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.

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...

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Looking Back on the Coronavirus Pandemic - An Imaginary, Revisionist History

This is a satire based on an article entitled ‘The Deadly
Polio Epidemic and Why It Matters for Coronavirus’

The current 2050 Nipah pandemic may feel new to many of us, but it is strangely familiar to those who lived through the Coronavirus epidemic of the early 21st century.

The Coronavirus virus a.k.a. Covid19, arrived each winter, striking without warning. We knew how the virus was transmitted but there was uncertainty about its origin. There were wild theories that the virus had been purposely released from a lab in China. At the time, there was no known cure or vaccine.

Parents stopped sending their children to school for fear they would “catch coronavirus.” Swimming pools and movie theaters, beaches and shops were closed.

Because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), health workers would work without protection to save many a person’s life. The elderly, who seemed to be most at risk from the disease, were isolated in nursing homes and sometimes left to die without treatment.

The number of Covid19 cases in the U.S. peaked at 2 million, resulting in 103,000 deaths. Those who were critically ill with this highly infectious disease ended up intubated and were often left with permanent lung damage.

Ultimately, the coronavirus was conquered in 2022 by a vaccine. Donald Trump, who was our President at the time, signed an executive order forbidding the inventor from patenting his work, saying the vaccine belonged to the people and that to patent it would be like “patenting the sun.” Read more...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Are there more Crazy People in some Countries than in Others?

Can it be said that there are more crazy/mentally ill people in one society than in another - for example in America than in the Netherlands?

With all the bad news from America these days - mass shootings, Donald Trump suggesting that we try Lysol to cure the coronavirus, etc. - some of my European friends are beginning to wonder whether this country has lost its senses. 

It’s clear that our president is mentally ill. But what about the society at large? Can one society be more mentally ill than another? I have a PhD in Social Psychology (U. Of Minnesota). So this question interests me.

To begin with, we need to recognize that “mental illness” is both physical and cultural.

Going by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) of the American Psychiatric Association, it is obvious that many of the listed mental disorders are rooted in neuro-chemical imbalances and/or damage to the nervous system. These are organic disorders, for example organic psychosis and dementia.
However, many “mental illnesses” are functional. For example bipolarity, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. These have no demonstrable physiological basis. Read more...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

From my Coronavirus Diary

by Madeleine Kando

March 20, 2020 (1 week into self-isolation)

Today is a beautiful, crisp and sunny day. My husband and I decide to go for a stroll on the beach, to breathe in some coronavirus-free air. An hour’s drive is worth it. It is wonderful. The white foamy crests on the waves, as they fold themselves over like shy bearded giants, repeat themselves over and over again. It’s not like you miss anything if you look away. They perform for free, all day long. The fresh ocean air fills our lungs. We walk, hand in hand, flaunting our noses to the 6 feet distance rule. Aren’t we one and the same body after all these years?

I hold my puffy, sleepless face in the wind, squinting to protect my eyes from so much sunlight. Are we really living a nightmare? Or did I just dream it? Why are the clouds and the dunes, the sand and the seagulls so clueless? Don’t they know what’s happening? Where is the panic, the stress, the heart palpitations?

As I follow a trail of child foot prints vanishing in the distance, the moist sand under my feet sparkles with millions of glittering mica particles, like a universe filled with stars. It is mesmerizing. Just like the pictures I saw of the Corona virus floating in the air after a sneeze. Floating in the air, everywhere, invading our lungs and killing us one by one.

‘Stop it right now!’ a voice tells me. ‘Stop with this OCD nonsense. Enjoy the beach!Read more...

Monday, March 23, 2020

“Mother Nature”?

Let me try this: A good word to describe the coronavirus crisis is “biblical.”

Now I don’t want you to misunderstand: I don’t believe in God. A biblical interpretation of this crisis goes against everything my rationalist mind and education have taught me.

But the paradigm, or the metaphor, seems so apt. This is Sodom and Gomorrah all over again. God’s revenge, punishment for our sins, for our descent into greed and selfishness, for raping the planet, for excessive hedonism and materialism, for Wall Street, etc.

Okay, convert the term “God” into “Nature.” Then, the metaphor works better already: We are destroying the planet. Even so, a near unanimity of economists - left and right - still agrees that the solution to poverty, inequality and all other economic problems is GROWTH. It is almost universally agreed that a 1% growth rate is bad (that’s often Europe’s rate), a 3% rate is pretty good (something the US achieves occasionally) and that 6% to 10% annual growth, which China has often achieved in recent decades, is the envy of the world. Read more...

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tried and True: The Best Travel Experiences in Europe

Dear People:

This is to let you know that I have just published a new book, with the following title: Tried and True: The Best Travel Experiences in Europe.

Here is a description:

Tom Kando has visited over thirty European countries and spent many years living in half a dozen of them. He has crossed the Atlantic a hundred times. In this travel guide and travel memoir, he shares eventful and often hilarious experiences in Europe, from Iceland to Russia and from Scotland’s Hebrides Islands to the Riviera and Sicily: Amusing, true stories about staving off pickpockets, braving chaotic Parisian and Roman traffic, dealing with train, airplane and hotel snafus. Secondly, Kando offers a wealth of practical information about errors to avoid, what to do and not to do, and what to see.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Confessions of a Googleholic

Googling has become my middle name. I am Googling every thought that comes into my head. It’s a disease. ‘Why is my iphone almost the same size as my reading glasses container?’ ‘Why does my sister not like me as much as before?’ ‘Will we ever travel to another star?’ As if Google were my psychiatrist, my mother and my best friend, all rolled into one. I know. It’s a clear sign of either having too much time on my hands, or not enough human contact.

I have replaced my brain with a digital monster. Not too long ago I was a normal person. I wondered and pondered about things, accepted the inevitability of not knowing the answer. That’s what’s fun about wondering and pondering. If there were an answer to everything, it would be the end of thinking, period. If I really really wanted to know the answer to something, I read a book, went to the library, or talked to a flesh and blood person.

I envy my mother. Ata was a natural ponderer. Until her dying day at the age of 103, she had questions, wondering about life after death, why birds can fly and humans cannot. She was almost blind, had been deaf for decades, but her mind was brimming with curiosity. She was not what you call a learned person. She had an artist’s soul that wanted to discover, like a 103 year old Magellan. Once she had a question in her head, she wouldn’t let go and urged everyone to participate in her quest, be it her children, her numerous friends, her orthopedist and the unfortunate handyman who was trying to fix the leak in her bathroom. Deep down, she knew she wouldn’t find a definitive answer, but the exploration was what made her tick. Googling was as foreign to her as a rotary phone to a Gen Zer. Read more...

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Coronavirus

I have been monitoring the corona virus’ spread,  and I also just communicated with some friends  in Holland.  Here is a bit of information Keep in mind that the numbers change by the hour.

As of March 5, 88 countries have been contaminated  by the pandemic. Of these, only 18 have experienced deaths. In 70 of these countries, no one has died yet. To be sure, a majority of these 70 countries are just beginning to be infected: In 21 of them, only  one case has been  identified  so far. Half of the zero-death countries (35) have only reported between 1 and 5 cases until now.

However, some of the zero-death countries already have significant numbers of cases, so we can start asking: What are they doing right? How do they differ from countries where the death rate is significantly higher? Can we learn from them?

I have listed  the countries which combine a zero-death rate with an already fairly widespread epidemic within their borders. The first table below shows the ten most notable such countries, and I compare their numbers with ours: Read more...

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Our Mighty Sun

The Oort Cloud is believed by astronomers to surround the solar system. It is the ultimate outer boundary of our sun’s domain. This cloud is believed to consist of icy planetesimals - cosmic dust/grains. It was named in 1950 after the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, who worked on this hypothesis.

According to astronomers, the Oort Cloud is a belt which surrounds the sun and the solar system at a distance which begins at about 2,000 Astronomical Units (AUs) and may go as far out as 200,000 AUs.

This is an astounding size. If the Oort Cloud hypothesis is correct, it means that the domain of the solar system is enormous.

Consider this:
One Astronomical Unit is the distance between earth and the sun, which is 150 million kilometers, or 93 million miles. If the Oort Cloud’s outer edge reaches all the way out to 200,000 Astronomical Units from the center of the solar system (the sun) then its diameter is 400,000 AUs.

It takes light 8 minutes to cover one AU (to travel from earth to the sun). As mentioned, the inner rim of the Oort Cloud is 2,000 AUs away from us. So it takes light 16,000 minutes to travel that far, i.e. 11.1 days. The OUTER rim of the Oort Cloud is 200,000 AUs far, i.e. one hundred times further. So for light to travel to the Oort Cloud’s outer edge takes 100 times longer, i.e. 1,111 days or over 3 years. The sun reaches three light years out into space! Read more...

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Decline of Instrumental Music

I was working out on a treadmill at my health spa.

The sound blaring out from the sound system was the usual “Muzak.” i.e. the typical nondescript elevator music, all vocal, all consisting of songs, almost invariably dealing with the vicissitudes of “love.”

I was thinking: How out of touch I have become, in old age: Today, all popular music sounds the same to me.

I have been an avid amateur of music all my life. As a listener, a concert attendant, a records collector, an amateur flute player. I grew up with classical music and modern jazz in Europe. Then, after I moved to America in the nineteen sixties, I became a fervent fan of popular music (as well): The Beatles and the Rolling Stones of course, and all the other fantastic groups of that era - Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Doors, Elton John, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Simon and Garfunkel and innumerable others.

Then, adult life being what it is - career, children, etc. - popular music went by the wayside. For a while, I tried to stay in touch via my children. I tried to listen to some of the music they liked. But eventually I lost track. Today, I have no idea what’s going on in the world of popular music.

But here is an impression I have: Nowadays, practically ALL popular music is vocal, not instrumental. Think of the currently most prominent idols: Adele, Beyoncé, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and dozens of others (far more women than men, by the way, which is fine with me). Read more...

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Liberals and Conservatives; Kind or not, Smart or Not?

This is a game: I take 3 variables, I cross-tab them, and I formulate some hypotheses about their correlation (or lack thereof).
The variables are:
1. Conservatism vs. Liberalism
2. Kindness or not
3. Being well-informed or not

In other words, an individual can be conservative or liberal; he/she can be a by and large  nice person or what we could call an a...hole; and she/he can be well-educated and intelligently informed or not.

For the sake of simplicity, the three variables are dichotomous. Also, let’s not quibble about the true meaning and nature of being ”nice” as opposed to being an “a...hole”  This is just an experiment, maybe  a fun one, and most of us know an a...hole when we meet one... Also, for the purposes of this experiment, I use a total sample of 200.

If we cross tab these 3 variables, we get 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 possibilities Read more...

New York, New York!

By Madeleine Kando

I have no business writing about New York. Not only do I not live in New York, worse, I live in Boston, which in the eyes of most New Yorkers, is the most stupid thing one can do. They have as low an opinion of Boston as the Dutch have of Belgians. Why be Belgian if you can be Dutch? Why live in Boston if you can live in New York?

I completely disagree of course. Being Dutch myself, I am guilty of an unwarranted sense of superiority over the Belgians, but Boston is perfectly fine. I like living in the Hub, Beantown, the Athens of America. I’ll take the Patriots over the Giants any day. I mean, look at Tom Brady! What’s there not to like?

But since the Dutch closed down their consulate in my hometown, thinking that New England was no longer important enough to spend consulate euros on, my husband and I had to travel to New York to extend our Dutch passports, a good excuse, we thought, to spend a few days in the Big Apple.

Entering the heart of Manhattan from the West side is like boarding a vast ship over one of its gangways. We followed 56thStreet and were immediately swallowed up by a stream of cars, limousines, yellow cabs and trucks, honking their horns, swerving from lane to lane, trying to gain a few inches at traffic lights. We were surrounded by an ocean of enormous, shiny skyscrapers, all competing for the tallest spot in the firmament. As we approached Columbus Circle, the smell of manure preceded the appearance of a row of sad looking horses hitched to colorful carriages.

Three days are not enough to do justice to this incredible city, but just being there, inhaling the perfect mix of car fumes and the smell of the subway already made it an exciting experience. Having grown up in Paris, that smell spells home for me, like the smell of hay for someone who grew up on a farm. Read more...

Monday, January 27, 2020

Sanders’ Single Payer Utopia

This is not a new essay, but after rereading it, I found it so appropriate that I couldn't help but republish it.

Like many of us, I am confused by the ‘single payer’ health plan that Bernie Sanders proposes. Health care is confusing to begin with unless you live somewhere where there is no health care at all. In fact, out of the 200 countries or so in the world, only 40 provide some form of health insurance to their citizens.

The countries that do offer health care all have a different system in place. Some have a single payer system, funded through taxes, just like the police force or public libraries. These systems tend to have low costs, because the government controls what doctors can do and what they can charge. Great Britain, Spain, most of Scandinavia and New Zealand, Hong Kong and Cuba have a single payer system. This system is what Sanders proposes.

Other countries have an employer/employee funded system, familiar to Americans. It uses an insurance system that covers everybody, is tightly regulated by government to control cost and provides bargaining power. Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland and Latin America has this type of system. Read more...

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Scentimental Journey

I drove to Paris yesterday. It took me only 25 minutes because it was Saturday and traffic wasn’t so bad. The radio announced that a snow storm would start at around 5 pm. It was getting dark and the snow gusts were starting to twirl across the surface of the highway, but my urge to get to Paris overrode my fear of getting stuck.

I didn’t really drive to Paris. How could I? I live in the suburbs of Boston. And I didn’t key in Paris in my GPS, just the name of a boutique in the next town over, that supposedly sells fancy perfumes.

As the road slowly turned white, I had to drive through a section of Watertown where the majority of signs pointed to auto body shops, liquor stores and car washes. ‘Not exactly the exotic French landscape’, I thought.

'You have reached your destination', my GPS told me. I parked in front of a small, brightly colored store with a sign that said ‘Colonial Drug Store’. Ok, I get it. It’s one of those CVS type stores where they sell cheap perfumes for a dime a dozen. I was about to drive back home, but the snow and the cold told me to go in and at least warm my poor frozen feet, buy a candy bar and then drive back home with my tail between my legs.

There were two odd looking, life sized statues guarding the door. They were clad in bright red tailcoats, knee breeches and tricorn hats, colonial era style. A homey sounding bell rang when I opened the door and once inside, the smell of freshly polished wood greeted me. Read more...

Sunday, January 5, 2020

European Traffic

I am looking forward to our next European trip, this spring. Due to illness, we didn’t get to travel much in 2019. As we get older, international travel becomes more challenging. However, my wife and I haven’t thrown in the towel yet. Unlike many of our friends, we still tough it out driving, taking trains, sleeping at small hotels and walking around foreign cities as much as we are able to, rather than going on cruises.

This year, though, we will not rent a car. We’ll spend a week each in Amsterdam, Paris and Rome, and only a suicidal imbecile would rent a car to circulate in those cities, where public transportation is cheap and efficient, and vehicular traffic is nerve-racking.

Many American drivers find driving in Europe challenging, and many American pedestrians find crossing streets in foreign cities scary.

Actually the single greatest traffic problem overseas is not that Europeans and other foreigners are wild and dangerous drivers. No. By far the greatest risk to your life exists in those countries that still drive on the wrong side of the road, namely on the left. These countries include Australia, Britain, most of the Caribbeans, India and South Africa, courtesy of the former British Empire. They also include Ireland and Japan, and a few other countries that refuse to come to their senses. Read more...

Thursday, January 2, 2020


I spend a lot of time in my head these days. I always have, because I am an insomniac. There is nowhere else to go when you are lying flat on your back, waiting for sleep to honor you with a visit. I could spend time in my toes or my elbows, but there is really not much going on at those locations, except the occasional itch or involuntary twitching.

My head at least, is a place where things happen, most of them beyond my control. I am always a bit apprehensive before I enter because it’s such a mess. There is a big sign hanging over the entrance that says ‘organizing strictly prohibited beyond this point’.

As I walk about in that chaotic place, I stub my toes against remnants of my day scattered on the floor. Did I turn the stove off? Did I put the left-over food in the fridge? Did I close my car windows? Usually, those nasty little buggers cross my mental path when I am almost asleep and with a jolt I am wide awake again, heart pounding. I am back to square one.

Us insomniacs are advised to establish what is called sleep hygiene. You couldn’t come up with a more distasteful term if you tried. No, it doesn’t mean washing the mud off your feet before going to bed, it is more on par with mental hygiene. Read more...