Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Prisoners’ Dilemma of Covid 19 ••

The Prisoner’s dilemma is a concept in game theory that demonstrates how two prisoners acting in their own self interest both end up with a worse outcome than if they had coordinated their behavior.

This applies to the current situation and it maybe explains why the infection (and death) rate is so high the United States.

In the game, two bank robbers have been arrested. They cannot communicate with each other. The police have no proof of a major crime, but can convict them on a lesser charge. They have two options: to confess or to remain silent. If both remain silent, they each get a 2-year sentence for the lesser charge. If one confesses and the other one remains silent, the confesser gets a 1-year sentence and the other gets an 8-year sentence. And vice versa. If both confess, both receive a 5-year sentence.

The optimal decision would be for both prisoners to remain silent, but they are out to get the least amount of prison time, and do not care about the other prisoner.

If we replace the 2 prisoners with 2 states (California and Arizona), we can see why there is no incentive on the part of the Governors to keep their state on lockdown. (see next illustration).

The blue square is obviously the best option. The states cooperate with each other and will be able to reopen safely.

In the green square, Arizona tries to stop the virus by locking down, but California, which is open, transmits the virus. Arizona does not get the benefit from locking down, so reopens the state. This is called the Nash Equilibrium. If the states coordinated their strategy of moderate reopening, both would have been better off. Read more...

Thursday, December 24, 2020


 The Sacramento Bee recently published an article by   Malik Pitchford in which he quotes Barack Obama   saying that “Socialism is still a loaded word for   some  folks.” This is so very true. I would argue,  fortiori, that to many Americans the label is still a   dirty word, an epithet used by politicians to destroy   their opponents, a strategy that Republicans often   use   successfully. 

 I grew up a socialist and I remain a socialist. My     parents were socialists, as were most of the people I knew. To me, socialism is the most sensible ideology. Growing up, I also assumed that the world was moving in the direction of socialism. I still believe this. But I could be wrong. 

In this brief article, I cannot do justice to the many different meanings of the word “Socialism.” Nor do I touch upon the different forms of socialism in the world. For example, the Soviet Union was called "Communist." However, the USSR defined itself as a socialist state (USSR = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). 
What about the distinction between "social democracy" and "liberal democracy"?  Some say that most of the  European Union consists of Social Democracies, whereas the US is often called a Liberal Democracy. However, the distinction is not firm. It is more a matter of degree. Freedom House, for example, classifies most Western  European Countries, as well as a Australia and Canada, as both social democracies AND liberal democracies.  Read more...

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy Holidays!

PS: Santa is closed, but we are OPEN!

leave comment here

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

In search of the Past

At my age, the future is a pretty shaky and a relatively short affair. The past however has left a long trail behind and it is only natural for me to turn in that direction to find some security. The past will always be there, unchanging and safe. Which is why I have these hiccups. Every ten years or so, I get obsessed with my lineage.

My maternal grandparents were upper class Hungarians from Jewish descent. There was pressure in the old Austro-Hungarian days, to ‘assimilate’ and become ‘a proper Hungarian’ (meaning gentile), which is the reason why much of my mother’s Jewish lineage descended in obscurity. My grandfather even changed his Jewish name (Guzman) to ‘Görög’, which means ‘Greek’ in Hungarian.

My father was of Hungarian nobility. His family left a trace a mile long and finding my way around the Kando family tree wasn’t easy. After many frustrating dead ends, climbing up side branches only to find myself stuck amongst in-laws with names I didn’t recognize, I finally found a Jakab Kando, way up in the canopy. He didn’t have a date or a face, but his son Janos was marked as being born in 1659.

But why stop there, I thought. With the help of numerous documents that a generous family member sent me, I went all the way up to the 9th century, where I met a chieftain by the name of Kund or Kundu.

Kundu was one of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. The Magyars (Hungarians) left the Ural Mountains in Central Russia, and after a long migration, invaded the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century, under the military leadership of Arpad (845-907). The Seven Chieftains are considered the founders of my native Hungary.

Contrary to popular belief, the Magyars do not descend from Attila the Hun. Sorry to burst your bubble, Orban. Hungarians are descendants from a peace-loving, fish eating tribe, somewhere in the Ural mountains. Attila lived in the 5th century and was long dead and gone by the time the ‘Magyars’ came on the scene. Orban’s fabricated mythology (called Turanism), plays on Hungarians’ desire to feel special by telling them that they are descendants of Attila the Hun – a martial, autocratic, and patriarchal society. But it is a dangerous nationalistic vision, easy to get lost in. Like the fantasies of Tolkien or Game of Thrones. Read more...

Friday, November 27, 2020

The World's Universities Ranked and Located; An Update

Once in a while, I  play  with statistics that list and  rank the world’s major universities. At this time, such a game may be a welcome distraction from   the  double nightmare of Covid-19 and Trump’s attempted Coup d’Etat.

 My source is the Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was created  in 2003.  It uses six  indicators, including the number of  Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers, number of articles published in scholarly journals, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index, and per capita performance of a university. More than 1800 universities are ranked every year and the best 1000 are published. I don’t know whether their methodology is the best, but they have good credibility, and  at least they can’t be suspected of pro-America bias.

I last wrote such an article about three years ago.  I now offer you an update, with some interesting factoids. All calculations are mine. I hope that  you enjoy perusing these.  I focus first on the top 100 and then on the top 500 universities of the world. 

Table 1. Top Universities of the world. By Region


Top 100


Total 500







North America










Australia-New Zea.





Middle East





Latin America










Anglo Countries





 Table 1 shows that a disproportionate number of quality universities are located in  Europe and in  North America - primarily the US -  with North America especially dominant in the “elite” category (top 100). Read more...

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Living in the Here and Now

On the advice of my friend Karen, I am trying to live in the here and now. She tells me that it will stop me from worrying and help with my chronic insomnia. That it will bring me bliss and happiness. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think I had a choice. Short of being dead or not yet born, don’t we all live in the here and now?

I am being facetious of course. Living in the here and now refers to the mind, not the body. Although it would be quite a trip to move to the past, body and soul. I could shake hands with Benjamin Franklin and Lincoln. I could kick Hitler in the you know what and give my grandmother a big hug and thank her for all the beautiful books she has written and translated. Still, aside from these brief and novel events, living in the past wouldn’t be all that exciting. I would always know what would happen before it happened.

So, here I am, in the here and now, waiting for bliss and happiness to hit me. I am doing my deep breathing exercises, eyes closed, hands on knees, humming and waiting, waiting and humming… My lower back tightens up. My mind tries to focus on my Mantra, but my brain says ‘You need a drink’. The bliss and happiness is in no hurry to arrive.

And where does it travel from? Is it already in the present or does it live in the future? Instead of waiting for it to arrive, I could move to the future for a while and save it some traveling time. The problem is, the future being so immensely vast, I would have to know whose future to move to. Nothing would prevent me from moving to someone else’s future, let’s say some enlightened Guru, who couldn’t claim that future as his, since it hasn’t happened yet. I could grab his bliss and happiness and drag it to MY here and now. Read more...

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Nice Guys Finish First

The suspense is (nearly) over. Joe Biden will be our next president.
I am a glass-half empty sort of guy. I often worry about the worst-case scenario. I fear that the expression “nice guys finish last” is true. That’s how I approached the Biden-Trump contest. In 2016, I was one of the rare people who correctly predicted Hillary Clinton’s defeat. This year, I was similarly pessimistic about Biden’s prospects. 

After the 2016 experience, I distrusted the polls. 
On election night this time, I was caught by the “red mirage,” showing Trump initially far ahead of Biden. I was quite despondent when I went to bed on November 3, believing that once again my pessimism was being confirmed by the facts. How incredibly happy I am to have been proven wrong! 

It is common to discuss US presidential elections hyperbolically. I can remember this happening over and over again, all the way back to Barry Goldwater’s candidacy, and beyond. The mantra is always that “this is the most important election you’ll ever vote in.” But you know what? This time it was true. This time the stakes were truly high. And this was understood globally. Much of the planet was on pins and needles, and when the TV networks declared Biden the winner, people reacted all over the world. There were fireworks in the United Kingdom, the church bells rang in Paris, celebrations in Germany, I received e-mails from Holland congratulating me, the social media post notices from dozens of countries, etc. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Elephant and the Donkey

On an island in the sea there lived an elephant family and a donkey family. They were not exactly friends but since it was a great big island they usually kept out of each other’s way and lived their lives peacefully by pretty much ignoring each other. At times they had to interact because, as the donkey was trying to build something, he needed the elephant’s strength and discipline to haul stuff. And when the elephant was trying to figure out a repair job he needed the donkey’s brains and resourcefulness to figure out how to fix it. But all in all, they spent their days avoiding each other as much as possible.

The elephant spent his time stomping about, making sure that nothing was disturbed in his domain. He liked things to be nice and tidy. His waterhole undisturbed by foreign creatures, the sandpit where he liked to roll around in, nice and dry and his little elephant babies all in a row, marching to his beat behind him. And no one dared to oppose his wishes, seeing that he was a great big elephant.

The donkey also liked things his way. He made up for what he lacked in bulk, by his wit and stubbornness. He was an adventurous little fellow. His brood showed him respect even as they wandered off to explore some foreign-looking object on the beach. He didn’t mind that much. He himself was endowed with a curious nature and instinctively realized that stunting his children’s sense of adventure wouldn’t serve them well in the long run. He was clever and because he was so small compared to the elephant, he often covered himself with a lion skin when he went foraging. Even the elephants ran off as they saw him approach, which made him chuckle.

As the island became more popular with the outside world, things started to change. Many other animals were drawn to this beautiful, bountiful island. Some liked to play with the donkeys, others liked to march with the elephants and for a long time life was good on the island. Read more...

Friday, October 30, 2020

America’S Ranking

 Regarding Covid-19, there is quite a bit of talk about “herd immunity” lately. This is the view that the best response to the pandemic is neglect. That is, let the epidemic spread until a majority of the population is infected, after which most people recover and become immune. In this approach, mitigation measures are kept at a minimum; as is damage to the economy... and more people die. 

Sweden is one country which tried this route initially. However, when its Covid-caused death rate soared, it changed course. In the US, it is the Republicans and the Trump administration of course who advocate “herd immunity.” The president himself, having survived the virus, is more than ever convinced that the pandemic will blow over and that there is little need for major mitigation. 
Absent a vaccine, “herd immunity” can only be achieved if, say, 75% of the total population goes through the wringer (= catches the virus). But how many people die? 

I fervently hope that our nation does not throw in the towel, and does not resign itself to “herd immunity,” i.e. to accepting the current astronomical rates of infection and death as the new normals. 
However, our record so far is not promising.

Monday, October 19, 2020

An Immigrant’s America

By Madeleine Kando

In a poem le Rondel de l’adieu’, French poet Edmond Haraucourt writes the famous phrase ‘partir c’est mourir un peu’ (leaving is dying a little). It best describes the true meaning of farewell. Each time we say farewell, it is as if we die a little.

For me, even leaving on vacation feels a bit like dying. My old self is dying to make room for my new, yet undiscovered self. The thought of going shopping for a new self always brings a smile to my face.

Leaving has played a constant role in my life. I got my first taste of leaving when I was 4, when my parents left Hungary, the country where I was born, to settle in Paris.

Back then, I already considered leaving a place as something positive, like a soldier who adds stars to his uniform. The more places you leave, the higher you rise in the ranks. It was exciting and my age safeguarded me from seeing the risks that is always attached to leaving the familiar.

Since I settled in America, my last stop after so many moves, I have been trying to bridge the gap between two continents, like a giant standing on two floating icebergs in the middle of the Atlantic. If you ever tried to balance on two wobbling structures, that is how I feel about me living here in the US, but part of me also being in Europe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Did Trump Invent the Shoulder Shrug?

I gave up expecting Trump to say something remotely interesting a long time ago. His descent into the abyss of incoherence is accelerating by the day, be it a result of mental deterioration or an unwillingness to step outside of his adolescent comfort zone.

His body language, however, has fascinated me since he became President. In the Movement Therapy profession, we talk about a person’s ‘movement vocabulary’, similar to a verbal vocabulary. I witnessed the lack of this nonverbal vocabulary when I worked in a state mental hospital, here in Massachusetts. On the locked wards of this asylum, patients moved about like robots, mostly a result of over-medication. They had lost all their capacity to express emotions through movement. Some approached us with a rambling gait, eyes staring at this new apparition in their otherwise monotonous existence, then went back to rocking in their corner, smoking one cigarette after another. In the dark, pea green halls of this medieval place, we witnessed what untreated, overmedicated mental illness can do to a human being. They were the forgotten souls of our profession and the health care system in general.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the rich and expressive vocabulary of the dancer, the clown and the mime. The late Marcel Marceau was a nonverbal virtuoso. I invite you to relish this amazing mime in action here: Marcel Marceau I Bip As A Skater [1975] 

With this background in mind, what are we to make of Trump’s nonverbal lexicon? Where does he fit into the spectrum of what is possible for a human being endowed with a body that can convey a practically infinite amount of nonverbal messages? 

Politicize This


As the covid-19 pandemic was starting to affect the US half a year ago, the idiots on the right began to politicize the issue right away. Responding to my  article  Mother Nature?  (March 23, 2020), an anonymous reader wrote the following:

“Tom, following your penchant for statistics, Coronavirus deaths per million population: - Italy 206 - Spain 194 - Belgium 71 - Netherlands 68, France 54 - Switzerland 53 - UK 35 - Sweden 24 - Denmark 18 - Austria 16 - Ireland 14 - USA 12

Thank you President Trump for acting rapidly in blocking European flights!”

He added: “Contrary to your assertion, the death stats show that Western Europe remains the epicenter of the Coronavirus, every other stat is just a question of who measures the most. Besides, when our summer becomes the southern hemisphere’s winter, the southern hemisphere will become the epicenter. While I recognize we all have a problem, my previous point was to show statistically that we have more competent executive branch leadership (reacting faster and minimizing loss) than the other European democracies, and that I personally am grateful that Trump is president rather than the senile idiot the democrats are about to nominate. I would also point out that while Italy by far appears to be the most incompetent and ill prepared of the European nations, at the same time New York which has almost 50% of our Corona cases is ironically led by two Italians named Cuomo and DeBlasio!"   


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Decline and Fall of America

When I came to America in 1960, it towered over the rest of the world economically and politically. It played a dominant and generally benevolent role in the world. It had saved the world from fascism, rebuilt Europe and much of Asia, including its former enemies, and it was containing communism.
After the Vietnam debacle, the US was less sure of itself. By the late 1970s, during the Carter presidency, the country seemed to be in retreat, while the Soviet Union was still on the march. The dominoes seemed to be falling. After Cuba and Vietnam, next to go were Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, soon Afghanistan...
The Third World was more sympathetic to the USSR than to the US, which was frequently isolated in forums such as the United Nations. Despite generous foreign aid to dozens of countries, international anti-Americanism was widespread, as was US flag burning in many parts of the world.
While the US and its ubiquitous CIA did engage in some mischief, this country was not morally bankrupt, certainly not so in comparison with its great geo-political communist rival.
Today, of course, the Soviet Union no longer exists.

In the 1970s, America remained by far the richest country in the world. More importantly, the distribution of wealth was much more equitable than what it has become today. The average CEO’s compensation was 20 times that of his employees. Now the ratio is 300 to 1. Taxes were more progressive, Unions were far more powerful, the public sector was not being starved, the US resembled the Western European welfare states more than now. Read more...

Friday, August 28, 2020

Memories from Wisconsin

On August 23, Jacob Blake was shot 7 times in the back by a cop in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This reminds me of some of my own experiences with racism in that state when I lived there: Nothing as horrific as the Blake case, but “interesting” even so:

In 1968-69, I had my first job as an assistant professor at a branch campus of the University of Wisconsin. - Stout, in the godforsaken town of Menomonie.

I had just gone through a nasty divorce. I was broke, miserable and lonely, renting an apartment in the snowbound college town. My girlfriend Nicole lived in Chicago. I tried to visit her most weekends and holidays.

To save money, I advertised for a roommate to share the rent. Several students applied. I ended up selecting Clark Dawson, a fine young black guy.

Clark dated a white girl. Her name was Sylvia and she was an attractive, intelligent, soft spoken, brown-haired, bespectacled girl. The first time Clark brought her back to the apartment, I recognized her immediately, because she had taken my introductory Sociology class.

At first I thought that Clark had brought her home for a study session, but my roommate promptly dispelled that misunderstanding by saying, “Hi Prof. Kando (he still didn’t call me by my first name), let me introduce you to my fiancée, Sylvia.”
To tell the truth, I was briefly taken aback. Not because I disapproved, to the contrary. All my life I have had the unswerving conviction that the future of mankind lies in the total integration of the races at all levels, social and biological. However, the percentage of interracial couples was still infinitesimal in 1969, certainly in the upper Midwest. I was just surprised by a statistical anomaly. Read more...

Thursday, August 27, 2020

My Trip to the Stars

I have been traveling quite a bit over the past few weeks. In fact, I have never been as far away before. It all started with an innocent trip through the first few chapters of a book called ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. I resigned myself to spend my evenings with a 600 page popular science companion instead of watching the boob tube, but I never made it to the last stop. I got stuck in the first few chapter of the book, where the author writes about Space.

The problem with reading about a subject you know nothing about, is that there are so many hurdles. I kept stubbing my toes against a new concept in just about every other sentence. I had to take detours to visit Wikipedia, which led me to You tube, which led me to an inventor’s site and so on. As you can imagine, I got completely lost on the back roads of my trip and I didn’t even have a GPS with me. It took mother nature to help me find my way back. There was this big storm that zapped my router and I was staring at black nothingness. No, it wasn’t interstellar space, it was my computer’s black screen.

But I was hooked. As soon as I rebooted, I found myself back in Youtube land, gorging on videos about space until my head started to spin.

I knew of course that space is BIG, but on this trip I realized how incomprehensibly big it is. Even physicists have a hard time coming up with new units of measurement to describe the incredible distances out there. The measly Astronomical Unit (AU: 92,955,000 miles), or even the light year (5,878,625,400,000 miles) fall short of measuring intergalactic space. We now have the parsec (3.27 light years), the kiloparsec (1000 parsecs) and megaparsec (1 million parsecs). The center of our galaxy, for example, is about 8 kiloparsecs away, which equals 8,000 parsecs, or 26,160 light years. Adding all the required zeros to convert it to an earthly measurement, only makes it more incomprehensible.

Not only are distances mind blowingly large, but the stuff in space, the stuff we are exploring, is by far the exception rather than the rule. That is why I am in such awe of what scientists have discovered. Looking for stuff and sending a probe to observe it, is like finding a pebble in the Pacific Ocean, sending a diver into shark infested waters and expect him to faithfully come back with important information without being shredded to pieces.

Take Pluto, for instance. It took the New Horizons space probe 9 years to reach this dwarf planet, which is smaller than our moon. It is inside the Kuiper Belt, a doughnut shaped region beyond Neptune. Pluto is a mere 3.67 billion miles from the sun, which is 40 times further than the earth!

I cannot decide which is more fascinating: the images that the probe sent back, or the probe itself. It was launched in 2006 and on its way to Pluto, New Horizons was put to sleep, to save energy, but not before it did a few gymnastics tricks called ‘gravitational slingshots’. Those are ingenious maneuvers to increase a space probe’s speed. The probe gets as close to the planet as possible without being sucked in and by using a planet’s orbital speed, it catapults away from it. It shaved 3 years off of New Horizons’ travel time. Read more...

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Fake Problems and Real Problems

I recently read one of those rants about how we have lost our common sense, i.e. the old verities that served us so well in  the past. To quote some of this piece: We used to live by “simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).  Then, well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. We hear that  a six-year-old boy  was  charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student...schools are  required to get parental consent to administer aspirin,  but they may not inform the parents when a student becomes pregnant and wants to have an abortion. The Ten Commandments have  become  contraband  and criminals  receive  better treatment than their victims. Nowadays. you can’t  defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar can sue you for assault.” The author goes on to argue that we must return to common-sense. “Let us get back to some basics and let common sense rule.”

This is precisely the sort of thinking that we don’t need.  It cherry picks a bunch of anecdotes and claims that they are real problems. Most of these stories have to do with political correctness. So there have been a few excesses here and there. Big deal.

I can guarantee  that  90% of the people who enthusiastically  embrace this sort of thinking are  the same folks who’ll vote  the wrong way and who’ll perpetuate the serious problems we are currently facing. They are the people who can only see value in past practices, past habits; people who long, in knee-jerk fashion, for a fictitious  past. People who can think of no other solution than  going  BACK, even if the past to which they wish to return never existed.


Friday, August 21, 2020

The Unraveling of America?

I just read another article about America’s demise. This one is titled The Unraveling of America . It is written by the Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis (RollingStone, August 6). There are many such articles. They all have to do with (1) America’s disastrous response to Covid-19, and (2) Donald Trump.

These doomsday scenarios about America’s future are usually written overseas, gloatingly, expressing profound anti-Americanism. You get to read about “pity” and contempt for America, about “America giving up” about America being “finished,” or at least the American century being finished. Any compassion, as our country’s death toll approaches 200,000, and perhaps half a million by next spring? Zero.

But this is not what I want to talk about today. What I wish to address is whether the point made in the title of this article has merit or not.
While I find gloating about America’s misfortune despicable, I do agree with most of the criticism voiced by these authors.

It is true that America’s response to Covid-19 has been THE most inept one in the world. Our country has the highest number of infections and deaths, both in absolute and in relative terms (apart from a few small city-states such as Bahrein, Qatar and San Marino). Make no mistake about it: We are number one.

Davis is not far from the truth in labeling us a failed state at this time. Items: (1) The country is incapable of controlling the epidemic. (2) It is ruled by a tin pot dictator who would be laughed out of office even in backward Third World countries. (3) The government cannot even pass emergency legislation to rescue the dozens of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, who are about to become homeless, who cannot access medical care, even in the middle of a pandemic, and who can no longer feed themselves and their children. (4) The criminal-in-chief is attempting to knee-cap the country’s postal service so as to steal the election, brazenly admitting what he is doing, destroying a service which delivers hundreds of millions of essential mail items to the people, including life-saving medication, paychecks and other essentials.. Is this not a failed state? Read more...

Friday, August 14, 2020

Wearing a Mask Makes us More Free

By Madeleine Kando

‘Why should I wear a mask?’ you might ask. Does it not infringe on my individual freedom? We live in a free country, and freedom is enshrined in the Constitution.

In a brilliant article in the Wall Street Journal entitled The True Face of Freedom Wears a Mask, professor Kwame Anthony Appiah concludes that having to wear a mask does NOT infringe on a person’s liberty. However, he comes to that conclusion after asking the more basic question: ‘what do we mean by freedom?’

According to philosopher Isaiah Berlin, there are 2 types of liberty: ‘negative liberty’ which is freedom from external restraint on one's actions, which he calls ‘ freedom from’ and ‘positive liberty’, which is having the power and resources to fulfill one's own potential. This he calls ‘freedom to’.

The seeds in my garden are a good examples of these 2 types of freedom: seeds have the potential to become wonderful plants. They need space to grow (negative liberty), but without care and food (positive liberties), they will die.

The problem with living in a free country, is that people forget how much we rely on positive freedoms to enjoy our negative freedoms. In Jack Kerouac’s famous novel ‘On the Road’, nobody stops Sal and Dean from barreling down the interstate highway. They enjoy their negative freedom. But they couldn’t have been free to do so if the Government hadn’t built the highway in the first place, giving Americans the resources to drive cross-country (positive liberty). Read more...

Thursday, August 13, 2020

What Should the Left Do?

I just read an article by Jan Sowa, titled “After Populism.” The gist of it is a certain ambivalence about “populism.”

Populism is the growing right-wing, anti-elitist movement currently under way in many countries. It expresses itself in support for strongmen and politicians  such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orban in Hungary, most prominently Donald Trump in the US, and several others.

Populism shares some of its conservative values with Fascism. These include nationalism, authoritarianism, the veneration of the military, a love of fire arms, traditional patriarchal family values, homophobia, denying women their reproductive choice, Christian religiosity, hostility towards intellectual and media elites, and a racist and xenophobic attitude that favors the white race over people of color, Jews, Muslims, other non-white people and all foreigners and immigrants.

 Sowa’s article is good. Unfortunately, he treats populism with velvet gloves. He equivocates, because he sees (correctly) that dozens of millions of white men have been taking it on the chin for several decades, certainly in the US. Year after year, inequality and poverty have been rising, affecting not only people of color but the entire population. Life expectancy of white American men is now declining, and their death and homelessness rates are skyrocketing. Sowa therefore feels that the resulting rage and the growth of populism are understandable. He does not claim that Populism is a desirable response to white suffering, but he urges us to understand it.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Super Hero or Wimp? The Staying Home Dilemma

Photo: Ed van der Elsken
By Madeleine Kando

Being on self-prescribed ‘lockdown’ since the pandemic began has not been very difficult for me. Why? In order of importance, I would rate my age, my life style, my expectations and my lack of social contacts.

My friend Jane, on the other hand is a social butterfly. She is only a few years younger than I, but I would qualify her as a ‘lockdown rebel’. When we first realized that there was this killer at our doorsteps, targeting the most vulnerable in the herd, Jane and I prepared ourselves for a Coronavirus long distance run. Time will tell if she is the hare and I the turtle, or vice versa.

While I am sitting at my desk, sweating profusely in the summer heat, reading New York Times articles that scare the bejesus out of me, Jane is running along the Charles River. She goes swimming across Spy Pond, flies to L.A. to see her sister and invites her many friends and neighbors over for social distancing dinners in her backyard.

I am sure Jane thinks I am a wuss. She keeps asking me over, but I always find an excuse so I won’t have to drive the 20 minutes to her house. Me, who in her younger years, hitchhiked across half of Europe, lived and worked in England, Holland and Spain, who most recently went deep sea diving in Belize and hiked in the jungle of Kauai where Jurassic Park was filmed. When did I turn into such a fraidy cat? Read more...

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How to Win over an Anti-Masker

Why are some people so resistant to wearing face masks, even though there is ample scientific evidence that they prevent the Covid19 virus from spreading? It’s easy to say: ‘Well, they are misinformed. They are just plain stupid. They are selfish and not thinking of others.’ But covering your face to protect yourself from an enemy that you cannot see, smell, hear or feel is like trying to punch someone in the dark. Some of us have no problem following the recommendations of the medical experts, but to others, it seems pointless and not worth the inconvenience it creates.

The only ‘proof’ that this faceless, odorless, silent enemy exists at all, is the reported number of infected individuals and the many deaths, but even this horrible truth is not enough for some Americans.

These same Americans gladly don a gas mask when they see toxic fumes emanate from a chemical site. They don’t shout: “If God had wanted me to wear a gas mask, I would have been born with a gas mask.” They have no problem wearing a diving mask when they go deep sea diving in Belize (unless they are suicidal, of course). The welders among them do not invoke their ‘individual rights to choose’, when they are sent on a job, where highly concentrated ultraviolet and infrared rays would cost them their eyesight.

These same anti-maskers wear ski masks to prevent frost bite. Were they to visit Saudi Arabia, (which they never will, since it is Satan’s country) they would wear a Bedouin scarf to protect them from swallowing sand and coming back home the color of a cooked lobster. Their right to choose in those situations is as relevant as asking a starving person if they would rather eat now, or wait till next week.
To anti-maskers, the face mask has become the whipping boy of the Coronavirus, like the princes of yore, who had a whipping boy receive corporal punishment in their stead. They cannot tell the virus to take a hike so they refuse to wear a mask instead. Read more...

Thursday, July 9, 2020

America has become very Self-Destructive

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece, “America.” It was a pep talk to this country: I argued that throughout its history, whenever the US has faced daunting obstacles, it has ended up overcoming them - often spectacularly,- even if often slow on the uptake.

Most of you liked what I said, if for no other reason because it’s good to try to be positive once in while. Some of you did accuse me of being a brown-nose immigrant, one of those who slavishly embrace their adoptive country.

Actually, I am only high on America part of the time. The other half of the time, I am enraged by what this country is doing to itself. Today is one of those days:

EVERY country in the world is doing a better job warding off the Coronavirus than we are. We have become the epicenter of the pandemic. Covid-19 is becoming an American disease.

Both our absolute and relative infection rates are the highest in the world (apart from a few city states such as Bahrein and Qatar). Brazil, which not coincidentally is also ruled by a strongman, is a distant second. All other major countries have managed to beat back the virus - Italy, Spain, Britain, France and all the other European countries that were once in deep trouble. Read more...

Friday, July 3, 2020

Being Serious

One of the Black Lives Matter movement’s goal is to remove offensive statues and symbols that remind one of slavery and racism. Many (but not all) of these symbols are located in the old Southern Confederacy. For example, John Calhoun’s statue in one of Charleston’s major squares was recently taken down.

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, protesters just brought down the statue of Ulysses Grant, the country’s 18th president. He, of course, led the Union forces which defeated the South and ended slavery. However, he married into a slave-owning family. The San Francisco action also brought down the statues of Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish missionary and that of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. He owned slaves.

In Washington, D. C., New York, Raleigh N. C., New Jersey, Sacramento and elsewhere, offending statues, symbols and names were removed. Some of these represented confederate leaders; some were historical figures who had mistreated native Americans (E. G. John Sutter); some were US Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

So far, so good. Some historical revisionism is in order. By all means, rename most places, monuments and institutions that bear the names of people like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. These men were traitors. Their statues are best kept and viewed in museums, as is done for instance in Berlin. There, Nazi paraphernalia can be viewed by museum visitors without offending holocaust survivors. I also laud removal of confederate flags from events such as NASCAR. I have always felt that the display of confederate flags is a bit as if Germans today were to wave swastikas. Read more...

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Tree Killers

By Madeleine Kando

My husband and I live in a quiet part of a suburban town in Massachusetts. Many moons ago, as two young immigrants from Northern Europe, we didn’t know where the wind would blow us. We could have ended up in Iowa or Texas, but we lucked out and settled in New England.

If there is one adjective to describe this part of the country, I would vote for the word ‘green’. The further up you go, traveling through New Hampshire or Vermont towards the Canadian border, you enter The Great North Woods, also known as the Northern Forest. It is spread across four northeastern states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York and collectively covers 26 million acres, about the size of Holland, Belgium and Denmark combined.

But here it is equally green. Our property is nothing special, a little piece of land, about an acre, including a very modest ranch house. But at this time of year, our yard is bursting with life. An amazing array of birds, gold finches, chickadees, bright red cardinals and noisy blue birds all flock to our bird feeders, patiently waiting their turn to feed.

Many little creatures share our property. Chipmunks race back and forth, their cheeks stuffed with treasures, grey squirrels chase each other for fun or love, jack rabbits munch on clover, their jaws working overtime, and we see the occasional fox or deer come by to pay us an early morning visit.

There are Norwegian maples, lilac trees and dogwoods growing out of the unusually tall grass, since we don’t believe in giving our lawn a crew cut. But what I cherish the most, are the majestic white pines that have lived here for much longer than any of us. New England is the opposite of the vast expanses of the prairies of the mid west. Here, trees are king and the king of kings is the white pine. Read more...

Saturday, June 20, 2020


The world is going through one crisis - the pandemic.

America is going through three: the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump.

I come across a lot of negativity about America’s response, both from a domestic and from an overseas perspective:

We are the pandemic’s epicenter. The number of American Covid-19 patients is approaching a staggering two and a half million, and it continues to increase by twenty to thirty thousand PER DAY. Meanwhile, most other major nations - in Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere - have turned the corner, their case numbers declining rapidly. All the same, the US is eagerly re-opening its economy and holding mass rallies, come what may. When I drive somewhere in the city, NOT ONE in twenty pedestrians I see in the streets wears a mask.

No wonder that some overseas observers are saying that “America has given up.” This was the title of a recent Atlantic article, as well as the words of the prime minister of New Zealand.

One thing I find little of, is any sort of compassion for this country. Read more...

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Is Tyranny Winning?

I recently read Timothy Snyder’s ‘On Tyranny’ (2016), a short but very rousing book. It made me realize, that I spent my entire life, which is quite long by now, under a system of government whose values I have always taken for granted. It is called Democracy.

But nothing about it should be taken for granted. Since Trump became our President, I realize how ‘unnatural’ this order really is. It is ‘unnatural’ in the sense that were it up to nature, things would be arranged quite differently.

Nature doesn’t give a fig about the ‘rule of law’, about ‘freedom’ or ‘equality’. You won’t see a gazelle stop dead in her tracks while fleeing from a cheetah and say: ‘Hey, stop right there! I have my rights too, you know!’ We made up those rules and those concepts because it made living together a lot safer, freer and ultimately more enjoyable.

I was born and fled a country that had a tyrannical regime. Hungary was part of the Communist block for almost 60 years and, even though I was a child when I left, there was enough talk in our family about the dangers of totalitarianism. I should have recognized what was happening in the US a lot sooner than I did. Besides, being a septuagenarian, I have had enough time to learn how to recognize rot when I see it. But I didn’t. Like many of us, I suffer from complacency and a sense of entitlement.

Snyder meant to write On Tyranny as a manifesto, a wakeup call for people like me, who are asleep while walking around. People who say things like ‘It will work out’, ‘It is just temporary’ and ‘This cannot happen here’. But there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about America. Even though the country was founded on democratic principles to fight tyranny, nothing prevents a tyrant from taking over that system. The only advantage America has, Snyder says in his Prologue, is that we can learn from Europe’s past mistakes. Read more...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Social Change

My question, today, is: How is our world going to change in the near future, as a result of the unprecedented turbulence caused by the dual whammy of pandemic and social unrest?

Now is an excellent time to listen to sociologists. A major subdivision of Sociology is Social Change/Social Theory. The classical literature in this field includes Emile Durkheim, Norbert Elias, Michel Foucault, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Marx, Max Weber and many others. It would be interesting to discover what these people might say about current events.

The immediate trigger for the current global crisis is an inadvertent event - the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, on top of this, and on top of the consequent economic crisis, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis in a gruesome and graphic way captured on video and witnessed by the entire world.

In and of themselves, pandemics may not lead to massive social change. I am not familiar with what happened during and in the wake of the 1918 pandemic, or the 14th century Black Death, or other plagues. By most accounts, the 1918 pandemic was soon curiously forgotten.

Logically, one could expect such events to have profound consequences - good and/or bad. These consequences may be demographic, environmental, economic, political, social, psychological and cultural. Read more...

Monday, June 1, 2020

What is going to Happen?

First came Donald Trump. Then the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by economic collapse. Then George Floyd’s unspeakable murder, followed by mass demonstrations and civil unrest across the entire country (and even internationally).

The list of crises afflicting this country never stops. Are we cursed?

I have always felt that I am able to put major events in some sort of perspective, able to give them some meaning. But right now, I am unable to do this. My mind is buzzing with questions, but I have zero answers, zero predictions. The only thing which I do see is that America is facing mounting challenges.

Until George Floyd’s murder on May 25, this country was “only” facing the triple threat of the pandemic, economic collapse, and “Rightism.” This triad is discussed brilliantly by Abram de Swaan in the Dutch weekly De Groene (May 6, 2020). The author assesses the three major crises faced by the Western democracies at this time: The pandemic, the ensuing economic collapse, and the emergence of right-wing, authoritarian, populism in many countries. (See Abram de Swaan)

Then, a new crisis took over. The massive nationwide protest against police brutality and institutional racism - the “Black Lives Matter” movement - literally replaced the Covid-19 crisis. Since May 25, you can channel surf the news and look for the latest on the pandemic in vain, as MSNBC, CNN and the other media focus almost exclusively on the mass demonstrations. It is as if the pandemic were over. Very strange. Read more...

Monday, May 18, 2020

How Speaking Can Spread the Virus

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the benefits of wearing face masks to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, he said that “they are helpful in that they protect others from you “breathing or speaking moistly on them.”

The word ‘moistly’ caused a universal uproar. Comedians had a field day as usual, but Trudeau was actually giving an appropriate and descriptive name to one of the major avenues of infection, which is our own speech.

One of the reasons COVID-19 spreads so quickly is that it is transmitted from people who are asymptomatic. But if they don’t sneeze or cough on you, how are they actually infecting you?

Research is now showing that coughing and sneezing are small potatoes compared to the amount of aerosols people emit while they speak. Coughing and sneezing are like brief but potent rain showers, whereas speaking is a day long drizzle, with smaller drop sizes that can penetrate deeper into the lungs of the unfortunate recipient. They also remain airborne longer, since they are smaller.

It is not just speaking that releases more particles than coughing or sneezing. A person who decides to declare their love by bursting into a serenade, is actually emitting 6 times more airborne droplets than if they were merely reciting a poem.

If things weren’t bad enough, it turns out that people with loud voices emit an inordinate amount of particles. Not only are they a danger to your ear drums but they actually are equivalent to the fire breathers of yore.

Although the louder you speak the more particles you emit, the study also found that certain units of speech generate more aerosols than others. For example, the "E" sound in "need" produces more particles than the "A" in "saw." Read more...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Science Fiction Becomes Rality

It finally happened. Armageddon has arrived. For over a century, we have been treated to various forms of science fiction. A large portion of this genre’s books and movies has always been apocalyptic - presenting one scenario or another about the end of the world, or at least the end of humanity.

I grew up devouring the works of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip Dick, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells and many others.

Wells’ The War of the Worlds came out as a radio adaptation in 1938 and as a classic film in 1953. Other classics that mesmerized me as a child include The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Television added a flood of Science Fiction, including Star Trek (the original series, 1965-1969, still my favorite, followed by multiple subsequent “generations”).

Meanwhile, by the end of the 20th century, Hollywood was inundating the market with mega productions of questionable quality - such films as Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks (1996), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998) and many others.

Even I tried my hand at the genre: (See my Humanity’s Future: The Next 25,000 Years). At least, my book is not apocalyptic. It goes more along the optimistic prognoses found in many episodes of Star Trek - predicting humanity’s progress rather than downfall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Hot Spots, Soft Spots and Bald Spots

The English language is really good at turning words into versatile tools that can be used for many purposes, like a Swiss army knife. Take the humble little word spot, for instance. With a snap of our fingers, we can make a spot become hot, sweet, tight, bald, cold, dead, soft or blind. And those are just the noun words. We can ‘be spot on’, an adjective, ‘hit the spot’, a direct object, or ‘spot something a mile off’, a verb. We have a knack for breathing life into language by dressing up simple words and send them out into the world to work their magic.

But why stop there? A single one of these ‘compound nouns’ can, itself, take on different meanings. A spot can be hot, but a hotspot can be a place of unusual popularity, a spot where volcanic magma rises through the earth’s crust, an area of political or civil unrest, a place where a wireless Internet connection is available and more recently a place where the Coronavirus is particularly active.

When I drove down dreary Route 9 in Newton the other day, I didn’t think it was unusually popular and there was no magma in sight. My phone didn’t detect a wireless connection and since I didn’t have a dog in the car, I couldn’t check for its infected skin rash.

But I knew I was entering a hotspot. This is the spot where the month before my car had been rear-ended. As I was waiting at the traffic light, I could feel the heat through the floor of the car. I breathed a sigh of relief when the light turned green, but a while later on the highway, my knuckles around the steering wheel turned white. I was approaching another hot spot where not too long ago, I almost flipped my car, when I collided with a ladder that had fallen off the back of a truck.

So you see, as time goes on, it gets harder to find any spots on my way home that are not marred with bad memories. Some spots are so hot, that driving through them is too painful. Many years ago, I found my daughter in a diabetic coma, unconscious on the floor of her dorm. I have tried to rub that spot off, but it just won’t come out, even after all these years. That is definitely a dead zone, in my book. Read more...