drop at his feet, exposing his Adonis body before I could say ‘booh’. Then he would cross his arms, look at me as if to say: ‘Now, your turn’.

I would have to unlace my sneakers, fumble with my fly and worm my way out of my skinny jeans, roll my T-shirt up my torso, pull it over my head, all the while trying not to look too much like a scarecrow, undo my bra, and take off my underpants. My Adonis would be standing there, tapping his foot, looking impatiently at the sundial, pick up his toga, sling it over his shoulder, clasp it with another flick of his finger and walk away, thinking ‘What a nut ball’. Read more...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Happy Birthday, Ata

I wrote this short essay when my mother, Ata Kando, was still alive.
It is her birthday and even though she is no longer with me,
it is today of all days, that I miss her the most.

February, 2016

Soon, I will go to Holland for another visit to Ata, my soon to be 103 year old mother. If I am lucky, she will still be able to see my face, probably only the outlines, but her memories will fill in the blanks. She has had enough practice, taking pictures of her children in her long career as a photographer. Her most beautiful photographs are those of her three children. We were her surrogate models, since there was never any money for professionals.

Since I left Holland and the circle of photographers to which my mother belonged, I have always looked forward to my visits and the inevitable submersion into the world of photography. Bookshelves full of the most amazing photography books, boxes and boxes full of slides, negatives, contacts and prints. It felt like I was given the key to a candy store with no limits to how much I could gulp down. This is what I remember as the child of a photographer: a world of art that has shaped who I am. Ata was driven by a need to create and she used us, her children as the clay.

We spent our childhood vacations in southern Italy, wrapped in white sheets, pretending to be Greek Gods and Goddesses, frolicking amongst the Roman ruins of Paestum. While common sense families climbed the snowy mountains of Austria in heavy hiking boots and parka's, my sister and I had to wear flower crowns and skirts made of pine branches, impersonating nymphs of the Alpine forests. Where was justice, I asked myself, as I had to lay still on my brother's lap with an idyllic Bavarian scenery in the background, red ants crawling up my pants, only to be told that I would ruin a masterpiece if I dared move?

Ata had a simple fairy tale in mind, which later was published as 'Droom in het Woud' (Dream in the Forest), a dreamy and sometimes mystical story. They are brilliant, beautiful photographs and well worth the annoyance that they caused in my young life.

But back then it felt like I had to sit still a lot, smile a lot, jump off beach cliffs with cardboard cut-outs in the shape of wings taped to my ankles, because I was supposed to be Hermes, the messenger of the Greek Gods. Or balance an oversized clay urn on my head, because I was the perfect Athena. Read more...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The Sixties were formative for me, as they were for anyone of college age at that time. I was heavily involved in the Peace and Civil Rights movements, I dug the music and the sex, not so much the drugs, and I examined some of the cult-like groups, as my doctoral major was social psychology.

The Counterculture was both for better and for worse. It was the last time that society had a true “prise de conscience” (Awareness experience). The contrast with today is vivid. The “normalcy” to which we have returned consists essentially of materialism and survival mode. We basically don’t want to be bothered (by stuff like the Muller Report or global issues).

The problem with the Sixties was that chaos is not a sustainable long-term state. It had to stop. On the other hand today’s “normal,” unsatisfying and cacophonous as it is, is likely to go on for a very long time.

Two movies which raise issues and remind us of that time period, are Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The former is a horror film directed by Ari Aster. It takes place in Sweden. This movie surprised me. I had no prior idea of what it was about. I had read something vague about a “summer festival,” so I thought it might be about some Swedish version of “Burning Man,” or something like that.

 According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie critics give it an 83% approval rating. One reviewer calls the movie “upsetting” (but worthy) (Minneapolis Star/Tribune), another one says that Aster is the next Kubrick, another one writes that the film is “superlative, disturbing horror,” another critic says that it’s “unsettling and truly terrifying,’ etc. So I am in good company. Read more...

My Monarch Caterpillar Adventure (Continued)

by Madeleine Kando

I resigned myself to the agony of waiting for 14 days before Julie and Max would emerge from their chrysalis.

A week passed, but on the morning of the 7th day, Julie disappeared, chrysalis and all. I suspected foul play, since the adult butterfly does not eat the empty chrysalis, and there was nothing hanging from the underside of the milkweed leaf.

You have no idea how long I spent scrutinizing every inch of the large plant. I was devastated. Max was still there, with golden droplets encircling the upper end of the cocoon, like a golden necklace. The breeze shook him gently back and forth, but he was strongly anchored by his two pro legs.

How naive had I been, thinking that by the time a caterpillar turns into a cocoon, predators wouldn’t be interested. A chrysalis looks so much like a hanging green leaf.

‘Ok. That’s it’, I thought. ‘This is too much for my blood pressure.’ I decided to take matters in my own hands and quickly set up a terrarium in my sunny living room. I know, its not kosher to interfere with nature, but by now Julie and Max had not only taken up a special spot in my garden, they had morphed into semi-pets. Wouldn’t you do anything to protect your cat from marauding predators?

Max, whether he liked it or not, was gently transported on the leaf and branch that he was attached to. I stuck the branch in a vase, filled it with water and covered the whole thing with mosquito netting. Just because he was now indoors, didn’t mean that some house spider wouldn’t try to turn him into lunch.

Another agonizing week went by. I read somewhere that moving is more stressful than divorce. Max wasn't married, so I wouldn't have blamed him if he had not survived. It was hard to tell what he was up to, being wrapped up like that. I was nervously looking for signs of discoloration, which would mean that some parasite got hold of the chrysalis. Read more...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

My Monarch Caterpillar Adventure

When I did the usual rounds of my vegetable garden this morning, I saw one of the stems of my milkweed plant covered with tiny yellow spots. They were moving. I know nothing about yellow moving spots, so I googled it and found out that they were aphids, known to damage milkweed plants. I cut off the stem and put the whole thing in a bowl of water. Aphids do not qualify for equal rights protection, in my book.

My milkweed plants are sacred territory. I planted them for the sole purpose of attracting monarch butterflies, which are fast disappearing. If you don't know this, monarchs can only live off of milkweed. The plant provides all the nourishment the monarch needs to transform the caterpillar into the adult butterfly.

Lo and an behold, I saw a magnificent yellow and black striped caterpillar on one of the leaves. And a few feet away, hidden under a leaf was another one. I named them Julie and Max. Maybe Julie is a boy and Max is a girl, but that’s ok. Now, every day, I check on them.

Yesterday Max disappeared. I checked the underside of leaves, the stems, the tops. No Max. Maybe a bird had taken him? Maybe he didn’t like his residence and had moved on, although I doubt he could have traveled far, even with all his legs.

Today, as I was watering my pepper plants, I saw Max lying curled up in a spiral on one of the leaves. He wasn’t moving, so I thought he must be dead. Just to be sure, I snipped the leaf and gently slid Max back on one of the milkweed leaves. Almost immediately his antennae wiggled, his head popped up and he began to crawl up and down, making constant U-turns. What was he doing? Did the fall cause brain-damage? Did he loose his sense of direction?

He then found a milk-weed pod and started to scrape off the skin until some milk came out which he started to drink. ‘Good old Max, you sure gave me a fright’, I thought.

Julie is no trouble at all. Since I discovered her, she hasn’t moved much from her original spot. She eats, sleeps and poops a lot. When one leaf is half eaten, she moves on to the next, then takes a nap. Maybe I am imagining it, but it looks like she is gaining weight. I read that a caterpillar’s skin doesn’t grow or stretch, so it has to go through 5 moultings before it turns into a chrysalis. Cannot wait for that to happen. Read more...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Our Trip through Oregon

Traveling has been my middle name for most of my childhood and my teenage years. From my native Hungary, via Paris and Amsterdam, through London and Madrid, I finally landed in this gigantic country called America. I am not sure why I chose the US as my last landing strip. I don’t think I chose it, really. I just wanted to leave where I was at the time. You know, thinking: ‘I need a break from my life. I need a vacation. I have this green card anyway, thanks to my older brother’s sponsorship, who was already an American citizen, so why not give the New World a try?

Which I did, thinking that going on a cross country trip for a few months and getting a taste of America would satisfy the remnants of my need for wanderlust. Then I could go back to my life in Amsterdam. I landed on the East Coast, again not really knowing why, except that it felt a lot more like Europe than other parts of America.

All of this is so long ago, it almost feels like someone else’s life. Then I got married and the cross-country trip morphed into a honeymoon. I stayed put for decades. I love that expression ‘staying put’. I stayed put so I could raise a family, deploy a career, and I became completely embedded in my new country. I knew I had the biggest back yard anyone could wish for, just in case my wanderlust started to tug at my sleeves again.

I had had my share of traveling through Europe, but it is a different cup of tea altogether. Many countries are the size of postage stamps and before the Schengen Agreement, it was a big deal to travel to other countries. Visas, permits, drivers’ licenses etc. Here you can drive through your backyard for days, weeks, and still not have to speak another language or even know which state you are in. In the tiniest nooks and crannies of this vast country, you can fuel up on a MacDonald or a Starbucks coffee. No matter which motel you land in, be it in Missouri or Wyoming, you can always look forward to the same watery coffee and soggy breakfast sausages (it wasn’t hard for me to give those up, after I became vegan).

I am more than old enough to remember the Howard Johnson roadside restaurants serving that same watery coffee, soggy breakfast sausages and home fries. Who could ask for more? The HoJo’s followed you like the moon at night. No matter how far you traveled, they were there. This country is custom made for traveling.

So let me take you with me on my trip to Oregon.

Off to San Francisco
There was a time in my life when I would have thought nothing of hitch-hiking cross country, but now I was glad to pay for extra leg room on our flight to San Francisco. Packed like sardines in a smelly can, I was counting the hours until we would land and the flight could be catalogued as just another bad memory.

We would stay in the city by the Bay for a short week, enjoy the company of my seven-year old grandson Marshall and his parents and then explore Oregon with my husband Hans. Funny how distances seem to grow the farther out West you go. In Europe you have decent, bite sized kilometers. Here in New England, kilometers have expanded to miles, but distances are still reasonably digestible. It is when you find yourself in California, the third largest state in the country, that you realize you were living in a bubble. It is the distances on the East Coast that are the exception. The rest of the country is unimaginably large. I felt like an ant living on the surface of a balloon that was inflating. It got bigger and bigger and I got smaller and smaller. Read more...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Mass Shooting Victims: 250; Other Murders: 17,250

August 3-4. Two more mass shootings. This time, in one day. El Paso, 20 dead, Dayton, 10. 

So far, this year’s death count for mass shootings is 58 (Source: Mother Jones). Annualized, this comes to about 100. This is roughly the annual average over the past decade or so (except for a couple of years which experienced a very large event, such as the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017, where 58 people died.
Using a different definition, Wikipedia’s number for 2019 so far is much higher: 246. (See Mass Shootings in the US ). For the full year, this would be over 400. However, the vast majority of the events on Wikipedia’s list resulted in only one death. So One could quibble about what constitutes mass shootings and what does not.

So here we go again, with the same old refrain: The media, the politicians, the main talking points:

1. Most obviously: “We need (more and better) gun control. Outlaw assault weapons, do background checks, etc.” Correct.

2. This is a uniquely American phenomenon. It doesn’t exist in other comparable (highly developed) societies. Correct.

3. The main obstacle to progress consists of power groups such as the NRA and their toadies, largely GOP leaders such as Mitch McConnell. Correct.

4. The problem is mental illness. The problem is that the mentally ill have access to guns. Hmm... Isn’t this subsumed under item #1, above? Do the Europeans, the Australians, the Canadians, the Japanese have less mental illness? I doubt it. So this argument is a diversionary tactic by the defenders of the status quo.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

“Send Her Back"

On July 14, ,Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that four progressive democratic congresswomen “come from totally broken and crime infested places (and that they should) go back (there).” 

The four congresswomen are Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Lihan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). All four are Americans, and three of them are US-born, which means that they would be entitled to run for the presidency.

Since then, this latest outrage has metastasized: During a Republican rally on July 18, the crowd erupted in a vicious chant saying “Send her back.” Trump stood by silently for a considerable amount of time. He never attempted to silence or re-direct the mob behavior. Only at a later press conference did he try to mildly disavow the crowd’s conduct. Meanwhile, all his sycophantic republican supporters - Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Lindsey Graham, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, etc. - continue to turn a blind eye to the blatant and vicious racism, xenophobia and misogyny exuding from the President and shared by much of his base. Read more...

Monday, July 8, 2019

Spontaneous Generation: Can Non-Life Create Life?

I was listening to Science Friday, the excellent NPR program hosted by Ira Flatow. He was interviewing the historian James Strick about the debunked theory of spontaneous generation.

You may recall that this theory was destroyed by Louis Pasteur in the 19th century. It is the idea that living organisms can spring into existence from non-living matter. This had been the general belief ever since Aristotle. Only in the 17th century did the Church begin to oppose this theory. At that point, scientific materialism was on the rise, and the theory of spontaneous generation seemed to suggest that natural chemistry was sufficient to produce life (combined with solar radiation and what have you), thereby cutting God out of creation.

In the middle of the 19th century, the debate about spontaneous generation - essentially, whether life can spring from non-life or not - was raging. French biologists Felix Fouchet and Louis Pasteur were at loggerheads over the question. In 1859, Pasteur conducted a famous experiment which settled the issue, proving that life CANNOT arise spontaneously from inanimate matter. The French academy of science declared Pasteur the winner of the controversy, and his position has been the generally accepted standard in all biology textbooks since. Read more...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Universal Health Care 2020

During the debates, all democratic presidential candidates were for universal health care. It would be weird if one of them had said: ‘I don’t think everybody should be able to afford health insurance. It’s against the freedom of the individual.’

At least they all agreed on the Universal Healthcare part. What they did not agree on was on how to achieve it. Sanders and Warren were the only ones for a Single Payer health care system, which is the same as Medicare for All, i.e. a government funded system. Plain and simple.

The other candidates were all over the place. Some were proponents of building on Obamacare, others were for a ‘Medicare for most’, meaning lowering the age at which you qualify for Medicare, and others still had a problem with doing away with the employer-provided health care system. The whole debate was so confusing and contradictory that most viewers probably tuned out and just watched the candidates’ lips move.

Everybody agrees that the health care issue is incredibly complicated. But is it? Or does it seem complicated because the candidates purposely keep it opaque, ambiguous and only talk about it in generalizations?

What makes it confusing is that they give one option different names. For example, single payer and Medicare for all is the same thing. It means that the government pays for health care. But they don’t specify what kind of single payer system they envision. Is it a government that pays and provides the services, like in England, or is it a government that pays the bills but a private sector that provides the services, like in Canada?

Contrary to what most people believe, universal health care in most European countries, entails a government-regulated network of private insurance companies. The government heavily regulates the industry, including hospitals and doctors. Hospitals are non-profit and heavily subsidized by government. This would be one advantage of a single payer system. If the services and payment for those services are one and the same entity, i.e. the government, it wouldn’t make sense to charge exorbitant hospital fees. It would self-regulate. That is where the ‘Public Option’ comes in: An insurance plan provided by the government that would compete with the private insurance companies. If it is cheaper, why not choose it? A government has much more bargaining power than all the private insurers combined.

The different options on how to achieve Universal Healthcare
Contrary to a true single payer system, like Canada or Britain, Medicare in the US is NOT free. Most people on Medicare have supplemental insurance to cover many gaps that Medicare leaves open.

Most European countries have Universal Healthcare. It is universal because everybody has insurance. Not only do they have insurance, but they have to have insurance. That is what the Republicans scrapped in 2017. It’s called the Individual Mandate.

Can you imagine if car insurance was voluntary? Only the people who got into an accident would have to pay and the cost would skyrocket. Now we are stuck with an expensive system in which the cost is not shared by the whole population, healthy OR sick. Read more...

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Brussels South Station Incident

Our European trip this time took us to three countries: We first visited Holland for a week, then we spent a week with our friends in rural Belgium, and then we moved on to Paris, France. 

For our weeks in Holland and in Belgium, we rented a car from Avis. But we didn’t want a car in Paris. Who needs a car in Paris?! No way!

So we drove our Avis car from Holland to Belgium, and we used it there for a week. Then, we planned to return the car in Belgium at the end of our visit to that country, and take the train there to Paris.

The train to Paris is the TGV, the Thalys bullet train. We had to catch it at the Brussels Midi Station - the South Station. So that’s where we also had to return the rented car.

On the morning of our departure from our friends’ house (about an hour outside of Brussels), we punched into the car’s GPS the address of the Avis rental car return at Brussels’ South Station: Rue de France 2. Read more...

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Visit to Quebec City

We just returned from Quebec City, my husband and I, and I can honestly say that it is the most beautiful city in north America.

We made a stop over on our way up from Boston, to visit some friends who live in the northern most part of New Hampshire. The North Country is part of the Great North Woods, a vast wooded area stretching across most of the Eastern States. It is the area north of Franconia Notch in the White Mountains, that most tourists find too far and too remote. That is why we like it so much.

The North Country is a mix of pine forest, and mostly non-working dairy farms and, as is often the case when cultivation meets wilderness, the result is a unique landscape of rolling fields covered with yellow dandelions against a background of dark green pine forests.

Our friends live on a 300 acre property, set deep in the forest, away from the small town of Colebrook. Sadly, ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles) are taking over this northern-most corner of the state. Giving these monstrous vehicles access to the habitat of the remaining wildlife will certainly kill the goose that lays the golden egg, but the locals see it as one of the few sources of income for an area where most residents are on welfare. The local authorities have opted for a shortsighted and temporary solution by allowing their pristine forests to be destroyed. It’s either the deer and local fauna or food on the table.

The day we left, the ATV season opened. There is a hunting season, a snowmobile season and an ATV season. We heard them thundering down the peaceful country lanes, usually in groups, which made the noise deafening. At the local gas station we saw them stack up on six-packs and cigarettes before hopping onto their ‘quads’ and ‘goosing’ them until the air was filled gasoline fumes.

Ten miles up the road, we arrived at the Canadian border. Gone are the good old pre-9/11 days when all you needed to cross was a driver’s license. Now, you need a passport. It is not les Canadiens’ fault. The US won’t let you back in without proof of residency and valid identification. Because I was a political refugee for most of my childhood, I felt the butterflies having a field day in my stomach while we were waiting for the border guard to come back with our documentation.

With a sigh of relief, we drove on. Speed limit signs in kilometers left us guessing at our speed, so we just followed other cars’ lead, hoping that they were are law abiding Canadians. Read more...

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


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.

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


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.

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

How qualified?*
1. Joe Biden
Former Vice President
2. Cory Booker
Senator from N. J.
3.  Pete Buttigieg
Mayor of South Bend, Ind
M; gay
4.Julian Castro
Former HUD Secretary
5. John Delaney
Former House Rep. from Maryland
6. Tulsi Gabbard
House Rep. from Hi.
7. Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator from N. Y.
8. Mike Gravel
Former Senator from Alaska
9. Kamala Harris
Senator from California
10. John Hickenlooper
Former Colo. governor
11. Jay Inslee
Governor of Wash.
12. Amy Klobuchar
Senator from Minnesota
13. Wayne Messam
Mayor of Miramar, Fla
14.Seth Moulton
House Rep. From Mass
15. Beto  O’Rourke
Former House Rep. from Texas
16.Tim Ryan
House Re. from Ohio
17. Bernie Sanders
Senator from Vermont
18. Eric Swalwell
House Rep. from Cal.
19. Elizabeth Warren
Senator from Mass
20.Marianne Williamson
21. Andrew Yang
* ten-point scale